Previous month:
August 2005
Next month:
October 2005

David Lebovitz's Gateaux Bastille


It looks like a muffin or a sunken cupcake, but nothing about this delicious little cake even comes close to either one of those more pedestrian sweets. This luscious cakelet, courtesy of David Lebovitz's pastry chef genius, is like a mousse and a souffle and the lightest imaginable flourless chocolate confection all wrapped into one. Not only that, but it's made without butter or flour, and is crammed with finely diced prunes and bittersweet chocolate. Could it be - a dessert that's somewhat low in fat, full of fiber, and bursting with antioxidants, too? Okay, enough health talk. These gateaux bastille are absolutely incredible - and can be made with ingredients almost surely all found in the pantries of most homes.

Taken out of the oven and eaten warm, they practically dissolve on the tongue. But the delicate structure of the chocolate and eggs is surprisingly sturdy. If you can stand to not eat them all at once, the flavor develops over a day or two and becomes more and more complex. The rum-soaked prunes fill the chocolate with a fruity flavor that becomes only more pronounced as the hours go by. I'd say this recipe proves the axiom that sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, though, of course, I also believe that for these soft little cakes to really shine you must use high-quality chocolate. They can be whipped up in a flash, but of course might disappear in much less time than it took to make them...

Gâteaux Bastille
makes 12 individual cakes

For the prunes
6 medium-sized pitted prunes, cut into little-bitty, bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons dark rum

For the cakes
4 ½ ounces (125 gr) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup (50 ml) heavy or light cream
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt

1. In a small bowl, mix the prunes in the eau-de-vie. Cover, and let macerate for a few hours.
Butter and line a 12-cup muffin mold.

2. Preheat the oven to 375° F degrees. In a medium bowl set over simmering water, melt together the chocolate and cream. Remove from heat. Mix in the prunes and any liquor in the bowl remaining, then let cool to room temperature.

3. Beat the eggs and sugar at high-speed with a pinch of salt until thick, about 5 minutes.

4. Fold one-third of the beaten egg mixture into the chocolate, then fold in the remaining egg foam.

5. Divide batter between each muffin tin. Bake for 30 minutes, until cakes are tender and still soft when you touch the top. Each will rise, then gently sigh down a bit. Remove from oven and cool a few minutes before removing the paper cake mold (use a scissors to cut it away).

6. Serve warm or at room temperature with very cold crème anglaise and perhaps a scattering of crisp-toasted sliced almonds.

Gramercy Tavern's Littleneck Clam Chowder With Bok Choy and New Potatoes


Back in August, the New York Times published a small article on summer chowders. Usually chowder calls up the image of those rich, cream-heavy seafood soups so common in fall and winter in New England. But the article focused instead on lightened warm-weather versions. Less cream and more vegetables set these soups apart from their wintery cousins.

Two recipes were published: one chockful of smoked haddock and bacon and cream - a little too heavy for my taste - and one that had no cream, but lots of vegetables and clams - just right. Not only was the littleneck chowder healthy and light, it was also put together in very little time. John Schaefer, the executive chef at Gramercy Tavern, created the recipe. The fresh tomatoes and new potatoes and herbs give the stew a summery taste. The bok choy adds a bit of crunch. If you like clams, make this! It's delicious. We ate bowlfuls of it outside on my patio, with crusty bread dunked in the well-flavored broth and empty clam shells clanking on a plate. Summer is slowly coming to a close.

First, I sauteed a leek, an onion and some minced garlic in olive oil.
Then I added tomato paste and several diced tomatoes (I didn't bother peeling them and neither should you, unless that kind of thing bothers you, in which case I suppose you could use canned, diced tomatoes), and let the mixture cook down for a few minutes over reduced heat.
After scrubbing the clams, I added them along with the chopped bok choy, thyme, and red pepper flakes and cooked them for a few additional minutes. An aside: because my cast-iron pot was too small, I boiled the potatoes on their own and added them to the chowder at the end.
Because I just couldn't bring myself to make chicken stock during our hot summer, I dissolved some Better than Bouillon chicken base in boiling water and added that with white wine to the pot. I covered the pot and let it simmer for a few minutes, until the clams had opened and the bok choy was tender. No salt or additional pepper was needed by us, but season as you see fit. And of course we ate our chowder with crusty French bread. What else?

Littleneck Clam Chowder With Bok Choy and New Potatoes
Yields 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 leek (white and light green parts only), well washed and minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, with juice reserved
24 littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 head baby bok choy, cleaned and chopped
8 new potatoes, cooked until tender and quartered
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
½ cup white wine
3 cups chicken stock or canned broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. Place a large wide casserole over medium heat, and add olive oil. Add onion, leek and garlic and sauté until tender. Add tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and any juice. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add clams, bok choy, potatoes, thyme and hot pepper flakes, and cook an additional 5 minutes.

2. Add wine and chicken stock. Cover, increase heat to medium, and simmer until clams open and bok choy is tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Minted Beets and an Admission


Dear readers, I have been humbled. After being somewhat scornful of the roasted peppers I made last night, I had some cooled to room temperature for lunch. And what had seemed bland and a bit forgettable yesterday was concentrated and delicious today. It's not exactly rocket science that leftovers (when not chilled to tooth-aching temperatures) often taste better than freshly prepared dishes, but nevertheless I crossed these off the list too quickly, without giving them fair shakes. So, mea culpa. My advice to you is to make these after work for a picnic the next day! They do seem like ideal food for an al fresco meal, wedged between some crusty bread that has sopped up the deeply flavored juices.

And while we're on the subjects of picnics (and warm weather fare in general, I suppose), I have to share with you one of my favorite discoveries of the summer: the combination of beets and mint. I like to boil beets until they're tender (you could also wrap them in foil and roast), then peel off the thin skins when they've cooled. The pink and stripey beets above are Chioggia beets. I toss the little nuggets with chopped fresh mint, a delicately flavored olive oil (or if it's around, walnut oil), and a few drops of sherry vinegar. Don't forget a light sprinkling of salt. Sweet beets, faintly pungent mint, a nicely astringent dressing: not only do the flavors really work together, this salad is assembled in no time at all.

Martha Stewart Living's Baked Stuffed Red Peppers


This post could alternatively be titled How Not To Prepare A Recipe. Sitting at my desk yesterday, I was going through my mental inventory of the ingredients in my fridge that needed to be used up. I vaguely remembered some fresh thyme and leftover feta haunting my fridge, and decided on a recipe clipped from a copy of Martha Stewart Living (once again, picked over at my stepmother's house): Baked Stuffed Red Peppers with Cherry Tomatoes, Feta, and Thyme.

At the farmer's market yesterday, I picked up some shiny red peppers (and several different types of tomatoes and fresh mint and dark blue grapes and white peaches, but that's another story) and walked home happily after work to prepare my dinner. At the market, I had considered buying more herbs, just in case something was wrong with the ones I had at home, but I was feeling thrifty and decided against it.

As I set about cutting the peppers in half and gathering up the ingredients to stuff them with, I realized that the thyme was AWOL, the feta was no longer particularly fresh, I had no aluminum foil of which to speak of, and that my thriftiness at the farmer's market was going to translate into a pretty bland plate of roasted red pepper halves. But for some reason, I felt stubborn about using up what I had at home, so I replaced the fresh thyme with dried, threw caution to the wind with the odd-tasting feta, left out the basil altogether and figured the peppers would cook just fine without aluminum foil to protect them from the oven heat. To paraphrase Julie, what could happen?
In fact, the peppers turned out just fine. Toasty brown around the edges, with nicely shriveled tomatoes in the middle, they were a serviceable meal. But nothing special beyond that. Plain roasted peppers sprinkled with parsley, capers, slivered black olives and toasted bread crumbs are far superior and probably less work. Then again, if I had followed the recipe, used the right herbs, tented properly with foil and been generally more attentive, maybe I'd be waxing rhapsodic now.

Here's the actual recipe:

2 small red peppers (5 to 6 ounces each), halved lengthwise, with seeds and ribs removed
1 heaping cup (6 ounces) of cherry tomatoes
1 1/2 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme
8 basil leaves, torn into pieces
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pepper halves, cut sides up, in a baking dish. Toss together tomatoes, feta, and herbs in a medium bowl, then season with pepper. Fill each pepper with the tomato mixture. Drizzle each half with oil.

2. Bake stuffed peppers, covered with aluminum foil, untl they begin to soften, about 30 minutes. Remove foil, and continue to bake until the tomatoes begin to burst and the cheese starts to brown, 13 to 15 minutses more. Remove from the oven and serve warm.

SHF #12 - Regina Schrambling's Summer Fruit Tart


My very first food-blogging community event! I'm excited to be participating. For this month's Sugar High Friday, Elise of Simple Recipes decided on the theme of Cooking Up Custard. As luck would have it, a few weeks ago the L.A. Times published an article on fruit tarts with a base of creme patissiere (pardon the fact that I can't find my accent grave and aigu). Regina Schrambling cobbled together a recipe using a shortbread tart crust from Joanne Weir, a pastry cream filling from a "Careme-worshipping dessert teacher", and a Madeleine Kamman-inspired lime marmalade glaze to top off the fresh berries that adorn the tart. I decided to make the tart for my friend Julie's birthday this week.

To start with, I still had leftover tart dough from my blueberry tart sitting in the fridge. Since it was the best part about that failed tart, I decided I could substitute it for the lime-scented shortbread crust. I patted the leftover dough into the tart pan and blind-baked it until golden. Then I set about making the custard filling. First I whisked together egg yolks, cornstarch and some sugar.
Then I set a pot of milk and cream and additional sugar on the stove and brought it barely to a boil. I poured a bit of the hot milk mixture into the bowl with the eggs, whisked it together to temper the eggs, then poured that mixture back into the milk-and-cream pot. I whisked everything together until it bubbled and thickened, turning into a gorgeous, glossy, yellow cream.
I poured the custard into a bowl, then smoothed a piece of clingfilm onto the top of the custard to prevent a skin from forming and let it cool in the refrigerator overnight.
The next morning, I plopped the chilled custard into the tart shell,
and smoothed it out with a spatula.
I carefully brushed off plump blackberries, raspberries and glossy red currants, and set about carefully arranging them on top of the cream-filled tart in concentric circles. I decided to use red currant jelly to glaze the berries, but if you have lime marmalade at your disposal use that instead! The reddish color of the glaze looked odd against the creamy-white backdrop of the custard, in the small places where the glaze had dripped down between the berries. Details, details - I know.
Happy Birthday, Julie! Hope you liked the tart!

Edited on Monday, September 18 to give an update on Elise's roundup of SHF #12. Check out all the delicious entries here!

Sonoko Sakai's Soba-Tsuyu


At last, success! I'm not giving up on the L.A. Times just yet. I should have known that a recipe recommended by Russ Parsons would work. From the now out-of-print The Poetical Pursuit of Food by Sonoko Sakai (Kondo) comes this deceptively simple and utterly delicious meal of chewy, slippery soba noodles with a flavorful, light dipping sauce. I put it all together in less than half an hour. With leftover dipping sauce in the fridge, I can't wait to make this again.

I found the ingredients all clustered together in the same section at Whole Foods. I had to buy soba noodles, mirin, soy sauce and bonito flakes. It was not cheap: my total came to $17.26. But it was worth every penny.
Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour. Mirin is a Japanese rice wine used for cooking. Bonito flakes, also known as katsuoboshi, are thin shavings of dried and compressed mackerel. The open bag of bonito has a strong and pungent smell, but when combined with boiling water it mellows out into a wonderfully flavored broth. This broth, known as dashi, is a cooking staple in Japanese cuisine (comparable, I suppose, to chicken stock?)
To make the broth, I brought four cups of water to boil, then turned off the heat for one minute before dumping in three loosely packed cups of bonito flakes. The flakes wilted and shriveled upon contact with the steam. I let this steep for five minutes before draining the liquid into a bowl (don't press on the flakes, or the liquid will turn cloudy).

I measured out two and a half cups of the liquid, and brought it to a boil with five tablespoons of mirin and a half cup plus two tablespoons of soy sauce. As soon as it boiled, I turned off the heat and dumped in three more cups of bonito flakes. I let them steep for one minute before draining the liquid into another bowl (again, don't press down on the strained flakes). This makes the dipping sauce for the soba. Refrigerated, it keeps for a week.

I brought a pot of salted water to boil, then threw in 600 grams (or 21 ounces) of soba noodles. When foam started appearing at the top, I turned the heat down and cooked the noodles until they were done. This can take anywhere from one to five minutes, depending on the brand. I drained the noodles and rinsed them under cold running water until they were cool. I divided the noodles among four bowls, and served two thirds of a cup of the dipping sauce alongside them.

To round out the meal, you could steam up a bunch of spinach or swiss chard and serve it with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil on top. A perfect plum would nicely finish this virtuous but delectable Japanese meal.

The Communist Vegetable Collective

Since I so often mention my CSA basket, I thought that I might also dedicate a post to it. Community Supported Agriculture is a program that has city folk support a farmer by buying shares of his harvest in advance, and thereby giving him the money he (or she!) needs to tend the farm, buy equipment, and hire farmhands. My friend Dave likes to refer to this as the Communist Vegetable Collective. The farmer delivers the vegetables harvested each week and we, the recipients, enjoy a constantly changing supply of healthy food that has been farmed organically and sustainably. Not only that, we also have the pleasure of knowing that we've kept a farm in business for an entire season.

It also turns out to be incredibly cheap. I split my share with a friend: we each pay $210 for the season, which goes from June to November. This works out to be around $8 a person per week. Yesterday, our share included six zucchini, a bunch of Chioggia beets, a bunch of Bright Lights chard, five tomatoes, a basket of tomatillos, several poblano peppers, a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, six zucchini, one head of red cabbage, a bunch of Cosmic Purple carrots (purple on the outside, orange on the inside!), four Orient Express eggplant, and four yellow frying peppers. The CSA adjusts their prices on a sliding scale so that low-income families pay less, while receiving the same amount of vegetables.

On the days when my CSA delivery matches the ingredient list of a recipe on my radar for that week, I feel like the universe is coming together in a particularly lovely way.