Monday, August 31, 2009

A Wicked Good Whoopie Pie

Not having grown up on the east coast, whoopie pies were obviously not a part of my childhood; neither were Scooter Pies, Little Debbies, or Moon Pies, for that matter. And I've always felt a bit jipped — or shafted, one might say — on account of this absence. Instead, we westerners wallowed in the world of Hostess, and I don't think I am going too far out on a limb here when I say that they are just not the same.

Whoopie pies conjure images of being 10, wearing converse sneakers, riding your banana-seat bike, and watching Ed Sullivan — or whatever they used to watch back in the olden-days. Little Debbies and Scooter Pies conjure images of my husband going from New Jersey to the Lower East Side to see his grandma when he was little. Apparently he and his sister would eat these to their heart's content while sitting in her apartment. And on visits to his other grandma, he would be given a dollar to run to the corner deli for a Yoo-Hoo. Some people are so lucky.

Anyway, what I'm getting at here is nostalgia; a harkening back to simpler times, if you will. I don't necessarily mean Ed Sullivan and the 1950s — I'm referring more to just being a kid and all of the simple pleasures that are wrapped up in that. This is the beauty of the Whoopie Pie.

Several weeks ago I was thumbing through one of my Cook's Illustrated magazines when I found a black and white photo of a whoopie pie. It was then that I discovered that whoopie pies are nearly as much a part of Maine's food history as the lobster roll. Knowing full well that we were off to Maine soon, I vowed (much in the manner of the Lobstah Roll) to eat as many as I could — or to at least try one.

Whoopie pies originated in Pennsylvania's Amish country and then quickly moved up to Maine, where they have happily resided ever since. Their name supposedly comes from all the Amish men shouting 'Whoopie!' when they opened their lunches and discovered that their lovely wives had tucked one inside.

On Saturday after I had just gotten Emilia down for her nap and Michael was busy tapping away on his laptop, I heard a whole lot of rustling on the front porch. I looked out the window just in time to see our ancient mailman walking back up to his mail truck — he had just dropped off two cases of whoopie pies! (Yes, two is a lot, thank you very much. But, in my defense, one went to our friends who took Governor for us while we were out of town.) Anyway, I immediately ran for the scissors and opened the box. As I was pulling one out Michael looks over and says, 'What is that? Some kind of Devil Dog?' I'm not sure which relative he used to visit for one of those...

A whoopie pie (now really, why is it called a pie when it is clearly a cake?) is comprised of two round cookie-sized cakes that sandwich a layer of marshmallow fluff (basically vegetable shortening and confectioners sugar, but we'll call it fluff). It is kind-of like an enormous soft Oreo cookie. And in case you were wondering, they are good. But I'm not 10 anymore, and I gave up my banana-seat bike ages ago. And that leaves me wondering what in sam-hell I'm going to do with a case-full of whoopie pies. I'm just glad I had the presence of mind to not order a case of Moxie to go with it.

The two whoopie pies that we've dabbled in are Labadie's and Wicked Whoopies. Labadie's (from whence the two cases came) can be found at or, and they are, in my humble opinion, far superior to the Wicked Whoopies (, if for no other reason than their ingredient list is not a mile and a half long (not to mention, they have a much thinner layer of 'fluff'). Labadie's claims to be 'the original (not a copy)' — making whoopies since 1925. You will pay an arm and a leg for shipping, so consider yourself warned. However, they are packed very well and they arrive on your doorstep about 20 seconds after you order them. So that's nice.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lobstah Roll

We just got back from a wonderful, yet too-short, 9-day trip to Maine. And despite dealing with the remnants of Hurricane Bill in the form of periodic ridiculous rainstorms, we were still able to do, see, and eat a lot.

A couple of years ago I remember plopping down in front of the telly with Michael and watching some travel show on Maine. One of the spotlights on the show was the lobster roll. I still remember Michael turning to me and saying, 'If that was in front of me right now, I'd eat it.' I completely agreed with him, and then proceeded to completely forget about it. About a week before we left for Maine, Michael started talking about lobster rolls again, and we both vowed to eat as many as we could while we were there.

'As many as we could' turned out to be only one from Ken's Cove in Bridgton, and it was delicious — very simple and unfettered. We sat inside this lobster shack, or fish house, or whatever the correct term is, and happily ate every bite. All the while my in-laws sipped iced tea and looked revolted. They were horrified that we made them take part in such gruesome animal cruelty. It's not for everyone, I guess.

Miss Milia, on the other hand, had fish & chips while sitting in the most rickety high-chair I've ever seen. I think it may have actually belonged to Ken of Ken's Cove when he was a wee-one, although I can't say for sure. Ken, not exactly a spring-chicken himself, kept saying as we walked back and forth to see the lobster tanks, that he wished he had a little bit of Emilia's energy. Don't we all...

I've seen a plethora of lobster roll recipes and most of them seem to call for too many ingredients, ranging from celery and capers to white truffle oil. It seems almost sacrilege to bombard the fresh, sweet flavor that is inherent to lobster with so many other flavors — no matter how fancy they are. All you need is a good hot-dog bun (it would be nice to lightly toast this, and maybe put on a little smear of butter), freshly picked lobster meat, and a little dab of mayonnaise. As much as I typically dislike mayonnaise, it is rather essential here. How else are you going to hold it all together? And please don't say plain yogurt.

Traditionally lobster rolls are served with cole-slaw and maybe french fries or potato chips. I think it would be nice to serve it along side a green salad. Or you could even skip the hot-dog bun and just put the lobster on a bed of greens. But then you have a different recipe altogether, and it doesn't really resemble a lobster roll anymore. Instead you would have something that my father-in-law would refer to as 'yuppie-food.' But keep in mind, he once said that all yuppies will eat are garbanzo beans and distilled water. Strange man.

At Ken's Cove they make lobster rolls fresh-to-order. After 'the deed' is done (and by deed, I mean boiling the poor little guy to death), you can see them mix the lobster in a big bucket and plunk it on a bun. Even though their fish is 'so fresh you want to slap it', as one of their signs says, Emilia was not a big fan of the lobster. She much preferred her deep-fried lunch. All in due time, I suppose — or hope, rather. But at least she tried it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Swaggering 'Nutella' & Banana Crêpe

As you may or may not know, I recently tried my hand at making crêpes — and if I do say so myself, they were superb. So, feeling a bit like the cat's pajamas and the bee's knees, I made them again. This time I opted for a different recipe; last time they were savory, this time they were sweet. Excuse me, rather they were crêpes sucrées.

The batter is the same premise as last time, albeit a little thinner, which means you definitely need to work fast. Ages ago I bought one of those trowel-looking things from Sûr la Table because that's what the fancy crêpe makers use. However, I still have not pulled it out of the drawer. Instead, it is much more efficient to just pick the pan up and tilt it every which direction.

My husband, who would prefer to be called Michael, has developed a keen interest in crêpe making since my 'experiment' began. Namely, he wants to flip them over in the pan. He thinks that my spatula use is a bit pathetic and something more suitable for a Nancy-Girl. Anyway, here I am making crêpes, minding my own P&Qs, when he saunters on into the kitchen and basically overtakes the operation. And it worked — he flipped them over effortlessly after a few tries. Well, La-Di-Da, I am sticking with my spatula. (I'll tell you right now, there is no way in hell I'm going to try flipping them. The pan is way too awkward and heavy for me. Besides, I have my pride.)

At any rate, I stood there laughing at him, saying, 'Well, you're pretty pleased with yourself ... walking around here with what, what's the word for it?' And he says, without missing a beat, 'swagger — it's called swagger.' And I swear, I have never heard a more apt description in my life. It was hilarious.

After the crêpes were made, we spread a little 'Nutella' on them, some sliced bananas, and we were in heaven. I had no idea that combination was so good. We assembled 3 in all — one for me, one for Michael, and one for Miss Milia. Although, Emilia preferred running around the living room with her little farm animal set, stopping by for the occasional bite, and shouting, 'Yummy!' each time. Which meant that after Michael and I polished off our own, we finished hers. I will tell you now, as divine as these are, one is enough; any more and you may be sick.

I have been referring to 'Nutella' with quotes around it because I refuse to use the actual Nutella you find here in the states. But it is what everybody recognizes as the chocolate-hazelnut spread. For some reason, the makers of Nutella have decided it is a good idea to put partially-hydrogenated oil in the American version, and I'll be damned if I'm going to buy it. So what I did was buy the brand Loacker. It is Italian and you can find it at Whole Foods or any other specialty food shop, and it is well worth the search. You can also find it on-line at (if you live in the Seattle area), or

For the crêpe batter:
3 large eggs
⅔ cup whole milk
½ cup water
¾ cup flour
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted, plus more for brushing
1 tablespoon canola oil

For each Banana-Hazelnut Crêpe:
1 ½ tablespoons hazelnut spread
½ small, firm but ripe banana, thinly sliced

To make the batter, whisk together the eggs, milk, and water. Add the flour, sugar, salt, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and oil, whisking to remove as many lumps as possible. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Heat your crêpe pan over medium heat until quite hot. Lightly brush with butter and scoop about 3 tablespoons of batter onto the pan. Swirl around immediately so that the batter is evenly distributed. Pour any excess back into the bowl. Cook about 2 minutes, until lightly browned in spots. Use your spatula, and flip it over, cooking for an additional 30 seconds. Repeat with remaining batter, always buttering in between. You will end up with quite a stack, so remember that the extras keep nicely in the fridge for a few days until needed again.

To assemble: reheat the crêpe in the pan, quickly spread your non-hydrogenated oil Loacker, creating an even layer. Scatter half the banana slices. Fold the crêpe in half and then in quarters. Put the crêpe on a plate, arrange the remaining bananas, and serve at once. (Recipe from Williams-Sonoma's Paris: Authentic Recipes Celebrating the Foods of the World, by Marlena Spieler, Oxmoor House Publishers, 2004.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Importance of the Brown Betty

In the morning before I can be functional and/or pleasant, I must have a cup of tea. I choose one mug as my 'morning mug' and use it every day until it either breaks or gets so many chips in it that it is no longer suitable and terribly depressing to look at. I derive great comfort from this mug, and it is always a sad day when I have to say good-bye to its pathetic state of affairs.

Shortly after Emilia was born, and Michael was still on paternity leave, he decided to do the most lovely and thoughtful thing for me. He made pancakes for breakfast. He used Jamie Oliver's recipe, which is wonderful, and rather than use the Kitchen-Aid, as I always do, to turn the egg whites into stiff white peaks, he actually used a bowl and a wire whisk. As all this ruckus was going on in the kitchen, I was sleeping because I had been up with the baby half the night. (So was Michael, but that is another story for another day.)

A short while later, I am sitting at the table with a huge stack of pancakes in front of me, all bleary-eyed and grumpy. Michael is happily digging into his pancakes and is demanding to know why I have hardly touched mine. The next thing I know, I am wailing 'But you know I have to have my tea first!', and promptly stomped off to the bedroom and went back to bed. Hmmm, not my finest hour, one might say.

The reason I am recounting this lovely side of myself for you now is because I am actually making a very valid point. Before eating pancakes, toast, or any other 'dry' thing in the morning, it is best to lubricate. And as much as I love a tall glass of water (not a big juice drinker, myself), it does not cut the mustard with breakfast.

So what I typically do is this: make tea first thing in the morning; make breakfast; sit down to eat and realize that my cup of tea is gone; make another cup; get highly annoyed because it is scalding hot and all I want to do is sit down to a nice breakfast.

Finally, one day it occurred to me — get a teapot. Not one of the fancy ones we've got on shelves in the dining room, but a practical, use-it-everyday teapot. And get one that I won't mind replacing as it wears, breaks, chips, and turns into another sorry state of affairs.

Enter the Original Brown Betty.

Brown Betty teapots are made in Staffordshire, England, and have been for ages and ages. Their origins go as far back as the 17th-century. They are made from a terracotta clay, or red-clay, which is meant to hold the heat longer. The shape of the pot is supposed to be the most efficient for swirling your tea leaves, thereby brewing the perfect cup of tea. And it is dishwasher friendly, although admittedly, I have not tested this out. Another matter of great importance is the Brown Betty is not expensive — mine was in the 20 to 30 dollar range, and I got the 4 cup size. You can find it at any of these sites:,, or Strangely enough, they now carry them at the yarn shop on Bainbridge Island that my mom loves so much, Churchmouse Yarns & Tea. Theirs have the Brown Betty logo stamped on the side, whereas the older versions are stamped on the bottom.

However, the biggest selling point for me is that I can have my cup of tea in the morning, get breakfast going, and actually sit down to another cup of tea — which, perversely, I rarely seem to finish. Bliss.

I suppose you should also know that my husband has not made pancakes (or any breakfast at all, for that matter) since 'the incident'. Talk about touchy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Hmmm ... Well ... This book was difficult for me. Truth be told, I almost put it down a handful of times. And then I would pick it back up, put it down, pick it up. It wasn't until I reached page 100-ish that my loathe/love for the book began to change.

Basically, the premise is this: Madame Michel is the fuddy-duddy, stereo-typical concierge in an ultra-posh hôtel (condo) in the center of Paris — and she goes out of her way to fit this role. However, in reality she is an upper-crust, aristocratic, highly educated, and deeply philosophical woman, who refuses to show this side of herself to the outside world — namely the tenants of the building.

Paloma is the 12-year-old girl who is the daughter of one of the wealthy families residing in the hôtel. She, like Madame Michel, is incredibly intelligent, yet terribly jaded, and hell-bent on ending her life by her 13th birthday. She keeps a record of her 'Profound Thoughts' and a 'Journal on the Movement of the World' where she records all that is wrong with the world, and why she has very little reason to continue living in such a place. Paloma annoyed the daylights out of me, and continued to do so almost until the end of the book. But really, I can only handle so much teenage angst.

The story is told, in turn, through these two ladies as they ruminate on all that is wrong with human nature and, therefore, the world. And they make many a fine point. But along the way, they have moments where they are so bitter and so horrifically judgemental, not to mention flat-out wrong, that it is a little hard to stomach.

And then Kakuro Ono moves into the building and changes everything. This man is literally the only person who looks at Madame Michel and sees her for what she is — elegant. He knows that her outward projection is a sham and an exhaustive performance. And that is when the tragedy of the books strikes me. How many of us go through life feeling invisible? Or just not seen in a clear and accurate light? How many of us have those days where we realize that when someone looks at us, what they see is only what they want to see, and not what we really are. Everyone of us has those days. And I suspect that every one of us is guilty (at one time or another) of making false assumption after false assumption about someone, of whom, we know nothing. It is just the way it is — that's human nature.

Yet, at the same time, there is a certain comfort living in obscurity. Being able to slip under the radar allows for freedom. After all, it is rather dangerous to 'put one's self out there', as they say. You are setting yourself up for failure, judgement, and all the other things that Madame Michel and Paloma dissect so clearly for us. On the other hand, putting one's self out there enables us to grow and to find happiness. It enables us to accept our own humanity.

I was completely shocked by the ending of the book (by the whole book, really), and I'm not sure why. Barbery sets it up perfectly — and it makes complete sense. Of course that is how it must end. However, not to worry, I will not give the ending away here. I will let you react to it as I did.

As I finished the last page and closed the book, I could not help but say to my husband, who was snoozing away on the couch, 'Hmmm ... I think I may have loved this book.' And I really mean it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crêpes 101

Very simple to make, really. All you do is:

1. Buy a crêpe pan.

2. Stare at said pan for two years and intimidate yourself.

3. Pull out Mastering the Art of French Cooking and make the recipe for the batter. When you get to the part that says 'Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours', accidentally on purpose leave it in the fridge for a week, and then throw it away. Repeat process 3 more times. This part should take roughly another year.

4. Ask your husband to pull out the Manchego from the freezer to defrost. A few days later, unwrap the cheese to discover that he has, in fact, pulled out the Gorgonzola you bought several months before to make crêpes but then accidentally on purpose left the batter in the fridge too long. You preferred not to waste said expensive cheese — hence the freezer.

5. Pull out Savoring Italy and turn to page 110. Proceed with instructions and relish in your success. The crêpes themselves are fabulous, and (who knew) are very easy to make. Incidentally, I forgot how much I do not care for Gorgonzola cheese. And the same goes for Michael, but he has never been a fan of blue cheese.

3 eggs
2 cups milk
1⅓ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

3 cups milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch of ground nutmeg
½ lb Gorgonzola cheese, rind removed
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

To make the crêpes, beat the eggs until foamy. Gradually add milk. In a separate bowl combine flour and salt. Gradually beat into the egg mixture. The consistency should be similar to heavy cream — if too heavy, add a little water. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat the crêpe pan over medium heat and brush it with a little butter. Once hot enough, spoon a few tablespoons of batter onto the pan. Immediately tilt pan to get the batter evenly spread. You mustn't dilly-dally — the batter is so thin it will cook very fast! After about a minute, take a spatula and flip it over. Cook for another 30 seconds. Remove to a plate, butter the pan again, and keep going, stacking them up as you go.

For the sauce, add the milk to a pan and heat until small bubbles form along the side. While the milk is heating, melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add flour, salt, and nutmeg, and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly add the hot milk, stirring constantly. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until thick and nearly boiling, almost 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a separate bowl, mash the Gorgonzola with a fork. Add half the sauce and stir until well combined.

Preheat oven to 400°, and butter a large baking dish.

Take one of the crêpes, spread a tablespoon of the cheese mixture onto it. Fold it in half, and then into quarters. Place in baking dish and continue with the rest. Pour over the remaining sauce and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake 20-30 minutes until hot and lightly browned. (Recipe from Savoring Italy by Michele Scicolone, Time Life Books, 1999.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ottolenghi! Ottolenghi! Ottolenghi! (& a Fig Salad)

I love cookbooks. And I especially love a shiny, brand-new cookbook. The most recent one to grace my ever-growing collection is the marvelous, the stupendous, Ottolenghi.

Unbeknownst to me, Ottolenghi is apparently a food-shop/restaurant in London — and from what I can gather, they have a few different locations. The only reason I know this is because I am such a frequenter of the lovely Clotilde Dusoulier's website. She apparently got the cookbook to try a specific sticky dessert — the name of which escapes me at the moment — which sounded like a very valid reason as to why I, too, should buy the book. However, a couple of months later, I still have not gotten to the dessert section. (Very weird, indeed.) Instead, I have been lolling about in the salad and vegetable section, or as they call it, 'Vegetables, Pulses, & Grains'. I have subsequently read that Ottolenghi is known for their salads, so this is not such the unusual behaviour as it would seem.

I am someone who loves a good salad. That being said, I am usually not the type to make one. Instead, I plunk salad greens in a bowl, drizzle it with a little olive oil and balsamic, and say, 'Voila!' The reason for this is simple and goes beyond sheer laziness; salads are like sandwiches, always better when someone else makes them. I don't know why this is exactly, but there it is. However, thumbing through the pages of this cookbook, I am trying very hard to change my way of thinking.

The second recipe in the book is for a fresh fig salad. It is beautiful to look at and very easy to make. And I know I've said it before, but there is something very nice about eating in season — figs are currently in full-swing.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I did change the recipe a bit. The idea of nothing to balance the sweetness of the figs and honey makes me a bit nervous, even though that is what the greens and pecorino are, theoretically, meant to do. So instead of adding 2 tablespoons of honey to the dressing, as called for, I added 1 tablespoon honey and 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice. It was just enough to off-set the sweetness. And to be perfectly honest, the real stand-out for me in this recipe was the fresh basil. It hadn't occured to me that it was such a natural compliment to the rest of the ingredients.

2 tablespoons good quality-honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
600 grams ripe green or black figs
300 grams young pecorino or a similar cheese (I forgot to buy this, so I used the chevre that was already in the fridge. Not the same, in the least — but still very good and made life easier.)
80 grams rocket, preferably wild (that would be arugula, for those of you not hip to the British-speak)
10 grams basil leaves
course sea salt and black pepper

Whisk together the honey and olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste. (Or put it in a jam jar with the lid on and shake the daylights out of it.)

Arrange the rocket, basil, figs (which you have quartered), and cheese (which you have torn into pieces) on a platter, or individual serving plates. Drizzle the dressing over the top and finish with a bit of freshly ground black pepper. (Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Ebury Press, 2008.)

**A quick note on measurements. Because it takes a bit longer to order this cookbook from Amazon in the US, I opted for Amazon UK. That is why the ingredients are written in grams. If you would like my husband to do the maths for you — then he would be more than obliged, I'm sure. Otherwise, you can do as I did and guesstimate.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Raspberries, Part II — Peak of Summer Berry Crisp

This is the dessert I look forward to all year long. I typically make it several times throughout the summer until both my husband and I simply cannot bear the thought of it. It looks and tastes like the Fourth of July — raspberries and blueberries baked into a crisp with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream melting into it. And strangely enough, I can completely justify it as a health food. Well, maybe not completely, but you get my point. After all, the recipe calls for four cups of fruit. And being a lady of smaller bone structure, the serving of calcium in the form of vanilla ice cream cannot be all bad.

The recipe for the topping calls for six tablespoons of cold butter. I have finally learned after six or seven years of making this crisp that a bit more butter is better. I now add an extra two tablespoons, which I melt in the microwave before adding. Otherwise the topping seems a bit dry and does not have a uniform consistency. Also, I typically cut the amount of sugar added to the berries down quite a lot. While I certainly don't want the crisp tart (two thumbs down for mouth-puckering tartness), I do not want to ruin the natural sweetness of the berries. Besides, it feels slightly wrong to add so much sugar to something that is (theoretically) already sweet.

Tom Douglas, from whence the recipe came, suggests serving the crisp with either vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream. Personally, I cannot be bothered with the cream. It isn't cold enough and the consistency is not thick enough. Besides, the whipped cream seems a tad too fancy for me. (What!? Did I really just say that!?) And the ice cream gives it a decidedly more American feel. The two ice creams that we prefer are Julie's Organic and Häagen Dazs (their new Honey Vanilla is rather nice...). But whatever you do, don't get the cheap stuff unless you absolutely must. It is worth it to pay a smidge more for better quality and just eat less — as it typically comes in a much smaller container. (See, I told you it was a health food.)

Michael, my lovely husband, who is annoyed I have not referred to him by name, loves this crisp and happily eats it with me every time I make it. However, I can promise that despite the not-humongous-portions, he will still lay down afterwards and moan "Ooooooh! I ate too much crisp!" Whereas I have just fought the urge to go for round two. To each their own, I suppose.

The recipe yields four-to-six servings, which means we always have leftovers. To reheat, I usually put it back in the oven with a foil for a few minutes, without foil for a few more. The topping is a little softer — not so 'crisp' the second time around, but still good, nonetheless. If you do not use foil, then have a good time cleaning the dish later on!

For the Crisp Topping:
⅔ cup old-fashioned oats
⅔ cup firmly packed brown sugar
⅔ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into dice
(If desired, 2 more tablespoons butter, melted and cooled)

For the Berries:
2 cups raspberries
2 cups blueberries
½ cup sugar (I cut the amount in half)
2 tablespoons flour

Preheat oven to 350°.

For the crisp topping, it is similar to making scones. Add all the dry ingredients to the bowl and stir. Add the butter and work into the dry ingredients — trying not to pulverize it. It is best to use your hands, but you can use a pastry cutter, if you prefer.

In another bowl, mix the berries with the sugar and flour. Pour into a pie dish and cover with the topping. Bake until the juices are bubbling — 40 to 45 minutes. If you are not feeling like living dangerously, then you may want to put a lined baking sheet under the crisp while it is in the oven, on account of the aforementioned bubbling juices. (Recipe from Seattle Kitchen by Tom Douglas, Harper Collins, 2001.)