Monday, March 28, 2011

Madeleines, Lemon Squares and Taxes

All images © Valery Rizzo

During her daughter’s week off for spring recess, a good friend of mine next-door Catherine decided to use the same week to organize, prepare taxes and bake. The baking I’m sure was to add some fun to all the organizing and tax preparation. Catherine’s plan was to make lemon or pineapple squares like her mother used to make and her daughter Indigo wanted to make madeleines. I thought they were pretty ambitious plans because after all don’t most mothers bake chocolate chip cookies or brownies with their daughters. I was really impressed.

Both recipes seemed to me to be very classic things to bake. The madeleines made me think of my grandmother, Agnes. She was from Brittany an area in the north-west of France and was a strong French influence in my life. I would have loved to have gone to Paris together before she passed away, but of course I was too young and busy to know how special and important that would have been to me. It made me think of the goûter or the 4pm snack we used to share with my sister and grandfather. My grandmother would always have two cups of black coffee and my grandfather would have tea with some sort of toast or sweet. Then there were those sugar cubes, I always remember the sugar cubes. Sometimes my grandmother would poke my shoulder bones in to make a point about the importance of good posture and once she even smacked me in my forehead which I later found out was so I would relax my face and not develop wrinkle lines…funny. My grandparents were also big world travelers. I pulled out a bunch of old postcards she had sent me over the years from all their many voyages and read them as I enjoyed a madeleine and some tea. The flavor was similar to, but somewhat lighter than sponge cake.

The lemon squares made me think of a very classic American recipe they would serve in a retro diner or something June Cleaver would have made in her kitchen. The strong tart flavor from the lemons covered with a bit of sweet confectioners' sugar, on top of a buttery crust and served with some fresh organic blackberries and a hot cup of coffee, was really something special.

Well, the day did not go exactly as planned. They thought the mission would be an easy one, but instead they found themselves not knowing what they were doing, they threw pans and bowls around the kitchen, did a lot of yelling and then the math tutor called and thirty-six madeleines were burned in the process. In the end after many hugs and apologies their creations were unbelievable and just as I had imagined.

Both recipes were adapted from Martha Stewart's honey madeleines and lemon squares.

4 table spoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon honey

½ teaspoon pure almond or vanilla extract

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

2 large eggs

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

1. In a small saucepan melt the butter over low heat, making sure it doesn’t Brown. Remove from heat, and stir in the honey and vanilla extract. Let cool.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Then in a medium bowl beat the eggs and sugars with a rubber spatula until combined. Gently fold in the flour mixture until just combined add the butter mixture and gently fold in. Make sure to fold and not mix. Save some melted butter to brush the madeleine molds later. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 425° with rack placed in center of oven. With a brush coat the madeleine molds with melted butter and set aside.

4. Using a spoon fill each mold three quarters full with batter. Bake until madeleines have puffed and the edges are golden brown, 8 to 10 min.

5. Remove from oven and let madeleines cool until pan is just cool enough to handle. Unmold cookies, and serve warm or at room temperature. If serving at room temperature you have the option of sprinkling some confectioners' sugar on top. Makes 1 dozen.

For the crust

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, frozen

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup confectioners' sugar

¾ teaspoon coarse salt

For the Filling

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 ½ cups sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

¾ cup fresh lemon juice (about 5 lemons)

1. Preheat oven to 350° then butter a 9 by 13 inch baking pan and line with waxed paper.

2. To make the crust, grate the frozen butter with a cheese grater using large holes then set aside. Whisk together flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and stir with a wooden spoon until combined and mixture looks crumbly.

3.Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Press mixture evenly onto bottom with your hands. Freeze crust for 15 min. Then bake until slightly golden, 16 to 18 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, make the filling by whisking together eggs, sugar, flour and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Stir in fresh lemon juice and then pour over hot crust.

5. Reduce oven temperature to 325° and bake until filling is set and edges are slightly golden brown, about 18 minutes.  Let cool slightly on a wire rack.  After slightly cooled lift out by gripping waxed paper underneath and let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on top and pair with fresh organic and blackberries.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tri-colored Carrot Salad with Goat Cheese, Mint and Peas Tendrils

photo © Valery Rizzo

I am starting to feel like spring is finally in the air… a time for rebirth and renewal. Seeds will be planted and flowers will bloom and we can start to think about the summer approaching soon after.
There are still two more weeks left to see my photograph, “ Rooftop farmer ” in an exhibition at Soho Photo in Tribeca. A photograph from my Brooklyn book project I took at the Eagle Street rooftop farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The exhibition runs from March 1 - April 2, 2011.

On the shoreline of the East River and with a sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a 6,000 square foot green roof organic vegetable farm located atop a warehouse rooftop. During New York City’s growing season, the farmers at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm supply a community supported agriculture (CSA) program and bicycle fresh produce to area restaurants. It is a wonderfully amazing place where you can volunteer to work on the farm, attend one of their many farm-based educational programs or just visit and buy some of the produce from their farm stand. They also have chickens, rabbits and beehives. Photographer Nicole Franzen has also taken some really beautiful photographs of the Eagle Street rooftop farm.

The sun and warmer temperatures outside also made me feel like making a light spring salad.  A bunch of purple, yellow and orange carrots and special little pea tendrils I found at the Food Coop inspired me to create the perfect lunch. 

All images © Valery Rizzo

6 carrots, two purple, two yellow, and two orange

4 sprigs of mint

Goat cheese

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Pea tendrils

Cracked black pepper


 A loaf of fresh baked bread

1. With a vegetable peeler, peel all carrots in long strips from bottom to top and from dark to light in color. Be forewarned if your purple carrots are as fresh and juicy as mine were, the purple juices will splatter, so its best to use a large bowl.

2. Break off leaves of mint from your sprigs and break into smaller pieces, then add on top of carrots. Dress the carrots and mint with your extra virgin olive oil and just a touch of balsamic vinegar. Using your pepper mill crack some black pepper on top and add salt to taste.Then toss all ingredients in bowl together.

3. Plate the carrot salad separately. On top of the salad break up pieces of goat cheese, mine was a goat cheese from Spain I found at the Food Coop. Then to finish it off add about 5 or 6 pea tendrils on top and eat with a piece of your favorite loaf of bread. Don't forget to save a piece of bread at the end to soak up all those delicious flavors at the bottom of the plate. This recipe serves two.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Caffè? Caffè?

All images © Valery Rizzo

Café Regular in Park Slope, I have to say is my favorite place to pick up my morning decaf cappuccino with skim milk. It's the most similar in feeling to the cafés in Europe, where you order and either stand or sit at the bar. The coffee is also the best tasting and fresh and doesn't give you that been sitting around for hours burnt taste in your mouth. They have newspapers you can read, fresh squeezed orange juice, pastries and even hard-boiled eggs as I imagine one would get in France. They also have a selection of specialty Tumbador chocolates made right here in Brooklyn. One morning I placed my order alongside author and journalist Christopher Hitchens.

While I am too young to remember the last and only time I was in Paris, it also reminded me of the bars in Italy. There was the time my cousin Antonietta’s husband Antonio and a friend took us for a drive down the Amalfi Coast one evening. We stopped in every town along the way, in each one we would step into a bar and Antonio would turn to us and say very fast, pointing at each one of us, caffè? caffè? We would bang it down and then be off to the next town. Not wanting to be the American that would instead ask for water I went along and by the end of the night between all the espresso and the curves in the road I thought I might have heart failure :-)

Café Regular du Nord, 158A Berkeley Place, between 6th and 7th Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn.