A Cake with a Pedigree: Fast, Easy, Low Fat

March 24, 2015

I was reading through Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking yesterday, when I came upon this cake. I've been looking for an alternative to Angel Food Cake – which has virtually no fat – and this one seemed possible.  It has no butter and no eggs, and requires only a half cup of oil and a cup of buttermilk. Then I saw the recipe was from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Marion Cunningham's revision of the classic, as tweaked by a friend of Laurie's named Karen Edwards.

So this is a chocolate cake that was passed down from Farmer to Cunningham to Colwin to Reichl.  

It's not the most spectacular chocolate cake I've ever baked, but it certainly is the easiest.  It takes all of three minutes to whip up, requires only one bowl, and spends a mere half hour in the oven. If you're in need of a delicious dessert at the last minute, this will make you (and your family), very happy.  


Fannie, Marion, Karen, Laurie and Ruth’s Supersimple Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake tin.

Mix the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda and salt in a medium size bowl.

Whisk in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla.

Turn into the cake pan (the batter will be fairly thick), and bake about 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Put on a rack and allow to cool for a few minutes before turning out of the pan.  



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A Pretty Perfect Dinner

March 23, 2015


This is Kyle Knall, the chef at Maysville in New York.  Last night he and BBQ Pitmaster John Markus cooked dinner for a small group at John's upstate house.  It was a wonderful meal in every way, but the biggest surprise was that these meatcentric men, who spent all day grilling and smoking in a wicked wind, included so many fantastic vegetables in the mix.  We ate (and drank) for hours, and yet somehow walked out the door feeling buoyant.

The evening began with this stunningly delicious concoction of razor clams:



And these tender lamb ribs.  Kyle cooked them sous-vide before grilling them, then slathered the meat with a pungent cilantro sauce.  They were irresistible – and just the start, just enough to stave off hunger while we waited for the main events.



And now the stars of the show. This remarkable quail, which Kyle marinated in sunflower seed hozon, before grilling them and adding a mustard seed accent. 



A rabbit roulade – grilled.  I thought it wouldn't stand up to the heat.  I was wrong.



John's amazing slow- smoked beef  rib (look at that smoke ring!):






Local grains from Wild Hive, topped with greens, mushrooms and various vegetables…..



and this stunningly simply salad of pea shoots, lemon, salt and a smattering of grated cheese.



For dessert, a very simple granita. And then, the perfect ending: the latest offering from Pinhook: a truly fantastic bourbon.



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Reason to Rise

March 22, 2015


Rice Waffles

There is nothing as luxurious as a really great waffle. On this snowy morning the knowledge that a big bowl of waffle batter was slowly puffing itself up in the kitchen propelled me right out of bed.

I'm a longtime fan of Fannie Farmer's classic yeast waffle recipe, which I first encountered in Marion Cunningham's wonderful The Breakfast Book.  But this is a new twist: I used rice flour instead of wheat.  The result: waffles so light they seemed to float off the griddle and hover in the air. Waffles so light they dissolved the instant they hit the tongue. 

Many thanks to Anson Mills, whose 13 colonies rice waffle flour is unlike anything I've used before. Like Sean Brock (with whom they've partnered), Anson Mills has embarked on a quest to bring back the heirloom crops of the antebellum Carolina rice kitchen. They've searched through seed libraries, looking for southern crops that disappeared with the industrialization of American farms, and brought them back.  Take a look through their site; this is is agricultural history at its most intriguing.

This rice flour is specifically intended for waffles, which were extremely popular in the old south, and often served at dinner with fried chicken. Personally, I prefer them in a starring role at breakfast. A perfect start to the day.

Note: Anson Mills cuts this rice flour with pastry flour. If you’re using ordinary rice flour, be sure to use half rice and half wheat flour. 

Rice Waffles

(adapted from Fannie Farmer and Anson Mills) 

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

1/2 teaspoon plus one tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 cups Anson Mills 13 colony rice flour OR 3/4 cup rice flour plus 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup whole milk 

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda


Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water (be sure the water is not too hot or it will kill the yeast). Set aside. 

Whisk the flour, salt, and remaining tablespoon of sugar in a large bowl. 

Slowly melt half a stick of butter, allowing it to turn a slight, nut-like brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk.  When it's cool enough to stick your finger in, add the yeast mixture.   

Stir the liquids into the flour, mixing well.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave on the counter to rise overnight.

The next morning, stir in an egg and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. If the batter feels a bit thick, add up to 2 tablespoons more milk. 

Pour batter into a hot waffle iron: how much batter you use will depend on the size of your iron, but in my old fashioned cast iron waffle iron it makes about 7 waffles.

Eat with maple syrup, apple syrup or, in true southern fashion, sorghum.  Or simply eat the waffles piping hot, unadorned, with your fingers.  

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Ridiculous Spinach

March 20, 2015

Les Epinards du Chanoine Chevrier 

as recounted by Elizabeth David in Mediterranean Food

“…Brillat-Savarin was intrigued by this spinach cooked in butter.  Here is the famous secret. 

On Wednesday (for Sunday): choose your spinach, young leaves, neither too old nor in flower, of a good green with their middle ribs.  In the afternoon clean the spinach, removing the stalks, and wash it carefully. When it is tender, drain it in an enamel or china colander; drain out as much water as possibly by pressing the leaves firmly down in the sieve; then chop them finely.

Now put into the a pan (enamel or glazed earthenware) with some fine fresh butter and put on to a very low fire. For a pound of spinach allow 1/4 pound of butter.  Let them cook gently for 30 minutes, then take them off the fire and let them cool in the same pan. They are not to be served today. 


Thursday:  Add another ounce and a half of butter to the spinach and cook again for 10-15 minutes over a very low fire. Again, leave them to get cold.  They are not to be served yet.

Friday:  Exactly the same operation as the previous day. Do not be tempted.

Saturday: Again the same operation.  Beware of temptation; the spinach will be giving out a wonderful aroma. 

Sunday: At last the day for your guests has arrived.  A quarter of an hour before you intend serving dinner, put the spinach again over a low flame, with two good ounces of butter, for 10-12 minutes.  This time take them out of their pan and put them in a warmed vegetable dish and serve them very hot. 

In the course of five daily cookings, your pound of spinach has absorbed 10 1/2 ounces of butter.  Such was the Abbe Chevrier’s secret.   

Elizabeth David adds: “It is advisable to cook at least 2 or 3 pounds if all this performance is to be gone through. The given amount of butter will still impart a good flavor to the spinach.  

I think even Thurber (whose famous New Yorker cartoon was, "I say it's spinach. And I say to hell with it.") might have been impressed.

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Last Night at Blue Hill

March 18, 2015


The room has been transformed, the walls obscured by "row cover," the fabric farmers use to protect their crops.  The tables are also new in every sense of the word; they were grown in February with compostable materials and mycelium. The result is cozy and warm, a bit like eating in a cocoon.  

And the menu, it's safe to say, is unlike any you have seen before.  WasteEd, Dan Barber's pop-up in his Blue Hill restaurant is intent on reimagining waste, making something out of what is usually thrown out. He's invited 20 different chefs to join him, creating special dishes on successive nights. Last night Alex Raji made pork skin noodles with ruby shrimp, Iberico-Choicero pepper XO  sauce and potato skin dashi. Tonight's chef is Alex Stupek.

But the bulk of the menu belongs to Dan and his teams, and it is completely fascinating food.  This is what I ate last night.

Hidden inside that little paper cone are the most delicious warm fried skate wings – the bones you usually leave behind.  They're so crisp they crackle as you bite into them. The tartar sauce is infused with smoked whitefish heads. So much more satisfying than french fries!



This salad is made from damaged storage apples and pears, along with the leavings from a major commercial food processor.  The vegetables are crisp and fresh, with a  hint of pistachio dancing along the edge of the flavors.  That whipped stuff on the side that looks like cream?  It's just the water from cooked chick peas that's been whipped.




Cured pork from a waste-fed pig, served with melba toast made from leftover oatmeal.



This may have been my favorite dish of the evening: it's what's left after the smokehouse cuts the filets off the sable (or black cod), which is usually thrown out. Meat is always sweetest close to the bone, but when you run a knife along this tender, silky, luxurious fish you encounter something remarkable.  It's even better dunked into carrot top marmalade and parsley vinaigrette.


Monkfish have the ugliest heads, which are usually discarded.  The cheeks are called wings, and fried they can give chicken a run for its money.  The hot sauce on the side is made from the almost-forgotten fish pepper, which was once ubiquitous in the crab joints of the Chesapeake. 



You can burn beef tallow, and WasteED does. It gives a lovely light.


 You can also pour it into a dish and dip this chewy bread into it. 


There was more – a "burger" made of the pulp left in a vegetable juicer, a sorbet made of cocoa pod husks, a bread pudding made from whey.  It was all delicious. Cooks have been using scraps for thousands of years, and it's good to be reminded that talented chefs can do remarkable things when they choose to cook low on the hog. In ordinary times, everything we ate last night would have gone into the garbage.  And that's just wrong.

The dishes on the WasteEd menu are $15 each, and you'll want to try everything.  But there's not much time; come April, WastEd vanishes and Blue Hill Returns.  

Sean Brock, of Husk in Nashville and Charleston will be the final guest chef. Should you want to join him,  for free, Tasting Table is running a sweepstakes for dinner for two

And if you're looking for some useful tips to use at home, Gabrielle Hamilton's new cookbook, Prune, has an entire chapter called Garbage. I learned a lot. 


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