want it now: footed rustic wood cutting board

Summertime is a season of unexpected entertaining. Since no one wants to cook, we try to keep fresh fruit, chips, dip, bread, cheeses, and olives on hand for sunset beers with neighbors on our porch. Usually we toss them on whatever cutting board happens to be handy, but these beauties from Gray Works Design will certainly raise the style bar a notch for us. A furniture company based in Woodstock, NY, they specialize in making gorgeous pieces from reclaimed woods. Their “footed platte” is a raised board with feet on the bottom of the board. The elevated position instantly adds a layer of sophistication to whatever you serve. Available at Gray Works shop on Etsy, at prices ranging from $100 to $50. Hint: Save this one in your wedding gift file.

real life test kitchen: beer battered stuffed squash blossoms

The other day we noticed that fried squash blossoms were on the menu of one of our favorite restaurants, Cookshop, reminding us of this great way to cook them at home. Enjoy!

These lil’ babies are so good I made them three times this week. No joke! Slightly labor intensive, perhaps, but oh, so worth the effort, especially for guests, who are sure to rapaciously devour them all before you can even taste them (which is why my photos aren’t my best work)! Here’s what it takes for you to make your own:

1) Procure yourself some squash blossoms. I recommend the farmer’s market. Or your neighbor’s backyard (See above photo for reference). Make sure you get them they day they are to be eaten, as they don’t keep well.

2) Get some cheese. I like a mix of fresh ricotta and Italian truffle cheese (from Trader Joe’s) or pecorino romano, but I suggest the truffle cheese if you can find it.

3) Fry up a little bit of bacon and a shallot. Mix with the cheese. Add some pepper and fresh thyme. Stuff those blossoms!

4) Dip in a simple beer batter and pan fry until golden. Watch them disappear!

It’s something you can really only enjoy for a fleeting moment once a year, so why not buy a ton, grab a couple of big skillets, and have a squash blossom party? Their gently sweet and delicate flavor is not exclusive to the savory side, oh no. They are scrumptious as a sweet fritter too, just lightly battered and dusted with powdered sugar, reminiscent of funnel cake from the fair! Click for Beer Battered Stuffed Squash Blossoms! (more…)

useful kitchen gadget: the palm zester

After reading the Real Life Test Kitchen on the perfect lemon cake, you might be saying to yourself, a 1/4 cup of lemon zest! That’s a lot of zesting! Well, I have to share a new gadget that made the zesting of half a dozen lemons a breeze: the palm zester. I had been using traditional handheld graters, but often scraped my knuckles along with the fruit’s skin. This little guy slips through your fingers of one hand, while the other holds the lemon. Circle round and the attached container catches all the zest for you. To get a 1/4 of a cup, I had to fill this baby up about four times. But it went fast. It’s $8 at Target, and I recommend you get one to help with your next lemony creation!

Do you have kitchen gadget you love? Please tell us about it!

real life test kitchen: the perfect lemon cake

The other the day one of our favorite local bakers, the Able Baker, was serving out samples of a lemon cake. I had one little sliver and became obsessed. It was so moist and deliciously lemony, I needed more. I needed a whole cake. I needed to make it myself. I drilled Julie, the Able Baker herself and she said her recipe include buttermilk, and a lemon glaze. The secret, she said, is to poke holes in the cake before you pour the glaze on, so it goes deep into the cake.

I went home and searched and searched for a recipe that sounded similar. I pulled out all of my cookbooks and looked through the indexes. I finally found one that sounded like what I was hunting for, in The Essential New York Times Cook Book. The author Amanda Hesser writes “imagine the taste of a lemon cake, then multiply that by three, and you’ll have a faint idea of the piercing resonance in this cake.”

This recipe makes a lot of cake. I thought about cutting it in half, but then decided to make the whole thing and share with neighbors (who were very grateful that I did). I used loaf pans, but I think a Bundt pan would work nicely, perhaps one that was a little smaller and you could make two. I mostly stuck to NYTimes recipe, but I added in Julie’s hole technique. My cake stuck a little to the pan, so I recommend be extra diligent with flouring to prevent sticking. Here’s my version of the recipe the below.

Triple Hit Lemon Cake
3 cups of flour
1/2 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp of baking soda
1 tsp of salt
2 sticks of soft butter
2 1/2 cups of sugar (1/2 cup is for the syrup)
2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, sifted (for glaze)
4 eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup lemon zest
3/4 cup lemon juice + about 3 tbls
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temp
1 tsp of vanilla

1. Take butter, eggs and buttermilk out of the fridge to warm up to room temp.
2. Heat oven to 350. Grease and flour two loaf pans or one Bundt pan (I used one 9″ x 5″ x 3″ loaf pan and one smaller one). Line bottom with parchment paper. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.
3. Beat butter and 2 cups of the sugar in mixer with a paddle attachment, for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add in eggs, one at a time, then lemon zest.
4. Combine 1/4 cup of the lemon juice, the buttermilk and vanilla in a bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter batter, alternately adding in the buttermilk mixture, ending with the flour.
5. Pour batter into pan(s). Bake for about 45 minutes until tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool for about ten minutes, then invert it onto a rack over a tray.
6. Meanwhile make syrup by combining 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of lemon juice in a pan until it is a smooth liquid. Let it cool.
7. Poke holes with toothpick or chopstick into the cake. Pour the syrup over, letting some drip down into the cake. Allow to cool completely
8. Make the glaze by whisking about 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar with a few tablespoons of lemon juice.
9. Spoon the glaze over the cake allowing some to drip down the sides.
10. Enjoy!

real life test kitchen: chinese chicken salad

This is a revisit to an old favorite. I made this again the other night, and took a new photo. It’s still delicious. Summer wouldn’t be summer without making this salad!

Hoorah! I have found another amazing no-fuss chicken salad that we can happily eat for days (see this post for another recipe). It’s The Barefoot Contessa’s Chinese Chicken Salad, from her book Parties. I’ve made a few of her recipes before and they never fail to wow me. This one will please a crowd or give you to take-to-work leftovers during the week. Though she suggests roasting your own chicken breasts (eight of them, bone in) it was too hot and muggy for oven-action last weekend. Instead, I bought a ready-cooked roasted chicken from the grocery store and halfed her recipes (instead of serving 12, ours served 6). We also added a little pasta and fresh off-the-cob corn in the end (yum!) — two welcome additions. The dressing was easy enough, made from things I had in my pantry like apple cider vinegar, sesame oil, peanut butter and fresh ginger. Fresh asparagus and red bell peppers gave it a little crunch. Tastes great either at room temperature or cold. Click here to see the whole recipe.