Articles by Author
In the beginning, there was the pineapple, and it was good — very, very good, about as good as anything ever gets. But if you didn’t live in pineapple country, it was hard to obtain ones perfectly ripe and in good condition. Then there was canned pineapple, and though it might not have been quite as good as fresh pineapple, it was still pretty darned good. In fact, it begat one of the great creations of the 20th-century American kitchen: the pineapple upside-down cake. Its informing flavor came from the caramelization of the slices that lay on the bottom of the cast-iron frying pan while the cake baked on top.
But then fresh, ripe pineapple became more readily available, and people got tired of dealing with cast-iron pans, and anyway, new pineapple dishes had come along (hello, tiki cuisine). In the 1960s, the pineapple upside-down cake faded away.
Finally, in our own time, chefs discovered the idea of roasting pineapple and started roasting pineapple all over the place, and it was good. It was good for the same reason that pineapple upside-down cake had been good: Pineapple goes wonderfully well with caramelized flavors.
You don’t have to roast the fruit to get the same effect. You can even combine fresh or canned pineapple and butterscotch to get that old-fashioned caramelized flavor. This recipe is based on a pineapple-coconut cake in Nancie McDermott’s “Southern Cakes” (Chronicle Books, 2007). It’s kind of frivolous, but it is good.
Prep time: About 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30-35 minutes
Total time: About 1 hour
Yield: 1 two-layer cake, 6 to 8 servings
For the cake:
About 1/4 cup butter and 3 tablespoons flour for coating pans
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
For the butterscotch-pineapple filling:
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple or 1 1/2 cups crushed fresh pineapple with liquid
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup butterscotch bits
For the frosting:
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2/3 cup pineapple juice, reserved from filling
Optional: 2 or 3 drops of yellow food coloring
For the assembly:
1/3 cup butterscotch bits
For the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Smear the interior of two 9-inch cake pans generously with butter. Line the bottom of the pans with 9-inch rounds of parchment paper or waxed paper and butter them (this step is optional, but it will help you to remove the cake layers intact). Sprinkle the interior of the pans with about 1 1/2 tablespoons flour each and shake around to coat; overturn the pans above your sink and tap to remove excess flour.
3. In a bowl, mix the 3 cups flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the milk and vanilla and set aside.
4. Using an electric mixer, beat the softened butter at high speed in a mixing bowl until light and lemon-colored. Continue beating the butter and slowly add the 2 cups sugar. When the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes, add the eggs one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each addition and then scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula or wooden spoon.
5. Scoop in 1 cup of the flour mixture and beat at medium speed until the flour is just incorporated. Add half of the milk-vanilla mixture and beat at high speed until incorporated, gently urging all the ingredients together with a spatula. Repeat, alternating flour and milk, until the batter is just incorporated.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pans, smooth the tops and place in the oven. When the surface has just started to brown, 30 to 35 minutes, give the center a gingerly touch to see whether it has set — it should spring back. (The layers are definitely done when they start to pull away from the sides of the pan, but by that time they may be a little dry.)
7. Remove the pans from the oven and let them rest on racks or folded dish towels for 10 minutes. Set a plate or another rack on top of each pan and overturn it; the layer should pull away at a tap. Overturn the layers again so they’re right side up and let them cool for 20 or 30 minutes.
For the filling:
1. Stir the flour into the sugar.
2. Drain and squeeze the pineapple, reserving 2/3 cup of pineapple juice for use in the frosting.
3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and butterscotch bits. Add the sugar-flour mixture and stir until incorporated. Add the crushed pineapple and stir until thickened, about 5 minutes.
For the frosting:
1. Put the egg whites, sugar, corn syrup and pineapple juice in the top of a double boiler. Put about 1½ inches of water in the bottom of the double boiler and, over high heat, bring it to a boil. Meanwhile beat the frosting ingredients with an electric beater for 1 minute.
2. When the water has reached a full boil, set the top of the double boiler over the bottom, reduce the heat to medium-high and start beating again. After about 7 minutes, the frosting will start to lose its sheen and to form stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted from it.
3. Remove from the heat, add food coloring if desired and beat for 1 minute longer.
To assemble the cake:
1. Place one cake layer on your serving dish with the flat side up. Spread half of the butterscotch-pineapple filling over it, almost to the edge.
2. Set the other layer on top of the first and spread the rest of the filling over the top and sides of the cake. Sprinkle the butterscotch bits as evenly as possible across the top.
Main photo: Pineapple-Butterscotch Cake. Credit: Charles Perry
As we slide into the holiday season, my mind turns toward maple: maple syrup, maple frosting — and maple fudge.
The world has quite enough chocolate fudge, in my heretical opinion. Chocolate is certainly majestic, but maple has something wonderful and poetical to say for itself. Nobody who has had a bite of maple fudge will ever turn another down. It’s the ideal Thanksgiving sweet, the boss of all stocking stuffers.
These days, a lot of people seem to think that fudge making is so difficult it has to be left to professionals. Oh, fudge, I say. Homemade fudge is an American tradition. Nineteenth-century college girls are said to have invented chocolate fudge — apparently without spoiling their grade-point average.
The anatomy of a beloved candy
Culinarily speaking, fudge is related to caramel because it involves cooking a dairy product (milk, half-and-half or cream) to the point that it undergoes the Maillard reaction, which produces appetizing browned flavors. Specifically, fudge is related to the 19th-century Mexican candy called panocha, which included the decisive step of stirring in chopped nuts.
Fudge has a luxurious texture because it is whipped as it cools to prevent the formation of large crystals. Small crystals melt easily and appealingly, and a fat-based ingredient — butter or chocolate (or both) — adds its own lusciousness. The faint bitterness of the nuts takes the curse off the overwhelming sweetness of the candy, which is why nuts have become all but universal in fudge recipes.
For maple fudge, the most common nuts are walnuts or pecans, which are both excellent. On general principle, I would first toast them at 350 F until they can easily be pierced by a needle, about 7 minutes. I have also tried toasted coconut as a substitute, which is pretty good, though I was surprised to find that the coconut flavor dominated the maple more than I liked. Ultimately, I decided I favored the version made with toasted hazelnuts. Because, face it, hazelnuts are awesome.
It’s not as hard as you think
Many fudge recipes call for a pastry marble to cool the syrup on, which can make those who don’t own one uneasy. So just use a baking pan instead. (I wouldn’t recommend a cookie sheet without a raised edge, however, because if it isn’t perfectly level, the hot syrup can drip right off.) You do need a good thermometer, but these days any serious cook has one.
In short, the following recipe is somewhat flexible. You can cook the syrup to 240 F or so; you can let it cool to 105 F before beating it; you can beat it longer than the specified time. The crucial thing is that the syrup must reach the soft-ball stage, 238 F at sea level. (If you live at an elevation above 3,500 feet, you are probably familiar with the degree to which you must adjust your temperatures.)
Prep time: 5 to 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes
Total time: About 2¾ hours (includes cooling time)
Yield: 25 to 36 pieces
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, divided, softened
3 cups sugar
¾ cup maple syrup
1½ cups half-and-half
3 tablespoons corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1½ cups roughly chopped nuts — pecans, walnuts or toasted hazelnuts — toasted for 5 to 7 minutes at 350 F
1. Line an 8-inch baking dish with aluminum foil (make sure that the edges extend past the rim) and grease with 1 tablespoon softened butter.
2. In a 3-quart pot over low heat, stir together the sugar, maple syrup, half-and-half, corn syrup and salt until smooth. Continue to stir until the sugar is dissolved, 5 minutes.
3. Insert the sensor of a candy thermometer into the mixture. Increase the heat to bring to a boil and cook without stirring until the syrup reaches the soft-ball state (238 F), about 15 minutes. The syrup will foam up alarmingly but settle down by 225 F. Warning: The heated syrup can cause severe burns. Wear an apron and use oven mitts.
4. Remove the thermometer probe from the pan and pour the fudge onto a pastry marble (if you don’t have one, use a 12-by-18-inch baking pan sprayed with nonstick spray). Divide the remaining 3 tablespoons of softened butter into several pieces and dot them here and there on top.
5. Clean the thermometer sensor and stick it anywhere in the fudge. When the temperature measures 110 F (about 5 minutes on a marble, 10 or 12 minutes on a baking pan), scrape the fudge into a mixer bowl with the mixer paddle attached, add the vanilla and beat until the fudge is thick and losing its shine, 5 to 10 minutes.
6. Mix in the nuts. Turn the fudge into the prepared baking dish and let it cool to room temperature, 2 hours.
7. Remove the fudge from the dish by lifting the edges of the aluminum foil and transfer it to a work surface. Rub a chef’s knife with a piece of paper towel wetted with vegetable oil and make 4 cuts in one direction and then 4 cuts in the other, or 5 cuts in each direction, re-oiling the knife as necessary. Wrap the pieces in waxed paper.
If it is not to be eaten immediately, store the fudge in an air-tight container (it can otherwise absorb moisture and soften, particularly in damp weather). It will keep several weeks in a refrigerator, but generally speaking, it’s a gift best given fresh.
Main photo: Maple-hazelnut fudge. Credit: Charles Perry
Chambord is a luscious, expensive French liqueur made from black raspberries. Shambord, made from blackberries and bourbon, has a similar flavor but with a rowdy American edge, and it’s a lot easier on the pocketbook. Also, if you care about such things, you can pride yourself on its being locally sourced (if you can get local blackberries).
More from Zester Daily:
I first encountered the idea — not under that name, which I just made up — about 15 years ago in Kentucky, where a chef had created a sauce by marinating blackberries (as well as strawberries and blueberries, I believe) in bourbon. Black mulberries, which lack the faint bitter edge of blackberries, would be good too — if you can obtain them; they’re scarce in the U.S. In fact, I suppose just about any berry would be good with bourbon: raspberries, huckleberries, possibly even beebleberries.
Naturally, it’s best to make Shambord with fresh blackberries, but frozen berries are acceptable. As for the bourbon, it needn’t be Booker’s or 17-year-old Eagle Rare. Basically, you want any bourbon with a good heady aroma of vanilla and caramel, which goes particularly well with berries.
The Kentucky chef put his sauce on ice cream and fresh fruit, as I recall, and Shambord is good served that way as well, but I like it in wine cocktails. You can add it to sparkling wine as you would crème de cassis to make a Kir cocktail. And because it’s denser than wine, you can layer it with white wine to make a sort of two-tone pousse-café — a silly idea, and possibly more fuss than it’s worth, but a fun one.
Shambord is also excellent on its own as a liqueur, but in that case I’d consider increasing the quantity of whiskey in the base recipe a little, from ¼ cup up to as much as ⅓ cup.
Prep time: 3 minutes
Total time: 3 minutes
Yield: About 1½ cups
12 ounces blackberries
¼ cup bourbon
½ cup sugar
Put the blackberries, bourbon and sugar in a food processor and puree until smooth. Sieve the liquid from the seeds and store it in a lidded container. It will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month.
This is just a fake Kir cocktail.
Prep time: 1½ minutes
Total time: 1½ minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
⅔ cup sparkling wine
⅓ tablespoon Shambord
Put ⅓ cup wine into a champagne flute. Carefully spoon in the Shambord, making sure that the champagne doesn’t bubble over. Add the remaining wine. When the bubbles subside, gently stir to mix.
Prep time: 2 to 3 minutes
Total time: 2 to 3 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
2 tablespoons Shambord
1½ cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
Pour the Shambord into a large wineglass. Suck up some of the wine in a bulb baster and, while holding a spoon under the flow to slow it down, drip it onto the inside of the glass. The Shambord is so much denser than the wine that it will tend to remain at the bottom. Repeat until all the wine is transferred into the glass — as the layer of wine thickens, you will be able to work faster.
Serve, and when your guest is adequately impressed, stir the Shambord lightly into the wine.
Main photo: Liqueur in martini glasses. Credit: iStock / IJzendoorn
You say you want a striking way to serve barbecued chicken? Here’s one that will stick in your guests’ minds. It looks like a miniature rack of ribs, perhaps crossed with a bizarre pre-Cambrian life form.
But it has the classical flavor of browned chicken infused with the sweetness and poetic perfume of onion and a subtle hint of cinnamon. “Winner, winner, chicken barbecue” (or however Guy Fieri’s saying goes).
Its proper name is kırma tavuk kebabı, which means “split” or perhaps “pleated” chicken in Turkish. It’s one of the subtle and inventive dishes that graced the tables of Istanbul big shots back in the days when the Ottoman Empire was still a vast and wealthy affair. It was recorded in 1839 in a cookbook called Malja’ al-Tabbakhin (“The Refuge of Cooks”) that was later plagiarized with great enthusiasm by Turkish and Arab cookbook writers down to the early 20th century.
The recipe was first translated into English after “some of England’s fairest ladies and grandest gentlemen” were impressed by the Turkish dishes served aboard the yacht of the visiting viceroy of Egypt in 1862. Two years later, a certain Turabi Effendi published a collection of recipes swiped from Malja’ al-Tabbakhin and given the on-the-nose title “Turkish Cookery Book.”
The distinctive technique of this dish is to cut the chicken into strips, leaving the pieces attached at one end. This structure helps the marinade flavors penetrate the meat while keeping it in a relatively compact shape for convenience on the grill. It also makes the meat cook a little quicker and more evenly.
Turabi Effendi’s recipe calls for deboning entire chickens, but I suggest taking the easy way out by using boneless chicken breast, which lends itself very well to this technique. Turabi says to baste the meat with butter when it starts to brown, but I don’t recommend this because of the risk of flare-ups. If you want more butter flavor, basting the meat after you take it from the grill works perfectly and will certainly win the approval of your local fire marshal.
- 4 boneless chicken half-breasts, about 1¾ pounds total
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for serving
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon or a pinch more
- 1 large onion
- 2 ounces (¼ stick) butter, melted
- Using a sharp knife, cut the meat crosswise into 9 or 10 strips ¼ to 1/3 inch wide. But make sure your cuts reach no farther than ¼ inch from the far edge of the meat so that the “fingers” remain attached. Mix the salt, pepper and cinnamon and rub into the meat all over.
- Purée the onion in a food processor and strain the onion juice from the solids in a fine sieve (leave the windows open for this operation because of the onion fumes). Mix the meat with the onion juice, cover with plastic wrap or place in a sealable plastic bag and let marinate at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Pat the meat dry with paper towels and thread it onto skewers down the uncut edge (if your skewer is too broad for the uncut section, you can thread it through the bases of the “fingers” as well). Baste the surface of the meat and between the “fingers” with melted butter. This will keep the meat from sticking to the grill and to itself; you don’t want so much butter that there are flare-ups.
- Grill over a moderate fire, turning often, until the meat stiffens and turns golden brown, about 20 minutes.
- Remove from skewers and brush with more melted butter if you want. Sprinkle with salt to taste.
Fine accompaniments for this would be a scoop of tart yogurt and a simple green salad.
Main photo: Cut into strips, kırma tavuk kebabı — “split” or perhaps “pleated” chicken in Turkish — enables marinades to penetrate the meat. Credit: Charles Perry
It’s hot today. Really hot. That makes me think of two things: the tropics and how much I don’t feel like cooking. That’s why I invented these quasi- or pseudo-tropical items, a sweet corn milkshake, and a pomegranate and peanut pasta.
I understand they have corn milkshakes in the Philippines, but I actually got the idea from another tropical island country: Madagascar, which makes a corn pudding called katsaka sy voaniho flavored with corn kernels, coconut milk and vanilla. Madagascarians use vanilla with a free hand, since they’re the world’s largest producers of the spice.
It turns out that vanilla goes spectacularly well with the flavor of fresh corn. I can imagine adding a drop to the melted butter for corn on the cob, and I’ve actually made corn ice cream by substituting corn kernel juice for some of the milk in a vanilla ice cream recipe and reducing the quantity of vanilla to a tiny drop. It’s not bad, but it’s too much work on a day like this one.
More from Zester Daily:
Today I’m only up for a corn shake, which requires close to zero cooking. All you have to do is zap the kernels in a microwave for 45 seconds or so and they lose the slight (and actually not very objectionable) starchy note of raw kernels. It’s just slice, zap, purée and make your milkshake. Go outside and make some barbecue if you like — the flavor of corn goes great with anything off the grill.
As for the pasta, my first idea was to use the combination of tamarind, garlic and lime that features so prominently in India and Southeast Asia. I was going to combine it with the idea of pasta tossed with oil that was big back during the carbo-loading and olive oil-crazy period of the ’80s because I was going to use angel hair, which carries a sauce more suavely when it’s oiled. Oil and a sour ingredient go well together anyway, as in a salad dressing.
But then it occurred to me that I actually prefer pomegranate to tamarind, and the domestic pomegranate molasses sold in Middle East markets has an attractive sweet-sour flavor. (Some imported brands of dibs rumman or rob-e anar are a lot more sour, though.) This pasta comes out so tasty you might just inhale it all as is, but I like to put in some roasted peanuts for a little more heft and protein.
- 4 to 5 ears sweet corn
- ¼ cup milk
- ½ cup vanilla ice cream
- With a sharp knife, slice the kernels from the corn cobs. You should end up with 2½ to 3 cups.
- Transfer them to a food processor, add the milk and process to a purée, about 30 seconds.
- Strain the corn purée in a sieve; you should have about 1¼ to 1½ cups liquid.
- Transfer to a blender and mix with the ice cream until foamy.
In the final step, an old-fashioned blender is preferable to a food processor if you want the traditional foamy texture. The processed version will just be a liquid, but it will still taste good, of course. If you don’t have a blender and want a foamy shake, you can shake it in a cocktail shaker. In fact, that was the original method and the origin of the name "milk shake." Try adding the ice cream in ¼-cup increments, because some brands of vanilla ice cream are so strongly flavored that they will overwhelm the corn.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 22 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
4 ounces (¼ of a 1-pound box) angel hair pasta
4 quarts lightly salted boiling water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ to 1 clove garlic, pureed
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
½ cup roasted peanuts
3 to 4 sprigs cilantro
1. Put the angel hair in the boiling water. As the pasta softens, make sure it’s all below the water’s surface . Stir to separate the strands. Cook until the pasta is soft and the raw aroma goes away, 10-12 minutes.
2. Drain the pasta and place it in a mixing bowl with the oil. Toss with two forks to coat all the strands with oil. Add the garlic and molasses and toss.
3. To serve, mix the pasta with the peanuts or sprinkle them on top. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot or cold.
Note: The flavor of olive oil would be distracting in this dish. Use a neutral oil.
Main photo: Too hot weather inspired two cool recipes: a corn milkshake and pomegranate pasta. Credit: Charles Perry
During the first O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, I was working at the Los Angeles Times, about three blocks away from the L.A. County Courthouse. Once in a while I would wander up there to gawk at the sidewalk circus that was in progress.
One fellow in the colorful crowd was selling an amazing souvenir of those days: a plastic mold you could use to reproduce the face of Superior Court Judge Lance Ito in gelatin. As I like to say, there’s always a food angle.
Several members of the trial’s cast of characters used it as a springboard to fame: the late attorney Johnny Cochran, police officer Mark Fuhrman, party pal Kato Kaelin (not that much fame, in retrospect) et al., including Robert Kardashian, of course, who bequeathed us a pack of telegenic daughters the world might otherwise never have heard of. Judge Ito took a more dignified route and continued an honorable career on the bench.
The gelatin mold looks kind of like the judge, but not exactly. It’s based on a life mask of the owner of SKS Sibley Co., which mostly makes molds for Halloween purposes such as brains, hands and eyeballs. At any rate, it looked enough like the Honorable Ito that people recognized the resemblance at the time. The mold came with a pair of glasses made from construction paper, which were not really very close to what the judge wore.
Of course I bought a mold. Shortly afterward, the judge expressed a desire that the maker cease and desist, or something to that effect, so it has become something of a rarity.
More from Zester Daily:
That day I took it back to the Times Test Kitchen and we made it following the accompanying instructions. They created gelatin with a color a little like a flesh tone, more orange than one might like for the purpose, except perhaps on the Jersey Shore. The hair? More of a problem. The idea was to use food coloring (gelatin is food, people), but black food coloring is hard to find. Blue with a few drops of red gave a very deep purple hue that read close enough to black for the gag to work.
It takes a long time for the gelatin to set, but the next day we had it ready, and we proudly carried it all around the Times building to show it off. Everybody found it highly entertaining … everybody, that is, except the City Desk people who were covering the trial. They didn’t get it at all.
Today with O.J. nostalgia in full bloom, I dug that mold out, a little surprised to find that I’d hung onto it through the years and that I still had the recipe for the quasi-flesh tone gelatin. I had to make new fake glasses, of course – construction paper is less durable than plastic. So here it is, one for the “Remember Those Fabulous Nineties?” book.
By the way, here’s the gelatin recipe that came with the mold. You can use it whenever you need a flesh-colored dessert. In the absence of a suitable mold, you might chill it in custard cups and then paint eyeballs or something when you unmold them.
- 3 (6-ounce) packets of peach-flavored gelatin
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 cup cold water
- 1 (12-ounce) can nonfat evaporated milk
- 3-4 drops of green food coloring
- 6 or 7 drops blue food coloring
- 3 or 4 drops red food coloring
- Dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water.
- When dissolved, stir in the cold water and the evaporated milk.
- Add three drops of food coloring – if the color is still too peachy try another drop.
- Refrigerate until quite firm, seven hours or more.
- After the gelatin is firm, squeeze the blue and red food coloring in a small bowl and stir. If it doesn’t look black enough for you, doctor it with more drops.
- Apply the blackish coloring carefully to the appropriate areas of the gelatin with a small brush.
Main photo: Twenty years after the O.J. Simpson trial, Charles Perry digs out his Jell-O mold of Superior Court Judge Lance Ito to revive an unlikely recipe. Credit: Charles Perry