I'll certainly be the first to say that I have lots of recipes that are not the very, very best in the world. In fact, most of my recipes are still works-in-progress. Why have you not yet heard about the secrets of my corn chowder, my tamale pie? Ah, well, the chef is still working out the kinks with those.
I do, however, have a few prizewinners up my sleeve; the following recipe is one of my favorites. After long years of experimentation and adjustment, trial and error, this one has achieved the status of Baking Gold. Top honors, seriously. I promise you perfection.
Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration and enjoyment, I do proudly present:
BONNIE LASS BLUEBERRY SCONES
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 beaten egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup succulent, fresh, so-ripe-your-toes-curl blueberries
The scones are laughably simple to make.
First, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
Combine the wet ingredients (buttermilk, beaten egg, and vanilla) in a separate bowl. Mix in chunks of the butter, which should be right around room temp; I like to use a fork for this step. The result will be a little lumpy but that's ok.
Then slowly add the wet bowl's contents to the dry one's. Fold in the blueberries as you go.
Very important: do not overmix.
At this point, some people like to roll the dough out on a floured surface and cut it into scone-y triangle shapes. But in keeping with the simplicity we've already established, I'd recommend just scooping up large blobs of the dough and plopping them onto buttered baking sheets. Smush them down a little, but don't worry about making them perfectly flat. Sprinkle 'em with sugar if you like.
Then it's into the oven they go! Bake at 400 degrees for 16-18 minutes. They're done when the tops have turned golden.
There is a whole lotta falafel in NYC. You can't really turn a corner in this city without bumping into a cart dispensing the ubiquitous three-dollar "falafel sandwich", or pita stuffed with lettuce, tomato, and 3-4 of the fried chickpea balls. If you're really strapped for cash this makes for an unparalleled on-the-go meal, especially if you're vegetarian like myself.
But if you've got a few more bucks in your pocket, and a few more minutes to spare in your day, there are also gazillions of tiny eateries where you can pop in for a sit-down falafel experience...Taim in the West Village comes to mind, along with the Maoz chain which has locations all over the city.
Soomsoom, at 166 W. 72nd St between Columbus and Amsterdam, is another great little joint. Cheap, fresh, and delicious. All vegetarian and kosher. Plus an open salad bar with toppings and condiments galore: orange curry sauce, onions with sumac, red cabbage, and interesting herbed croutons are just a few of their options.
My roommate Oscar and I had a great experience there last night--here is a look at what we ate.
First, The Sandwich.
The sweet potato fries.
The Hagalil fries: a battered spiral potato on a stick.
Our tahini/ketchup mixture turned out to be a tasty fry dip!
The mint lemonade.
Warning: as with all falafel places worth their tahini, the seating is limited. Be prepared to stand or wait until a spot at one of three tables opens up.
When it comes to domestic bakers, there are cupcake people and there are cookie people. (There are also those oddball brownie people out there, too, but their numbers are fewer.) I, Caitlin, am a cookie person.
Name every cookie you can think of in 30 seconds. Go ahead.
I've probably made them all at some point in my baking life.
But cupcakes, on the other hand, are unfamiliar territory for me. I have never made cupcakes for birthdays, for parties or potlucks. Although I certainly admire their fluffy whipped all-around cuteness, cupcakes just usually aren't my bag, baby.
But a few weeks ago, to my surprise and delight, the good folks at POM Wonderful found this blog somehow and contacted me with an interesting proposition: they would send me a free bottle of their new POM Concentrate if I used it in a recipe for their Valentine's Day Cupcake Contest.
I said yes. Emboldened by the challenge, I armed myself with the huge bottle you see below, and launched headfirst into CupcakeLand.
Firstly, since it's Valentine's Day and all, I wanted to conjure up a cake/frosting combo to fit the holiday. Romance, seduction...something ritzy and unexpected.
Strawberry-pomegranate? Hmm...too acidic.
Dark chocolate-pomegranate? Nehhh...overdone.
What about....champagne? Oooh, yeah! YEAH! Champagne cake! With white chocolate?! Yes! And pomegranate! Phew. Done. That was actually the easy part.
The harder detail was figuring out a catchy name.
Valentine's Day Cupcakes? Lame.
Cupid's Cupcakes? Ugh, worse.
Fuego de Amor Cupcakes, Kissy Cupcakes? Lord, no. Thank goodness my roommate Oscar waltzed into the kitchen at that point.
"Oh there's that champagne/pomegranate cocktail...what's the name of it? The Ruby Dutchess? That would be a good name," he suggested casually. After a quick search online, I discovered that yes, it was real, and it even originated in New York's Dutchess County, of which Poughkeepsie is the county seat. Come on now...Poughkeepsie and romance? Synonymous.
Thanks Osckie. Your check is in the mail.
RUBY DUTCHESS CUPCAKES Champagne Cake:
2 2/3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsalted room-temp butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup champagne (spumante works well)
1 egg + 5 egg whites
White Chocolate Pomegranate Buttercream Frosting:
2 sticks unsalted room-temp butter
1 tsp vanilla
12 oz bag of white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
7 tsp POM Wonderful Concentrate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pans with baking cups. Then, prepare the batter. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, cream the white sugar and butter and fold in the champagne. Then slowly stir in the flour mixture. In a third bowl, beat eggs for 3-5 minutes and gently add to the batter.
Fill baking cups 2/3 full with batter,
and bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Who cares if the tops get messy? They'll be slathered with frosting soon enough and the secret will be yours.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream frosting. Place a heat-proof bowl over a pot of boiling water and add white chocolate chips; stir gently until they have melted through and then remove them from heat. In another bowl, combine butter, vanilla, and melted white chocolate. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar, until the frosting begins to fluff and thicken. Finally, add POM concentrate and beat frosting to desired texture.
I love the designs an electric mixer makes. They always remind me of Turkish ebru.
When the cupcakes have finished baking and cooling, top them with buttercream to your heart's content. A sprinkling of red decorating sugar adds sparkle.
And here she is, the lady dressed for the ball:
If you get a wild hair, check out Miss Ruby Dutchess on the POM Wonderful website and vote for her February 14th-28th.
Take a closer look at these. Ick-factor achieved. I dig it.
Now, I am a firm believer that life is too short not to have yourself a cookie or two. But wow. Americans consume a lot of sugar. A lot. And the numbers get larger every year. Don't believe me? Take a gander at the bewildering stats here.
You've gotta be pretty shocking if you want to catch a New Yorker's attention. I hope that these ads will at least earn a few double-takes from the public, and maybe even spur them to take some sort of action. If a cup of bloody, yellow fat doesn't get you thinking, I'm really not sure what will.
I collect a lot of paper stuff. Paper ephemera, if you want to get fancy. I have a box with ticket stubs, postcards, cookie fortunes, old photos, notecards, lithographs, bookmarks, magazine clippings, paper doilies, vintage valentines, you name it. I was sifting through some of this huge mess today and found my collection of 1971 Betty Crocker recipe cards in the rubble.
I purchased the entire set of cards, which came neatly filed in a seafoam green tin, for about two bucks at a Goodwill in Georgia several years ago. Since then I've lost some, given some away, and the collection has dwindled; roughly twenty-five or so remain in my possession. While something tells me that no one has actually prepared these recipes in quite some time (just a hunch), they sure are gems to read. Here are a few highlights, each complete with Betty's own wholesome party ideas from the backs of the cards.
Balloons--how carefree and fun! For this party, inflate balloons, write invitations on each with marking pen and deflate them. Slip each one into an envelope with instructions to blow it up to read its message.
For a winter birthday or the hottest day in summer! Go on an around-the-house explorers' party, ending at the North Pole with box lunches, sugar snow, funny little gnomes and Igoo Cake.
"Come for a tea party and bring your favorite dolly!" How many little girls will love to walk over in their mothers' heels for a special little party under the mock orange bush. Instead of the usual cookies, why not surprise them with Rag Doll Salads? To drink? Why, tea of course, generously mixed with milk.
Circle party invitations with large and small question marks--"What does a lolligog look like? We don't know! If you come dressed like what you think a lolligog looks like, perhaps we'll find out!" For favors, give jolly homemade lollipops with faces. Build a lolligog centerpiece with lollipops, wooden pointed sticks and spools.
Bright paper streamers from the ceiling make a circus tent table; a loaded camera will inspire your clowns to do their funniest, wildest tricks!
Everybody's talking about astrology, so find out the birth month and day for each child and give horoscopes as favors. Ask a friend to dress up as a gypsy and tell fortunes. Serve a bowl full of rainbow-colored ice-cream ball "planets" with your sunshiny Zodiac Cake.
How versatile paper bags are! You can cut them, paint or color them, paste curly paper eyelashes and noses on them, make masks or stuff them with paper and shape into puppet heads. You can put popcorn balls into a paper bag slipped over a styrofoam block for edible table decorations. Have fun at your paper bag party!
According to these cards, the early '70s were pretty wild times: funny little gnomes, paper bag parties, that newfangled astrology everyone's talking about...not to mention whatever the heck a rag doll salad is. Hey Crocker, lay off the hallucinogens, will ya?
There was a time when I despised the grapefruit. The smell alone made me imagine its juice a noxious chemical not intended for human consumption.
But oh, how I wanted to love the grapefruit. Just look at it.
The color can only be described as grapefruit. Not really coral, not really peach, and certainly not pink or even ruby red. Just grapefruit. Or pamplemousse, as one says in French.
The word is, incidentally, my favorite French word. Say it.
Not that I know more than ten or so French words anyway. But I still imagine pamplemousse is probably the most fun of them all. And it can be used as a term of endearment too, which makes it even more appealing. Mon pamplemousse, mon petit pamplemousse!
So yes, I wanted to love the grapefruit. For many years, I watched others take its succulent halves from hotel breakfast bars and devour them lustily, the fine colored chunks of citrussprinkled with sugar and scooped spoonful by spoonful. I wanted to be one of those people. And for years, I occasionally bought them two or three at a time, with great hopefulness, but came home from the supermarket only to let them sink into slush mold in a bowl on the counter.
After 26 years on this earth and never a grapefruit enjoyed, I had resolved that it was just a lost cause. That I should just stop trying. That I'd never be the girl with the spiky spoon and the singing fruit at the breakfast table.
I suddenly experienced a moment of curious desire at the market last week.
I was at the store and happened upon a gorgeous pile of them. I smelled them, and they called to me. Mon petit, mon petit pamplemousse! Wait, wait. Could it...be happening? Could I...actually want some of that bitter taste? After all this time with no luck??
Why, yes! Wow, yes indeed! I'd even call it a craving! I threw a few into my bag, raced home, and chopped one in two. I dug out a nice, big, drippy chunk and stared it down: ALRIGHT, YOU! YOU'VE GOT ONE MORE CHANCE!
I took a bite, and that was that. Call me a changed woman. I ate the whole thing in a matter of minutes.
WHY oh why could I enjoy it now, and never before? Well they say one's tastebuds change every seven years, so maybe that's an explanation...but who knows. I certainly don't. I do know, however, that I get to be the person with the pretty fruit at breakfast now.
I even bought my own spiky spoon,
giddy with anticipation of future grapefruit mornings.