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pril
03
Kitchen Tip: Get an oven thermometer.


 

I get a lot of "cooking SOS!" text, emails and calls from friends and relatives.  I guess it goes along with my culinary Le Grand Diplôme. But, I love it and often learn something myself.

Recently a friend complained that her pumpkin pie was taking much longer to bake, and fully set in the middle, than the recipe had stated.  After hearing that she hadn't substituted any ingredients, had used the suggested sized baking pan, and hadn't doubled the recipe, I suspected the culprit could be the oven temperature.

We turn the oven dial to the temperature we want, wait for it to heat up, and assume that the oven is precisely calibrated and spot on with it's temperature.  Even if it is a 20+ year old appliance.  Sort of a big gamble, when you are trying for a specific target finished temperature, or delicate baking results.

In culinary school each of our ovens at our stations in the classroom had an oven thermometer, which we would check religiously at the start of cooking, and adjust the temperature dial accordingly.  We have a really good gas oven in our kitchen at home which always runs 50 degrees F too hot, so I go by the thermometer and adjust the dial as needed.

Oven thermometers are cheap and a life saver.  Or a pie saver.  Or a roast saver.  Or a souffle saver. (you get the idea).



 

 


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pril
01
Preserved Meyer Lemons
pitchfork diaries

April 1st.  The "I think I can, I think I can..." continues.  I think I can make it to the end of this relentless Catskill's winter.  Right now, even as I type this, one day after we were admiring deep purple crocuses at my mother's for Easter, there are wide swirls of snow flurries mocking me outside the windows over my desk.

But the garden seeds have been ordered.  Seedlings will be started shortly.  And our neon pink rhubarb stalks have just broken through the cold muddy ground.  And chives.  And oregano.  Maybe ramps next.

In the meantime, while I am fantasizing about warm weather cooking, getting to take daily advantage of vibrant fresh produce, with their bright colors and refreshing textures, I'm tucking away some other favorite produce, soon to be gone until the late fall. (more…)


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ovember
30
Great Aunt Margaret’s Chocolate Frosting


Aunt Margaret (right) and my great grandmother, on my mother's graduation day from kindergarten. Their three vastly different expressions are curious, and priceless.


My son just celebrated his very first birthday.  I was naturally flooded with an enormous range of huge emotions.  But, instead of being very weepy and nostalgic for the entire month prior, staring at him constantly, willing time to stop, I instead funneled all of my sentimentalism into obsessing about his very first birthday cake.


This process was not unlike trying to make each precious decision about our wedding.  Would this be the best choice, that I will then look back on in a decade and remember with zero regrets and nothing but fondness?  Or even more, is this the best choice of all of the options I have entertained in my mind imagining this day for the last 3+ decades?


Of course, an impossible assignment.


But wanting it to be a perfect day and first cake experience for him, I pored over old family recipes scribbled in pencil on cocoa-powdered index cards.  My  first thought was my dad's carrot cake recipe.  It is spectacular.  But I kept looking, and came across again Aunt Margaret's Chocolate Frosting.  It is the perfect, dark, rich, everything your yellow birthday cake screams for recipe.  It is one of the top three recipes in our family's repertoire.  Certainly worthy of a first birthday party.


I then pictured him smashing his first piece of his first birthday cake into his face with his chubby hands, and pictured dark brown Jackson Pollock's covering the walls of my grandparents' condo.  (I also then remembered a first birthday I attended where the cake was red velvet, leaving the kid and high chair looking like something out of a slasher film.)


So opting for a more neutral hued confection, I finally settled on the dense-banana-cream cheese-miracle that is Amy's Bread's Monkey Cake, a cake so good a dear friend recently had it for her wedding cake.  Also, twelve years ago I lived right around the corner from the original Amy's Bread in Manhattan with my brother for a year, and it is a super special part of that neighborhood.


Ok, so what's the point?


The point is that he's one, and loved the cake, and mostly likely would have loved any cake.  I loved obsessing over what to make, baking it for him, whipping the frosting, and seeing him literally lick the plate.  I also loved that it was an opportunity to really go back to my cookbooks, my notes and my recipe cards and rediscover old favorites.


And work on something that I was excited to share with the people I love.  That, after all, is exactly why I cook.





Old Fashioned Dark Chocolate Frosting
By Catie Baumer Schwalb

This is my version of a classic homemade deep chocolate frosting recipe that has been handed down in my family for generations. Among other things, I have added a bit more salt to really give it a salted dark chocolate flavor.  Feel free to cut back on the salt, and adjust it to taste if that's not what you're looking for.  Either way, it is rich, moist, and wonderfully glossy.

3 ounces (3 squares) of unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons of cornstarch
1 cup of sugar
4 ounces of unsalted butter
1 ½ cups whole milk
½ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla

In a heavy bottomed pot, gently melt the chocolate, stirring frequently.

When smooth, add all remaining ingredients, whisking vigorously to combine.

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, continuing to whisk, to combine evenly. The mixture will thicken considerably once it reaches a boil.

Remove the pot from the heat, scrape the frosting into a bowl or container and allow to cool. Stirring from time to time will help it cool more quickly and evenly. The frosting will continue to thicken as it cools.

Frost or pipe as desired.

Note: Instead of vanilla, you can add other extracts or liqueur for a subtly different flavored frosting. Orange, hazelnut, almond and mint all work very nicely.





 


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ovember
19
Put it on Toast. 25 ways to start Thanksgiving.
Help!   Thanksgiving is 72 hours away and while you have been dog-earing cookbooks for weeks, shopped the weekend before, and even managed to avoid the elbow to your shoulder by the feisty octogenarian who was going to in NO WAY let you have the store's last quart of whipping cream (this actually happened to me in graduate school), you just realized that you totally forgot to plan for something to occupy your relatives while you get the food ready for the table.  And so inevitably they will end up equally split between hovering directly in your path in your tiny overheated kitchen or rehashing the recent election and whatswrongwiththiscountry requiring a last-minute rearrangement of the pilgrim place cards.  Again.

Oh, right, and you have overzealously planned an almost too complicated multi-course meal culled from your favorite food blogs, and have no time left in the schedule or room in the oven to make another darn thing.

So, put it on toast.  Or bread, or thick oat-y crackers or toasted wedges of pita.

Here are a bunch of ideas, some quicker than others, for holiday-worthy crostini.  If you have the time, or children with idle hands, these all look pretty assembled and arranged on a platter, particularly the repetition of the shape and colors.  However, if you are pressed for time, just put all of the elements on a platter in small bowls with a heap of sliced bread rounds and your guests will love getting all interactive.

If you can manage, you can slice say a baguette on a deep angle to make long elegant oval slices, maybe brush it with olive oil or rub it with garlic and toast it in a low oven on a cookie sheet.  Or grill it quickly to get nice grill marks.  But again, fresh sliced good crusty bread is great just as is.  Also check with local food markets to see if any have frozen par-baked baguettes that you can finish in the oven yourself.

Here are several ideas, but definitely come up with your own with what you have on hand.  Just try to mix tastes and textures.  Layer something creamy/mushy on the bottom so it all sticks to the bread, and maybe top with something crunchy or colorful, or fresh herbs.

Gobble gobble.

 




Good fresh ricotta (make your own!) + lemon zest + chopped parsley + pepper + olive oil

Ricotta + fresh sliced fig + honey

Ricotta + roasted red peppers + a basil leaf

Ricotta + Parsley Pesto (parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt)

Creamy gorgonzola + sliced green apple + honey + chopped pecans

Brie + apricot jam + a basil leaf

Goat cheese + mushroom duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms + shallots sauteed with butter, thyme and wine)

Goat cheese + kalamata olive tapenade (pitted olives, parsley, lemon zest & juice, 1 anchovy fillet and olive oil in a food processor)

Goat cheese + diced roasted beets + chopped toasted hazelnuts + parsley

Cream cheese + smoked salmon + thinly sliced cucumber + sliver of red onion + lemon zest

cream cheese + smoked trout + thinly sliced cucumber + sprig of fresh dill

warm lobster or crab meat + melted butter (particularly good on brioche or soft mini rolls)

crab meat + diced avocado + diced cucumber + diced fresh red pepper + lime juice + cilantro

olive oil drizzled on the bread + Avocado mashed with lemon juice + a few hot red pepper flakes

Avocado + shrimp-cilantro salad (chopped shrimp with cilantro pesto)

Edamame humus (shelled cooked edamame pureed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt)

Chickpea humus + thinly sliced marinated carrots or roasted cherry tomatoes (Ruth Reichl's hummus recipe is etherial.)

White bean humus (pureed white beans with olive oil, lemon, parsley + salt) + chard sauteed with garlic

Baba Ganoush + crumbed feta cheese + sliced roasted red peppers

spinach or chard sauteed with diced onions, when cool, mixed with crumbed feta and fresh dill

Generous spread of great butter + thinly sliced radish + sprinkle of sea salt (trust me!)

Rub toast with a halved fresh tomato top with thinly sliced jamon imberico or prosciutto

Romesco sauce + chopped grilled scallions

Thinly sliced rare roast beef + horseradish cream + watercress



And this roasted squash on toast recipe from Jean-Georges Vongerichten is next on my list to try.

 


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ovember
16
Four Fantastic Thanksgiving Hors d’Oeuvres


I have a really lovely huge piece in the current issue of the beautiful Green Door Magazine.  It is on hors d'oeuvres for Thanksgiving and fall gatherings--including southeast asian pickled shrimp, turnip soup, mini endive salads, and stuffed fresh figs.

Issues can be purchased online, in either print or digital, and some of my food piece can be found here.

It even has Vincent D'Onofrio on the cover.

Happy cooking.


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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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