Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Regret averted.

And I almost wasn't going to make this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe!!

My Sunday started off unimaginably slow yesterday -- I didn't wake up in my own bed at the normal 7 o'clock hour and didn't make it to the farmers' market by 8 and didn't finish all of my errands by 11. Productivity didn't really start until 1:15 as I briskly did my walk through of the market while most vendors were packing up and then ambled through Pavilions with 4 pounds of butter in my arms. I'm sure everyone thought that maybe I was Paula Deen's long lost Asian daughter, but Land o' Lakes for $3?! You would stock up too.

I finally took a look at this week's selection of Coconut Butter Thins by Jayne of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch when I got home, and upon reading "macadamia nuts", "lime", "coriander", I was turned off. I had no desire to run out to the store for more ingredients, so I decided nope! Not this week! And then I read the P&Qs. The reviews are pretty difficult to tune out. "Perfect." "Amazing." "Top 5 Dorie recipes." With a groan, I headed to the kitchen.

Sweetened coconut was on hand, and I could have substituted pistachios or pecans for the macadamias, but Dorie's comment that nuts were not at all necessary was encouraging so I omitted them entirely. Lemon it would have to be as lime wasn't readily available. I was a little wary about the pinch of coriander, but with a deep breath, made myself do it.

The finished cookie was (as everyone said it would be) absolutely delicious. Definitely not the most attractive cookie because of the strange way they spread, but the proof is in the taste. I have a soft spot for Danish butter cookies, and these reminded me of them a bit, especially the kind you find in Solvang -- a little bit coconutty, adding more texture than the variety in the blue tins, and lot of butter. The lemon was a nice touch and not overwhelming at all, and I really couldn't taste the coriander at all. I pride myself on my self-control of late, but these cookies were testing every ounce of restraint. They're unassuming, little ugly things, but when you bite into one...

They are greater than the sum of their parts.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A different way of celebrating.

I look forward to St. Patrick's Day every year. Sure, it is some bastardized holiday that has become more an occasion to drink until obliteration than one celebrating the man who rid Ireland of snakes, but as much as I enjoy a well-made Irish coffee, my love for Irish soda bread runs deeper. That, for me, is the true highlight of March 17th.

I can still remember the first time I tasted this bread because the day was marked with a car accident on the streets of San Francisco. My sister and I had stopped at La Farine in Berkeley on our way into the city for morning buns and there was Irish Soda Bread sitting on the shelf, over the shoulder of the baker. It was a variety I had heard about, but had never tried and there it was in front of me. It was the perfect day to take a chance on something potentially phenomenal (it was La Farine, after all) so I went ahead and had them throw one in the bag too. The morning buns, however sugary and messy to eat, were devoured in the car before we crossed the Bay Bridge, but the loaf we saved for a more leisurely moment. This leisurely moment came much later in the afternoon - only after our car was hit full on by a car coming down those hills of the city without stopping for its red light! No one was injured, but our plan of spending a beautiful, bright, and sunny day in the city window shopping and relaxing was shot and instead, we were shuttled back across the bay by the tow truck driver and waited at the Carl's Jr. across the street from the mechanic while insurance was dealt with.

I should qualify this deep affection as one for the American Irish soda bread -- slightly sweet with raisins and, undoubtedly, caraway seeds!! I love the flavor of rye that it gives and it probably tricks my senses into thinking the bread is healthier than it actually is. Left to my own devices, I could probably finish a 10 inch loaf before lunch time.

Last year I made the Cook's Illustrated recipe with raisins and caraway seeds and I brought some delicious white cheddar and Granny Smith apples to accompany it. This year, I decided to try a different recipe, but incorporated elements from last year's pick -- most notably, baking the bread in a dutch oven and brushing it with melted butter to give it a nice crust. I decreased the amount sugar, and also the baking powder because, as this is a soda bread, it doesn't quite make sense to me to use so much of another leavening agent.

The result was a more scone-like than bread-like soda bread. I love a good scone, so this texture I don't mind at all, but I think next year I'll revert back to the basic Cook's Illustrated version for something more reminiscent of bread. It wasn't at all necessary, but I bought some rich Kerrygold Irish butter to go with the bread and it was heaven in my mouth. I think you could slather some Kerrygold on a shoe and it would be delicious.

I'm thinking about incorporating this bread into my regular repertoire seeing as how I just can't get enough of the taste, but I also kind of like how it is only associated with one particular holiday for me. As my last fix was a fairly recent, I'm not itching to devour another loaf just yet, but give it time. I'll be feenin' soon!! And then I'll have some real decisions to make.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Prelude to summer.

I love my Sunday ritual of going to the Hollywood Farmers' Market. Rain or shine, I am always there at roughly the 8 o'clock hour, regardless of whether I slept at 9:30 pm, or 4:30 am the night before. People are amazed at my stamina when I tell them after the third drink of the evening that I'll still be in attendance at the market the next morning, but it's an event I look forward to all week, and brings me a sense of calm and everything-is-as-it-should-be if only in the hour that I'm there, half zoning out and half taking in all the colors and aromas of the season.

It's Los Angeles, so the market is blessed with a wide array of produce every week, and I have golden beets within reach without fail while my cousin in Manhattan has to search five different markets in different areas for them. Sadly, I'm sure many Angelenos (myself included) take this amazing selection for granted and overlook so much of what's available. I'm guilty of this offense when it comes to berries. Not so much strawberries as it wouldn't be unusual for me to pick up a half flat some weeks, but I have never once gone home with any of those tiny globules of blueberry or blackberry goodness - until now. They don't run cheap which is a major deciding factor in my decision of whether or not I really need them that week (especially after having spent $5 on a dozen of my favorite eggs, and $4 on a pound of Empress dates, and another $4 on 5 pieces of pita bread), but this week's Tuesday's With Dorie selection by Sihan of Befuddlement seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally give in and pop my berry cherry.

Coffee cake is one of my weaknesses with it's characteristic streusely topping, and the blueberry crumb cake sounded like it's close cousin. I have to admit, though, I was slightly disappointed at first bite. I had made it the day before, and when I finally tried it a day and a half later, it didn't induce the same kind of response as, say, Dorie's apple pie. Also, the cake took much longer than the 55-65 minutes for the knife to come out clean, and when it finally did, I think the cake was a tad dried out. (Those slits in the crust are from all the testing I did! Hideous, but necessary.) And the berries (blueberry with a smattering of blackberry) -- they could have definitely been sweeter, so it was a slight disappointment for my first berry-buying occasion.

It wasn' t all bad though -- the big crumb "crust" was my favorite part, as well as that of most of my coworkers' and when I finally decided that microwaving may save the cake, I found the butteriness in the crumbs so much more enhanced, and with the accompaniment of a berry tea, an utterly good midday indulgence.

Even though I was less than thrilled with my first taste, others were still very enthusiastic. It was devoured so quickly that I was a worried the innards wouldn't get a chance with the camera lens. Still, I would do things differently if there is a next time -- berries + sugar = good idea before summer, even in California, and don't be fooled by a seemingly wet batter after your gut tells you it's ready. Near fatal flaws!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sitting and being.

It has been nearly four years since my first (and last) visit to Paris and I feel the itch bad. At that time, I had traveled to several European countries before, and was studying abroad in Siena, Italy for a few months, but France had still eluded me. Maybe we were trying to be non-traditional when in 1994 my family and I took a jaunt around central Europe with other family friends, visiting Italy, Austria, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia -- those just aren't the typical countries one visits their first time in Europe. I'm so thankful for the experience though, however we may have spent more time staying up late in hotel rooms and sleeping on the tour bus than relishing in the magnificence of the Innsbruck ski jump.
At 22 years old, it was time. I decided not to walk at commencement, and instead planned a trip to Greece right after the program in Siena ended, followed by a stop in Nice for a couple days just to see what the South was all about, and finally, nearly a week's stay in Paris. It was as wonderful as can be imagined, indulging in breakfast pastries daily, sitting at a cafe for hours, wandering the narrow streets of le Marais. With my host who was an old co-worker friend that was then teaching English in the city, we avoided the tourist path and did what I have grown to love when vacationing anywhere -- just sitting and being.
This week's Tuesday's With Dorie assignment was chosen by Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction and it is just the kind of cake that tastes best on a Parisian sidewalk with an afternoon tea and a blanket of sunshine. I made Girl Scout cookies all last week, so not having to pull out the mixer again was also so appealing. Like many other bakers, lemon marmalade was nowhere to be found (although I did find lime and lemon-lime marmalade, but was not turned on by the idea of lime) so I went with the King Kelly orange marmalade of my childhood. Maybe not the best of the lot, but it reminds me of my dad's buttered wheat toast (Wonderbread was forbidden in our household) with marmalade every time. I only have a 9 x 5 loaf pan, and as early reports said, the loaf didn't rise much anyway, I thought it would have looked a little flat in my slightly-larger-than-the-recipe-called-for pan and switched it to two mini loaf pans instead. I tented the loaves with foil as they darkened quickly so the coloring ended up quite nice.

The result is simply lovely. Not heavy to begin with, but the citrus and yogurt cut any greasiness the cake may have (I reduced the oil to 1/3 cup anyway). And the almond flour adds a little something to the texture that makes you want to eat every tiny crumb that falls loose from each slice.

I just went to the kitchen and had another slice. It is even better today than yesterday, just as Dorie said it would be. God bless her heart!