cooking. baking. recipes. eating out.

cooking. baking. recipes. home economics. eating out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter Lunch

Easter lunch this year took a new turn. Rather than have the traditional fare of lamb we opted for all-vegetarian or vegan fare, with the exception of two appetizers: ham & cheese croquettes and garlic-pesto shrimp. (Since many folks often have ham at Easter, I had to at least nod to it with the croquettes. I also didn't want to completely neglect the carnivores among us.) There were nine at lunch and, as one of the children pointed out, two dogs. No one missed the meat, except maybe the dogs. Here's what we had and links to a few of the recipes:


Seranno Ham & Manchego Cheese Croquettes with Aioli Dipping Sauce
Garlic Pesto Grilled Shrimp

First Course:
Roasted Beets with Roth-Kase Bleu Cheese, Toasted Walnuts and Watercress
Sauteed Green Beans and Cashews (a la Girl and the Goat)
Carrots with Toasted Cumin and Orange Juice
Minted Edamame

Plat Principal:
Risotto Primavera (from Cooking for Madam by Marta Sgubin)

Various Tarts made from the Tartine Cookbook:
Lemon Tart with Italian Meringue
Tart Filled with Pastry Cream and Fresh Strawberries
Tart Filled with Pastry Cream and Fresh Strawberries and Kiwi
Mini Tarts with Baked Apple & Nutmeg
Callebaut Bittersweet Truffles

Seranno Ham and Manchego Cheese Croquettes
Aioli Dipping Sauce
Slow Roasted Beets
Carrots with Toasted cumin and Orange Juice

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tartine's Lemon Meringue Cake

This is a wonderful special occasion cake. I especially think of Easter and birthdays. It is both sweet and tart. The chiffon layers are brushed with lemon syrup and coated with a thin layer of caramel and filled with lemon pastry cream. The meringue icing is perfect: it is light enough that it compliments well the sweetness and acidity of the cake.

Makes a delicious 10-inch round cake

Chiffon Cake:
2¼ cups (11.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
½ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice
1½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
10 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch cake or springform pan with 3-inch sides with parchment paper cut to fit exactly; don’t grease the pan.

Sift together the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add 1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) of the sugar and the salt and whisk to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Make a well in the flour, add the yolk mixture, and then whisk thoroughly and quickly for about 1 minutes until very smooth.

In another large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until it holds soft peaks. Add the remaining ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar slowly while beating on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Add a third of the egg whites and fold into the yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in the rest of the whites until just combined.

Pour the batter into the pan, smoothing the top if necessary. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once completely cool, run a thin knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake an then release and lift off the pan sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment.

⅔ cup heavy cream
¼ vanilla bean
1¼ cup (8.5 ounces) sugar
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pour the cream into a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.

In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have your cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Let cool for about 10 minutes.

Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool.

Lemon Pastry Cream:
½ cup + 2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
¾ cup (6 ounces) sugar
pinch salt
16 tablespoons (8 ounces) unsalted butter

In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Whisk them together constantly until very thick, or 80°C (180°F) on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and let it cool down until warm to touch (60°C or 140°F on a thermometer). Place the lemon cream in a blender and with the motor running, add the butter in small pieces. Allow to cool completely. (You may refrigerate it, but allow to come to cool room temperature before using.)

Lemon Syrup:
⅓ cup water
⅓ cup (2.5 ounces) sugar
⅓ cup lemon juice

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Transfer to a cool bowl, let cool for a bit, then chill for half an hour. Stir in the lemon juice.

Split the chiffon cake horizontally into four equal layers. Place one layer on your serving plate (which I lined with wax paper around to cake) and moisten evenly with ¼ of the lemon syrup. Spread ⅓ of the caramel over the cake, then ⅓ of the lemon cream. Repeat with 2 more layers, using up the remaining caramel and lemon cream. Top with the fourth cake layer and moisten with the remaining lemon syrup. Cover the cake completely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

Italian Meringue:
7 large egg whites
1¾ cup (12.25 ounces) sugar
pinch of salt

In a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt and whisk until the whites are hot to the touch, about 120F, about 5 minutes. Beat on high speed until the mixture is very thick and holds stiff, glossy peaks.

Unmold the cake and spread the meringue all over. Use a spatula or a spoon to create dramatic swirls. Using a propane torch scorch the meringue, blackening the tips and swirls.

Monday, March 26, 2012


The Gold Coast, especially that main shopping drag, has a plethora of touristy, bland burger joints with bad food and terrible service. If afternoon tea at one of the Gold Coast hotels isn't possible, I always opt for a tostino and Orangina at L'Appetito. They have such a great selection of tostinos, paninis and pizzas, there's something to please everyone. It's all very casual. Tell one of the big Italian guys behind the counter what you want, they heat it up and hand it over, you pay and then find a coveted seat. They also have a small retail section where you can find all sorts of Italian imports like fine olive oil, vinegars, small fishes, and plenty of wines. By the registers, you will find countless types of cookies and sweets. Being located below street-level, under the John Hancock building, also cuts down on the number of annoying tourists in the way. You really only see them as they march towards the Cheesecake Factory next door. I went here (again) when my niece Sarah and her companion Wes visited. It seemed to be a lunchtime hit with them, too.

John Hancock Center
875 N. Michigan Avenue
(312) 337-0691

Monday, March 5, 2012

Reine de Saba Cake

I have made more Reine de Saba's than I can remember. I use a recipe from a generic French cookbook. However, I discovered just the other day it is basically the same as the famous Julia Child recipe; remember, Julie makes Julia's Reine de Saba recipe in the movie? Nonetheless, the key to this cake is fine ingredients. There aren't a ton of ingredients required, so you want to use the best chocolate and butter and nuts you can afford. I typically use Callebaut semisweet chocolate for this.

2/3 cup whole blanched almonds, lightly toasted
2/3 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
5 ounces fine chocolate, melted but cool
3 eggs, separated
1 1/2 tsp. organic almond flavor

3/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces fine semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
chopped toasted almonds

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Butter a 8-9" spring form cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment or a parchment liner then lightly dust the entire inside with flour.

Pulverize the almonds with 2 Tbsp. of the sugar in a food processor until very fine. Turn out into a small bowl. Sift over the flour and stir until well combined. Set aside.

Using a handheld mixer, whip the butter until fluffy in a medium bowl. Add half the remaining sugar and continue whipping for 1-2 minutes. Then, gradually beat in the melted but mostly cooled chocolate. Beat in the yolks, one by one, completely incorporating one before adding another. Beat in the almond flavor.

In a stand mixer, whip the whites until soft peaks form. Add the remaining sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold in 1/4 of the whites into the butter and chocolate mixture to lighten it. Add half the almond and flour mixture and fold. Fold in another 1/4 of the whites then the other 1/2 of the dry ingredients. Finish by gently folding in the remaining half of the whites.

Turn into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until a cake tester inserted 2" from the edge comes out clean. The center may still be quite moist, which is fine.

After baking, remove from the oven to a wire rack. Let rest for 15 minutes then remove the side of the spring form pan. Let rest on base until completely cool. Turn out onto an 8 inch cake board and remove the base of the pan and the paper.

Make the ganache glaze by bringing the cream to the boiling point then pouring over the chopped chocolate in a medium size glass bowl. Let rest for a couple minutes then begin gently stirring until all the chocolate has melted and combined with the cream. Let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk in the butter in 1 Tbsp knobs. Fully incorporate one knob of butter before adding the next.

Once the ganache is cool enough that it thoroughly coats the back of a spoon but isn't firm enough to mold, pour about 2/3 of the ganache over the cake. Allow it to thoroughly cover the top and run over the edges to coat the sides. You may want to tilt the cake to make this happen. Use a small spatula to make sure the sides have been covered. Next, add the chopped nuts to the side of the cake while the ganache is still wet. This can be done with a spoon or by sliding the nuts down a bench scraper onto the sides, my preferred and effective method

You should still have about 1/4 cup of ganache left in your bowl. Prepare a pastry bag with a 1, 2, or 3 tip and write on your cake. Traditionally, in France, the name of the cake is written, such as Reine de Saba or Opera. You can write whatever you wish, though, such as birthday or holiday greetings.

It is best served at room temperature but can be stored, airtight, in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tartine's Devil's Food Layer Cake

"Magnifique" is really the only appropriate word to describe this masterpiece of chocolate and caramel. However, my straight-talking pipe fitting buddy did a nice job when he summed it thus: "Dude, that sh*t is so good!"

Cake Layers:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cups Callebaut or other fine cocoa powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup nnsalted butter, room temperature
2 3/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

24 oz. Callebaut or other fine bittersweet chocolate
3 cups heavy cream

1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp fine vanilla
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp unsalted butter

First, make the caramel by pouring the cream into a small, heavy saucepan and stirring in the vanilla. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.

In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is light amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. It may not color evenly. That is fine. Still don't stir it. Remove from the heat.

The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have your cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Let cool for about 5 minutes.

Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add them to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool. Set aside until needed.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and lightly flour the sides of two 9-inch cake pans, knocking out the excess flour. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper cut to fit exactly.

To make the cake layers, sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and creamy. Slowly add the sugar and continue to beat on the same speed until light in color and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition until incorporated before adding the next egg. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 equal batches alternately with the buttermilk in 2 batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then mix again for another few seconds.

Divide the cake batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans on a wire rack.

When the cakes are cool, turn them out by inverting the pans, and then turn the cakes upright. Using a serrated knife, slice off the domed portion from the top of each cake to make the tops flat. Reserve the slices for making the crumbs.

To make the crumbs, preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick liner. Break up the cake slices and spread on the lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and toast until completely dry, about 1 hour. Let cool completely, then transfer to a food processor or blender and process until finely ground. Sift the crumbs through a medium-mesh sieve. Don't use a sieve with fine mesh or the crumbs won't pass through. Set aside.

To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to just under a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes without stirring until the chocolate is partially melted, and then stir with a rubber spatula until smooth and shiny.

To assemble the cake, split each cake into 2 layers to make 4 layers in all. Transfer 1 layer to a serving plate. Using an offset spatula, spread 1/4 cup of the caramel evenly over the cake layer.

Spread a thin layer of ganache (about 1/4 inch thick) over the caramel. Top with a second cake layer, and again spread with 1/4 cup caramel and then a thin layer of ganache. Repeat with the third cake layer, the remaining 1/4 cup, and a thin layer of ganache. Top with the fourth cake layer. Refrigerate the cake until the center seems firm, 1 hour. Cover the remaining ganache with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for finishing the cake.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator. Using the rest of the ganache, frost the top and sides of the cake with the offset spatula. The cake must be evenly frosted and the ganache must be soft enough for the crumbs to adhere. If the ganache has hardened, use a kitchen torch to soften it slightly, or put the whole cake into a 400°F oven for 40 seconds or so, just until the chocolate looks shiny. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top of the cake, then slightly tilt and turn the cake so that they spill over the sides, adhering to them as they fall.

Serve the cake at room temperature. To store, cover and keep in a cool place for up to 4 days. It is not necessary to keep this cake in the refrigerator.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Soupe au Pistou Provencale

This is a meat-free vegetable soup from the south of France. It is delicious, flavorful and satisfying, especially in the winter. You may be surprised to find most of the ingredients you need are already in your kitchen.


2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups onions, sliced in thin half-moons
2 cups leeks (white & light green parts), sliced thin
3 cups diced red and or Yukon gold potatoes
4 large peeled thinly sliced carrots
kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. black or white freshly ground pepper
8 cups homemade vegetable or chicken stock (or 2 cans low-sodium broth and 2 cans water)
4 cups water
1 tsp. saffron threads
12 oz. hericots verts, trimmed and halved
4 oz. ditalini or other small pasta

Prepare the vegetables.

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the onions. Season with kosher salt. Saute for 10 minutes or until translucent. Do not brown the onions.

Add the leeks, potatoes, carrots, a couple full teaspoons kosher salt and pepper and saute over medium heat for 15 minutes.

Add the chicken stock & saffron, bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.

Add the hericots verts and pasta and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Depending on how salty your stock is, you may need to add up to a full tablespoon of kosher salt. Remember, though, the pistou paste is rich.

To serve, whisk 1/4 cup of the pistou (below) into the hot soup. Serve the remaining pistou at the table for guests to season according to taste. Pass Parmesan with this and serve with a crusty French baguette.


4 large, peeled garlic gloves
1/4 cup tomato paste
24 large basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup good olive oil

Place all ingredients but the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Puree.

With the motor running slowly pour the olive oil down the feed tube to make a paste. To serve and store, place in a non-porous container and cover with a film of olive oil.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


This is the easiest dessert you will ever make. For the amount of work involved, the flavor and visual payoff is huge. These are also exceptionally useful: they can serve as a casse-croute with coffee or hot chocolate, a tea time treat, or part of a larger display at a reception, party or shower. I can also imagine them as the perfect petit four to close out a French dinner where cheese was served. They require only three ingredients. Give this a try!

1 sheet Pepperidge Farm puff pastry
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Thaw the puff pastry according to the instructions on the box.

Preheat oven to 450F. Line a jelly roll sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Combine the sugar and salt. Evenly sprinkle a half cup of the sugar mixture on a very clean, very dry counter or large cutting board larger than 15" square. Lay the puff pastry on top of this. Sprinkle the other half of the sugar on top of the puff pastry. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough until it is a 13" square. The sugar will be pressed into the dough on both sides. Then, from the left side, fold the dough one-quarter toward the center. From the right side, fold the dough one quarter toward the center. Repeat for the left and the right and the dough will meet in the center. Fold it again like closing a book. There should be six layers total. There will be plenty of sugar left over. Using a very sharp knife, slice the dough into 3/8" slices.

Place them, cut side up, on the prepared sheet.

Cook in the oven for 6 minutes. Take the sheet out of the oven and flip the palmiers. Be careful in turning these. The sugar melts and is very hot! Cook in the oven another 3-6 minutes until both sides are golden and all the sugar has melted. Cool on the sheet. If the palmiers should not cook any further, if they are on the verge of being too brown, simply remove the palmiers from the sheet and cool on a non-porous surface. Once completely cool - the sugar will crisp - store in an airtight container. Best consumed within 2 days.

Each sheet of puff pastry will make two dozen palmiers.