Wednesday, April 25, 2007

don't mess with my chocolate

A rallying cry sent out by Cybele, of Candyblog. I heard her on NPR yesterday discussing the FDA's intention to allow chocolate to be adulterated with vegetable oils, etc., and still be called chocolate. There are such products around now, but they're called "chocolate-flavored" or some other such equivocation--they tend to be too sweet, often with some indefinably off taste.
According to Cybele yesterday, the FDA is of the opinion that consumers won't notice the difference: are they crazy?!? Maybe someone who, like D's father, loses his sense of taste (result of an antibiotic reaction, and happily, it's back). Or someone who has never tasted genuine, made-with-only-cocoa-butter chocolate.
Fran Gage, of Fran's Chocolates, also spoke on the program, which gave me a chocoholic's thrill, since I love her chocolates and caramels (see right).
For more info, read Cybele here. And if you want to complain to the FDA, today is the deadline (I wish I'd heard about it before). Here is the online comment form, and here is a tutorial, complete with a letter you can copy if you don't want to write your own (both courtesy of Cybele).
If there's a march through the streets with torches burning being planned, I'll let you know.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

at last: the farmers' market

The Crocker-Basset branch of the North Union Farmers Market opened yesterday in its spring version--smaller than the many canopies and vendors of summer, but as friendly. Plus, there were lambs. I missed the sheep shearing, although there was a pile of wool to show it had been done--my sister stopped breathing as we went by to hold off an allergic sneeze.
Shopping list:
bread from Zoss bakery (rye and sourdough)
2 banana-chocolate chip scones from Olaf's Daughter (dreamy)
a bag of Empire apples from Woolf Farms (literary apples!); the young woman in the yellow t-shirt explained that these had been in normal storage and not cold storage, and so might not be quite as crisp (but they were as crispy as I could want). I should have asked what normal storage was, exactly. I imagine a loose pile of apples in a root cellar, with a shaft of sun coming in through a high-up window (but probably not).
some unfiltered honey; apparently it's a good thing if there are stray bee wings in your honey. We'll see.
cheese: mozzarella and raw-milk cheddar
There were ramps, but I'm not convinced that they are any better than the young garlic growing in my yard, so I passed (even though they looked lovely. I didn't buy any jewelry either, although I admired the display.
At home, a farmers market lunch: raw milk cheddar on rye bread, sprinkled with chives from my garden. Heavenly.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

pasta primavera: eat spring

Primavera means spring in Italian, I believe, and is also the name of Botticelli's painting, which hangs in the Uffizi in Florence, where I saw it when I was very tired. There are no elevators in the Uffizi, or at least none that an able-bodied but exhausted tourist could take. But even so, even though my feet hurt all the way up to my knees after walking the cobblestones of Florence for days, it's still a hell of a painting.
In it, Venus watches the 3 Graces dancing, and she looks serenely content. Possibly, she had just had some pasta beforehand? Pasta Primavera is certainly good enough for a goddess.
Traditionally, PP is pasta served with sauteed vegetables and a cream sauce. I often make it with a sort of bechamel though, because I have the ingredients for that always at hand. This one is a hybrid--it has a flour-thickened sauce, but also a bit of cream.
Pasta Primavera
3 cups pasta
3 tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
8-10 baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tsp tarragon
pinch of fennel seeds
bunch of asparagus, sliced on the diagonal
1 broccoli crown, separated into florets
2 small zucchini, sliced (not too thin)
handful of fresh peas (although frozen would be fine)
2 tbs flour
2 cups chicken broth (could use vegetable broth to make it vegetarian)
splash of wine
2 tbs cream
1/2 cup sour cream (I used low-fat)
about 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
I sauteed the onions and shallots in 2 tbs of the oil, and when they had started to soften, added the mushrooms, fennel, and tarragon. While the pasta was cooking, I cut up the vegetables; when the pasta was done, I scooped it out of the pot with a slotted spoon, and then used the pasta water to cook the vegetables, one kind at a time (so each would be just tender).
When the mushroom mixture was done, I spooned it out, added a little more oil to the pan, and then the flour, mixing it up well. Then in with the wine and the broth--I stirred it around, smashing flour lumps with the back of the spoon, until it started to thicken. I added the 2 creams and stirred them in, then the grated cheese, then stirred in the mushroom mixture.
Finally, everything into a bowl--the pasta, the vegetables, and the sauce folded together so that everything was well combined.
I served it with additional grated cheese (although D and I agreed that it didn't need any) and orange sections that had been sprinkled with pomegranite vinegar and rose petal cardamom syrup. An excellent dinner to remind us that it's really spring, even though there's still a considerable amount of snow in the back yard.
(I owe this dinner in large part to Whole Foods, where I bought the vegetables on my 1st visit to the Cleveland area's new store, which is fabulous!)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

it's so easy

which is what my mother used to say about some fabulous dish she'd just served--and it wasn't always true. Sometimes there was a lot of folding, chopping, mincing, kneading, etc. in her it's-so-easy. I found myself saying it about the cheesecake I made for company on Friday, but in this case, it was true. Easy, uncomplicated, didn't take long, came out perfect.
This was the Inaugural Cheesecake: 1st cheesecake I've ever made, and 1st time using my lovely new springform pan (offered to me when I whined on this blog about not having one: thanks MB; fittingly, she was one of the guests for whom the cheesecake was made).
Cheesecake was one of those things I put off trying, like yeast doughs, or handmade pasta, or Beef Wellington, because I thought it would be hard. I'm not sure why; maybe just because it often requires a springform pan? Something that is baked in a pan with a mechanism--how can that be easy?

I used the most basic recipe I could find, the Joy of Cooking's Cheesecake Cockaigne. And I went against my tinkering inclination and didn't change anything because of my fear of cheesecake (well-maybe 2 things).

The Feared Cheesecake Which Yet Turned Out to be Not Only Beneficent but Luscious

Prepare a crumb crust (I used Joy's--graham crackers, sugar, melted butter, adding a pinch of ginger; but any crumb crust would be fine), and press into a springform pan.
Beat until creamy 24 oz cream cheese. Joy suggested that this would only take 30 seconds, but it took more like a minute. Beat in 1 cup sugar and 1 tsp vanilla or 1/4 tsp almond extract (I used vanilla). Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time, just until incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl and beaters after each. I added the zest of one lemon, an ingredient borrowed from the New York style cheesecake that was on the same page of Joy. Put into pan, smooth the top lovingly, bake at 300 degrees 45 to 55 minutes. Joy said to put the pan on a cookie sheet, which I forgot to do, but luckily there weren't any leaks.
Combine 1 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tbs vanilla, 1/4 tsp salt and spread on the cooled cheesecake. And that is it--you've got your cheesecake.
I used my mother's Kitchen-Aid, which is getting along in years (it's avocado-colored, if that tells you anything), but still works fine. I worried when the cream cheese all got stuck inside the whisk attachment, but it worked itself loose as more things were added.

The most difficult part of this was deciding when it was done. The directions suggested that it should still have a bit of a wiggle in the center when it was time to take it out. But how much of a wiggle? D and I consulted over the degree of wiggliness--I needed the support, for I have a tendency to want to put things back in the oven if there's the least bit of doubt.
And it was beautiful (top picture). The Joy said it should be cooled on a rack for an hour, and then after the topping was added, should be refrigerated for 3 hours or preferably 24 before serving, which part of the directions I hadn't bothered to read until I was starting to put it together at 4:00 pm (company coming at 6:30). I compromised by cooling it on the rack for 30 minutes; putting on the topping; and putting the whole thing in the refrigerator on a rack for about 45 minutes. It was fine--not totally chilled, but cool and creamy, and it didn't, as I feared it might, fail to come out of the springform neatly, and it also didn't lose its firmness once it was out.
I think it might have been the best cheesecake I've ever eaten--light, sweet with a small tartness from the sour cream and the lemon zest, the filling creamy over the crunch of the crust. I regret to say that everyone except for D had 2 pieces, with Margaritas, to celebrate spring. And the next day I had 2 more. Needless to say it's quite gone now. But I'm already planning the next one: chocolate? marbled? strawberry-topped? cashew-caramel?