Monthly Archives: March 2012

Putting reality on hold…

My lab bench is clean.

So is my desk.

My bags are packed.

I am meeting up with some special ladies for a week filled with sun, sand and silliness.

If you can’t join me, than at least eat this glorious breakfast.

No recipe required, just an assembly of pink grapefruit, avocado, roasted salted marcona almonds and crystallized ginger. My new favorite. Until something else is.

Now I have a vacation to go on…

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Creamy Pea and Asparagus Soup with Parmesan-Thyme Shortbread

Goodbye winter. Hello springtime.

Which, sadly, means the end of this season’s soup club.

Surprisingly, it actually feels like springtime. Sunshine and warm weather, although I’ve yet to spy any pretty spring color. I would revel in it more, except I’ve sprained my ribs in a tumble that I took on the ice just last week and have been hobbling around and hunched over like a 90 year old woman. At least I had this creamy pea and asparagus soup to comfort me.

I volunteered to bring in the vegetarian soup offering for this final week of soup club, in the place of an out-of-town coworker. Desperate to part ways with heavy root vegetables, but not quite willing to transition into a chilled soup, I scoured my favorite cookbooks, magazines and websites hoping to find something that would suit my mood. When I chanced upon this creamy pea and aspragus soup with parmesan-thyme shortbread from Food and Wine, I knew I had found my match.

I like most everything about this soup. The smell of asparagus. The sweetness of the peas. The green-ness. The delicacy of the tarragon. The cheesy-saltiness of the shortbread.

I especially love this soup because I could test out the newest addition to my kitchen arsenal, an immersion blender (and a completely unexpected birthday present). I was first introduced to the immersion blender just a few months ago when I was making this soup at a cooking class. I had high hopes for it, as this particular kitchen instrument has been talked up a lot amongst my friends. It was … eh … okay. A remarkable amount of work to blend it all together, all the while standing over a hot flame.

But then a lovely little (green!) hand blender arrived on my doorstep, with a note pleading me to reconsider my stance on immersion blenders. How could I resist? And now I must eat my previous words, because this blended up my soup like a charm. It was delightfully intoxicating to use. So, thank you Jenny, you know me well.

Creamy Pea and Asparagus Soup with Parmesan-Thyme Shortbread

slightly adapted from Food and Wine
**********
Creamy Pea and Asparagus Soup
3 tablespoons butter
2 small onions, thinly sliced
2 1/2 pounds (2 large bunches) asparagus, cut in 1 1/2 inch pieces
4 cups vegetable broth
2 ounces (~1/3 cup) tarragon leaves
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups frozen baby peas
splash of white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
 
Parmesan-Thyme Shortbread
1 1/2 cups (180 g) flour
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan
1 teaspoon dried thyme
zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, softened
2 egg yolks
**********

For the soup:

Heat butter in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add asparagus, cook one minute longer. Add vegetable broth, cover and cook until aspragus is tender, about 15 minutes. Add tarragon leaves and blend until very smooth (me: with my new immersion blender or in a standing blender, worked in batches). Stir in heavy cream and peas. Season with white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

For the shortbread:

In a large bowl, combine flour, parmesan, dried thyme, salt and lemon zest. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachement add the butter (cut into tablespoon-sized pieces) and the egg yolks and mix until a moist crumb forms. Gather dough and knead a few times, while rolling into a 2-inch log. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Cut log into 1/4-inch slices and bake at 325º for 25 minutes.

Triple Lemon Layer Cake with Lavender Honey Ice Cream (happy birthday to me!)

I work in a lab that takes birthdays seriously. And with over a dozen members, it means that we get to eat birthday cake on a fairly regular basis. More often than not, it involves copious amounts of chocolate.

I volunteered to make my own birthday cake. Unheard of, I know. But I wanted to make something slightly out of the ordinary. Just like me. Triple lemon layer cake with lavender honey ice cream. A little kooky, kind of like a girl with purple hair. I’ve had my eye on David Lebovitz’s recipe Lavender Honey Ice Cream and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a try. But what’s a birthday with ice cream and no cake? I went directly to lemons, with their bright tartness and screaming sunshine in the dregs of winter. Lemon chiffon layer cake separated by layers of lemon cream, wrapped up in a lemon frosting tinted beautifully pink by some beet juice.

You know how I was talking about patience earlier? This birthday cake was no easy feat. I’ve never made a layer cake before and I was a little intimidated. I had had visions of the cake just crumbling apart when I went to cut the layers or having the whole thing just slipping and sliding. But it wasn’t so bad. However, it did take a lot of time with many, many steps. And dishes.

As first attempts go, I was pretty pleased with how the whole thing turned out. Sure, my layers weren’t cut perfectly even and I need to develop some frosting skills, but even so, it looked like cake and tasted like cake. As for the ice cream, well, it was just about as good as you could get. Soft, creamy and calming. I think one of my colleagues called it ‘relaxing.’ I was pleasantly surprised how appreciative my midwestern coworkers were of my offbeat combination of flavors. Of course, they could have just been saying so…

 
 
Triple Lemon Layer Cake
**********
Lemon Chiffon Cake
adapted ever-so-slightly from Tartine, by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
2 1/4 cups (315 g) flour
1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 large egg yolks (~1/2 cup)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
lemon zest from one lemon
11 egg whites (~1 1/3 cups) at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
**********
Lemon Cream
from Tartine
1/2 cup lemon juice
lemon zest from one lemon
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup (170 g) sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup (225 g) butter
**********
Lemon and Beet Juice Frosting
3/4 cup butter, room temerature
4 cups powdered sugar
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons beet juice*
**********

For the cake:

Preheat oven to 325º F. Line the bottom of two 8-inch springform pans with parchment paper. DO NOT grease the sides! (The cake will need something to cling to).

Sift together the flour and baking powder into a very large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups (250 g) of the sugar and the salt, whisking to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, oil, lemon juice and zest and the water. Make a well in the flour, add the yolk mixture and then whisk thoroughly and quickly for about 1 minute until very smooth.

Place the egg whites in a large bowl. Using a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar and beat on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Using a rubber spatula, scoop about 1/3 of the whites into the yolk mixture and gently fold in to lighten the batter. Gently fold in the remaining whites until just combined.

Divide the batter among the two springform pans. Bake for ~45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan. To remove, run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake and then release and lift off the pan sides. Invert the cakes and peel off the parchment.

For the lemon cream:

In a double boiler over medium heat; combine lemon juice eggs and egg yolk, sugar and salt. Whisk the ingredients together until the mixture becomes very thick and reaches a temperature of 180º (this will take at least ten minutes). Remove the double boiler from the water and let cool to 140º, stirring from time to time to release heat.

Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces. Transfer the lemon cream to a blender. With the blender running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, blending after each addition until incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow, opaque and quite thick.

Divide cream into thirds and set aside.

For the lemon-beet juice frosting:

Beat together butter, powdered sugar, lemon juice and beet juice until light and fluffy.

*I had roasted beets earlier in the week (peeled, in a small casserole dish with about 1/2 inch of water and covered with foil – roasted at 400º for about 45 minutes.) When I took the beets out of the oven, the water had turned a brilliant blood red. I reduced the liquid to about 2 tablespoons and saved it for dying purposes, namely this cake frosting. Alternatively, you could use food coloring, but where’s the fun in that?

Cake assembly:

Carefully cut each of the cakes in half, yielding four ~1/2 inch layers of cake. Place the first layer on a flat surface (I used the plate for my cake stand) and spread 1/3 of the lemon cream on the top. Place the second layer of cake on top of the lemon cream, spread with 1/3 lemon cream. Repeat with all of the cake layers. Spread frosting over the top and sides of cake. Since this was my first cake-decorating attempt, I kept it simple and just tried to make it look intentionally messy.

Lavender Honey Ice Cream
from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz
**********
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup dried lavender flowers, divided
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
**********

Heat the honey and 2 tablespoons of the lavender in a small saucepan. Once warm, remove from heat and let steep at room temperature for 1 hours.

Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Pour the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. Pour the lavender-infused honey into the cream through the strainer, pressing down on the lavender flowers to extract as much of the flavor as possible. Discard the flowers and return the strainer to the bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly and then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Pour the custard through the mesh strainer and stir it into the cream. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of lavender flowers. Chill thoroughly.

Before churning, strain mixture once again to remove remaining lavender flowers. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker.

A work in progress

Goodbye February and good riddance. I am not sad to see you leave.

I’ve been in a slump and I am not sure if I know how, or even if I want to pull myself out. I have a birthday tomorrow and my ability to objectively assess the past year has been thrown out with the bath water. I’ve been fretting over it, feeling like I haven’t accomplished a thing. It’s been one of those in-between years.

sigh

The whole thing has put me in a bad mood. I am sorry friends, family and coworkers. To take my mind off things I’ve decided to tackle a rather large project.

My patience.

Let’s be honest – it’s not something I’m known for. So this year for my birthday, instead of obsessing over what I haven’t yet done with my life, I am going to try and grow. To fix something about myself that I am not all that satisfied with. I am starting with patience. A majority of my unhappiness stems directly from how impatient I can be. Impatient to get over my broken heart. Impatient to write the next manuscript. Impatient to know where I will be in three years.

The problem is that I don’t like messes. Especially messes that hang around for a long time. I like my life and my surroundings to be neat and tidy, polished and wrapped up with a lovely bow. I don’t mind making a mess, but it needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible.

It starts with the chair pictured above. Like me, it could use some fixing. Right now it’s tattered and has its insides exposed. And it’s going to get a lot worse before it starts to get better. It will take time, way longer than a day (it’s taken almost a week just to get to the state it’s currently in). I know that. I anticipate that.

It’ll be an exercise, to carefully remove each piece of fabric, to note how it was assembled and how it should be put back together. To not rush through it. To not get upset and frustrated with myself when even the seemingly simplest thing takes four times longer than I think it should. To not scream at the sewing machine when a thread breaks or at the cats when they get in the way. To live with the mess. To remember to step back and just breathe.

Why even attempt such an impossible task? The chair, while worn, is in no way broken. Shouldn’t I just learn to live with the blemishes? Or, instead, just replace it with a newer piece of furniture? But on the whole, I like this chair. I like the shape, the form and it’s perfect to curl up in on a Saturday morning with a strong cup of coffee and an enticing book. I just don’t like seeing its rips and tears every time I glance upon it.

I have a vision. I can see how amazing it will look, recovered with a raspberry sheen. An unexpected warm glow amidst a room filled with greens and blues. It will be completely my own and that’s important to me. And I know I will be happier with the finished result if I have the patience to do the job properly.

I don’t really know what I am doing. But I am capable of figuring it out along the way.

A work in progress.