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Herbs and Spices

January 17, 2007

Blue Cheesecake Recipe

This savory blue cheese cheesecake has become one of my go-to appetizer/potluck dishes. I usually serve it with Pain la Ancienne baguettes and some of the infamous Blueberry Habanero Chutney. The sweet and tangy chutney complements the creamy cheesecake and a bread like the ancienne - a simple white baguette with a well developed, nutty flavor - provides a neutral, yet not bland, base.

At a party, the bread, cheesecake, and chutney invariably end up getting swapped in with other dishes too, which is always amusing. I knew this was a great thing the first time I took one to a party (sleepover Saturnalia bash at a friend's B&B) and could overhear "OMG! Have you tried the chutney with that?" and, in response, "...and the cheesecake with that...!" from the next room. (I have no idea what they were pointing at, but I swear that many a combination was tried and they were mostly very, very good...)

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January 14, 2007

Ginger Applesauce Cake

Ginger Applesauce Cake

Like many of my recipes, this came together from ingredients that happened to be on hand at the time and my vague idea of a desired flavor. I was making a simple, and oddly summery, lunch (a huge salad, prawns in sage butter, and fresh focaccia) for guests and wanted something a bit more appropriately seasonal to go with the snow that still lingers outside.

My other requirement for this dessert was simplicity. One bowl and one pan was just about right. If it did not require a trip to the store, so much the better. At this point, I was leaning towards brownies...again. I've made so many batches of brownies lately that I am sort of tired of chocolate. (as if) In any case, brownies clearly wasn't it.

Back to winter flavors. In Washington state, winter means apples. In my house last week, apples meant applesauce. Not a bad start. Applesauce cake fit the bill. Right season, ingredients on hand, one bowl, and one pan. One problem. Somewhat lacking in magic. You know: Not. Very. Exciting.

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January 01, 2007

Happy New Year! Spiced Mexican Chocolate Tart Recipe

New Year's Eve chocolate tart

Happy New Year! (and a very quiet happy hangover! for those of you who celebrated a bit too much already)

This chocolate tart was a last minute creation for a last minute party. I called the folks who were hosting about 1pm yesterday and had roughly this conversation:

me: What can we bring?
k: oh, don't go to any effort...
d: (in the background) is that kitchenMage? tell her to go to some effort!

laughs

Given the time of day, the lack of a convenient store and my reputation, this meant I had to get creative based on the contents of the pantry. Challenging. Fortunately, I had both good chocolate and heavy cream -- a combination that always makes last minute baking easier -- and just enough time to pull off a tart crust. The filling was based on a recipe from a cooking class at the Herbfarm, but slanted towards something like Mexican hot chocolate. The filling recipe is enough to generously fill a 10 inch tart with a smidge left over.

Mexican Chocolatish Tart Filling
Bittersweet chocolate, 12 ounces
Butter, 4 ounces
brandy, 3-4 ounces (Grand Marnier would have reinforced the orange flavor better, but I was out)
orange zest, from one orange
orange extract, 1/2 tsp
cinnamon, 1-2 tsp
allspice, 1/4-1/2 tsp
nutmeg, 1/4-1/2 tsp
cream, 2 cups

Melt chocolate and butter in double boiler (or microwave on med in 60 second increments, stirring it every minute, and stopping before the chocolate is totally melted). While chocolate is melting, grind spices and zest orange. Add rest of ingredients, except cream, and stir to combine. Let mixture cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. You can do this in the refrigerator, but watch it to make sure it doesn't harden.

Whip the cream. Gently fold cream into chocolate, 1/3 at a time. Fill tart shell. Smooth top of tart using a long spatula dipped in hot water and dried between strokes.

In this case, the decorations were impromptu. We had orangettes (no not that Orangette, the candy kind) and they looked sort of like stained glass when sliced -- tasty stained glass with chocolate edges. someoneElse sliced a number of them and I started  arranging them on the tart before I had much of a clue as to final design...because a clock was so tough to come up with. A sprinkle of shaved bittersweet confetti on top of it all and suddenly it was a complete thought. When we arrived, I handed the box with the tart to D., who rewarded me with a doubletake as I explained that I had, after all, gone to a little effort.

For the first hour or so of the party, the host was pulling homemade pizzas out of the oven (caramelized onions and Gorgonzola was probably my favorite) and other guests brought lots of wonderful things to munch, plus much alcohol. We toasted the new year as it moved across North America, although by 11 we were toasting places in out own time zone, something I blame it on the much alcohol. I was glad that we were all mature enough to designate drivers and none of us had far to drive.

I wish you all a 2007 of plenty: friends you laugh with, family you love, work you enjoy and food you love. World peace would be nice too.

September 23, 2006

A cook's basket of herbs

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs.

Basketofherbs1 Basketofherbs3The onset of fall in evenTinierTown brings morning fog, cooling afternoon breezes, and the annual wine tasting and auction, an event that always brings out a crowd to sample food and drink before spending a few dollars on a variety of donated goods. Depending on the amount of wine involved, the spending may climb to more than a few dollars...or so goes the devious plan.

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September 02, 2006

whb: Lavender sugar

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs. . This week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging is being guest-hosted at The Inadvertent Gardener.

LavsugarMany people have used vanilla sugar, and more than a few have some in the pantry (jar+vanilla bean+sugar+time=magic), but few have lavender sugar. Indeed, most folk I say "lavender sugar" to look at me blankly. This is too bad and something I think should be remedied immediately. Fortunately the solution is simple: jar+lavender buds+sugar

Lavender is lightly sweet, and adds a vaguely floral note to food. Too much can be cloying, or "soapy," something which using scented sugar helps avoid. It's hard to go overboard because your food gets too sweet long before it gets too lavendery. It's perhaps the best complement to berries out there, bringing out the berriness without dulling the flavor (as vanilla sometimes does). I use it to macerate berries for shortcake, in whipped cream, even in the shortcake. It's also great in sugar cookies and other lightly flavored treats.

If you buy lavender, make sure you get culinary not aromatic as the latter may have oils or other non-tasty things added. I pick mine from the garden — just when the buds are showing color, but before the flowers open — and use them fresh. As you can see from the picture, I'm not the most particular about cleaning out the papery part of the bud, but you could be if you have nothing else to do with your time.

I use about 2 tablespoons of buds for a quart jar of sugar and let it sit for a month before the first time I use it. I seldom use more than 1/2 a cup at a time so I just top off the sugar, shake it every time I take some out and it goes on forever. Well, almost. I usually add more lavender when I have a fresh harvest.

When using the sugar, you can pass it through a strainer to remove the buds or leave them in. I usually strain it for things like whipped cream or sprinkling on berries, but leave the buds in if cooking the sugar in something. You can also toss the sugar with buds in a food processor to grind it up a bit, which is what I do for lavender shortbread (recipe to be here soon).

July 22, 2006

Weekend Herb Blogging: Vanilla

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs. This week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging is being guest-hosted at The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz, where Paz kicks it off in style with a Chickpea Feta Coriander Salad from Falling Cloudberries.

Vanillaoffering_1 Vanilla. Plain old vanilla. People say it like it's a bad thing, a word that's meant to conjure a flavor barely worthy of mention. Bland. Boring. Vanilla.  Pat Boone has described hiimself as a "vanilla sounding artist." Bland. Boring. White bread. Heck, if white bread had a flavor besides white it would be vanilla. There's vanilla computer configurations, which are boring and basic, there's even vanilla sex. Well, I guess that last is not so far off; the very word vanilla is derived from the Latin for vagina. (file under: odd facts I learned today)

Our last house was painted a warm off-cream color called Pudding, the vanilla pudding was implied, but it was clearly the intent of the name. It was a color you would be happy to see in a vanilla custard; opaquely thick, barely off-white with the merest hint of color from beaten in egg yolks. It wasn't chocolate pudding, or butterscotch, or even banana. Had the paint manufacturer been smarter, they would have been direct and called it Vanilla — which is ever so much lusher than "pudding" and probably worth an extra buck a gallon.

Anyone with a wee bit of search skills can turn up some "vanilla" things that are anything but bland, boring, vanilla. Case in point: The Vanilla Tapes. Not exactly bland and boring. Neither is real vanilla.

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June 24, 2006

whb: grow your own sweet bay

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs. This week's edition is being guest-hosted by Virginie at Absolutely Green who has a French-English blog with some yummy looking pictures of food and France both.

Baymidfeb06Of all the herbs in my garden, I brought three plants with me when I moved, leaving the rest to overwinter in a friend's yard while we got settled. A Tuscan Blue rosemary, the largest of the spanish lavender, and the sweet bay tree rode with me and the cats in the pickup truck. Had I been forced to a decision, the rosemary and lavender could have spent the winter with the rest, but the bay had to be with me.

Pretty strong feelings for an herb whose dried leaves are actually not too bad, widely available and usually inexpensive. For many cooks, bay is a necessary part of the melange of herbs used in things like soups, stews, pot roasts, and, of course, marinara sauce. When used this way, bay provides a difficult to describe flavor that adds a sort of depth and complexity to the dish without leaving a discernable flavor of its own. To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Stewart, I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I don't taste it.

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May 15, 2006

Sometimes simple is best

600v2herbgarden06may020

Having been MIA for far too long, I've been looking for a way to sneak back onstage without making a big deal out of an entrance. Something subtle, yet striking. Quiet, yet audible above the din. Notable, yet seeming like I've been here all along. You know, like whistling in a purple hat. I had pictures. I had recipe ideas. I had all sorts of funny-as-hell ideas...at 4.30 am.

Several false starts later, I've discarded anything  cute and/or complicated — apparently my off the cuff wit has abandoned me, perhaps headed to a tryst with someone less absorbed and more amusing — and have come to a not-so-stunning conclusion: Simple is good.

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December 11, 2005

Multigrain Rosemary Sage Crackers

Rosemarysagecrackers

One of the year-long herbs in my garden is rosemary, which I love paired with olive oil and a bit of salt. All three flavors come through in these deeply flavorful, yet delicate, cracker that I am sure to be making many variations in the months to come. Let's call this Weekend Herb Blogging, because it still is the weekend and I haven't played a meme all week. Kayln's got interesting herbs collected on her blog every weekend, do go check out this week's offerings.

These crackers were inspired by a combination of things: the flavor profile was derived from a recipe for Herbed Olive Oil Crackers from Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbfarm Cookbook, the addition of yeast was due to a recent batch of Lavash from The Breadbaker's Apprentice, and the use of the pasta machine comes from a recent conversation with Farmgirl.

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November 16, 2005

Dinner at the Herbfarm (part 1)

The fire in the Herbfarm's parlor fireplace danced as we escaped the misty rain into its warmth. In one corner Carrie, one of the restaurant's owners, explained the various herbs that would be used in tonight's dinner while guests passed around scratch-and-sniff sprigs including rose geranium, english thyme, and sage — both green and tangerine. We found a spot in the back of the group, next to the dining room doors — closed at the moment, but not hiding a couple hundred small candles, dangling in mini-lanterns from old-fashioned candleholders set on each table. The half-dozen wine glasses at each place reflect the flames until the entire room glows. As Carrie wraps up, people turn towards the closed door and murmur with a bit of anticipation.

A dark-haired man perches on a stool in a corner of the dining room and picks up a guitar, the doors open, we're seated...right next to the guitar player! someoneElse, who is an excellent guitarist as well as the oh-so-wonderful person who invited me to this dinner, quickly suggests that we sit so that I am facing the kitchen while he's facing the guitarist. I can see the entire place from my comfortably uphosltered perch — this is going to be fun! A smiling man offers a selection of herbs from a basket of plants, we're to pick one to infuse our sparkling wine. One of us had rose geranium, and I can't recall the other — which is sad because it was mine. I think it was lemon something, maybe verbena...maybe thyme.

That was 7:00. I turned on my cellphone to check the time when we got into the car. It was 12:35. Between those two dots on my personal timeline: nine courses, six wines 12:35. Five and a half hours, nine courses, six wines, a dozen or so staff on each side of the kitchen counter around which they all gathered to plate and serve each course, two cookbooks (I bought), one classically trained guitarist (who had slipped in at least one Led Zepplin tune by the time dessert and the 90 year old madeira arrived).

As you might guess, this is a story in several installments. Especially since I am being descended on by a horde of twenty-somethings for a multi-day reunion in a couple of days and have lots of prep work to do.

But here's my single photo (sorry, this was a romantic dinner — no cameras allowed) to hold you over until part 2. Our post dinner treats, which we — and quite a few others brought home and ate later.
Hftreats

Clockwise from upper right:
chocolate-hazelut macaroon
lavender-dark chocolate truffle
raspberry gel
orange-thyme madeleine
lemon-geranium white-chocolate truffle

As an idea of the size, the macaroon was maybe an inch across, yet somehow I managed to make it into several bites.

(to be continued)

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