Sunday, July 31, 2011

Blueberry Lemon Buttermilk Muffins

I just returned from a wonderful week at a beach in North Carolina—beautiful weather, warm water, soft sand and a chance to forget about just about everything for a while. That’s my kind of vacation, and I loved every second of it. My husband and I rented a house on 

the beach, and I mostly cooked at home, buying really fresh shrimp and seafood, along with produce from the local farmers’ market. We ate out occasionally, though, and I marveled at how fatty the food is down South—pork, in all its glorious forms, reigns supreme (boy, is 

their sausage good!), as do biscuits and fried chicken with gravy and heavily buttered potatoes. How on earth do people make a steady diet of this food and live to talk about it? I must admit, it can be quite delicious, but I feel like I’ve gained five pounds in just a week. 

Anyhow, now I’m back up North, and ready to get back to work and do some baking. This morning I decided to make something simple and delicious: crumble-topped blueberry muffins, with a just hint of lemon. They are tender and full of juicy blueberries, with a buttery 

crumble topping. I love them because they are so easy to make, which is important if you’re making them early in the morning when the brain is not functioning at its highest level, as mine isn’t. Serve them with soft, salted butter, and maybe even some herby Southern sausage. A little fat is good for the morale. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lemon Cupcakes with Almond Buttercream and a Bit of Raspberry

The other day I had lunch with a friend at a charming country-style restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Square Meal. It’s owned by Yura Mohr, a lovely and incredibly talented woman who has had a take-out shop for the past twenty years and does catering for many high-profile NYC clients. Before that she had a luncheonette in Brooklyn Heights and cooked for The Heights 

Casino, a private club to which I belong (primarily so I can play tennis, a feeble attempt to burn some calories). People at the club still reminisce about the ‘Yura Burger’, possibly the best burger known to mankind, served with housemade ketchup. Her newest venture is Square Meal, a restaurant adjacent to her take-out shop. The food here is unpretentious and amazing. Little cheddar cheese and rosemary biscuits arrive when you are seated, and, like most of 

the food at this restaurant, they are attention-grabbing in their simplicity and deliciousness.  I moved on to a fabulous chicken salad sandwich and a salad with minty pickled zucchini strips. But it’s the dessert that I keep thinking about—a Shaker Lemon Cake with Toasted Almond Whipped Cream and Lemon Sorbet. This cake was a simple lemony Bundt cake, but unbelievably tender and buttery. A light-as-air toasted almond whipped cream and tart  

lemon sorbet brought this dessert into the realm of the spectacular. I wanted the recipe, but I didn’t ask—I thought it would’ve been presumptive of me and didn’t want to put the waiter or Yura’s chef, Buddy, on the spot. So I decided to use Yura’s combination of flavors in my own down-home cupcake: Lemon Cupcakes with Almond Buttercream and a Bit of Raspberry. I deviated a little with the raspberry, but felt the cupcake needed another layer of flavor, and it worked beautifully. Perhaps not as good as that Lemon Shaker Lemon Cake (aren’t the Shakers known for their pies, not their cakes?), but I can only try. Anyhow, next time you’re in New York, stop in at Square Meal for lunch or dinner, and make sure you order dessert, whatever it is—you’ll be very happy you did.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chocolate Wafer Cookies with Strawberry Pink Peppercorn Ice Cream

Recently I received an adorable cookbook in the mail, courtesy of Chronicle Books: Miette: Recipes From San Francisco’s Most Charming Pastry Shop (Chronicle Books, 2011; $27.50) by Meg 
Ray. I immediately lusted after the cake on the cover, a tall, really 

moist-looking chocolate layer cake with raspberry buttercream peaking out from its bare layers, with a single precious pink icing rose in the center. Meg Ray of Miette calls is the Tomboy Cake, because it’s “a little rough around the edges—a bit of a tomboy with 

a little rose on top.” But, ultimately, after flipping through the book, it was another recipe that stole my attention and spurred me into action: Chocolate Wafer Cookies. These simple, round, flat wafers with scalloped edges looked like a glamorized version of Nabisco 

Famous Chocolate Wafers, the cookie of choice for making chocolate crumb crusts for pies. I’ve always found that for such a plain looking cookie, Nabisco Wafers are unbelievably good and downright addictive. One day I looked at the ingredient list on the 

package, and saw that palm oil was there, front and center. Now, I’m no nutrition nut (it would put a damper on my field of choice: full-fat desserts), but palm oil doesn’t sound all that great for you, so if I can avoid it, all the better. The Miette wafers were made with all-

natural ingredients, including a touch of honey for a soft, fragrant finish. I love these simple, chocolaty cookies, and on impulse decided to pair them with homemade Strawberry Pink Peppercorn Ice Cream, inspired by the color pairing of the Tomboy Cake on the cover. The ice cream was equally delicious, with a fresh-picked strawberry flavor and mild peppery finish that doesn’t hit you over the head. Just perfect for those simple, yet bold, chocolate wafers. This pairing also makes an excellent ice cream sandwich.