August 23, 2011

fresh peach cake

It's hot. The basil on the terrace wilted and died just as I was thinking about making pesto. The thick haze is obscuring the Alps. I'm too sticky to move or even think about putting a bathing suit on. I hate sleeping on top of the sheets in a breezeless steamy room. Swiss toothpaste tastes funny.

Complaints are easy to come by when it's this hot out. I was getting ready go say goodbye to summer, but it's back with a vengeance. The steamy weather followed me across the Atlantic, delighting the Swiss who have been eagerly anticipating it's return, but upsetting me, a New Englander who had had her fill of heat and humidity and was excited for those cool fall breezes.

Somehow amidst the humidity and icky toothpaste I managed to find some comfort in a cake. Even the heat-pumping oven didn't bother me. The smell of peaches baking with cinnamon and sugar was so wonderful and lovely that I was too preoccupied daydreaming about lake houses surrounded by raspberry bushes and hydrangeas to worry myself over the kitchen's dramatically rising temperature.

As long as there is leftover cake to keep me calm I think I'll be able to make it through this heat wave. This cake is a keeper. One of the best I've made and I will certainly be making it again, and again, and again. And not just when it's hot, but whenever I can find peaches. This cake does double duty, working well with ice cream after dinner and perfectly with coffee for breakfast.

Our Swiss-family-Mayer adventure is slowly winding down (don't leave - come back). We spent this past weekend in Lugano soaking in the scenery and trying to avoid the heat by swimming and staying in the shade. Our hotel was right across from a little floating lido, which aside from providing us with swimming access, served up great food, drinks and shade. Without a question there was one cocktail that was really making itself known, the Aperol Spritz. It is made with prosecco and Aperol and has a distinctly orange color and tastes a bit like orange soda.

I had been thinking for a little while about what type of cake I should make for our guests. Blogging about food definitely increases the pressure to cook for friends/family when they come to visit. I had to make something. Something delicious and delightful, but also quick and easy so I didn't have to spend all day in the kitchen. I settled on this peach cake that I found in one of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.

* goodness! a friend brought it to my attention that I had forgotten flour in the list of ingredients. eeks. Sorry to those who tried to make this, I hope you picked up on this obmission.

recipe from adpated Ina Garten

- 1/4 lb (1 stick) butter at room temperature

- 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

- 2 extra large eggs

- 1 cup creme fraiche (you can also use sour cream like Ina)

- 1 tsp vanilla extract

- 2 cups all-purpose flour

- 1 tsp baking soda

- 1 tsp baking powder

- 1/2 tsp kosher salt

- 2 tablespoons cinnamon (I upped the cinnamon from 1 tsp - make it to taste, I prefer more cinnamon)

- 4 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced.

- 1/2 chopped pecans (only if you like nuts)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF/190ºC. Grease a 9x9 baking dish.

Cream the butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer to low and add the eggs, one at a time. Follow with the creme fraiche and vanilla, mixing until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet butter/sugar mixture and mix until just combined.

In a small bowl combine the 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon.

Spread half of the batter into your baking dish. Layer with half of the peach slices and sprinkle with 3/4 of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Spoon the remaining batter onto of the peaches and smooth with a spatula. Top with the remaining peaches, cinnamon-sugar and pecans.

Bake the cake for 45-55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Mine definitely took 55 minutes if not a bit longer to bake, so just keep on testing until it seems done. It will settle a bit when you take it out of the oven. Eat warm or cool.

Two pieces of cake to sandwich a restless night of sleep in a steamy apartment is a definite mood booster. I was almost tempted to make ice coffee with ice cream to accompany my breakfast piece, but then I remembered I have a slight lactose problem (really only with ice cream) and that probably wouldn't be a great way to start a day.

Today is my 87th day in Switzerland of my allowed 90, which means it's time to leave again. I head home tomorrow morning (day #88) and this time I'm not allowed to come back to Switzerland, not at least until I get my visa. I'm stuck. All of the paper work is in, we checked and double checked and called to triple check, so now we just have to wait, Zach here and me in the states.

It's going to busy rest of the week (a trip to Montana on Thursday) so if I don't make it back to the blog I know you'll understand! Visitors + travel are wonderful, but certainly not very blog friendly.

August 18, 2011

dinner scenes

It's hard to blog about dinner. I cook at least six nights a week, but it's generally quick and sporadic and ill-timed for photos as the natural light seeps out of my kitchen just as I'm beginning to prepare the ingredients. I love cooking and eating dinner at home. It's arguably the biggest realization I've made since moving abroad. Eight months ago I rarely, if ever, cooked at home, although I guess I can partially blame that on architecture school. We were experts at picking up pizza or finding a table for two at one of our favorite New Haven restaurants, and I don't think that would have changed, even if we had moved somewhere else in the states, say to New York.

Here are two recent dinners, one inside and one outside. Inside with chicken ragu over polenta to the melodies of Otis Redding and outside with burgers and rosemary/garlic roasted potatoes to the tunes of Django Reinhardt. I love eating with music playing in the background, it feels like our own little cafe, perched above the streets of Zürich.
For the next four days our table will be empty as we explore restaurants and grottos in the Ticin. You can be sure we will be washing all of that food down with Ticino merlot, our new favorite red. We realized last night, while drinking wine with our burgers, red for me and white for Zach, that our favorite wines are Swiss. I didn't even know the Swiss made wine before we arrived....and I'm guessing you might have thought the same. For red we like Ticino merlot, discovered on our first trip to Lugano, and for white we like wine made with chasslas grapes, grown and produced in the vineyards surrounding Lausanne, which we were introduced to by a dear friend who grew up in that region.

Zach's brother and his girlfriend just arrived!...and so begins the second part of our Swiss-family-Mayer adventure.

August 16, 2011

lemon-ginger-raspberry shortbread cookies

We have visitors! Visitors with a sweet tooth. A sweet tooth needs cookies, it's as simple as that, so I made lemon-ginger shortbread cookies with a raspberry dollop. Mmm.

I hurried back to Zürich just in time for Swiss-family-Mayer, an epic travel adventure through Switzerland and Northern Italy with Zach's entire immediate family. Our little Mayer family outpost here in Zürich quickly expanded last week from two to five and will grow to seven on Thursday when Zach's older brother Al and his girlfriend Leah arrive (they are currently eating their way through Paris - save a croissant for me). When the days of school vacations come to an end it can be really hard to plan a family vacation, but the stars aligned somehow, and everyone is here, and we are so glad they are!

The journey started last Thursday in Zürich when I met Zach's parents at the airport. We spent two days in Zürich and then headed South to Luzern and then onto Ascona. Zach and I zipped back to Zurich last night, but his parents continued on towards Bolzano, Italy for a couple days and will be there until we reunite is Lugano, with Al and Leah in tow.
Since at-home dinners are such an integral, and joyous, part of our daily routine here in Zürich we decided it would be nice to break up the eat-out vacation mode with a little at home dinner. We put our new grill to use and grilled salmon and bratwursts, which were accompanied by a simple green salad and pasta with pesto. Dave, Zach's dad, loves ginger, so I made this little cookies as an after dinner treat.
I couldn't find a recipe for lemon-ginger shortbread cookies so I just adapted the Joy of Cooking basic shortbread recipe to fit my cookie mission.

Lemon-Ginger-Raspberry Shortbread cookies
- 1/2 lb of unsalted butter (2 sticks or 223g)
- 1 cup superfine sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- lemon zest from 2 thin-skinned lemons (about 2tbsp), similar to Meyer lemon. If you have Meyer lemons then use them.
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp vanilla extract or 3/4 tsp vanilla bean
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

In a standing mixer cream the sugar, salt, butter. When light and fluffy add in the lemon zest and grated ginger and mix for a few seconds until integrated. Add the egg yolk, mixing until blended and then add the whole egg and the vanilla, once again mixing until blended. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add in the flour. Divide the dough in half, flatten into discs, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate for a couple of hours, or overnight. This dough also freezes really well, so feel free to freeze and then unthaw when ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 375º/190º. Take out one of your discs and cut it in half, placing the other half back in the bag and the bag back in the refrigerator (I found that 1/4 of the dough was plenty for a small batch of dessert cookies). On a well floured surface roll out the dough until roughly 1/8" thick. Cut out desired shapes, re-rolling as few times as possible. If you want to add raspberry then use your thumb to make an indent in the cookie. Place a dollop of raspberry jam in the indent and top with 1/2 of a raspberry. Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake until edges are lightly toasted, about 6-8 minutes.
We spent most of our day in Luzern on the lake. One of Zach's friends had recommended a little restaurant in Vitznau, a teeny little town about an hour by ferry from Luzern, so we planned our afternoon around a lunch by the lake. My photos are a little misleading because the photo above is not actually where we had lunch, although perhaps next time we go to Vitznau we will eat there. Instead we ate at the Vitznauerhof hotel, where we sat under a vine covered pergola and ate fish fresh from the lake.
So far I've made two batches of these cookies, one without raspberry and one with. They are both good. The dough freezes really well and thaws fairly quickly, making it an easy dessert for entertaining.
It's going to be tough to settle into Zürich this trip since we are only here for a few days between excursions. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this amazing weather stays through the weekend. Right now I'm sitting at our dinning table with the windows wide open and there is a pleasantly cool breeze blowing through. Seems like it might be time for a walk before Zach gets home.

Oh and it seems like things are looking up on the visa front, that I might even have it by early September. Excuse me while I do a little visa dance...

August 10, 2011

heading home...

I'm Zürich bound this afternoon. This will be my last trip until I get my visa, whenever that may be. I've been frantically leafing through my passport, counting days, to be super-extra-swiss-sure that I don't exceed my 90 day tourist stay. When I come back to the states on August 24th to await my resident visa, I will have hit 88 days. Hopefully 2 days proves to be an okay buffer zone. My fingers are crossed (and would you mind crossing yours for good measure too) that by the time I come back in two weeks I can make arrangements for moving to Zürich permanently. All of this back and forth is emotionally and physically exhausting.

Off to pack up my suitcase, load my ipad with books and hunt down my trusty neck pillow. Auf Wiedersehen for now.

August 08, 2011

beauty in the backyard - buttermilk fantails

And the white period continues. It's a bit like Picasso's blue period, but sub out paint, canvas and universally famous artist for butter, flour and an at home baker. I'm on a roll, pun intended. I can't explain it and I find it especially weird considering that hot and humid days typically steer me away from the oven and towards a fruit salad, but alas there were buttermilk fantails baking in the oven yesterday. My grandmother came over today and saw the leftovers and exclaimed, with that special grandmother charm and intonation, 'Oh, how lovely, Parker House Rolls,' so perhaps they have another name and a life outside my little kitchen.

I've had this recipe bookmarked since I saw those fantails grace my computer screen. They are just asking to be peeled apart and eaten. All of these rolls I've been baking up in the middle of the summer would be perfect alongside turkey and stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner. Is it too early to talk about Thanksgiving? We won't be home for Thanksgiving, so perhaps this is my subconscious getting me ready to prep our own little Thanksgiving dinner in Zürich.

These steamy swampy days leave me dreaming about crisp fall days and apple cider. Apparently my dreams are being answered, but in Zürich not in Connecticut. Zach tells me that it was a perfect day today, one of those early fall days when students are just heading back to school and the tips of the leaves are just beginning to chance. Heaven. I snuck outside earlier this morning, before the backyard morphed into Swamplandia! (great book if you haven't read it) to snap some pictures.
There are two things to remember when making this recipe: #1 make sure your yeast foams, if it doesn't start over, and #2 have patience. These rolls are easy but they do require two fairly long rising periods.

Recipe from Gourmet
- 1 stick + 2 tablepsoons unsalted butter, melted, divided
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (105-115F)
- 1 tablespoon mild honey or sugar
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 3/4 cup well shaken buttermilk

Begin by buttering the muffin pan with melted butter.

Stir together the yeast, warm water and honey in a large bowl and let it sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. If it doesn't foam, start again with new yeast. Set aside. Mix the flour, salt, buttermilk and 6 tbsp melted butter (I melted the stick down and then scooped out 6 tablespoons) into the yeast mixture. On a lightly floured surface kneed the dough until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, coat lightly with olive oil, place in a bowl and cover it with a kitchen towel. Let it sit for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours until it has doubled in size.

Turn the dough out on to your work surface and punch down, do not kneed. Halve the dough, setting half aside while you work on the other half. On a floured surface roll out to a 12" x 12" square, about 1/8" thick (its hard to get is square, just do your best). Brush the dough with melted butter and then slice into six equal strips. Place the strips one on top of the other, butter side up, and then cut the long strip down into 6 smaller squares. Place those squares into the muffin tins, gently fanning out the dough. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375F and bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from pan and brush lightly with melted butter.
It was nice to spend a little bit of time outside before the damp heat really settled in for the day. I tend to fall into a routine of eating breakfast inside, but it was nice to break things up a bit and venture outdoors, especially since now, in the mid afternoon, it's simply too icky to enjoy being outside. Here's to Turkey's roasting and biscuits baking...fall is that you?

August 06, 2011

storm king - almond biscotti

These days, solitary days, I need to make food that lasts, food that tastes good stale. Biscotti is born stale. It's the perfect food for solo living. I'm a grazer when I'm alone, making toast and pasta and little else, but even when I'm alone, especially when I'm alone, I need something sweet. Recently I've been eating chocolate chips straight out of the bag, little handful after little handful. I haven't quite finished a bag, but it's close. I figured that if I was going to eat the entire bag I might as well use the remaining chips, not by the handful, but by the cookie!

With all of this white food I've been making I needed a little something green. I've been wanting to go to Storm King Art Center for a long time, and what better time than now, when I'm home with not much to do. My favorite sculpture was the Storm King Wall by Andy Goldsworthy, which takes a serpentine approach to the typical New England stone, pastural, wall.
I was rummaging through my mom's many magazine stacks last night and I came across Gourmet's Italian Kitchen special edition. There are a ton of recipes I want to make from this issue, especially the mushroom risotto arancini and the chicken ragu over polenta, but recipes will have to wait until there is someone else to eat them with me. I kept flipping, past the appetizers and entrees and into the dessert section and thats where I found the 'favorite' biscotti. If the tasters at Gourmet say this is their favorite biscotti recipe then I figured it was worth a try.
What caught my eye about this 'among the best we've ever had' recipe was the three tablespoons of brandy that found their way into the dough. Brandy in biscotti - mmm delicious. I raided my parents liquor cabinet and came up empty handed, but then I went back for another looks and found amaretto, and considering the biscotti have almonds in them I figured heck, gotta be good, so I went for it. It worked and I'm not sure I'd go for brandy even if I did have it. Amaretto just smells so good, I might start adding it to more recipes, kinda like I do with vanilla, which goes in basically every dough even when it doesn't call for it. The same goes for chocolate chips...this recipe didn't call for them, but I added them anyway because biscotti is a type of cookie and all cookies need chocolate chips, it's a rule.

- 1 cup sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled (cool enough so it won't melt the sugar/chocolate chips)
- 3 tablespoons amaretto
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup whole almonds, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips...or more if you want!
- 3 large eggs
- 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt

Start by melting the stick of butter so that it has a bit of time to cool. Mix together the sugar, amaretto, vanilla and melted butter when it has cooled. Once mixed stir in the three eggs one at a time, then follow with the almonds and chocolate chips. Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt until just combined. Cover the dough and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350. Halve the dough and form each into a 16" x 2" loaf on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes or until top is lightly toasted. Take out of the oven and cool the loaves on a rack for at least 15 minutes. Once cool place on a cutting board and slice into 3/4" slices. Place those slices on a baking sheet and back into the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Enjoy with coffee at breakfast, midday as a snack or after dinner for your chocolate fix.
I think I've already eaten one whole log so I'm not sure I'll really get to sample them stale. I ate most of that loaf before it even went back into the oven for the second round of baking, when they were still a bit more chewy and cookie like.

happy weekend everyone!