Monday, March 30, 2020

Tuna Sauce.

image from Zingermans, my favorite source for tinned fish
Everyone is making tuna salad these days.  From NYT's food editors, to my favorite chefs and bloggers. For good reasons, it's cheap and you probably have most of the ingredients in your [quarantine] pantry. Today I'm sharing my favorite way to enjoy that can of tuna, and it doesn't include a salad or a sandwich (although any leftovers would make a damn fine sandwich).

As with most food blogs, there's a back story to this recipe. I could tell you about my favorite neighborhood restaurant in Boston where I first fell in love with Vitello Tonnato, a traditional Italian recipe of cold sliced veal with tuna sauce. Or I might share how I ordered it several times a week while traveling in Italy last fall. My favorite memory of eating Vitello Tonnato is from our last night at Il Pellicano, on the edge of the Argentario coast. The veal was so tender it melted in my mouth, and the sauce was so creamy and elegant that I asked the chef for an extra side of sauce - which I proceeded to dip my bread in, and then finish with a spoon..... You get my point.

I am keenly aware that some people have an issue with veal. And even if you don't, veal isn't the easiest thing to find at a typcial grocer. Thankfully tonnato sauce is just as delicious served with pork. I prefer pork tenderloin, but it is equally as tasty on a chop. I've also been known to smear it on toasted bread as an aperitivo.
tuna sauce on grilled pork tenderloin
photo my own

tuna sauce on toasted sourdough - pairs beautifully w a negroni
(photo my own)

My favorite recipe is from Marcella Hazan, found in the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I've tweaked it a bit for efficiency (store bought mayo is fine ;).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Southern Cake for the weekend.

This is a special cake. It is in fact one of the better cakes I've enjoyed in a long time. My lovely friend Marty Townsend made this cake, a Lane Cake,  for a recent dinner party at which our book group discussed the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. We don't often pair menu items with the book du jour, but I'm so glad that Marty chose to resurrect this vintage recipe for our gathering. With her permission, I am sharing her very thoughtful and eloquently presented research and reflections on this recipe.  The recipe is also below, and I encourage you to bake THIS cake this weekend.  There is plenty of time.

"Some background on my request to do our dessert course this Saturday:  inspired by reading about Lane cake in To Kill A Mockingbird, I thought it would be fun to attempt making one for our final course on Saturday.  Another book-related tie-in, yes, but nothing so elaborate as our Titanic dinner.  Commentary below is borrowed freely from NPR and Wikipedia. 

You may recall that a Lane cake is given as a welcome gift to Aunt Alexandra by Miss Maudie Atkinson. The narrator, Scout, reports, "Miss Maudie baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.” ("Shinny" is slang for liquor.)  Many different recipes existed for Lane cake.  Ours will have shinny.  

Later, Miss Maudie bakes a Lane cake for Mr. Avery, who is severely injured in an attempt to put out a fire in her home. “Mr. Avery will be in bed for a week—he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”

Lane cake is often found at receptions, holiday dinners, or wedding showers in the South.  It's a white sponge cake with a filling of candied fruit, raisins, pecans, coconut, and bourbon. The original recipe for Lane cake called for 1/4 cup Bourbon added to the filling mixture only, although the bourbon was sometimes replaced with grape juice by cooks who didn't want to use alcohol. Whisky, wine, and brandy are mentioned in some recipes.  

Recipes for Lane cake vary because many Southern cooks who made it fiercely guarded their recipes. Some lucky cooks used a recipe passed down from generation to generation, while others relied on vague instructions and a variety of sources in an attempt to recreate the family tradition. 

The cake's creator, Emma Rylander Lane, thought the cake tasted best when made a day or two ahead of time. She included this advice in the original recipe that appeared in her cookbook Some Good Things to Eat, published in 1898.

Lane was likely a native of nearby Americus, Ga. According to legend, she moved to Clayton when her husband was transferred there as an employee of Georgia Railroad Company. It's where she created the cake and published the recipe in Some Good Things to Eat after she entered it in a baking competition and won first place.

Since that time, recipes have been difficult to find.  The Lane cake may have suffered a fate similar to its sometimes-maligned cousin—the fruitcake. In "A Christmas Memory" by Harper Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote, a child and his relative collect ingredients like dried fruit, pecans and whiskey to bake fruit cakes for Christmas in rural Alabama. "Lane cake is actually a lot like fruit cake in a way... in terms of texture and taste,” one food researcher says. "I wonder if it's just fallen out of vogue."  "
- Martha Townsend

photo by Catherine Baker

Friday, February 22, 2019

turn up, for Turnip Soup

From the look of things (aka my recent blog posts) you might have the impression that I'm really super into baking. This is actually not the case at all. I much prefer soups, stews, and savory concoctions that leave me feeling warm and loved during these dreadful winter months.

photo courtesy of Love Tree Studios
A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a Supper Club series at Blue Bell Farm. In fact, I'm cooking there again this Saturday evening! I worked with a team of two other women, Amanda Elliot and Amy Barrett, both professional chefs and total geniuses in the kitchen. My contribution to the menu was a simple turnip soup, highlighting what is seasonally available here in the Midwest. I used hakurei turnips sourced from Pierpont Farms.  One of my favorite ways to elevate what might otherwise be considered a humble soup is to use a high power blender (I like a Vitamix) to create a creamy and almost lofty consistency that closely resembles a velouté. I garnished the soup with a caraway/rye crumb and a swish of creme fraiche, finished with red amaranth microgreens from my friends at Stem to Table Farm. The fuschia amaranth was so beautiful against the soft neutrals of the crumb and cream.

We were fortunate enough to have the ever lovely Love Tree Studio on location to take some seriously gorgeous photos of the evening's menu. They have graciously allowed me to share some of their photos to go along with my recipe here.

photo courtesy of Love Tree Studio

photo courtesy of Love Tree Studio

photo courtesy of Love Tree Studio
photo courtesy of Love Tree Studio

Turnip Soup
serves 6-8

This soup will be better the second day, so if you have time to make ahead that's a bonus.


For the soup 
2 lb Hakurei Turnips, quartered
2 leeks, rinsed (they can be quite sandy) and thinly sliced
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thin
1/2 russet potato peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup white wine
2 sprigs of thyme
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 quart low sodium (or unsalted is even better) chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
white pepper

For the garnish
3 slices rye bread
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
pinch of sea salt
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
red amaranth microgreens if you can find them


For the soup
In a pot (large enought to contain all ingredients) melt the butter over medium heat along with the olive oil. Add the leeks and onions, as well as generous pinch of sea salt. Stir every few minutes until quite soft, about 10 minutes.

Raise the temperature just a tiny bit and pour in the white wine.  Using a wooden spoon scrape up any brown bits left from the onions and leeks, reduce and simmer for 3 minutes, just enough to burn off the alcohol.

Add the turnips and potato along with the chicken stock, thyme, and a generous pinch (about 1/2 tsp) of white pepper. Bring to a soft simmer, put on the lid and cook until the potato and turnips are soft, about 30 minutes. Remove the stem of thyme. Using an immersion blender, food processor, or high powered blender, puree the mixture until it is utterly creamy.

Whisk in the cream and nutmeg.  Taste for salt and pepper, add as needed.

For the garnish
Toast the rye bread in the oven on 250 for 2 hr.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
Once the bread is cool and CRISPY place it in the food processor along with the caraway seeds and a pinch of sea salt. Pulse together until you've created a fine crumb.  Put the caraway crumb into a small dish until you're ready to plate the soup.

In a small bowl whisk together the sour cream, heavy cream, and lemon juice. It should be a homogenious mixture, slightly thin in texture, but retaining the tart taste (acid) of sour cream.

To plate the soup
Ladle HOT soup into individual bowls.  Using a small spoon dust the top of the soup with the caraway crumb (I made a straight line, but feel free to get creative).  Follow the same line with your creamy cream fraiche. Pinch off a little bit of the microgreens to finish.  Serve and enjoy.