In honor of the last non-sports weekend of 2007, and belatedly in honor of Sid’s birthday, and inspired by Sid’s clothing line, we bring you… the I [Heart] Crosby cake! This was Pookie’s brainchild, as she was most eager to see how the kitchen could handle cake baking. We made the Cook’s Illustrated devil’s food cake, both because we think any cake that isn’t chocolate is generally a waste, and also because, duh — Devils. Sid would surely approve. If he ever ate cake. At any rate, Pookie took care of all the heavy lifting, creaming the butter and sugar and then combining everything in stages as I just melted the unsweetened chocolate and cocoa into boiling water and then “supervised”. Pookie was the driving creative force here, and she decided a cake for Sid, at this point, simply has to be pink and say “I [heart] Crosby”. So I made a Swiss buttercream frosting, and Pookie ably turned it into a properly girly pink; for the sake of contrast we opted to go blue with the writing. My piping skills are… not so good. But the point is well enough expressed — we were actually quite delighted with the amateurish outcome. Let’s see a bakery make a cake that looks quite so much like the decorators were, as we were tonight, lightly toasted! As for the taste, this is a home run. The cake has a no-nonsense chocolate flavor, not at all cloying and not showily over-rich. The crumb is silky smooth, and it’s perfectly dense. The frosting is light, buttery and just sweet enough to match the cake well. And aesthetically, it really can’t be beat.
Monthly Archives: August 2007
In taking the advice of the Delphic Oracle, I have come to a comfortable recognition of my limitations as a cook. Perhaps the most severe of those limitations is that I am incredibly lazy. I am a one-pot kind of gal, and it would be fair to say that 99.9% of the meals I make can be eaten out of a bowl. I like pastas, soups, stews, and those kinds of dishes Rachael Ray calls “stoups”. But once every blue moon, I go crazy and make something that could be traditionally identified as a dinner, and this was one of those nights. Being generally uninspired, I’ve been forcing a lot of raw-tomato pastas on Boomer and Pookie lately, thanks to the ridiculous overabundance of heirlooms coming from the farm; with the recent spate of autumnal weather, though, I decided it was time to roast us some meat for a change.
So I pulled the orange-sherry glazed roast chicken recipe from my Cooks Illustrated poultry book, figuring the citrus would keep us rooted a bit in reality (in that Fall weather in August doesn’t mean it’s not still August). Then I went hog-wild and made up my own brown rice pilaf to go with it. I made it with some homemade chicken stock from the freezer, a bit of orange juice, some toasted pine nuts and fino verde basil from our garden. Then, to finish the notion of “meat + side dishes”, I wilted some rainbow chard from the farm with a bit of garlic from our own garden. Now, this dinner was both hearty and ridiculously delicious, but I think what made me happiest about it was that I felt like I’d accomplished something for having coordinated a bunch of elements to all hit the table at the same time. For me, that’s as difficult as a moon launch, so, while reflecting on the crispy, sticky glaze and the fresh-tasting, nutty pilaf, I’m also going to bask in the reflection of a job well done.
Considering the vast quantities of chili powder I like to make, it should come as no surprise that I make vast quantities of chili. This is IPB Manor’s weekly standard, in part because it’s delicious and uses up a lot of summer produce, but also because the leftovers make for fantastic lunches. I realize chili is, for some people, a religious thing, and they would find my approach to it bordering on profane; to them I say, “Well, I’m from Jersey. What do you expect?” Anyway, here’s the skinny on how I make my own cavernous vat of the stuff.
Start by sweating up (in a VERY large pot) a boatload of chopped veggies of the “chili base” variety in a few tablespoons of oil. I go with about 4 average-sized yellow onions (or white, or red, or any combo thereof — whatever’s on hand, and whatever will yield about 2-3 cups when chopped), six cloves of garlic (minced), 6 bell peppers (I like to go with 2 each of green, yellow and red. This week I had just red and green from the farm) and hot peppers, finely minced, to taste (my preference is 3 habaneros. Some might find this a bit on the “rocket hot” end of the scale, but I feel like anything sub-habanero coming from my grocery store really tends not to taste like much of anything at all). Once everything’s softened up pretty well, stir in a heaping tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, 3-4 heaping tablespoons of chili powder (my homemade chili powder is very cumin-y, so I don’t have to add extra, but back in the days of using storebought chili powder, I’d toss in a tablespoon or two of ground cumin as well), and a few teaspoons of kosher salt. Let that get fragrant for a minute or so, then stir in 3 pounds of ground pork (or turkey, or beef, or any combo. I don’t eat beef, and used to make this exclusively with turkey, but I like the flavor and slightly increased fattiness of the pork), and let that brown up while stirring regularly to make sure everything’s getting well combined. Once the pork is evenly cooked, stir in one large (28 oz.? Is that the standard large size?) can of diced tomatoes and one bottle of beer (I use Yuengling Black and Tan, but anything would do. And the recipe I started out on my life’s chili journey with just called for two cans of tomatoes). Let that come to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes or so. Once all the flavors have melded, stir in four 15-ounce cans of beans that have been drained and rinsed (I use two cans of kidney and two of black beans) and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro. Heat until the beans are warmed, then serve over brown rice and top with grated cheddar cheese.
Now, when I first started out, I was using a recipe I saw on Food Network that was totally vegetarian — instead of meat, it called for 4 zucchinis, coarsely chopped. That’s a nice alternative for the non-meat-eating set, and also a useful outlet for those piles of summer squash threatening to overtake my fridge. Another alternate route to take with this recipe is to go all “Cincinnati-style” and put in a teaspoon or so of cinnamon with the other spices and then serve atop buttered egg noodles. Either way, this is the meal we most commonly eat at IPB Manor — I’ve probably been making this once a week now for at least three years. And I hope to never stop, because it’s quick, easy, and frankly, scrumptious!
(Oh, and this week I had a bit of extra get-up-and-go, so I whipped up a cornbread in which I — gasp! — “winged it” by adding chopped jalapeno and fresh corn kernels to the recipe on the back of the Quaker cornmeal container. It was shockingly out of character for me. But quite tasty!)
When buying the prosecco for the Bellinis, the gentleman at the wine store gave us a delightful run-down of the wine itself in his comically attractive French accent. When he finished we all nodded and said, “Great! We’ll take it!” It was only then that the wine guy said, flashing a comically attractive eye-sparkling grin, “Oh, I should probably tell you how much it costs, right?” Schnookie announced it was probably six million dollars per bottle. Turns out it was only $15, so we took two bottles, not quite sure what to do with the second bottle. Always the problem solver, Schnookie decided to use it to make 6 Million Dollar Lemonade. She whipped up a batch of fresh lemonade and then poured the prosecco over it. The result? Pure bliss. If juice boxes should taste like Rhode Island Reds, those super expensive bottles of sparkling European lemonade should taste like this. Crisp, sweet, bubbly and with that promise of my beloved champagne buzz. (We’ve established that I was born at the wrong time, and should have been some wealthy, ditzy heiress in 1860’s Vienna, drinking champagne with breakfast, lunch and dinner.) The glasses were ones we purchased months and months ago, with the stipulation that they would not be used until the kitchen was ready to go. So this drink looks and tastes like a celebration!
We are creatures of habit at stately IPB Manor, and one of our regular meals is chili. Once a week I make up a huge-assed pot of the stuff, and after gorging on bowls of it atop brown rice and buried under mountains of cheese, the copious quantities of leftovers get packaged up for lunches for the remainder of the week. After several years of tinkering with the big parts of the recipe (the meat, the vegetables, the liquids), I finally decided there was one building block left that would be a lot of fun to play with — the chili powder. After watching an episode of Good Eats about dried chiles, I took Alton Brown’s recipe and ran with it. I use guajillo, arbol, cascabel and chipotles, and liberally apply all of them (Penzey’s Spices is a fantastic source for all the elements of this). I also make boatloads of chili powder at a time; the finished product you see here is being stored in a four-cup spice jar. The process of seeding and cutting up the chiles is brutal — it’s almost as if there are elements to these peppers that could be used as weapons or something… But suffering the burning eyes and nasal passages, the spine-rattling fits of sneezing, the coughing so hard you think a lung is going to come up, is all worth it, because this chili powder makes the stuff from the grocery store taste like mildly spicy sand. My homemade chili powder is fresh, fruity and flowery, with a kicky, lemony edge of cumin and a complexity from the four chiles that is deep, smoky and robust. If you’ve got a spice grinder you’re not afraid to use for something spicy and you’re not particularly attached to the mucous membranes in your head, this is a project well worth undertaking.
Today was one of those picture-perfect summer days, sunny, dry, hot but not scorching… It almost made me not hate the season as a whole, but the absence of hockey on television quickly reminded us why summer sucks. However, I will grudgingly give summer that it’s got peaches, and even though squirrels ate the entire first-ever crop from our very own peach tree (seriously, there were at least 15 fruits on that tree, and we didn’t even think to take a picture of it. Oh well. It gives us something to look forward to in next year’s off-season…), we still have the local orchard. So, going by a recipe in one of the bartending recipe books I got for my birthday, I made bellinis after a lovely picnic lunch in Princeton. The recipe called for a heap of peach puree topped with prosecco, and specified that the puree should be made with peaches (flesh and skin), ice cubes and lemon juice. I had no lemons, so I substituted limoncello (they’re interchangeable, right?), and ended up with an extravagantly unsightly mess. After much spilling, fizzing over and vigorous stirring, something resembling a cocktail was produced. And you know what? It’s pretty damn good. The peaches were surprisingly bitter, so next time if they’re equally not-tasty I might splash some simple syrup into the puree, and while the skins certain enhance the flowery flavor of the drink, they leave a bit, visually and texturally, to be desired, so I might peel the peaches next time too. But that’s kind of the key here: there will be a next time. Yum!