Fire Vodka

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Krupnik, in Poland, or Krupnikas in Lithuania, is a liqueur infused with honey and herbs. I’m at least partly Lithuanian and I jumped at the opportunity to make some when I found the recipe. My Lithuanian grandfather kept bees in retirement and huge gallon jars of honey ranged the walls of his kitchen. This liqueur very much brings me back to the scents of my childhood. Now my kitchen smells like his used to, of honey, spices, and grain alcohol. Just now, coming in the front door I actually paused in the threshold to inhale the weighty aroma. It was delicious. It smelled like essence of Christmas. And I made the liqueur last night too.

Word of warning, however, this stuff is strong. Curl your pubes kind of strong. It made my apartment smell like Christmas, but lifting the lid on the pot, I was blown back by the smells of honey and booze. I recommend mixing this drink with sparking wine or ginger ale or pouring it over ice cream. Drinking it straight is overwhelming.

It’s also served warm on occasion, sometimes as a cold remedy.

Krupnikas

10 cardamom pods

½ nutmeg seed

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

10 whole cloves

10 allspice berries

6 cinnamon sticks

1 vanilla bean, split open

2 teaspoons whole peppercorns

1 pinch saffron

Two inch piece fresh ginger, peeled

2 1-inch pieces fresh turmeric, peeled

3 strips orange zest

3 strips lemon zest

4 cups water

2 pounds raw honey

1-quart grain alcohol

1.) Place cardamom pods and nutmeg seed on a cutting board and crack them with the bottom of a heavy skillet. Split open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Put cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla pod and seeds, caraway seeds, coves, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, saffron, ginger, turmeric orange zest, lemon zest and water in a pot and bring to a boil.

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2.) Leave liquid at a high simmer for half an hour or until it has reduced by half. Strain out the herbs and spices and reserve the liquid.

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3.) Place honey in a pot and bring to a boil. Take honey off the heat and add the spiced water and grain alcohol. Strain several times through a wire mesh sieve. Heat on low just until it’s all heated through. Do not boil.

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4.) Allow the pot to sit overnight. Then pour into sterilized bottles and leave for two weeks. The longer you leave it, the clearer the liquid should become.

Papaya Salad

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I remember a time when Thai food was exotic, before it had achieved the status that Chinese food used to hold as the go-to urban takeout fare. As a result of its ubiquity, Thai food has lost many of its unique qualities. Your average Thai takeout is vaguely peanutty, coconutty and lemongrassy, but what it mostly tastes like is industrial vegetable oil.

Fortunately, if you’re lucky enough to live near an Asian grocery store, really good Thai food is not at all difficult to make at home. Last weekend, I headed up to Jackson Heights in Queens and managed to procure a green papaya, fresh turmeric, and half a cheese pumpkin from Patel Brothers Grocery. A bit of a trek, an hour by subway, but I really like papaya salad, and Jackson Heights is always a pleasure. Whenever I walk down 74th Street in that neighborhood it puts me in a holiday mood, as if there were a thousand parties going on and you only had to turn the corner to find one that would welcome you.

Papaya Salad

Now, papaya salad is probably one of my favorite things to eat. To me there’s nothing better than dipping a piece of glutinous sticky rice into the dressing while your mouth is still on fire from eating spiced papaya strips. Green papaya is underripe papaya. It’s less sweet than ripe papaya and mostly used in salads and other savory foods. To get the dressing right you need just the right combination of saltiness, spiciness and sweetness. I spent fifteen minutes yesterday trying to get it right. Fortunately, Thai food is very forgiving and you are actually going for an overwhelming amount of flavor, so don’t be afraid to spice your dressing liberally. You also want your salad to be fishy tasting so don’t skimp on the fish sauce either. The fish sauce also adds saltiness, so it’s very important that you put in enough. I served it as a starter with a seafood pumpkin curry as the main course.

For the salad:

½ a green papaya

¾ cup roasted peanuts

2 cups bean sprouts

1-cup cherry tomatoes, halved

3 spring onions, chopped

1/2 cup packed basil, roughly chopped

1 chili, deseeded and minced

1 cup blanched green beans, halved

For the dressing:

5 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 3 limes

¼ cup honey

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1.)   Mix together dressing ingredients, adjust seasoning to taste.

2.)   Peel, deseed and shred papaya. I used the shredding function on my Cuisinart.

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3.)   Add tomatoes, green onion, chili, bean sprouts, green beans, and basil to shredded papaya. Pour over dressing and toss.

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4.)   Add nuts and toss again. Adjust seasoning. Chill in the refrigerator one hour to allow flavors to cohere.

Rhubarb!

Rhubarb

I love rhubarb in the springtime. Which is a good damn thing because I ain’t getting it the rest of the year. Like its springtime cousin, fennel, rhubarb’s bite is mitigated in cooking, where it softens and takes on a subtler, sweeter flavor. While often paired with strawberries, I prefer rhubarb alone. Strawberries tend to overwhelm the subtler rhubarb flavor, and the end result is a lot more banal than if you’d just used rhubarb by itself.

Below are two of my favorite rhubarb recipes, one for sorbet (ice cream maker needed) and the other for a quick chutney recipe. I know rhubarb sorbet sounds pretty weird, but it’s tangy, soft and creamy and among the best sorbets I’ve made. As for the chutney, rhubarb cooks really fast so if you’re in the mood for chutney and don’t feel like inhaling vinegar fumes for 2 hours, I recommend this recipe.

Rhubarb Sorbet

(Adapted from David Lebovitz)

1 1/2 lb rhubarb, trimmed, cut into half inch pieces

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Juice of 1 lemon

1.)   Bring rhubarb, water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat and cover 5-7 minutes until rhubarb is cooked.

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2.)   Puree water/sugar/rhubarb mixture in a food processor with the lemon juice.

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3.)   Chill in the refrigerator until thoroughly cold, at least 3 hours.

4.)   Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Allow to harden in the freezer overnight.

Rhubarb Chutney

(Adapted from Bon Appétit)

I used fresh turmeric in this recipe as I happened to have bought some in Jackson Heights this week. Feel free to use powdered or leave it out altogether.

¾ cup brown sugar

1/3-cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon minced, peeled fresh ginger

1 tablespoon minced, peeled fresh turmeric

1 teaspoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

4 cups rhubarb, cut into ½ inch cubes

½ cup onions

1/3-cup raisins or dried cherries

1.)   Combine everything except rhubarb, onions, and dried fruit in a heavy enameled pot. Simmer over low heat until sugar dissolves. Add remaining ingredients.

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2.)   Increase temperature to medium and cook until rhubarb has completely broken down and the mixture thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes. Cool. Serve with lamb or pork.

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Ceci n’est pas un Poulet

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Growing up I had a nanny, of sorts: a brusque Irish woman who came once a week to pick me up from school. She’d buy me a candy bar and let me and my sister watch cartoons all afternoon while she cooked dinner. There’s more to her than that, of course, but for this blog post I’ll concentrate on her cooking. Dinner was invariable a dry as bones chicken, mashed potatoes and frozen corn. Her mashed potatoes were unbelievably good. I think it was the only food she made that she tasted before she served it. The chicken I think must have been put in a pan in the oven for an hour, no butter, lemon, herbs, or spices, and served as was. Growing up, that for me was chicken. Well, that or chicken nuggets or the fried chicken that came in Swanson’s TV dinners.

The chicken can be such a prosaic animal. I’ve heard that in a few years it will have surpassed the goat as the most frequently eaten animal in the world. Those factory farmed Purdue chickens grow so fast and are so cheap in the supermarket that it’s hard to even think of that sort of animal as ever having been alive to begin with. The chicken is the tofu of animals. The way most people cook it, it’s a bland sponge that just takes on the flavors of what you cook it with—the tabula rasa of meats.

But as usual, cooking for oneself with good ingredients changes one’s perspective. Yes, it is worth getting an organic free-range chicken. They are a lot more expensive, but they’re also a lot more flavorful. They actually taste like something instead of nothing, in addition to being a hell of a lot better for you.

I’m not one of those cooks who has a single solid roast chicken recipe they use every time. I have several. This one is my newest favorite. I like it because it relies almost totally on the lemon in the cavity to keep the meat moist (as opposed to slatherings of butter.) It’s served with a garlic lemon puree that’s made with milk. The sauce, which is served at room temperature, gives the chicken a delightfully weird flavor, rich and light simultaneously. Like most roast chicken recipes this one is easy but also easy to get wrong. Make sure to watch the level of water in the roasting pan and to add more if it’s dried out in the oven.

Garlic Chicken Provencal

(Adapted from Patricia Wells at Food & Wine)

For the lemon/garlic puree:

4 heads garlic, separated but unpeeled

2 cups whole milk

1 organic lemon, thinly sliced

Salt

For the chicken:

One roasting chicken, about 4 lbs

Salt

White pepper

1 lemon, quartered

One bunch of thyme (8 sprigs, ½ teaspoon leaves)

4 Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered

4 carrots, quartered

4 onions, quartered

1 head garlic, separated but unpeeled

6 bay leaves

4 sprigs rosemary

½ teaspoon oregano

1.)   To make the puree, in a saucepan simmer the garlic cloves in the milk over very low heat for 30 minutes or until the garlic is nice and soft.

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2.)   Strain garlic, reserve milk.

3.)   When garlic is cool, unpeel cloves and puree them in a food processor with milk and lemon slices. Season to taste. Serve at room temperature.

4.)   Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit

5.)   Season cavity and outside of chicken with salt and white pepper. Insert lemon quarters and thyme sprigs into cavity.

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Mise en Place

6.)   In roasting pan place potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic cloves. Lay herbs on top of vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Pour 1 cup of water into the pan. Place chicken on top of vegetables.

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7.)   Roast Chicken for about an hour and a quarter, or until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove lemon quarters from chicken cavity and squeeze juice over chicken. Carve chicken, peel garlic cloves, and serve with vegetables and lemon and garlic puree.

 

Absinthe Risotto

The_Absinthe_Drinker_by_Viktor_Oliva

“The Absinthe Drinker” by Viktor Oliva, 1901

We all have that one friend who’s in the habit of dating sociopaths. Or, at least people whom we suspect are now or will become sociopaths should the spirit take them. One such friend of mine dated a slew of them, one after another. There was one in particular who was a real lunatic: an astrology-obsessed, fundamentalist Christian who believed 9/11 was an inside job. He remained a virgin at thirty-two. He’d question my friend about her former lovers (he had no former lovers himself) to find out if any of them were non-white: he needed to ascertain whether, to his warped thinking, her nether-regions had been ‘tainted.’ Why my friend stayed with this vile wacko more than a few hours, even given her track record, is completely amazing to me.

While a teetotaler 99% of the time, the guy was, for some strange reason, an absinthe connoisseur. Perhaps for him it was an herbal remedy. Or maybe he just liked the taste. Maybe it gave him visions. I don’t know.

I have long been an avid absinthe drinker myself. Before I even tried it, I liked the idea of a green, hallucinogenic liqueur that you got to set on fire. When I finally tried it, while I was disappointed that I didn’t see green fairies, I enjoyed the soothing, mindful state of drunkenness it put me in, a state of wakeful delight similar to being stoned.

But getting back to the sociopath—he unfortunately came with my friend to my thirtieth birthday party, bringing with him an extremely good bottle of absinthe. Hours after the party ended, my friend broke up with him after he’d revealed he was a Tea Party sympathizer. Apparently, that was the final straw…Yeah, I don’t know. The crazy, racist virgin thing would have turned me off long before too.

Years later I still had that lunatic’s absinthe. Negative associations aside, I’m not in the habit of getting wasted at home and none of my friends had a taste for it. It just wasn’t getting drunk: hence absinthe risotto.

Risotto is one of those dishes I only like when I make it myself. Every time I’ve ordered it in a restaurant I’ve been served a heavy, starchy glob that sits like a rock at the bottom of my stomach. This recipe uses spring vegetables and is served with broiled shrimp.

While I enjoy absinthe, I’m not (unlike the sociopath) a connoisseur. I just like to set fire to things. I like green absinthe the best. The other colors (black, white, orange) taste the same, but to me if it’s not green, Toulouse-Lautrec just wouldn’t approve.

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Absinthe (absinthe spoon stolen from Maison Premier in Williamsburg)

Absinthe Risotto

(Adapted from The Dog’s Breakfast at Food52)

For the risotto:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

½ fennel bulb, finely chopped

Salt, to taste

1-cup Arborio rice

1/3-cup absinthe

¼ cup lemon juice

4 cups hot chicken stock

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cups mascarpone

2 tablespoons preserved lemon rind, diced (make sure to rinse and scoop out the pulp before dicing)

1-cup peas

1½ cups blanched asparagus (about half a bunch, chopped into 1-inch pieces)

White pepper to taste

For the shrimp:

1 ½ lbs shrimp, shelled, de-veined

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons absinthe

2 cloves garlic

Zest of ½ lemon

2-teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1-teaspoon salt

Pepper (about 5 grinds of the mill)

1.)   Toss shrimp with oil, absinthe, garlic, lemon zest, rosemary, salt and pepper. Let it marinate while you make the risotto.

2.)   Make sure you have all your risotto ingredients prepared before you begin. Chop everything, heat up the stock and blanche your asparagus. Keep everything to hand. In making risotto you’re going to be very active for a short period of time and won’t have any down time for prepping once you get going.

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Mise en Place

3.)   Heat oil in a heavy pot. Add onion, fennel, and garlic until soft and translucent, 10 minutes. Season with salt.

4.)   Raise heat and add rice. Stir to coat 3 minutes. Rice should crackle in the pot.

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5.)   Add absinthe and lemon juice and stir until liquid is dissolved.

6.)   Start adding the stock in ladlefuls, stirring continuously. I find it helpful to keep a pot of it on low heat at hand. Keep an eye on the heat under your risotto. Make sure it’s at a low boil but it doesn’t boil too much. I kept it at medium most of the time.

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7.)   Keep ladling in stock and stirring until your rice is fully cooked and the risotto is soft and creamy. This should take about 20 to 30 minutes.

8.)   Turn off heat and add butter, mascarpone, preserved lemon, peas, asparagus and white pepper to taste. Stir. Cover risotto while you cook the shrimp.

9.)   Place the shrimp in a single layer on a baking sheet and broil for one minute or so per side.

10.) Serve risotto topped with the broiled shrimp.

IMG_0472 Yes, I know the shrimp still have their shells. That was a mistake. Make sure to remove them. 

Fish for Two

I’ve been trying of late to add more fish dishes to my regular cooking repertoire. Many years ago I cooked a disastrous Valentine’s Day dinner for my boyfriend and I, involving an undercooked saumon aux lentilles and a clafoutis made with canned pears. Our romantic dinner involved fish that was gray on the outside and raw on the inside, with baby food for dessert. As you can imagine, it left us sick and uninterested in romance. For years after I was wary of cooking fish. Fortunately, last year I got my hands on Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Mesdames Child, Bertholle, and Beck brought me back round to the creatures of the sea via their fish filets poached in white wine. A dish that remains the very best meal I’ve ever cooked.

It’s my opinion that the Provençal region of France does some of the best fresh fish dishes in the western hemisphere. Theirs is a truly ancient tradition, stretching all the way back to the Gallo-Roman period, and combining the flavors of France with those of Italy, Greece, Spain, and North Africa. Lighter and fresher than much traditional French food, its relatively simple preparations, short cooking times, and few ingredients, make it ideal for weeknight dinners.

This last week I made two Provençal(ish) fish dishes, one with black sea bass and the other with cod. They were both eaten with green tapenade (the tapenade recipe below makes enough for about 3 meals for two people.)

English: Tapenade is a Provençal dish consisti...

Green Tapenade

(Adapted from The Provençal Cookbook by Gui Gedda)

7oz green olives

4 tablepoons capers

Zest and juice of ½ lemon

2 anchovy filets in oil.

6 tablespoons olive oil

Ground pepper to taste.

1.)   Place all the ingredients except olive oil and pepper in a food processor and pulse until you have a coarse puree.

2.)   As with a salad dressing, with the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow and steady stream. Season with pepper. Place it in a jar or a bowl with a thin splash of olive oil on top to contain its flavor. Use within five days.

Black Sea Bass Filets with Green Tapenade

(Adapted from The Provençal Cookbook by Gui Gedda)

2 black sea bass filets, about 6 ounces apiece.

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons green tapenade

2 lemon wedges

Ground pepper to taste

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1.)   Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Pat filets dry and heat olive oil in a skillet. While the oil is heating, spread tapenade on the skin-side of the filets. Once the filets are prepared and the oil is hot but not yet smoking, place the fish skin side down on the skillet. Cook for one minute. Turn them over and cook for another minute or two.

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2.)    Pop the skillet in the oven for five minutes, or until the fish is just cooked. Season with pepper and serve with lemon wedges.

Poached Cod with Green Tapenade

(Adapted from Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson)

This recipe will serve two, although there may be one portion to fight over for lunch the following day.

2 pints water

2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

1 onion, peeled and sliced

1 celery stick, sliced

2 cloves

¼ teaspoon whole peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1-tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 cod filets (8-10 ounces each)

2 tablespoons green tapenade

Fresh pepper to taste

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1.)   Put all the ingredients except the cod and the tapenade in pot. Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Once the poaching liquid (or court-bouillon) is ready slip in the cod and bring back to a boil. Switch off the heat and let the fish sit in the poaching liquid for about 7 minutes. The fish at this point should be tender to the point that it’s nearly falling apart.

2.)   Serve with the tapenade and black pepper to taste.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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A Bridal Shower Tea

Over the Shoulder Boulder Holders (and Cake!)

corsetleonjulesrainal-freres13b_l 

The warm weather is upon us, and if you’re anywhere near my time of life then sunshine and springtime almost always preclude just an ass load of weddings and all their tangential celebrations.

Now, I am not a fan of weddings in general. I like the idea, but the execution tends to be so stressful, money burning and time wasting, I just don’t think it’s worth the fancy photograph album you keep around to show your grandkids. Better they should see their happy grandparents and parents, who’ve saved all those tens of thousands of dollars for things like houses, college educations, and life saving operations.

Granted, the occasions when I’ve been a bridesmaid have mostly been the exception to the rule. I like dress up and cake too much to demure the experience entirely. I was a standup bridesmaid and last summer when my sister got married we threw her what may have been the coolest bridal shower known to womankind.

There is something that happens when old and young women get together around a couple of hot glue guns, glitter, and several pounds of underwear.  Somehow the combination of crafting and alcohol served to make the event a tribal right of passage. Although, the only war whoops were shouted by my mother when she was well into her cups.

So yes, we threw my sister a bra-themed bridal shower (bra-dal shower?) I have included instructions and recipes below. Although it is to be thrown only for those most beloved (or at least beloved enough that they’ll let you borrow their underwear.)

Bra-Themed Bridal Shower

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Crafting and Games

3 hot glue guns

3 different shades of glitter

A wide assortment of buttons, figurines, beads, plastic jewels and other ‘bedazzling’ items to be found cheaply in any crafts store.

Bras (lots and lots of them, go for fifty. You’ll need some for room decorations as well as the crafting table.)

Award certificates

1.) Set up your bra bedazzling table. Cover a table (the one you won’t be eating at) with newspaper. Set up the hot glue guns and the crafting materials.

2.)   Towards the end of the party, once all your guests have decorated a bra, string them across the room on display and have the bride award the bras prizes (“Best Detail,” “Best Bling,” “Best Skill,” “Most Glitter,” etc). Prizewinners, on receiving their certificates may choose to put on their prize-winning bras over their clothes.

3.)    Once all the bras have been awarded certificates I recommend putting on music and dancing, preferably to something familiar to both the old ladies and the young.

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Décor

Streamers

Balloons

Bras

Doilies

Clothespins

Scotch tape

Seasonal flowers

Limes and lemons

1.)   Run lines of string across the ceiling (our string was feathery and covered in glitter, FYI). Hang the bras on the string using the clothespins. They should be low enough that people can reach up and take them down to decorate.

2.)   Alternate your bra strings with streamers and balloons. Create a magical tent of color and lacy under things.

3.)   For the table, you’re going for boozy tea party, so be sure to put down big paper doilies beneath everything.

4.)   Adding just a touch more juiciness to the occasion, slice up a bunch of limes and lemons and put them in a vase with some seasonal flowers.

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Menu

 Now, our menu for the bridal shower was elaborate. We had five cooks and divvied up the preparation. I recommend only your most expert baker making the petits fours. Each item should serve about 25 people.

Petits fours

Chocolate covered marshmallows

Pink champagne punch

Macedonia di Frutta

Finger sandwiches

Petits Fours

(Adapted from Emeril Lagasse at The Food Network)

I love dainty pastry. Just love it to death. And there’s no pastry better suited to a bra-themed tea party than the petit four. That said, they are a bit of work and the assembly is difficult and can be frustrating if you’re not used to handling large sheet cakes. Remember, this is a huge cake. It makes about 30 petits fours and I had plenty of leftovers after the shower. I froze a bunch and we were eating tiny leftover cakes all summer. These are a bit crumblier and slightly less perfect looking than the kind made with royal icing or fondant, but the orange syrup and almond pastry cream makes them three times as delicious.

For the cake:

1 half-sheet pan

1½ sticks butter, plus 1 tablespoon

3½ cups sugar

2 naval oranges, zested and juiced.

3 eggs, brought to room temperature

2¾ cups cake flour

½-teaspoon salt

1-tablespoon baking powder

1½ cups whole milk

1-teaspoon vanilla

For the almond pastry cream:

1-tablespoon almond paste

1 ¼ cups heavy cream

½ cup sugar

1/8-teaspoon salt

2 egg yolks

2-tablespoons cornstarch

1-tablespoon butter

For assembly:

1-cup almond pastry cream, cold

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

½ cup fresh orange juice

½ cup sliced almonds, toasted and crushed with a rolling pin

1.)   The almond pastry cream needs to be cold when you use it so make it first and allow it to chill while you’re baking the cake. In a saucepan, combine almond paste, 1-cup heavy cream, and sugar. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved. Over medium heat, bring liquid to a simmer.

2.)   While cream is simmering, in a separate bowl, combine egg yolks, cornstarch and remaining ¼ cup heavy cream. Whisk.

3.)   Take cream/almond paste/sugar mixture off the heat and add some of the hot liquid to the egg mixture. Whisk thoroughly. You are tempering the eggs so they don’t scramble when placed over the heat.

4.)   Now add the entire egg mixture into the cream mixture and place it over the heat. Bring it to a boil and cook a few minutes, constantly whisking.

5.)   Remove it from the heat and stir in the butter. Pour into a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly over its surface to prevent a film from forming. Allow it to cool and then place it in the fridge to chill thoroughly.

6.)   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, line your half sheet pan with parchment and butter the pan with 1-tablespoon butter.

7.)   Using an electric mixer, cream together 1 ½ sticks butter and 2 ½ cups sugar.

8.)   With the mixer still running, add the orange zest and eggs to the creamed butter and sugar.

9.)   Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder.

10.) Add flour mixture alternately with the milk to the batter in the mixing bowl. Add vanilla and pour into the prepared pan.

11.) Bake until top of the cake is golden and it is springy to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool a few minutes.

12.) Place parchment paper over a cooling rack and carefully invert the cake on the rack. Cool completely.

13.) While the cake is cooling make the orange syrup by combining the orange juice with 1-cup of sugar. Bring to a boil and cook a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Brush the top of the cake with syrup and allow cake to sit for 10 minutes.

14.) Cut the cake across its middle. Spread almond cream over one side of the cake and then carefully place the other half on top. This is tricky. You want to make sure it is completely cool. Do it quickly and with confidence. Hesitancy will cause the cake to fall apart in your hands. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

15.) Trim edges of the cake so it is an even rectangle. Cut into individual petits fours, about 1 ½ by 2 inches. Place your wire racks on top of the half sheet pan and place the cakes on top of the racks, spacing them apart.

16.) Combine powdered sugar, orange juice and ¼ cup milk. Whisk until smooth. Pour the frosting over cakes and spread to coat. Sprinkle the tops with the almonds. Refrigerate two hours to allow the frosting to set.

Chocolate Covered Marshmallows

(Adapted from David Lebovitz)

 Homemade marshmallows are a shocking confection. The sort of thing you had no idea you could reproduce at home while still maintaining the springy consistency of the store-bought variety. But, lo and behold, the marshmallow turns out to be our friend. Infinitely pliable and adaptable, subject to a myriad colors, flavors, and toppings, and a great deal easier to make that you’d imagine. After you get over your candy thermometer fear, they’re no more difficult than cheesecake. This recipe makes about 30 marshmallows, depending on how small you cut them.

17g powdered gelatin

½ cup plus 1/3 cup cold water

1-cup sugar

1/3-cup light corn syrup

4 egg whites (110g) brought to room temperature

1/8-teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2-cups cornstarch

2-cups powdered sugar

8 ounces dark chocolate

1.)   Mix together 1 cup each of cornstarch and powdered sugar. This is the marshmallow mixture. After mixing them together dust a baking sheet with mixture using a sifter, making sure to leave absolutely no bare spots. The dusting will make a complete powdery mess of your kitchen.

2.)   Sprinkle gelatin over ½ cup cold water and dissolve to soften.

3.)   Fit a saucepan with a candy thermometer. In the saucepan mix the sugar and corn syrup with remaining 1/3 cup water. Place it over medium heat.

4.)   In an electric mixer beat the egg whites until frothy and add the salt.

5.)   When the syrup in the saucepan reaches 210 degrees Fahrenheit, turn back to your electric mixer and turn it to high. Beat the egg whites until they’re thick and fluffy.

6.)   Once the syrup reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit pour the hot syrup into the egg whites, pouring slowly and carefully, making sure the syrup doesn’t fall on the whisk.

7.)   Spoon the gelatin and water into the pan you’ve just used for the syrup and swirl it in the still-hot saucepan until it dissolves. Pour the gelatin into the whites as they are whipping. Add vanilla and continue mixing for 5 minutes, or until the outside of the mixing bowl feels cool.

8.)   Spread the marshmallow in a smooth layer on your prepared marshmallow baking sheet and leave to dry overnight, uncovered.

9.)   Dust top of the marshmallows with a sprinkling of leftover marshmallow mixture. Put the rest of the leftover marshmallow mixture in a bowl. Using scissors dusted in marshmallow mixture cut the marshmallows into squares. Toss the squares in the marshmallow mixture and shake off the excess powder in a wire mesh strainer.

10.)  Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Dip the tops of the marshmallows in the melted chocolate, one at a time. Set them to dry on cooling racks. Decorate them with nuts, shaved coconut, etc. and set the cooling racks in the fridge to allow the chocolate to set.

Macedonia di Frutta

 This is a boozy Italian fruit salad. Not completely sure of the origin of the name, but I know it has something to do with an adulterous Byzantine empress cutting her servant’s tongue out for revealing her infidelity. The tongue was cut into pieces and flung into the sea. The servant’s name was Macedonia. Yum yum…delicious sea drowned bits of Byzantine tongue. While this salad can be made with almost any fruit, I’m very particular on the aesthetics of the fruit salad so I’ve used only red fruits here.

2 cups pitted cherries

2 cups strawberries

2 cups raspberries

2 cups sliced, pitted red plums (from about 4 or 5 plums)

½ cup fresh orange juice

½ cup sugar

¼ cup grappa or brandy

Zest of 1 lemon

Put all ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Chill in the fridge for 2 hours.

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Pink Champagne Punch

(Adapted from Bon Appétit)

 If, like Shelby in Steel Magnolias, your bride’s colors are “blush and bashful,” then this is the right punch for your shower. Feel free to make just half of this recipe if your guests aren’t as dipsomaniacal as ours were.

1-cup water

1-cup sugar

4 740-ml bottles champagne

3 cups white rum

2-½ cups pomegranate juice

1-cup pomegranate seeds

Bunch of fresh mint

2 lemons, sliced

1 ice block

1.)   Make an ice block the night before by filling a bundt cake tin or similar object halfway with water. Feel free to float lemon slices or pomegranate seeds in the water for decoration. Allow it to freeze overnight and unmold it just before serving the punch.

2.)   Bring water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan and stir until sugar dissolves. Simmer 5 minutes and then cool the syrup completely.

3.)    Combine champagne, rum, and pomegranate juice in container or punch bowl. Add syrup to sweeten to your taste. Mix in lemon, pomegranate seeds, mint, and ice block.

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Finger Sandwiches

(Adapted from Martha Stewart)

 For the cucumber sandwiches:

8 ounces cream cheese (brought to room temperature)

½ cup roasted red bell peppers, drained if using canned.

Juice of 1 lemon

1 hothouse cucumber, sliced paper thin

12 slices white bread

12 slices whole wheat bread

1.) In a food processor combine cream cheese, peppers and lemon juice.

2.) Spread cream cheese mixture and a thin layer of cucumber slices on white bread slices. Top with wheat bread slices. Cover with plastic wrap and chill sandwiches in fridge 1 hour, until firm.

3.) Cut off sandwich crusts and quarter the slices. These will serve 12.

For the smoked salmon:

3 sticks unsalted butter, brought to room temperature

1 ½ -tablespoons chives, minced

1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 loaves whole grain bread, thinly sliced.

1 1/2 pounds smoked salmon, thinly sliced.

1.) Combine butter, herbs, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl.

2.) Spread mixture on all the bread slices. Top half the slices with smoked salmon. Lay butter-only slices on top of the salmon slices. Refrigerate under plastic wrap until chilled and firm, 1 hour.

3.) Trim crusts from sandwiches and quarter the bread slices.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/tymesynk/2271288816/”>tymesynk</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>CC BY-NC</a>

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/su-lin/249303864/”>su-lin</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com/Food/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>

Photo credit: <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/”>Public Domain Mark 1.0</a>