Thursday, June 26, 2008

Blink and you'll miss it

It was summer there, for a minute. In typical fashion, I have been either over- or under- dressed pretty much every day since the start of June, either bundling against imaginary fog on crystal-blue days or dusting off a sundress when the wind picks up downtown. But when it comes to food, I've been right on track.

It got warm there, for a minute, and when it did I took advantage by serving salade nicoise to our friends for dinner, with hard boiled farm eggs and that luscious Italian oil-packed tuna that makes Chicken of the Sea seem a bit like cat food. It was a kind of high-low night, as we followed the salad and pink wine with many rousing games of asshole, played on our deck of naughty cards which feature, er, models from the 1980s (a gift from our bachelorette party). Then we capped off the evening with rich chocolate cupcakes topped with velvety ganache.

There's no real recipe for salade nicoise, just things you ought to include if you have them on hand: blanched green beans, quartered radishes, the eggs, tomatoes, black olives and boiled new potatoes. We added farm carrots becausewe had surplus, and from time to time I get kind of crazy and add marinated artichokes or roasted red peppers. But the important thing is to buy the best canned tuna you can find, which means that it's Italian and that it comes packed in olive oil rather than nasty vegetable oil. You will pay more for this tuna, and I know it can be hard to feel like it is worth it, when you're accustomed to paying $1.29 for a can and all of a sudden I am asking you to pay $3.99. Just trust me on this one. It matters.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Muffin Better

I know I said I'd post about creme fraiche on my next go-around, but what can I say? Life got in the way. I thought about creme fraiche, though, at the end of a long, hot hike in Santa Rosa, when I turned to my inimitable plus one and admitted that I like whipped creme fraiche as a side for cakes much more than whipped cream. Oh, whipped cream has its place, atop shortcakes and puddings, but whipped creme fraiche, not too sweet and pleasingly dense, is where it's at. Next time, a recipe for DIY, I promise.

I got distracted by muffins. Blueberry muffins (along with brownies, the recipe clipped from Seventeen magazine) were among the first things that I ever learned to bake. There are a lot of terrible muffins out in the world (in fact, I had a dream the other night that I was hurling those dense craft-services muffins at a loved one...what does it all mean?), but my mom's recipe is just right. Fluffy and moist, with a loose crumb and that all-important sugar-dusted top, this is one of those recipes that you'll be very happy to have in your recipe box. Some friends were going to join us for Sunday brunch, so I snapped out of bed and poked around for the ingredients. The friends ended up totally blowing us off, but that was after the muffins were already in the oven and honestly, at that point, I had no regrets. A dozen muffins for two? No problem!

I used up the end of a bag of frozen blueberries but was a little short, so I made up the difference with quartered cherries, which worked just fine. That got me thinking that I ought to play around with the recipe a little bit...what if I substituted all the blueberries with cherries and topped them with sugar and sliced almonds? The mind fairly reels with possibilities. I'll report back any exciting innovations, but in the meantime I figured I'd better just give you the straight-up version. You'll be happy with them, I promise. And this morning, when I remembered that we had 10 remaining muffins (sometime after trying on two outfits then whimpering on the bed, my eyes half-closed like a blind mole) I felt very happy.

Blueberry Muffins to save Monday morning
Makes 12

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cup sugar (plus more for sprinkling on top)

2 large eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup milk

2 1/2 cups blueberries (the tiny Maine ones are the best)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about four minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. In a small bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. With the mixer on low, add dry ingredients to butter-sugar mixture, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Add blueberries and stir in by hand until well dispersed. Divide batter among twelve muffin cups, each lined with a paper liner (or very well greased, if you dare). Sprinkle tops with a generous teaspoon of sugar (coarse sanding sugar looks very pretty, but regular sugar tastes just as good). Bake until well browned and puffed, about 30 minutes.