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.
Chris and I went to Montauk for the long weekend, and when we arrived home, we found out that our Internet modem was “out of signal” and the earliest that Time Warner can send a repairman is Friday. FRIDAY. That translates to about 5,000 years by web standards.
The sad fact is, I am hopelessly reliant on the Internet. Without it within finger’s reach, a lot of my daily processes have come to a screeching halt. Like blogging. And emailing. Pinning. Uploading. Researching. Entertaining. I mean, what do we not do using the Internet these days?
No matter. Life must go on.
About my weekend, here’s my two cents: unless you’re prepared to eat at the same two restaurants for six meals in a row, don’t go to tourist spots during off season. Montauk was dead. And cold. And, we decided to take the Hampton Jitney, thinking it would be way more economical than renting a car, and ended up spending an exorbitant amount on taxi rides because apparently, everything’s not walkable like I’d previously thought.
Again, no matter. It was fun despite everything, and we got our fill of seafood (the seafood bruschetta at Harvest on Fort Pond is REALLY good—highly recommended). But once again, we were hit by the fact that, out here, the seasons are a serious force to contend with. In California, where the weather is about the same year round, there’s no reason not to take a break from reality and drive out to some middle-of-nowhere town at any time in the year. And that’s exactly what Chris and I would do, often.
I made this monkey bread in preparation for the trip. Chris perked up like a little boy when I took it out of the oven, although the smells emanating from the kitchen had already set off a Pavlovian response far earlier.
Come to think of it, who wouldn’t perk up at the sight of monkey bread? It’s part cinnamon roll, part donut hole, and baked in a Bundt pan so it looks pretty to boot. Chris ooh’d and aah’d when I tipped it out of the pan, and hovered nearby as I drizzled the glaze over the top. And when I pulled a piece off to demonstrate how fun it was to eat, he eagerly joined in. I think monkey bread brings the inner child out of all of us.
With the glaze, it’s quite decadent, but I liked it for that fact. I don’t give myself the opportunity to indulge in sugary breakfasts often, so I’ll take whatever excuses I can get.
We enjoyed it the last few mornings with coffee (luckily, we were able to find one cafe in town that was open. Don’t know how I would’ve coped without the precious liquid), plucking pieces off in their perfect bite-sized units.
And outside, the howling wind whipped our little finger of land, heaving snow dust everywhere and freezing the ocean surf.