Our daughter in Los Angeles invited us to join her family for Easter. The visit would include holiday activities along with birthday celebrations, real estate adventures, and lots of cooking. On Saturday, the ritual dying of Easter eggs was completed. At dawn, the traditional Easter egg hunt was finished in record time.
Easter breakfast was an event that we could never have experienced in Santa Fe. The meal included something that could only be enjoyed in a few places across the country – most notably California and Florida. Our daughter’s husband and son went out into the backyard to harvest oranges for freshly squeezed juice. Meanwhile, she stirred up a delicious coffee cake and fried some link sausages. She served it all with a fresh berry and kiwi fruit compote. Here’s the recipe for the coffee cake, copied from her hand-written recipe card.
Oranges straight from the tree
Freshly squeezed orange juice
Coffee cake just out of the oven
Ready to serve
Orange juice and coffee cake
Special California breakfast
Sour Cream Coffee Cake
- ¾ cup flour
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
- 1 cup pecans, chopped
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter + 2 tablespoons for greasing pan
- 4 large eggs
- 1½ cups sour cream
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 2¼ cups flour
- 1¼ cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoons salt
- In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, ¼ cup brown sugar, and cinnamon. Process for 15 seconds. Transfer 1¼ cups of the mixture to small bowl, and stir in the remaining brown sugar. Set aside for filling.
- Add butter and chopped pecans to the mixture remaining in the food processor. Pulse to a coarse pebbly consistency. Set aside for topping.
- Grease a 10 inch tube pan. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, one cup of sour cream, and vanilla.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and remaining ½ cup of sour cream. Beat on low until the mixture resembles wet sand, about 1½ minutes. Increase speed to medium and beat for 10 seconds. Scrape down.
- Lower the mixer speed to medium low and add the egg and sour cream mixture in three additions. Increase speed to medium high and beat for about 1 minute, until light and fluffy.
- Using a rubber spatula, spread 2 cups of batter on the bottom of the pan, smoothing the surface. Sprinkle evenly with ¾ cup filling. Repeat and then spread remaining batter over top. Sprinkle with topping.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the cake is firm to touch and a skewer comes out clean. Cool in pan on cooling rack for 30 minutes. Then invert onto plate, removing the baking pan. Invert again onto the cooling rack, and cool to room temperature. Serves 12-16
I have been attending a creative writing class for several years. The group meets once a week and is led by a young woman who is an incredibly gifted poet. A new group enrolls every four to six weeks, and although there are always new members, there are several regulars who have become good friends. The class includes a professional actress whose writing is filled with beautiful language and images; a retired Orthodox priest who tells and writes wonderful stories about his adventures among Native American tribes throughout the West; a scientist who writes passionately about the environment and climate change; a retired journalist who makes us laugh with his stories about growing up; and a political activist who has a famously unfinished novel about feral pythons in the Everglades.
Our current series of workshops comes to a close this week. I thought some kind of snack would be a good way to say goodbye to all of the current participants. It seemed to me that nothing would be more appropriate for the group than some Proustean Madeleines. We won’t have any tea to dip them in and will have to make do with bottled water. I decided, though, that maybe rather than ordinary vanilla-flavored cookies the group might enjoy some made with Mandarin orange (actually “Halos” from my refrigerator) and poppy seed. Here’s the recipe. It is amazingly easy, and the only challenge is to find a French Madeleine pan. Never mind if you don’t have or can’t find one. Muffin tins will serve as fine substitutes. The batter is, after all, a French Genoise
Mandarin-Poppy Seed Madeleines
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- zest from one clementine
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- 1 tablespoon orange liqueur
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- 1 cup flour
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly + 2 tablespoons for preparing Madeleine molds
- juice from one clementine, strained
- ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Add the sugar and orange zest. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture on high speed until it is foamy and has expanded at least three times in volume, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the salt, vanilla extract, orange blossom water, orange liqueur, and poppy seeds.
- Pour the flour into a large sieve, and sift about half of the flour into the batter. Fold in. Then add the 8 tablespoons of melted butter, and stir to incorporate. Sift in the remaining flour and fold in until well mixed. Let the batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, heat the oven to 400°F and prepare the Madeleine mold by brushing the remaining melted butter into the mold cups, making sure that the surfaces are well coated.
- By tablespoonfuls, transfer the batter into the prepared Madeleine molds. There should be enough for 24 individual Madeleines.
- Bake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes or until the edges of the Madeleines are golden brown. Remove from the oven, loosen the edges of the individual cakes with a fork, and transfer to a cooling rack.
- Prepare the glaze by mixing the clementine juice and confectioner’s sugar to form a smooth liquid about the consistency of heavy cream.
- With a pastry brush, paint one side of each cooled Madeleine with the glaze. Let rest until the glaze has firmed, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container for up to 2 days.
I’ve been home alone for several days. Times like that call for lots of restaurant visits or eating out of cans and making a lot of popcorn. They are also times to toss together whatever leftovers there are in the refrigerator before it’s time to toss them out permanently. This recipe is inspired by that latter need. It turned out to be a fair approximation of the real thing, but I am certain that Marcella Hazan is looking down and howling with disdain. This recipe should serve one or two persons.
Bogus Spaghetti Bolognese
Bogus spaghetti Bolognese
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 rib celery, diced
- 8 peeled “baby” carrots, cut crosswise in thin coins
- 4 medium crimini mushrooms, sliced
- ½ cup packaged diced boneless ham
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup dry white vermouth
- 1 cup mixed vegetable juice (V-8 or equivalent)
- 8 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- good pinch of sugar
- 1/3 to 1/2 pound of dry spaghetti
- Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent but not browned. Stir in the celery and carrots. Sauté for another 5 minutes. Then stir in the mushroom and ham, continuing to cook until the mushrooms are soft.
- Stir in the milk and bring to a low boil. Cook until the milk has been almost completely reduced, but be careful not to burn. Stir in the vermouth and simmer until the wine has almost completely reduced.
- Stir in the tomato juice and tomatoes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in the nutmeg and sugar. Simmer for another 15 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and slightly falling apart. If needed, add more liquid.
- While the tomatoes are simmering, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook to al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes. With tongs or a spaghetti tool, transfer the strands of cooked spaghetti directly into the sauce, mixing thoroughly until the ratio of sauce and pasta is to your taste.
- Top with grated Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.
There were a few more items in our fairly bare cupboard when we returned from our Colorado visit. Besides, I was holding off a trip to the grocery store for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I felt a bit lazy.
I found two russet potatoes, and baked potatoes came to mind. They are certainly easy, but they also seemed a little boring. Twice-baked potatoes use almost exactly the same ingredients, but somehow they seem a little more festive, so that’s what I decided to do.
Just out of the oven
Ready to eat
- 2 large russet potatoes, scrubbed
- vegetable shortening
- 2 slices bacon
- 4 crimini mushrooms, chopped coarsely
- 4 tablespoons butter + more for the topping
- ¼ cup cream
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 1 small shallot, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
- salt and pepper
- ¼ cup bread crumbs
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Rub the potatoes all over with vegetable shortening, pierce on both sides in several places with a kitchen fork and place on a baking rack in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, turning once halfway through the baking. Remove from the oven and cool until the potatoes are easy to handle.
- Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, and with a large spoon, scoop out the flesh, leaving about ¼ inch rim intact. Try not to pierce the skin. Transfer the scooped out flesh to a large bowl. Mash coarsely with a table fork.
- In the meantime, sauté the bacon in a small pan over medium-low heat until crisp. Drain the bacon on several layers of paper towelling and crumble when cooled. Set aside.
- Drain all but about 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat in the still hot pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until cooked through. Drain and set aside.
- Melt the butter, and stir it into the mashed potatoes along with the cream and sour cream. Then add the shallot, garlic and Gruyère cheese. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Divide the mixture evenly among the hollowed potato shells. Smooth the tops, paint with more melted butter using a pastry brush. Sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
- Bake in the middle of the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes. Then increase the oven temperature to 400°F and continue to bake until the tops of the stuffed potatoes are browned, about 10 more minutes. Watch closely to prevent burning.
- Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Two potato halves make a light dinner or lunch. One potato half is a good side dish.