BERRY + MOLASSES ICEBOX CAKE

29th June 2016

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The muddy definitions of the pastry world. When is a pie a pie and not a tart, tartlette, pastry and is it like how a square is a rectangle, but not all rectangles are squares? Like how some people call a TV remote some variation on clicker, clacker, controller. Every summer, blogs, magazines, restaurants, and everyday folk seem to switch up their vocabulary to suite the season. And not just by interjecting a few choice summery words – such as flip-flop, snow cone, or rosé – but by really laying it on thick with the y’alls and the random twang and the type of jargon that really comes from yesteryear rather than another geographic region of the US. One of these words is “icebox.” An old timers word for refrigerator from back when refrigerators were really just well-insulated boxes that tried to keep things cool by using giant blocks of ice that the iceman would deliver to your back door several times a week. And here I am, piling on to the problem, that’s not really a problem, because all it means is more types of desserts for us to eat all summer.

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Most ice box cakes call for whipped cream, but yogurt adds a richer feel to the cake while simultaneously making it seem a bit better for you. Add to that in-season cherries and strawberries and a hearty dose of smokey molasses and this cake is something your old timey relatives and new-fangled friends will all enjoy.

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Pairs well with American whiskey and/or iced tea.

berry + molasses ice box cake
recipe adapted from this recipe in bon appetit’s July 2016 issue
serves 6 to 8

about 2 cups cherries, pitted
1/4 cup molasses
8 ounces plain Greek yogurt, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
16 graham crackers
1 1/2 cups strawberry jam (here’s my homemadechia seed jam or try BA’s version)
fresh berries for garnish

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper, letting the wrap hang over the sides.

Transfer cherries to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until mostly smooth. Pour into a small sauce pan and add the molasses. Simmer on medium-low until the mixture is fully combined and slightly reduced. Set aside to cool completely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the yogurt and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed and add the cream. Continue to beat until the mixture thickens and medium peaks form. Transfer about two-thirds of the yogurt mixture to another bowl and fold in about a 1/2 cup of the cherry-molasses sauce. Cover remaining yogurt mixture and chill until ready to cover cake.

In the bottom of the lined loaf pan, place a single layer of graham crackers, breaking the pieces as needed to fit. Using an offset spatula, spread a generous even layer of the cherry-molasses cream over the crackers. Next, add a layer of the strawberry jam. Add a drizzle of cherry-molasses sauce and then top with another layer of the cherry-molasses spiked cream, smoothing to create an even layer. Finally top with another layer of graham crackers. Repeat all the layers once more, ending with a final layer of graham crackers. Fold the edges of the plastic wrap or parchment paper over the crackers and freeze for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Cover and chill remaining jam and cherry-molasses sauce until ready to serve.

To assemble: uncover cake and carefully invert the pan onto a serving platter. Pull of the wrapping. Spread the leftover yogurt cream over the entire cake and return to the freezer for at least another 15 minutes. Remove from freezer, top a few spoonfuls of reserved jam, sauce, and fresh berries, and slice to serve.

Note:
– if the leftover cherry-molasses spiked cream is too loose or separates before assembling the final cake, give it a quick rewhip in the stand mixer before using.
– take time to smooth each layer to create nice, even lines when the cake is sliced.

 

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CAULIFLOWER FAJITAS WITH SUMMER PICO

27th June 2016

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Asphalt. The true marker of summertime. You can finally see it since it’s not covered in snow and it’s the closest photo background when stationed next to the grill. And once the temperatures start to rise, our 100-year-old New England house that was built for winter begins to function much like a convection oven. So out to the porches – or back parking lot – we go. I’ve always appreciated my yards and green spaces growing up in Texas, I’ve always been a porch enthusiast, but since moving up North I’ve learned to embrace the only outdoor space I’m allotted: about 20 by 10 feet of blue-grey asphalt. It’s normally where our cars live, so we can’t set up a permanent summertime retreat, but anytime we need to cook outside – which is often – we banish the cars to the street and park ourselves in our little oasis along with our old-school charcoal grill and whatever chairs we can find in the basement. It’s not at all what I grew up with, but we’ve made the most of it. And even in the dog days of summer, it’s still at least 10 degrees cooler up here than it is back in Texas.

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Speaking of different: cauliflower fajitas. I know, I know. You are probably balking at the audacity the phrase “cauliflower fajitas” requires. Especially considering that the cauliflower’s origins reach back to ancient Cyprus and the Middle East and the plant only recently (read: 16th century) graced European tables. But thanks to the Moorish influence in Spain around the 12th century, cauliflower made it’s way into some old Spanish dishes. And now for some quick and dirty historical foodways: Spain colonized Mexico, the local indigenous peoples are graced with the gift for making tortillas and using cheap cuts of meat to fill them, Spanish influence brought in new spices and ingredients, y ahora…cauliflower fajitas. Or, if you prefer, fajitas de coliflor, which I think sounds white-tablecloth kind of fancy.

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Not everyone in our asphalt patch agrees with going meatless, so these cauliflower fajitas are really another way to use up all the energy that a charcoal grill produces. Start with your meats, then throw on a few cauliflower “steaks,” a cast-iron skillet for peppers, and a tin foil pack of tortillas.

cauliflower fajitas with summer pico and grilled peppers and onions
serves 4 to 6

for the pico

1 cup yellow pear tomatoes, cut in half
2 large scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
small bunch cilantro, finely chopped
juice of one lime
salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, add all the ingredients and toss to thoroughly combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

for the fajitas

one head of cauliflower, trimmed, cored, and cut into half-inch “steaks”
vegetable oil
fajita seasoning (I use: 2 teaspoons chile powder, pinch of cayenne, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon MX oregano, salt and pepper)
lime, quartered
2 green cubanelle peppers, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, peeled, trimmed, and thinly sliced
tortillas, wrapped in aluminum foil and heated on the grill for a few minutes

Brush both sides of the cauliflower steaks with oil and liberally season with spices. Place on a hot grill for 3 to 5 minutes per side or until fork tender. Slice into fajita style strips and squeeze with lime juice before serving.

While the cauliflower cooks, add a cast-iron skillet to one side of the grill. Once heated through, add a bit of oil to the skillet and then the sliced peppers and onion. Continue to toss and turn the pepper-onion mixture until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are tender and slightly charred.

Assemble: take a heated tortilla and pile with cauliflower fajita strips, a bit of grilled peppers and onions, and a generous spoonful or two of the spring green pico.

 

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CHOCOLATE-DIPPED TEQUILA MANGO CHILE PALETAS

21st June 2016

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It’s the first few official days of summer and popsicle week is here again. This time last year I was pregnant and fairly carefree and craving popsicles and slushy liquids to beat the heat. This year, I’m a little less carefree thanks to our upcoming move southward with the baby and the house and the everything…but this time I get to have tequila, which I imagine will make everything go so much more smoothly. To kill two birds with one cold stone, I put the tequila in the popsicle, or in the paleta rather.

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In South Texas and in neighboring Mexico, there are these little street vendors – not quite food trucks – where little old men sell cold fruit spiked with lime and chile powder and others sell Mexican-style popsicles called paletas. Neither sell tequila, but in a perfect world they would. So these popsicles are a combination of those real world food carts and the imaginary one that I pretend exists. Throw in a chocolate coating and you’ve got my entry into this year’s popsicle week: chocolate-dipped tequila mango chile paletas.

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You can omit the tequila and swap in mango, orange, or other similar fruit juice or use coconut water, too.

chocolate-dipped tequila mango chile paletas
makes six

4 ripe mangoes, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1/2 cup or so tequila
juice of one lime
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon coconut oil
chile powder

In a bowl, combine the mango and tequila. Cover and let soak overnight. Pour into blender and puree until smooth. Add the lime juice and pulse to combine. Pour into popsicle molds, insert a popsicle stick, and freeze until solid, about 6 to 8 hours.

In a small bowl combine the chocolate chips and coconut oil. Microwave in fifteen second intervals – stirring in between each – until melted and smooth. Pour into a tall skinny glass (that’s wide enough to fit the paletas).

Remove the paletas from the molds. If the paletas stick, run the molds under hot water for a few seconds then try again. Working quickly, dip each paleta a few inches into the chocolate and then sprinkle with chile powder. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for a few more minutes until ready to serve.

 

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PLUM + ROSEMARY COBBLER

17th June 2016

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I sit here typing, worrying, pondering: where oh where did the time go? And then I realize I sound just like my dad. A man who is, for better or for worse, not really known for his punctuality, but someone who manages to truly make the most of his time wherever and whenever he is. I guess “making the most” of something is quite subjective, but in my tribe, that means savoring those little things. Maybe it’s a long conversation, a good sit on the porch, a wild walk, a session set aside for snail mail, cleaning the kitchen, making a cobbler even when there are plenty of other tasks to tick off and people to see. Growing up with a perpetually unpunctual father, when I became an adult I made up for lost time by always being early (annoyingly so sometimes) to everything. But then I realized I was starting to miss those little things, namely that impromptu, untimely cobbler. And that just doesn’t sit right with me.

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So when we visited Texas a few weeks ago, on our way down from Dallas, despite the delay in our driving schedule, we stopped at a little old peach stand (despite it not being quite peach season yet) on highway 45. The bathrooms were clean, the peaches weren’t ripe, but the plums brought in by chance by a local farmer were perfectly ripe little things. I bought a pound and we continued on. We arrived at my dad’s bearing plums and needing dinner. Plums were dropped in some corner of the kitchen and nearly forgotten.

I spent the rest of that week trying to schedule in family visits, dinner plans, and hoped to find a small space somewhere to do something special with the plums with my dad’s help. But more important things kept popping up, popping up, popping up all week. To others, the plums seemed like such a small distraction, a handful of things unworthy of our quickly dwindling time back home. But I just couldn’t get them off my mind.

Finally, with only a short 48 hours to spare, we entered the kitchen, opened the fridge, washed the plums, determined. This cobbler would be baked. Not for the plums that were quickly ripening, not for the Texas Falfurrias butter I purchased special for the occasion, and not for the sake of a blog post (though that would be a nice result), but for the sake of taking time to pause and bake a cobbler. Which, by now you should realize, is really a sweet shaky metaphor for the important things in life. Everyone makes a cobbler differently, you see, there’s no real rhyme or reason, no exact measurements (though I’ve tried to write down some approximates below), and the important parts are different with each new cobbler baked. So long as you take the time to bake it, that’s all that really matters.

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So we did, with family watching on from various rooms a little confused why we weren’t paying them mind, with plenty of other agendas to be followed, with plenty of work I could’ve been catching up on from a far. The filling bubbled and we hurried it to the porch, passed the bowls around, and a few family members decided to join in on the metaphor and some even asked for seconds. Avery nibbled a bit of the rosemary studded biscuit (with herbs plucked straight from dad’s back yard garden) and I think she might have ingested a bit of the cobbler concept, too. We’ll see in time, I’m sure.

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plum + rosemary cobbler
serves 4 to 6

about 1 pound of small plums (about 4 cups), pitted and halves or cut into small pieces
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup cream
butter for the top

Set the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the plums, sugar, salt, and cornstarch, stirring well to combine. Pour into a glass baking dish or pie pan, smooth into an even layer, and set aside.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and rosemary. Add the butter and cut into the flour using your fingers or two forks. Make a well in the dry mixture and add the cream, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine.

Using your hands, form small balls of dough and gently flatten with the pads of your fingers to make a little biscuit. Gently place on top of the plum mixture. Repeat with remaining dough until an even layer of biscuits sits atop the filling (gaps between the biscuits are okay). Add a sliver of butter to the top of each biscuit.

Transfer the cobbler to the oven and bake until the biscuits are cooked through and golden brown and the filling bubbles. Serve warm as is or with fresh cold cream or ice cream.

 

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Thanks for teaching me to take time to bake the cobbler, Da. Happy father’s day, y’all.

G&T – GIN AND TOPO CHICO

5th June 2016

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When we go back to Texas there’s a laundry list of to-dos that we try to tick off no matter how short our stay.

1. Breakfast tacos.
2. See as much family as possible.
3. Barbecue.
4. Sit on a porch for a long spell.
5. Eat tortillas fresh from the press.
And the list goes on.

There are a few things that take precedence and there are others that fall in the category of “well, if we have some spare time,” but perhaps most important and the least time-consuming task I always give myself is to drink as much topo chico as possible. It helps keep me hydrated and satiates a sometimes year-long drought from the bubbly beverage. We currently live in the land of seltzer with old rival brands cranking out new flavors – like “unicorn kisses” – to placate the seltzer cults each year. But none of these holds a flickering candle to a single bottle of topo chico. If you haven’t had it, I can’t really explain with words how much better it is than all other seltzer, it just is. It’s not even flavored, save for the natural minerals that occur in the Mexican spring from which it’s harvested. It’s just, well, the best.

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And you know how some people swear by drinking brown liquors or good mezcals neat, well that’s how I feel about topo chico. It doesn’t need enhancements and it often suffers when too much is shaken in, but when and where other bubbly mixers are used, topo chico also seems to shine. I’m not quite sure what it is, so I’m just going to assume it’s some sort of secret South American magic.

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Topo chico isn’t from Texas, but it is one of those things that all good Texans know about. Sad thing is, it’s hard to find the further away you travel from the Mexican border. Due to it’s geographic connection it pairs best with other Mexican, Southern, and Texas born things. And while my state isn’t known for a long history with gin, a few good distilleries are popping up with uniquely Texas twists on the spirit, like Waterloo Gin from Treaty Oak Distillery in Austin, TX. We paired the two with local citrus and homegrown mint from my Dad’s backyard. Very Texas.

If you’re reading this outside of the Republic, you can always substitute with your seltzer cult of choice.

G&T – gin & topo chico
makes one drink

sprig of mint
ice
1 ounce lime juice
2 ounces gin
3 ounces topo chico
mint and lime wedges for garnish

In a Mason jar or an old-fashioned glass, muddle a sprig of fresh mint. Fill the glass with ice, top with lime juice, gin, and topo chico and stir just a couple of turns to combine. Garnish with a lime wedge and a mint leaf or two.

 

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Cheers, y’all.