Friday, May 31, 2013

Ramp Butter

Like fiddlehead ferns, ramps have a short lived season. Whenever they arrive at the farmer's market I always grab a bunch without hesitation. With some steaks in the fridge, I thought ramp butter would be a perfect companion. Compound butters or beurre compose are fancy terms for butter mixed with additional ingredients such as herbs, spices, or other aromatics. They are extremely simple to make but in my opinion, can transform a steak from average to extraordinary. 

Ramps, though becoming popular in upscale restaurants, are simply perennial wild onions found across the eastern part of North America. If you've never tasted ramps before, they are best described as garlicy mild green onions.  They are popular from the American south all the way up to Canada. It's no wonder, as these seasonal "weeds" really pack a punch. 

I love ramps sauteed with butter or with scrambled eggs and omelettes. But the great thing about adding them to butter is that the butter can be frozen for a number of months. This allows you to enjoy ramps much longer than their season will allow and gives you the option of cutting off only what you need, while preserving the rest. I love having it on hand throughout the spring and early summer. Try it melted on steaks or spread on bread or toast. 


1/4 lb. ramps (about 20 ramps)
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. sea salt, or more to taste

Thinly slice the ramp bulbs and set aside. Chiffonade the leafy greens, slicing them into 1/8-inch strips. Set aside.

Add 2 tablespoons of the butter to a medium saute pan, and melt over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and become frothy add the ramp bulbs and saute, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Stir in the ramp greens and saute until the leaves have wilted, about a minute more. Remove the pan from heat and transfer the sauteed ramps to a plate to cool, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the remaining butter to a small mixing bowl and using a rubber spatula, fold in the sauteed ramps. Stir in the salt, adding more to taste if necessary. Turn the butter out onto a double layer of plastic wrap (or a sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper). Shape the butter into a log and roll it up in the plastic or paper. Use a dough scraper or ruler to shape the dough into a long log measuring about 8-inches long. Twist the ends of the plastic or paper to seal in the butter. Refrigerate until the butter is cold, about 45 minutes. Cut the butter into 1/4-inch rounds and use as a condiment on steaks, bread, or toast. The ramp butter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months for longer storage. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sauteed Fiddlehead Ferns with Garlic & Lemon

One of my favorite spring vegetables is fiddlehead ferns. Their season is so short that if you don't buy them when you first see them at the market, chances are they'll be gone by the next time you return. This makes them a special seasonal treat that can only be enjoyed once a year.

If you've never tasted fiddleheads before, they are reminiscent of asparagus, but earthier with mossy undertones. Fiddleheads are actually fern tips, or fronds, that are picked just as they break through the earth, but before they have a chance to uncurl. I love how you can actually taste how wild they are. Dare I say they make me feel like a hobbit? Come on, they're totally hobbit food! 

While delicious, fiddleheads shouldn't be eaten raw, as they contain a toxin that causes abdominal pain when ingested. Fortunately for us, this toxin and bitterness is destroyed by heat when cooked. Fiddleheads sauteed with garlic, shallots, and a splash of lemon juice is a simple way to prepare them, but one that really lets them shine. Enjoy them while they last!


3/4 lb. fiddlehead ferns
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
Half a medium shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Thoroughly wash the fiddleheads under cold water. Remove any brown chaff (anything that looks papery or furry) by carefully running your finger along the inside of each fiddlehead. Trim off the brown stem ends using a paring knife and discard. The fiddleheads are now ready to be cooked.   

Fill a medium bowl with ice water and set aside. Bring a 4-quart saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Blanch the fiddleheads for 1 minute, strain, and place in the ice bath to stop them from cooking. When cool, strain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft but not browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Add fiddleheads to the pan, tossing them with the shallots and garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are tender-crisp. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss and remove from heat. Serve immediately. 

Yield: 2 servings 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

German Chocolate Cake

As I mentioned in a previous post, Aaron's birthday was a couple weeks ago and he requested a German chocolate cake. Usually I pile up cookbooks, magazines, and clippings for him to peruse to get ideas for which cake he'd like; it's a very serious decision. This year, however, he already knew what he wanted. I was more than happy to oblige, as German chocolate cake is one of my favorites! Growing up, my mom and I loved going to my uncle Jack's bakery, The Basque Boulangerie, to order their mini German chocolate cakes to share. As you can imagine, I was very excited to get to bake it in my own home. 

Contrary to what you might think, there's nothing German at all about German chocolate cake. In a November, 2009 issue of Saveur, Nick Malgieri writes about how the cake dates back to 1957, when its creator, Mrs. George Clay of Dallas, Texas, submitted the recipe to the Dallas Morning News. When the paper ran the recipe, it caused such a sensation that other newspapers around the U.S. began printing it as well. It makes sense. When you think about it, the ingredients are suspiciously southern, aren't they? Coconut and pecans are typical ingredients found in many southern cakes. 

So where does the German part come in you ask? Mrs. Clay's original recipe included German's Sweet Chocolate, a baking chocolate conceived by Samuel German for the Walter Baker & Co. in Massachusetts in 1852. As the popularity of German chocolate cake grew, the company capitalized on the cake's recipe and began printing a recipe for German chocolate cake on every box of chocolate. The rest is history. The recipe below is a slight variation on the official recipe. 

While I was eating the cake, I remembered how much I loved it growing up. The rich chocolate cake is separated by layers of sweet, gooey coconut frosting, and littered with chopped pecans. Absolutely delicious! I intended to take the cake to work the following day to share with my co-workers and get it out of the house so we didn't eat it all... somehow that didn't happen. All I can say is Mrs. George Clay of Dallas, Texas, knew a thing or two about baking cakes. Happy Birthday Aaron!

Adapted from Nick Malgieri, Saveur, December 2009


For the frosting:
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 large egg yolks
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups roughly chopped pecans
17 oz. (about 6 cups) sweetened shredded coconut

For the cake:

4 oz. German's Sweet Chocolate (or semi-sweet chocolate), chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
4 large egg whites 

For the simple syrup mixture (for brushing on the cake later on):
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp. brewed coffee 

To make the frosting, combine the sugar, butter, egg yolks, and evaporated milk in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until the mixture is thick, about 12 minutes. Strain through a sieve into a medium bowl. Stir in the vanilla, followed by the pecans and coconut. Allow the frosting come to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans with butter and line the bottoms with parchment circles. Grease the parchment and set aside. Combine the chocolates in a small bowl and pour in the boiling water. Let the chocolate and water sit for 1 minute before stirring until smooth. Set aside. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

In a standing or handheld mixer, cream 1 1/4 cups sugar and the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, allowing them to be fulling incorporated before adding the next. Add the chocolate mixture and vanilla and beat until smooth. On low speed, working in thirds, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk until just combined. Set the batter aside.

In a medium size bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to whip to firm peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the batter until just combined. Evenly divide the batter between the three pans and smooth the surface. Bake until cakes are set, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 10 to 15 minutes before inverting onto drying racks to cool completely. 

Meanwhile, to make the simple syrup mixture, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the coffee. Set aside to cool.

Remove the frosting from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Brush the top and sides of each cake with the simple syrup mixture. Frost the top of each cake and assemble, leaving the sides bare. Wrap the sides of the cake in a sheet of wax paper (to keep from drying out) and tape to hold in place. The cake will keep at room temperature for several days.  Remove the wax paper before slicing and serving.

Serves 14 to 16

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ice Cream #18: Coconut Sorbet

Hello dear readers! I'm sorry I've been absent the past couple of weeks. I'm currently working as an assistant recipe tester/developer for an upcoming cookbook and it has taken up all of my free time! That means I won't be posting as many recipes as I usually do these next few weeks. That's my disclaimer for today. Now let's talk about this delicious coconut sorbet...

Aaron's birthday was a couple weeks ago and he requested a German chocolate cake. Initially I was going to make a coconut ice cream to go along with it (using coconut cream and coconut milk), but alas, I couldn't find the cream. I didn't have time to go in search of it and decided to make a coconut sorbet instead from the ingredients I already had at home. 

This coconut sorbet is light and refreshing. It's simple, yet extremely flavorful, and a perfect choice on a hot day. After taking a stroll with our dog Lady in the park, we came back to the apartment and enjoyed Aaron's birthday cake. The sorbet tied in nicely with the coconut in the cake and helped to balance the intensity of the chocolate. Yum! 


2 (13.5 oz.) cans coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut, for garnish

Fill a large metal bowl with about 2-inches of ice water. Put a slightly smaller metal bowl inside. Place a fine mesh strainer over the two bowls and set aside. 

In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, sugar, and salt and bring just to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Pour the liquid through the fine mesh strainer into the prepared bowls. Stir over the ice bath until cool. Stir in the vanilla extract. 

Cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate until until cold, preferably overnight. Process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to a plastic quart container and freeze for several hours. Garnish each serving of sorbet with toasted coconut. 

Yield: 1 quart