17 December 2014

Bourbon & Bacon

Do you really need me to say anything?

12 December 2014

The Pastry Queen Christmas

Christmas is upon us and we have yet to feature a Christmas cookbook, so allow us to rectify that oversight.  Many years ago, we featured the Rebecca Rather's first cookbook, The Pastry Queen.  She returned in 2007 with The Pastry Queen Christmas.  

Rather owns the Rather Sweet Bakery and Cafe in the land of Texas.  Like much of Texas, everything is big. Her first cookbook, features on its cover, meringue tarts with meringue that towers over the actual tart.  Because frankly, meringue should run about three or four times as high as the pie it is sitting on.

The book does try to skews toward Christmas, with recipes including peppermint, cranberries, pumpkin, spiced claret and the like, it is really a fine cold weather cookbook.  Yes, Texas stays pretty warm, but go with us on this. It also leans toward the spirit of place, featuring such Tex/Mex faves as Frito pie, quesadillas, sopaipillas, and cowboy coffee.  Combining two traditions offers up some fun ideas for holiday entertaining.

Every holiday season has its signature cake.  That cake that gets baked only once a year.  that cake that disappears in one sitting.  That cake you crave all year long.  For Rather it is a coconut cake.  It is a long and somewhat involved recipe, but one that have heads turning.  Like most of these cakes, Rather's comes from a recipe by her Great-Aunt Molly.  Various cousins have changed the recipe a bit, but this is the one Rather is sticking with.

Christmas Coconut Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk (available canned in the Asian section of most grocery stores, or see Tip)
1/4 cup coconut cream (Coco Lopez)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 large egg whites at room temperature

Whipped Cream Filling

1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons coconut cream (Coco Lopez)
1/2 cup grated fresh coconut (optional, see Tip)


2 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup mini marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 cups unsweetened flaked coconut for decorating


Place an oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and another in the top third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch cake pans, then line each with a parchment paper round. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour; knock out the excess.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt to blend. In a small bowl, stir together the milk, coconut milk, and coconut cream until smooth. Add the flour mixture in 3 increments, alternating with the milk mixture in 2 increments, starting and ending with the flour mixture. After each addition, mix at low speed just to combine the ingredients. Stir in the vanilla. 

Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until evenly blended. Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans.  Set two layers on the top rack and the third on the lower rack. Stagger the cake layers on the oven racks so no layer is directly under another. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean.  Monitor the layers carefully for doneness; each one may be done at different times.  Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then unmold onto wire racks to cool completely. 

To make the whipped cream filling:

Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream on high speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the coconut cream and the fresh coconut, if using. 

To make the frosting:

Whisk the egg whites, sugar, water, cream of tartar, and salt in a large stainless-steel bowl until thoroughly combined. Place the bowl over a saucepan filled with 2 inches of barely simmering water. Using a hand beater or handheld electric mixer, continue beating the egg white mixture for 4 minutes. Add the mini marshmallows in 2 increments while continuing to beat. Wait until the first batch of marshmallows has melted before adding the second. Continue beating for 2 to 3 minutes more, until stiff peaks form. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and continue beating until the frosting is thick enough to spread.
To assemble the cake:
Stack one cake layer on a serving plate and spread the top with half of the whipped cream filling. Repeat with a second layer. Stack the final cake layer on top of the first two and cover the cake’s top and sides with the frosting. Sprinkle the coconut on the top and sides of the cake. 

Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap and store for 1 day at room temperature or up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.


It's challenging to press coconut into the sides of the cake. When pressing the coconut in, the icing invariably sticks to my fingers and mars the frosting's finish. I've discovered that throwing small handfuls of coconut toward the side of the cake makes it adhere quite well—a messy but effective technique for creating a gorgeous-looking cake.


For those who want to follow Aunt Molly's original recipe, here are her directions for extracting coconut meat and liquid from a fresh coconut: "First buy a fresh coconut. To select the best one, shake it to listen for a lot of milk inside. Prepare the coconut by first making a hole or two in one end with a hammer and ice pick. Stand the coconut up over a small bowl or glass measuring cup to catch the milk as it drains out. Next, crack the hard outer shell with a hammer, then pry off the pieces. The inner white coconut meat can then be grated [with a handheld microplane grater]. Refrigerate both the milk and grated coconut until ready to use." 

If you are looking for s showstopping Christmas recipe, this one will do it!

05 December 2014

Never In The Kitchen...

When Company Arrives

When we moved into those sexy, swinging Sixties, everyone wanted to party...and everyone wanted to be at the party.  No one wanted to man the kitchen.  With that in mind, a slew of cookbooks were published to make you a great hostess without spending time in the kitchen.  Theresa Morse's Never In The Kitchen When Company Arrives is just one of those cookbooks.

Morse pulls no punches.  This is not a cookbook that tells you to put on lipstick and order out.  She has a strict game plan that is as viable today as it was in 1964.

It stands to reason that if your kitchen is a well-planned workshop rather than a booby-trap filled with pitfalls, your lot will be an easier one.

A reliable oven...sharp knives...are as vital to a hostess-cook as an oxygen mask to a diver.

"A place for everything and everything in its place."

Open shelves, in tiers along the wall, close to the work space, are better than tranquillizers.

A recipe box is to a cook what a Stillson wrench is to a plumber.

Don't be stingy with your recipes. Give them to anyone who asks for them.

The cocktail interval before dinner not only provides immediate, warming hospitality, but it enables the hostess-cook to serve the equivalent of a first course, which otherwise would be difficult to  manage.

What to serve for that cocktail interval?  How about...

Balls Tartare

1/2 pound top round or sirloin, minced twice
1/2 pound fresh sauerkraut
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
Chopped chives or parsley

Season the meat and form into 24 flat rounds.  Drain the sauerkraut, chop very fine, and add caraway sees.  Place 1/2 teaspoon of this mixture on each meat round and fold the meat over so that it entirely encloses the sauerkraut.  Shape into small balls and roll in finely chopped chive or parsley.  Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.  Have a small glass filled with toothpicks on the platter.

What else is there to say?  How about, "Make mine a double!"  Happy cocktail interval.

02 December 2014


We really wanted a cookbook from Gabrielle Hamilton, so when she signed a book deal, we were ecstatic.  But then she published Blood, Bones, and Butter.  Now that was a great book, but it was a memoir -- without recipes.  So needless to say, we were bummed.  When we found out her second book would, indeed, be a cookbook, Prune,  it made our wish list, immediately.  

When it arrived, it came out of the box pristine, encased in shrink wrap.  That was a problem.  you see, we couldn't bear to open it.  It was so lovely, and new, and wrapped in shrink wrap.  So it sat on the table for weeks until we could stand it no more and tore into it.

Since pink is our signature color, we loved it right away and we do love any book with that elastic band on the side to keep it closed.  (Full disclosure, as much as we love those things, they almost always break, come loose, rip, or stretch out of shape, so really we should have kept the whole thing shrink wrapped!)

The book has all of Hamilton's "don't screw with me" style.  The book is printed to look like it has been bounced around a kitchen for years.  The pages are smudged, their are written notations, and portion conversion on what are supposed to look like torn post-its.  

The recipes are written as though you are in the Prune kitchen and she is telling you how to do the dish.  So it is chatty while being "chefy," as though you are part of "in" joke -- Prune is a restaurant book for a home cook, but we are pretending that you are one of us and here with us at Prune.  Some people might not get the joke.  But if you have read a lot of precious restaurant cookbook and thought to yourself,  "What does this mean?" you will love this book. 

The best way to illustrate this is to look at this recipe.  It has been printed several places with directions that are rather straightforward and boring.  But take a look at how Hamilton explains the dish.  

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

2 1/2 ounces pancetta, in neat  1-inch cubes
4 ounces dried spaghetti, (dried weight)
1-2 egg yolks
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper 
 kosher salt

Evenly scatter cubed raw pancetta into a cold large cast-iron skillet. Set over medium-low flame and render slowly, stirring occasionally until crisp and golden brown on all sides and sitting in significant amount of its own rendered fat, and cubes reduced in size by half.
Transfer to metal 1/6 pan, including fat, and leave in warm area of your station.

Cook spaghetti in a big stockpot of boiling salted water -- stir during cooking to be sure the strands are separated.
When pasta bends without snapping but is still significantly undercooked, drain immediately in a large colander and hose down thoroughly with cold water, running your hands through each strand and making sure you have stopped the cooking process. Pasta needs to be cool to the touch throughout.  Drain very well; store in your reach-in.

For the pick up:

Drop para cooked pasta into boiling water.  Move swiftly from here to finish--pasta only needs 90 seconds--2 minutes at most-- in the reheat.

In clean stainless bowl, put 2 yolks  and a hearty spoonful of  rendered pancetta and some of its fat.      
Sprinkle black pepper over egg and fatty pancetta until  light dusting obscures the yolks.
 Pull hot pasta, drain briefly over pot, turn out onto the yolk/pancetta, letting some of the cooking water drip in, too.
Stir rapidly and vigorously to cook the yolks with the residual heat of the pasta and to coat each strand with egg and fat.
Season with salt and generous/liberal sprinkle of grated parm and continue stirring to evenly distribute cheese and salt.
Make neat spiral in center of pasta bowl as best you can when plating. Plate quickly.

Don't let this sit in the pass.

Given that this is already a bastardy version of real Spaghetti alla Carbonara, pulled together to accommodate the realities of busy brunch and the confines of a sauté station, please take care not to compromise the dish any further than we've already had to make it work in the restaurant setting.

Pay attention to the toothsome was of the pasta – don't get lost in your timing and let this just boil away in the pickup until it is flabby and bloated and disgusting.

Don't "creamy up" the yolk and parm with extra hot pasta water or extra cheese or by adding the cheese early so that it melts – sometimes I have been dismayed to see it go out looking like creamy white pasta Alfredo.

Ideally, we want the strands slick with yellow, eggy egg yolk and smoky, salty, uriney pancetta fat, with all the granules of sweet, nutty, grated parm clinging to the strands. You want to see the black pepper, taste the floralness of it, and feel the warm heat of it in the dish – but don't obliterate.
Ask yourself what other chef you know that would describe pancetta as "uriney." We do love Hamilton.
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