I thought it was time for a new pasta salad for summer not because I needed one but because Sylvie did. Sylvie’s graduating from high school, you see, and of course she’s having a graduation party. Since Sylvie, a stellar singer and dancer, has cooked and baked with me since she was a wee girl, I’m thrilled to work out something fun and luscious to go with her dad’s great pulled pork tacos and bring it along to fete one of my favorite students and people.
I’ve been baking this friendly cake for a few months now in one variation or another. First, I was just fascinated by the ingredients in the original Almond Cake recipe (see photo below), which belongs to Molly Wizenberg and was adapted by Mark Bittman and Sam Sifton…and later by me along with a few thousand others. It starts with boiling an orange and a lemon together for a half hour, removing the seeds, and puréeing the now softened peels. Nothing I’d ever done in my not-so-extensive cake baking career; still, I was sold. There’s no butter but there’s plenty of olive oil, making it taste and feel seriously Mediterranean or just Spanish… and keeping it moist for a few days right on the old proverbial counter. That’s even in Colorado at altitude where bread becomes crouton material in 15 minutes flat. The original “Tarta de Santiago” or St. James Cake (very similar to the almond cake I kept making) is a middle ages and Camino de Santiago specialty still baked each July 25, for the feast of St. James. One couldn’t have asked for a better plain cake or maybe even one with more spiritual flavor. Think gently citrusy and uber nutty pound cake only lighter. My dad, who abhorred all things frosting, would have inhaled it. Only thing my cake needed was a little barely sweetened whipped cream or a few berries, as you see in my photo. Or just a cup of coffee (black) if you were my dad. Maybe a small Armagnac if you were me.
Since the coronation of King Charles and the American Mother’s Day fall just over a week from one another, I couldn’t help but think of making scones in honor of both events. (Of course I watched the whole coronation…well, at least from the time I awoke. Enchanting it was – especially the choir.) There’s nothing like a basket of gorgeous scones to set off a festive brunch or holiday tea and they’re both easy to make (I promise!) and very fast, particularly if you use a food processor. The only big decision will be….What kind of scones will you make? Scroll down for ideas or if you’re quite serious, you can order the wondrous Scots baker and fiction writer, Sue Lawrence’s fine book, SCOTTISH BAKINGfor the real deal scoop. I had a basket of lovely fresh strawberries on hand and a small jar of toasted almonds leftover from a salad, so there was little question about what I’d do. I adore strawberries with chocolate, so I thought I’d toss in just a few mini chocolate chips to gild that lily and quite soon, Strawberry-Chocolate Chip Scones with Almonds were born. And, if I do say say so myself, they’re fabulous. I want them again.
A few weeks back, while doing my monthly Trader Joe’s run, I scored a package of fresh chicken Italian sausage. Upon returning home, I stuck it in the garage freezer and promptly forgot all about it. Ok; it’s my MO. Finding myself with most of a pot of polenta leftover from Friday night’s bœuf bourguignon dinner and wondering what to do with it (there are myriad uses–no worries), I remembered that sausage and easily pictured it with a simple tomato sauce along with a cascade of sautéed mushrooms. A little garlic, of course–but not a lot. How about some fresh asparagus, I thought? It is asparagus season, after all. (Here in Colorado Springs –and I know this because of a longtime faithful reader, thanks–, we have wild asparagus that should just about be coming on. Take a peek around.) While it did dirty a few pans (hello wonderful DACOR dishwasher– ours was made by Asko, the Swedish company–and is still running perfectly without mishap after 9 years/knock on wood), within 45 minutes we had an easy-scrumptious dinner on hand with which to watch a couple of episodes of Netflix’ addictive new series “Transatlantic.”