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.
If baking is Love made edible, then these Viennese whirls are my billet-doux to St. Valentine, himself – layers of homemade raspberry-rose jam and vanilla buttercream sandwiched between delicate melt-in-your-mouth Viennese cookies. Will you be mine, Valentine?
7 oz. confectioner’s sugar, sifted plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add rose water. Transfer to a small container (pass it through a sieve if you’d rather not have seeds in your jam). Leave to cool and set.
Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 375F. Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment. Using a 2” round cutter as a guide, draw 8 circles on each sheet of paper, spaced well apart. Turn the paper over so the pencil marks are underneath.
Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Sift in the flour and cornstarch and beat until thoroughly mixed. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle. Pipe 24 swirled rounds (not rosettes), inside the circles on the baking sheets. Refrigerate cookies for 15 minutes before baking (this will help cookies retain their shape).
Bake in the center of the oven for 13—15 minutes, until pale golden-brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make Buttercream: Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla until fluffy and smooth. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle.
Assemble: Spoon a layer of jam onto the flat side of 12 of the cookies and place jam-side up on a cooling rack. Pipe an equal thickness of buttercream over the jam and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Share the love.
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.
Over dinner, a good friend was lamenting her systematic eating of leftover Christmas fudge over the three weeks following the holidays – a piece or two every night. I laughed to myself imagining fudge, or anything sweet for that matter, would even last a week, let alone three, in my house. And then my mind faded from the conversation at hand and I began to be preoccupied with fudge. My internal conversation went something like this:
“Mmm…Fudge…Why didn’t I make fudge for Christmas?!…I haven’t made fudge for a while…I have an awesome fudge recipe…that’s easy too…super chocolaty…never gritty…why am I not making fudge this very minute?!…fudge…I need it…yummm…”
Needless to say, I pulled my super quick 5-minute fudge recipe out soon after that. I convinced myself I was performing a pantry-cleaning service by using up leftover coconut, almonds and almond paste in the process. Anything for a good cause.
If coconut and almond aren’t your thing, you can substitute your favorite mix-ins in place of the coconut, almonds and almond paste.
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
12 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate (at least 60% cocoa)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/3 cup almond paste, chopped
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon (optional)
Line an 8×8” pan with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray.
In a microwave, heat sweetened condensed milk and chocolate on high for 1 minute. Stir to combine. Heat an additional 30 seconds if needed until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Stir in vanilla, coconut, almonds and almond paste.
Pour fudge into pan and smooth. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional). Cool in refrigerator for 1 hour.
Use aluminum foil to remove fudge from pan, cut into 1” squares. Store in an airtight container. Fudge does not need to be refrigerated.
I’m sweating as I shuttle food styling materials from kitchen to photo studio (AKA The backyard shed). “Soup Weather” in Southern California has morphed into sun-drenched 72 degree days. So much for those hearty soups I’ve been stirring up the past two weeks. This weather requires lighter fare for these temperate days. This mouthwatering Thai carrot soup laced with creamy coconut milk and piquant red curry is just what the Channel 7 weatherman ordered.
Simple carrot soup is elevated with the addition of Thai flavors, turning an everyday vegetable into something rather special.
1 lb. carrots, sliced into coins
1 onion, sliced
3 cups chicken broth
4 Tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
⅓ cup chopped cilantro
Salt and white pepper, to taste
sliced green onions, cilantro sprigs, or sriracha (optional, for garnish)
In a soup pot or Dutch oven, sauté carrots and onions in oil until onions have softened. Add broth, red curry paste, brown sugar and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until carrots are fully cooked.
Remove from heat, add coconut milk and cilantro. Using a blender, blend soup in batches until smooth. Return to pot; season to taste with salt and white pepper. Garnish bowls with green onions, cilantro sprigs or sriracha.