Friday, March 25, 2016

Have Fun – Play with Your Food!
What’s cooking? Milk and Dark Chocolate Dacquoise

Did your mother ever tell you not to play with your food? Mine certainly did. Finally, here’s your chance to let loose.

Whether or not you’re having an Easter egg hunt this weekend, you can have fun with this dessert. It reminds me of a project from my granddaughter’s pre-k school. So I don’t want you to be intimidated, in spite of its sophisticated name.

You may remember the Mocha Dacquoise the Kitchen Goddess posted about here. A most elegant dessert of rich mocha buttercream sandwiched between layers of almond meringue, and one I only trot out for a dinner party because of the work involved. And while it’s true that the ingredients are similar for today’s dessert, this version is way faster and easier to make, and the presentation is just F.U.N. You could even let your kids or grandkids help.

Not surprisingly, this version is yet another product of the young and energetic chef, Justin Warner, whose book, The Laws of Cooking, now has a prominent place on my shelf. Warner has reduced the calories and streamlined the process for both the meringue and the buttercream, and both can be made hours before you have to start worrying about dinner. Assembling the final presentation will take you all of 5 minutes, while someone else is clearing the table.

Warner includes this delightful dessert under his “Law of Coffee, Cream, and Sugar,” so I probably don’t need to add that the combination of chocolate and coffee flavors is a hit, along with the textural combo of crispy meringue, the buttercream, and the toasted salty hazelnuts. So I won’t.

Kitchen Goddess’s shameless plug for a friend: Speaking of playing with food, for those of you in the vicinity of Fairfield County, Connecticut, I should bring to your attention a terrific opportunity called Play with Your Food. It’s a unique program run by a ridiculously creative friend of mine, combining gourmet lunch, professional theatre, and insightful discussion -- all in an hour and a half. With performances in Westport, Fairfield, and Greenwich, this not-for-profit organization is now in its 14th season of providing a mix of plays that are intelligent, thought-provoking, and humorous. If you’re anywhere nearby and want more information, check it out here.

And now, back to the cooking...

Kitchen Goddess note: Except when I am feeling particularly obstreperous, I like to follow the directions at least the first time I make a dish. But you are under no such restrictions. Warner’s recipe calls for milk chocolate chips, and now that I’ve made it a couple of times, I plan to try the buttercream with semisweet chocolate, or maybe even bittersweet chocolate, both of which have a more chocolatey flavor. Also, be aware that milk chocolate (because of the milk solids it contains) can scorch easily, so if you’re melting it in a microwave, try zapping about 15 seconds at a time on the 50% setting, and stirring between zaps.

Milk and Dark Chocolate Dacquoise

Adapted from Justin Warner in The Laws of Cooking (Flatiron Books, 2015).

Serves 4.

For the dark chocolate meringue:
3 egg whites (room temperature)
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon instant espresso crystals
1 teaspoon water (room temperature)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

For the milk chocolate buttercream:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ cup milk chocolate chips
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For the garnish:
½ cup hazelnuts
½ cup fresh raspberries (optional)

For the meringue:
Preheat the oven to 200º. Line a half-sheet baking pan (18x13 inches) with a single sheet of baker’s parchment, or a silicone baking mat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until they turn frothy. Increase the speed to high and add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, while the mixer is running. Whip the whites until stiff, shiny peaks form, about 4-5 minutes.

While the mixer is running, stir the water into the instant espresso until the crystals are fully dissolved. Once the whites have formed stiff peaks, stop the machine briefly and pour the coffee mixture into the whites. Turn the mixer back on until the coffee is fully mixed into the whites.

Remove the bowl and sprinkle the cocoa powder over the whites. Using a rubber spatula, fold the cocoa into the whites until it appears to be evenly distributed. Pour the whites into the parchment-lined pan and gently – again using the spatula – spread the whites in a thin, even layer as fully covering the parchment as possible.

Bake the meringue at 200º for one hour, without opening the oven door. At the end of the hour – again without opening the oven door – turn off the heat and leave the meringue in the warm oven for another hour.

The meringue stores best in the closed oven; so if, at the end of the second hour, you’re not yet ready to serve, leave the oven door open for just long enough that the heat dissipates, then close it again until time to serve.

For the buttercream:
In a clean bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the powdered sugar until the mixture lightens, about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, melt the chocolate chips in a small bowl using the microwave, working in 15-second zaps at 50% power. Stir well between zaps, stopping when the chocolate is smooth and fully melted.

Add the chocolate to the butter/sugar mixture a spoonful at a time, stopping the mixer then returning to medium-high speed to incorporate the chocolate each time. At each stop, use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once all the chocolate is incorporated, add the cocoa powder and salt and mix well again.

If you’re not serving the dessert immediately, cover the buttercream and store in the fridge. Remove the buttercream an hour before serving, so it has time to come to room temperature. You’ll need it to be soft before you can plate it.

For the hazelnuts:
The skin on hazelnuts is bitter, so most recipes tell you to remove it. If you can buy hazelnuts without their dark brown skins, go for it. If you can’t, there are two ways to do so.

1. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 360º for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Immediately wrap them in a clean dishtowel and let them steam 5 minutes, then rub them vigorously in the towel to remove most of the skins. This method won’t get all the skins off, but that’s ok. Also, the dishtowel will get stained, so use one you don’t care about. With this method, you will have already roasted the nuts and can just toss them with salt before chopping them coarsely and using as garnish for the dessert.

2. For each ½ cup of nuts, bring 1½ cups of water to boil. Add the nuts and 2 tablespoons of baking soda (which will spit and boil furiously), and boil 3 minutes. Drain the nuts and rinse well under cold water, then use your fingers to remove the skins. This method is a bit painstaking but will remove all the skins. Then you’ll need to roast the nuts at 350º for 10 minutes and toss them with salt before chopping them coarsely and using as garnish for the dessert.

To Serve
Place a dollop of the milk chocolate buttercream in the center of each plate.

Slowly and carefully peel off the parchment from the meringue. Break the meringue into shards and arrange them like modern art sculpture in the buttercream.

Scatter roasted, salted, coarsely chopped hazelnuts around the plate. Distribute the fresh raspberries (if you choose) around the plate as well.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Nerd Alert! It’s the Earliest Spring in 400 Years
What’s cooking? Candied Kumquats, Candied Meyer Lemon, and Triple Citrus Marmalade

Kitchen Goddess note: I know I said this post would be up on Friday, but I forgot that the Spring National Bridge Tournament would be running, so instead of writing, I’ve been online watching the play in the prestigious Vanderbilt Knockout Teams. You heard me right – bridge hands. That’s how big a geek I really am.

When you finish reading this post you will know more than you thought possible about the vernal equinox, otherwise known as the First Day of Spring. If you’re not interested (what??!!), you can skip directly to the recipes for citrus. But then you may never know why spring doesn’t arrive on March 21st any more.

You probably already know the vernal equinox is the day when the sun rises exactly in the East and sets exactly in the West, so that daytime and nighttime are very nearly equal. The earth’s tilt on that day is 0º.

Now the wonky factor increases. You certainly know that we correct for minor flaws in the 365-day year by adding in a day to February every four years. So years divisible by 4 are leap years (in addition to being U.S. presidential election years – but let’s not go there today). What you might not know is that years divisible by 100 are not leap years. (Wait – most wonky coming right up.) So no February 29 in 1900 or 1800 or 1700. But if a year is divisible by 400, we get leap day back. That’s why we had one in 2000.

The point here is that solstices and equinoxes do a little bit of creeping ahead throughout each century, and then at the end of the century, the loss of leap day adjusts for the creep by pushing them back. But we didn’t lose the leap day in 2000, so the equinox has kept up its 100-year-old crawl forward. In 1947, for example, the vernal equinox was at 5:12 a.m. on March 21.

This year, depending on your time zone, the first day of spring begins sometime on either Saturday, March 19th (today!), or Sunday, March 20th. For the Universal Time Coordinate (formerly called Greenwich Mean Time), spring begins at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday. For us here in Austin, it starts at 11:30 p.m. tonight, and for my New Jersey daughter-in-law, who has been counting the days since some time in January, the shift happens at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday.

The bottom line? This will be the earliest First Day of Spring since 1896. (And I want to thank the folks at, home of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, for all this great information.) Now, aren’t you glad you stopped by?

Citrus Delight

Another really great thing about March is that the season for citrus fruits is still happening. I was in my local fancy grocery store last week and was almost overcome with the fun variations on oranges, lemons, and limes there. Today’s collection includes Meyer lemons (thinner skinned and sweeter than regular lemons, and one of my all-time favorite dessert fruits), sweet limes (larger and thinner skinned than regular limes, and so mild you can eat the skin), and kumquats, which are completely new to me. But it’s my year of eating dangerously, so I decided to try them.

Do you know kumquats? Small, sweet-tart, and tender. Eat them whole, but watch out for the seeds. So I was thoroughly enjoying them raw, but was wondering what I could do to prolong the experience. Then I saw a recipe for candied kumquats. They looked so darling and jewel-like that I had to try it. My, my – they are yummy that way. Add them to your morning yogurt or cottage cheese, spoon them over vanilla ice cream, or add them to a smoothie. I’ve tried it all. And my goal of extending their life in my kitchen is failing miserably, as I keep sneaking into the fridge to spoon a couple out of the jar.

It was a snap to candy the kumquats, so I decided to candy some Meyer lemons, too. Candying citrus is like falling off a log – ridiculously easy. The candied lemon slices look like pieces of stained glass, and they’re terrific in all the same ways as the candied kumquats. And whatever you do, don’t throw away the candying syrup from either fruit. It’s a wonderful addition to tea or with a glass of seltzer, and it’s great in cocktails.

I didn’t candy the sweet limes, but I’m sure they’d be good that way, too. Mostly, I thought the three fruits would have a delicate beauty all together in a marmalade. Plus, I really wanted to add my French ginger liqueur into something. So that’s the third way I dealt with my bounty.

Get out there and – while the season lasts, which for most citrus fruits, is through the end of March – try one of these treatments. The fresh tastes are just the thing to bring spring into your kitchen.

Kitchen Goddess News Flash! Apparently Sam Sifton of The New York Times heard about this post in advance, and has put a piece on caramelized citrus in this week’s Times Magazine. He’s such a copycat. So if you want a slightly different take on candying your citrus, check out his piece. The Kitchen Goddess is quite the trendsetter, don’t you know?

Candied Kumquat Slices

Makes about 1½ cups, plus syrup.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
15-20 kumquats, sliced and seeded (seeds saved if you plan to make marmalade)

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the sugar and the water until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the kumquat slices and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to simmer the fruit, stirring occasionally, until the syrup thickens slightly, 10-15 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, remove the kumquat slices to a jar and add enough of the syrup to barely cover. Save the remaining syrup separately. Cool the syrup and kumquat slices before storing in the fridge.

Serve on plain yogurt, cottage cheese, or vanilla ice cream, or try some on bruschetta with goat cheese or an aged gruyère.

Candied Meyer Lemon Slices

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
3 Meyer lemons, thinly sliced and seeded

Combine the water and sugar in a medium-sized (10 inches wide) skillet, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the lemon slices. Reduce the heat and simmer the fruit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally..

Remove the pan from the heat and allow the lemon slices to cool in the syrup to room temperature. Move the slices to a rack (sprayed with PAM) to dry somewhat. (The slices won’t actually dry, but you can layer them in a plastic container and store them in the fridge.)

Triple Citrus Marmalade

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, December 1999.

Makes 4-5 cups.

Kitchen Goddess note: This recipe needs a day of rest between assembling and cooking, to let the natural pectin in the seeds do their work.

1½ pounds citrus fruit (I used kumquats, Meyer lemons, and sweet limes)
4 cups water
4-5 cups sugar
1½ teaspoons French ginger liqueur (or whatever flavor you like)

Special equipment: small cheesecloth bag or a piece of cheesecloth with string

Slice the fruit thinly (about ⅛ inch wide), and save the seeds in a small dish. For the larger fruit, you may want to quarter the fruit before slicing it.

Put the fruit into a large saucepan with the water. Tie the seeds into a cheesecloth bag and submerge it with the fruit. Cover the pan and leave it for 24 hours at room temperature.

The next day, remove the bag of seeds and squeeze it to get as much of the pectin (that jelly-like substance you’ll find surrounding the bag – it’s what promotes the gelling in the marmalade) as you can into the fruit mixture. I used a lemon squeezer to press it.

Bring the water and fruit to a low boil over medium heat and cook it 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in a cup of sugar per cup of fruit/water, and continue to stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture back to a boil and cook another 15 minutes.

Test the readiness: While the fruit is cooking, stick a small saucer into your freezer. When the 15 minutes is up, dribble a teaspoon of the mixture onto the plate and let it rest for 2 minutes. If it gels, you’re done. If not, crank the heat back up and cook an additional 5 minutes.

Ladle the mixture into jars. If you want to keep them longer than a couple of weeks, process the jars as you would for any jam or jelly. Take a look here for the Kitchen Goddess’s modus operandi on preserving. Jam or marmalade in properly processed jars will keep at least a year.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!
What’s cooking? A Look, a Link, and a Laugh


Yes, you’ve seen today’s recipe before. But it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and having fallen in love with Ireland last summer, I couldn’t let the day pass without notice – including a bow by my St. Paddy’s Day cookies. Come back Friday for something entirely new.


Despite her reputation, the Kitchen Goddess has only so many recipes in her repertoire, and this is the one she remembers most fondly from her trip to Ireland: Sticky Toffee Pudding (click on the name and it will take you to the original post). It’s a terrific dessert, though, and well worth repeating. And the post has lots of lovely pictures of the Emerald Isle.


In the meantime, here’s a bit of Irish humor to brighten your day. It’s a sign that hangs outside one of the pubs we visited.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Signs of Spring
What’s cooking? Coffee-rubbed Flank Steak with Cauliflower Purée

Is there anything that improves the collective mood more than the arrival of spring? In eager anticipation, I’ve had the windows washed and the many plants that turned brown and scratchy over the winter cut back, and I’ve cleared out my little kitchen garden for the spring planting. I even went through my closet and pulled out several bags worth of items for giving to the local thrift shop. (A friend suggested that “giving up” for Lent could be accomplished by getting rid of one item per day – 40 in all – to a good cause. Works for me.)

Not much makes me happier than clean windows. It doesn’t hurt that my window cleaners themselves are darling. I was just in New Jersey for a few days, and the first time I headed out onto the highway, I thought, “Man – the air quality here has really gone downhill.” Then I realized that it only seemed that way because my car had been sitting in a garage for two months and a thick layer of dust had accumulated on the windshield. A few squirts of wiper juice on the glass, and the view suddenly became much clearer. It was like being in a Claritin commercial. Suddenly, I felt much better.

Back in Texas, we’re moving rapidly into grill-outside weather, and even in New Jersey, temperatures will be in the 70s (!) this week. In the kitchen, I’m still working my way through Justin Warner’s Laws of Cooking, and have found a terrific way to celebrate the nicer weather: Coffee-rubbed Flank Steak with Cauliflower Purée. Mmm-mm. I know, it doesn’t sound very spring-like, but I’m okay with that, since it’s not yet spring!

Of course, along with the nicer weather comes the reminder of bathing suit weather around the corner (eek!), so the substitution of puréed cauliflower for mashed potatoes is another welcome twist. The original recipe doesn’t incorporate a grilling option, but flank steak is a natural for that treatment, so I plan to finish them on the grill next time. Either way you finish the meat, you’ll want to start it in a skillet so you have the drippings and the fond (the crusty stuff that stuck to the pan) for the sauce.

The “law” for this dish is Warner’s Law of Coffee, Cream, and Sugar: bitter meets fat and sweet. As he explains it, the fat in the cream smooths out the acidity of the coffee, and the sugar reins in the bitterness without damaging the nutty, chocolate flavor.

So in this particular extrapolation of that law, the cauliflower purée stands in for the cream, while the maple syrup – which might sound a little weird but here again, you have to trust me – is a perfect balance for the earthy bitterness of the coffee rub and the dark beer. I served it with roasted asparagus because I wanted a veggie that wouldn’t get in the way of those flavors.

This is a great dish to serve company. You can make the cauliflower much earlier in the day and zap it in the microwave before serving – just don’t wash the skillet, as you’ll want to use it as is for searing the steaks. And you can cut the steaks into serving size and dredge them in the coffee-salt-pepper rub just before the guests arrive, then let them (the steaks, not the guests) rest on a rack next to the stovetop during your cocktail hour. This technique is both efficient and useful: for best flavor, the meat should be at room temperature when you cook it, which will take less than 20 minutes.

Kitchen Goddess note: Flank steak isn’t just one of the most flavorful cuts of beef – it’s also one of the toughest. But not if you cut across the grain. Take a look at the piece of meat and notice the lines of sinewy fiber. When you cut across those fibers – i.e., perpendicular to the lines of sinew – you are making the fibers shorter, which makes the meat easier to chew. So put steak knives on the table and advise your guests to cut thin slices of the beef across the grain.

Folks, this is an amazing dish, and for so little effort. The Kitchen Goddess was a bit skeptical at first – after all, whoever heard of cooking beef without garlic? But I’ve now served it twice, to rave reviews. I had to slap my hubby’s hand to hang onto a piece of the beef for my lunch the next day. The mix of earthy flavors, the light crust on the beef, and the smooth texture of the cauliflower purée will linger in your brain and on your palate. And please, for my sake, use real maple syrup.

Another KG note: If you decide to make the meat and cauliflower in one fell swoop, it will go a lot better – and take very little time – if you just get your mise en place. Now, I can hear you saying, “Not that again!” But this whole process goes very quickly, and if you don’t have all your ingredients out and measured, you will have more than one moment of “Oh, shit...” while you stop to grind out the pepper or open the beer and try to pour 8 ounces without foam.

Coffee-Rubbed Flank Steak with Cauliflower Purée

Adapted from Justin Warner in The Laws of Cooking (Flatiron Books, 2015)

Serves 4.

For the cauliflower:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ head cauliflower, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the steak:
4 tablespoons instant espresso granules
2 tablespoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds flank steak (at room temperature), cut into pieces that are 5-6 ounces each
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour (all-purpose flour will do if you don’t have whole wheat)
8 ounces dark beer
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt (start with 1, taste, then add more as you like)


1. Make the cauliflower purée:
In a large, heavy (preferably cast-iron) skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the cauliflower. Cook, stirring occasionally to get the vegetable evenly touched by the heat, until it takes on a pale golden color and is soft, about 9-10 minutes. Set aside the skillet for use with the steaks.

Shift the cauliflower to a blender and add the syrup, yogurt, and salt. (You may want to let it cool slightly – blending really hot ingredients requires some care that they don’t explode on you.) Purée at a medium high speed for at least a couple of minutes, until the mixture is quite smooth and fluffy. Reserve the purée in a covered microwave-safe container until just before ready to serve.

2. Cook the steaks:
In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the espresso powder with the salt and pepper. Have ready a large sheet pan (half-sheet size is good) with a metal rack that fits in it. Dredge the meat in the bowl, patting each piece to get the rub to adhere all over. Set the meat on the rack and let it rest until you’re ready to cook. For best flavor, the meat should be at room temperature.

Before you begin to actually cook the steaks, get your mise en place for the sauce, if you haven’t already.

Preheat the oven to 400º. Set the cauliflower skillet over medium-high heat for about a minute, then add a tablespoon of butter. When the melted butter starts to shimmer, add as many of the steaks as will fit with room to spare. Sear the steaks for 2 minutes per side, then remove them back to the rack. Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and repeat with the remaining pieces of meat. (The meat in these photos was 3 pounds, and I cooked it in 3 batches.) When you’ve finished searing the steaks, move the skillet off the heat and set it aside while you get the steaks into the oven.

Kitchen Goddess notes on cooking meat: (1) You want the skillet and oil to be hot when you add the meat. (2) Never crowd meat in a pan. The pieces won’t sear – they’ll just steam – if you crowd them. And (3) once you have added them to the pan, step away and don’t touch them until they’re ready to turn. The way to get that good crust is to leave the meat in solid contact with the pan.

Move the sheet pan with the meat into the oven and cook 9-10 minutes, or until steaks register 140º (medium rare) on a meat thermometer. Remove them from the oven and let them rest at least 5 minutes before cutting into them.

Before you begin to make the pan sauce, stick the cauliflower purée into the microwave and run it on high (uncovered) for a minute. Stir and heat another minute on high. You can let it rest in the microwave while you make the pan sauce.

Make the pan sauce:
While the steaks are in the oven, move the reserved skillet to low heat and add the flour to it, stirring with a whisk to incorporate any pan drippings or fond. Once this roux begins to smell toasted (about 1 minute), add the beer, continuing to stir as you bring the mix to a boil. Cook the sauce on a low boil, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until the mix thickens. Turn off the heat and add the syrup and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Taste and add salt to taste.

To serve, spoon a large dollop of cauliflower onto a plate. Top with a steak and pan sauce. Warner suggests that if you want to take the presentation up a notch, you can drag a spoon through the cauliflower in comet-like form before you place the meat on top. That comet trail will give the sauce a place to hang out, rather than running around the plate. You can also slice the steaks and fan them out next to the purée.