June 22, 2012

swiss chard in america

There is whole wheat chocolate chip cookie dough in the freezer and banana bread in the oven. Something good is about to happen. I'm leaving today for a weekend at the beach with my dear friends for a bachelorette. But don't think strippers and high heels, think a group of dear friends gathered together for the weekend, eating delicious homemade meals while chatting about life, sitting at the beach under umbrellas and hats laughing about anything, and huddled at night around a big table with a few extra bottles of rosé delighted in each others company. 

If this weekend is about cookies and cake then last week was about chard. We ate bunches of it. We ate it steamed with a touch of butter and we ate it buried in a bed of fluffy eggs and soft potatoes. Sometimes cooking on vacation can feel like a burden, but the simple cooking we undertook at the beach actually rejuvenated my cooking spirit

We were in Little Compton, a small seaside town in Rhode Island, it is our little escape, our happy place, where we read real hardcopy books, walk on stoney beaches, ponder the beautiful transition of meadow to hay bale, and eat fresh local delicious chard. The farm stand hadn't officially opened for the season but they had greens for sale and an honor system tin for payment so we picked up a few bunches of chard, some spring peas and pondered some duck eggs before deciding we'd stick with good old chicken eggs.
This frittata was inspired by my friend Crem who made four for a ladies brunch that she hosted on her wedding day. We met at the Yale farm, where her husband (!!!) Jeremy is the farm coordinator, and after wandering among the rhubarb, strawberries and fava beans and visiting with chickens, we sat at long wooden tables and enjoyed frittata, lightly dressed salad, roasted garlic bread and a rhubarb coffee cake. Everything was heavenly, especially the company.

I love the idea that you can throw anything into a frittata. It's a great clean the fridge dish - the more ingredients the merrier.

// chard frittata //

1 lb chard, about 1 hulking handful, cleaned and chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
8 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 - 3/4 cup cooked potatoes, cubed
1 handful of feta cheese, or any other cheese you like (goat, parmesan, cheddar)

Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC

Chop the chard, from stem to leaf, in about 1 inches pieces. Place the chopped chard - stems on the bottom and the greens on top - in a saucepan with 2 Tbsp of water and cover. Place over medium heat until the stems have softened and the greens have wilted, about 5 - 7 minutes. Drain well and soak up extra water with a paper towel. 

Sauté the onions and garlic in an oven-proof, stick free skillet (cast iron is perfect). 

While the onions soften, mix the eggs, milk, and cheese together. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

When the onions have softened, about 7 minutes, stir in the cooked chard. Pour in the eggs and add the cooked potatoes. Using a fork or spatula lift the chard to let the egg mixture spread underneath and distribute greens and potatoes around the pan. 

Bake the frittata for 15-20 minutes, until the frittata has puffed and become slightly golden on top. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly before serving. Makes for wonderful leftovers. 
There were four of us huddled under that tiny umbrella. We are shade loves, us Mayers. 
There was leftover frittata for breakfast and steamed chard for lunch. Isn't it beautiful? Bright and dark, soft and crunchy, all at the same time. I spotted this simple meal on Remedial Eating just before we drove up to Little Compton. Some things really are wonderfully timed. 

June 08, 2012

The Yeatman Hotel financiers

Somethings you leave to chance and some things you need to be on top of. I unabashedly stalked the concierge at our hotel in Porto for a full thirty-six hours. I wasn't pestering them for dinner reservations at a chic new restaurant or an extra fluffy pillow, I wanted the recipe for the financiers that they serve downstairs at breakfast. They were the best financiers I had ever eaten. Better than the ones in Paris, and definitely better than the ones inspired by our trip to Paris. There were two flavors, plain with berries and chocolate. Zach and I each ate about three at breakfast and then, without any concern for the other hotel guests desire to eat financiers, I packed a cloth napkin with about eight more for our road trip through the Douro region. 

Just as we were checking out, I asked one last time if there was anyway I could get the recipe and while we were sitting there, bags already in the car, the receptionist called down to the kitchen and miraculously got the recipe for me. The quantities were hotel-breakfast worthy and it was in Portuguese, but I didn't care, I had the recipe. 

These financiers follow the path of many other financier recipes, mixing egg whites into a dry mix of powdered sugar, almond flour and flour and then gently stirring in melted butter. There are a couple tweaks and turns, subtle ones, that I think make these financiers special. You'd never know when eating them, but there is Crème de Casis in the batter, as well as honey and vanilla extract, all of which are mixed and then added just before the butter is stirred in. These extra liquids, aromatic and sweet, help create a uniquely smooth and dense muffin interior. This soft interior, delicious on it's own is made even more delicious when paired with the slightly crispy, buttery, caramelized  exterior. 
While the receptionist had the kitchen on the line I should have asked what they do with their egg yolks. Financiers only call for egg whites, leaving a bowl full of egg yolks to linger longingly on your counter while you peruse cookbooks and the internet for egg-yolk-only recipes. I was hoping to use them for an equally yummy baked good, but I never found a recipe, and instead used a couple of them later that night for carbonara. What do you do with your egg yolks? Any favorite recipes you'd be willing to share with me?
The tiled buildings in Porto were a complete surprise to us. I guess I was expecting Porto to look like towns in Italy or France, but it really had it's own feel. It reminded us a little bit of Istanbul, an aesthetically pleasing state of decay. 
My version is pretty darn good, but admittedly not quiiiite as good as the hotel version. The pieces are all there, but they've just had the time to perfect every little detail. I had to quarter the recipe quantities to end up with a more manageable batter and a reasonable number of mini muffins for a family of two. 

// The Yeatman Hotel Financiers //

* The fruit: I first tried adding it right after I spooned the batter into the muffin tins, but that method prevented the tops from rising and left me with flat sad muffins that I couldn't even get out of the pan. I tested two other methods, both of which work; 1) after the muffins have baked for a about 8-10 minutes and have begun to rise, add one little blueberry of strawberry piece to the top, 2) and probably the better option, but the tops don't rise quite as much ,  is to spoon half of the batter into the tin and then add a few pieces of fruit, and then finish filling the muffin tin.  (seen in the picture above). 
** To help the exterior of the muffin get extra crispy it is good to let them cool in the pan for about 3-5 minutes, and then tip them out, and let them finish cooling, angled in the tin (see picture above)
*** Don't store these in an airtight container, they just get soggy. I just left them out and we ate them over three days and I thought they actually got better each day. 
**** The ingredients are listed in grams because that is what the hotel gave me. I haven't had time to measure for oz/cups yet, but hopefully you have a digital scale and can just move between units. 

makes about 30 financiers

80 g finely ground almonds, or almond flour
83 g all purpose flour
218 g powdered sugar, sifted
3 g baking powder
200 g (about 5 ) egg whites
20 g thick honey
1 tablespoon Crème de Casis
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
115 g (1 stick) butter, melted. 

a small handful of mixed berries, chopped 
2 teaspoons Crème de Casis

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF and butter and flour two muffin tins

Mix the dry ingredients (almond flour, flour, powdered sugar, baking powder) in a large bowl. Stir in the egg whites until fully incorporated. 

In a small bowl mix the Crème de Casis, honey and vanilla in a small bowl and then gently stir into the flour - egg white mixture. 

Gently stir in the melted butter, careful not to over mix. The batter will be quiet liquidy but that's okay. 

If using berries mix them with the Casis. Follow either method for adding fruit (see first note above)

Bake for 15-17 minutes until the muffins are browned around the edges, and light brown on top. Let them cool for a couple minutes and then tip them in their tin and let them cool half in- half out of the pan. This helps them get crispy around the edges. 
I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. I am actually typing this from my parents kitchen! I flew home on Wednesday and today I'm heading up to New Haven to celebrate Crem and Jeremy, who are getting married tomorrow!!!! There will be lots of smiling and a heck of a lot of squeezing and oh, SO much dancing. Let the fun begin. 

June 01, 2012

cherry and port(o) compote

We happened upon Porto the way you might happen upon a new neighborhood haunt, or a dear friend in the most unexpected of places, or more precisely a great hotel deal while swimming through the depths of the internet. Zach speaks some Portuguese and looks for opportunities to practice so when he spotted the hotel he quickly checked for flights, and then before we really had a chance to question it, we had booked a long weekend in Porto. And since neither of us tends to do a ton/any research before arriving in a foreign city for the weekend it continued to feel like a happy coincidence up until we boarded the plane back to Zürich. 

Porto is tucked in the Douro River estuary, just a few miles from the coast and the crashing waves of the Atlantic. It is a wonderfully bright little city with unique buildings and wonderfully friendly people. We did as we usually do and casually wandered through the city (with the help of the nytimes 36hrs), stopping occasionally to soak it all in with the help of an espresso or glass of wine. 

More likely it was a glass of wine. Like the Champagne region of France, Porto gives its name to its signature beverage, port wine. The grapes are grown inland, the vines terracing endlessly along the hills that define the river valley. Traditionally the port was ferried down river in small wooden boats - like a grownup version of a Venetian gondola with the long wooden steering oar - to Porto, where it was, and still is, stored in long warehouses with terracotta roofs. 

Zach and I can't claim to be wine aficionados, but we do love wine, especially wine from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain, and since the Douro River and the Ribera del Duero are on in the same, we made sure to sample the Douro wines and drive inland along the river and through the vineyards. 
The Douro wine region hasn't fully opened itself up to tourists yet. We drove for along the river for a little while before finding a spot where we could do some tasting and after the tasting we drove for a bit longer in search of something eat. There was one fancy restaurant, a few restaurants that had already closed for lunch, and a woman by the side of the road selling cherries. We went with the cherries, at least as something to hold us over until we got closer to town and found something more substantial, which we eventually did. Much to Zach's surprise I bought a kilo of cherries. I agree that a kilo is a lot for a snack, but it's just so easy to say "um" instead of trying to fumble my way in Portuguese around a half or less. And since we did end up finding lunch we had a lot of cherries left over, cherries that I couldn't possibly abandon, especially since they cost 4x as much in Zürich, so I nestled them in my purse and brought them home. 

On Friday after walking in circles (the good type of circles) through the city we found ourselves at Bugo Art Burger where we ate delicious burgers covered in caramelized onions in a port wine reduction, which we followed up with panna cotta with berry-port wine compote. Heavenly. The panna cotta inspired this cherry-compote dessert. I substituted yogurt for panna cotta (because I'm never quite comfortable with that amount of heavy cream) and cherries for the berries and ended up with a wonderfully summery dessert. And since I had so many cherries I also made a single little jar of cherry jam. Gosh, I love summer!
This picture was taken from the spot we stopped for a tasting. We liked the regular, deeply sweet yet strong, ruby port, but we found the Rose port light and summery so we bought a bottle and that is what I used in this recipe. I think it would be just as good with regular port, or even orange juice if you don't have any port. 
This dessert oozes summer goodness and would be a light, fresh, and cool end to an evening spent outside. I might even go so far as to say that it tastes better eaten outside. 

Zach suggested adding a little crunch to the layers, perhaps with crushed biscotti or amaretti cookies, so if you're with him and like a little crunch I think that it would make a great addition.

// Cherry - Port Compote with yogurt and honey //
adapted from Bon Appetit

enough for 4 servings
1 lb / 450 g whole cherries (results in roughly 3/4 lb or 340 g pitted cherries)
1/2 cup / 125ml Rose Port (regular Port or orange juice also work)
1/4 cup + a couple tablespoons raw sugar (or normal sugar)

4 tablespoons of honey, one for each serving 
4 small containers of yogurt (ideally a thick yogurt like Greek), one for each serving

Mix the pitted cherries, port and sugar in a heavy bottomed pot. Bring the ingredients to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium - low and simmer until the cherries begin to release their juices and soften. At this point you will notice the volume of the ingredients will have increased. It should take about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the cherries to a bowl and leave the juice to thicken over low heat until it coats the back of a spoon, about 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently to insure it doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan. 

Pour the reduced syrup over the cherries. Let the mixture cool. 

Place a tablespoon of honey in the bottom of each serving container. Follow with the yogurt and then top with the cherries and their juices. Serve immediately, or place in the refrigerator until about 20 minutes before eating.
For the jam I followed David Lebovitz's no-recipe method. I used about 350 grams of pitted cherries, which was just enough jam to fill one of these cute little pots.
Our hotel was across the Douro from the city of Porto, hovering on top of the long warehouses. Although it might have been nice to be smack in the center of town, it was a quick walk and we were able to appreciate the view.