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Homemade Maraschino Cherries with Fresh (In Season) Sour Cherries

Fresh Sour Cherries from the Farmer's Market

Brilliant red, plump– ready to burst with sweet and tangy juices, the sour cherry is certainly a seasonal farmer’s market treasure. Only in season a few short weeks, while these delicious fruits can be used for all kinds of cooking, I wanted to be able to preserve them for later in the year. While pies, tarts, sauces, etc. are great now, come Fall, I can’t wait to savor these homemade Maraschino cherries in an ice cold Manhattan.

Homemade Maraschino cherries are incredibly easy to make, especially when you have a cherry pitter, like the one by OXO pictured here:

A cherry pitter can also be used for olives, and if you have room in your kitchen drawers for one, it really saves a lot of time compared to using a paper clip or pin to remove the pits. Make sure to wear an apron for this task though, sour cherries have a softer, thinner skin than the regular variety, and are extremely juicy– which can easily lead to quite a mess.

Once your cherries are pitted, simply warm Maraschino liqueur to a gentle simmer, and pour them over the cherries in a clean canning jar. Maraschino is made from Marasca cherries, and crushed cherry pits which lends an almond-like flavor to the liqueur. These cherries will be far from the sticky-sweet cherries from your Shirley Temple days, and if the boozy flavor is a bit too strong for your tastes, the liquor can be mixed with a bit of water and sugar to your taste.

Use these cherries to top any ice cream sundae this summer, or come cooler weather use this recipe for the perfect Manhattan cocktail:

2.25 oz Rye Whiskey
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes bitters

In a rocks glass filled with ice, combine all ingredients, stir, and garnish with a cherry. Or, to serve up, stir all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, strain, and serve in a cocktail glass, and garnish with a cherry.

Sweet Solutions III: Local Strawberry Tart with Basil-Infused Mascarpone Custard and Cracked Black Pepper

Sweet strawberries with a touch of spice and an herbal hint.  So summer.

Last Saturday after the farmer’s market Jaime and I decided to walk down to the il laboratorio del gelato on Houston St. We were already in need of a cool refresher, but the walk escalated the effects of the sticky summer afternoon– at least we were heading to the perfect spot. Picking out which flavors we were going to get was probably the most difficult decision of the day. With so many fruity, sweet, and even savory options– the combinations seem endless!

I was immediately drawn towards the honey-lavender, but at the last minute I decided on the basil gelato with raspberry sorbet. The mix of puckering tartness from the raspberry and the mild, creamy, herbal finish of the basil was everything one could hope for on a humid day. Not too sweet, but amazingly refreshing, cooling, and my favorite summer colors– pink and green.

My inspiration.

The treat inspired my own take on the flavor combination later that weekend, with my farmer’s market purchase of some tiny (more tart than sweet) local strawberries. I sliced the berries and tossed them in just a bit of sugar and freshly ground black pepper, and let them soak while I made pate brisee tart shells, and the basil-infused mascarpone custard.

For the custard I brought 1 cup of heavy cream to a boil, and then removed it from heat. I added 1/2 cup of roughly chopped basil to the cream, covered it, and allowed it to steep until the tart shells were baked-off and cooled. When I was ready to fill the tarts, I strained the basil cream and set it aside. Then, over low heat, I combined 2 egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan, and whisked them until they were light yellow in color. I slowly added the cream, whisking well until the mixture was thickened, and then I folded in one container of mascarpone cheese. I filled the tarts, and let them chill overnight, before I topped them with the sliced strawberries. The syrup from the strawberries makes a beautiful decorative and delicious sauce for serving with the tart, top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if desired.

Martha Stewart also has an excellent strawberry galette recipe in her Pies and Tarts cookbook if you don’t have any tart molds on hand. She pairs the rustic tart with a basil whipped cream. This elegant flavor combination is really something special to share over the summer when fresh ingredients are available.

The perfect summer bite.

Sweet Solutions II: Strawberry Rhubarb & Ginger Pie

Slightly over-baked, but still oh-so-delicious

Sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb are a classic combination, and one of my all-time favorites– but the addition of ginger makes this pie stand out from the crowd. With an ultra-flakey lard and butter crust, and ingredients right from the farmer’s market, this summer treat is one that your friends and family are sure to love. It was difficult not to cut right into this pie as soon as it came out of the oven with it’s delicious red juices bubbling up out of the lattice-top, but I brought it into class to share instead.

Strawberry Rhubarb and Ginger Pie

For the crust:

2 1/2 cups AP flour
1 stick cold butter, cubed
1 cup lard (or shortening)
1 T salt
1 T sugar
1/4 cup ice cold water

In a food processor, pulse dry ingredients a few times just to mix. Add butter and lard or shortening and pulse until dough begins to come together, adding water as needed. Divide into two, and flatten dough into discs. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Filling:

1 q strawberries, hulled, and cut in half or in quarters if large (small local in-season strawberries are best!)
5 stalks rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 (2-inch) piece of ginger, grated
2 teaspoons lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon juice
1/2 cup sugar
pinch cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch or tapioca

Combine all ingredients.

For the Pie:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough into an 11″ circle, place in a 9″ pie pan, and fill with mixture. Roll our other cylinder of dough, cover pie, and crimp edges with fingers. Brush crust with a mixture of 1 egg yolk and 1 T cream if desired, and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake for 30 minutes, or until crust is golden-brown and juices are bubbling.

Sweet Solutions I: White Chocolate Lime Cake with Watermelon Sake Sorbet

After deciding on a sorbet flavor to work with from David Lebovitz‘s Ready for Dessert (Watermelon-Sake), Chef Anna and I had to think of what we would serve it with for the dessert special at L’Ecole. Angel-food and sponge cakes are already featured on the menu, so we were originally thinking of a pound or tea cake, but Chef Anna had an even better idea. We used her recipe for the classic Austrian Sachertorte cake— an airy chocolate cake with warm apricot preserves under the frosting– and lightened it up for summer by using white chocolate in place of milk or dark in the batter. I also mixed in lime zest and lime juice, which really complemented the intense sweetness of the watermelon. I served the sorbet on a thin sliver of the cake with candied lime slices. It was light, cool, refreshing, delicious, and very pretty (not to mention my favorite summer color combination– pink and green). As my friend David from class described it, it was really “summer on a plate.” Try this one at home to add an elegant finish to even the most casual summer dinner party, whether by the beach, air-conditioner, balcony, rooftop, or window.

Watermelon-Sake Sorbet (From David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert)
Makes 1 quart

4 cups (1 1/14 lbs) seedless watermelon, cut into small chunks
2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cups sake
fresh squeezed lime juice

In a food processor or in a blender, puree the watermelon with sugar and sake until smooth. Pour into a medium bowl, add lime juice to adjust the sweetness to your liking. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Freeze in an in ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Also try freezing it in popsicle molds if you do not have an ice cream maker.

White Chocolate Lime Cake

165 g butter, room temperature
130 g sugar, plus another 130 g sugar
9 large eggs, separated
150 g flour
160 g white chocolate, melted and cooled
zest of 4 limes
juice of 1 lime

-Cream butter and 130 g sugar with paddle attachment of a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. This step is very important in achieving the proper texture of the cake. Especially if the butter is still cool, make sure it is mixed enough.

-Add egg yolks one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add chocolate. Mix just until combined. Set mixture aside.

-Beat egg whites with whisk or stand mixer on med-high. When mixture begins to turn white/opaque add 130 g of sugar. Continue to beat until stiff glossy peaks form.

-Fold the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture, being careful not to over mix. Sift in flour.

-Spread into a 9×13 cake pan, and bake for 15-20 minutes turning once. Cake will form bubbles, and should be golden brown.

A Few Sweet Solutions for Surviving Summer in the City: Introduction

Find out about my dessert special at L'Ecole or as David called it, "Summer on a Plate."

While I am fortunate enough to have parents that live in a desirable summer destination, that does not necessarily mean I have the time to get out to Shelter Island to enjoy it. While many of my friends (along with what seems like most the city) empty out to the Hamptons on Friday nights, I’m still in class at the French Culinary Institute. But don’t feel bad for me (I’m sure you didn’t anyway), I only have 3 weeks of school left, and I just went through what has become in many ways probably my favorite station, pastry.

This past week I had a short break from work, and a rare amount of free time for just having fun in the kitchen, and focus on school. I looked at a lot of books for ideas, but I brought in one of the most beautiful cookbooks in my collection, David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert to share with Chef Annamaria Kosa, to get some inspiration for specials at L’Ecole. She loved the book as much as I do, David has some really great recipes, but the photos are absolutely incredible. Every single dish is nothing short of drool inducing. Bright colors, varying textures, shiny, sugary, sticky– these are desserts that you want to eat, not just look at in a bakery window.

While sometimes hot days and nights– and the looming possibility of being seen on a beach– can sometimes turn people off of dessert for the summer, it is prime season for utilizing fresh fruits in their peak. Pies, tarts, cobblers, shortcakes, ice creams, and sorbets are all easy ways to use fruit in sweets, and can be surprisingly light and refreshing. While I can’t say a good pie is either of those, I also can’t trust anyone who refuses even the smallest sliver of a strawberry-rhubarb or cherry pie, dripping with fruits vivid ripe cerise syrups, covered in flakey tender crust. Summer berries, melons, and peaches are so beautiful and flavorful on their own, it doesn’t take a lot of fuss to enjoy them, but combined with new and unexpected flavors, they can be the star of some very sophisticated dishes.

Could you resist a bite?

I have been experimenting with different fruits over the past few weeks and plan to share the recipes I have come up with over the next few days, including strawberry-rhubarb lattice-topped pie, rhubarb-ginger linzer cookies, and a basil-infused mascarpone tart with strawberries and black pepper. Tomorrow I will start with the dessert special Chef Anna and I came up with inspired by David’s recipe for Watermelon Sake Sorbet, so stay posted!

Stephen and Jaime’s 4th Annual Pig Roast

Check out my post on the Martha Stewart Everyday Food Blog here.

Why I Keep Going Back to Back Forty

Brunch... Well the remains of...
Juicy burgers with warm melting cheddar and thick-cut heritage bacon, bourbon on the rocks, bourbon cocktails, micro-brews, and a killer brunch menu– Back Forty really has all one could hope for in a cozy, laid-back East Village setting. Not to mention a lot of pork products, absolutely mouth-watering selections too, like Pork Jowl Nuggets with Jalapeno Jam. There’s also a Grilled Bacon and Trotter Flatbread on Lard Dough with Creamy Onions and Herbs, and seriously, to quote Ina… how bad can that be?

Pork Jowl Nuggets... Yum!

The food is somewhat simple, but this sister restaurant to Peter Hoffman’s Savoy (which we will soon be saying goodbye to) uses local produce and proteins to create very comforting and hearty seasonal dishes. It is a very relaxed environment for a New York City restaurant, with a friendly staff, and an excellent bar for pre or post dinner drinks, or even enjoying a whole meal. My friend Perry from FCI works in the kitchen, so my friends and I find ourselves there often, and it has quickly become one of my favorite places to go to eat on the weekends.

The brunch menu also puts a seasonal spin on sweet and savory classics, like the Soft Scrambled Eggs and Ramp Pesto with English Peas, Favas, Salvatore Ricotta, and Grilled Bread— which I got last weekend, along with a bloody mary of course, and one of the house Buttermilk Biscuits, which are good enough to get out of bed on a hungover Sunday for, Sunday after Sunday in a row.

Back Forty
12th St and Avenue B
New York, NY

To check out Perry’s blog, click here.


Soft Scrambled Eggs with Ramp Pesto, Peas, Favas, and Salvatore Ricotta

Still on a Rampage.

Ramps from Mountain Sweet Berry at Union Square Farmer's Market

After the harsh winters of New England everyone is ready for a sure sign of spring. For chefs and foodies, the new season will mean the slow introduction of some of natures most elusive gifts, with some flavors, after all the waiting, just sticking around for a few short weeks. Spring invites color back into the landscape with buds and leaves appearing on trees, and flowers beginning to bloom, just as much as it brings color back to plates. Colorful dishes mimic the palate of spring, filled with a range of green hues, bright yellows, and vibrant reds. The flavors that these ingredients hold are just as exciting. The tender and delicate bite of a ramp, the spiciness of a round red radish, the earthy lightness of a morel mushroom, or the sweetness of peas straight from the pod.

But there is no taste of spring as entising as the ramp. Also known as the wild leek, the ramp is an onion native to North America. The bulb resembles that of a scallion, but has the beautiful dark green flat, broad leaves to set it apart. Ramps have been available in the Union Square farmer’s market for the past few weeks, as well as in the Chelsea Whole Foods, Eli Zabars, and Eataly, and will remain in season until early June.

Enough pickled ramps for a few weekends worth of bloody marys.

Lightly sautéed they are a great addition to pasta dishes, they can be made into a pesto, and pickling them is a great way to keep them around when they are no longer available (plus, the pickled version makes a killer bloody mary). See my recipe for pickled ramps on the Martha Stewart Everyday Food blog here. In addition to the pickled ramps, here are a few other dishes I’ve made lately.

Homemade pasta with sauteed ramps, oyster mushrooms, and fiddlehead ferns


Cheddar and Ramp Biscuits


Ramp Sausage at Marlow & Daughters in Williamsburg


Ramps, Asparagus, and Lilacs. Spring in a single picture.

Perfect Sunday? Prosecco and Pork Picnic on the High Line

The spread.

With warmer weather a bit more steadily upon us these past few weeks, it has been great to finally spend some time outdoors, and actually see the sun. What better to do outside than enjoy a little al fresco dining, especially one with great food that involves absolutely no time in the kitchen? Last Sunday a few friends and I enjoyed a beautiful day on the High Line after a quick trip to Chelsea Market. We stopped at Buon Italia first for a pound of prosciutto, some porchetta, and mozzarella cheese. Then at Amy’s Bread, we picked up some focaccia bread, a baguette, and olive rolls. No meal would be complete without dessert, so we had to get a sample of every flavor brownie to share at Fat Witch Bakery. And then, proving to be our only bad decision of the day, I bought some prosecco at Chelsea Wine Vault, which was ice-cold in five minutes thanks to their express chiller. How bad could it be, right? Well, apparently, our neighbors up on the High Line weren’t big fans of our amazing brunch spread, as we were shortly reported, and reprimanded by a park ranger. But, the meal was amazing, and the day was not ruined. We left the park having several laughs over the situation, and incredibly full from pork products, which is really all you can ask for from a Sunday afternoon.

Porchetta with Pickled Ramps

And for the next course…

Prosciutto and Arugula

And finally…

Mozzarella, Tomato, and Arugula

A Sad Goodbye to my Second-Home: Planet Bliss Closes After 10 Seasons on SI

The Planet.

It has been a while since I last posted, as these days most of my food related resources are being put to use at Everyday Food Magazine, or working in the restaurant at L’Ecole… but this weekend a very bittersweet occasion took place that I absolutely had to make time to write about.

After almost 11 years– at least 8 of which I spent working there– Planet Bliss restaurant on Shelter Island has announced it will be closing it’s doors, and invited everyone to be a part of celebrating the past decade last Saturday.

While many things shape who we are, and who we become– those of us who are a part of the Bliss family had a mutualistic relationship with the restaurant. The personalities of owners Julie and Sebastian, the staff throughout the years, and all of the regulars made bliss what it was. Even the Zagat caught on to the “eclectic” vibe of the staff several years in a row. The atmosphere at Bliss offered something much different from any restaurant in the Hamptons, or anywhere, that I have experienced. While it offered comfort, and that warm, weight-lifting feeling of being at home, it also had an incredible energy that will be difficult if not impossible to ever duplicate.

How has it effected me? Well, first and foremost, I think it is pretty obvious that I would have never chosen food as a career path had I not been amongst Sebastian and his relentless passion for cooking. So thank you Baz, for not only teaching me so much, but keeping me interested, and inspired after 10 years in your restaurant. With so much experience to pass on, I was always paying more attention than you probably thought. It was great watching a chef cooking exactly what he wanted, using fresh ingredients, and always experimenting without the rigidness and downright coldness of most kitchens. You always made it look fun (except on those days Rem would hold the thermometer over his head and it read what, 160?) Your skill, creativity, love for food, patience, and of course your sense of humor through it all will always mean so much to me, and I hope to some day be half the chef you are (I’m one burn closer to being there).

Opie and Baz (Thanks for the pic Nika)

There is also Remmey, who I miss every single day. If it wasn’t for PB I wouldn’t have become so instantly close with him. Even if it was only for a short time, we probably knew each other better than most people will ever hope. So many of the best Bliss memories I have are from the summer Remmey worked in our kitchen. That big, red, sweaty kid who put a smile on my face the second I walked through the screen door in the back. Whether it was entertaining a bachelorette party, rescuing baby bunnies from Jezebel the cat, or making a flame-kissed steak– Rem will always be remembered as a big part of Bliss.

And to Julie, and the rest of the front-of-house: Vee, Mimi, Opie, Chop, Chris, Nicole, Erica, Kathy, Ali, Julie F, Kara, Ian, Karen, Selina, Lolo, Remy, Sam, Xange, Leah… There are too many memories, most of which I feel we wouldn’t want written anywhere, especially on the internet, no? There were late nights at Sunset, sometimes with the cash out locked in the glove box– how many years ago was that? Later nights at the bar, like Cory’s jungle-themed birthday party… “Damuck, you were my ride, and I can’t sleep here!” “Staff meetings,” and God only knows how many margaritas. Endless literary discussions with Opie, after all these margaritas. Can a stripper juice even be classified as a margarita? Bingo night. “Just One Drink at The Chequit.” All the late night, no A/C, tequila driven dance parties to Madonna and any other DJ Mimi choice hit. The Gerbil Box. The ritual we all openly shared that would get us through doubles on Saturdays and Sundays. Brunch. Staff parties. BCD’s (boozy coffee drinks). It’s goddamn impossible to list them all, but there really is no need any way. Some of my most unforgettable, well–… most amazing nights, have been spent at Bliss. Though I’m sure the party will continue whenever and wherever we end up together, only a place like PB could have gotten us together in a first place. And how it ever functioned or how Julie and Baz put up with such a staff I will never know, but I will always be grateful.

Sunset Beach with Vee, Amanda, and Mimi (circa 2005)

And of course there are the regulars, most of them I will miss, some I will be relieved not to see again– I can’t lie about that. Always an interesting crowd behind the bar, or out on the porch, you were all obviously a huge part in shaping Bliss as well.

Saturday night seemed like any other wild evening at Bliss, but if one looked closely, I think the underlying sadness could easily be sensed. I know it wasn’t just me looking around the glowing orange walls, down at the worn wooden floors, and everywhere in-between suddenly becoming nostalgic over EVERYTHING. The nappy-haired Barbie doll on the bathroom door, the two toilets in the woman’s bathroom– the hanging lock on the door, worn from one too many customers pulling on it despite the clear typed warning not to do so. The ever-present scent of sticky parsley spray. The bamboo benches, and millions of flurry pillows– round, long, brown, white, orange. The liquor cabinets eerily empty. The ancient cash register, God how many late nights were spent hunched over that thing, desperately trying to do math, sober up, or both. Tables and chairs with wobbly legs– am I being melodramatic now? Perhaps, but I really felt at that moment like one of the mismatched pieces of silverware housed above the bread warmer. It stung in my heart that I would never again write on the chalk-board, put a ticket on the line, or slam the walk-in door behind me again. But between the dances on the counter, sweaty hugs, kisses, and numerous cocktails, I know we were all feeling the same way. The unsettling effect of being up-rooted, displaced.

But I can’t forget about the happiness in this ending as well. Julie and Baz have welcomed two truly amazing children into their (and all of our) lives. Phoenix and Tola are going to get to spend a lot more time with their parents, and who could be sad about that? Especially when they are the coolest, most loving, fun, smart, inspiring people I can think of? I personally couldn’t have asked for a better second Mom and Dad if I tried.

Tola and Phoenix Bliss

So again, thank you Julie and Sebastian, and to my extended Bliss family. Please share any wonderful memories of Bliss you have here, (or e-mail me any photos to share at foodequalslovenyc@gmail.com) as my words alone could never sum up everything that was PB, and all that it meant to me.

Julie and Baz