Saturday, March 31, 2012

A March Top Ten List

1. The Sliced Spring Salad with Avocado and Feta from Molly Wizenberg of Orangette. I can’t get enough of it, having eaten it every day for the past week.

2. Cheerful tulips wherever I look: spilling out of a vase on my living room table, planted in the dividers in the middle of Broadway and on Park Avenue, at every corner deli selling flowers, at the farmer's markets...

3. Big bouquets of radishes, ready to be shaved into a salad or layered on top of baguette slices with avocado.

4. Drinking Sancerre Rosé in the late afternoon at Balthazar. Pure bliss.

5. Bundles of asparagus, thick and thin. They often beg me to top them with a freshly poached farm egg. 

6. Weather that’s warm enough to wear shoes without socks. (You can take the girl out of California but you can’t take the California out of the girl.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guinness Gingerbread Cake

I am serious about celebrating birthdays, not only my own but those of my loved ones, and I truly believe that a birthday should involve great cake. When a friend’s birthday is on the horizon, I usually pounce on the opportunity to try out a new recipe on my long list of Things To Bake. I can’t usually justify whipping up a multi-layered cake for myself, but I somehow made an exception to that rule this week, for I found myself making this Guinness Gingerbread Cake not once but three times in the past week. It was that good. 

Sylvia had a big birthday last weekend, and I volunteered my cake-baking services for her celebration. Most of my friends request some form of chocolate creation, but Sylvia’s favorite cake is a spicy gingerbread one. Some of the best gingerbread recipes I’ve made involve dark beer to intensify the flavor, and it’s convenient that her birthday falls right near St. Patrick’s Day since I always have plenty of Guinness on hand. 

I once made Claudia Fleming’s Oatmeal Stout Gingerbread Cake for Sylvia’s birthday several years ago, a dessert our friends had all enjoyed at Gramercy Tavern once upon a time. It was a rich Bundt cake, dark with molasses and heavily spiced with two kinds of ginger. But I wanted to do something different this year, having recently came across this Gingerbread Beer Cake in my new book, Sky High Cakes, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Black&White Guinness Float

I’m dying to share something that I know will make your day. Once you taste my Black&White Guinness Float, you will wonder how you ever lived without it. I know you’re probably thinking, “Louise, are you out of your mind?!!” While it may sound strange pairing beer with ice cream, the combination totally works. Think of it as a root beer float for grown-ups.

I’m always happy when I find a multi-purpose recipe that is appropriate for a variety of occasions. Some of you may want to jumpstart your St. Patrick’s Day festivities this week, so this Irish stout cocktail will definitely get into the spirit of it all. If you’re celebrating the arrival of spring, a refreshing ice cream drink can enhance your enjoyment of the gorgeous and unseasonably warm days we’ve had in NYC this week. And if you’ve had a slightly stressful day–whether or not you were interviewed by Anderson Cooper in the morning about your unusual autobiographical memory—then a Guinness float is exactly the thing to help you unwind. Trust me, it really helps!

Guinness stout has long been my beer of choice. Velvety and bittersweet, I love it for its full-bodied complexity. As a major bonus, not only is it rich in iron and antioxidants, it is oddly low in calories. What’s not to love about that?

I wanted my beer float to play up both the deep chocolaty notes and the creamy quality of the Guinness. Since I prefer a Black&White milkshake—made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup rather than being made from only chocolate ice cream—I decided that that principle should apply for this drink as well. A healthy glug of chocolate syrup mixed with the beer in the bottom of the glass intensifies the toasty richness of the Guinness, so much so that it’s practically crying out for a scoop of vanilla ice cream to make the party complete.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wild Mushroom Lasagna With Smoked Mozzarella

Today’s post is about inner beauty. I tried to find a creative way to photograph this Wild Mushroom Lasagna With Smoked Mozzarella and was not entirely successful in my attempt. Yet it doesn’t matter so much how it looks on the outside, for it’s what’s on the inside that counts. This may not win the Most Beautiful Photograph Award on Kitchen Fiddler or anywhere else, but believe me when I tell you it was incredibly comforting and truly satisfying to eat.

I will admit it: I’m a bit of a lasagna slut. I love all kinds and have no problem going from one to another. I’ve even made three different pans of it this week. Are there support groups for that?

My favorite lasagna is a classic, the way they’d make it in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. How could you not love something that involves homemade spinach noodles layered with a béchamel sauce, freshly grated Parmesan, and a kick-ass Bolognese sauce that has simmered and intensified for hours? But I have no problem with a more Americanized version with a simple tomato-based sauce and lots of gooey cheese, similar to this excellent sausage-and-basil one I made with my lasagna-loving Little Chef last week. And I finally just made this wild mushroom lasagna, a recipe I first saw in the New York Times Magazine a few months ago and have been daydreaming about ever since.

And wow, was it ever daydream-worthy. A small mountain of shiitakes and crimini mushrooms cooked down to a very concentrated mixture, augmented by roasted radicchio strips that added a contrasting slightly-bitter note. A béchamel—a simple white sauce made with butter, flour and milk and flavored with additional shallots and nutmeg—served as the binding agent for the mushrooms and the pasta. You already know that there's smoked mozzarella in there, but did I mention the Gruyère and Fontina cheeses that also came to this lasagna party? Oh yes please.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Shredded Brussels Sprouts Sauté With Bacon and Pecans

I just ate an entire recipe’s worth of this Shredded Brussels Sprouts Sauté, a dish that is supposed to serve four. I’ll admit I’ve done far unhealthier things, such as snarfing entire pints of Haagen-Dazs or large bags of tortilla chips in single sittings, but I really felt like I was bingeing at lunch here. Maybe it’s the addition of bacon and toasted pecans on top of the shredded sauté that made it feel like a guilty pleasure.

How did I become so crazy about brussels sprouts? I can’t seem to get enough of them these days, which is odd considering how I used to avoid them like the plague. Even though they look like adorable miniature cabbages, I think many of us have bad childhood associations of soggy sprouts, boiled to within an inch of their lives and woefully underseasoned.

Yet clearly I got over my distaste for them, for this is my second post about this much-maligned vegetable in just under 15 months, so go figure. Roasting them with bacon and garlic brings out an earthy richness, a la this version. It’s definitely a great way to go. And if you don’t feel like turning on your oven, this sauté puts a delightful fresh spin on those tiny cabbages.

A food processor fitted with the shredding disc makes light work of the prep. If you have good knife skills and a sharp blade, you can also manually slice the little green globes into thin ribbons. You’ll need a knife anyway for chopping up the bacon and pecans that add a touch of decadence and color to the otherwise spring-green dish.

Not only does shredding the brussels sprouts alter their texture dramatically, but they taste remarkably clean and bright when lightly sautéed. There’s none of the bitterness that I often associate with the whole little orbs, and I find the taste reminiscent of thinly sliced broccoli stems. (I happen to love steamed broccoli stems, almost more than the florets themselves.) It’s familiar yet still intriguing.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Arugula-Stuffed Baked Potatoes

When I was a kid, my mother constantly tried out new recipes from her extensive cookbook collection. Mom rarely repeated a dish no matter how much the rest of the family liked it, since she had an ever-growing list of new things she wanted to cook. I’m the opposite in that I tend to make a recipe I like over and over again until I get sick of it. However, I don’t think I could possibly grow tired of eating these Arugula-Stuffed Baked Potatoes. And I think that once my mom tries these for herself, these beauties will be making repeat appearances at the family table as well.

One of my best discoveries of last year was the Sea Salt Baked Potatoes from 101 Cookbooks. This was the very first food blog I began following years ago, and author/photographer Heidi Swanson continually surprises me with her creativity. It’s worth checking out for the stunning photographs alone, and the mouth-watering super-natural recipes on her site always keep me coming back for more.

Talk about a winner! Imagine a baked potato, the skin crisp and flecked with sea salt while the inside is fluffy and tender. But instead of loading this spud with enough dairy products to alarm your cardiologist, the steaming hot potato flesh is drizzled with a rich mustard vinaigrette. A baby arugula salad, tossed with more of the vinaigrette and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, tops the whole thing off.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Elderflower Champagne Cocktail

I’ve been dying to tell you about my new favorite drink, a festive Elderflower Champagne Cocktail. I made countless pitchers of this beverage when the One-Year-Plan group gathered for our annual New Year’s Day 6-hour brunch, and I think that will be a yearly tradition from now on. I’ve waited to tell you about it until now because I think it’s absolutely perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

Here are your instructions for Valentine’s Day. First task: go to your local liquor store for a bottle of St. Germaine. If you’re not already familiar with it, believe me when I tell you that this delicate French elderflower liqueur is something that you will definitely want in your home. Floral and beguiling, it’s also extremely drinkable, as you can see from what little is left in my own bottle.

Secondly: pick up a bottle each of sparkling wine and club soda. You don’t have to splurge on fancy champagne for this recipe, not by any means. I usually use prosecco for this, or you can use any sort of inexpensive French or domestic sparkling wine that tastes good to you.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Killer Chocolate Sauce

Here’s a simple yet killer Chocolate Sauce you’ll want to have up your culinary sleeve whenever you want to dress up a dessert. Whether you’re spooning it over your favorite ice cream, serving a small puddle of it alongside a sliver of a decadent torte, or drizzling it over a champagne semifreddo (recipe for THAT coming soon!), I’m convinced that this is likely to become your go-to chocolate sauce. This sauce is like that perfect accessory that pulls an outfit together, adding a classy distinctive touch without overwhelming the rest of the ensemble.

Most chocolate sauce recipes I’ve found involve butter and/or cream, but this ridiculously easy one from David Lebovitz involves neither. The richness comes from both unsweetened cocoa and bittersweet chocolate, and it doesn’t leave you feeling heavy afterwards since it doesn’t contain any dairy. It’s practically diet food. Okay, I realize that’s a bit of a stretch, but perhaps I’m trying to justify the fact that I’ve already made this chocolate sauce twice this week. Whoops…

I am having intense chocolate cravings these days that are most definitely emotionally-triggered. It’s not surprising, considering that the Broadway show for which I played in the orchestra these past months just closed on Sunday. It was a real blow, for though we knew it would be a limited run, it wasn’t supposed to be quite this limited. Our quirky musical didn’t enchant all the edgy New York critics, but every night we saw countless audience members welling up with emotion and enthusiastically singing along with the title song at the end, and people loved it. I was genuinely thrilled to work there each night, playing that gorgeous musical score with hilarious and lovely colleagues in the pit, not to mention a fabulous cast that included two leads who gave me serious goosebumps every single time I heard them sing. (Click here to hear what I’m talking about it.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Crispy Kale Chips With Smoked Paprika

Okay, let’s get back on a healthy eating track. After last week’s Butterscotch Pots de Crème incident, I think I’d better give you something to offset that craziness. Check out these Kale Chips. They may not be the most photographic chips, but what they lack in visual pizzazz, they certainly make up for it with a big nutritional punch. They also happen to be very tasty, and they have become my new favorite guilt-free snack while watching television late at night.

I’ve gotten hooked on “Downton Abbey” lately, as many of you probably are as well. I’m a little late coming to this party having never seen it until recently, but I got totally swept up in the Upstairs/Downstairs intrigue of it all two weekends ago, bingeing on the complete first season over a 48-hour period. I had a total Pavlovian reaction when I first started watching, for as I drooled over the characters’ gorgeous period costumes and their grand English manor, I immediately began craving tea and scones with clotted cream and jam. After one night of indulging that craving with a little bowl of whipped cream dotted with big dollops of raspberry jam (who even needs the scones and the tea?!), I knew I needed to figure out a healthier alternative quickly. Since it is January and I’m still doing post-holiday damage control, I began making roasted kale chips to go along with my Season 2 “Downton” episodes.

It couldn’t be easier. The kale, when roasted with olive oil and sea salt till crisp, takes on a texture similar to Lay’s potato chips. I’m not kidding. The papery roasted kale shatters when you bite into it, just like a mouthful of extra-thin crunchy chips. I’m finding that it’s the ideal salty snack for my late-night movie watching these days. While I’m perfectly capable of inhaling an entire large bag of Lay’s potato chips in a single sitting, I feel much better in every way after eating a equally large bunch of kale.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Butterscotch Pots de Crème

Hello there. I’ve missed you all these past few months, I really have. Let me make it up to you by sharing a divine recipe for Butterscotch Pots De Crème, which was definitely one of my best culinary discoveries in 2011.

If December is typically a season of much merriment and revelry, January is traditionally the time to jumpstart my commitment to becoming a healthier and more vibrant person. Most January magazine issues are filled with empowering articles with titles such as “Two-Week Detox For Foodies!” or “Ten Steps To A Newer Healthier You!” Don't get me wrong,  I have no problem with committing to regular exercise and all of those other good things that I know I should do.  I do love eating vitamin-rich greens and nutritionally dense whole grains, and in January I usually try to post recipes here that help facilitate the post-holiday-party-season detox process.

But it’s been a long time since I’ve been here on Kitchen Fiddler for a whole variety of reasons: cranking out thousands of truffles for CocoaRoar, being locked-in to a new show, still trying to navigate many of the things I wrote about here, etc. I’m confident that you will find enough inspiring healthful recipes elsewhere to permit me to share this totally decadent dessert with you today. I know you won’t be sorry once you try it for yourself.

A pots de crème is essentially a rich custard. The ingredients for this particular recipe are simple enough: two kinds of brown sugar, cream, egg yolks, and a bit of vanilla for flavor. (Next time I’m going to substitute bourbon for the vanilla, just to see what happens.) The custards are gently baked in a water bath at a low temperature, which guarantees that their texture will be impossibly silky and smooth. After they’ve baked and cooled, these little butterscotch pots are topped with a generous dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a pinch of flaky sea salt. We’re talking heaven in a ramekin.