eggcess

When life gives you egg whites…

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Make meringues!

After making a giant pan of tiramisu for a dinner party last week (recipe and story forthcoming), I was left with a container of egg whites begging to be whipped into light and airy peaks and transformed into something sweet. I perused my shelf of baking books for inspiration and finally settled on a recipe from Alice Medrich’s Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies. I’ve had this book for years, but despite fawning over the pages, hadn’t made a recipe from it yet. The success of this inaugural recipe has me already planning out my next cookie baking adventure.

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There are about ten or so recipes for meringue cookies in this book, with variations listed for each, so for an indecisive person like myself, settling on just one was not easy. And in a way, you can say I didn’t even do that. Rather, I baked a version that combines all sorts of flavors. It’s a white meringue spiked with espresso powder and cinnamon and speckled with bittersweet chocolate crumbs that are made by pulverizing dark chocolate and sugar. Although it may sound like there’s a lot going on, the combination of coffee, chocolate, and marshmallow-y meringue melded together into delightfully crisp, airy bites—a simple, delicate, yet decadent use of leftover ingredients.

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“Not-So-Plain” Mocha Meringues

adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies

5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

⅔ cup sugar

⅛ tsp salt

3 lg egg whites at room temp

¼ tsp cream of tartar*

2 tsp instant espresso powder

⅛ tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 200. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a food processor combine chocolate and ⅓ cup sugar and pulse until the chocolate is in crumb-sized pieces. In a large bowl use a hand mixer (or use a stand mixer) to whip egg whites and cream of tartar until they are opaque and forming soft peaks.  At this point, add espresso powder, cinnamon and remaining ⅓ cup sugar slowly while continuing to beat egg whites until they are forming very stiff peaks. This will take another 1 ½ – 2 minutes. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of batter onto parchment paper, about 1 inch apart. Bake for 2 hours, rotating pans halfway through. After 2 hours of baking, turn oven off and allow meringues to cool in the oven. Remove from the oven once cool and store in an airtight container.

*I subbed a squeeze of lemon juice (about ¼ tsp) for the cream of tartar, and it worked just fine!

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parting gift

Growing season is quite different in Florida than it is in many parts of the country. Sweltering summers suffocate most budding things, while mild, breezy winters and springs foster a bounty of juicy strawberries, ruby red tomatoes, and sweet onions. I was lucky to be home for part of the Florida harvest season to enjoy my parents’ ever-thriving backyard garden, taking full advantage of the herbs, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes that sprung up each day and marveling at the beauty of the flowering trees that jutted up amongst the palms.

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But there are some things that actually thrive in the Miami summer sun. Tropical crops, mostly. Carambola, avocado, and the king of all tropical fruits: the Mango.

Daily, while walking my dog, hundreds of green mangoes hung from the trees that dot my neighborhood, taunting me with their unquestionable unripeness. On more than one occasion I thought about plucking one from a branch or giving a tree a gentle shake, but after many a summer of mango picking and eating experience, I know that to force a mango to fall from a tree before its prime time would be somewhat of a sin. So I dashed my hopes of savoring a mango during my stay in Miami, comforted by promises of a mango-filled care package come June.

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And then, a miracle occurred. On the last day I was home, taking one last walk with Chase and my mom up our street, we passed an especially abundant tree in a neighbor’s front yard. “Let’s check the ground,” my mom said. (This neighbor had confessed to my mom years ago that, despite his bountiful tree, he actually hated mangoes, and gave us carte blanche to salvage them from the ground whenever we wanted). Skeptically, I walked toward the tree, doubtful that any mango would have fallen in early May. But lo and behold, right before our eyes was a perfect, unmarred mango. A parting gift.

It was hard as a rock, but given patience, a home in a brown paper bag, a 1,400 mile cross-country road trip in my toasty trunk, and another week and a half long rest on my kitchen counter, it transformed into a soft fruit, flecked with dots signalling ripeness and emanating a honey-sweet aroma that fragrance makers can only dream of bottling.

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I peeled the soft skin and cut the bright orange flesh into neat cubes, then abandoned all tools and used the ones nature gave me to ungracefully clean the last bits of clinging fruit off the pit—the most indulgent part of mango eating. When you have something so pure and so delectable in front of you, there’s little want to alter it with other ingredients. I enjoyed it simply, in a bowl of yogurt and topped with a sprinkling of homemade granola, for a breakfast that I never thought I would have the chance to savor in Chicago in mid-May.

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It is my hope that you are able to fully and simply savor the fruits and vegetables that grow around you this season.

Vanilla Almond Granola

Best when accompanied by fresh fruit and yogurt

3 cups oats

1 cup flaked coconut (I use sweetened)

1 cup slivered almonds

2 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp salt

¼ cup plus 2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325. Combine oats, coconut, almonds, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine (I find that using your hands actually works best to really get all of the wet and dry ingredients incorporated). Spread mixture evenly onto a large baking sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until lightly toasted. (The granola will continue to cook a bit and will dry out as it cools, so be careful to not overcook). Remove from the oven and place baking sheet on a rack. Allow granola to cool fully before storing in an airtight container. Keeps for a couple of weeks at room temperature, and for a couple of months in the freezer.

rhubin’

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I run the risk of alienating some of the most loyal readers of Sugarcured with this post because, as Joanna’s dad once told us, “Cubans don’t eat rhubarb.” My co-author went against this maxim to humor me and try this most old school of my family’s recipes, the rhubarb custard pie, and I’m hoping the rest of the Cubans among us will be similarly tolerant.

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I hesitate to say this after the beautiful ode to the season that Joanna penned yesterday, but in the past I’ve mostly thought of spring as a neglected middle child stuck between winter wonderland and sweet summer, that favorite season of mine that brings sweet corn and baseball and everything glorious. I’m starting to see the error in my ways and, not surprisingly, it has been food that has shown me the light. I’ve been gritting my teeth while my sister crows over her haul of morel mushrooms foraged in the woods around our house in Iowa. I’ve been paying silly prices for asparagus in the markets and thinking wistfully of the bounty of asparagus that grows even on the side of the road back home. In the midst of all this spring food nostalgia I decided that I couldn’t let another spring pass without making the quintessential dessert of May in Iowa- rhubarb pie

IMG_1516This is one very rare recipe I wouldn’t think to tinker with. It comes from my Great Grandma Ida Daib, the German-speaking Lutheran minister’s wife who definitely carried the homecooking gene that runs amok in me. Like any good heirloom recipe, there are no pretensions to be had and the only bit of whimsy is the sprinkle of sugar that tops the lattice crust. I never knew Grandma Daib but I learned my rhubarb pie technique from my mama who would always make two at a time, one for my dad to eat right from the pan and one for the rest of us.

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I think this pie is best still a little warm but others of the Daib lineage (mostly the man who was lucky enough to land a wife who makes the best rhubarb pie in the world- that lady being my mom, of course) would argue that it’s best out of the fridge with a cold glass of milk as a midnight snack. And somebody told me it makes a great accompaniment to morning coffee, but I, as a future health professional who can neither confirm nor deny a serious vice of sweets for breakfast, will have to take your word for that.

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If you’re daunted by the lattice crust, you hereby have my permission to mess with family tradition and make it double crust or top it with a crumble top.

IMG_1527Ida’s Rhubarb Custard Pie

Enough dough for two pie crusts (recipe and technique here)

4 heaping cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 3/4c sugar

Pinch of salt

3 T flour

3 eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the rhubarb, sugar, salt, and flour until well combined. Add the eggs and stir to combine. Roll out one of the pie crusts and place in a greased pie pan. Pour in the filling. Now roll out the second crust to the same thickness and dimensions as the first. To make the lattice, cut the crust vertically into 1″ strips. Use the two longest strips (from the middle of the round) to make a cross with its center in the center of the pie with the vertical strip resting on top. Now place one strip vertically on each side of the middle vertical strip but weave them under the horizontal strip. Now, following a similar weaving pattern, add two horizontal strips. Continue to alternate until the strips are used up and the top is complete. (aw heck, this is the hardest cooking task to explain ever! check out this link.) Top with a generous sprinkle of sugar. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 350 and bake 30 more minutes. Allow to cool almost completely before serving and serve at room temp or slightly warm. Store leftovers in the fridge.

’tis the season

I tend to not have favorites. Favorite color? They’re all pretty in their own way. Favorite food? Don’t even make me begin tackling that one. But favorite season? That’s a no-brainer.

Spring.

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When I decided to go home for the months of March and April I was hit with a pang of sadness, regretful that I’d be missing those first green buds that pop out from wintry, wiry branches and the surprising pale pinks, electric lilacs, and soft yellows that burst from trees that laid dormant for months. But, much to the chagrin of my friends who endured a cold and rainy couple of months, Chicago decided to forestall spring a bit this year, . I’d like to think it was waiting for my return. All I can say is I am eternally grateful for the beautiful tulips, blossoms, and verdancy that envelop the city right now.

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In honor of spring, this weekend Kate and I cooked up a seasonal dinner. On the menu was an asparagus filled twist on pasta carbonara, carrot harissa salad, kale salad with pickled onion, pear, and radish, and to round it all out, a special cocktail. Inspired by a brunch cocktail I enjoyed a few months back at Nana, I set sprigs of rosemary aflame and dropped them into glasses of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, gin, and simple syrup.

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Although my diners and I were skeptical as rosemary smoke wafted over the stove, the cocktails turned out great. The rosemary added a subtle woodiness to to the otherwise sweet and bright drink. I’m already imagining igniting more herbs on fire and experimenting with fun drinks as spring continues to bloom. ‘Tis the season—my favorite season.

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Grapefruit Rosemary Cocktails

Serves 4

4 grapefruits

Gin (about a cup)

⅓ cup granualted sugar

⅓ cup water

Ice cubes

Boil ⅓ cup sugar and ⅓ cup water until sugar is dissolved. Set aside or place in the fridge to cool.

Squeeze juice from 4 grapefruits, discarding any seeds. Place juice in a large pitcher. Add gin. The ratio should be about 3:1 juice:gin. Add simple syrup and stir until combined. Place ice cubes into 4 glasses and divide drink evenly.

Using an open flame on a stove or grill, lightly torch sprigs of rosemary and drop one sprig into each glass.

Cheers!

reemerging

Well, hello! It’s been a while since sugar cured has gotten some attention. Much as we aspired to maintain weekly posts during boards time, studying got the best of me in the last two weeks. But I’m happy to report that the gnarliness has come to an end and the blogging has resumed! In fond memory of the past six weeks, I’d like to share one of the best lunches I had during that time.

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Since I was studying at home, I had the luxury of preparing a fresh lunch every day. I welcomed that midday break as a time to shut off my left brain and ignite my right brain with culinary creativity. The concoctions were usually simple, but they recharged me both physically and mentally for the afternoon ahead.

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One of my favorite lunches was this avocado egg salad. In lieu of mayo, I mashed an avocado with lemon juice, salt, pepper. I added some sprigs of dill and a handful of torn spinach to the mix and then broke in medium-boiled eggs that were still a bit drippy in the center. Piled atop lightly toasted rye bread and adorned with ruby red tomato slices from my parents’ garden, this healthy and satisfying salad provided just the right nourishment that my mind and body needed. I hope this recipe provides you with the same.

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It’s good to be back!

Avocado Egg Salad

Serves 2

2 eggs

1 hass avocado

1 tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper

a few sprigs chopped fresh dill (optional)

1 handful fresh spinach, torn into small pieces

Place eggs in a small pot and fill pot with water until the eggs are barely covered. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cook for 7-8 minutes, depending on how soft/hard you like your yolk.

While eggs are cooking, mash avocado in a bowl with lemon juice, spinach, dill, and salt and pepper to taste. Once eggs are done, rinse them under cold water, peel them and add them to the avocado mixture. Mash until combined. Serve atop toasted bread with tomatoes or toppings of your choosing.