Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Five Hour Meal Viewed in Three Minutes

I posted a few days ago about the first Ballet Cook Book dinner.  Antonio Carmena, guest chef and soloist for the New York City Ballet, reveals yet another talent -- video producer.  And so, for your viewing pleasure, I'm posting his very fun video of our adventure.  Enjoy!  (I only wish the cooking had gone that quickly in real life.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoEhwxkrBkE

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Biggest Loser (on eBay at least)


Would you bid $180.00 for three old recipe boxes?  Someone did tonight, on eBay.  My maximum bid was $89, and I thought that was crazy high.  I found out I lost the auction when I emerged from the subway after work. It was a fierce bidding war in the final moments, the drama unfolding while I was underground traveling from the Lower East Side to Park Slope.

I wonder: Who are these people and why do they want these boxes so much?  It used to be that boxes filled with hand-written recipes on eBay would sell for $10 or $20, or sometimes not at all.  Gone are the days I used to find them at flea markets and antique shops (or the junktique stores that I favor) for just a few dollars, so eBay is my only (and increasingly dwindling) option. While $180 sets a record, it's not unusual that the boxes command for $50 or $70 or more on eBay -- and it's a crap shoot as, unlike at a flea market, one can't really examine the contents.  I recently paid $28 for a box and it yielded --- drum roll here....just one worthwhile recipe (a one-step pound cake, which I'll make soon).

Granted, these recipe boxes are rare.  Who these days doesn't print recipes off the internet, from Epicurious and other sites?  My own modern recipe collection consists of these, stored in a file folder, kept for a while and then discarded when a newer version appears online.  So perhaps their value is couched in the notion that maintaining a recipe file box is a lost art and these are the last of a dying breed.

Maybe my competitors for these boxes are simply seeking what I am: A glimpse (and taste) of the past revealed in some wonderful combination of ingredients and method, a gem of a recipe that somehow was lost to time.

Nostalgia is a powerful sentiment -- so many of us think the past was/is better, that Grandma did it right.  Kind of  like "the grass is always greener" across time and not space.  Woody Allen's recent film Midnight in Paris tried to debunk that thought process.  When the movie's main character got his wish to live in the Paris of the 1920s -- his idea of perfection, he discovered that those living in the 1920s wished they were living in Le Belle Epoque, the Paris of the 1890s.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Exciting News! (And three food myths busted!)


So happy to report that A Cake Bakes In Brooklyn is featured in a six-page article in the March issue of the Ladies' Home Journal.  Here's a link to the online story, but trust me, it is MUCH better in the print version of the magazine (and I'm saying this as as the author of a web log).  The March issue, with Kate Winslet on the cover, is on the newsstand now and is the magazine's debut issue of its new look and focus which has had the magazine world buzzing (and buzzing) for a while now.


It all began with an email in July from Jessica Brown, features editor of the LHJ.  Would I be interested in having them run an illustrated story about my blog?  Would I!

The photo shoot was scheduled and I was especially excited because they were sending a hair and make-up artist (a groomer as they said, for "light grooming.")  At 8 a.m. that morning, a truck pulled up and the driver unloaded about 20 boxes of props and two big folding tables.  Then, the parade of people began:  The photo director, the photographer and his assistant, the food editor, the food stylist and her assistant, the prop stylist and her assistant.  



There was a lot of activity in the dining room and kitchen (above), so I went upstairs with the fabulous make-up artist, Marco Testa, where he performed his magic.  Below, is about half of what he brought. This wasn't going to be a "light grooming," which made me very happy!


And now the dish and myth-busting:
1) Food used in photo shoots is not real.
Not true, at least not in this case.  No Elmer's Glue standing in for milk or other similar tricks were used.  All the desserts were real (and not sprayed with anything).  After each cake or cookie was shot, we all dug in.  Yum!  LHJ didn't have me do the baking; instead all the desserts for the photo shoot were made by Cyd McDowell.who I liked immediately, even before discovering that she's from northeast Ohio too.

2) Kitchen disasters only happen to amateurs.
While Marco was applying the tenth coat of mascara to my lashes, we heard a crash in the kitchen, and then an apologetic "I'm sorry."  Turns out that the tray of date bars was dropped while being removed from the oven.  But unlike us amateurs who would simply sit down with a glass of scotch and give up, these professionals simply began to prepare another batch.  Cyd explained that they bring lots of extras of everything, just for occasions like this.

3) Recipes aren't tested.
Again, not true.  LHJ tested all of my recipes and made adjustments so that anyone can make them and the results can be repeated (unlike my blog where I make everything just one time).  The ones published in the magazine are perfect.  Also, I was surprised at the level of fact-checking done on the story.  Very impressive, indeed.

By the end of the day (and it was well after 6 p.m.), we were all the best of friends, passing around cups of chocolate pudding, sharing the wealth (and a single spoon!).  I think they appreciated that I didn't care what they did to my house and I appreciated the story (and my glamorous make-over).  When the crew departed, everything was back in place and Cyd left all the "extras" like lemons, pie crusts and enough Crisco to last a lifetime.

I hope you enjoy the magazine.  Jessica Brown did a wonderful interview and article, really capturing the spirit of what I do.  I couldn't be happier.

Below are some pictures DH and I took of that day.
The crew re-arranging my kitchen, above.


Photographer Seth Smoot (in plaid shirt) took some pretty amazing photos for the magazine.

Cyd "styling" a slice of cake.  The photo  director and food editor wanted "a few more crumbs" on the plate.

Shooting each baked good took hours! Fascinating to watch them work.

Marco, giving me a little touch-up.

Just one table of props, above.  There were many more items, and some I wished I could keep they were so nice. They also used some of my own kitchen items, including a stovetop espresso maker I got as a wedding gift nearly 30 years ago, an old damaged spatula that I can't bear to throw out because it works so well, and some butter spreaders I got at a stoop sale for 50 cents.
From left, Chelsea Zimmer, Cyd's very talented assistant (and who lives right down the block from me), Tara Bench, LHJ food and entertaining editor extraordinaire, me, and Cyd McDowell, the incredible and fun food stylist.  Check out her outfit! Clare Lissaman, the photo director, was MIA for this picture, but you can see her in the first kitchen shot (fourth photo from the top) at the far left, where it looks like she's pulling out her hair, but I can assure you she was not.  An absolute professional, she directed every shot beautifully.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Banana Sweet: Dancing in the Kitchen


Last night, my house was the venue for the first in a series of dinners cooked from 1966 The Ballet Cook Book by Tanaquil  Le Clercq.  The four course meal -- all based on recipes contributed to the book by the legendary George Balanchine -- ended on a high note with a surprisingly wonderful dessert called Banana Sweet.  (More on that later.)


Ryan Wenzel, dance critic of The Brooklyn Rail, author of the blog Bodies Never Lie and, by day, online communications manager of Henry Street Settlement (he is busy!), scored a copy of the rare volume on eBay and conceived the idea of the dinner series.  I signed on immediately.  He enlisted the uber charming Antonio Carmena, soloist for the New York City Ballet and graduate of the French Culinary Institute (my alma mater) to chef this dinner (and hopefully all the others -- he is an amazing cook!)

Because Antonio had to perform in a matinee of Romeo and Juliet that afternoon, Ryan and his ever-helpful friend Jeff Gageby arrived early to help prep the menu (and to sample the evening's alcoholic beverages, which always makes kitchen work more pleasant), especially the tedious task of peeling potatoes, as Jeff (below) quickly discovered.  I doubt his stint in the kitchen will dissuade him from his chosen diet of take-out meals.


Prep we did, and then -- near disaster!  Upon careful reading of the blini recipe, we discovered the instruction: Let dough rise for five hours!  just an hour or so before we were set to serve. (This is why I always advise people to read a recipe through before starting, advice I obviously don't follow.)  Having little choice (and a lot of caviar for the blini on hand), we forged ahead.  And I'm happy to say the blini were, if not perfect, quite delicious and everyone's favorite.  Sadly, I neglected to photograph these beauties (let's just say we were all starving at that point and had eating, not photos, on our mind) but you can see some guests enjoying them, below.


I do have a picture of Antonio (who electrified the stage when I saw him perform on Wednesday night in Russian Seasons) preparing them.


And, below is a shot of Antonio and Ryan with the entree.


And a close up. Notice how Antonio sprinkled herbs, used citrus garnish and molded the kasha for an especially elegant presentation of this essentially "white plate" meal.  Antonio's partner, the very talented performer Michael Pereira, said the food was reminiscent of the boiled cuisine of northern Portugal, on which he was raised. But, being true to Balanchine, we followed the Russian-inspired recipe exactly.  (Blandness can transcend borders, I guess.)


And one more photo, and then -- dessert!
Pictured, left to right, are attendees of the first ever Ballet Cook Book dinner series: Jeff, Antonio, Ryan, Evan Namerow, a non-profit marketeer, a graduate student, former dancer and current author of the wonderful dance blog, DancingPerfectlyFree (she's as busy as Ryan!), me, and Michael, who also filmed part of the event. This was our dress rehearsal -- future dinners will feature a special guest of honor. And then, the pressure will be on!


Let's just say that we didn't have high hopes for Banana Sweet.  But it turned out to be the perfect ending to our meal.  It's quite simple to prepare and really delicious.

Banana Sweet
Bananas
Butter
Sugar
Lemon juice
White seedless grapes
Apricot jam
Sour cream
Slivered almonds

Peel and slice bananas.  Fry in butter, sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice.  Add grapes and heat through. Transfer to serving dish and spread with apricot jam.  Top with sour cream sprinkled with sugar and almonds.
Note: We roasted the almonds to bring out their flavor and decided to dispense with the sour cream (having had our fill of that ingredient with the blinis.)

Special thanks to the DH.  All the "good" pictures were taken by him, despite his being a bit under the weather.  Thanks, hon!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wacky Cake: Baking as a Magic Show

Wacky Cake is the culinary equivalent of a magic trick.  Improbable, unusual and impressive -- and it shakes up your belief in reality:  How in the heck can it possibly work?  It defies all baking logic and especially that troubling belief  that "baking is a science."

This is a cake that anyone cake make and is especially fun to make with children.  The dry ingredients are placed in the baking pan and then three holes are "dug"  -- one for vinegar, one for melted butter, and one for vanilla.  Everything is then mixed in the baking pan -- you needn't dirty even one bowl!

I found this recipe in Olive Facey's collection. I suspect Wacky Cake was invented in 1954 when a mad scientist, a fourth grader and Peg Bracken (author of the I Hate to Cook Book) were locked in a kitchen together -- it's that wacky.  And it's really pretty good, chocolate-y with a moist crumb.  Who knew? Magic is a wonderful thing sometimes.


Sift the dry ingredients together (above) then place in an 8 inch square baking pan, and create three holes.


Pour melted butter, vinegar and vanilla in each of the holes.


Pour water over the baking pan, mix together and pop in the oven.




Friday, February 10, 2012

Got Mayo? Bake a Cake!

Yes, these Valentine's Day cupcakes are made with mayonnaise and, yes, they are delicious and you should make them for yourself or someone you love (or hopefully) both.  And they are perfect  topped with Pink Perfection Frosting.

I thought these were ideal for Valentine's Day because all the ingredients are placed in a single bowl, in no particular order, and then mixed all together.  It's the relationship equivalent of  putting all your love cards on the table, not withholding emotions, not mixing the butter and sugar first, then adding the eggs and slowly adding the flour.  It's jumping off the cliff and hoping you land in love.  I did that with DH nearly 30 years ago (after surviving some heartbreaking game playing relationships) and it worked out pretty well.

And so, without further ado (and because I'm traveling and writing this on a frustratingly ancient computer), I bring you the photos for this.  Note that the frosting is from a c. 1940s or 1950s Ladies Home Journal recipe box.  (Pick up the March issue of that magazine to see a wonderful feature about this blog-- more about that next week.)

Production notes:  Although the recipe calls for Miracle Whip, I used Hellman's.  And the frosting can be applied without a pastry bag -- just smooth on with a knife or small spatula.  Mayonnaise cakes are a classic -- Rose Levy Berenbaum in The Cake Bible includes a recipe that she found written on a 1919 postcard!  Since mayonnaise is basically eggs and oil, it replaces the eggs and butter.

If you really want to be a sweetheart (and don't have time to bake or buy a gift), you can consider making a Valentine's Day donation to Henry Street Settlement, and we'll send an eCard to your honey telling them of your thoughtfulness.



Below is the mis en place for the cake. 










Sunday, February 5, 2012

Frying Pan Cookies - Perfect Superbowl Snack



Yes, these are really made in a frying pan -- no need for an oven. And they're perfect for the Superbowl because, although they're delicious, they're not beautiful.  But no one will notice their homely appearance -- all eyes will be on the Giants and Patriots.

If you like Rice Krispies treats (and, except for DH, who doesn't), you will like these.  I suspect Frying Pan Cookies are precursor (rather than a derivative) of the original Rice Krispies treats because of the method (using an egg-sugar mixture as the "glue" instead of marshmallows).  

Illustrated instructions below; recipe at the end.

Place the eggs, butter, sugar and chopped dates in a 12-inch frying pan.


Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, for seven minutes.


After a while, the mixture will cook down and come together.




Add the Rice Krispies and chopped walnuts right in the frying pan and stir to combine.  Dump the entire mixture out onto a piece of parchment or wax paper that has been sprinkled with coconut flakes.



Roll up in the wax paper, using your hands to form a long, smooth roll.  Remove the wax paper and allow the roll to cool before slicing into "cookies (or else it will crumble, but will still be delicious). Enjoy!