travel, a reading list, and a smoked salmon appetizer

Here we are in the first week of June, and already I’m overwhelmed with all the activities that this month holds. Overwhelmed in a good way, mostly, since most of the items on my agenda include a fair amount of fun. So, what’s up first?

The Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago, also known as "The Bean"

The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago

Chicago!

I’m headed to Chicago for a meeting, but trust me, it’s not going to be all work and no play. The weekend gets kicked off with dinner at Chef Rick Bayless’ restaurant, Topolobampo. I’ve had a craving for his mole sauce ever since watching him prepare it on Top Chef Masters. I’m also spending some time with my sister – something I only get to do once a year or so.

While I’m away, I thought I’d leave you some suggestions of food blogs you ought to be reading. My Google Reader is filled with inspiring sites, but I’m only going to suggest three for you. That should keep you busy over the weekend.

  • Kitchen-Confidante – A beautiful site, recently renamed, written and designed by Liren, a California mother of two. Her food is simple yet elegant, and her photographs reflect that. Plus, she’s a Ridge wine fan, proving she has excellent taste.
  • A Sweet Spoonful – I’ve recently discovered Megan’s site, and I’m hooked. It’s just a beautiful place to spend some time, and her writing just draws me in.
  • In Jennie’s Kitchen – Jennie is a New York writer and mother of two little girls. I can completely relate to her struggles to find that work-life balance that really becomes an issue after having children. Her posts are inspiring, and you’ll want to make homemade pasta after reading them.

But, before you head away to those three blogs to start your reading – and then cooking and baking — make a snack to take with you. This smoked salmon appetizer is incredibly easy to throw together at a moment’s notice, and the contrasting textures of the kettle-cooked chip and silky smoked salmon are a delight.

This appetizer is a fabulous reason to buy potato chips.

Yield: 4 servings.

Smoked Salmon on Chips with Lemon Crème Frâiche

Ingredients:

1/4 cup crème frâiche
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
16 large black pepper or salt-and-pepper kettle-cooked potato chips
1 4-ounce package of thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into 16 pieces
Chopped fresh chives

Directions:

Stir crème frâiche and lemon peel in small bowl. Arrange potato chips on plate. Divide salmon among chips. Spoon rounded 1/2 teaspoon lemon crème frâiche atop salmon on each chip and sprinkle with chives.

yay for s’mores!

Earlier this month, Casey of TasteStopping partnered with Regional Best for a gourmet s’mores kit giveaway. Sometimes I enter these blog giveaway contests and sometimes I don’t. It usually just depends on how lucky I’m feeling that day. Well, on May 3rd, I must have been feeling pretty lucky, because I entered. And I won!

The loot included Kitchen Witch vanilla marshmallows, Middlebury Maple Crackers from Castleton Crackers, and Chocolate Puddles from Grocer’s Daughter Chocolates. And, naturally, I had to sample a bit of each – you know, just to ensure quality.

Just to be completely honest with you, I am not a big fan of marshmallows. I like them in my hot chocolate, but that’s pretty much it. I’ve never been one of those people who can polish off a bag of them. But these. These were SO good. Addictive, really.

The Middlebury Maple Crackers were similar in taste to a graham cracker, but much more crunchy and sturdy. The maple sweetness was subtle, but just right.

And, I’m not sure I’ve ever had bad chocolate. The chocolate puddles were definitely no exception. Plus, I love their name. Puddles. Chocolate puddles. I could just say it over, and over, and over…

While I wanted to be creative with these, I really couldn’t think of a better use to hit all the flavors than a good ol’ s’more.

What better way to appreciate the marshmallow than smooshed and melted with chocolate, sandwiched in a crunchy maple sandwich? Rather than wait until our next bonfire opportunity, I did what any good mom would do. I made s’mores for my daughter using the gas stove to roast the skewered marshmallow.

I think I earned serious mommy-brownie points with this.

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Thanks so much to Casey of Tastestopping for coordinating the S’mores Tasting Party. If you haven’t yet had enough chocolate and marshmallow-y goodness (and I hope you haven’t!), please visit these lovely sites for s’more S’mores!

blackberry buttermilk cake with blackberry compote

June has sneaked right up on me. I knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make it any less surprising to find that the month of May has come to an end so quickly. June brings lots of events this year — my daughter’s last day of kindergarten, a trip to Chicago, our wedding anniversary, a trip to Las Vegas, and my mom’s (and her twin sister’s) birthday. And, with another month gone by comes another chance to pay homage to that great lost food-lovers’ magazine, Gourmet, with a recipe from June of years past for gourmet, unbound.

I decided to make a pair of recipes this month, instead of just one. It just made sense to prepare both. One seemed quite lonely without the other. The blackberry buttermilk cake was inspired by the raspberry buttermilk cake from the June 2009 issue, and the blackberry compote comes from the June 2000 issue.

I grew up eating the wild blackberries that grew in the woods surrounding my childhood home. I vividly remember hot Florida summers, getting scratched by the thorny brambles of the blackberry bushes, purple-stained fingers and lips, the sweet taste of the so-dark-purple-they-were-almost-black blackberries.

I recruited my most enthusiastic kitchen helper for assistance with this cake, and she did a fabulous job. She poured, mixed, greased the pan, placed the blackberries on the cake, and sprinkled sugar on top. She even gave me huge warm fuzzies when she told me she loved cooking with me. It made my afternoon all the more sweet.

This cake is fairly subtle, sweet but not oversweet. It’s the perfect light dessert to serve in the summer or with brunch. The compote really makes the dish, so don’t leave that part out.

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Blackberry Buttermilk Cake

(Recipe only slightly adapted from this recipe in the June 2009 issue of Gourmet. I used blackberries instead of raspberries, and I added some orange flower water to the wet ingredients. Makes 6 servings.)

Ingredients
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon orange flower water
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries (about 5 ounces)
Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in the middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. (Consider using a round of parchment in the bottom of the pan; I didn’t and I had some problems with the cake sticking.)
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Then beat in vanilla and orange flower water. Add egg and beat well.
  4. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.
  5. Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.
  6. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate. Serve with blackberry compote.

Blackberry Compote

(Recipe from the June 2000 issue of Gourmet. This can be made ahead and kept covered and chilled for up to 4 days. Makes about 2 cups.)

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 whole allspice
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen blackberries (about 15 ounces, fresh)
Preparation
  1. Bring water, sugar, lemon juice, and allspice to a boil in a small saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Cool syrup to lukewarm and discard allspice.
  2. Purée 2 cups blackberries with all of syrup in a blender. Force purée through a fine sieve into a bowl to remove seeds. Stir remaining cup of berries into sauce; or, if not serving immediately, stir the whole berries in just prior to serving.