Let’s get things straight here: I am no food stylist. If I were, I would know that trying to cut into a panful of brownies immediately after taking them out of the oven would result in extremely jagged edges, serrated knife and all.
But good-looking brownies be damned. Yesterday was my birthday and I didn’t think I should have to wait. The temptation was just too great: its crackly top gleamed diffusely, its gorgeous smell tickled my nose, and most importantly, there was the knowledge that a truly great brownie—possibly the brownie—was waiting. After all, no Genius Recipe has failed met yet. This one was no exception.
You all probably know Alice Medrich better than I do. I’ve only recently been officially introduced to her and her incredible repertoire of desserts, but long before I became aware of the obsessions of the food world, her kamut pound cake had already collapsed synapses in my brain—in a good way, haha—something that no baked good has done in quite the same way since. I was a fan way before I even knew it.
I think these are probably the best brownies I’ve ever had. Their crackly top is exemplary, and, though I know we all judge our brownies by different metrics so that there is no universally-accepted Best Brownie, these are, conclusively, it. This statement comes from the mouth of someone who has not done all that much perfect-brownie-chasing in her life but recognizes instant chemistry when it happens. It’s like falling in love all over again. I mean, it is falling in love all over again, only with a brownie.
I don’t even know why I felt like brownies yesterday. My birthweekend (a phenomenon which inevitably happens when your birthday falls on a Monday) had already been full of beyond-normal levels of hedonism. I can only offer this, something my mom told me yesterday: it had been snowing when I was born. Do you think this explains my predilection for the gooey, rich, and chocolate-y? Whatever the case, they are definitely the perfect way of easing myself into my XXth (I’m keeping the figure undisclosed) year.
Cheers, y’all! And go make some brownies!
The search for the perfect wedding cake continues. Today I introduce to you, Aunt Sassy, the pluckiest pistachio cake you’ll ever meet, flavored with real pistachios (as opposed to pistachio extract, which a recipe my sister found called for) that impart the barest of green to four dreamy layers of cake. She’s wearing her Sunday’s finest, a lush buttercream laced with glossy honey (that I sort of butchered because I lack cake decorating skills. Sorry Aunt Sassy.)
In truth, the cake is not as forwardly pistachio-tasting as you might think. What it really reminds me of is a nut bread, dense yet moist, and textured in that whole-grainy way. This may, in part, be due to the fact that I hand-ground, using a mortar and pestle, the pistachios, an imprecise process that yielded not the fine grain that the recipe called for, but something a little coarser, more similar to sand. But no matter. I liked it, a lot. Chris did too, and I gave him all the cake tops to take to work so I wouldn’t end up snacking on them throughout the day.
But the true gem was the honey buttercream. It was superb, absolutely superb! It was wistfully velvety with the slight aftertaste of honey (meaning, not too sweet) and a lightness kind of sort of like whipped cream. I found ample excuses to conduct multiple taste tests: while scraping down the bowl, while filling the cake, while frosting the crumb layer (which I liberally applied for that very purpose), while cleaning out the bowl that I used to hold the crumb-filled frosting. And all the while, my brain kept saying ‘no, no, no, put down the spatula, Linda!’ because, being the sensible organ that it is, you can’t get past it the fact that the frosting is made almost completely of butter(!).
Other thoughts. It reminded me of a Swiss meringue buttercream, but did not turn stale-buttery or yellow over time. This is valuable information. Also, it’s egg-less. Actually, this is where I wish I could talk food history, because the method of making this frosting seems quite unusual. At its base, it’s a mixture of sugar, milk/cream, and flour that’s cooked over a low heat until it thickens. Is flour a common frosting ingredient? What is its history? Is it an old-fashioned Southern technique? That would excite me greatly.
Finally, regarding the cake as a whole, I’m thinking a three-layer cake, two of pistachio, one of chocolate, with this very buttercream frosting might be just the ticket.
Handling mussels, like handling all seafood, is kind of freaky. You wonder what they’re thinking the entire time you’re walking home from the fishmonger. Shell-shocked? Absolutely panic-stricken? After all, the last week or so had to have been the most harried of their lives—being forcibly removed from their homes, plunked onto a bed of ice, removed from the bed of ice, and tossed carelessly into a plastic bag.
I guess I have the tendency to personify bivalves, crustaceans, and all gill-bearing creatures. In one instance, they’re the weird creepy-crawly organisms you study in biology class, living in their watery ecosystems like citizens of another planet. In another, they’re dinner. On your plate, deveined, cracked, peeled, sometimes deep-fried (if you’re lucky!), and dispersed among plates. And somewhere along the way, you’re responsible for this transformation.
Can you tell I’m not used to handling seafood?
I feel like I should apologize. I’m the worst marketing writer ever. Because how am I supposed to convince you to make this recipe when you’ve now got the image of death-by-steaming on your mind?
Because seafood is delectable, that’s why. And I was quickly able to overcome lay aside my misgivings once the sauce was heartily boiling away, and again later upon uncovering the pot and being smacked in the face by the briny, wine-y aroma of fresh-steamed mussels.
So here’s what, people: steaming your own mussels is not only incredibly easy, but also wonderful in the way only home-cooked meals can be.
For our last lunch in Montauk, we decided to order a heaping plate of steamed mussels served in an uber-creamy, uber-buttery sauce that was so delicious, we ate way more bread than we intended and ended up spoiling our appetites for dinner. With that meal in mind, I decided to try reproducing its decadence a few days later. I steamed three pounds of mussels in a creamy white wine sauce that was simultaneously soul-satisfying but also heavy beyond belief. So, because I wanted more mussels but less cream, I decided to veer in a lighter direction, and go with a spicy tomato-based sauce full of flavor but not fat.
I hate to make it sound like diet food. It’s not. Because you have to serve the mussels with lots of crusty bread to sop up the sauce. Or you could serve it atop pasta and feel a very balanced meal taking shape.
First, though, overcome your mussel-handling fears. At least it’s not a lobster.