Friday, May 29, 2009


Food and travel go hand in hand. Certain dishes can take us back to places we visited years ago. Just the other day, I made a Nicoise Salad which of course reminded us of a trip to France where we visited the coastal city of Nice and ate the freshest seafood and soaked up the sun on the pebbly Mediterranean beach. As we ate that hearty dinner salad topped with seared Ahi tuna, we also reminisced about a trip to Australia where we indulged in a similar rendition of the classic Nicoise. Our thoughts turned to the quaint, inexpensive hotel we stayed at in Port Douglas, a coastal town just north of Cairns, which had an attached outdoor restaurant that served amazingly fresh seafood for very low prices. The food was so good in fact; we ate there twice, against our "traveler code". For one of these meals, we sat at the bar and chatted with the friendly bar tender. I ordered sea scallops for the second time while in Australia and again the white firm fleshed circular mollusk that I was so familiar with had an orange colored "wing" on one side of it. From my prior experience, I knew I was supposed to eat it, but now I had the added benefit of being able to ask what the heck this was for I had never before seen a scallop like this in the states. The chef was beckoned and I was informed that it was the roe. I told him I had never seen this before and the chef alluded to the possibility that I was not buying real scallops. Interesting take, I thought, knowing this was not the case, but also finding it amazing that we had such a different knowledge and understanding of a common food, shaped by our geographical location of what we call home. And then there was the lemonade.

I was 4 months pregnant while traveling in Australia and it was an unusually hot summer in that January of 2007. Melbourne was in the middle of a 1000 year drought. While Lou was able to partake in their refreshing beers, I was looking for alternatives. Lemonade seemed to be on all the menus, but I never received quite what I ordered. I was continually getting a glass of soda, like Sprite or 7 UP. I reluctantly drank them, for lack of an alternative as ice tea was no where to be found either. It was on a bar tour in the city of Sydney that we clarified the issue. I was told by some locals that were entertaining family by taking them on the tour that lemonade IS soda. When I described the lemonade made up of lemon juice, sugar, and water that is so common here in the states, they looked confused and said they'd never heard of it. Never heard of Lemonade? I was shocked that such a common summertime drink for us Americans did not have the same reputation in another English speaking country. Perhaps they don't have lemons? Not so. My thoughts quickly turned to the fortune I could make by introducing lemonade to Australians. I figured it would be an instant hit, but then we don't buy much Vegemite either, so perhaps it is just a matter of taste. At any rate, I never pursued that business venture, but in the spirit of good will, perhaps an Aussie or two will find this post and decide to popularize this refreshing, centuries old concoction that we Americans have come to take for granted.


1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 8 lemons)
3 cups cold water
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or to taste

Mix all three ingredients until sugar is dissolved and serve over ice.

Variations: for basil or mint lemonade, muddle a few basil or mint leaves in the bottom of a glass before adding ice and the lemon juice mixture

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Angel Food Cake

When our farmers market starts selling strawberries each year, I start buying and tasting samples, eager to determine whose strawberries will result in the most flavorful jams and sauces. Then, when the season peaks I buy a flat of the tastiest variety and set out to make jam. This year, I may have jumped the gun a little as there is still time left in our strawberry season, but I am on a bit of a time crunch with our second daughter on the way and my nesting period in full swing. I made two batches of the freezer jam I make every year using traditional pectin and plenty of sugar as well as a trial batch of a low sugar variety of freezer jam using Pamona's Universal Pectin. This pectin does not require sugar to jell and is instead activated by calcium. I found it at our local natural foods store and thought I'd give it a whirl. It was also quite inexpensive considering how much jam you can make with one box. With the remaining strawberries, I made some simple strawberry topping and package it in two to three cup containers for freezer storage. With just a bit of sugar, strawberries make a fresh and simple topping for homemade vanilla ice cream or angel food cake and the freezer allows us to enjoy them when strawberries are no longer at their peak. So much for eating seasonally, huh? Well, I don't usually find myself craving strawberries in the winter, so we do try to make use of them before our warm fall ends and winter vegetables like pumpkins start showing up in our baked goods again.

With strawberries on hand, angel food cake is now residing in our glass domed cake plate. Not for long, however, as it is a favorite in our household. It is simple, light, even fat free, which seems to make it way too easily digestable. I'm not claiming it is healthy, as it's loaded with sugar and usually made with refined, bleached cake flour, just that it is not in the least bit "rich", and so satisfyingly, yet so unsatisfyingly light that we tend to inhale it. The real bonus is it is so simple to make... that is if you have a stand or hand held mixer to help you with frothing the egg whites. It is no fun (and actually painful if you're not used to it) to whisk egg whites to a stiff peak by hand. Plus, you don't have to grease the pan! I always loved this about angel food cake as a kid, when it seemed like such a chore to grease a pan. The cake actually needs to stick to the pan so its delicate batter can climb up the sides.

You can find recipes for angel food cake in almost any basic cook book and all over the internet, but I tend to reach for the same recipe my mom used- the one out of the Betty Crocker cookbook. Most recipes I've come across do not vary too much on ingredients and instructions, but unfortunately, some of the ingredients are not in the average pantry. Quite a few recipes call for superfine sugar and most call for cake flour. I don't usually buy superfine sugar, but do keep a stock of powdered sugar. I usually keep cake flour on hand, but have improvised when I've found the box to be almost empty while my eggs whites are whirring in the stand mixer. Cake flour has a lower gluten content than all purpose and will result in a more tender cake that rises a bit higher. If you don't want to buy a box of cake flour for the one cup of flour you need in this recipe, you can substitute 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour plus 2 Tablespoons of corn starch for one cup of cake flour.

Angel Food Cake

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cake flour (or 3/4 all-purpose flour + 2 Tablespoons corn starch)
1 1/2 cups egg whites (10 to 12 depending on size of eggs)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sift together the powdered sugar and flour. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer until foamy. Beat on high speed, gradually add the granulated sugar, then the salt, vanilla, and almond extract. Continue beating until stiff and glossy.

Remove bowl from stand mixer or set hand mixer aside. Using a large spatula, fold 1/4 at a time the powdered sugar and flour mixture into the egg whites just until incorporated. Spread the batter in an ungreased tube pan, cutting through the batter with a clean knife to break up any air pockets.

Bake at 375 degrees until the top springs back when touched, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool cake upside down in pan. If the cake has risen above the cooling prongs, you can balance it on an upside down funnel placed in the center. Remove from pan when fully cooled by running a knife along the outside and center edges of the cake and inverting it onto a serving platter.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


There's nothing like a plate of Madeleines sitting on your counter top under a glass dome. It's like owning a French Bakery and getting to eat all the Madeleines you want for a day or two... that's all the longer they last around here. To me, Madeleines and croissants are the benchmarks for a French Bakery. If they can't do either of those well, then the bakery cannot succeed, or at least shouldn't succeed in my opinion. Important as they are, it is rare that I find a truly fresh, light, flavorful Madeleine. And, so I make my own.

I've tried other flavors like hazelnut and chocolate, but the following recipe for a classic lemon Madeleine is my all-time favorite. It produces a cakey textured cookie that is light and fluffy with just the right hint of lemon. Sprinkling the cookies with powdered sugar strikes the perfect balance as it off-sets the slightly sour lemony taste.


Special equipment: 2 Madeleine pans which make 12 large madeleines each

2 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Butter and flour pans for 24 madeleines and set aside.

In a large bowl or bowl of electric stand mixer, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon peel, and salt. Add flour, beating just until blended, then slowly add cooled melted butter, beating as you add it, just until blended.

Divide the dough amongst the 24 madeleines, using 1 1/2 Tablespoons of dough for each cookie. Bake until puffed in the center and browned around the edges, about 15 minutes, checking after 13 to ensure you do not overbake. Cool 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely before sprinkling with powdered sugar.