25 January 2010

Something Guilt Born

Sometimes the memory of something baked, broiled or sautéed will induce languid thoughts into poetic labor. And for some reason, when I lay in hot water—literally, although I wouldn’t put it past my psyche to try it metaphorically—the provocation is almost certain. And so there I was, all stretched out corpse-like, when my eye caught the glimmer…

Glancing through low light, gleaming inside a green-tiled room, shone the cranberry colored rubies gathered in a bunch at the end of an intricate gold chain, bound to resemble the shape of a DNA code. They were there, carelessly yet deftly laid on the counter, dangerously nearing the soft slope of bathroom tile ledge. It would be a long fall for those jewels, clustered like grapes and dangling like a carefree child on the jungle gym—like a child who hasn’t yet fallen or who has learned that some fun is worth the underlying painful risk.

Like moving brashly. Like deciding strong-heartedly before completely thinking an action through. Like some things which in some instances might trigger self-reproach. But really, if you think more about it, who needs to fill hours in an already too-full day with lamenting deft acts? There is nothing wrong with living wildly now and then. I like to imagine Edie Sedgewick running “naked as a lima bean” for two blocks down New York’s concrete sidewalks before her friends catch up with her. Or of Margaret Mead’s wise words:
“We are continually faced with great opportunities which are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.”

That said, my baking of this morning cake was guilt-born. Grabbing somewhat brashly the entire plastic sack of cranberries from the office kitchen, I realized instantly I would have to share the wealth via some tasty transformation of said ruby-like orbs, turning their bitter bite into the sweet burst of divinity that sugar does impart. I like this cake in the winter for many reasons, but perhaps my favorite is the way the batter, creamy beige, insulates the berries like a down comforter does in the dead of winter. I’ll take all opportunities to return to such a visual come mid-day tea or sunrise act of sustenance.

Tasted over already-finished coffee at Stumptown while late for work, lamenting the absence of a cinematic morning-date, scurrying to find an unoccupied computer that could actually give me the power of instant press, and finally deciding to stand up technology {since I, as it turns out, wasn’t—stood up that is} to write a note by hand introducing the once-raw cranberries to the office in their updated garb—no matter the journeyed circumstance, the cake still elicited the response, “Veronica, this coffeecake is too good.” And, in total agreement, I’ll leave it at that.

Cranberry Coffeecake
From Rustic Fruit Deserts from the lovely lady behind Baker and Spice
For the Coffeecake:

Butter for greasing pan
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
Zest of an orange
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

For the Vanilla Crumb:

1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup sea salt
½ cup cold unsalted butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

First, make the Vanilla Crumb.

In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients and butter, pulsing until coarse crumbs form. Pour vanilla over the crumb mixture and pulse just a few times to combine. Transfer crumb topping to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. This mixture can also be frozen.

Next, make the cake.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Cream the butter, sugar and zest together until fluffy and lightened in color, about four minutes.
Next add the eggs one at a time, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl after each addition.
Stir in the vanilla.
In three additions, add the flour and stir just until combined, alternating with the sour cream in two additions. Begin with the flour, end with the flour.
Fold one cup of your cranberries.

Spread the batter into the greased pan and sprinkle the remaining cup of cranberries on top.
Retrieve the crumb topping and, breaking apart the mass of crumb, distribute evenly over the cranberries.
Bake the coffeecake for about 45 minutes, or until sides are lightly golden and the top is firm.

Store the cooled cake at room temperature for about three days, wrapped in plastic. After three days, transfer to the refrigerator.

12 January 2010

A Veritable Romance

I consider myself a fairly accomplished gal.  I have a college degree, can speak a foreign language, I'm madly in love with a handsome gardener, and in eighth grade I won the History Bee.  These are all pretty awesome things, yes?  I know, there are miles and miles of potential achievements ahead of me in this life, but I generally feel satisfied with the woman I have become.

Recently, however, I have been expanding my horizons.  No more same ol' dishes that have been tried and true.  I want new experiences, new tastes, new players in my culinary endeavors.  I feel like starring in my own post-modern French film, but instead of exploring sexuality, I want to explore soup.  And, oh mama, have I ever.

My love affair would not be a success without a third-party; instead, I am making this romance a veritable ménage à trois.  I refuse to stop at a spicy and saucy garlic broth freckled with croutons... give me more!  The perfect solution to my lusty privation on these cold winter days has revealed itself in nothing other than the perfectly poised and delightfully gushy poached egg.

You won't find me going into raptures over egg yolks all that often, and I admit that the combination of an egg and garlic soup can be a bit off-putting.  But no, it was delightful.  And the accomplishment of poaching an egg on my first try, after hearing for years the horrors of an attempt gone wrong, stacks up to any of the aforementioned exploits.  Lately, you'll find me in the kitchen, thinking up any excuse to poach eggs, whether in a bowl of soup or smothered in a homemade hollandaise sauce.  I'm always up for experimentation.

Garlic Soup with a Poached Egg
From Love Soup by Anna Thomas
One serving:

Olive Oil                                    sea salt
4 cloves garlic                            couple thick slices of day-old bread
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika                1 egg
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper              
2 cups vegetable broth

It's best to have all ingredients ready before you start cooking.  Peel the garlic and slice into thin pieces, make sure the broth is hot, and have your croutons prepared (recipe to follow).  Heat the oil in a small soup pot.  Sauté the sliced garlic over medium heat until it just starts to color.  Remove from heat and stir in the paprika and cayenne pepper, then add the hot broth.  Return the pot to the heat, and let it simmer gently, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes.  Taste the broth, and add a dash of sea salt if desired.

Add the croutons and simmer for 2 more minutes until the bread softens.  Break an egg, and lower it gently into the soup, making sure it is fully submerged.  If not, ladle a bit of broth on top of the egg to cook it properly.  Simmer until the egg white looks fully cooked, or is opaque in color, about 3 minutes.  Pour the soup into your bowl, and enjoy!

For the croutons:

Cube a few slices of day old bread, sourdough or other, and brush with a bit of oil.  Sprinkle salt and garlic powder, or whatever spices compel you, over the top, and broil for a few minutes until brown and delicious looking.