Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In Search of Comfort
What’s cooking? Semolina Budino with Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup

You know how, when you were growing up, some people’s moms were always making bread pudding, while others’ moms made gumbo all the time, but never a lick of bread pudding? Well, I was in the gumbo group.

At my friend Margie’s house, they always had what I called Zebra Cake, that dessert made from Famous Chocolate Wafers and whipped cream. I yearned for that to show up in my house, but can’t remember a single instance when it appeared. And at my friend Sydney’s house, there was a huge glass cookie jar in the kitchen, forever filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I won’t say my mom never made chocolate chip cookies, but it wasn’t high on her list. In fact, desserts in general weren’t high on her list. We ate lots of gumbo. And chili. And barbecued chicken. And really excellent stews. But no bread pudding.

When winter hit here in Austin last week – freezing cold, wet, and windy – I started thinking about the kinds of foods that make your insides feel like they’ve been wrapped in a soft, fuzzy blanket. My book group, which operates on a pot-luck format, was meeting, and for reasons I can only imagine, I decided I wanted to take a warm and mushy dessert. Bread pudding kept coming to mind, mostly because it sounds like a great comfort food. But I’ve never had bread pudding, so I didn’t know what a good one would look like or taste like or how to judge one recipe for it over another. I tried rice pudding once – another dessert in that same warm/mushy category – but (can you guess?) my childhood also suffered from a lack of rice pudding, and the one I made got a less than hearty review. I was really stuck for an idea.

Then I saw this recipe for budino. That’s Italian for pudding. Now pudding is something I understand, though, frankly, the pudding in my childhood was of the Jell-O brand. This particular pudding is made with semolina flour, which is “finely ground endosperm of durum wheat.” Huh? Anyway, it’s used in pasta and Italian-style breads. And, according to Wikipedia, semolina when boiled turns into porridge, like Cream of Wheat. So when you mix it with some whole milk and honey and boil it, then add eggs, you get a sweetish dish – not Swedish – with the same texture as that Southern classic: spoon bread. I didn’t have spoon bread either, until college, but that sounded like just what I wanted.

The recipe – which was misleading in the extreme, so you will find that the Kitchen Goddess has cleaned it up and straightened it out – said to serve with roasted pears and sweetened mascarpone. You’ll have to try the mascarpone on your own. It didn’t fit the feeling I wanted. But on my second try, I worked out a really nice way to handle the pears that I think you’ll like. I served it first to the book group, who said things like “This is soooo gooood.” Ah, the response I hoped for. I refined the pears and served it again this weekend and got lots of “yums” around the table.

The only thing you may object to is the 18-20 minutes of stirring, but the results are so worth it. Get a glass of wine and turn on some television re-runs. I watched NCIS – as usual – and the time flew by.

The recipe said it serves 12. I think more like 10. Serve it in custard cups or ¾-cup ramekins or a single, large 2-quart casserole dish. But it keeps well in the fridge and is easily reheated in the microwave. It tastes best warm; the pears need to be warm, but are also easy to reheat. You’ll be really glad for the leftovers.

Semolina Budino

Mise en place -- it's a big help on this recipe.
Adapted from pastry chef Lisa Donovan in Food & Wine magazine, January 2015

4 tablespoons unsalted butter,
    melted; plus more for greasing
5 cups whole milk
¾ cup (6 ounces) honey (the KG
    prefers the delicate flavor of
    acacia honey)
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semolina flour (the same
    stuff used to make pasta;
    semolina meal is more coarsely
    ground and might work to make
    budino but the result would not
    be as smooth)
3 large egg yolks
2 large egg whites

Garnish with Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup (see below).

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter the sides and bottoms of 10-12 custard cups or ramekins, or a 2-quart gratin/casserole dish.

In a large (approx. 4-quart) saucepan over low heat, combine the milk, the honey, and the salt, stirring just until the honey dissolves. Raise the heat to medium/medium-high and add the semolina in a slow stream, whisking constantly to ensure no lumps. Continue whisking continuously for 18-20 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick porridge.

Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the 4 tablespoons of melted butter.

In a large, heat-proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth, then slowly pour in about a cup of the hot semolina mixture, whisking constantly so as not to scramble the eggs. Continue adding the semolina in 3-4 batches until it is all incorporated. Set aside.

Folding in the whipped egg whites.
In a standing mixer, beat the egg whites until medium-stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the egg/semolina mixture until completely incorporated. Pour into the prepared ramekins or casserole dish.

If you are using ramekins, do not fill them more than ¾ full, as the mixture will rise during the baking. Ramekins should be baked in a bain-marie (hot water bath): Place the cups, evenly spaced, into a large roasting pan and pour very hot water around the dishes, to a level about halfway up the sides. Take care in loading the pan into the oven, so that water doesn’t slosh into the puddings.

Bake the puddings at 350º until the tops are golden and set. Let cool slightly (5 minutes) on wire racks before serving topped with roasted pears. Serve warm.

And now for the pears in syrup...

Kitchen Goddess note about the Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup: Giada’s recipe called for apple juice and no alcohol. (Yawn.) The Kitchen Goddess wanted something a bit jazzier, so she substituted pomegranate juice, and added a glug of French ginger liqueur. You can try your own mix –  use another non-citrus juice, or try my other favorite liqueur, St.-Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Or use apple juice and add dry sherry or Calvados. Go crazy!

Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis for

Serves 10-12.

3 large, firm Bosc pears (about 2 pounds)
⅓ cup pomegranate juice
⅓ cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons French ginger liqueur (Domain de Canton)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
 Preheat the oven to 400º.

Before cutting up the pears, set out a large bowl about half full of water, and squeeze a teaspoon or so of fresh lemon juice into it. Then, as you peel and core the pears, keep them submerged in the lemon water to avoid having them turn brown. Dice the pears into ½-¾-inch cubes, and keep the cubes in the lemon water while you prepare the sauce.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, whisk together the pomegranate juice and the brown sugar, and stir until the brown sugar dissolves. Add the ginger liqueur and stir to combine, then allow the mixture to simmer 2-3 minutes, until the sauce thickens just slightly.

Drain the pears well and put them into an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Pour the sauce over them and stir well. Bake 35-40 minutes, occasionally spooning the sauce over the pears.

Allow the pears to cool (5 minutes) before spooning them over the budino. You can also spoon the pears onto a plate or shallow bowl, top them with vanilla ice cream, and drizzle the syrup on top.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Great Beginnings
What’s cooking? Vegetable Stock and Mushroom Barley Soup

Happy New Year, everyone! In the spirit of great beginnings, here are a few of my favorites:

“If you want to find Cherry Tree Lane all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the crossroads.” (Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers)
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” (A River Runs through It, Norman McLean)
“The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship.” (Stiff, Mary Roach)

Here’s another of my favorite beginnings: broth.

Just so you know, the Kitchen Goddess does not consider herself a trendsetter. On the other hand, she loves gossip, and sees it as her responsibility to pass along whatever food world news and trends come to her attention. It turns out that one of the latest trends is... broth.

In the cooking world, great beginnings often have something to do with stock or broth. Whatever the cuisine, there’s a broth in there somewhere. Think about the simplest dishes: egg drop soup (Chinese), stracciatella (Italian), and avgolemono (Greek) – all basically the same dish tweaked with flavor variations and/or some type of added grain. So whatever you’re cooking, unless you’re throwing a piece of meat on the fire, the chances are good that you’ll make use of a broth.

Since late fall, I’ve seen broth-based articles about ramen shops, how-to pieces on making your own broths, and a story about a meat company in Northern California that sells cups of house-made “bone broth” at its butcher shops. Not to be outdone by the West Coast, a New York restaurateur, Marco Canora, has opened a walk-up window called Brodo, attached to his larger restaurant, Hearth, where customers can walk up and buy (in three sizes, from $4.50-$8.50), one of three different broths; various flavorings can be added in at just 75 cents apiece. And you thought Starbucks was expensive.

What’s the difference between broth and stock? After extensive research, I can safely say: not much, and who cares. According to the Culinary Institute, stock is for soups and broth is for drinking. But they’ve got an entire book on soups, with no mention at all of stocks – only broths. So go figure.

Vegetable Stock, a.k.a. Vegetable Broth
Both start with cold water, bones, meat, mirepoix (sautéed onion, carrot, celery), and a small bundle of herbs. Bring them slowly to a simmer, frequently skimming off any scum, and continue simmering for up to 2 hours, depending on the type of stock/broth you’re making. Strain out the solids, and skim off any fat. Et voilà – stock. Add some seasoning and you have broth. For extra flavor, you can roast your ingredients before adding them to the water.

So for at least a couple of months, the Kitchen Goddess has been carefully saving veggie scraps – those bulky, dark green ends of leeks, the thick inedible stems from collards or kale, and the stems and fronds from fennel bulbs – with the goal of bravely venturing into the world of stocks. Throw them into zip-lock bags and stash them in your freezer. It’s easy, and once you have 2-3 pounds of scraps, you have the basis for what turns out to be a really great stock. And among the stocks, veggie stock is by far the easiest and fastest to make.

Friends, I would make this stuff again just for the smell wafting through the house from the vegetables roasting. Oh, my. I also am swayed by the extra richness and flavor I get from roasting the veggies, but you can get perfectly good stock without roasting, so I’ve given you the recipe below to allow both options. I can even imagine certain uses for the stock that would be better from unroasted veggies.

And then you can use the stock to try a wonderful Mushroom Barley Soup. Of course, you can also use a good store-bought stock to make the soup – it’s a great weapon against the cold and rainy weather we’ve been having. But in this new year, I say you should try something new. Branch out. Be brave. Make stock – you will not regret it.

Vegetable Broth

Adapted from the CIA Book of Soups.

Makes about 2 quarts.

2 tablespoons olive or corn oil, separated
3½-4 pounds vegetables, to include:
  1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, sliced in 1-inch lengths
2 stalks celery, sliced in 1-inch lengths
1 parsnip, sliced in ½-inch lengths
1 leek, well rinsed, trimmed and sliced in 1-inch lengths (white, light green, and dark green parts)
Assorted other non-starchy vegetables or vegetable scraps (such as broccoli, fennel, or turnips),
     Kitchen Goddess note:
chopped into pieces 1-2 inches long – enough to reach 4 pounds total.
      Avoid beets and beet greens, as they’ll turn the whole thing red. 
2 teaspoons minced shallots
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 quarts cool water
½ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
4-5 whole black peppercorns
3-4 whole juniper berries
1 large bay leaf
large sprig fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
2-3 sprigs fresh parsley

If you’ll be roasting your vegetables:
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Place the sliced vegetables into a large bowl and toss well with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Spread the vegetables out onto a large sheet pan and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, until they start to brown. (Don’t overcook them.)

These are the same veggies as below, after roasting. Notice that the collard/kale stems got quite dark in only a half hour.

2. In the meantime, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent, 3-4 minutes.

3. Once the vegetables have begun to brown, remove them from the oven and add them to the soup pot, along with the water and the rest of the ingredients. Deglaze the roasting pan: pour about a cup of the water into the pan and stir it around to release any of the cooked bits of vegetable and juices (the “fond”) that have remained there. Add that flavored water to the soup pot. Go to Step 3 below.

If you are not roasting your vegetables:
1. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent, 3-4 minutes.

These are the same vegetables as above, before roasting.

2. Add the vegetables to the soup pot, along with the water and the rest of the ingredients.

3. Bring the mixture slowly to a simmer, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the broth has a good flavor, about an hour.

4. Strain the broth through a sieve. Allow the broth to come to room temperature before storing in the fridge or the freezer. Be sure to label and date batches of broth in the freezer. Some cooks recommend freezing the broth in ice cube trays, then transferring the cubes of broth to plastic freezer bags for easy measurement.

* * *

And now you’re ready for the star of today’s show. I have specified crimini mushrooms here, because they’re firmer in texture and contribute an earthier flavor than white button mushrooms. Also I like the color. But you should feel free to use either. If you prepare this soup a day in advance, you’ll find that the flavor deepens and the soup itself gets thicker. Correct the thickness by adding a little broth or water as you reheat.

Kitchen Goddess note: The Kitchen Goddess does not always remember to heat her bowls before serving a nice warm dish like this soup. But you can do better. Especially in cold weather, when your dishes are likely to feel a bit frosty, let the bowls sit with a little hot water in them for a few minutes before serving.

Mushroom Barley Soup

Adapted from the CIA Book of Soups.

Serves 6-8.

1 ounce dried wild mushrooms
¼ cup dry sherry
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, in ¼-inch dice (about 1¼ cups)
1 carrot, in ¼-inch dice (about ⅓ cup)
1 celery stalk, in ¼-inch dice (about ½ cup)
1 parsnip, in ¼-inch dice (about ⅓ cup)
3 cups sliced crimini mushrooms (about 10 ounces), or white button mushrooms if you prefer
2 quarts well-seasoned vegetable broth or chicken broth
¾ cup pearl barley
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

About 30 minutes in advance, put the dried wild mushrooms in a small bowl and add the sherry and the boiling water. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. (I use my Le Creuset 5.5-quart Dutch oven.) Add the diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it turns golden, about 13 minutes.

Stir in the diced carrot, celery, and parsnip, and the sliced creminis, until they are all well combined with the onion. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 3-4 minutes.

Remove the cover. Add the broth, the barley, and the wild mushrooms with their soaking liquid. Raise the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the barley is tender, about 30 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and serve. If you are making the soup to serve the next day, save the parsley and add it when you’re getting ready to serve.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Endings and Beginnings -- Celebrating with Elegance, Part 2
What’s cooking? One-of-Each Soup and Chestnut Ginger Soup

When you’re having a formal dinner party – or at least one that you want to structure as formal, even if the guests are wearing jeans – there are lots of choices as to what you feed your guests at the outset. Even the terms can be confusing: appetizer, hors d’oeuvre, or amuse-bouche? The Kitchen Goddess is here to the rescue.

Usually, the difference is in when and how much you serve. An hors d’oeuvre – which translates “apart from the main work” – is a food item you serve before the main meal. It’s supposed to be small, even bite-sized, and can be plated or passed. Normally, it shouldn’t require a fork or spoon to eat. An amuse-bouche (which means “mouth amuser,” although the Kitchen Goddess thinks it’s really bad manners to laugh with your mouth full) is a single, bite-sized hors d’oeuvre, not passed, and usually presented at the table to show off the skills (“Sacré bleu!”) or imagination (“Quelle surprise!”) of the chef. An appetizer is a plated course you serve before the entrée – a bit of food that’s designed to stimulate the appetite. So it shouldn’t be heavy or overly rich.

Soups make a great appetizer, and can even be served (i.e., passed) hors d’oeuvre-style if you have a way to offer small servings. One that I’m particularly fond of is a set of 2½-ounce parfait glasses from Libbey. They’re available at several places on the web (J.C. Penney and Bed Bath & Beyond, for example), and for soups that are a bit thick, I serve them with a straw.

One-of-Each Soup
So today, the Kitchen Goddess has a couple of elegant soups with which to start a special holiday meal. The first is one I’ve written about once before, but had no photos. It’s called One-of-Each because you use only one of each of the ingredients. It appeared ages ago in Gourmet magazine, in response to a reader’s request – a reader who was so effusive that I decided to try the dish regardless of how weird the ingredient list was. I’ve now made the soup many times – always to rave reviews – and today, I have photos that’ll give you an idea of serving options.

Chestnut Ginger Soup
The second is a more seasonal soup, a Chestnut Ginger Soup from the Culinary Institute. If you are really into self-abuse, you can buy whole chestnuts in their shells and roast them and peel them. The Kitchen Goddess did that...once. OR, you can follow the KG’s current habit and buy roasted and peeled chestnuts in a jar or can. The soup will not know the difference. But chestnuts are generally available only in the holiday season, so run out and get some now because you will not believe how well the nuts and the cream and the ginger come together – like velvet on the tongue.

Both soups are purées, so you can serve them as passed hors d’oeuvres or on a plate as a first/appetizer course. Both are unusual flavors: the One-of-Each Soup has a mild, fruity, curry flavor; the Chestnut Ginger Soup is a really mellow combination of nutty and (duh) ginger. Both can be served warm or cold, though I have a slight preference for serving the Chestnut-Ginger Soup warm. Both soups are a host/hostess’s delight, guaranteeing a flurry of “Oooh, what is this?” and “Wow – this is great. What’s in it?” You can smile knowingly and say, “It’s a secret.” Or you can tell them. It’s good either way.

One-of-Each Soup

(adapted from Gourmet magazine, December 2001)

Serves 8 as a first course, or 4-6 as a main course.

1 large boiling potato (½ pound), peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 celery heart (stalks with leaves), coarsely chopped (½ cup)
1 large apple (preferably Granny Smith), peeled and coarsely chopped
1 firm-ripe banana, coarsely chopped
1 pint chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream (can use light cream if you prefer)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 rounded teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
Chopped fresh chives for garnish

Simmer vegetables and fruits in broth in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, covered, until very tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in cream, butter, curry powder, and salt and heat just until hot (do not boil!).

Purée the soup in a blender until smooth (be careful when blending hot liquids). The soup will be thick; if you prefer a thinner soup, add a small amount of water. Serve sprinkled with chives.

Kitchen Goddess note: You can make this soup ahead and reheat to serve, but do not let it boil, as that will cause the milk fats to separate. It has a tendency to thicken in the refrigerator; if so, just add water or chicken broth to reach a consistency you like. It’s equally delightful hot or cold.

Chestnut Ginger Soup

Adapted from the CIA Book of Soups

Makes 4-6 servings as appetizer, 16 as hors d’oeuvre.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ cup celery, diced
⅓ cup carrot, diced
1¼ cups leek (white and light green parts), chopped
¾ cup onion, diced
1 quart good quality chicken broth
10 ounces chestnuts (roasted, peeled), roughly chopped
2 rounded tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
¾ cup heavy cream, heated
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper, ground
additional salt & pepper, to taste

Garnish: Mix equal parts whipped cream with sour cream and grated fresh ginger to taste.

Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven.) Add the celery, carrot, leek, and onion, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns a light golden, 12-15 minutes.

Stir in the broth, the chopped chestnuts, and the ginger. Raise the heat until the soup begins to simmer, then monitor the heat to maintain a simmer, stirring occasionally for 35-40 minutes, until the ingredients are soft.

Purée the soup in batches, being careful not to overload the blender, as hot liquids can be dangerous. Return the soup to the heat, add the orange juice, and simmer 2 minutes.

Add the heated cream, salt and pepper, and adjust seasoning (including more orange juice, if you like) to taste. Top each serving with a dollop of the whipped cream/sour cream/ginger mix.

And have a joyful New Year’s Eve, everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Endings and Beginnings – Celebrating with Elegance, Part 1
What’s cooking? Mocha Dacquoise

So much to celebrate – Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, and maybe just a time of focusing on good will to others. The holiday season also has much to do with beginnings and endings – winding up the old year, ushering in the new.

It’s a perfect time of year to drag out the crystal, china, and sterling silver flatware, if you have them. But “elegance” when you’re entertaining doesn’t require “fancy,” just a sense of specialness. At a minimum, you want to use your best cloth napkins and something festive in the center of the table. And, of course, as many candles as you can stand.

When it comes to beginnings and endings, the Kitchen Goddess thinks there’s no better way to make the evening more memorable than a great start or a spectacular finish. The first course or main hors d’oeuvre sets the tone for the full meal and gives your guests a hint of deliciousness to come. If the dinner is thematic, the start should be part of that theme. In other words, don’t open with an antipasto platter if you’re having coq au vin for the main course.

By the same token, a beautiful dessert can foster a lasting memory of your dinner even without a standout main course. Finish it with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, or maybe a sprinkling of, well,... sprinkles. Silver dragées can dress up anything, and those sorts of details make your guests feel like you’ve gone to a bit of extra effort for them. Everyone likes to think they’re special.

In line with the old “Life is short – eat dessert first” maxim, today the Kitchen Goddess will reveal her most outstanding dessert ever. The dessert she herself will be serving New Year’s Eve. Elegant, sophisticated, and delicious, it is – at least in the KG’s experience – universally loved, even by friends who are not sugar freaks. The last time she served it, one guest actually pronounced it “orgasmic.” So there.

The dessert is a Mocha Dacquoise, in essence, a cake made from layers of nut-based meringues sandwiched with a filling of buttercream. Every bite is a textural symphony, bringing chewy, almond-flavored meringue together with smooth-as-silk caramel-coffee buttercream, in a perfect harmony of flavors.

The recipe originally appeared in Ruth Reichl’s second memoir, Comfort Me with Apples, wherein Reichl declares that dacquoise was crazy popular as a dessert in New York in the 1970s. It takes a bit of work, but it’s not hard. You can make the parts a day or so ahead and assemble them on the day of the dinner. And the finished “cake” is sufficiently rich that most guests will be happy with a small piece, allowing you to serve as many as 16 from a single recipe. A small bonus is that it happens to be gluten-free.

Mocha Dacquoise

For the almond meringues:
1¼ cups whole or slivered blanched almonds
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
6 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt

For the mocha buttercream:
1 cup granulated sugar
6 large egg yolks
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons instant espresso
¼ teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, cut into eighths and allowed to soften to room temperature

For the garnish:
Confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup toasted sliced almonds

Step 1: Make the meringues

Preheat the oven to 275º. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and draw a 10-inch circle on each, using the bottom of a 10-inch cake pan as a guide. Flip the papers over so that the pen/pencil is on the underside – don’t worry, the circles will show through.

Pulse the almonds in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of sugar until the nuts are finely ground. Add the cornstarch and pulse until combined.

In a standing mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the remaining ¾ cup of sugar, then return the mixer to high speed until the whites form stiff, glossy peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently but thoroughly fold in the almond mixture.

Divide the meringue mix evenly between the two parchment circles, spreading to the edges of the circles. Bake the meringues in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, switching the pans halfway through the baking time, until they are firm and pale golden in color. Total baking time should take about an hour. When the meringues are done, slide the parchment paper with the meringues onto racks to cool.

If you are not assembling the dacquoise on the same day, wait until the meringues are cool and carefully peel off the parchment, then either wrap the meringues in cellophane or put them in an air-tight container until ready to assemble.

Step 2: Make the buttercream

Start by cutting the butter into tablespoons and setting it out to soften.

In a standing mixer, beat the egg yolks with ½ cup of sugar on high speed until thick and pale, about 4 minutes.

While the yolks are beating, whisk the cream with the remaining ½ cup of sugar in a small saucepan, and bring it to a boil, stirring only until the sugar is dissolved.

With the standing mixer running, slowly pour the hot cream into the yolk mixture. Add the espresso powder and the salt and continue mixing just until combined. (Do not be concerned if the espresso powder appears grainy – it’ll dissolve in the custard as it cooks.)

Kitchen Goddess CAUTION: You are about to pour the custard into a saucepan and cook it, stirring constantly until it reaches 170º. And then you’re going to need a CLEAN mixing bowl for it. If, like the Kitchen Goddess, you have only one bowl for your standing mixer, and no helpers waiting breathlessly by to clean it out while you stir the custard, you will then holler “Holy shit!” and race to get that bowl clean. So a word to the wise: Pour the custard into the saucepan and set it aside briefly while you wash your mixing bowl. Or buy a second bowl.

Ready? goes...
Pour the custard back into the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula to keep the custard from adhering to the bottom of the pan, until an instant-read thermometer registers 170º. [The Kitchen Goddess also doesn’t have an instant-read thermometer, so has to use the kind that clips onto the side of the pan, which means she goes a little crazy moving the thermometer around the edges of the saucepan to keep the custard from clogging up behind the clip as it cooks. You’d think she’d get an instant-read just to avoid that, but we’re all crazy in our own ways.]

Once the custard reaches 170º, transfer it to the clean mixing bowl and beat at medium speed until cooled completely, 5-6 minutes. [This phrase, “until cooled completely,” is critical, as you do not want the butter to melt when you add it to the custard. I find that 5-6 minutes will produce adequately cooled custard.]

When the custard has cooled, with the mixer running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, watching that each piece gets fully incorporated before adding the next. When all the butter is incorporated into the buttercream, transfer it to a smaller bowl (I do this only out of convenience because the mixing bowl is large and unwieldy), cover it and chill it for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Step 3: Assemble the dacquoise

At right is the 2nd meringue, smooth side up. It goes on top of the meringue/buttercream at left.

Carefully peel the parchment from the backs of the meringues. Place one of them smooth side down on a plate and spread about 90 percent of the buttercream evenly on top of it. Place the remaining meringue smooth side up on top of the buttercream. Use that final 10 percent of the buttercream to fill in the gaps along the edges of the meringues, and decorate the outside edge of the buttercream with the toasted almonds.

Cover the dacquoise loosely with cellophane wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours. When ready to serve, dust the top with confectioner’s sugar.

Final notes:

You can make the meringues and the buttercream a day ahead, but it’s best not to assemble the dacquoise until the day you plan to serve it.

■ Keep the meringues in an airtight container at room temperature. If they start to feel damp and sticky, put them in a 275º oven for 5 minutes.

■ Keep the buttercream tightly covered in the fridge. Remove it – to let it soften slightly – about 20 minutes before you plan to assemble the dacquoise.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Announcing the Winner!

Congratulations to... (drum roll, please)...

Lisa Edwards is the lucky winner of a Hamilton Beach Stack & Snap Food Processor.

I want to thank all of you who made such nice comments in order to enter. I only wish I had enough of the Hamilton Beach machines to send one to each of you. But later today, I’ll be posting a terrific recipe that will make you the star of the show for your holiday gatherings. So stay tuned and stay merry...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ho, Ho, Ho! The Kitchen Goddess’s 2014 Gift Guide for Foodies
What’s cooking? Are you kidding? Who has time to cook?

Only 6 more shopping days until Christmas, and five days of Hanukkah remain. So if you’re running out of great ideas for your cook-wise, food-centric friend or lover, here are a few you may have missed.

And in case you’re wondering, the Kitchen Goddess has not received as much as a sugar plum for these recommendations. She is a wonder of ethical virtue.

Stocking Stuffers

■ Sharp-eyed readers of this blog will recognize this mezzaluna chopping knife as having made an appearance on my list last year. Well, Santa must have been reading Spoon & Ink, because the Kitchen Goddess got one in her stocking, and it’s such fun to use, I decided it deserved an encore. You’re using both hands to chop as you rock the blade back and forth, so it’s a lot easier than using a chef’s knife, and it does a great job of mincing small-scale stuff that you often have to chase around the chopping board: garlic, spring onions, shallots, and any kind of herb. And the handles flip around to guard against an accidental attack in the kitchen drawer. It’s $15.00 at the Museum of Modern Art; sells the green-handled version for the same price, or the same product with light gray handles for only $12.88. Go figure.

■ When your kitchen is about 90 percent stainless steel, you can spend your life trying to get rid of the fingerprints, smudges, and smears of daily life. But all that changed when I found the Casabella Microfiber Stainless Steel Magnet Cloth. I wipe up food with a sponge, then a quick swipe with a damp green Casabella cloth polishes my counters and appliances to a sheen without chemicals or abrasives. Glass, too. If your friend or loved one doesn’t have this cloth, he/she will adore you forever when you add this to their stocking. It’s only $5.99 at the Container Store, $6.15 at

■ As you know, the Kitchen Goddess has a love of candles that borders on the fanatical. Here are two of her favorites. These Wine Cork Candles ($9.95 at Sur La Table for a set of 4) offer – at last! – a use for all those empty wine bottles. In fact, you can even consider the candles as providing a great reason to drink another bottle of wine. The more candles, the merrier...

The artichoke candles are a more serious option, at a more serious price ($30.00 for a set of 4 at or But I’ve found that once they’ve burned about halfway down, you can stick a tea light in the middle and reuse them practically forever.

■ Here’s something you never knew you or your local home chef needed. A bread wrap. Yes, you read that right: a bread wrap. From a company called Bee’s Wrap. Organic cotton muslin that’s been dipped or somehow saturated with beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin. Sounds weird, I know, but you wrap a loaf of bread in this cloth, then use the warmth of your hands to mold the wrap around the bread. It’s antibacterial, seals perfectly, and keeps the bread fresh. You can wash the wrap in cool water and use it over and over. And it works. Take it from the Kitchen Goddess.

■ I wouldn’t really suggest that you stuff a plant into a stocking, but an aloe vera plant is a great gift for a home chef. The Kitchen Goddess is no stranger to kitchen burns. So she keeps an aloe vera plant as a permanent fixture. Snap off the tip of a leaf, squeeze out the gel onto the burn, and feel better immediately. These little plants are easy to grow – in fact, hard to kill – and are effective in relieving all sorts of minor skin irritations. Pick one up at your local garden store. According to, they also do great work in purifying the air. Who knew?

Actual Food

■ While it’s probably not a great idea to stick cheese under your tree, a gift certificate to a local cheese store is always welcomed with joy by any foodie on your list. Find a good local cheese shop – like Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin or The Summit Cheese Shop in New Jersey – or fall back on a place like the famous and fabulous Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York City, which sells gift cards and gift boxes that will have your friend or loved one melting with gratitude.

■ Did you know that olive oil is at its best when consumed within six months of bottling? Which means it’s a great idea to get to know the offerings of your local olive oil manufacturer. They’ll make great gifts for anyone who likes to cook. According to the American Olive Oil Producers Association, you can get locally produced olive oil from California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Oregon and Hawaii. So if you live in one of those states, check out a local producer and try their products. They’re likely to be fresher and of reliably higher quality than much of what makes it here from Europe. And if you don’t live in one of those states, try getting oil from the nearest producing state.

■ Here’s an idea that intrigued the Kitchen Goddess so much that she had to order some: Chili Granola by Bad Seed ($16 for 8 oz). It’s made in Queens, New York, and it’s a “Food & Wine Selects” choice by that magazine’s editors. Don’t take my word for it – I haven’t even tasted the stuff – but F&W’s Executive Food Editor says, “Popping with flavor and crunch, this savory condiment is a happy mashup of hot chile oil and the crisp and crunchy grains and seeds you associate with granola. It's great on everything from eggs, avocado, hummus or yogurt to salads and sliced roast chicken or pork.” So what’s in it? Seeds and nuts and ginger and miso and brown sugar... just for starters. Doesn’t that sound like a food lover’s treat?


Three books have tweaked the Kitchen Goddess’s imagination this year – and, after all, that’s what a good cookbook does, isn’t it? Beyond instructing us on a particular preparation, it inspires us to think in new ways. So with that thought in mind, I present these:

■ The publisher Little, Brown, should be congratulated on the really elegant presentation of Michael Ruhlman’s new book, Egg. Ruhlman, who has co-authored cookbooks with culinary kingpins Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, and Anthony Bourdain, started his cooking/writing life with The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America. Egg includes an ingenious pullout flowchart of egg-inspired dishes gives you a nicely global understanding of the relationships among egg dishes. The subtitle, “A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient,” says it all.

■ Once you’ve eaten at one of Jean-George Vongerichten’s 25+ restaurants, it’s not hard to spot the sometimes playful, always flavorful hints of Southeast Asia in many of his dishes. I thought I’d only been to two of his eateries – Spice Market and ABC Kitchen in NYC – but when I looked at the full list, I noticed Mercer Kitchen in NYC’s SoHo district, and immediately said to myself, “Of course.” So I was thrilled to find a book of his making that at least purported to be for us mortals: Home Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes. Turns out it actually is. There’s the occasional odd ingredient (unsalted yuzu juice?), but I expect they’re not hard to find at a decent Asian market. So,... gorgeous photography, simple and straightforward instruction, and those dishes I’ve tried delivered on the promise.

■ I’m a complete sucker for Italy’s Amalfi Coast, and so is my hubby. Last year, when he gave me this book – by the owners of the A16 restaurant in San Francisco – I was skeptical that it could produce anything remotely like the tastes available in Positano, Ravello, Salerno, Amalfi,... But while there’s still nothing like sitting in an outdoor café overlooking the Mediterranean, eating fish just pulled from the sea, the vibe is still there in this book, A16: Food + Wine. And a feature you don’t often find is the wine section, which gives an excellent and totally readable discussion of what comes from the grapes of the region.

If He/She Has Been Particularly Nice This Year,...

■ You may want to splurge on the best espresso maker I’ve ever experienced. Lattes, capuccinos, and straight espressos are easy and so authentic tasting, I thought maybe I’d just been transported to an espresso bar in the heart of Rome. Nespresso’s Citiz & Milk is $299.00 at every place I looked, including Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, and I know – that’s a lot of Starbucks, but you don’t have to get dressed for this one.

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P.S. It's not too late to leave a comment – here or on the Spoon & Ink Facebook page – to be entered in the drawing to win a Hamilton Beach Snap & Stack Food Processor. See my previous post for details.

Happy Holidays to you all!