PARADISE BY THE KITCHEN LIGHTS
I WANTA COOK RIGHT NOW, I WANTA EAT SWEETS,
I WANTA LOVE LIKE CAKE AND SALTY BACON
Love and the cool months of a Southern winter provides the perfect setting for many perfect things. Love and food are a natural combination. After the fanfare, flowers, family, feasts and a flood of good will there is the luscious period of time known as the honeymoon. Desserts are most often associated with courtship and special events. Dessert is the honeymoon course of a meal, when we linger, savor and dot each sentence with “uuuhhmmm” and “aaahhhhh”. We are entertaining the mornings and nights following each grand celebration with sweet and savory plates of easy joy.
The honeymoon is something so beautiful that bringing it in and out of our life is as easy as…pie, or in this case sauternes olive oil cake with stone fruit and oranges; jasmine rice and sweet macadamia cakes rolled in black sesame seeds; and a sweet and savory breakfast cake of russet and sweet potato pan fried in walnut oil with apple smoked bacon and a local honey infused with rosemary and lavender.
If you cannot find a French Sauternes then you will have to find your way around in any number of sweet Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blends from any of the worlds great wine regions. Remember that Sauternes is understood by the noble rot present on the grape that makes it so rich, complex and sweet. The noble rot is a kind of mold that begins the fermentation practically on the vine. The most famous is Chateau D’Yquem of the Bordeaux region. I was graced with being gifted a half bottle of 1913 Chateau D’Yquem back in the early 1980s. This was as close as to what I could imagine a wine of the gods to be. Today this half bottle is valued at close to $7000. Never pass up the chance to experience great things, life is too short and the pleasures of the palate are not to be passed over. After the Chateau D’Yquem the closest I ever came to this grandeur in a sweet wine was a German Gewurztraminer with the Trockenbeerenauslese designation. This means that it was an extremely ripe and sweet wine. I cannot remember any further details of this bottle other than that it was full, complex with the honeysuckle and muscadine flavors more predominate than classic lychee or rose, and it was not an Eiswein. Today, Wines of this nature are largely misunderstood and deserve greater credit upon the table than is given. In the 1970s and 1980s this was not the case, but as all things seem to go in cycles perhaps these intellectual and enriching wines will see a resurgence. Look to Canada and the Toronto to Niagara region for excellence in Eiswein/Ice Wine production. And for those of us who do not or no longer drink then find white cranberry juice, white grape juice and lychee juice (or puree canned lychee or rambutan) and mix in equal parts, chill and there you have a nonfermented equivalent to Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend wines.
Understanding this flavor and the way that it reacts upon the palate will make it easier for you to appreciate the subtle nature of an olive oil cake. This method is native to Northern Italy in the region known as Liguria. The olive oil used is not the aggressive Sicilian or Greek Kalamata, but is instead a smooth Tuscan with the addition of Mandarin Orange olive oil. Oranges have been processed with olive oils as long as there has been olive oil. If you have Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Napoleon Orange liquor in the house then use a bit of one of these fine liquors. The light citrus combines well with the fatty and rich fruitiness of Northern Italian oils. It is always about balance. Never let one flavor over power in this light cake.
Olive oil cakes also appear in the Old Testament as part of the Passover meal illustrating the miracle of olive oil as it was used to light the menorah and feed the body as fuel and ingredient. Olive oil is also used for frying during Hanukkah. Olive oil is something of a miracle oil, isn’t it?
You will need an 8 or 9-inch spring form pan. If you do not have one then you can bake it using a bundt pan but the texture will be slightly different making it more of an angel food style than my intention. You will not taste olives. In fact, its balance of crystal sugars and light as a soufflé texture will surprise you, and yes, what you will taste is sweet citrus. Recipes for olive oil cakes abound across the internet so search away, and if you are of the variety in love with everything that is a book then dig deep into the works of Alice Waters (hint, most of these dessert recipes were inspired by her while reading through the Chez Panisse cookbooks) and the book “Italian Food Artisans” by Pamela Sheldon Johns.
OLIVE OIL CAKE IN THE FASHION OF CHEZ PANISSE
If any stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines or apricots are in season include them with this dish, otherwise use any fresh berry and orange segments. Kumquats dusted with turbinado sugar are fantastic with this light and healthy cake. A spring form pan, same as the one you use for cheesecakes, is used because you can flip the cake over and then release it thus allowing it to settle down after baking, and the cake is easier to set and cut when baked in a spring form pan.
You will need a mixing bowl, whisk, 8 or 9-inch spring form pan, parchment paper, measuring cup and spoons and of course a calibrated oven. Correct temperatures are essential and mandatory to good baking. If you do not have mandarin orange olive oil then use ½ cup extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons corn oil, and add a tablespoon fresh orange juice.
6 egg yolks, from large eggs, very fresh
8 egg whites, from large eggs, very fresh
¼ cup turbinado sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon zest from one orange
1 teaspoon zest from one lime (wash your fruits first)
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour, mix with the salt
½ cup Sauternes, Sauvignon Blanc or equivalent sweet juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, Northern Italian or Spanish
3 tablespoons mandarin orange olive oil
Using a hand whisk beat egg yolks and granulated sugar to very light peaks then mix in the orange zest. Don’t whisk to firm peaks, keep them light.
Slowly whisk the flour/salt mix into the beaten egg yolks. As you finish beating in the flour begin stirring in the Sauternes, then the olive oil. Is it complete and well combined? It should be.
In separate bowl combine the lime zest, turbinado sugar and egg whites. Beat these to a firm peak that is almost the thickness of a meringue. Egg whites are best beaten slowly at the beginning and fast at the end. (Cream is the opposite whereas it is beaten quickly at the beginning and then slowly at the end. The formula is based upon reaction of the proteins in attaching to the sugars as they are beaten.) After the meringue is complete fold it into the other mixture with a gloved hand or rubber spatula.
Line the spring form pan with parchment paper and then lightly grease the paper with olive oil. Pour the cake into the pan.
Bake in preheated (you must preheat) 375 degree oven. Cook 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees, rotate the pan and then cook for another 20 minutes. Turn the oven OFF. Cover the cake with parchment paper. Leave it in the oven for another 10 minutes. Keep the door closed.
Here is the fun part: because of the egg white to batter ratio the cake is going to rise up like a soufflé and then fall. That is what it is supposed to do so don’t worry when you see it rise up and collapse, this is good.
Take it out of the oven, use a towel or oven mitts. Put a small cutting board or plate over the pan and turn it over. Release the spring form. Let it cool.
Since this is a light cake keep it simple from this point on. Just slice the cooled cake and set on serving plates. Garnish with sliced fruits.
After you have learned how to make this cake you can exercise variations by using other kinds of juices or wines. This is also a fun one to add young coconut juice or almond milk to instead of the wine.
JASMINE RICE AND SWEET MACADAMIA PUREE
Jasmine rice is an aromatic rice. Long grain, slightly glutinous but not much so that is why we add the sugar and coconut juice, not coconut milk or cream, it is juice. Coconut juice is a beverage that can found in any Latin or South Asian market. Macadamia nuts are rich and buttery with a slight nut flavor. They are easily made into a paste using a molcajete style mortar and pestle or by putting them in the food processor and mixing. The stone mortar and pestle makes it easier for you to control the exact degree of mashing that you need to do.
Molcajetes are also great for making pesto and salsas, and for various thin crepe, lumpa, egg roll and tortilla batters.
This can be a side dish with a dessert or entree as well as a stand alone snack. It can be made ahead and gently reheated at 300 degrees for 10 minutes or simply eating at room temperature or chilled. Spraying the rice with sweet vinegar is essential as this keeps the rice from getting crispy.
JASMINE RICE BALLS
1 cup jasmine rice, rinsed
1 cup water
1 cup young coconut juice (beverage in the can)
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, unsalted
1 bay leaf
5 basil leaves, fresh
1/3 teaspoon thyme leaves, fresh
Cook rice. Refrigerate.
2 tablespoons sweet rice vinegar (sushi vinegar) or Mirin
After the rice has cooled sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sweet rice vinegar or Mirin over the rice.
Pat out and roll the rice into 24 small rice balls. Line up on sheet pan with parchment paper on the pan.
1 cup macadamia nuts
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
2 ounces palm sugar (from any South Asian grocery)
2 tablespoons sweet vinegar
Mash together in a mortar and pestle or in food processor. It must be smooth and sweet.
Push your finger into each rice ball into the center of the ball. Fill the center with macadamia puree. Close the rice. Sprinkle again with sweet vinegar.
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
Toast and then sprinkle over rice balls. These are delicious little snacks or side dishes with spicy food.
RUSSET AND SWEET POTATO CAKES WITH APPLE BACON
This is so easy, aromatic, sweet and savory, and qualifies as comfort food.
You can make these ahead and reheat in the oven or microwave. Infusing the honey with flavor is easy, just add the herbs and gently heat, then strain over the dish you are serving. If you are going to hold it for a while just leave the herbs in the honey for a day after heating it. Strain and then pour onto the food. Apple smoked bacon is all things salty and slightly fruity. If you cannot find apple smoked bacon then buy hickory smoked bacon and mince a sweet apple over over the potato cakes. There are always alternatives, but it is best to cook a recipe as it is and then seek changes to match up to your needs. This freedom to alter a recipe is only qualified if the change increases the flavor value of the food and if you are always using the absolute best quality ingredients. The best of ingredients does not guarantee success but the best of applying the craft of cooking along with the ingredients does guarantee balance. Art comes later, believe me, learn the craft and if you are creative then the art will appear in your work.
HONEY (one of the few things that has an eternal shell life!)
¼ cup sourwood or any local honey
10 leaves rosemary, just the leaves
10 flowers lavender, the little tiny light purple flowers
Combine and heat on low heat in a small pan for five minutes. Pour into glass or metal container. Let stand all day or 12 hours. Strain.
1 cup coarse grated, peeled russet potato
1 cup coarse grated, peeled sweet potato
2 ounces walnut oil
1 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 strips apple smoked bacon, cooked and chopped
12 walnut halves
¼ cup rosemary and lavender honey
Rinse the grated potato, do not cover in water, just rinse and then pat dry on cloth or paper towels. Toss with the salt and sugar.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and butter in an omelet pan or small iron skillet. Bring the oil to 325 degrees. Pat out a circle of potato and slide it into the oil. Watch out! Beware of popping grease when adding grated potato to oil as there is always some liquid remaining in the potato. After it begins to cook just pat the potato down into the form that you want it to be in, and in this case, a circle. Think pancake. Maintain temperature in the pan so that it does not burn. Keep at medium while cooking the potato (pan)cake.
After the edges begin to brown turn it over with a slotted metal spatula. Heat for another two minutes. Remove from pan with your little slotted metal spatula onto a paper towel or cloth to drain the oil. The walnut oil adds a nice earthy flavor.
Following this procedure until all of the potato mix is used up. It will take about 15 minutes at the stove. Of course it will take less time if you can work two or more pans at once, or if you want large walnut oil potato cakes. You can store these after cooking and reheat in oven, on stove top or in microwave.
Set the potato cake onto a plate and garnish with bacon, walnuts and a teaspoon of honey on top of each warm cake.
OK, just one more sweet and savory garnish to what I hope is a beautiful honeymoon and for some an even more beautiful second, third and fourth and on going honeymoon.
Asian Pear Blue Saga On Walnut Bread
10 slices of bread, two inches long
1 Asian pear, cut into 10 slices
10 ounces blue saga or a French triple cream cheese
20 fresh oregano leaves
3 tablespoons softened date palm sugar
Spread sugar on bread and set a slice of Asian pear on each slice of bread. Then spread the cheese on the apple, place herb leaves on top of the cheese. Serve any way you want to serve (as long as it is with love).
It’s true you know, that love changes things, it really does.
Love rides waves and rising winds across the hills.
Open the rolling window and there it is in flight
On white cloudscapes, the hearts many wishes, in flight,
In winged stride with the rushing V of snow geese,
Like emotion and desire hunting calm waters,
Rich wetlands to rest and wait, to dream a while.
No one marries to argue or disagree, and no one feels
Love when love is not fed or given life to live,
And so it is this, that wondrous honeymoon laugh,
The urge and inclination to always please, to live for,
As well as with someone, to think their will and desire
As you would your own, to cook and share one life,
Strong and full together, and when you stand apart
To stand before the stove, the bed, the world, happy, happy
To say: I am this day as I am tomorrow, I glad I am a man
A man because of her, a man full, ambitious…the honeymoon is forever.
Atlanta Cusine: IN THE BAZAAR OF NOT BIZARRE
At what point in your life of food do you begin to notice how flavors interact and combine into delicious? When the ordinary becomes strange and the extraordinary becomes the plate is when you know that you have entered the world bazaar, or for some, an isolated case of the bizarres. Forget the bald fat guy that eats bugs and bat wings, we’re talking about your life in food where the possible is what combines. Now, I do have a bottle of actual insect juice in the cabinet at home, but that’s for very esoteric, deep South East Asian cooking. In the Bazaar It’s Not Bizarre to find that a simple thing like the marshmallow combines into a great dish by marrying it with the Asian pantry of sweet chili and Sake, South West with poblano, the Georgia coast for sweet brown or white shrimp. It’s about the food, not you and I, or the Chef. So get in there and cook. You will discover the world in a wok.
MARSHMALLOW SHRIMP WITH ROAST POTATOES
Prepare the potatoes first since they take longer to cook.
10 ounces yellow fingerling potatoes
6 ounces sweet potatoes
6 ounces asian pear, diced, no need to peel it
2 stalks celery
2 ounces bacon fat, lard, duck fat or butter
½ tablespoon cracked black pepper
1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
Cut potatoes, apple and celery into quarter inch cubes. Rub with butter/fat and then with the salt and pepper. Roast in roasting pan in over at 400~ for 30 minutes. Keep warm until the shrimp is ready.
Yes, I did write marshmallow shrimp and you’re gonna love it. Use the white medium sized marshmallows.
The Mae Ploy Sweet Chili can be found at any Asian/International grocer. Mae Ploy is a company and their Sweet Chili is a product. The term Mae Ploy is often used for the product sweet chili sauce. If you want the best possible coconut milk buy a can of Mae Ploy coconut milk, a shelf brand like Cho Sun, and a can of Roland coconut milk and compare. You’ll taste why I say it’s the best. I’ve made my own sweet chili in a pinch and it’s good, but I actually prefer to buy the bottle of sauce in this case. To make your own mix ½ cup Sambal Oelek Vietnamese chili with 1 quart rice wine vinegar, 1 cup honey, 1 cup white sugar and 2 teaspoons guar gum. Blend in blender.
24 one ounce each size shrimp, peeled and deveined, tail on
1 cup King Arthur or White Lily all purpose flour
Flour the shrimp
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon corn oil
1 tablespoons poblano pepper, diced, no seeds
1 tablespoons yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoons red bell pepper, diced, no seeds or pith
1 clove garlic, thin sliced, very thin
3 tablespoons Mae Ploy Sweet Chili
1 ounce Sake
1/3 teaspoon granulated sea salt
12 marshmallows, large cut in half
Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the onions and pepper to the pan and crisp the outside of the vegetables for two minutes, before adding any butter. Add the butter, as it melts add the onion. When the butter begins to foam add the shrimp. Cook one minute and add the cashews. Turn the shrimp over. Cook another minute. Turn over again and add the Mae Ploy Sweet Chili and sake.
Cook thirty seconds and turn again, sprinkle with salt. Remove from heat and place a marshmallow half on top of each shrimp and put a piece of cashew on top of the marshmallow. Place pan under broiler in oven until the marshmallow begins to toast, less than a minute.
Put the potatoes in the center of the plate. Arrange the shrimp around the potatoes. Squeeze the juice of one lime over the shrimp.
DESSERT: PALM SUGAR CINNAMON TOAST AND ORANGE CREAM
Palm sugar is a very buttery sugar made from the sap of the sugar palm tree. It usually comes in hard round cakes but is also found in tubes and tubs. I prefer softer kind that comes in little one pound plastic jars. Coconut sugar is frequently combined with palm sugar to make it softer and more buttery but lighter in color. The flavor of palm sugar just kicks white sugar out of the ballpark for toasts, curries and sauces, but is limited for baking. It is a good substitute for light brown sugar for cookies and brittles, but not cakes. A little in your very rich fresh ground coffee with cream and you’ve got a kind of Thai coffee. You can find palm sugar at the same grocery stores as you would any Asian or Latin goods. Palm and coconut sugars are common sweeteners for Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines. Adding palm sugar to a French press coffee is very good, and addictive.
I started using palm sugar for cinnamon toast simply because I like cinnamon toast. Also, I bought an interesting honey that is called Cactus Flower Honey Granules at a Korean grocery store (same place you find Korean Sea Salt with Mugwort). I wanted to compare flavors of light brown sugar cane sugar, palm sugar and cactus honey granules side by side with something as simple as the toast. Palm sugar won for the toast with cactus a close second. Both have very distinct flavors that will expand your cooking repertoire by leaps and bounds.
An easy way of understanding how palm sugar is harvested is to compare it to our New England maple syrup, same way. The farmers “milk” the date palm trees, this way the tree lives and gives us sugar and everyone is happy. Something that’s unfamiliar is just something you haven’t used, it doesn’t mean it’s strange or exotic, just different, and like so many wonderful ingredients once you know what it is you will begin to recognize in just how many foods it exists.
We travel to unfamiliar places and lands to get to know them, to draw them into our field of understanding, to learn more of what and who they are, and once this understanding takes place we learn that they are and that makes all the difference in the world. Doesn’t it? Read the label of a candy bar. After doing so you
Once upon a time cinnamon toast was the ultimate treat in the world to me. Then came cinnamon apple toast crunch cereal and all that and the allure was removed. Years passed. As adults we learn to forget what was fun and intriguing about the foods that got us started on loving to eat in the first place, and it is with this in mind that I decided to include cinnamon toast with berries and cream as a dessert. Again, travel is both of place and heart/soul. We travel to the places of our youth to rediscover what we already know. Columbus came to the West Indies searching for an easier route to find spices such as cinnamon. I simply returned to my youth. You will want to learn to make your own candy bars.
4 slices any bread that you like cracked wheat kaiser roll, sour dough, white bread, whole grain, , cut into 8 triangles
4 teaspoons whole sweet butter
4 tablespoons palm sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon sugar
(flavor option to add 1 teaspoon fresh grated cinnamon stick cinnamon=WOW!)
Cut the bread and press it down to firm it up a bit. Spread the softened butter on the bread and then sprinkle with palm sugar and cinnamon. The reason I suggest adding some fresh cinnamon grated from cinnamon stick or bark is because it is a much more intense, bright flavor. Set the triangles on a roasting pan, Turn oven on to 400~ and toast for three minutes. Turn on broiler and finish under broiler for half a minute or more.
VANILLA-ORANGE WHIPPED CREAM
This goes with your cinnamon toast to make it a well rounded breakfast, snack or dessert.
1 cup extra heavy whipping cream
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract
1 tablespoon frozen orange juice paste, or Cointreau liquor
Whip cream to semi peaks and add sugar, vanilla and liquid. Whip to very firm and refrigerate thirty minutes, covered. Keep it away from onions and other strong scents in the cooler.
12 fresh strawberries (Driscoll brand if you can), pull out the stems, wash and cut into fourths
½ cup any other berry or fruit
Spoon cream into two plates and set toast next to cream, surround with the berries. If you want to substitute something for the cream then buy a berry gelato or your favorite ice cream to go with it all. Garnish with mint and powdered sugar and powdered chocolate.
And lastly, ask yourself if you are creating or destroying, by what method do we most succeed in doing well for others and ourselves??
At what cost is that quick work, the stupid phrase, the loss of etiquette?
Same for food, treat it with concentration to details and a love of the thing itself.