Chicken Liver, Pear, and Cognac Mousse

Pear

I knew today that summer was almost at an end when I saw the first new crop pears at the grocery store. It astonishes me how rapidly this one has sped past. I love autumn, but I’m not ready for it to be cold and for the days to get shorter. I have loved this summer’s late sunsets and balmy, languid twilights, which, in the Northwest, stretch on for hours. But today it finally felt like time to post this recipe, which I have kept in my back pocket for several months now. This is an old-school chicken liver mousse á la Julia Child. Far easier than a paté, this type of mousse can literally be whipped up in under twenty minutes, not including the time it needs to set (at least four hours in the fridge). It’s great when you’re cooking for a party and don’t want to fuss at the last minute. Continue reading

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Pistachio and Cashew Baklava Fingers

051aBefore I set out to make baklava, a friend of Greek origin advised me, “don’t hold back on the syrup.” This is sound advice.

Baklava is a traditional dessert in countries that were part of the former Ottoman empire. Early recipes for baklava date to the fourteenth century. Layers of filo dough are brushed with clarified butter, enrobing sweetened, lightly spiced ground nuts, and baked until golden. When the baklava is fresh out of the oven and still hot, a sweet syrup—a honey syrup in Greece, and an orange-blossom or rose-water scented sugar syrup in Lebanon and parts of the Middle East—is poured over the top of the dessert, which is then left to soak for several hours. The syrup marries with the filo layers and nuts in a glorious sticky union. Continue reading

Southern-Style Frosted Cinnamon Rolls

341aThe thing that I love most about baking in the American South is the blithe disregard for caloric content and cholesterol. A close second is the Southern fondness for, well, stickiness. Gooey frostings and sticky caramel reign supreme. Baked goods are literally finger-licking good, and it is a glorious thing. The cinnamon roll – ostensibly, an innocent breakfast roll, but really a wolf in sheep’s clothing – in many ways epitomizes what I love best about Southern cakes. It begs to be eaten with the hands. It’s warm and yielding and fragrant and delightfully, decadently sticky. If you’re watching your waistline, after a proper cinnamon roll you may as well skip meals for the rest of the day. Southern-style cinnamon rolls don’t play around. Continue reading

Cranberry Kuchen

DSC_0306aMy blogging has suffered, as of late, as has my cooking, due to a constellation of issues – a remodel, a heavy workload, and a short-term food-writing project, which has occupied much of my evenings, and which I think I’ll be able to talk about soon. The longer I go between posting recipes, the guiltier I feel, and the more I convince myself that I need to burst back with something truly awesome. With this recipe, I’ve leant more toward the prosaic, but in a friendly holiday-cooking type of way. Kuchen, the German word for cake, is generally used to describe coffee cakes made from sweet yeast dough.  For me, sweet yeast cakes are classic holiday food.  Later this winter, I’ll wrest from my mother her recipe for Polish poppy seed cake, which she used to make at Christmas time and send to family; for now, I offer this old-fashioned kuchen. Continue reading

Linguine with Sea Urchin Roe (Uni) Sauce

DSC_0255_01aStrictly speaking, the edible part of sea urchin – uni, as it’s called in Japanese – isn’t roe at all. It is the animal’s gonads, and will eventually turn into sperm (milt) or roe, depending on the animal’s sex. Uni is a delicacy, and an acquired taste. It is intensely briny, with a heady, floral, loamy aftertaste. In Japan, it’s served most commonly as nigiri sushi, on rice, and it is classified according to quality, based upon its color, flavor, and firmness. Uni is best eaten fresh, i.e., from an animal that you have just killed yourself, however you can also buy uni cleaned, packaged, and ready to eat. This dish – al dente linguine, served in a rich sauce made with fresh raw uni emulsified with melted butter and lemon – is a coastal Italian classic, and, cleaning of the sea urchin aside, it is quick and remarkably easy to prepare. It tastes like nothing you have ever eaten before in your life. Continue reading

Nectarine Shortcakes with Nectarine Butter Caramel

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The end of summer is bittersweet. In the Pacific Northwest at midsummer it gets dark at 10 p.m., but by the end of August the days get shorter, the nights cooler, and the rain begins to return. This summer in Seattle has been glorious, and Labor Day weekend has given us a last burst of sunshine. Next week, however, it is going to rain. And rain. Hello autumn. Fortunately the markets are still full of splendid peaches, nectarines, and beautiful Italian plums, the last taste of summer.

I was in the Yakima Valley, in Eastern Washington, this weekend for a wedding. Yakima Valley is peach country. (It is also wine country, but that is a story for another day.) In Union Gap, a tiny town whose largest employer is a fruit packing company, I lost my mind and bought 25 pounds of canning peaches. At home, I spread them out to ripen and thought, “I had better do something about those nectarines.” Continue reading

Roasted Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins

DSC_0876bLate spring in the Pacific Northwest has been unusually warm and sunny this year. In the last weeks of May, early strawberries start appearing at farmers markets, and by June, on sunny Saturdays, I find it near impossible to resist the siren call of U-Pick strawberries. For two Saturdays running now, I’ve driven to Carnation, where my favorite U-Pick farms grow strawberries and raspberries. A paradisical verdant valley fringed by jagged snow-tipped green-black mountains, Carnation feels almost ridiculously pastoral, an urban dweller’s fantasy of country living just 40 minutes outside of Seattle. I would have gone strawberry picking simply because Carnation is so darned pretty, but it turns out that Harvold Berry Farm grows the serious strawberry aficionado’s strawberry, Shuksan strawberries. Continue reading

Apricot Caramel Upside-Down Cake

I’m one of those people who is chronically unable to accept compliments regarding my cooking. I can go further: I am a chronic apologist for my own food. This is such a consistent issue that I made a New Year’s resolution to apologize less and say thank you more.

Resolutions are great in theory but difficult to implement. Last Saturday I baked an apricot caramel upside-down cake for a party. Lovely friend Sophie helped herself to a slice and sat down beside me. “It’s a weird color because I used brown sugar,” I said. Sophie said nothing, and placed a small morsel in her mouth. “It looks dense, but that’s because the caramel soaked into the cake a little. I think I flipped it too early,” I said. With great concentration, Sophie continued to eat her cake. “I was hungover when I baked this cake, so I’m not sure if it’s my best effort,” I said. Sophie said nothing. She delicately took a bit of soft caramelized apricot on her fork and ate it. “Do you think it’s too sweet? I’m worried that it’s too sweet,” I said.

Sophie turned to me. “Let’s start this conversation again. This time, you will only praise your cake,” she said. I thought for a moment. “This is a beautiful cake,” I said. “The apricots are like a sunset over a South Pacific island, turning the water gold. The cake is like a perfumed Spring breeze, like happy memories of childhood,” I said. Sophie looked at me and laughed. She said, “Maybe you should say nothing at all. Then, when someone compliments your cake, you can say, ‘Thank you.’” Continue reading

Braised Baby Artichokes with Chestnut Honey and Thyme

In the microuniverse of blogging, there are few controversies more spirited than the debate over sponsored posts and advertising. I personally don’t like advertising banners and badges on blogs – they’re distracting, unsightly, and (perhaps irrationally) they make me slightly suspicious of the blogger. My attitude may be self-indulgent – after all, great segments of bloggers’ conferences are devoted to “monetizing” your blog. (I admit I have never been to a bloggers’ conference.) But I figure this is MY blog and I can do what I like with it. I sneeringly turned down advertisements from a reputable Large London Grocer and I have decidedly mixed feelings about blogging restaurant reviews from places that offer free meals in exchange for a review. (Chris, at Cheese and Biscuits, does a nice job of describing the queasy internal conflict that goes along with the freebie here. He gets way, WAY more freebies than I ever will.)

All that said, however, I have a slightly different attitude to products. I think this is probably because I make everything from scratch and it’s hard to hide behind a raw ingredient. Plus if I’m lucky it gives me the opportunity to cook with something that I might not otherwise have tried. I’m pretty choosy about what I’ll accept – I have to like the people that are offering the item to me; e.g., I have to respect their ethos and their approach to food-sourcing. But I was pretty excited when the nice folks at Seggiano (a small family-run Italian food importer) invited me to choose some items from their catalogue. A box duly was delivered on Monday, and yesterday I took a crack at creating a recipe from one of the most intriguing of the contents: chestnut honey. To be clear: I got the honey for free, but I am not otherwise being paid to write this post. Continue reading

Rhubarb Sour Cream Scones

I have never been a fan of austerity in baking. Give me egg yolks. Give me butter. Give me cream or, better yet, give me buttercream. I don’t want to eat dessert, I want Dessert with a capital D. Which is why, for many years, I did not understand the appeal of scones. My mother didn’t bake them, so the scones I ate were store-bought, dry, crumbly things, perhaps adorned with a few miserly flecks of dried currants, that stuck to the roof of my mouth like paste no matter how much jam I slathered on them.

Everything changed, however, when I made cream scones for the first time. Oh how deliciously the crumbs of butter and flour clung together, moistened by thick cold cream. Folded with fresh berries, baked until golden brown, and served warm with (yes!) more butter and jam, cream scones were (and still are) my idea of heaven. Continue reading