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.
I’m no longer a fondant virgin – I believe Mary Berry would say in her polite British way, “it’s a bit informal”
If she had requested 100 mini-tartlets, my answer would have been yes. But she didn’t. She wanted cupcakes, 100 of them – and a small personal cake for the birthday girl – all covered with piped ombré rosettes. Piped? Ombré? Rosettes? Another lucrative catering gig missed – my lacking skill-set convincing me to pass it up. This isn’t a case of false modesty – I bake tasty shit. I’m confident I could give her a mouthwatering dessert to remember, but…cake decorating? That’s its own animal – and one that I’m not familiar with. I’ve probably piped buttercream on 10 cakes my entire life and never-have-I-ever worked with fondant. Sure, I’d attempt it for a friend, but not for a paying customer – no way, José. I image being one of those horror stories on Cake Wrecks – “This first photo is the cute cake we found on Pinterest…and this scary mess is what the so-called professional caterer gave us!”
Ugh! So, after declining the catering job, I decided to school myself on how to prettify my tasty cakes and cupcake. It’s gonna take many hours of practice, practice, practice. The cake above is my first crack at fondant – not catering pro worthy, but a valiant first try.
My first lesson learned: Fondant does NOT cover a multitude of sins. Make sure your cake and buttercream are thoroughly smoothed and leveled – it will make a decided difference.
I’ve heard store-bought fondant is almost flavorless. With a bag of marshmallows and box of powdered sugar, it’s so simple (and better tasting) to make your own, although a bit sweet.
8 ounces marshmallows (4 cups not packed, or half of a 16-ounce bag)
2 Tablespoons water
1 pound powdered sugar (4 cups), sifted, plus extra for dusting
Food coloring or flavored extracts, optional
Place marshmallows and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute until the marshmallows are puffy. Stir the marshmallows with a rubber spatula until they are melted and smooth. If some un-melted marshmallow pieces remain, return to the microwave for 30 seconds, continuing to heat and stir until the marshmallows are entirely smooth and free of lumps.
Transfer melted marshmallows to the bowl of an electric mixer. With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, a little at a time adding more as the powdered sugar is incorporated. Continue on medium until sugar is fully incorporated and the fondant is smooth.
Scrape the fondant onto a work surface dusted with additional powdered sugar. Dust your hands with powdered sugar and knead the fondant until it loses its stickiness. Once the fondant is a smooth ball, wrap it in cling wrap and set it aside at room temperature until you are ready to use it.
If you want to add coloring or flavoring to your fondant, flatten it into a round disc, add your desired amount of coloring or flavoring to the center of the disc, and fold the disc over on itself so that the color or flavor is enclosed in the center of the fondant ball. Knead the ball until the fondant is a uniform color. To use, roll fondant into a large enough disk to cover the entire cake and transfer to cake, cutting away any overlap and gently smoothing fondant over top and sides of cake.
In a tradition dating back to Roman times, some Italians eat a bowl of lentils on January 1 to ensure their wealth, luck and prosperity throughout the New Year because the flat legumes are believed to resemble coins.
My severance pay is coming to an end in a handful of weeks, which means I need to either hope for some of that luck and prosperity or, sadly, start looking for a new job. I’m not sure I’m ready to head back to corporate life. Although on some quiet days I’ve been bored, I’ve relished these six months of keeping my own schedule (which means staying up until 4 a.m. and sleeping until noon), working on projects (with a dozen more on my ‘to do’ list), being a tourist in my own town (museums, hiking and beach time), and having ample time to play in the kitchen. A two-day weekend doesn’t provide near the same freedom (or time!).
Ugh, well, if needs must, but perhaps I’ll start the job search next week. Today, I’ll go the easier route and test the Italian method while I update my resume. And while the tradition may be Italian, I realize this recipe is decidedly not.
A hearty soup chock full of lentils, sausage and healthy chard.
4 oz. hot Italian sausage (you can also use mild if you’re not a fan of heat)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 ¼ cup dried lentils
5 cups chicken stock*
3 big handfuls roughly chopped chard leaves, stems reserved for another use
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Greek yogurt (for garnish)
In a stock pot or Dutch oven, sauté sausage in oil until just beginning to brown. Add onion, carrots and celery and sauté until onions soften and become translucent. Add garlic and ginger and sauté until garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add bay leaves, curry powder, and cumin and sauté briefly. Stir in lentils. Add chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.
Add chard and continue simmering about 5 minutes until chard is bright green and tender. Add cilantro and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve bowls of soup garnished with big dollops of Greek yogurt.
* I use 4 cups of stock (1 container) and 1 cup water rather than open a second container of stock and have leftovers.
Are you a Chocoholic – a craver of all things chocolate? Come into my lair, darling…my aspiration for this recipe is your personal entrapment. If my baking raison d’être is luring you into my den of culinary debauchery, guaranteeing your enslavement, what would your cocoa kryptonite look like? My money is on these – thick layers of creamy bittersweet ganache sandwiched between soft jumbo double-chocolate cookies.
In fact, I may have overdone it – a pinch too much. Neither my 14-year old niece, my sister-in-law, nor I could eat an entire cookie. One of these cookies wouldn’t just enslave you, it would incapacitate you. I recommend you go with the standard size option listed below.
P.S. After naming these, I discovered that “Motherload Cookies” is also the name of a strain of marijuana. Rather than change the name, I decided to keep it – you’ll need to be stoned to eat an entire jumbo size cookie.
The “jumbo” cookies are too much, even for those addicted to chocolate. I recommend the standard size if you want to remain upright after eating one. This recipe was adapted from The Sugar Cube bakery’s Triple-Threat Chocolate Cookies.
32 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips, divided (YIKES!)
½ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 Tablespoons flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
Place 12 oz. chocolate chips and butter in a microwave safe bowl and microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until completely melted (about 90 seconds). Set aside to cool slightly.
In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, espresso powder, and vanilla. In another small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir egg mixture into melted chocolate until fully incorporated. Then add flour mixture, stirring until combined. Stir in 8 oz. of chocolate chips and toasted walnuts. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 60 minutes.
Make ganache by placing the remaining 12 oz. of chocolate chips and heavy whipping cream in a microwave safe bowl and microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until completely melted (60-90 seconds). Cover and refrigerate until spreadable consistency, about 90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets will Silicone or parchment paper. Scoop dough onto sheets, placed about 1” apart (2 Tablespoons dough for jumbo, 1 Tablespoon for standard size cookies). With the bottom of a glass or similar, press dough to flatten into even ½” thick rounds. Bake until cookies no longer look wet, but they are still soft ( about 12 minutes for jumbo and 10 minutes for standard size). Cool cookies on sheets then transfer to racks.
Generously spread flat side of half the cookies with ganache and top with remaining cookies. Cookies filled with ganache will keep, covered, at room temperature for two days. More than two days, store filled cookies in refrigerator, bring to room temperature before eating. Pour yourself a tall glass of ice-cold milk and enjoy.