19 June 2010

Polenta Pound Cake

I go crazy for a.) any new baking recipe, b.) something that incorporates almonds or almond extract, and c.) anything with lemon zest. I found this recipe while looking to Deborah Madison for inspiration for a simple yet delicious dinner party dessert and it met all of the above criteria. Give this cake a try if you are looking for something that isn't too sweet and is a little bit different...

1/4 lb unsalted butter
1 c sugar
zest of 1 lemon (I recommend more than this)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 t almond extract
1/2 c sour cream or yogurt (I used plain yogurt)
1/2 c plus 2 T cornmeal (I used polenta)
1 c flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 pine nuts (optional if you don't like nuts)

- Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour loaf pan.
- Cream butter, sugar, zest until fluffy. Add eggs, then flavorings and yogurt.
- Stir in cornmeal, flour, bkg powder, and salt.
- Spoon batter into loaf pan, shake to remove air pockets.
- Scatter pine nuts on top and press them into the batter.
- Bake until golden and/or toothpick comes out clean (about 1 hour)
- Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then finish cooling on rack.
- I served it with vanilla frozen yogurt and raspberry sorbet and it was quite yummy. But also suggest fresh fruit (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries) and whipped cream or ice cream.

09 June 2010


I'm a sucker for a good pickle. (Yes, Leah, I wrote that line just for you). Like my Eastern European/Russian forbearers, I consider the pickle to be much more than simply a side act to the sandwich. Whether we're talking a garlicky, crispy dill with pastrami, chopped slivers of cornichon gracing a potato salad, or even the essential relish in my mom's signature tuna, in my opinion pickles deserve top billing.

Lately, much to my delight, I've noticed pickles of all stripes popping up on restaurant menus and in the pages of fancy food magazines. At hipper-than-thou Austin establishments, quick pickled red onions top burgers, and house-made pickled cukes grace many a side. Pickling things, long considered an activity fit only for bubbes, seems to be a part of the growing vogue for canning and preserving amongst the food-minded, DIY folk of my generation. New books on pickling and canning line bookstore virtual shelves faster than you can shake a stick (or dill spear) at them. This, as you might imagine, makes me very happy. And eager to join in the fun!

Despite our collective love of pickles, the Masons haven't done much pickling at home and have always been exceedingly brand loyal to the Claussen Kosher Dill ("the world's most excellent pickle"). Content with our Claussens, forays into home pickling were strictly limited to my mom's summertime canning of "dilly beans" and the occasional bumper pepper crop. When I rope my mom into canning some garden-fresh beans for me this summer, I'll be sure to record the process and share it with you here. If you've never had a spicy, dill-infused pickled green bean, you're missing out!

Lacking the patience and the shelf space for an extensive pickling/canning project myself, I've recently experimented with quick pickling (also known as refrigerator pickling). Happily, quick pickles don't require all the sterilizing and boilings of 'real' pickles and the result is just as satisfying. A few lackluster experiments with apple cider vinegar and soggy cucumbers got me off to a rough start but I think I finally hit the jackpot with these pickled carrots.

Going into this rather blindly, I was aiming for somewhere between giardiniera and escabeche--lots of vinegary tang, balanced by a tiny bit of sweetness, and some spice. And, miracle of miracles, that's exactly how they turned out! The best part is that they took almost no time to make and tasted delicious after only a day in the fridge! In a week I've eaten my way through more than half the jar. Tasty eaten alone as a snack (who needs measly baby carrots when these savory treats grace your refrigerator shelf?), they're also great in California rolls and alongside cheese quesadillas. Next on my agenda is a riff on an appetizer of boiled eggs topped with pickled carrot and chive blossoms served at Franny's in Brooklyn, written about in this post--the original inspiration for my pickled carrot experiment.

I'm seeing a lot of carrots in my future this summer folks! Hope you like the smell of vinegar!

Spicy Pickled Carrots
1.5 cups water
1 1/4 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
5 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 bag carrots (one pound??) or about 6 medium to large carrots
1/2 or 1 whole white or yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 large cloves garlic (or more if you like garlic), peeled
about 6 or so spicy pickled peppers (peperoncini)
medium size glass jar with tight-fitting lid or other glass or heavy-duty plastic container with tight lid

**use this recipe merely as a guide--feel free try pickling other veggies or changing proportions to suit your tastes

Bring the water to a low boil and add sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved and remove from heat. Add vinegar, mustard seeds, and red pepper flakes and set aside to cool a bit. Put a pot of water large enough to hold all the carrots on to boil. Meanwhile, rinse, trim, and peel carrots and cut into desired shape (I prefer thick matchsticks). When water boils add carrots and blanch for no more than 3 minutes, then drain them in a colander, immerse in an ice-water bath for a few minutes(keeps them crisp and bright), and then drain again.

Place some of the onions, the garlic, and a few peppers in bottom of jar or container. Add about half the carrots on top, then the rest of the onions/peppers and top with remaining carrots. Pour vinegar and spice mixture over the veggies and be sure to cover them completely (if you have a small jar you may have too much liquid--that's fine, you just don't want too little). Cover and refrigerate. Your pickles will be ready to eat in day or two and will get a little stronger the longer you keep them. If you manage to not eat them immediately, as long as you keep them refrigerated and don't go digging around in the jar with grubby fingers, your pickles will keep for several weeks.

07 June 2010

Kalamata Olive Tapenade

Alpine, Texas is a tough place to own a restaurant. They seem to be going in and out of business all the time. Unfortunately, one of the most recent closures was our landladies' restaurant "The Gulf Station Cafe." It was a cute little place on the railroad tracks that tried to serve healthy, yummy food to a clientele which prefers large quantities of less-than-healthy fare. Anyways, one of the unforeseen benefits of the restaurant closing has been that we have received an interesting assortment of extra food. We had a large bag of whole cranberries which I made into a cranberry coffee cake a few weeks ago, a large block of feta cheese which is hanging out in our freezer awaiting inspiration, and lastly a bunch of kalamata olives. When life gives you olives, make olive paste- right? If it is ever raining olives in your neck of the woods, give this recipe a try. It is down-right delicious!

Tapenade (Adapted from Epicurious)
1 3/4 c kalamata olives
3 T + 1/4 c toasted, chopped walnuts (I used pecans)
1/4 c olive oil
2 t dijon mustard
1 garlic clove (I used 3 or so)
1 t fresh thyme
1 t fresh oregano
1 t fresh sage (my plant just died, so I skipped this)
Pinch of cayenne

- Pulse olives and 3 T of toasted nuts in food processor.
- Add oil, mustard, garlic, and spices. Pulse to mix.
- Stir in remaining 1/4 c chopped nuts.
- Chill until ready to serve. Serve with sliced bread, cheese (sharp cheddar or a nice blue cheese give a great counter-flavor) and an assortment of veggie adornments such as cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil leaves or whatever creative stuff you pull out of your garden or fridge.