How to Roast Strawberries

Roasted strawberries

Fact #1: Strawberries are at the top of my list of favorite summer fruits.

Fact #2: Strawberry jam is at the bottom of my list of least favorite jams.

Fact #3: My favorite strawberry-monger was selling half-pound baskets of Saturday's strawberries yesterday, at the rock-bottom price of 1 euro per basket.

Fact #4: I am powerless in the face of cheap, delicious, local fruit.

Fact #5: I bought a pound of strawberries and though they were cheap, they were also at peak ripeness and needed to eaten or processed that same day.

Fact #6: While I probably could have eaten all the strawberries in the course of the day, I exercised exemplary restraint and ate only about a third. Standing up. With my fingers.

It didn't seem worth it to make jam out of the remaining strawberries. Especially since I don't particularly love strawberry jam. (Does anybody else think it tastes a little like Band-Aids? Just me?) Instead I took to the internet, which informed me that everyone and their mother has moved on to roasting their surplus strawberries, duh, and so I decided to follow suit.

I hulled the strawberries and cut them in half lengthwise, then dropped them in a large baking pan. I added about 1/4 cup of sugar (I'm guessing that I had about a 3/4 pound of strawberries) and one teaspoon of vanilla paste, something I acquired at a TJ Maxx in Newton Highlands on a recent trip to Boston and am still not entirely convinced by. Mixed up and then spread out evenly, the strawberries went into a 375 F oven (190 C) for an hour. I rotated the pan halfway through, but only sort of shook the strawberries a little instead of stirring them.

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At the end, the scent of roasting strawberries had filled the house. The fruits had given off a gorgeous claret syrup, but had stayed intact - shrunken, but intact. I let them cool, much to my son's chagrin, and this morning we ate them spooned over bowls of cool, creamy yogurt. The flavor of the strawberries had concentrated and deepened, of course, but gone darker too, into a richer, almost savory place. And the texture of the strawberries was wonderful - with just the barest heft, the seeds still crunching pleasantly in my teeth, the flesh silky and tender. They made our bowls of breakfast yogurt taste like dessert.

When you make this (not "if"), you will probably want to adjust the amount of sugar you use. The strawberries I had were incredibly sweet and delicious on their own and more than 1/4 cup of sugar would have been too much. But you don't want to use too little sugar, either, because that strawberry syrup that collects at the bottom of the pan is pretty great stuff.

Fact #7: We need more strawberries.


Karen DeMasco's Steamed Lemon Puddings

Steamed lemon pudding

I'll tell you, up until the last minute it was going to be a pavlova. It was going to be crisp and marshmallowy and billowy and beautiful, spotted with ruby-red pomegranate seeds floating on top of a thick tide of yogurt cream. Spectacular, I tell you! And also way too much for a lunch party of five. I came to my senses just before dinnertime on Sunday evening, making a quick U-turn to steamed lemon puddings from none other than pastry queen Karen DeMasco (she of the cashew brittle and the carrot cupcakes which are among the best things to ever come out of my kitchen, well, until these lemon puddings).

A big thanks goes to reader Jenny who reminded me of them - they'd been on the docket here for years, languishing away while I dallied with chocolate cakes and spice cookies and citrus salads. Back when the New York Times was still doing columns with chefs, Tom Colicchio wrote about his brilliant pastry chef and her lemon puddings. They were, Tom said, "not too rich" and "foolproof", which was all I needed to know this time around. I could make them in advance and then either warm them up or unmold them and serve them cool.

Lemon sugar

Steamed puddings are funny things, hybrids between a soufflé and a pudding and the lightest of cakes. Their name sounds wholesome and old-fashioned, at least to me, sort of like something I imagine Victorian ladies eating with tiny silver spoons, but the flavor is sharp and modern and bright - it fairly screams LEMON LEMON LEMON.

To make them you first grate lemon peel into a bowl of sugar and add flour to that, but my tip to you, before you add the flour, is to massage the lemon peel into the sugar. The already fragrant oils are released even more as the sugar works as an abrasive and it's just one of those delightful little kitchen tasks that makes you happy to be working - a few extra seconds of work that feel good.

Then you beat buttermilk and egg yolks and 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (which in today's case were precisely two very juicy lemons) together and in a separate bowl, whip the remaining egg whites until soft peaks form, nothing further.

Soft peaks

The egg whites are carefully stirred (proper folding is difficult because the batter is so liquid) into the buttermilk mixture until it's light and cloudlike and then you ladle it into buttered and sugared ramekins which are placed in a water bath and baked until they're puffed and golden-brown and cracking slightly. I found the transfer of the water-and-ramekin-filled baking sheet into the oven to be the most stressful part of this whole thing. (Which is to say that a. I am clearly easily stressed and that b. this recipe is ridiculously easy.)

Steamed lemon puddings

The lemon puddings are spectacular when you take them out of the oven, quivering and burnished and puffed-up, but they lose height and slump down pretty quickly as they cool. Never you mind. When you take a spoon to the ramekins a little later, you'll find that what they've lost in beauty, they've gained in total deliciousness. You'll also find a tender, light little cake on top obscuring a silken lemon curd beneath and although you will try to eat your steamed lemon pudding just as those dainty Victorian ladies once did, politely and slowly, it will be very very hard, especially once you realize that the problem with individual servings is NO SECONDS.

Happy birthday, Mami!

Karen DeMasco's Steamed Lemon Puddings
Serves 6

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons flour
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
3 eggs, separated
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pint blueberries, optional
2/3 cup heavy cream, whipped, optional

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter six four-ounce ramekins or foil muffin cups. Dust each with 1 teaspoon sugar, shaking out any excess.

2. In small bowl, mix remaining sugar with flour and lemon zest. In large bowl, lightly beat egg yolks, and stir in buttermilk and lemon juice.

3. Whip egg whites until softly peaked. Whisk sugar mixture into buttermilk mixture. Fold in beaten egg whites in thirds. Spoon batter into prepared containers. Place in baking pan, and add hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins or tins. Cover pan completely with foil.

4. Bake about 15 minutes, until batter begins to puff. Remove foil, and bake another 15 minutes or so, until tops begin to brown and are springy to touch. A little cracking is fine.

5. Remove from oven, and serve warm. If you make the pudding in advance, allow it to cool to room temperature, and unmold to serve, or reheat in warm water bath, and serve warm. Fresh blueberries and whipped cream can be served alongside, but I served them plain and they were divine.


David Tanis's Ambrosia

David Tanis's Ambrosia

Happy New Year! I hope you all had restorative, calming breaks. Max was home for 16 blissful days and we enjoyed every single one. Even Hugo played along and stopped waking up at 5:00 am, for which we are both endlessly grateful. We may even buy him a pony in gratitude? A tiny motorcyle? His very own African elephant baby?

I know it is hopelessly unhip to admit to eating healthfully in January, but I can't help it. In the grand German tradition, we started eating piles of Christmas cookies all the way back on the first Advent and by the time New Year's rolled around, after the roasts and the jelly doughnuts and the Stollen and panettone and everything else, it would have been a freaking miracle if our pants weren't tight. Ahem. My pants. Also, I now have that sort of unpleasant sensation of being completely sugared out. Of being sated down to the tips of my toes. Best remedied by eating lightly and cleanly and by getting out and moving.

But I was invited to a lunch party yesterday and was tasked with bringing dessert. What was I going to do? I couldn't bring myself to even make a pan of brownies. (The last pan I made, David's dulce de leche brownies, was just after New Year's and while they were perfect, I couldn't bring myself to eat more than a few bites. Like I said, sugared out! To the tips of my toes!)

Instead, inspired by something I read online from Amanda Hesser about a reinvention of that old Southern dessert ambrosia, a mix of sliced oranges and shredded coconut, I turned to David Tanis's lovely book, A Platter of Figs. David Tanis updates the dish with just a few simple touches, turning it from simple and retro into something far more elegant, complex and delicious.

Segmented citrus

Instead of just using oranges, David has you use grapefruits, blood oranges, kumquats and navels (I didn't have navels, so used clementines). The grapefruits are segmented, the oranges are peeled and sliced and the kumquats are sliced, so you not only have a whole dance of different citrus flavor going on, but layers of texture too, especially once the soft pineapple and spiky coconut are tossed in. Some versions of the old ambrosia add canned crushed pineapple to the mix, but here, David has you dice up fresh pineapple, which adds an element of pure sweetness to the dish. And instead of sweetened shredded coconut, use unsweetened shredded coconut (I used a mix of flaked and shredded, just for fun). David's original recipe makes an enormous amount of ambrosia, so I scaled down the citrus a bit to the quantities below and it served 6 of us at the end of a 3-course lunch quite well.

David's ambrosia is the perfect winter dessert - seasonal and juicy, deeply satisfying and delicious, and beautiful to boot. I'm in love.

But next week is my mother's birthday and I am, of course, in charge of dessert. And while I adored the ambrosia, I'm not sure it's birthday party material. I want to find something that's celebratory and special, but still relatively light. So what can I make? A wintery pavlova? An angel food cake? A towering croquembouche filled with nothing but sweet, delicious air? Help a girl out, folks!

David Tanis's Ambrosia
Adapted from A Platter of Figs
Serves 6

2 pink grapefruits
2 blood oranges
2 clementines
8 kumquats
1/2 ripe pineapple
Sugar, if necessary
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1. With a sharp knife, cut off the tops and bottoms of the grapefruits, blood oranges and clementines, then peel, making sure to remove all the white pith. Working over a bowl, section the grapefruit into wedges, cutting between the membranes. Before discarding, squeeze out the grapefruit carcasses into the bowl, they should yield quite a bit of juice. Slice the blood oranges and clementines into 1/4-inch rounds and add them to the bowl. Slice the kumquats into the thinnest rounds possible and add to the bowl. Peel and core the pineapple, then cut into small pieces and add to the bowl. With your (clean) hands, mix the fruits very gently. Taste the juice and if absolutely necessary, add a bit of sugar. Cover and set aside for up to several hours.

2. Just before serving, sprinkle the coconut over the salad. Toss gently and serve immediately.


A Glut of Plums

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The markets are flooding with the last prune plums of the season. I can never walk past the piles of them, dark and smooth, like big purple bullets. I've made Pflaumenmus (see my book for the recipe) and plum cake and poached plums, too, but this past week, a bowl of plums I'd bought the week earlier from a vendor who warned me that they were very sour, almost too sour, languished on my countertop. Hugo didn't want any and I didn't blame him: they were too tart for eating raw.

So last night, then, after Max left and Hugo was asleep, I decided to go back to one of my all-time favorite recipes on this blog, Marian Burros' plum crumble. But this time I more than doubled the fruit. I wanted a mostly fruity dessert, with the crumble topping as a jaunty, crunchy cap. I kept the amount of candied ginger the same and only added a touch more sugar, hoping that the plums would turn into a tangy jam beneath the rubble. I was aiming for a crumble that I could eat for breakfast with yogurt with nary a second's thought and one that would use up the last of my plums, of course, too.

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I'd forgotten that the crumble topping is unusual in its assembly - you massage a beaten egg into spiced flour and sugar and baking powder, drop this streusel of sorts onto the fruit and only then drizzle (inundate?) the whole thing with melted butter.

In the oven, magic happens. The plums soften and melt, the topping rises and browns and turns almost cookie-like, but with soft pockets of yielding dough here and there. I hadn't been mistaken, this truly is one of the best recipes I know, and this new version, heavy with fruit, is perfection. It's best eaten with a puddle of creamy plain yogurt. At least, that's how I like it best - the sourness of the yogurt a wonderful companion to the tart plums and sugary top.

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Plum Crumble
Serves 6 to 8

34 purple Italian or prune plums, cut in half and pitted
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 heaping tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

1. Place plums in medium bowl. Heat oven to 375 degrees, with rack in center.

2. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground ginger and the candied ginger. Add to plums and mix well. Arrange plums skin side up in ungreased, deep 9-inch pie plate or baking dish.

3. In a small bowl, combine granulated sugar, baking powder, remaining flour and cinnamon and the salt. Mix well. Stir in egg. Using hands, mix thoroughly to produce little particles. Sprinkle over plums.

4. Drizzle butter evenly over crumb mixture and bake 30 to 35 minutes. Crumble is done when top is browned. Remove from oven and cool.

5. Serve crumble warm or refrigerate for up to two days or freeze, well covered. If reheating, bring to room temperature, then warm at 300 degrees.


Cooking for Hugo: Roasted Apricots

Roasted apricots

We recently had Hugo's one-year check-up (a few weeks short of one year - his birthday isn't until next week, which is, of course, blowing my mind in every clichéd way possible. One year? Already? Wasn't he just born?) and as we were leaving, the doctor handed me a little brochure on nutrition after the first year. I stuck it in my bag and forgot about it until a few days later, when I pulled it out and realized it was actually pretty useful - full of guidelines on things like how much water babies should be drinking each day, how much meat to aim for in a given week, how many dairy products kids should have per day and other relatively specific, yet still vague enough to not feel up against a wall, pieces of information on nourishing your child.

(I was happy to have some specifics, because our pediatrician is absolutely useless with advice - he refuses to give any, on anything, which means the internet, our mothers and my girlfriends is where I come up with new things to feed Hugo and as you can imagine, there is a lot of conflicting opinion. I used to think our doctor's insistence that we should just follow our gut and ignore all advice was sweet and refreshing, but now - after he dismissed a persistent and nasty rash on Hugo as nothing but dry skin (and in the process made me feel like a crazy person), when it actually turned out to be infected (!) eczema (!), we're switching doctors. Do not tell a mother to follow her gut and then when she does so, call her crazy, Mister Doctor Man! Ahem.)

Continue reading "Cooking for Hugo: Roasted Apricots" »


Monday Giveaway!

The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook
You know what is a total buzzkill? Fitting triumphantly into your skinniest pre-pregnancy skinny jeans one week and the next having someone ask you if you're pregnant again. You know, because of your belly?

Zing!

Yes! (I mean Yes! that happened. Not Yes! I'm pregnant.)

Urgh.

Yogurt date cups

It's okay, I've mostly gotten over it and I do think this friend is far more mortified (still) than I was. Also, I'm still nursing and my belly was never my best feature, let's be honest, and yadda yadda yadda, I have a beautiful baby boy in exchange, so who really cares, right? Except of course that one does care even if one is sort of amazed at how much less one cares now than one would have before one became a mother. Oh, self! You contain multitudes.

Luckily for me, I can identify pretty clearly the factors standing between me and Rock! Hard! Abs!, or, you know, Abs That Do Not Look Like They Are Encasing A Fetus. And those factors would be 1. Total and absolute sedentariness (is that a word?) and 2. My afternoon cookie-cake-whatever-as-long-as-it-is-sweet-and-delicious break that I've been doing religiously since Hugo's birth.

Mashed dates

Since daily exercise is really limited only to what I can do at home during Hugo's naptime, it's the afternoon cookie break that I'm training my eyes on. It needs serious reforming and Sara Forte's The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook is currently my reform master.

Specifically, her recipe for Sesame Date Yogurt Cups, which jumped out at me last year when I was reviewing the pages for a blurb (full disclosure!) and hadn't left my mind since. They're so simple - just dates mashed with sesame seeds and then layered with yogurt that's been flavored with a pinch of cinnamon and crisped brown rice - but so much more than the sum of the parts. I mean, flavoring yogurt with cinnamon? So good. Pairing dates and sesame seeds? Of course! Putting them together with crisped rice on top for texture? Lady, you are so smart. These lovely little treats are as satisfying as they are virtuous. I really love them.

(If salt is your vice, not sugar, may I direct you to the recipe for nori popcorn on page 161? You're welcome.)

Empty cup

Sara's cookbook is full of little gems like that; healthy ingredients matched up in inspired ways that would have never occurred to me and that taste so, so good. Sara's idea of enlivening that old standby pesto with lemon zest and lemon juice to serve with lentil meatballs is so easy and yet I'd never tried it before. I usually ignore pesto, but now I plan on using this combination as a dressing for grain salads and cooked beans, anything, really, that needs a little kick. I loved her zucchini roll-ups, in which za'atar and Greek yogurt give grilled zucchini slices new style. And I cannot wait to try what sounds like breakfast cereal nirvana: pearled barley cooked in coconut mik and cardamom, then topped with toasted coconut, pomegranate seeds and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. Yes?

YES FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

Happily, I have an extra copy of this lovely book for a giveaway! So for a chance to win a copy of The Sprouted Kitchen, please leave a comment below and I'll pick a winner at random tomorrow. Good luck!

Update: Erin is the winner and has been emailed! Thank you all for participating - comments are now closed.

Sara Forte's Sesame Date Yogurt Cups
Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen
Serves 4

7 Medjool dates, pitted
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, plus more for sprinkling
Sea salt, optional
2 cups whole-milk plain yogurt (or Greek or goat's milk)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup crisped brown rice

1. Soak the dates in warm water for 10 minutes to soften. If the dates are soft enough, skip the soaking. Put the dates in a bowl with the sesame seeds and a pinch of salt, if using. Mash together to create a chunky paste. Press a fourth of the date mixture into the bottom of four small glasses.

2. In a bowl, stir together the yogurt and cinnamon, then spoon 1/2 cup of the yogurt into each jar. Sprinkle a few sesame seeds and a couple of spoonfuls of the crisped rice on top. Eat immediately.


Judy Rodgers' Roasted Applesauce

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Hello, folks. I was supposed to drop in here before I left for New York, but one thing led to another and suddenly I was on the airplane, belly a-bumping, aimed for that sunny, bloom-filled city. I got back to Berlin yesterday morning, which, in a cruel metereological twist, was cold and gray and wet when I arrived, mirroring how I felt after leaving New York.

It took me much longer to acclimate to New York than usual this time. The first two days, I was just overwhelmed by the colors, the people, the noise, the constant barrage of gorgeous sights. I didn't know how to process any of it. Someone told me recently that when you're pregnant, you're much more vulnerable than usual because you have to be open to this mind-bending experience taking place within your own body, to all the changes that are to come. So as a result, you're like an open wound, far more sensitive than usual to any kind of stimulation, good or bad. By the time Friday evening rolled around, I was in tears. I couldn't really explain them except for the fatigue, jet lag, dehydration. Luckily, my friends picked me up and brushed me off, like a sensible mother with an overstimulated toddler at the playground. And the next morning, I was on New York time.

The rest of the week sped by in warp speed, a blur of happy moments: my baby shower, takeout Momofuku with my friend Teri on her couch, burly firemen in a blaring truck grinning and waving at my friend Jenny's son as he waved at them, the cover of my book on my publisher's fall catalogue, sitting in Stuyvesant Square in the sun with my father and stepmother, walking the full length of Houston Street at nightfall like I used to, but this time feeling the baby wiggle.

Leaving gutted me. Sitting in the departure lounge at JFK on Wednesday was actually sort of physically painful. I just wanted to bolt, just wanted a few more days among my friends and all the friendly New York strangers who made me smile on the streets. I didn't want to go back to Berlin just yet, to the quiet apartment that feels like a treehouse sometimes, to the emptier streets, the solemn-faced people. Not quite yet. So, yes, last night, I found myself in tears again, set off as I unpacked the pale blue WubbaNub my friend Andrea had given me at the shower. Max listened and soothed me over the phone and then, in the gentlest tones possible, told me to get some sleep.

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And today things are better.

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While I wait for the markets to flood with berries and pink stalks of rhubarb, I can't help still compulsively buying apples when I see them. But they're last fall's apples and no longer the crisp, juicy specimens they once were. One way to get around a mouthful of mealy apple after dinner (the worst, no?) is to turn those apples into applesauce. And better yet is to roast the apples into applesauce. The recipe comes from The Zuni Café Cookbook via Food52 and is a new favorite of mine.

All you do is roughly peel, core and quarter the apples and then stick them in a baking dish with a little sugar, a pinch of salt and the merest bit of butter (I use more sugar and less butter than the original recipe - it's up to you to calibrate that stuff.) Tightly covered with aluminum foil, the apples roast in the oven until they're tender and melting. Then you take off the aluminum foil and let them dry out and take on some color, giving them a deeper richness than a regular baked or stewed apple would get. All that's left, then, for you to do is to scrape them into a bowl and stir them into a loose purée with a fork.

You can, if you like, add a splash of cider vinegar at the end, just to sort of sharpen the flavors. I love this tip - it's like adding balsamic vinegar to strawberries - it just underlines what's already there in the subtlest way. There's no additional flavoring, no cinnamon, no lemon, just the pure, clear taste of cooked apples with a bit of caramelized depth. Something faintly toasted. Something good. I eat these apples with yogurt or on top of my morning oatmeal or just straight from the refrigerated container, so cold that my teeth ache, before bedtime. And just the other day, it occurred to me that they'd make perfect baby food.

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While I get over my New York melancholia, I'm loving looking through these photographers' images:

Sandra Juto
Joseph O. Holmes

And this picture from my baby shower (that's me on the left):

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Judy Rodgers' Roasted Applesauce
Makes about 3 cups
Find the original recipe here

3 1/2 to 4 pounds apples (Rodgers uses crisp eating apples, like Sierra Beauties, Braeburns, Pippins, Golden Delicious or Galas)
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
A splash of apple cider vinegar, as needed

1. Heat oven to 375 F.

2. Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Toss with the salt and sugar (more or less to taste). Spread the apples in a shallow baking dish in a single layer. Top with slivers of the butter, cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil, and bake until the apples start to soften, 15 to 30 minutes, depending on your apples.

3. Uncover, raise the heat to 500 F, and return the pan to the oven. Leave the apples to dry out and color slightly, about 10 minutes. When the tips of the apples have become golden brown and the fruit is tender, scrape them into a bowl and stir into a chunky purée. Season with salt and sugar to taste, then add a splash of apple cider vinegar to brighten the flavor (don't overdo the vinegar). Keeps for a week in the fridge.