Monday, June 11, 2018

June is for weddings and strawberries

It's June.  The days are long, the kids are out of school and summer stretches ahead.  
The weather, so far, has been total bullshit in Chicago, but I'm expecting it to change any day and we might actually be able to sit out on our patio and enjoy a few hot summer nights! 

Meanwhile, this happened. 
taylorheery.com
 My beautiful niece, Colleen Young, got hitched to a fabulous fellow, Brenton Murrell.  
It was absolutely perfect.
 The whole Corey fam
 all the Corey girls - photo props to Bill Hanrahan!

the cousins
 It was a great way to kick off the summer.  Magical and meaningful and moving to help usher these lovely young adults into their new, hope-filled life.  



The night we got home I made a total shop-your-pantry meal.  I think I'll call it, "Pasta with all the things"

Here was my inventory:
 Pasta, feta, artichoke hearts, pepperoncini, olives and garbanzo beans. Plus one tomato.
 I had a little rose in the fridge - oh happy day!!
 I found a red pepper and cut it up.  Then made a dressing of balsamic vinegar & olive oil, s&p.
 Then added some fresh spinach and the cooked pasta and tossed it all together.

 feta on the side for the non-feta-eaters.
It was actually quite delicious.

And then?  This past weekend we had a dinner party and I made a lot of the usuals - grilled chicken with chimichurri sauce, cous cous with toasted pine nuts and an arugula-watermelon salad.  
All were fantastic.  But the magnum opus was dessert.

Those who know me know I love to eat dessert, but I don't love making dessert.  I'm more of a cook than a baker.  Baking is exact and precise: it's chemistry and it's stressful.  
But this sucker was GOOD and worth the work.


Rinse 2 quarts of strawberries.  Cut off the tops then thinly slice 1/2 of them.
Mix sliced strawberries with 2 Tbsp superfine sugar and half of a zested lemon. Set aside. 

In a small bowl, whisk together 1-1/4 cup flour, 1-1/4 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip 2 eggs plus 1 egg white on high speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Gradually pour in 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar and whip on high speed until mixture is a pale yellow color and has thickened enough to mound onto itself when beater is lifted, 1 to 3 minutes.


Here is what the instructions say:
 Using a rubber spatula, gently and patiently fold flour mixture into egg mixture.

Patiently?  I'm not sure I was terribly gentle or patient, but the job got done.
 Fold in 1/3 cup warm milk, 2 tsp vanilla and 2 tbsp melted butter until completely combined.
 Gently pour batter into prepared pan and bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Invert cake onto a cooling rack and peel off baking paper. Let cool completely.

(as you can see, I do not have the pan lined with parchment paper above.  I realized this just as I put it in the oven and stared at it for a second, then sighed, took it out, poured the batter back in the bowl, cleaned the pan, greased it, lined it with parchment, greased the parchment, then dumped the batter back in.  See what I mean about baking vs cooking?   #scared.
 
 Whip 2 cups heavy cream with 1 tsp vanilla until soft peaks form.
 
 Meanwhile, in a small pot, whisk together remaining 100 grams ( 1/2 cup) granulated sugar, 1/4 cup water and 1/8 tsp finely ground black  pepper. Simmer on medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture has reduced by half, about 5 min. Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1/2 lemon zest. 
 Using a serrated knife, horizontally slice cake in half.
 Generously brush each cut side with lemon-pepper syrup.
 Transfer the bottom half to a cake plate, cut side up, and spoon sliced strawberries and any juices over it.
 Spread half the whipped cream over sliced strawberries and gently place the other cake half on top.
 Spread remaining whipped cream over top and sides of cake (or mound it all on the top).
 Garnish with whole strawberries and drizzle with more lemon-pepper syrup for serving.

Trust me when I tell you - this was fantastic. 
The next time I'll double the amount of pepper to give it a little bit more of a bite.   
Happy Summer!!




Strawberry Shortcake with Lemon-Pepper Syrup

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, more for greasing pan
  • 2 quarts strawberries (about 2 pounds)
  • 25 grams superfine sugar (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 155 grams all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 4 grams baking powder (about 1 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3 grams salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg white
  • 330 grams granulated sugar (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • cup whole milk, warmed
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter or cooking spray. Line with baking paper and grease the parchment.
  2. Cut off tops of strawberries and thinly slice half of them, leaving remaining berries whole. Mix sliced strawberries with superfine sugar and half the lemon zest. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip eggs and egg white on high speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Gradually pour in 230 grams (1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar and whip on high speed until mixture is a pale yellow color and has thickened enough to mound onto itself when beater is lifted, 1 to 3 minutes.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, gently and patiently fold flour mixture into egg mixture. Fold in milk, vanilla and butter until completely combined.
  5. Gently pour batter into prepared pan and bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Invert cake onto a cooling rack and peel off baking paper. Let cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile, in a small pot, whisk together remaining 100 grams ( 1/2 cup) granulated sugar, 1/4 cup water and the pepper. Simmer on medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining lemon zest.
  7. Whip heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form.
  8. Using a serrated knife, horizontally slice cake in half. Generously brush each cut side with lemon-pepper syrup. Transfer the bottom half to a cake plate, cut side up, and spoon sliced strawberries and any juices over it. Spread half the whipped cream over sliced strawberries and gently place the other cake half on top. Spread remaining whipped cream over top and sides of cake (or mound it all on the top). Garnish with whole strawberries and drizzle with more lemon-pepper syrup for serving.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Salsa Heaven


I hesitate to write this post.   You know that feeling.  You had your favorite little restaurant, or hair salon, or mechanic.  It was perfect, they knew you, you could always get in, it was amazing and a steal.  Then the word got out, and while you're glad for the owners, because excellence should be rewarded, you're wistful, too.  So I hesitate to write about Rancho Pescadero, because it is, well, heaven, and I hope it stays that way.  But when one blogs about food, one must write about her time at Rancho Pescadero.

Doug and I first went here six years ago, for our 20th anniversary. The trip started off as something of a debacle.  Doug was biking home from the city and I was printing our boarding passes at 9pm for our 6am flight and found, to my utter shock and horror, that my passport was expired.  I had never even thought to check, as I've had an active passport since age 20.  But, alas, it had expired. And we were screwed.  Doug was incredibly understanding and cool about it, suggesting we just pivot to another, domestic location, since we had a sitter and five days off.  But, having spent months looking at pictures of Rancho, I couldn't accept this alternative.  And it turns out, if you live in Chicago, one of six regional passport centers, you can get a passport in a day.  In a few hours, even.  Obviously we had to change our flight and it cost a fortune but, 24 hours after originally planned, we arrived at Rancho Pescadero, and had one of the most amazing five days of our married life. Incredibly relaxing.  Amazing attention to detail.  Total sensory satiation.   Casual but elegant, comfortable but  stylish, Rancho Pescadero is a boutique resort on the pacific ocean about an hour north of Cabo.  Doug had found it on a NYT story and we absolutely loved it and vowed to come back.

Six years have gone by, but we are still on their email list. We got an email a couple months ago saying, Rancho is closing for a remodel and expansion - and there was a special offered.  I emailed a couple couples to whom we'd raved, one of whom had gone on our recommendation last year, and boom, it was on the calendar.

Two weeks ago, we drove back up. I hoped it would live up to my memories of it.  It did. I hoped it would impress our friends as much as it did us.  It did.  I hoped it would be a respite, a recharge, a chance to just be in a beautiful place and appreciate the simple beauty of the pacific and baja.  It was.  It slayed.




One of the highlights of the trip was the cooking class that Jean, Dave, Celeste and I attended one afternoon. The food at Rancho is sublime. They grow 60% of the food they serve (and all of the ubiquitous flowers.)  Chef David Coronce taught a class on Mexican salsas:  tomatillo, borracho, molcajete and a simple enchilada salsa.   

The setting, like everything at Rancho, is stunning.  The class took place in the open-air restaurant in the Garden Restaurant, which is immediately adjacent to the resort's vast organic gardens.

 
Chef talked a lot about the basics of Mexican salsas, and the most common peppers.  
 

chipotle, pasilla, guajillo, serrano, jalapeno, habanero chiles
some are smoky, some are sweet, some are extremely hot.

Mexican food is such a pleasure in every way.  Such simple ingredients with a premium on transforming simple ingredients in a variety of ways.   Charring, blending, sauteing, roasting - it all tastes good.   The chef shared these recipes with us after we returned.  They are all worth making.
 We started with a tomatillo salsa - or green sauce.  So simple - no cooking required. It is KILLER.

RAW GREEN SAUCE
·       5 pieces of tomatillo
·       ½ piece of onion
·       3 garlic clove
·       1 piece of serrano pepper
·       50 gram of cilantro (about 1 cup)
·       salt
INSTRUCTIONS:
1.     Wash and disinfect.
2.     Put all the ingredients in a blender, and mix.
3.     Finally season with salt and enjoy.
RECOMMENDATION:
Excellent option to eat with pork, or to serve with corn chips.

 
 Next we tackled borracha, molcajeteado and a simple enchilada salsa.  Each salsa we then enjoyed with fish or pork that chef had sauteed up.

The ingredients for all the salsas were simple & fresh. 


MOLCAJETEADA SAUCE (recipe below)


While the enchilada salsa's ingredients simmered in water, Chef gave us a tour of the gardens.

purple cauliflower

acres of flowers, basil, rosemary, tomatoes, zucchini, melon - it was amazing.
Viva Mexico!  I can't wait to go back.