When we arrived to America, I was quick in growing to love American traditions and foods and general popular culture. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with great zeal and often dreamt (and still do) of pizza. Hamburgers and French fries, chicken nuggets and fish sticks, potato chips and chocolate chip cookies, sweet potato and broccoli, Fourth of July clambakes and Thanksgiving turkeys – I embraced it all as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I forced these unknown traditions on my parents, arguing with them, a bold and foolish teenager that I was, that these were the new ways of the world, and that we had to let go of our old world traditions because they were archaic that no one, besides my parents and their Russian friends, understood. I was eager to assimilate and become truly, completely, wholly American. If it was American – I loved it blindly and unequivocally.
There is a reason that this post is devoid of any great shots of stacks of brownies or brownies on a plate with a glass of milk. I had a bit of a photography snafu with these at I’m entirely at fault here. You see, when you cook in a small, counter-deficient kitchen and you lack grace (my friends know I do), things sometimes fall, often making a mess, often changing their intended shape from the impact of the fall. Sometimes, I have to make a new batch of that something it winds up in a pile of crumbs all over my kitchen floor. A freshly washed kitchen floor, mind you.
And so with such fabulous coordination such as mine, I was about to take pictures of these brownies perfectly cut in carefully measured (with a ruler!) squares, when I turned to grab my camera and heard a loud crash. And as luck would have it, I had no time to make a second batch of these, and was dashing out to cook more food at a Super Bowl party Paul and Sharon (my newly engaged, cake-decorating-kit-giving friends) were hosting. I looked down to where the baking dish had fallen and was both relieved and aghast – the brownies, magically fallen in such a way that nothing, but a few loose crumbs fell out onto the floor. Everything was still inside the baking dish. But. Oh, but of course there’s a “but”. The perfect squares were no more. Instead, they were erratic shapes of brownies looking like random displaced countries cut out from a map.
At this point, I had to make do with what I had. I packed them as best as I could and took them with me to Brooklyn. They were dubbed as the world’s best tasting ugliest brownies. And you know what? We loved them just fine.
Now, a word about these brownies. These are from the Baked cookbook I’ve made the peanut butter chocolate bars from and the Sweet and Salty Cake, and no, the Baked folks aren’t asking me to sing their cookbook praises, but I can’t help myself. First, the cookbook is excellent and features recipes I’m itching to make. And secondly, I don’t have that many dessert cookbooks, or cook books to begin with, at this point in time. And finally, I’ve had such luck with recipes in this book, I’m itching to try a dozen others!
But these brownies are serious business – deep, dark, bitter chocolate is a fantastic thing in and of itself. But if you add a little heat to it, I think the chocolate flavor becomes more complex and lingers on your palate longer. It elevates the brownie to a very sophisticated treat and while I’m always an advocate for presentation – you’ll love them no matter what they look like!
Even though I keep claiming to have broken up with winter a couple of weeks ago, I’m still carrying my gloves and wearing my scarf and wool coat because it’s just not that warm in the mornings are evenings. Sure, the temperatures claim to be more temperate during the day, but that also happens to be the time when I sit in front of a computer, inside, and deal with client related matters. And so upon leaving the office, I’m once again met with a rather persistent chill. A chill that’s clearly being shoved out by the onset of spring, but like a guest that overstays his welcome, this chill lingers in hopes perhaps of sticking around another week or two.
Well, despite the fact that I’ve been ready for spring for quite some time, the weather still dictates warmth and comfort when it comes to my food. A salad sounds delightful in theory, but when all is said and done, when I get home from work, what I want is something soft and warm and filling. And beef bourguignon fits the bill.
I meant to make it all winter season and yet something would always upstage it. A soup, a chicken dish, cake, even (hey, cake can totally be dinner). Honestly, I can’t figure out why because this is so good and so flavorful that I should have made it in large batches over and over and frozen portions for later consumption. Better yet, this dish gets better the next day after the flavors had a chance to develop, which makes for leftovers you’d be looking forward to having.
The second I spied these cupcakes on Smitten Kitchen, I was obsessed. And it took me oh, just 24 hours to get to my obsession and actually materialize it. Sometimes when you’re inspired – you’re inspired. And if you show me a baked good that has not one but three types of alcohol in it, well, I’m completely defenseless. And if it happens to have an Irish theme to it, that pretty much settles it – I’ll be making the dessert in question that very evening. Not to mention, Deb made her cupcakes so pretty (when does she not make dessert pretty?) that I went home, muttering under my breath something about finally getting my cake decorating kit out and it was about bloomin’ time (thank you Paul and Sharon!)
In the next few days, I learned that these cupcakes (which were a smashing success at a friends’ game night party – for whom I have this message – please do not stop making such strong margaritas else our Coyote Ugly rendition will be nowhere as fierce) – contained the trifecta of beverages used to make a cocktail with a rather sensitive name – The Irish Carbomb. The cupcake offers you Guinness beer in the cupcake batter, Jameson in the chocolate ganache and Baileys liqueur in the frosting.
According to some folks, ordering this particular drink at an Irish pub will get you a black eye or a missing tooth. My Irish friends all confessed to me to have ordered it on more than one occasion and their eyes/teeth remained intact and don’t see what the big deal is about the name. Still, I can see why some might not appreciate the drink name – given it’s not my invention, I suppose it is what it is. It is a name with a not such glittery connotation.
In any case, these were terribly fun and easy to make and I know they look a little much and complicated. And it was my first time ever piping the frosting, so you see that even for a beginner, this was not such an ordeal. In any event, I thought they were nowhere near as difficult as the Sweet & Salty Cake, which gave a few gray hairs here and there (don’t worry, I got highlights and no one can tell anymore!)
And because Deb wrote about how sweet and strong the frosting was, I decided to make the frosting even more sparse omitting it from the center and thus creating little cupcake flowers. There. Pretty, right? I kind of liked them that way and my friends did too. Some people wound up having two, in fact. For me, one was more than enough as, while I liked them, they were quite powerful and sweet.
If you’re thinking of an Irish-themed dessert for St. Patrick’s Day, think no further than this! These cupcakes are a true homage to the Irish bar offering (not entire Irish bar offering though) – and will add a festive touch to any way you choose to celebrate, be it a home-cooked meal or a bar crawl in your local town.
My relationship with fennel is reminiscent of an old Hollywood movie , when the heroine says “He’s the most despicable man I’ve ever known!” you know that the two are bound to fall madly in love with one another.
And so it was with me and fennel. I can’t think of a single vegetable, besides fennel, I’ve ever taken an issue with. The mere smell of it, used to send me into gag mode. When a friend insisted on making it for Thanksgiving one year, I struggled with the its “aroma” during the course of the meal. Perhaps it was because of the smell that I had hardly eaten anything that Thanksgiving dinner – I simply couldn’t get past the anisey fragrance of it. But, I had this this feeling that sooner or later I’d have to eat my words.
They say that your palate changes every seven years. Things you might not like at first, you might grow to appreciate later. Which is why I am always open to trying food again, to see if maybe something has changed for me. With fennel, it definitely has – because I now find its taste to be rather pleasant and refreshing. And I’ll be the first one to say that there are times when fennel is a lovely and beautiful thing and not something to be reviled. Thinly sliced in salads, complemented by salt, or fruit, it is something I actually am craving this spring season.
Yes, I’m in spring mode, dear readers. I’ve embraced the fact that it’s around the corner and if you tell me I’m delusional, I’ll simply place my hands over my ears and chant something to drown you out. I’m done with winter, I’m done with snow, and I’ve packed away my scarves and sweaters. Winter will simply have to take the hint. We’ve broken up for good for the next 9 months, and I’m moving on to brighter, greener things! Things that bring baby vegetables and strawberries and rhubarb. I’m ready. Spring – bring it.
And so this salad is the most lovely of ways to welcome spring into your home – and the secret is the dressing – it’s simply divine. And yes, I am gushing about a fennel salad. Fennel – my arch-nemesis. I now can write fennel an ode. Especially when it’s in this salad.
I remember the first time I ate and liked fennel. My then-boyfriend and I were staying with his friends’ place in the Hamptons and someone made a fennel and apple salad with mixed greens. I didn’t want to offend the hostess so when she handed me a plate full of salad, I politely accepted and put a forkful in my mouth. To my surprise, the taste was altogether different from what I expected. The fennel was delicate, ribbon-like and crisp and the tartness of the apple added a nice layering of flavors. It was perfect.
And so from that moment on, thinly shaved fennel salad and I were fast friends. I kept worrying at first, expecting the taste to turn on me, expecting to hate the flavors, but each time, fall a little deeper and deeper in love with fennel. I know – in love! Terribly cliché, I know, but how many can say they’ve had a Hollywood-style love affair with a food?
I spied this fennel tangerine salad in March issue of Bon Appetit and knew instantly this would be a hit. Indeed, when I served it to my guests, we all had seconds. Such enthusiasm for vegetables? Now that’s a recipe worth keeping! Besides with bikini season just around the corner – a good salad is a worthwhile pursuit – call me vain.
While winter is quickly receding and signs of spring are beginning to emerge (or so I hope), I still want you to go and make this soup. As soon as possible. Tonight even perhaps. I’m sure you had a nice dinner planned, but it’ll have to wait – this soup is worth it. I promise you, you’ll thank me later. After you lick the bowl clean.
To say I build my entire dinner around it on Oscar night, would be an understatement. This soup alone made me want to throw a smallish dinner party for a few close friends and since I couldn’t invite people over just to serve them soup and call it a day, I had to come up with the rest of the menu. But this is the soup that started it all. Oh, and we ate this for dessert. It’s a tough existence, I know.
Some people are huge fans of sweeter soups and if you are, you will love this. But I know those who like their soups savory, won’t be able to resist the earthiness of the chestnut perfectly complemented by the apple. A few thyme leaves add some color and contrast to the flavors. The soup comes together in little time and with a few whirrs of a hand blender, you are left with a smooth, velvety texture that sparkles on your palate with a dollop of crème fraîche. If you want to keep this soup vegan, you can omit the dairy.
For nights when you have to entertain and come away looking like a fancy-pants chef, this soup is a must. Of course, you’ll be secretly pleased that instead of slaving for hours in the kitchen you spent a mere half an hour putting this together. Let this be our little secret then.
Sometimes a cake is just a cake. You bake it, frost it and then serve it forth to your friends. Everyone loves the cake, of course, and within half an hour you have an empty serving platter with a few loose crumbs; everyone content and grateful for your homemade creation. Sometimes however, a cake turns into a test of your will and persistence and creativity and sheer reluctance to quit. This is such a cake. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
In this particular case, I had promised to bake a cake for a friend. But I also promised to wow and impress. I’ve long been waxing poetic about salted caramel and so I knew exactly the cake I wanted to make. To me, salted caramel is one of the most seductive foods. I am certain I can be wooed with very modest offerings of salted caramel, herring and cilantro – some things just make a girl weak in the knees. I’m convinced there’s not a soul out there who doesn’t love salted caramel. And if loving salted caramel is wrong, I don’t ever wanna be right.
As some of you know, I’m fairly new to this cake-making business. My first foray was earlier this year with the peanut butter chocolate cake, soon after followed by the chocolate dulce de leche cake. And both were fairly straightforward and simple. I had few issues and little to complain about and the end product, in both cases, was a stunner. So I had few concerns going into this recipe. Hoo boy! Was I in for an experience. My quiet humming (something I often do when I am cooking) was soon switched out for the kind of language that typically graces Tarantino films. Let’s just say I’m pleased no children were present in the vicinity to hear my unladylike language.
And as irony would have it, for someone who was asked in her chemistry class to skip lab in order to pass (let’s just say I was a bit of a hazard with beakers and Bunsen burners), I marvel at my fascination with baking and being exacting and thorough. Sometimes it’s a breeze and everything comes together beautifully. And sometimes, when you think you’ve done everything right, something doesn’t quite work and you try to figure out what specifically went wrong (this is the part I’m particularly bad at). This cake was a kind of experience when many a thing didn’t quite go according to plan, but I am better and wiser now for it, but there was a moment when I was tempted to dump the whole thing in the trash can and call up my friend and say, “Screw cake. I’m bringing pizza”
I am tempted to rename this cake as “I’m Going to Tear Hair Out of My Head and Curse Like a Sailor Cake”, but I think that would be too long a title. I’ll keep the original and instead include a few notes that might help you have a less stressful experience than the one I had. Isn’t that nice now, you get a recipe AND some pointers in how to avoid the insanity? I will add my notes to the recipe in italics – so when you see that you will know this is my commentary.
To say this cake was delicious, would be inaccurate. It was quite possibly the most heart-stoppingly amazing cake I’ve had in awhile. And if your heart doesn’t skip a beat because the cake is decadent and rich, it might do so simply because the chocolate caramel whipped ganache contains four (4!) sticks of butter. I cannot tell you enough how fussy and time-consuming this was and how much, in the middle of this project I didn’t regret it. But looking back if I was asked to make this cake all over again, I absolutely would, hopefully this time with less anxiety and curveballs if only because I’m going to use a few of my own learned pointers, which I hope will help you as well, in case you are feeling particularly self-punishing and want to recreate the magic in your own kitchens.
Serve this cake in the tiniest of slivers as it is quite intense and filling. A glass of milk will not only enhance the cake, but for a moment, make you forget about all the pain and suffering you’ve endured at the hands of this towering confection – which will be exactly what you need to enjoy the rest of your night.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that something was decidedly in the air when I was making this cake. The only pictures I had on my photo card were the ones of the already-made cake – the others have mysteriously vanished. Gone. As if they never existed in the first place. So all I have for you are these mediocre finished product shots. You get none of the in-process pictures, which were not half bad. And because I quickly sensed this cake was tricky, I took very detailed step-by-step photographs to walk you though this recipe carefully. But somehow the gods of cake-making must have decided against to play a practical joke on me because I should be really presenting you with “I made this cake, but all I have to show you are these pictures.” T-shirt. Yes, I know, I’d feel cheated too. I owe you one.