Thursday, January 31, 2008

CRAVE: Sour Cream-Blueberry Crumb Cake

Okay, I know I said it wasn't a Diet...but I'd be lying if I wasn't sad about denying myself this moist, buttery coffee cake. (I took these pictures last time I made this a few months ago, and seriously guys, that top image is worth enlarging - regard the golden, tender crumbitude.) WANT!

Sour Cream-Blueberry Crumb Cake
(From Tish Boyle's The Cake Book)


Crumb Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Sour Cream Blueberry Cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs


Make the topping:

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt. Add the melted butter and mix with a fork, stirring until the butter is absorbed and the dry ingredients are uniformly moistened. Set aside.

Make the Cake:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well blended.

In a medium bowl, toss the blueberries with 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture until the berries are coated; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and vanilla extract; set aside.

Beat together the butter and granulated sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition nad scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. At low speed, beat in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the sour cream in two additions. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the blueberries. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the batter, breaking up any large lumps with your fingers.

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Place the cake in the pan on a wore rack and cool completely (Note that I never, EVER obey this last instruction).

Cut the cake into squares and serve from the pan.

Makes 9 servings.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Resolved, Or, Orange-Scented Green Beans with Maple Glazed Pecans

(Image pilfered from Busy Moms Recipes)

First, let's get some business out of the way: I can't take any pictures of my recipes because my house is, well,
littered with broken cameras. Until I can afford to have one of them repaired (see doe-eyed "donate" button at right!), I'll just be supplementing posts with stock photos and images pillaged (gratefully and with all credit due!) from teh internets. Aside from these, you'll just have to use your imagination.

Alright, moving along. ;)

January rolled around, and I thought the world was finally taking long-awaited revenge on my appetite. The holiday season had stretched into two months of delightful, ridiculous gluttony, during which time J and I went to a pie party, helped cook up an absurd Thanksgiving feast, and gorged on truffles, pork belly, oysters, vanilla custard, wassail, and Christmas morning casserole until we resembled soft, fluffy versions of our former selves. Thankfully, the New Year arrived with all its resolve; the midwinter farmers markets finally thinned down to jam-and-onions skeletons of themselves; and a new bike and a high-impact canoe trip in the Everglades jump-started us into an exercise regimen. We have become, for this brief moment in time, carb-eschewing, push-up-doing people.

I thought it was really going to suck. I mean, I haven't really exercised since college, and my favorite food is
pie. I figured within a fews weeks, we'd be another statistic: 92% of Americans either fail in their resolutions, or don't even bother to resolve anything.

Maybe it's too early to tell, I'll grant you that - but I'm totally having a great time! I feel good, I have tons of energy, I'm coming to appreciate different kinds of food a lot more. Even better, I'm somehow
cooking more while eating less, in an effort to plan meals ahead. Limiting the variety of foods you eat demands creativity in preparation, too - so I'm dusting off old cookbooks (the ones hiding behind The Good Cookie and The Cake Book) and experimenting with new flavors. Also, I'm grilling like a...grill-bandit.

(Note that I have purposefully omitted that dreaded "D" word - diet. We're not some South-Beach-following calorie nazis over here or anything - just creating some new habits and taking better care of our bodies. Omitting pasta from the menu doesn't mean I don't slather my chicken in Charley Biggs' Sweet Bourbon BBQ sauce.)

But don't think I'm resisting my passion for baking! I still get to watch cakes rise and enjoy that warm vanilla smell (and perhaps lick the
occasional bowl) by baking constantly - and giving away the goods! This hobby ends up benefiting everybody because it has engendered a little informal economy; cakes and pies are exchanged for fresh seafood at the fishmonger, a bike tuneup at the hardware store, and...well, I do my best to refuse the outpouring of generosity, in the form of zeppoli and calzones, offered by the local pizza place. But communities are knit and everyone is fed and happy.

What all of this means for you readers is that a) I'll be trotting out a bunch of new recipes that focus on lean meats and fresh vegetables (and the occasional whole grain) - but b) I'll still be baking pies and cakes and talking about those too. Once again, everyone benefits.

It's funny how, with some foods, I have a whole variety of preparations stored up - like Forrest Gump says, "there's shrimp kebabs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fried, deep fried, stir fried...pineapple shrimp and lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup..." But with other, overlooked foods, there's just one standby preparation in my mental recipe folder. Pan-seared pork chops. Sauteed spinach with garlic. Green beans, boiled with a slice of bacon or a ham hock.

So now that the vegetable is less of a forgettable "side item" and more of an important part of the meal, I'm in search of a diversity of textures and flavor combinations. Here's a stellar recipe, adapted from Cook's Illustrated, for Orange-Scented Green Beans with Maple Glazed Pecans - rich, complex, sweet-salty flavors with a couple of kinds of crunch. You might not think that the candied pecans, sitting atop the beans like glossy gems, really go - but wait until you take a bite.

Orange-Scented Green Beans with Maple Glazed Pecans

  • ¾ cup pecans
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • Salt
  • 2 medium shallots, minced (about ½ cup)
  • 1 teaspoon grated zest plus 1/3 cup juice from 1 large orange
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1½ pounds green beans, stem ends trimmed
  • 2/3 cup chicken broth

oast the pecans in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in 1 tablespoon butter, maple syrup, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Return to medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until nuts are dry and glossy, about 45 seconds. Transfer to plate and set aside.

Rinse out skillet. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to medium; when foaming subsides, add shallots, orange zest, and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in flour until combined, then toss in green beans. Add chicken broth and orange juice; increase heat to medium-high, cover, and cook until beans are partly tender but still crisp at center, about 4 minutes. Uncover and cook about 4 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender and sauce has thickend slightly. Off heat, salt to taste, transfer to serving dish, sprinkle evenly with pecans, and serve.

Serves 6.

Chef's Notes:
  • You might as well go ahead and double the pecan part of the recipe - you're going to eat most of them before the rest of the dish is done, and you'll be craving more to munch on the next day.
  • Alternately, you could coarsely chop the pecans first, for a more evenly distributed texture.
  • I liked a touch more cayenne than this recipe requires.
  • Others have seasoned the finished dish with black pepper and chopped fresh sage. I felt that sage would overpower the orange essence, and preferred to let the sweet-savory, nutty-fruitiness of the dish shine all by itself.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


It’s not every slushy day in late December that five thousand New Yorkers delay their last-minute Christmas shopping to brave outdoor crowds in ice-cold rain. But on December sixteenth, droves of be-wellingtoned foodies enthusiastically slogged down to Manhattan’s southmost point, their three-dollar umbrellas glistening like black bubbles, in search of culinary New York’s premiere attraction: Wintermarket.

Hosted by the non-profit group New Amsterdam Public, Wintermarket is an off-season attention-grabber – for, to shoppers who frequent NYC Greenmarkets, burgeoning business in December seems like an oxymoron. Not so for the purveyors occupying South Street’s historic stalls this day! As Greenmarket booths thin down to jam, onions, and particularly durable apples, Wintermarket shines like a Blue Pointe pearl: between gray heaps of old snow, pots of seaweed stew billow fragrant steam, nutty artisanal breads drip with cheese, and potential buyers warily sniff local truffles. Local truffles?!

One vendor with an Irish brogue deftly handles a shucking knife as he details the Long Island location of his oyster beds, doling out halfshells for a dollar apiece. Visitors slurp the briny delight straight from the shell. A few tables down the row, Mario Batali mugs behind his whole porchetta, dramatically brandishing a carving knife. Customers bump and jostle, competing for samples and exclaiming in perplexed glee at these fanciful gastronomic pleasures so frequently absent from their usual local markets.

For Wintermarket is a local market as well. Though its definition of “local” is less strict than NYC Greenmarkets’ 200-mile rule, every item, from red-shelled Nantucket scallops to upstate New York cheddar from Saxelby Cheesemongers, comes from the northeast region.

New York’s oldest marketplace, the South Street Seaport has been a site of gastronomic trade since 1624, when oyster boats and European traders unloaded their bounty there. This legacy came to an end in 2005, when the Fulton Fish Market, once the largest wholesale seafood purveyor in the hemisphere, officially moved to Hunts Point in the Bronx, leaving the New York Maritime Museum as the seaport’s only historical relic among a throng of clothing stores and chintzy tourist attractions. The cobbles gradually gave up their fishy scent, and the ancient, empty market buildings – now publicly owned – languished. Their fate is uncertain; some developers propose condominiums; others, a mall.

New Amsterdam Public has a better idea. Its founders, Robert La Valva and Jill Slater, propose that the halls be converted into a permanent, year-round public market featuring regionally-sourced, sustainable food. “This civic institution will be a permanent venue to promote sustainable agriculture, strengthen our regional food system, drive rural and urban economic development, incubate small businesses, and teach all New Yorkers how to buy, cook and eat healthy food,” claims their mission statement – a laudable mission indeed! They conceived Wintermarket as an awareness-raising event, designed to give attendees a taste of what the New Amsterdam Public Market might be like – literally. And New Yorkers took the bait: in spite of proximity to the holidays, miserable weather and no convenient subway stop, attendance exceeded their most optimistic expectations.

That same week, Lower East Side and Chinatown residents – theoretical neighbors to the New Amsterdam Public Market – protested the closing of a local Pathmark; the property could be sold to a luxury-condo developer for $250 million, depriving yet another low-income neighborhood of healthy, affordable food choices. The proximity of these two events demands comparison and consideration. Will New Amsterdam be a new and improved food resource for low-wage downtown residents – teaching, as they state, all New Yorkers about healthy food? Or will it be another gentrified, high-end, specialty market (the downtown area has a surprising variety of them, including nearby Zeytuna and Jubilee), this time with a trendy sustainable twist?

Founder Jill Slater claims the former, insisting that New Amsterdam Public Market will offer community support in the form of everything from acceptance of food stamps to youth apprenticeship programs. In addition, the market will host a daily “market meal,” made from fresh, seasonal produce and designed to be “affordable to all.”

In the meantime, the New Amsterdam Public Market needs New York’s support in order to become a reality. To donate, volunteer, join the mailing list, or find out how to make a request to the mayor or your local city council member, visit