Monday, December 28, 2009

until the new year comes.....

So, we enter the annual season of lists, recaps of those who left us, and the setting of dreaded resolutions. The latter is the most personal and the one that really chaps our hide by February first. While the gossipy list of scandals entertains our pedestrian selves and it is a time when we reflect on the missing place setting, it is the imposing of a pledge that forces a countdown.

Given the clicking off of this end of the year and the realization that the first decade of this new century is coming to a close, my resolutions are being culled from a broad swath - goals yet to be achieved, personal habits to be adjusted and future dreams to be laid-down.

But what the heck, I still have four days to indulge in naughty habits and eat way too much sugar. The Holidays fills my house with an unusual amount of chocolates – probably the only time of year I actually eat chocolate. A thoughtful friend knew well to bring white chocolate. Though my weakness is cake. Unfortunate, but fortunately, it is a quiet time for work and I can spoil myself with wicked forkfuls.

Old fashion Hummingbird, basic white cake with buttercream, cheesecake or carrot cake all fair game for my Yuletide excess. So, for a few more days eat cake.

My Mother's Fabulous Carrot Cake - yields two 9" cakes
1-1/2 cups canola oil
2-cups sugar
4-eggs - separated
1/4-cup hot water
2-1/2 cups flour
1-teaspoon baking soda
1/2-teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cup grated carrot
2-teaspoons cinnamon
1-cup currants - optional

Mix the oil, sugar and egg yolks until creamy pale yellow. Add the hot water, flour, baking soda and salt, and mix to incorporate thoroughly. Add the carrots, cinnamon and currants. Beat the egg whites to a stiff peak, but not dry.

Fold the egg whites into the carrot mixture. There should still be some clumps of whites visible. Split between two 9" cake pans, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted comes out clean.

Filling for Carrot Cake
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks - beaten
1/2-cup sugar
1/4-pound butter
1-cup pecans - whole
1-cup coconut - grated
1-teaspoon vanilla

In a one-quart saucepan mix all the “gook” ingredients together, and over a medium heat cook the filling to thicken. The filling must be kept moving and will coat the back of a spoon when done. It takes about 15 minutes of constant stirring, and I mean constant stirring. Left unattended over the heat the eggs in the filling will curdle. You can do as my mother used to do, and make one of her three children stir, as my sister and I called it, the gook.

Cool the "gook" and put half between the two layers of the cake, and then spread the remaining over the top. Store this cake un-refrigerated.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Precious Joy

scurrying about
bags overflowing with cheer
families gathering

Braised Short Ribs – yields 6
5 pounds short ribs – trimmed of excess fat
1/4-cup all-purpose flour
2-teaspoons canola oil
2 large onions – diced
4 ribs celery – diced
2 small carrots
3-inch piece fresh ginger – peeled and diced
1/4-cup diced dried dates
1/4-cup fresh thyme leaves – chopped
Large pinch of saffron
4 whole black cardamom pods
1-bottle red wine
1/2-cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Dust the short ribs with the flour.

In a 12-quart pot over a high heat, add the oil. Brown the ribs in two batches. Remove the browned ribs, and pour off any oil that pooled in the bottom of the pot.

Add the onions, celery and carrots to the pot, and cook until lightly browned. Then add the ginger, dates, and the browned short ribs. Mix to combine.

Add the thyme, saffron, cardamom and pour over the wine. Bring the wine to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cover with a lid, and simmer for three to three and half hours. Add the parsley, salt and pepper, and cook uncovered for an additional half hour.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Baby it is cold outside

I sit on my sofa, a throw draped over my shoulders and a cup of hot tea within arm’s reach. Yes, winter is here even if the solstice has yet to arrive. My farmer’s market has shrunken to a small contingent of hardy vendors offering yesterday’s haul from the sea, root vegetables that cellar through the winter as well the Amish table filled with Moon pies, and farmer’s cheese.

I troll the market these days walking away with an apple or two, some pears, a bunch of kale and perhaps, parsnips. During the peak of the season it is easy to derive ninety percent of my foods locally, but now it is the complete opposite. Fortunately, I have squirreled away a freeze full for just this time – much to my partner’s annoyance. While he may complain about the lack of available space for his pint of ice cream he does not seem to be riled by the meals it helps produce. Now, I can live with the constant digging through, and re-organization of my freezer. What gets me is going to a grocery store to items to flesh out my creations. I walk around and around in a haze, finding it difficult to hear the siren’s call to eat.

Inevitably I settle on mushrooms, celery, jicama, or baby arugula all in the hopes to put something on the table, and making sure what I have stockpiled doesn’t run out too quickly.

Chorizo and Potato Stew – yields 4 to 6 servings
1-pound chorizo – sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 onion – cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3-garlic cloves – roughly chopped
3-celery ribs – cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2-cup canned tomatoes – drained of juice
1/2-pound potatoes (preferably Yukon gold) – cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat a 10-inch skillet or a wok over a medium heat, and add the chorizo. Brown the chorizo well.

Once the chorizo has browned add in the onion and celery. Brown the onion mixture then add the garlic, tomato and potatoes. Pour in 1/4-cup of water. Cover the pot and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cookie Monster

Is it the holiday season or the deepening cold that has me desiring, and subsequently baking cookies? I would have to believe it is the latter given that I have not been invited to participate in a holiday cookie exchange ever, and I know, given previous years, I will continue to crave small little cakes well past the yuletide.
I am very particular about which types of cookies will feed this seasonal urge. You won’t get an oatmeal-raisin or any other dried fruit-studded biscuit setting up in my oven. No, they must be rich and rife with nuts and in all probability strewn with chocolate, white chocolate that is. I don’t mind if they are crisp or chewy as long as they are fresh. I tend to make the cookie batter, bake off a day or two’s allotment, then freeze the remaining dough which is rolled into a log for easy whacking off at a moment's notice. Yes, this keeps me in right-from-the-oven pleasure, but it definitely curtails my daily snacking.

I am not sure what got into me the other day, but there I was thinking peanut butter cookies, and I rarely, if ever, eat peanuts. So of course, there was no peanut butter in my refrigerator, but there was macadamia nut butter made a couple weeks earlier.

One would wonder why in this Skippy-spreading culture of ours, there would be no peanut butter but macadamia. That is an easy answer, for while I was a fanatical fluff and jelly sandwich youngster, I have grown to appreciate the potential of a nut spread. Having run out of cashew butter, my usual nutty smear, I decided to throw macadamias into a food processor, and let them whiz until they became a smooth, decadent spread. Any nut can be treated in this fashion, and the yield is approximately one-cup whole produces one-cup processed. I figured that peanuts and macadamias were both high in fat, so why not an alternative version? To my satiating pleasure it did work, and a trail of crumbs can now track me down.

Macadamia Butter-White Chocolate Cookies – yields approx 24
1/2-cup light brown sugar
1/2-cup white sugar
1/4-pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2-cup macadamia butter
1 egg
2-teaspoons vanilla
1-1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4-teaspoon baking soda
1/2-teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
5-ounces white chocolate – roughly chopped

Beat the sugars and butter together until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add in the macadamia butter. Beat the sugars and butters again until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Sift together the flour, baking soda , baking powder and salt.

Mix the flour into the sugar/butter mixture, and then stir in the white chocolate to distribute throughout the dough.

Chill the dough in the refrigerator for an hour or two.

Pre-heat the oven to 350-degrees.

Place about a tablespoon’s worth of the cookie dough on a parchment-lined baking tray, and gently press to flatten – making it about 1/4-inch thick. Cook about nine per baking tray with about 1/2-inch between each cookie. Bake for 11 to 12 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven, and then allow to cool for a minute or two before transferring to a cooling rack.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

the belly of the beast

I will readily confess that almost anything swine appeals to me, save perhaps a bout of influenza, or those pickled feet sitting in a jar by the cashier at the quickie mart. My old go-to, particularly when trying out a new restaurant, was the chicken entree. It was my belief if the kitchen could not produce a decently cooked avian piece of meat how could I trust anything else coming out of their workspace. Over the past years, my focus and barometer for a baseline achievement has become the pig.

Thanks to a Ladies Home Journal, of 1971, my mother started to make a delicious baked ham studded with cloves. Of course, who could pass up Sunday morning’s crispy strips presented right next the spread of bagels, lox and white fish. Clearly, I did not grow up with the cultural taboos around eating pork, so I cannot explain way my adult admiration for this meat as a recalcitrant dismissal of a childhood banned consumption. When it comes to roasting I think no other meat holds up as well giving me the caramelized crunch I adore coupled with a moist chew.

I have been slow roasting pork shoulder for years, perhaps marinated in slightly over-aged kimchi, or rubbed with a citrusy annatto paste as well as pierced with copious quantities of garlic, which then gets hours of a smoky bath.

Over the past few years, one cut from the pig has become a rising star. Pork belly has definitely become all the rage, and I have to assume this increased interest has affected its value on the Chicago commodities exchange. If you remember the fat-phopic period of the nineteen nineties it is an amazing turn-about in our eating habits. I had a friend back in the dawn of that decade that endeavored to import a fantastic line of cheeses from Australia. Having lived and worked down-under I was very familiar with the potential of these products – I still can taste the lavender speckled farmhouse truckle that married so well to caramelized fruits. Within a year and half the office was packed up, and the American market was robbed of its pleasures.

Fads and trends clearly move on, and in this case with a whiplash (or more precisely, cardio-vascular) like effect.

Braised Pork Belly – yields 4 to 6 servings
2-1/2 pounds pork belly
6 garlic cloves – chopped
1 medium onion – sliced
3 celery stalks - sliced on an angle
1-1/2 inch piece ginger – peeled and sliced julienne
1/4-cup soy sauce
1/4-cup mirin
2-tablespoons white distilled vinegar
2 whole star anise

Pre-heat the oven to 450-degrees.

Score the fat cap of the pork with your knife to create a crosshatch pattern. Don not cut through the fat into the meat.

Toss the onion, celery and ginger together, and place on the bottom of a 4 by 6-inch roasting pan. Place the pork on top of the vegetables. Cook the pork belly in the oven for an hour, or until a crisp top has been formed.

Then pour over the soy sauce, mirin and vinegar, and snuggle in the star anise. Lower the oven heat to 325-degrees, and cook the pork belly for an additional 2 hours.

Remove the pork to a plate, and pour the fat and caramelized vegetables into a fine sieve. Allow the fat to drip into a container (use the fat dripping to sauté potatoes on another day).

Slice the pork, and garnish with the caramelized vegetable.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Here it comes

I have never been one who waxes lovingly about wintry moments rather it is usually the season when I dream of escape. Pine for the seemingly intolerable heat of August and the irritation of sand brought home from the beach. I suffered the cold terribly, and remember a ski trip as a child that left me degrees from hypothermia, that turned out to be a downhill ice-skating outing that left me grateful to make it to bottom unbroken. Not being a fan of chocolate the ubiquitous hot brew awaiting everyone offered no enticement for this ridiculous exposure. If only they served hot Strawberry Quick.

Though today the sky wore that wooly grey pullover of the cold months, and the air filled with a chill. At first, it was wet spiting than large clumps of frozen confection floated on down, and a gentle wonder and joy overtook me. How queer…how unexpected. As I walked, sufficiently bundled, welcoming this transition I started to dream of the activity this climate allows me to enjoy in my kitchen. In my mind I went through my inventory of canned, pickled and preserved items now allowed to be set free. I have a rule that I will not use any of my preserved spring and summer treasures until the first snow.

My personal contentment with the warmth is not shared with my apartment – even with nine windows for more than cross ventilation the whole place becomes a warming oven. Not the most comfy environment for most folks.

Now, during these months when the days hover at the lower end of the thermometer the tropical atmosphere I inhibit becomes conducive to not only cooking, but also having others over to share the meal – be it a formal sit down or a casual nosh around a movie this is the season to be cooking.

Crisp Miso Chicken Wings – yields 4 servings
1/3- cup white miso paste
2-garlic cloves – crushed to a paste
1-teaspoon hot sauce
1-teaspoon sesame seeds
1/4-cup rice vinegar
1/8-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 pound chicken wings

In a bowl mix together the miso, garlic, hot sauce, sesame seeds, vinegar and black pepper.

Toss in the chicken wings and coat the chicken well with the miso mixture. Cover, and refrigerate for 8 hours.

Pre-heat the oven 400 degrees.

Remove the chicken from the bowl and place a parchment lined baking tray. Cook the wings for 45 to 60 minutes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


When I was a culinary neophyte it seemed that on any given day I could go out and discover something new. Now, given my culinary heritage the exotica that resided in my family pantry consisted of dill, garlic, paprika and barley. So, I grew up with leeks as an edgy choice. It was the seventies after all, and I was in the culinary wasteland of the New York suburbs, and the Silver Palate Cookbook had yet to introduce American cooks to balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes and capers. Still, this initial awakening was myopic completely focused on the European sensibility of our society. Limited but welcomed nevertheless.

When I finally moved into my first place, a tiny studio apartment where the front two burners of my stovetop served as the resting place for my cutting, and sported burn marks from turning the wrong burner. Though now in my own home I was free to explore, hunt and discover the fuller breath of our diverse population’s cravings. I remember a magical spice shop on the upper eastside of Manhattan that would today seem like a set from a Harry Potter film – it was dark, a little musty with floor to ceiling cupboards that had small drawers containing every imaginable spice. This is where I found the chervil I needed for a goat cheese soufflé I was planning to make. Heading south to Chinatown gave me a leafy broccoli, ginger, rice vinegar and sticky rice. Those halcyon days when my life revolved around the dinner party I would host most Saturday nights meant a day of searching.

These days’ jicama, purple potatoes, nori sheets and chipolte chilies can be found just across the street in my neighborhood market. We have come a long way but I miss the hunt. The simple discovery of orangey-umber hued persimmons during the autumn of my first year of culinary school in San Francisco was a moment of wonder, and left me agog with ideas – once I learned that the two varieties needed to be treated differently. The Fuyu, which is more apple like in shape and is to be eaten hard. As opposed to the Hachiya with its more oblong shape that must be eaten so soft you would most likely think it is over-ripe. Bite into one of these under-ripe persimmons, and it is like sucking on an eraser filled with a day’s worth of chalk – I will never make that mistake again.

It is still possible to discover new foods my search has just broadened. I will scour the outer boroughs of New York, or no matter where I travel to I seek out farmer’s markets, grocery stores or any other opportunity I have to shop for a culinary treat.

Persimmon Salad – yields 6 servings
4 persimmons (Fuyu variety)
1 Asian pear
1-small English cucumber
1serrano chili
1-pound jicama
1-tablespoon orange zest
1/2-cup cider vinegar
6 scallions – thinly sliced
2-tablespoons chopped mint leaves
2-tablespoons canola oil
1/2-teaspoon salt

Slice the persimmons, pear and cucumber into about 1/2-inch pieces. Finely mince the serrano chili, and place the ingredients into a work bowl.

Peel the jicama and then slice into 1/2-inch pieces, and add to the persimmons. Toss in the orange zest, cider vinegar, scallions, mint, canola oil and salt. Allow the salad to sit an hour or two before serving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giving Thanks

After the parade

around the table we gather

for: laughs community love

Sweet Potato Soufflé - yields 8 servings
3 1/2 pounds of sweet potatoes (or yams) - peeled and diced
2-1/2 cups persimmon puree - approx. 3 ripe fruits (skin and seeds discarded)
2-tablespoons thyme leaves - chopped
1-tablespoon lemon zest
1-tablespoon turmeric
1-teaspoon white pepper
1/2-teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-tablespoon honey
1/2-cup fresh orange juice
1-tablespoon salt
4 egg whites - beaten to stiff peaks

Pre heat the oven to 275 degrees.

Cook the sweet potatoes in boiling water till soft. While they are still warm mash the potatoes into a smooth mass. Place the potatoes on a baking tray in the oven for 15 minutes to dry them out a bit.

Raise the oven temperature to 350-degrees.

In a large bowl thoroughly combine the sweet potato, persimmon puree, thyme, lemon zest turmeric, cayenne, pepper honey, orange juice and salt together. Gently fold in the egg whites until they are completely incorporated. Place in a 2-quart soufflé or casserole dish and bake for 40 minutes. Serve immediately.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Seasons to Taste

So many of us are readying ourselves to spend a day or two preparing a meal that is about gathering everyone and anyone to give thanks. Yes, this is my favorite meal to present as it is steeped in gratitude. There are no overt religious overtones dividing us, just in its essence, the pure joy of the bounty of the land, and the assembly of people to share that blessing.

This is also the holiday when we reach not just into our recipe files to present those dishes that represents our individual cultural and personal tastes, but reach into the spice cupboard to pull out some of those spices we have not seem since last time these dishes have been prepared. Now, there could be a slight problem with this infrequent visit.

Spices, defined as the root, stem, bark or seed of a plant offers up its fragrance by releasing their volatile oils when exposed to heat and light. If your spices are pre-ground and stored in a clear container most of their potency has already been wasted. I endeavor to always buy spices whole, and have bought a small coffee grinder that is dedicated to crushing up those aromatic plant parts. This keeps their redolent potential secured until I am ready to release them. To further trap their promise I store the majority of my spices in the freezer – a cool, dark spot is the optimum condition for preserving their continued offering.

In the spirit of serving the best, you may want to take an assessment of those seasoning notes, and if need be replace them. I also source my spices from either a focused spice shop or an Indian spice shop. Try or for your refurbishment needs, and a happy carving to all.

Cocoa Spice Rub
2 ancho chilies
2 dried New Mexican chilies
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon ground clove
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound butter - at room temperature

Heat a skillet to very hot over a high heat. Toast the chilies for 30 to 60 seconds in the pan turning them frequently. You must make sure not to burn the chilies and cause them to turn bitter. Let the chilies cool for a moment and then remove the seeds and membrane and discard them. Ground the chilies in a spice grinder.

In the same skillet toast the cumin,fennel, celery seed, clove, nutmeg, coriander for about 30 seconds, keeping the pan moving constantly. Immediately get the spices out of the skillet into a bowl. Mix into the bowl the ground chilies, dried oregano. cocoa powder, tomato paste, cider vinegar oil and butter, and mix all the ingredients to completely combine.

Place the rub under the skin of the turkey before roasting.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


It is cool and damp. While for most of us it is a sign that it is time to be preparing for the hibernation season there are some things that find this a time to flourish. We can almost be forgiven for not realizing that mushrooms might actually have a season when football field sized containment facilities have them sprouting twelve months a year. If you are curious to go beyond the ubiquitous button, portbello, cremini or shiitake you have to wait for early spring or autumn to get your fill of fungi. I will warn you that these highly coveted patches of loam producing fungus can quickly drain your pocket.

When I lived in northern California I had a source for a matsutake mushroom a rich and meaty variety that was all so welcomed when they where available. But I never got to know the location as to where these particularly desired mushrooms happen expected for the generally location of southern Oregon. The same is to be said for the hen of the woods, pompoms and blue foots I get here in the northeast. Mushroom foragers prize their own patches where they can find certain mushrooms that they wily try to distract you from any hint of location. I always ask where they were found more out of idle curiosity on my behalf, as I would never think of going out into the dank forest eyes fixed downward spotting. Truthfully, I would be too concerned that I would harvest a toxic specimen, and it probably would not be a magic variety. So, I believe it is best to leave it to the trained eye of an expert to recognize which ones I should be sautéing.

Given their preciousness I store mushrooms in a paper bag, never plastic, as it tends to allow moister to accumulate causing the mushrooms to breakdown. If I wash them there are always sitting in a colander in order to allow the water run right through to prevent adding any excessive water to the mushrooms. Otherwise, I use a clean brush and dust them clean. Simplicity is a just crisped mushroom that has been sliced, and sautéed in olive oil with a suspicion of garlic, salt, pepper and a dash of lemon to finish.

Wild Mushroom Soup - yields 8 - 10 servings
2 tablespoon butter
1 large leek - white portion only, washed and diced
4 shallots - diced
2 clove garlic - diced
1-/2 pounds mushrooms - such as cremini, chantrelles, or morel, roughly chopped
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms - roughly crushed
2 tablespoons thyme - leaves only, roughly chopped
2-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2-tablespoons vermouth
2-cups heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a four quart pot melt the butter over a medium flame and add the leek and shallots. Cook for a few minutes stirring constantly until they lose their raw look and become translucent. Add in the garlic, mushrooms, dried porcini and thyme cooking for a few minutes longer. Pour over the stock and bring the soup to a boil. Lower the flame to a simmer and add the vermouth. Cook the mixture for 20 minutes and then add in the cream and season with salt and pepper. Simmer the soup for an additional 30 minutes.

After the soup has finished cooking puree of the soup in a food processor fitted with a steel blade or in a blender. Return the pureed soup back to the pot. Correct seasoning.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A true starchy gem

I long for, and wait for a certain subterranean tuber that is grown by only two local farmers here in the northeast. It is a particular variety of potato that I ate while on a trek through the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. Simply called a papa amarilla (yellow potato) it is by far the richest, creamiest potato I have had the absolute pleasure to bite down on. It requires altitude and a chill to come to maturation, but given the right environment these spuds satisfies every potato craving I could muster. The closest proximity would be the Yukon gold though it can’t replace the mouth-joy I get from the papa amarilla.

It has to be since last April that I got to eat anything made with my favorite tatter-tot for it is my habit to put up some basic potato soup that I will freeze, and then either warm straight up, or perhaps melt some cheese into it; swirl pureed avocados through it; brown chunks of chorizo to add to it. The soup is easy potatoes, onion and garlic just barely covered with water. Cooked to soft, and then pureed it is perfectly simple. Today, I am ready to just eat them.

Potatoes with Greens – yields 6 servings
1-1/2 pounds papa amarilla or Yukon gold potatoes
5 garlic cloves – thinly sliced
1/4-cup extra virgin olive
6-cups roughly chopped mixed greens – such as collard, mustard or turnip
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a 2-quart saucepan add the potatoes and cover with water. Bring to the boil, and cook for about five minutes. Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool. Then cut the potatoes in half or quarters.

In a 10-inch sauté pan add the garlic and oil, and over a high heat cook the garlic until it starts to golden. Then add in the potatoes and gently toss to coat with the oil. After about five minutes add the greens. Reduce the heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes with a lid that is slightly a askew. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Friday, October 30, 2009

quiet pleasure

Hearing the roar
I listen for the whisper
..................................rustling leaves
..................................sizzling skillets
..................................wafting nutmeg
the breath of autumn

Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onions – yields 6

1/4-pound sliced bacon – cut into 1/2” pieces
1-large onion – thinly sliced
4-galic cloves – thinly sliced
6-cups Brussels sprouts – halved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a 10-inch sauté pan over a medium heat, and add the bacon. Cook the bacon until crisped. Remove from the heat, and with a slotted spoon remove the bacon. Hold the bacon to the side on some paper towels.

Return the sauté pan back to a medium heat, and cook the onions in the bacon fat until golden brown then add in the garlic. Cook the garlic for a few minutes then add in the Brussels sprouts and crisped bacon. Cook for five minutes, and season with salt and black. Serve immediately.

Friday, October 23, 2009

a lost bite

Securely tucked into our collective consciousness there is a story of good and evil, and the wakening to reality. All brought upon us by a simple bite of some dangling fruit weighted down by its maturation, shimmering with the beauty and temptation of the moment. Now, I personally am not one to embrace this yarn as fact but do appreciate its moral tale. There are a few reasons I cannot fully live this story, and one reason in particular throws me completely off course.

If in fact this story of woe is true then it would be impossible for the apple to have been the source of desire and the subsequent bite that forever banished us from a blissful earthy existence. For historic tracing plants the icon of the autumn season somewhere in China traveling out from there transforming pies forever. However, there is another fruit of similar size and shape of the apple that can claim the Fertile Crescent as its home – the quince.

Golden yellow when ripe with an aroma that could seduce the most jaded of noses. This fruit is not to be eaten raw. Bitten into prematurely and a tannic, sour note laces your tongue. To avoid this folly the quince is always cooked: baked, sautéed, boiled down revealing a sweet, rosy fruit. It even has the texture that is reminiscent of a cooked apple. So, perhaps I should not be so hard about this confusion as long as it does not cause another lapse in judgment.

In England one may have some quince cheese with some cheddar while enjoying a sip of port or visit Spain where membrillo (quince paste) is served with sliced manchego cheese. If the Tartin sisters had an orchard of quince that dropped tart would have a new topping. In the New World the Spaniards clearly discovered the possibility of guava to satisfy their need for a rich, fragrant slice of boiled down quince.

Is it the ease of access that the apple offers with its quick, crisp, snap right there in the market that allowed it usurp the quince’s rightful place in our history? I absolutely embrace this long ago discarded siren, and celebrate its temptation.

Quince Laced Cake – one 9-inch cake
1-1/2 pounds quince – peeled, cored and sliced
5-ounces guava paste – sliced
8 ounces unsalted butter
1-cup sugar
1/2-cup milk
1-teaspoon rose water
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to 350-dgrees.

Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

Beat the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy.

Mix to together the eggs, milk and rose water.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.

Once the butter is beaten slowly beat in the eggs scraping down the side of the bowl a couple of times. Mix in the flour and beat to completely combine.

Lay the sliced quince on the bottom of the cake pan, and then disperse the guava paste over the quince. Pour over the cake batter. Bake in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Remove the cake to a cooling racking. Cool the cake. Turn the cake out on to a plate.