Thursday, May 26, 2011

watermelon cooler

i woke up 
this morning
in the pink

bubble gum
preppy handbook

this refreshing cocktail
made with 
more wonka than warsaw
will put you
in the PINK too!
NOTE:  this takes a bit of forethought as it uses "homemade" watermelon vodka

 watermelon cooler
3 TBS watermelon vodka (recipe follows)
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup watermelon dice
1/2 lime
2 mint leaves
tonic water
place watermelon, mint, sugar and lime in the bottom of a highball or old fashioned glass.  muddle until the lime has been completely juiced, the mint has begun to give off scent, yet the watermelon has not been pulverized.  add a few ice cubes and pour the watermelon vodka over.  add enough tonic water to fill the glass. give a good stir and serve.
watermelon vodka
1 1/2 cups watermelon candies (i used these)--but i believe jolly ranchers would work well too
3 cups vodka
place the candies in the bottom of a large jar.  add the vodka. let sit in a cool dark place for about 3 days or until the candies are dissolved (may take less time).  Use as desired.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

caramel cake

warm and sticky
like a rainbow lolly half eaten. forgotten in the crease of the car seat.
three showers a day
couldn't keep me felling fresh
add to it
a severe case of chiggers
itchy feet
my face swollen to near paralysis
you find yourself
smack dab in the middle of one of my favorite food moments

Mississippi 2010-Hubster's Family Reunion

I had been obsessed about caramel cake since reading about Minnie's version of it, in the novel The Help. It is a beautifully written story about fictitious people, weaving through real life. It was captivating.  Almost as captivating as its descriptions of food.

I can't help myself.
I spent the whole "girl with the dragon tattoo" trilogy wondering if people in Sweden actually eat that many sandwiches.

but i digress

Hubster and I were mid-stop in our three week southern states roadtrip, when we hit Mississippi.  I had long forgotten my barbecue binges in Texas and my creole cravings in New Orleans. We were crossing the state line, and i needed caramel cake.
As we drove through some of the most beautiful country
green as the hills of Ireland
with scattered towns
population- merely a blip
I frantically dug through travel books/notes/the web, looking for a bakery, or a sign


We were in Mississippi for a family reunion, not a cake walk.  So, I settled in. 
Kind of
  Not really

About 3 days in, the men went golfing.  The remainder of the family was doing other things. I'm not sure, I didn't ask, I was on a mission. I spent an hour that morning with one last ditch effort, searching the web.
i spotted it
A place called Buck's One Stop in Calhoun City
a mere 70 miles away
I'm from Los Angeles. It takes and hour to go 15 miles.  70 miles on open roads? Total breeze

The GPS was slightly off and took me to a dead end street, in a not so friendly neighborhood.  I thought to myself, this is the South, it could be that Buck was making cakes in his garage.  It could happen.  I almost knocked on the door, then thought better of it.  Because I was alone and without cell coverage, I figured i'd best to make one more pass down main street.
no buck's one stop
no buck anything
I did, however, happen upon a parking lot crowded with cars.  A make-shift sign on the front door of the building named the place Bubba T's.  It seemed nice. Actually, it seemed like a community center, possibly serving meals to the homeless.
Really hearty meals of richly smoked meats and slow braised greens
 in an all you can eat fashion
self portioned,
from a modge podge of steam pans

I got in line
Wondering if perhaps, this wasn't an invitation only, memorial luncheon for Bubba T.

I gathered my courage while filling my plate, silently practicing my lines and voice inflection.  The minute I opened my mouth, I was a tell.  Not from around here, certainly not Bubba's kin.  Thankfully, I noticed a small cashier's sign in the far corner of the room. Behind the register sat the most adorable priscilla presley circa 1968 look alike. while she tallied my bill,  we made small talk. yes, i am from out of town, yes, it is hot enough for me, no, i don't need napkins. 
And then I did it. I asked if she knew Buck's One Stop. Her reply, "Yep. The Texaco. You need gas?" First of all, I was standing there, paying for a loaded plate of food, including some sort of pudding-I wasn't going to admit I was looking for more food.  Secondly, I was embarrassed.  Embarrassed that I had driven 70 miles to buy cake I had read about in a book and that I may or may not have crashed a funeral lunch. So, I lied.
Yes, I need gas

I almost didn't stop at the Texaco which, by the way, was no longer Buck's, it had been sold to Mark. But in the spirit of optimism, I held out hope. I've experienced great food at truck stops in Italy, it could happen in Calhoun City.

Nearly a full year has passed yet that day remains an indelible memory.  I can see the patrons, hear the sounds, feel the arctic blast of air rushing me like a wave as i opened the grimy gas station door.  At first glance it looked like every road-side station snack shop--cigarettes, candy, gum, chips. 
And then
I saw it
I felt like Tony Orlando, but instead of yellow ribbons, I saw cakes and pies.
Right there, in the Texaco station, in the township of Calhoun City, population 1770, were the most beautiful, freshly baked cakes I had ever laid eyes on. Including, the object of my obsession.
caramel cake
sky high and drenched in icing
a single slice
flanked by
strawberry cake and coconut cream pie
Behind the counter was the proprietress, amply bosomed, kind-faced and seemingly unaware that people drive miles for her confections. As she and I locked eyes over the counter, my heart sank.  Just one piece remaining. A generous slice, but a single slice, none-the-less.  How was I going to eat the slice of cake while still sharing it with others? Apparently,my lips were moving and I was muttering it out loud.  To which the nice lady gave me a great big smile and pointed at a floor to ceiling shelving unit, stacked with pink boxes.

pink boxes of cake

My heart jumped. I may have shed a tear. I think I giggled a bit.  I was prepared to sell my soul. And had this been Los Angeles, I might have had to.  Because I walked out of there with 2 whole cakes--one caramel, one strawberry--an additional slice of each (for tasting purposes), and maybe some pie. I'm not exactly admitting to the pie. I'm just saying, they sold pie too.

My version of caramel cake tastes pretty close to what I remember from Calhoun City.  It combines a tender crumb white cake with a rich and sugary poured icing.

  Caramel Cake
white velvet butter cake
from rose levy birnbaum
4 oz egg whites--room temperature
1 cup whole milk--divided--room temperature
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbs + 1 tsp baking powder
12 Tbs unsalted butter-room temperature
1/4 tsp kosher salt (my addition)
In a mixer combine all the dry ingredients, and mix for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and mix until the flour gets crumbly. Stir in 1/4 cup of the milk and bring the speed to medium high and beat for about 30 seconds.  In a bowl, stir together the egg whites, milk and vanilla.  Add to the dry ingredients in 3 additions, scraping down the sides and beating for about 5-10 seconds after each addition. Do not over mix, but make sure it is all incorporated.  Pour into 2-7" cake tins, which you have parchment lined and greased.   smooth the batter and bake in a preheated 350 oven for approximately 35 minutes.  Bake until a tester comes out clean.
Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn over onto cooling rack and allow to cool completely.  Slice each round into two horizontally to make 4 layers total.

Caramel Icing
2 cups light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
2 Tbs real maple syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
Bring brown sugar, butter, milk, maple syrup and salt to a simmer.  Simmer just until the sugar is no longer grainy, don't let it boil.  Remove from heat and add vanilla, stirring constantly.  Allow to cool just that it isn't scorching hot, but nicely warm.  Whisk in powdered sugar.  You have to work fast, this will set up rather quickly.  Pour icing on each layer as you stack it, you don't want it to completely pour over the sides, but it can drip over without issue.  once all the layers are set, pour the remaining icing over the top using a ladle.  use the bottom of the ladle to coax the icing over the sides to cover completely.
sprinkle pecans on top

*full disclosure
i love this frosting, so i make 1 batch and allow it to cool a bit, then spread like frosting between the layers. this gives me a bit thicker layer of filling.  i then make a second batch and completely bathe the cake in it. it is my preferred method...but 1 batch of icing will work as well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

fennel and watermelon crudo

i like to ease into my supper
as if 
it is a hammock
rather than 
an overstuffed chair

this crudo 
 a first course
to an 
early spring meal

fennel's season's end
watermelon's begins
fennel and watermelon crudo
1 fennel bulb--thinly sliced
1/4 of a small sweet watermelon--thinly sliced
2 oz feta cheese
fresh mint leaves
aged balsamic vinegar
arrange the fennel and watermelon slices on your serving plate
crumble feta cheese over the top 
add the mint leaves and drizzle with balsamic vinegar
*if you use fresh local seasonal ingredients, you will not need to do much to this and it will be juicy, sweet and delicious

Saturday, May 14, 2011

prepping the drink

we love our garden
and spend countless hours
tilling soil
dead heading roses
training vines
adjusting drip lines
repairing bird houses
tending to our bees


we are in the mountains
which makes our
really short
slightly tenuous

snow seems to fall at its whim
scorching blossoms
with a cool blast

as a result
what we harvest

i prepare and preserve
very little is wasted

speaking of wasted
this year
we are trying something new

liqueurs and elixirs
one of my true loves

 lucky girl that i am

my other true love
humors my every whim

which is how we found ourselves
on a beautiful spring day
perched on ladders
to our pear tree
we picked through the tree
like it was a rummage sale
for the perfect 
barely formed pear-on a just the right size branch
once discovered
we removed the leaves 
gently plied the bottle up the branch
tied it off
and crossed our fingers

if all goes as planned
a beautiful pear
will grow
each bottle

it will then be preserved
with pear soaked brandy

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

blood orange caramel sauce

i don't know how much more i can do
with these bloody oranges

i have
sugared and squeezed them
turned them into jam, jelly and marmalade
rendered them drunk with vodka

tossed them in salads
lifted the flavor of cakes
eaten them out of hand

and now 
i have boiled them into a golden-sticky-sugary delight
so delicious
that i am going to crown myself
the caramel queen
orange grove
 blood orange caramel sauce
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup blood orange juice
2 Tbs unsalted butter--room temperature
1 cup heavy cream--room temperature

place the sugar, salt and orange juice in a heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat.  bring to 275F for 3 full minutes.  quickly add the butter and cream.  be careful as it will boil up and spatter.  stir to combine and bring back to the heat.  cook to 225F while stirring constantly, letting it sit at that temperature for a full 3 minutes. remove from heat and allow to cool.  use while still slightly warm, or at room temperature. keep in refrigerator for approximately 3 weeks...if it lasts that long!
great over ice cream or in your morning tea

more recipes using blood oranges
sugared orange tea cake
sugared oranges

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

pistachio blancmange

10 years ago
more or less
i was a successful executive
living the dream
you know the one
where every aspect of your life
is a tax write-off


evenings were spent
dreaming about my dreams

swaying on the back of a pachyderm 
floating in rivers
briny air and olives of the mediterranean
french sweets and moroccan spices
a day of rest

that was another lifetime
one which inspires gratitude
you can't know
until you know

this gorgeous blancmange
handles them both
with grace

pistachio blancmange
1 ½ cup pistachios, toasted and skins removed
1 ¾ cup whole milk
1/8 tsp almond extract
 generous pinch kosher salt
1 ¾ tsp unflavored gelatin
2 Tbs cold water
½ cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream—whipped to soft peaks

place pistachios and milk in a blender and blend for a full 2 minutes.  line a sieve with a damp kitchen towel or cheesecloth and pour pistachio milk into it. squeeze out milk and discard solids.  stir in almond extract and pinch of salt.
sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand 1 minute.
 in a saucepan over medium heat, heat milk and sugar until sugar is dissolved.  add gelatin and stir until it is dissolved, do not overheat.  remove from heat and cool until just thickened.  fold in whipped cream. spoon into serving dishes.  let chill minimum of 6 hours, or overnight.

you may wish to decorate with silver leaf, ground pistachios or ground almonds

Sunday, May 1, 2011

blood orange arancello

you'd think
that living in
near terminal sunshine
air naturally scented in citrus
would lead a gal
evenings on the porch stoop
knees touching elbows
slowly peeling an orange
wistfully remembering

i'm no rube
a blood orange tree
weeping under the weight of its fruit
is meant to be

which among other things
more lustful

made with blood oranges 
(can be made with any type of orange)
4-5 blood oranges--washed and dried
3-4 cardamom pods--crushed (optional)
4 cups grain alcohol (everclear) or vodka
3 cups water
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup blood orange juice-strained
3 Tbs honey
remove the peel from the oranges using a vegetable peeler. be careful to avoid any white pith.  place in a sterilized glass jar or crock.  add the cardamom pods, if using.  pour in the alcohol and cover tightly.

place in a cool dark cupboard for a minimum of 2 weeks and as long as a couple of months

juice the oranges and reserve 1/2 cup in a freezer safe container. freeze for use in the next step of the process.
after 2 weeks or longer, your mixture should look like this
strain to remove the peels and the cardamom seeds
pour liquid into a larger jar
stir together 3 cups of water, 3 cups of sugar, defrosted 1/2 cup orange juice and honey into a saucepan. heat over medium heat, stirring periodically, until the sugars are dissolved and liquid is clear. allow to cool then pour into the strained alcohol.  taste to make sure it is as sweet as you like. if you like a bit more sweetness, make a mixture of equal parts sugar and water and add until you get your desired taste.  cover jar and place in the cool dark cupboard for another 7-10 days.
you may also bottle it at this time and allow the bottles to sit for 7-10 days before using.  this is not can drink it now, it just gets better with age.  after the waiting period, store in the refrigerator or freezer and serve cold.

you may have seen this previously on 504Main--she featured my recipe in the month of April


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