red, white, and blue(berry tart).

Hi there! I hope that you had a fun and relaxing holiday weekend. I spent mine in New Jersey with good friends, mostly in the pool, always in a state of food-satisfaction. In addition to making a 4th of July feast, we also made a surprise pre-wedding cake for M. and J. (Now married! Love.)
This will become my go-to special-occasion white cake and frosting, I think. (Modified from smittenkitchen: cake and frosting.) The Swiss buttercream frosting had egg whites folded in, so it was light and shiny; because we filled the cake with raspberry jam, we tinted the leftover frosting yellow and piped it on. Such fun!

And that was just the warm-up act! Our dinner feast was beautiful to look at - so many different colors and textures (captured imperfectly with my camera, which doesn't do very well in limited light).

A's festive baked brie with fig preserves.
M.'s guacamole and beet-chevre spread. So pretty!

Fixings for Moscow Mules by M., the cocktail master. (Or mistress?)
C. and J. made incredible salads. This one: wild rice, cherries, chevre, and basil.
Golden beet and carrot slaw.
Non-mayonnaise potato salad.
Tangy butterbeans and red peppers.
About to be devoured, along with J.'s most excellent burger.

My contribution was dessert: a blueberry lemon chiffon tart from the Tartine cookbook. I love this book - it's gorgeous and inventive, and everything I've made has turned out wonderfully. I made only a few tweaks: I subbed in the Orangette tart crust (so reliable that it's basically the only crust I'll use!) and simplified a few steps. It's not a flashy dessert, but it's light and rich at the same time, not too sweet, and a great way to showcase fresh berries. The tart doesn't use all of the lemon cream; like lemon curd, it would be delicious on baked goods, I think.

Blueberry Lemon Chiffon Tart
adapted from Tartine

Baked and cooled 9" tart shell [see here]
1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
3 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
2/3 c. sugar
pinch salt
1 c. unsalted butter, cool
3/4 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 pints blueberries, washed and dried

Lemon cream:
1. In a double-boiler, combine lemon juice, eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and salt; whisk constantly for 10-12 mins., until the mixture is very thick and pale yellow. Remove top half of double boiler and let mixture cool slightly, stirring occasionally.

2. Cut butter into 1-tbsp. pieces. When the cream has cooled slightly, pour it into a blender or a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. With the blender/mixer running, add the butter 1 piece at a time, blending until each addition is incorporated before adding the next. Unlike lemon curd, the cream will be very pale yellow and opaque. Measure out 1 c. for the tart filling and set the rest aside.

Assemble tart:
3. Whip the 3/4 c. cream until it holds medium peaks. Fold together with 1 c. of the lemon cream.

4. Spoon the filling into the tart shell and smooth the top with a spatula. Top with blueberries - I piled them high, but you could also do a single layer.

5. Chill until filling is firm, about 2 hours. Serve cool.


peach cupcakes.

Last month we celebrated M. Next month we'll celebrate B. This month we celebrated C. I may not care for summer temperatures, but I'm so grateful for summer birthdays that have given me these dear friends.

For C.'s birthday last year, we had a lovely birthday brunch. This year's celebration did not, thankfully, involve me juggling a still-warm quiche and large braided bread on the bus; instead, we had dinner and drinks at Village Whiskey, followed by drinks at the Franklin. Sense a theme? Indeed. We like our quality cocktails.

In between two of our favorite Philly institutions, we stopped off for surprise cupcakes in the park. (I'd stashed them with the hostess on the way into the restaurant. Sneaky! I love surprising people with baked goods.) We lit candles, sang "Happy Birthday," embarrassed C. in the process, and had a wonderful, slightly messy time. (I'm not including photos of me licking up my arm to remove/savor the frosting that transferred from the cupcakes to the box to me. That doesn't mean they don't exist.)

Most photos by MT, who is therefore not in them. Boo.
Peach cupcakes. Brown sugar cream cheese frosting. How could these not be delicious? The recipe, from the ever-reliable smittenkitchen, makes 24-28 cupcakes. I didn't need that many cupcakes, but I also generally avoid halving baking recipes because you never know when the chemistry will be thrown off. So I made a dozen cupcakes and a 9" cake. Then I halved the frosting recipe and used it for the cupcakes; I sprinkled some sugar across the top of the cake before baking and ate it plain for breakfast. And mid-afternoon snack. And dessert. I also adjusted the sugar so that most of the sweetness in the cake comes from the peaches. So excited to buy peaches for the first time this summer!

The recipe below will make 2 dozen cupcakes or 1 dozen cupcakes + 1 9" (or 8") cake. The frosting is enough (barely) for 1 dozen cupcakes. The green letters are tinted white chocolate: I melted a handful of white chocolate chips in the microwave with about 1 tsp. milk, stirred in two drops of green food coloring, let it cool for about 5 mins., then piped letters onto waxed paper with a small icing tip. After about 30 mins. in the fridge, they'll firm up and peel right off the paper, as long as you're somewhat gentle. I didn't want to pipe directly onto the spiky frosting, so this worked nicely.

Peach Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from smittenkitchen

3 c. cake flour*
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Pinch of nutmeg
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c.) unsalted butter, room temp.
scant 3/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. buttermilk OR sour cream OR yogurt (*I used about 1 1/4 c. buttermilk and 1/4 c. Greek yogurt - the combination worked very well)
6 small or 3 large peaches, peeled and cut into small cubes

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter/line 24 muffin cups (or 12 muffin cups + 1 9" cake pan).

2. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg; set aside.

3. Cream together butter and two sugars, beating until fluffy; scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs half at a time, beating until combined and scraping down sides each time. Add vanilla, then gently mix in buttermilk/sour cream/yogurt. (The batter will look curdled. That's ok.) Stir in dry ingredients, then (gently!) chopped peaches.

4. Divide the batter among the muffin cups (and cake pan, if using). Bake 18-22 mins., until spring to the touch or toothpick in center comes out clean. (If you're baking a dozen cupcakes and a cake, the cake will take about 26-28 mins.) Cool in pan for 5 mins., then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.

[makes enough for 12 cupcakes; double for 24]
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. powdered sugar
8 oz. (1 package) cream cheese, room temp.
4 tbsp. butter, room temp.
1/4 tsp. vanilla

5. In small bowl, stir together brown sugar, cornstarch, and powdered sugar. Make sure you get any lumps out. Set aside.

6. Beat together cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Scrape down sides, then add brown sugar mixture and vanilla and beat until light and smooth. Chill in refrigerator for about 30 mins.

7. Spread or pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes.


almond layer cake.

Last week, we celebrated M.'s birthday. Yay! 

Yes, that's an exclamation point at the end. It was uncooperative.

This cake was GOOD. How could it not be, with an entire tube of almond paste in it? (Erm, except for the bits that I pinched off and ate. Couldn't resist.) It's also a white cake, so instead of having whole eggs in it, it has 10 egg whites. Yes. 10. In other words, this is definitely not an everyday cake; for a celebration, however, it works. I'd like to try it with other kinds of jam for the filling, and I'd consider scaling the whole cake down slightly. Overall, if you like almonds or are celebrating someone who does, hunt down the almond paste, separate the 10 eggs, and give this a try.

Almond Layer Cake
adapted from smittenkitchen 

4 1/2 c. cake flour (*same thing: 4 c. all-purpose flour + 8 tbsp. corn starch)
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
2/3 c. (7 oz.) almond paste
scant 2 c. sugar
1 tbsp. almond extract
2 1/2 sticks (10 oz.) unsalted butter, room temp.
10 egg whites
1 1/2 c. whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter 3 8" or 9" cake pans; line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.

2. In medium bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. Place almond paste and sugar in bowl of stand mixer (with paddle attachment); start at low speed to break up paste, then increase speed to med. and mix for 2 mins., until paste is incorporated into the sugar in small particles.

4. Add butter and almond extract and beat well; beat in egg whites in thirds, beating just long enough to incorporate after each addition. (Scrape down sides of bowl regularly to make sure everything is mixed in.)

5. Lightly add 1/3 of dry ingredients and fold in gently with rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in half of milk, then 1/3 more dry ingredients, then rest of milk, then rest of dry ingredients, folding each time until just mixed in. (Don't overmix!)

6. Divide batter evenly among 3 pans. Bake ~25 mins. (a few minutes less if you're using 9" pans), until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cakes in their pans for 10 mins., then turn out onto wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour.

Bittersweet Whipped Frosting
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate (*I used 4 oz. semi-sweet + 3 oz. unsweetened)
1 c. heavy cream
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp.

1. Melt chocolate with cream in double boiler, whisking regularly. When chocolate is mostly melted, remove from heat and whisk vigorously, until well-blended. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until mixture has cooled and thickened slightly, about 20 mins.

2. Place butter in bowl of stand mixer (with whisk attachment) and beat at med. speed until light and fluffy. Add chocolate mixture and whip at med. speed until lighter and fluffy, about 3 mins. (Don't let it go for much longer than that, as the frosting will start to separate.) 

1 c. raspberry jam (*I used seeded, which was just fine. I'm looking forward to experimenting with apricot preserves or even with marmalade.)

1. Place 1 cake on plate or cardboard round; slip strips of wax paper under the edges to keep the base clean.

2. Spread 1/2 c. jam over top of cake, leaving 1/4" border. Repeat with second layer, then place third cake on top.

3. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. (Mine was so soft that I didn't bother with a crumb layer or with making a really smooth surface. If you're going to pipe decorations, you'd need to let it sit for at least 15 mins. first.) I piped the letters with about 1 c. of white chocolate chips melted with about 1 1/2 tbsp. heavy cream.


cucumber salad and spicy cornbread.

Dear friends, it's summer. Or, more accurately, and with apologies to any of you not on an academic schedule, it's my summer. The field exam is well in the rearview mirror, classes have ended, grades are in, and I have a season of research and writing in front of me. [No, this isn't a picture of my reading list. Those are cucumbers. I can tell the difference - must mean that I've learned something!]

It's also a new cooking season, one that coincides perfectly with two new additions to my cookbook shelf: Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty (a gift from the thoughtful C.) and Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson of 101Cookbooks. Both are gorgeous and inspiring, and I've been settling down with them as pleasure reading. Total cookbook-love-at-first-sight. Especially as more produce slowly makes its appearance on the farmers' market tables, these will definitely keep me happy and busy all summer.

First up, a cucumber-ginger salad to accompany J.'s feast of lemon-thyme salmon and couscous with chives and peas, topped off with M.'s decadent chocolate layer cake. (We're a well-fed bunch.) This salad was fantastic: light, zingy, and refreshing. Plus, you know how I feel about any opportunity to slice fruits/veggies paper-thin.

I also made this cornbread from smittenkitchen. I'd never made cornbread before - so easy! And so tasty! I searched high and low for the aleppo pepper recommended and couldn't find it, so I substituted a little bit of paprika, cayenne, and red pepper flakes. (The next day, I saw aleppo pepper at Williams-Sonoma - go figure - so eventually I'll invest and give this another shot.)

Cucumber-Ginger Salad
adapted slightly from Plenty

3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. canola oil [*or sunflower oil, which I didn't have on hand]

1 small red onion, sliced paper-thin
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 1/8" thick
1 tsp. Maldon (or kosher) salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely sliced
4-6 small cucumbers (~1 1/4 lb.; Kirby cucumbers worked beautifully), peeled in stripes
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
3 tbsp. chopped parsley

Make dressing: whisk together all ingredients in medium bowl. Add sliced red onion, combine well, and set aside for about an hour.

Place ginger, salt, and garlic in mortar and pound well with pestle (fun!) until crushed but not yet paste-like. Add to bowl with onion and dressing; stir well.

Cut cucumbers into thin - but not paper-thin, about 1/8" - slices. (If your cucumbers are larger, you might want to halve them as well.) Add cucumber to bowl, along with sesame seeds and parsley. Stir and let sit for 10 mins.

Stir again before serving, tipping out a little bit of the extra liquid.

Spicy Cornbread
Adapted slightly from smittenkitchen (original from Red Rooster Harlem)

1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. yellow medium-ground cornmeal
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. paprika [*I tried sweet Hungarian paprika - yum!]
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c. sour cream
1/3 c. buttermilk
2 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F; butter non-stick loaf pan.

Whisk together dry ingredients (through salt) in large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together wet ingredients.

Stir wet into dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake 25-30 mins., until toothpick in center comes out clean.


back to the books.

I started reading food blogs about two years ago, prompted in large part by other food-blogging friends. I'm grateful for my regular round-up of these blogs; they give me a great deal of relaxation and inspiration. However, I've realized recently that - as my growing "To Try" bookmark folder suggests - I've been doing a lot of cooking from the internet. Nothing wrong with that. However, to pull up a recipe while simultaneously keeping an eye on my email, perhaps popping into a different tab to check on the weather, The Sartorialist, or miscellaneous cute furry creatures, then continually reference the laptop screen (still checking my email periodically) while cooking is not a wholly focused experience, at least for me.

So yesterday morning, looking forward to cooking dinner for friends in the evening, I decided that I would restrict myself to my cookbooks. I made a pot of tea, grabbed a stack of my neglected favorites from the cookbook shelf, and settled down to page through them.

Here's what I ended up with:

Asparagus Tart {an experiment of my very own, using Breakfast, Lunch, Tea and How to Be a Domestic Goddess for reference}

Pasta all'Amatriciana (aka Pasta with Onion and Bacon) {How to Cook Everything}
Garlic Bread {Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics}

Deluxe Double-Chocolate Cookies {Tartine}

So fun! So relaxed! And so tasty.

Asparagus Tart
{Cobbled together as an excuse to use asparagus + the beautiful rectangular tart pan I received for Christmas. This worked wonderfully as an appetizer because it's relatively light; the minimal filling highlights the asparagus nicely, too. Success!}

Use ever-reliable Orangette savory crust and prepare as detailed previously.

1 bunch of asparagus
1/2 c. light cream
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Ground pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese (for sprinkling)

Prep and bake tart shell (a 9" round tart pan would also work here); let cool while you make the filling. Adjust oven to 350F.

Whisk together egg, egg yolk, and cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Trim asparagus to preferred length; I measured them to fit horizontally in the shell, but they could easily have been arranged lengthwise or, for a round tart, in a spoke pattern.

Sprinkle grated Parmesan (about 2 tbsp.) onto bottom of baked tart shell. Arrange asparagus on top, then gently pour in enough filling to cover the asparagus nearly all the way. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan.

Bake at 350F for 25 mins. (probably more for a larger tart). Let cool 5 mins. in pan, then remove base. Serve warm or at room temp.

Pasta all'Amatriciana
from How to Cook Everything

2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. chopped pancetta (or bacon)
1 small onion, minced
1 can (28 oz.) whole plum tomatoes, drained
1 lb. long pasta (*I used bucatini - the hole in the middle of each strand soaked up the sauce quite nicely)
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan
Fresh parsley, minced (for garnish)

In large skillet, cook pancetta in olive oil over med. heat for about 10 mins., stirring frequently, until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan.

Add onion to pan and cook, stirring frequently, until browned - about 5 mins. Turn off heat.

Crush tomatoes by hand (fun!) or with a fork (less fun) and add them to the pan. Return the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens - about 15 mins.

Meanwhile, cook and drain pasta. Toss it with finished sauce; top with reserved pancetta, Parmesan, and parsley.

Garlic Bread
adapted very slightly from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

6 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 c. fresh parsley
2 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
scant 1/3 c. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter, room temp.
1 large loaf of ciabatta or similar bread (*I used a "pain rustique" - large, flat, holey, perfect)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Place garlic, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper in food processor bowl; process until finely minced.

Heat olive oil in med. skillet over low heat; add garlic mixture and cook for 3 mins., until garlic is tender but not browned. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cut bread in half horizontally. Spoon garlic mixture evenly onto bottom half; spread butter on top half; sandwich together. Wrap the loaf in foil and place on baking sheet.

Bake for 5 mins., then unwrap foil and bake for another 5 mins. Slice crosswise, serve warm.

Deluxe Double-Chocolate Cookies
from Tartine

8 oz. bittersweet, chopped roughly
1 c. + 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp.
scant 1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. whole milk (*I initially typed "mink," which might produce a rather different result!)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper.

Melt chocolate in double-boiler or (carefully) in microwave. Remove from heat and let cool.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in small bowl. Set aside.

Using stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter on med-high speed until creamy. Slowly add sugar and mix until completely smooth and soft. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one. Beat in salt and vanilla, then add melted chocolate and beat until incorporated. Add milk and beat until combined. Then add flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. (*The dough will look like dense chocolate mousse - YUM.)

Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1" apart. Bake until just barely firm on top, about 7 mins. (They'll get firmer as they cool.) Transfer to wire rack and let cool.

Makes 3-4 dozen.