Posts tagged ‘summer’

Black Pepper Panna Cotta & Red Wine Strawberries

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (main)

I bought a carton of strawberries.

I did it against my better judgment—the berries were suspiciously big and still a little out of season, not to mention overpriced. They were so red I couldn’t help but feel suspicious.

But I bought them anyway because I wanted to make panna cotta, and I thought berries would make the plate prettier. Plus, I’d found a half-cup of cheap cabernet in the fridge, forgotten by the apartment’s previous tenants, and I figured that would be enough to make mediocre berries taste good.

I went home and got to work, chilling the panna cottas and reducing the wine to a slow-bubbling glaze. After all that, I popped open the box of strawberries. I was surprised—they actually looked really good. Well, I thought, I’m glad they’ll photograph nice. I scooped up a handful, ran them under water, and let them tumble onto a cutting board, which slowly pinkened with juice. Before slicing, I picked up one of the smaller berries, pinched off the green, and popped the whole thing in my mouth.

Wow.

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (strawberry)

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (spoon)

With one bite I was transported home to Seattle, to our front yard, to my mom’s strawberry patch.

She planted the seeds when I was a senior in high school. They’ve grown prolifically since then, the leaves a dense carpet. The berries are tiny, thimble-sized, and redder than roses. They’re profusely floral, like perfume in your palms, so fragrant you taste them before you’ve parted your lips. Each bite melts on your tongue and the sweetness probably causes cavities.

They’re the best strawberries I’ve ever had.

One year, I infused some into a jar of bourbon. Another time, I made shortcakes with thick dollops of real cream. But they’re always best as-is, still warm from the sun, by the bowl-full. My dad likes to dip them in black pepper, a preference I found off-putting until I tried it. You can’t actually taste the pepper—like salt on chocolate, it simply enhances the berry itself.

Once I’d settled on red wine strawberries, I added pepper to the panna cottas, without hesitation.

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (closeup)

The grocery store strawberries weren’t as good as my mom’s. Not even close. But they were outrageously better than I expected. The panna cottas were, too.

I was nervous they would stick to their molds, but each panna cotta wobbled right onto the plate. The texture was perfect—-firm enough to hold a shape, yet soft and creamy as pudding. The edges were smooth as marble. I’d originally imagined the pepper sprinkled throughout, and I was disappointed they had settled down instead. But on second glance, I liked the way it looked—-pure white with black flecks crowning the top, like caviar, gently trickling down.

And the berries. Glossy, sweet, and superbly robust. The color contrast was gorgeous. I didn’t regret stirring them into the red wine reduction, even though I usually like to eat delicious fruit as-is.

I’ll save that simple happiness for the next time I’m home.

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June 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm 15 comments

S’mores Rice Krispies

Smores Rice Krispies 4

I thought I’d write about how grown up I feel interning in New York this summer… but that’s not really true.

More honestly, I’m playing dress up. I hardly recognize myself in the mornings, in an ironed button up and pencil skirt. Then I see the goofy photo on my employee ID—the one where I was about to say, “What?” and my bangs are too long—and I feel like a kid again.

Surprisingly, I’ve never worked full time outside the school year. Even after college began, I’ve spent summers making ice cream and hoping for a tan. While my schedule this semester might be less open, I do love living in New York. For a long time I wanted to go to school here. And though I ultimately ended up in Boston, I always wondered if I might secretly be a New Yorker.

Smores Rice Krispies 1

It takes more than a summer to become one, but I’m slowly getting used to the subway, the pace of the city, the feel of different neighborhoods. I’m learning to walk with purpose, and crossing restaurants off my list. And I’ve got a beautiful apartment I’ll be heartbroken to leave after August.

The kitchen is the first room off the apartment’s long hallway, and the first room I come home to. If you’ve ever lived in this city, it won’t surprise you that it’s the size of a shoe box. It’s narrow and dishwasher-less, with a fold-up table and two chairs an arm’s reach from the fridge. There’s outlet space to plug in either the microwave or electric kettle—only one—and the oven runs so hot you can burn yourself without opening it.

But the cabinets are stocked all the way back with spices, herbs, sugars and extracts, five flavors of instant macaroni and lots of tea. There’s a small window that looks out onto absolutely nothing but lets in a gauzy pool of light. And even though I wasn’t impressed upon first glance, this kitchen has grown on me.

Smores Rice Krispies 3

I didn’t expect to use it much. But when I found myself wanting to bake, I did.

I wanted something quick, inexpensive, and delicious. So I made rice krispies, a no-bake recipe that only took twenty minutes from start to finish. The recipe is as easy as melting butter and marshmallows, stirring it into the krispies, and pressing the whole mess into a pan. For fun, I added chocolate chips and graham crackers, since nothing says summer like s’mores.

Simple as they are, there’s something thoroughly satisfying about these little squares. I’ve always liked rice krispies—gooey, soft, and crunchy all at once, with a sweetness that sticks to the back of your teeth. These ones feel especially nostalgic. The chocolate chips melt a little, thanks to the residual heat of the marshmallows. The shards of graham cracker lend a wholesome crunch. The whole thing sticks stubbornly to your fingers, and it’s great.

Smores Rice Krispies 5

It might be my first summer away from home, living with my first long term boyfriend in my first New York apartment, working 40 hours a week at a company with 30 other interns. But one bite of these rice krispies and I feel like a little kid again, like it might be another summer spent in the sun.

I hope I never get too old to chase that feeling.

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June 13, 2013 at 11:01 pm 33 comments

Red Berry Swirl Ice Cream & Gingersnap Cones

Red Berry Swirl Ice Cream

For a long time, I’ve wanted to live in a city.

Two semesters in college have confirmed this. Sometimes I think Boston won me over just as much as the college tour. I see the parks as my quad, the neighborhoods as my library. When the sun dips, I love walking down the endless streets – light concentrates in the spaces between brick buildings, bathing the whole city in gold.

I like the way the sidewalks breathe at night. Even in the dark, people are everywhere, and insect wings glint under the streetlights. I love the way honking cars and buzzing neon signs become lullabies. In the morning, I wake up with the city. The bus exhales beneath my seat and happy smells waft out of the bakeries. Every day is new and full of possibility, of discovery and change. I feel alive.

Red Currants

My boyfriend I- isn’t like this. He appreciates the pizza parlors open until 2 am and enjoys late-night photography in Chinatown. But in the “real world,” he could never live somewhere with that many cars, with so many people.

He visited Seattle for the first time last week. I made sure we checked out downtown record shops and college student hangouts. But I-’s favorite things about Washington?

He loved driving east towards Fall City, where thick trees threaten to swallow the road. He’ll remember Snoqualmie Falls, the semi-decayed bridge we were too scared to cross, and the pie we ate at a tiny North Bend diner. He was impressed with rocky Mount Si and snow-capped Mount Rainier. And he liked our floating bridges.

He also liked my backyard. It’s large in proportion to our little house, wrapping around three edges of our home. One section is a grassy stretch, another features the stone path and garden Mom and Dad built two years ago, and the third area holds our herbs and vegetables.

Gingersnap Cones

There’s something magical about growing our own produce. Since our lettuce heads unfurled, I’ve eaten more salads than ever. We get on our knees to find the ripest strawberries, which are more tender and sweet than any grocery store berry. I like slicing them in half, pouring coconut milk over them, and sprinkling the top with raw oats. Food tastes better when it’s just picked, still sun warmed, still breathing.

Before we planted them in our garden, I’d never thought about red currants. Each berry is tiny, translucent, and unbelievably crimson. They’re a little sour and pop between your teeth. The morning every berry suddenly turned ripened, I picked currants until my fingertips and lips were perfumed red.

I have to admit that I don’t really know what to do with them. My mom and I picked every currant in a race against the birds, and now we have cups and cups of a fruit that remains a mystery to both of us. Our batch is a little too tart to eat raw but we don’t have any experience with cooking them. Mom simmered some into a syrup, and I swirled some into ice cream.

Cream Soaked Berry I dropped a tiny strawberry into the point of each cone (to seal the bottom.) The result? The last bite of ice cream cone includes a vanilla cream soaked berry. Amazing.

It takes a lot of currants to make not-so-much puree. I threw in a few of our strawberries to add sweetness, and some honey when strawberries weren’t enough. I layered the red berry puree with my favorite vanilla ice cream. The berries are so deep and vivid against the creamy white, freckled with black seeds, that I see galaxies and constellations in every scoop.

I spent an afternoon making gingersnap ice cream cones, and after an hour in the kitchen I was ready for fresh air. I went into the backyard to photograph them, and realized I didn’t want to go back in. The ice cream just tasted better outside. It made the berry swirl brighter and the vanilla more exotic, standing in the sun without a skyscraper or printed ad in sight.

I miss the bustle of living downtown, but I’ve learned something else. I want to eat like I’m tucked deep in the country. I don’t know how I’m going to make it work back in school, without soil or farm-fresh produce in sight.

For now, I’ll keep eating lunch outside, listening to the leaves rustle and feeling more alive than I have all summer.

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July 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm 47 comments

Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake

Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake

Ten days in LA weren’t enough.

As the plane lifted, I caught my last looks at California through the gauzy clouds. I was already thinking about the restaurants I couldn’t try, the neighborhoods I hadn’t seen, and the gems I didn’t discover. The state was simply too big to experience in a mere week and a half. When we’d parted, my friend and host C- said, “But you’ll get to see Seattle!” I rolled my eyes and told him, “I live in Seattle.”

During this summer, I’ve lived up north by the bluest water in Maine. In Atlanta, I embraced the heat in sundresses, the warm air dampening my skin in minutes. And in California, I rummaged through antique cast iron skillets and pearl rings at farmer’s markets and artisan festivals. I’ve visited more places in the past year than ever before. But the few days I spent at home? I sat around, spinning the dusty globe in our office.

By the time I unpacked my suitcase and fell onto my bed, I’d decided to make things different. I needed to change my perspective. What would I do if I only had ten days in Seattle?

Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake

We live slightly outside the big city, enough distance that it can feel foreign or familiar depending on my mood. I tackled Seattle with a fearlessness I’d never shown.

Downtown, I drove in circles trying to find parking before giving up and walking a good distance to reach any kind of store. I explored the U District alone, the little boutiques and second hand shops. I ducked into the independent theaters, painted seafoam green and dusty pink, outlined in bulbous lights, signs cracked with age… Somehow, the same movies come alive in a new way inside a theater with character.

My favorite sweets come from Seattle. In Boston I craved bullseye donuts from Top Pot, sticky with sugar glaze and raspberry jam, and Molly Moon’s Theo chocolate ice cream, so thick it’ll snap your spoon. I’m realizing just how much is still undiscovered. Last week I walked into a Middle Eastern restaurant the size of a closet and ordered something I couldn’t pronounce. I still don’t know what it was, but it was tangy and spiced, followed by a slice of cake drenched in honey.

If I approach summer in Seattle as an extended trip, the potential is incredible.

Basil Olive Oil

When I exit I-90 after an afternoon in the city, I’m filled with a strange appreciation for home. I pass my favorite old school diner, the one with the dumpy sign and the bad coffee. I like to drive slowly around the gentle, winding curves of my neighborhood.

Inevitably my eyes are drawn up to the unbelievable trees. Until I spent time out of Washington, I never knew how special our evergreens are. They tower, so tall and old, so richly green you can smell the color. In other cities the trees feel planted for decoration – but here, the houses have been nestled where the trees allow space. And when the sun is at the right angle, the light filters through in hazy planks, and suddenly my life is breathtaking.

My house is green, from the soft moss carpeting our cement patio (Mom hates this, I sort of like it) to the homegrown lettuce patch beyond my bedroom window. Our family doesn’t have the greenest thumb, but plants line our living room window, stems bowing towards the glass. My favorite of the bunch is the fragrant pot of basil.

Last crumb

Basil is my favorite herb. I like it sautéd with pasta, baked onto pizza, layered in sandwiches and churned into ice cream. With bunches of fresh basil at my fingertips, it’s hard to resist experimentation. When it results in something as lovely as basil olive oil, can you blame me?

We had a bag of bright lemons, so olive oil cake was necessary. I love the way this cake gently rises and falls, the way the sugar-sprinkled crust cracks, the way it perfumes the mouth. Each bite tastes like sunlight and comfort and dare I say it… green.

[Unsure about the 4th? Why not tackle my 4th of July Flag Cake? People have been making it ever since its creation 2 years ago. It's deceptively simple and always impressive. Check out the post for instructions, plus a video of me making it. Have a great weekend!]

flagcake

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July 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm 35 comments

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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