Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Forbidden Fruit

Growing up, spring was always announced with the pungent aroma of thousands of sweet smelling orange blossoms. Their fragrance would fill the air with such intensity that I felt like I was walking through a perfumery. Everything would smell of neroli—clothes, shoes, hair, skin. It was an exciting time of the year as we, my whole family, knew the arrival of summer and the grand, thick-skinned, juicy navel oranges were coming soon. Walking home from school, their cool dark green leaves would beckon refuge from the unrelenting sun. Hidden within was the prize. Gleaming like gold coins in a pirate’s chest, I was drawn to their glistening flesh. Giving in, I would steal my bounty, hoping not to be betrayed by the rousing of the branches that were sure to give me away. They would almost yell in protest to my actions, but they would soon quiet and I would be far away. Ah, those hot summer days were tempered when that first bit of sweet skin was broken, the encapsulated life force spraying a mist over everything, enticing me with the temptation of what was hidden inside. As I cut open the skin and peeled it away, discarding the fragments haphazardly wherever they may fall, I tried unsuccessfully to withdraw from the mist that both delighted and irritated me. The challenge that made the reward so much sweeter was to peel away the exterior without becoming blinded for life by the escaping oil, all the while being pulled in further by their intoxicating aroma. Hurriedly, I would break apart the golden globe, revealing the treasure. That first taste exploded into an orgasm of the senses. Cool, sweet juices overpowered my tongue, rested on my lips, and ran down my chin. I didn’t care. I only wanted more. With abandon, I would eagerly devour each wonderful segment until the only thing left was fulfillment. I would resolve to licking my lips in search of those last few drops. Satisfied, I would run off to my next adventure until once again I was drawn by the familiar wafting perfume on the gentle evening breeze tempting me to sin once more.

Cookbooks and Coffee Cake

My dear friend, Sarah, has fed my insatiable appetite for cookbooks by loaning me two amazing tomes. The first, The Zuni CafĂ© Cookbook, looks amazing though I haven’t taken the steps to try the recipes. I have a list that I’ll have to attack one weekend when I’m able to devote the time to such an endeavor as the recipes are somewhat time intensive. The other book is by Mary and Vincent Price, A Treasury of Great Recipes. Yes, the legendary actor known for his portrayals of all beings dark and mysterious. I was entranced by the culinary variety in this book. Who knew that he and his wife were such gastronomes? Detailing their travels through Europe and the US during the late 1950’s and 60’s, they offer recipes from restaurants around the world as well as recreations of their favorite dishes. Each recipe is accompanied by a memory; each chapter by story. Menus document the origins of many recipes. I spent three days reading the book as if it were a best-selling novel, marking the pages I had to return to. I began to wonder if I had enough Post-Its!

So, Sunday morning, I set out to make one of the many mouth-watering entries that captured my attention. I decided on Coffee Cake.
The recipe is deceptively simple and produces enough coffee cake to satisfy the hunger of an early morning breakfast crowd. One batch will make four 8” cakes (so, at a 2” square per person, that’s 64 pieces!!). There are four varieties with the one recipe: Streusel, Cinnamon, Apple, and Cranberry. I didn’t have cranberries and my daughter was begging for something blueberry, so I took some liberties and changed the one version. I’ll post the original along with my substitutions.

The cakes turn out moist and fairly dense. Somewhat of a cross between a sponge and a pound cake, the texture is substantial enough to be filling but light enough to encourage a second helping. The flavorful variations provide the variety needed for a beautiful display of delights.

Although this is not my usual format, I’m going to write the recipe as it is found in the book.

Breakfast Breads
Makes four 8” square breads

Baking powder
Shortening or butter

1. In mixing bowl combine: 8 cups sifted all-purpose flour, 4 tablespoons double-acting baking powder, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 cups sugar.

2. Beat: 3 cups milk and 4 eggs.

3. Stir liquid into flour mixture to make a lumpy batter.

4. Stir in: 2 cups melted shortening or butter.

5. Divide batter into 4 greased 8” square baking pans and bake in a preheated 375*F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until breads test done. Remove from pans to cool on racks. When cool, wrap and freeze. Reheat in moderate 350* oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm.

Cinnamon Nut Bread: Sprinkle the batter in one of the pans with: ½ cup brown sugar mixed with ½ cup chopped nut meats and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

Streusel Bread: Sprinkle the batter in one of the pans with: ½ cup brown sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 tablespoons flour, 2 tablespoons butter, and ½ cup chopped nut meats.

Cranberry Bread: Bring to a boil: 2 cups whole cranberries, 2/3 cups sugar, 1 pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons grated orange rind, and 2 tablespoons orange juice. Simmer for 5 minutes. Turn mixture into bottom of greased 8” square cake pan. Pour one-quarter of the breakfast bread batter over the cranberries and bake. Turn out, cranberry side up, to cool.

Note: This is where I substituted blueberries for the cranberries. I replaced the orange with lemon and followed everything else to the letter. It was DIVINE.

Apple Bread: Generously butter a 9” square cake pan. Sprinkle bottom with: ½ cup sugar and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg. Cover with: 2 cups sliced apples. Pour one-quarter of the breakfast bread batter over the apples and bake. Turn out, apple side up, to cool.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mushroom Turnovers

 Too long ago, I had a mushroom tart at a local Tapas restaurant, FireFly, and fell in love with it. Since then, I've been on a quest to recreate it and make it my own. I can't say that it's an exact duplicate, but this recipe comes pretty close. Made with flakey puff pastry and a rich and creamy filling, it is delightful. It's light but filling. Normally, I like to make as many things from "scratch" as I can. This recipe "cheats" in that department, but the results are worth it.

Mushroom Turnovers

1 package cremini mushrooms, stems removed, washed and cut small
1 jar mushroom alfredo sauce
1/2 white onion, diced
Olive Oil
Fresh ground nutmeg
Fresh Pepper

Frozen Puff Pastry

Preheat Oven: 400*

Combine the mushrooms, onions and a few tablespoons of both olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Cook until the mushrooms and onion are tender. Add the alfredo sauce and season with pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cut pastry into squares. Wet the edges and fill 1/2 with a generous tablespoon of mushroom filling. Fold over into triangles and seal the edges, use a fork if necessary to make sure it is a tight seal. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silpat. Coat with a light egg wash, milk, or cooking spray to enhance color.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden. Serve hot.
You can use any of the leftover mushroom filling over the hot pastries.