Rachel Bennett

Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page

Baby Taste Buds

In Food on January 16, 2014 at 22:57


A few days ago I had the pleasure of cooking a meal for a beautiful brand new family. Josh and Rhonda welcomed their little boy into the world just before Christmas. Although Lucas quickly established himself as an easy-going baby, he has one small foible. He is fussy about onions and garlic. The moment his mamma partakes of any dish containing these aromatics, he becomes vociferous in his discontent.

I thought of this as I stirred pale slivers of leek into shimmering oil. How strange is is that a newborn baby can taste so much through his mother’s milk. What else could his new taste buds detect? First it must be that proverbial sweetness, warm and plump, coating the palate like crème brûlée. Then perhaps a flicker of bitterness from the hearty greens of mom’s dinner last night, a creamy soupçon of a morning avocado, and the umami-ripe depth of a lunchtime tomato soup.

Of course it was only his mama and papa who ate my risotto, but I like to think that little Lucas got a vicarious taste of smoked salmon laced with lemon and herbs. And just the faintest whisper of white vermouth.

Smoked salmon risotto with lemon and vermouth

Serves 4-6

Hot smoked salmon works beautifully in this risotto, rich and woodsy against bright lemon. White vermouth replaces the usual wine, suffusing a panoply of herbal flavors into the dish.

1 large leek, white and pale green part only
olive oil to coat pan
2.5 cups risotto rice
½ cup white vermouth
5 cups vegetable or fish stock
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 lemon, grated zest and some juice
8 oz hot smoked salmon, flaked
coarse salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan, shaved (optional)

Heat the stock in a saucepan and then keep warm over a low heat on a back burner. Wash and finely chop the leek. Heat a large skillet over a medium-low heat and coat with olive oil. Sweat the leek until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil. Add the vermouth and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add half the parsley, and a little stock. Stir until liquid is almost absorbed. Stir in the lemon zest and a splash more stock. Continue stirring, adding liquid as it is absorbed, until rice is almost ready but still has a bite to it, about 12-15 minutes. Stir in the salmon and a squeeze of lemon juice. Continue gently stirring until rice is tender. Season to taste with more lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Garnish with remaining parsley and shaved parmesan if desired.

Bread, honey, and a troubled heart

In Food on January 5, 2014 at 20:54


After the excesses of Christmas, January brings a welcome return to simple food. For myself this manifests as a renewed interest in hearty soups, good whole grain bread, and mounds of winter greens dripping in olive oil and redolent of garlic. It is the sort of food that is consummately nourishing, restorative meals to bolster body against those interminable winter nights and assuage all manner of melancholy.

For myself there are many such foods that provide a kind of existential succor, but only one reigns supreme. When the day lies heavy on my heart, I reach for a loaf whole grain bread, a thick slab of butter, and a pot of golden honey.

This morning I awoke to the gravity of life pressing down relentlessly against my chest. I slumped out of bed and into the kitchen. I could think of nothing else to do so I put on an apron and pulled out the flour. Several hours later I hoisted three loaves of bread from the oven. For a moment I forgot my woes, closing my eyes and inhaling the scent of September wheat fields, listening for the crackle of crust as it cooled. I cut a slice, carved off some cold butter to cover it, and drizzled the whole with honey.

On this occasion, the honey was particularly ambrosial. Given to us by our wonderful neighbors, Don and Jane, it came from their own bee hives at Firstlight Farm. It was raw and thick with the taste of wildflowers and sun-warmed caramel, a hint of wax clinging ever so slightly to the teeth. It was, I reflected, a perfect honey for hot toddies, a cure for the cold, and a sweet, enveloping balm for the troubled heart.

For a moment I am six years old and a booming voice is heading my way. “When I was One, I had just begun. When I was Two, I was nearly new.” Mum is bustling about in the kitchen, dogs panting by her feet, ever hopeful. The rhyme is drawing nearer to me. “When I was Three I was hardly me. When I was Four, I was not much more.” My brother Willie bounds through the kitchen chasing a zooming tennis ball that narrowly misses the window.  “When I was Five, I was just alive.”  Dad is beside me now, eyebrows moving in rhythm to the words, his rumbling voice louder and victorious as he finishes the rhyme: “Now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever, So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.”

I am no longer six and there are pains not even bread and honey can dissolve. But I must eat, and they are at least a blanket against the bleakness.

Labor of love

In Food on January 1, 2014 at 20:08

I made my own wedding cake. And it rocked.

(It’s better to get the boasting over with right away, don’t you agree.)

As mentioned in this post, I have dreamed of baking ‘The Cake’ for years. Second only to marrying Mr Darcy, it was the most important feature of my girlhood bridal fantasies, more significant than the dress, the venue, or anything else for that matter.

A week before the wedding I baked the four layers of almond sponge. Rich and moist with a generous amount of almond paste, they came out of the oven in beautiful golden rounds, fragrant with sweet almonds and a whisper of vanilla. The morning of our big day I woke at 6 am and stumbled bleary eyed into the kitchen to finish my work. I sliced  the layers and filled each with a generous measure of chunky black cherry preserves. Next, I whipped up a bitter mocha icing and slathered it over each layer, smoothing over the rough bits with a hot wet knife. Then, as the clock ticked down I decorated each layer with edible pearls, securing each tiny orb into the icing with the aid of tweezers, breathing hard and trying valiantly to keep my hand from trembling.

I placed the final round on the cake and blinked. Somewhat to my surprise it had worked.  All that midnight baking and eleventh hour decorating had worked. I was staring at a beautiful wedding cake. 

Photos by Hannah Wahl