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ovember
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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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ctober
20
Leek Bacon and Gruyere Tart


This frenchy-french-french tart has the lusciousness of fall written all over it.  Spectacular for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, it is also glorious with a crisp green salad.  And it freezes really well.  So with it almost taking as much work to make one as to make two, do just that and stock yourself with a fast food gift in your freezer for some bleak mid-winter eve.

This can of course be made vegetarian, and equally good, by omitting the bacon, and substituting two tablespoons of butter, for the bacon fat, for sauteing the leeks.



Leek Bacon and Gruyere Tart
by Catie Schwalb

makes one 9" tart.

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ctober
18
Technique Tuesday: How to Clean Leeks
 

 

[caption id="attachment_3026" align="aligncenter" width="640"]http://www.pitchforkdiaries.com/2011/10/18/technique-tues…o-clean-a-leek/ http://www.pitchforkdiaries.com/2011/10/18/technique-tues…o-clean-a-leek/[/caption]

Giant Musselburgh leeks from our garden.


Though the few nights of just dipping down to a frost have demolished most of the delicate summer produce in our gardens, this time of year signals that our leeks are starting to reach their sweetest.


Cousins of the onion, leeks too are many-layered, and because almost half of the plant grows underground, they have practically spoonfuls of dirt trapped in said layers.  Cleaning them, to avoid an off-putting little bite of grit in your meal, is critical and a bit of a trick.  However, it is also super simple and well worth the time for the reward of this gorgeous flavor-bomb available long into the winter.


HOW TO CLEAN A LEEK


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ctober
03
happycherrytomatomonday.




Though disappearing soon, cherry tomatoes are still adorning the tables of the farmers markets, and a few are hanging on to the vines for dear life in our gardens.

I am trying to take advantage of them now as much as I can, as I know that too shortly I'll be making deals with the devil to have that flavor available to me in more blustery months.  One of my favorite recipes is Roasted Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette, which can also be canned for use later on, and I made sure was on the menu at my wedding.  Another is the outrageously delicious Caramelized Cherry Tomato Tarte Tatin, from the New York Times a few years back, that is so good I felt like I was tasting a cherry tomato for the very first time.

Seize the moment, and get these juicy gems while you can.


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eptember
27
Technique Tuesday: DIY Herbal Tea


It always is the case that this time of year is when I finally start to think about drying and putting away some fresh herbs from the garden.  Maybe it is because I am so busy using them fresh in the previous months, or I'm subconsciously trying to put them away as late as possible to have them fresher longer (or I procrastinate...).  Regardless, it is not until the the temperatures flirt a little with the upper 30s (like it did last week!) (and which can be the kiss of death, literally, for basil and other more delicate herbs) do I seem to motivate to do anything long-term with them.

Along with the weather dipping lower, and Friday's first day of fall, I also start craving warm cups of tea, and, just as big marketing execs would want, start thinking ahead to the holidays.  This project helps satisfy both categories.


Herbs at the Jean-Talon market in Montreal last month.


Giant, and criminally inexpensive, bunches of gorgeous, fragrant, vibrant herbs are still available in the farmers' markets, and until a frost, perhaps in your yard or garden.  Drying an assortment will give you great building blocks for your own herbal tea.  Endlessly customizable, and super-natural, will be far more flavorful than anything that has been sitting on a store shelf for months and months.  And putting away more than you need will also give you the raw materials for a lovely on-the-fly holiday gift.

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{ welcome! }
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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