It's easier than you think: Pavlova with strawberries recipe

Did pavlova originate in Australia or New Zealand? That is a pressing question in any competitive debate between the citizens of those two countries, but nobody seems to be able to settle it. We do know that variations of pavlova were popular in both places in the early part of the nineteenth century, well before its namesake, the ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, performed there on both of her world tours in the 1920’s. The rest of the story is not so definitive. But let’s put aside unanswerable questions and eat.

I’ve often wondered why pavlova hasn’t caught on here in a big way—certainly it is part of every baker’s repertoire in Australia and New Zealand as well as in the U.K. Do we Americans balk at making meringue? A few years back, I proposed a recipe that required separating eggs to the food editor of a publication, and it was rejected on those grounds. “People just don’t want to deal with separating eggs.”

That was then. I think we’ve moved on. I still separate eggs the old fashioned way: crack the egg and toggle the yolk back and forth between the two shell halves over a bowl, letting the whites to dribble into the bowl. If you want bells and whistles, try this method on the

Kitchn website.

You may not be able to understand a word of the video, but the visuals tell the whole story. It is spectacularly fun to do!

I say, when it comes to pavlova the dessert, leave the arguments to the Aussies and the Kiwis.

Here in America, let’s just eat it, shall we? And why wouldn’t we want to. It is as light as an arabesque, with a crisp shell and a slightly soft interior, the perfect receptacle for summer berries and whipped cream.

So today, if you need to make an impromptu dessert for your Fourth of July celebration, make a pavlova. It may not be traditional, but it is much less demanding than the standard patriotic summer layer cake or a pie. The ingredients are few and simple—a quick run to the market may be necessary if you are out of eggs or cream or berries, but you may just have everything at hand already.

I’ve posted more about making meringues

HERE

if you want a visual step-by-step. The main difference between a meringue as part of a cake batter and a meringue to be baked as a discrete dessert is in the fineness of the sugar you need to use. Since superfine sugar is not as readily available here as it is in the countries that pride themselves in meringue desserts (that is a story in itself), you must finely grind sugar in a food processor or blender. Coarser bits of granulated sugar tend to make the meringue “weep” with oozing bits of melted sugar, which are not so desirable in this dessert.

Happy Fourth!

Pavlova with strawberries

Makes 1 9-inch cake

MERINGUE

1 cup sugar

4 egg whites

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 tablespoons sliced almonds

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees F.

2. Cut a piece of parchment to fit a baking sheet. With a pencil, draw a 9-inch circle in the center of the paper. Turn it over and place it on the baking sheet.

3. In a food processor, grind the sugar for 1 minute, or until very fine.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, or until the whites form soft peaks.

5. With the mixer on medium speed, add the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Turn the speed to high and beat for 5 minutes. Dip your index finger into the meringue and rub it between your finger and thumb. If it feels gritty, continue to beat for a minute more, or until it feels perfectly smooth between your fingers. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the vanilla.

6. Dip a finger into the meringue and dab the baking sheet under the four corners of the parchment to anchor the paper to the baking sheet. Spoon the meringue into the center of the circle. With the back of a spoon, spread it to make a 9-inch circle. Sprinkle all over with the almonds and bake for one hour, or until the meringue is crisp on the outside but still a little soft inside. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on the baking sheet. Transfer to a serving plate.

PAVLOVA

Baked meringue (see above)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced, or a combination of summer berries

A few mint leaves, for garnish

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream with the sugar until it forms soft peaks. Beat in the vanilla. Spread over the meringue. Top with strawberries and garnish with mint leaves.

Posted on July 4, 2013 and filed under Cakes, Sweets, Fruit desserts, Gluten free.

How to make a frittata: asparagus and goat cheese frittata recipe

My Italian friend

Simona

says, “When in doubt, make a frittata.”

And she is right. A frittata is the ultimate spontaneous, refrigerator-foraged meal. With some good cheese and pasture raised eggs, lingering leftovers can be resurrected, even elevated, especially when accompanied by a glass of wine and a salad. Simona’s

pasta frittata

is a great example. Now those are leftovers to write home about.

A frittata can be more deliberate of course. Special seasonal ingredients can be celebrated in a frittata, like the asparagus here, which has already peaked and is now waning fast. In this recipe, the goat cheese and asparagus combination is almost a cliché.

I say

almost

because: think about it.  A cliché has an undeserved negative connotation. It evolves from a truth that is repeated so often that we become inured to its virtues. I am a champion of many food clichés. On a quest for more exotic, scintillating (and sometimes dismal) dishes to excite our palates, we dismiss the tried and true as tired and sad. If you want to up the ante on the excitement taste meter with soy foam, be my guest. I’ll take the asparagus and goat cheese combination any day, and I don’t care who knows it.

To make a good frittata, you have to understand eggs. Yes, it is a simple dish, but like many simple dishes, you need outstanding ingredients and thoughtful execution. I’m not trying to scare you—it isn’t difficult to make a frittata. It’s just that so many people have complained to me that they have not had success (too dry, rubbery, etc.) that I think there are a couple of points worth noting. Pay particular attention to steps 5 and 6 in the recipe.

The maxim: when you cook eggs, walk on eggs. Eggs are delicate. Treat them kindly and you will be rewarded with soft, creamy curds that melt in your mouth instead of dry, chalky bites that stick in your throat. By treating them kindly I mean take care to protect them from high heat. Cook them slowly. Don’t rush. Give them the time they need. In other words, what’s your hurry? This is a quick supper; you don’t need to take ruinous shortcuts.

Slowly cook the eggs (step 5) over medium to medium-low heat until they begin to set. At that point, run a metal spatula (or a rubber spatula if you don’t have a metal spatula) around the edges of the pan and tilt the pan so that the uncooked eggs on the surface dribble into the gaps at the edge of the pan. Repeat this until the eggs are about 3/4ths of the way cooked.

Finally, place the pan under the broiler (step 6), but far from its harsh direct heat. Leave the oven door ajar. Watch carefully, and wait for the top to puff and brown lightly. You are looking for a light golden brown color, not a deep brown. Let the frittata rest for a minute or two. Slide it onto a plate and serve, or cut it into wedges and serve from the pan.

Of course, don’t be limited by asparagus and goat cheese. Oozy, melty cheeses like taleggio or fontina or cheddar are good paired with vegetables. The possibilities are endless.

Asparagus and goat cheese frittata

Makes 1 10-inch frittata

1 pound asparagus, trimmed of tough ends and cut into 1-inch lengths

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium leek, white part only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

7 eggs

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

2 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) crumbled goat cheese

1. Set an oven rack about 10 inches from the broiler. Turn on the broiler. Have on hand a 10-inch non-stick skillet with a heatproof handle.

2. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes, or until tender. Drain in a colander.

3. In the skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the leeks and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the asparagus to the skillet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. In a bowl, whisk the eggs until combined. Stir in the tarragon, parsley, chives, goat cheese, and  more salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the asparagus in the skillet.

5. Adjust the heat to medium-low. When the eggs begin to set at the edges, run a spatula around the pan, and tilt the pan to allow the uncooked eggs to run to the sides. Repeat once or twice, until the eggs are almost set.

6. To finish cooking, set the pan in the oven, leaving the door ajar. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the eggs are set and the top of the frittata is slightly puffed but not deeply browned. Cut into wedges and serve.

Posted on June 17, 2013 and filed under Eggs, How To, Vegetarian.

Chocolate zucchini muffins

One consequence of catering to picky eaters (i.e., children) is that certain food groups are neglected for years on end. Another consequence of catering to picky eaters is that they grow up and come home with an appetite to match their status as much bigger people. This new appetite begets requests for foods that were banished during their childhood. The disenfranchised food group in question here is muffins, even bakery-bought cake-like, lollapalooza muffins. But living away from home (in New York City for example) broadens one’s tastes apparently. Muffins are back.

Questioning why a picky eater turns up his nose at something is an exercise in futility. There is no rhyme or reason to explain the capriciousness of children. Should you indulge them? I struggled with the question, landing on the side of indulgence more often than not, deciding that battles at the dinner table were secondary to other skirmishes pertaining to child rearing. Luckily, it all turned out okay. Nature took its course. The muffin is now being reinstated, along with many other foods that were once excluded.

Truth be told, I was never much of a muffin maker. With low demand and a perverse insistence on my part to keep them healthy by cutting back on sugar and fat, the muffins I produced were nothing to write home about. They were flat. They were dry. No wonder they languished on the counter until they were stale enough to be relegated to the compost heap.

When I revisited muffin making recently, I made a decision to renounce my Spartan ways. Still, my leanings are always towards whole-earth-crunchy, and these chocolate zucchini muffins reflect that. I used whole wheat pastry flour and

barley flour

. I incorporated a vegetable (!) I added chocolate—for its

health benefits

, of course. There was little I could do about the sugar or fat though—these are essential to making muffins taste good—the key is to exercise moderation in eating them.

I punished myself by investigating some of the ingredients. What I found (via internet research, so don’t hold my feet to the fire on this) is that sugar is sugar is sugar. It is not all that good for you—in fact, studies point to sugar as a much greater health risk than fat. There are no really “healthy” sugars—so pick your poison: white, brown, natural cane sugar, evaporated cane juice—any one of them will do. These muffins are only moderately sweet. If your taste buds lean towards sweetness, then I suggest adding an additional 1/4 cup sugar to the recipe. To me, they are just sweet enough as is.

As for fat, I used butter and coconut oil. I started with a small amount of fat, but it kept creeping up. I know that vegetable oil in cakes produces a moist texture—everyone is familiar with

carrot cake

—so I thought I’d try using coconut oil. I used

whole kernel coconut oil

in its solid form (right out of the jar.) It has plenty of flavor but is not too assertive in the final product. It is more like pleasant background music. I cut it into the flour with the butter, as you would do for biscuits. The results were good, so I stopped there, but next time I will try melting the butter and oil. I’ll post an update when I get to that iteration.

I roughly calculated that each muffin is 350 calories. No, muffins are not health or diet food. But you knew that. And we both still want to eat them.

TEN TIPS FOR MAKING GOOD MUFFINS

1. Before you start measuring, butter the muffin tins or line with paper liners. In either case, butter the rims and top of the muffin tin so batter overflow won’t stick.

2. Always preheat the oven.

3. Use the fluff and scoop method to measure dry ingredients: Fluff up the flour in the canister, scoop it into a dry measuring cup (i.e., a measuring cup with a flat handle, not a spout) and level excess with a knife.

4. Don’t over mix the batter. It should just come together without any traces of dry flour.

5. Get the batter into the muffin tin as soon as it is mixed. Both baking powder and baking soda are activated immediately by liquid ingredients, and then again by the heat of the oven. 

6. When the batter is thick, you can fill the muffin tins fuller, thus producing rounded tops and a hefty muffin.

7. Use a 2 1/2-inch wide ice cream scoop (level when filled with batter) to produce the exact perfect amount for each muffin

in this recipe

.

8. For the best oven spring to produce domed muffin tops, use a hot oven (400 degrees) to start and then turn down the temperature (375 degrees) after 10 minutes. (Since I am not good at remembering to do that, I sometimes break that rule and bake muffins at 375 degrees and they are fine, but I have not done a scientific comparison.)

9. Let muffins rest in the pan for at least 5 minutes before removing them to keep them from crumbling.

10. Eat muffins while they are warm.

I did not mention that muffins, if not consumed on the day of baking, can be stored in the freezer in a sturdy plastic bag for up to about 6 weeks. They are perfectly safe after that, though perhaps not at their best. I am not above eating any I have found neglected in my freezer for longer. In fact, as I write this, it is all I can do to keep myself from rushing down the basement stairs to the freezer right this minute. That basement freezer was meant to be a deterrent to impulsive consumption, and it is not working very well.

These muffins are not too sweet, which makes them fine for breakfast and actually, good for mid-morning or late afternoon snacks. Or for right now. They are moist enough, but not too cake-like or cloying. The fancy pants topping—pistachios and turbinado sugar—gives them an extra-special crunch with each chocolately bite.

Chocolate zucchini muffins

Makes 12 to 13 muffins

Softened unsalted butter, for the muffin tin

1/3 cup cocoa powder (preferably best quality

Dutch process cocoa

)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/4 cups barley flour

1 cup sugar (or 1 1/4 cups if you have a sweet tooth)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into slices

1/2 cup coconut oil (in solid form)

4 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups grated zucchini

1/4 cup chopped pistachios

1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, and heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Generously butter a 12-cup muffin tin. Butter the rims and top of the pan. If using paper liners, butter the top of the pan.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, sift the cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add the whole wheat flour, barley flour, and sugar. Run the machine to thoroughly mix the dry ingredients. Add the butter and coconut oil. Pulse the machine briefly, until they are in pea-size pieces. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

(Without a food processor, sift the cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk in the flour. Cut the butter and coconut oil into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or a whisk, until they are in pea-size pieces.)

3. Make a well in the center of the bowl and break the eggs into it. Add the milk and vanilla. Beat with a fork to break up the eggs. With a rubber spatula, stir together until the flour is incorporated.

4. Stir the zucchini into the batter, until well combined. The batter will be thick.

5. Use a 2 1/2–inch wide ice-cream scoop to portion the batter. Fill it and scrape it across the edge of the bowl to level the batter.  Fill the muffin cups in a standard size muffin tin with the rounded side up. If 

you have a little extra batter, spoon it into a buttered ramekin 

to make a baker’s dozen.

6. Sprinkle the muffins with pistachios and turbinado sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin emerges with just a few crumbs.

7. Set muffin tin on a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool on the rack.

Posted on May 11, 2013 and filed under Breakfast, Muffins and Tea Breads.

Eat across the color spectrum: A cheerful rainbow salad

On the phone last Friday, College Boy suggested I bake cupcakes. I made chicken stock. After all, his train from New York that morning had been cancelled, so he wouldn't be here to eat them. That left two of us—Man of The House and myself—two people who could not be trusted with a plateful of little frosted cakes for a nano-second.  Surely that would be dinner, along with a glass of Scotch (his poison) or red wine (mine.) Or maybe both. And plenty of it. I guess we can’t call out for pizza we joked reassuringly to each other, still uncertain when the lockdown would be lifted.

As it turned out, I could not summon enough focus to decide what to bake. So I cleaned out my freezer and made stock. Despite my best efforts to take breaks, my eyes and ears were glued to the television. Not even cooking—a favorite remedy of mine during times of stress—could offer refuge or distraction. At one point I snoozed on the couch, since I am one of the lucky ones who can sleep for twenty minutes any time, anywhere. I escaped into light slumber, lulled by the muted put-put of the helicopters through tightly closed windows, only waking to once again be riveted to the screen and the minute-to-minute updates. How very surreal to hear helicopters rushing to the scene, sirens wailing, and then, the unthinkable: gunshots--the final drama unfolding just three blocks down the hill from our calm and comfortable house.

There were no cupcakes for dinner. There was some good, soothing chicken soup, and plenty of the aforementioned poisons to wash it down. That was quite enough for one day.

The intensity of the past weeks demands lightness. In that vein, I offer you this colorful salad to bring you back into balance containing a wide color spectrum of foods, should you need that. With so few vegetables available to us Northerners in the in-between season, this salad fills in the gap. The salad goes nicely with some of those first grilled burgers or shrimp of the season, now that pleasant weather seems to have arrived.

Rainbow Salad

Serves 6

DRESSING

Juice of 1 lime

Juice of 1 orange

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Pinch sugar

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup olive oil

1. In a small bowl, whisk the lime juice, orange juice, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper together. Gradually whisk in the oil.

SALAD

1 small celery root (12 ounces), cut into fine matchstick

1/2 small head red cabbage, thinly sliced

1 large carrot, grated

1 Granny Smith apple, cut into small dice

6 radishes, thinly sliced

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 avocado, sliced, for garnish

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, for garnish

1. In a salad bowl, combine celery root, cabbage, carrot, apple, radishes, pomegranate seeds, and parsley. Toss with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with sliced avocado and pumpkin seeds.

Posted on May 2, 2013 and filed under Salad.

Lentil and arugula salad

It’s hard to know what to eat at the cusp of spring. In the upper reaches of the Northeast, bare brown branches scrape each other in the chilly wind against a murky sky, not quite blue, not quite gray.

A few robins appeared on the dingy lawn last week, a hopeful sign, but even they looked out of place. Their heads bobbed this way and that.

Where are the worms?

The earth beneath them—dead grass the color of old cement—was still awaiting rejuvenation from the first warm April rain. An imminent meal for the robins did not look very promising.

My brain is yearning for spring and thinking salad, but my appetite is stuck in winter—it wants warming foods, substance. Pale, soft lettuces, fresh bright peas, baby leeks—these are still in my future. I hope in a not too distant one. In the meantime, I am transitioning with lentils. I have been making lentil soup for weeks on end: lentils with curry, lentils with sausage, red lentils, green lentils, yellow lentils, thick stewed lentils enveloping a few handfuls of something green like kale, Swiss chard, watercress. Lentils topped with feta cheese or crusty pita toasts.

Yet my mind is overtaking the demands of my body;

I will have my salad

, it states with imperiousness. Young arugula, with its sharp, peppery edge matches my impatience for the new season’s arrival. A salad of its dark green leaves, fortified with hearty lentils, spring onions, and some pan-seared tomatoes, fits the bill, a truce in the mind/body conflict and a nod to both seasons as they merge and move more definitively toward spring.

Le Puy lentils

Ordinary brown lentils

The lentils I used in this salad are Le Puy lentils—small, green lentils from France. They hold their shape well in cooking, so they are ideal candidates for eating warm, cold, or, most preferably, at room temperature. Another small lentil choice comes from Italy: Umbrian lentils (

lenticchie di Castelluccio

.) Start by flavoring some olive oil with crushed coriander seeds in a skillet. (If you don’t have a mortar, enclose the coriander seeds in a zip lock bag and crush them with a rolling pin.) Sear some cherry tomatoes, and let them cool on a plate, while you make the vinaigrette in the skillet to soak up all the coriander tomato goodness. To mitigate the strong flavor of onion that will overpower the salad if it sits untamed, stir them into the lentils while they are hot, and add a bit of the vinaigrette at the same time, another flavor-soaking exercise. Finally, dress the leaves with the remaining vinaigrette and top them all off with the lentils and satisfying salty crumbles of feta. A fine meal to savor while waiting for the daffodils to pop.

Lentil, arugula, and feta salad

Serves 4

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, coarsely crushed in a mortar

12 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup small green lentils, such as Le Puy or Castelluccio

1/4 red onion or 1 small spring onion, thinly sliced,

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 bunches (6 cups) arugula

3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. In a skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil with the coriander seeds. Add the tomatoes, cut side down. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the tomatoes are slightly soft but still hold their shape. Remove the pan from the heat. With a slotted spoon, transfer tomatoes to a plate to cool.

2. For the vinaigrette: Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to the skillet. Stir in the vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Leave to cool in the pan.

3. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the lentils. Simmer over medium-low heat for 18 to 20 minutes, or until they are tender but still hold their shape.

4. Drain in a colander and transfer to a bowl. Stir in the onions and 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Let cool to warm room temperature. Stir in the cilantro and cherry tomatoes.

5. In a salad bowl, toss the arugula with the remaining vinaigrette. Pile the lentils on top, and sprinkle with the feta.

Posted on April 12, 2013 and filed under Salad, Beans and Grains.