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Archive for January, 2008

Oh.

(Gulp.)

Hello.

I guess I’ve been a little MIA lately, haven’t I? Sorry about that… Remember that secret I told you about? Well…it’s been keeping me kind of busy. I still can’t tell you what it is yet, but don’t be mad. I’ll share soon enough.

But suffice it to say, this juicy little tidbit has only underscored one of my personality traits: my tendency to “quest.” Try as I may, I can’t help myself. Whether we’re talking about dresses, apartments, recipes, furniture — in my brain, I have a near perfect image of what I want. The problem is, said “image” doesn’t always exist. And so the quest continues.

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There is one recipe in particular that I have been questing after since college: Lithuanian Coffee Cake from Claire’s Corner Copia in New Haven, CT. Nearly everyone on campus went gaga for it, and I cannot recall more than a handful of birthdays or parties at which this cake did not appear.

What made it so special? Hard to explain. The cake was moist, tender and über dense. I’m sure the fact that the staff slathered the top with buttercream helped too, but even without any icing, the cake was ridiculously, almost indescribably addictive.

Claire Criscuolo, the owner of Claire’s, has written a few cookbooks, so years ago when I spotted the book containing the recipe for Lithuanian Coffee Cake (or “Lith,” as my friends and I came to call it), I snatched it up. I made the cake, prepared myself for bliss and then…ehhh? Something wasn’t right. The cake was light and airy — nothing like the heavy duty slices we were served at Claire’s. And the cake looked so…unimpressively small.

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Shortly after that, I found Claire in her restaurant and asked her what she did differently to make her cake come out so moist and dense. “Just what I say in my book!” she replied. LIES. There’s no way the recipe in her book is the recipe used in the restaurant. Sorry, I’m not buying it.

So for years, I’ve been on a quest to recreate that cake. But none of the recipes I tried were quite right. Most were delicious, but they weren’t The Lith.

Then I came across Sherry Yard’s recipe for her Campton Place Coffee Cake. She describes it as the “densest, moistest coffee cake you will ever eat.” BINGO. With a few tweaks, I could turn it into Claire’s Lithuanian Coffee Cake.

So did I successfully recreate the legendary Lith? I came close — really close, and by far the closest I have come to the real thing. I still can’t put my finger on what is missing in terms of flavor, but it’s very minor. I’ll keep questing for that mystery touch, but in the meantime, enjoy this version. It’s dynamite.

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I’ve always been pretty good at keeping secrets. Let me qualify that. By and large, I am able to keep most juicy tidbits to myself.

However — and there is a big however — the longer those juicy tidbits are tucked away, deep in my little zone of secrets, the bigger they seem to grow inside me, until I’m bursting at the seems, ready to explode.

Why do I bring this up? Am I privy to information that has me ready to bust? Well, I wouldn’t be a very good secret keeper if I told, now would I? Stick around for a few more posts. Unlike some secrets, this one has an expiration date.

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But let’s talk about something else that is bursting at the seams: these muffins. They are chock full of bananas, prunes, poppy seeds and oats. Sound odd? Too much going on? I thought so too, even as I started tossing all the ingredients together.

But tasting is believing: they’re great.  The poppy seeds add a nutty, savory crunch, a nice alternative to nuts in the typical banana-nut muffin.  Next time I’d probably add more prunes, but a half cup was all I had on hand.

I could keep the recipe a secret too…but I don’t think that would be fair, do you?

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There are many wonderful benefits to living in our nation’s capital: free museums, cherry blossoms in the spring, two restaurants by Michel Richard.

But some days it feels like all of those pluses are offset by some of Washington’s big minuses: the constant presence of pompous politicians, the influx of protesters wreaking havoc for the sake of wreaking havoc, and — a personal peeve of mine — the lack of anything resembling what those of us who grew up in New York, New Jersey or Philadelphia call “bagels.”

Plain bagel

Let it be known: doughnut-shaped bread does not a bagel make. This fact seems to have escaped most of the chains and grocery stores in the District. You may be able to fool a few folks with your “French Toast Bagels,” but not this girl.

To be fair, I have found one bagel shop in the District of Columbia that makes a decent bagel, but it’s closing next year to make room for a new restaurant. So like I said, I got nothin’. And to all of those who refer me to bagel shops in Maryland and Virginia, I say thank you, but I really don’t feel like trekking across state lines for a bagel and some schmear.

So what is a girl to do? Make her own bagels? Well, as it turns out, yes. I had seen a recipe in Sherry Yard’s “Desserts by the Yard” for New York bagels, which requires little more than whirring the dough in a food processor, letting it rest overnight and boiling and baking the bagels the next morning. That sounded perfectly doable on a Friday night, in preparation for fresh bagels Saturday morning.

2 bagels

Were the bagels Bronx-worthy? Mmmm…not quite, but close. And they were certainly better than the imposters being sold as bagels in these parts. In the future, I think I would add malt syrup instead of the brown sugar I had on hand, which would give them more of that characteristic bagel flavor.

But details, details… Bottom line — with minimal prep and little cleanup, I had fresh, hot, crusty bagels an hour after I’d woken up Saturday morning, about the same amount of time it would have taken me to get dressed, drive out to Bethesda, buy some bagels and get back home.

So now that I can make fuss-free bagels on my own, it looks like I can cross that off my “Washington peeves” list. Now, if only I could do something about those politicians…

Poppy and sesame

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Yes, I know: The phrase “seasonally appropriate” evokes images of Miss Manners telling you not to wear white after Labor Day. But this banana bread is a seasonally appropriate recipe if I ever saw one.

January tends to be “make up for December” month. A bunch of people who feel really bad about celebrating Santa with a little to much zeal make a whole bunch of promises they probably won’t keep. Suddenly that second helping of roast beef and extra slice of banana cream pie seem a little overindulgent (come on, we’ve all been there…and if you say you haven’t, you’re just lying).

Banana bread 1

So for starters, this banana bread would be fair game on most “resolutions” lists. It uses molasses in place of some of the sugar, along with whole wheat flour and oats for some added fiber.

And here’s the kicker: with some spices thrown in, the bread has a subtle gingerbread-like flavor that works perfectly this time of year. The holidays may be over, but winter is just getting started. I wouldn’t call this my “go to” banana bread recipe, but somehow it just tastes right this time of year.

So there you have it: healthy and wintery. Does it get more “seasonally appropriate” than that? I’m sure Miss Manners would approve.

Banana bread 2

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