November 24, 2010

Meyer Lemon Curd

'Tis the season for holiday parties! Don't worry, this is not a Christmas recipe. I do not believe in starting any kind of official Christmas preparation until the day after Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving much too much to steal any of its attention (as you might imagine, Christmas ads that now begin in AUGUST drive me a little insane).

However, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a month-long whirlwind of activity for most of us, much of which involves (if we're popular enough) kind invitations into our friends' homes. No one likes to be the lump who shows up empty-handed, and I've heard rumors of hosts who prefer not to receive a bottle of wine from every guest. I'm still not sure I believe them, but it's best to be prepared.

Seriously, though, it's always nice to bring something you made yourself, and a jar of this lemon curd is perfect for a pseudo-last-minute hostess gift. It's thoughtful and delicious, and it doesn't take up much space (let's be honest, who has spare room in the fridge between Thanksgiving and New Year?). And what better way to thank your hard-working host, who has probably spent the last few days scrubbing, cooking, and promptly re-scrubbing, than a hassle-free breakfast treat the morning after the shindig? And if you don't tell them it took less than 15 minutes, I won't either. Unless I forgot to bring something, in which case all bets are off.

Pictured: not a good hostess gift.
Even for someone who "doesn't want" wine.

Since I'm hosting Thanksgiving myself, I actually don't have to part with my jar. I just happened to come home from the farmer's market last weekend with a bag of plump, sweet-smelling Meyer lemons that were begging to be turned into something lovely and delicious. The kitchen smelled divine as soon as I cut into the first one, and the final product is pretty fantastic. Pale yellow and not too sweet, it's a buttery, rich spread that I can't wait to slather on a biscuit for breakfast tomorrow (although so far, I have very much enjoyed eating it straight from the jar with a spoon). Somewhere between a creamy jelly and a tart custard, I plan on enjoying it both for dessert and breakfast. This hostess gift pulls double-duty. And of course, you can't really go wrong throwing in a nice cabernet for good measure.

November 15, 2010

Crispy, Exciting Spaghetti Squash

I have two memories of spaghetti squash:

1) When we were kids, we had it for dinner on the deck one summer. As a longtime spaghetti lover, I was skeptical. Really guys? Some weird vegetable instead of pasta? Sounds a lot like the time Dad tried to trick me into eating anchovies. It was delicious, though. Crispy, a little crunchy, and a lot exciting.

2) My sophomore year at Ohio State, in my first kitchen that wasn't Mom's, I tried to recreate the magic. It was the first year that I made any real attempts at cooking, and I was confident that it would be fantastic. The internet told me to microwave it. I don't remember what seasonings were involved, but I do remember that it was mushy, bland, and disappointing.

Not the most glamorous vegetable, is it?

Fast forward to the present. I'm reaching for a butternut squash, and I lock eyes with a box of spaghetti squash. I decide that I'm up to the challenge. A few things have changed since I was nineteen. For one, it's been years since I could say, "I'm a teenager, I'm invincible" (Do you guys feel old sometimes?). But more importantly, I've done a few more things in the kitchen, and I no longer consider pasta with boiled broccoli and jarred sauce to be my signature dish (that's embarrassing to remember). I do still get much of my cooking advice from the internet, but I know to read the comments for helpful tips such as, "This is gross. Don't eat it."

I had to fake confidence when I got home, because the boy is around the food-maturity level of my skeptical childhood self (Vegetables? Weird. Will you make me regular spaghetti?). "It'll be great," I told him. "Crispy and crunchy and exciting. You'll love it." He didn't look confident leaving the kitchen, but to be fair, I do sometimes trick him like my dad used to trick me (mostly I add vegetables in unexpected places. I had to stop adding them underneath cheese layers; he said it was much too sneaky).

The verdict? Savory and flavorful, just a touch crispy. Even the boy was pleased. The texture is perfect, and the parmesan and garlic somehow magic a lone vegetable into something rich and satisfying. It's delightful on its own, but I like to serve it with spaghetti sauce cooked with onion, sauteed just long enough to mellow the flavor but with a little crunch and bite left in it. I've been enjoying big bowls of this with a big hunk of bread for dinner periodically for the past couple weeks, and I figured right before Thanksgiving is the perfect time to pass it on.

November 6, 2010

Birthday Cake with Chocolate-Cinnamon Whipped Frosting

How do you tell that you're looking at a grown-up cake? The recipe specifically requests that the bourbon you choose be at least 80 proof.

That's a cake'll put hair on your chest.

It was Erik's birthday yesterday, and a long-standing tradition in our relationship is that I make him a birthday cake and also ruin it in some comically ridiculous way. Some examples: Forgetting to add the egg (delicious, but crumbly and impossible to frost), buttercream frosting so thick that it literally held the cake shape after you ate the cake out from under it (that cake was also delicious, though), and a layer cake held together with chopsticks (again, delicious but ugly).

Traditions aside, I managed to avoid disasters this time around. The cake was pretty tasty, rich and dense, although I think it needed more chocolate to balance out the kick of bourbon. It was easy to make and perfectly moist, so I would definitely make it again, just tweaking the flavor profile a bit. The flavors really mellow after a couple days. I made it a day early, but it takes two for everything to come together. The only changes I made were halving the recipe (12 servings seems a bit much for two people) and adding a few dashes of cinnamon, so I'm just going to send you to the original recipe, in case you're interested:
Gourmet 1999 Chocolate Mud Cake.

So the cake was a little disappointing on the birthday, but delicious the day after. It's a two-day kind of cake. The frosting, though, was beyond amazing right from the get-go. Around 5 o'clock on Friday, I was trying to figure out why I was so damn hungry, and I realized that I had accidentally had nothing but frosting for lunch. I also had a little stomachache, which made a lot more sense after this realization.

Light and fluffy, this frosting is almost as easy to make as plain whipped cream, although it does dirty one more bowl. Erik loves homemade whipped cream enough that he's been known to tell strangers about it, but frosting a cake with whipped cream seems like a soggy, puddly mess waiting to happen . I'm pretty sure I can't make Erik clean up my messes on his birthday, so that was out. Folding in a package of whipped cream cheese solved the dilemma: The frosting is airy and delightful, but it's sturdy enough to stick to the cake. Also, it sat out on the counter for a couple hours without melting. I'm aware that that's not sanitary, but I have to go to class even on birthdays.

For normal whipped cream situations, I usually prefer a barely-sweet vanilla version, sometimes with just a hint of spices. But for a chocolate booze cake, some more flavor seemed in order. After checking in on the birthday boy's flavor preference, we ended up with a vanilla-cinnamon-chocolate frosting. It. Is. Phenomenal. It also made about three times as much as I needed, and it is taking every ounce of restraint that I have to not go at it with a spoon. Fortunately for my waistline, my graduate stipend won't allow me to buy all new jeans, so it's been safe in the fridge so far.

You know I licked these, though.