Zuccotto Pudding

I was in our backyard cleaning up after Mavis—one of my favorite chores—when I noticed that our lemon tree already had sizable green lemons on it. It was surprising because they seemed so far along on their journey to ripeness even though I know they won't be ready until late November (at the earliest), which is the last time I harvested and preserved them. And while I was thinking about all of this, a strange little question came to mind: "What was Teddy doing while I leisurely preserved all those lemons last year?" As in, that experience was such a casual, uninterrupted one; how could I have pulled it off while also monitoring Teddy, who would have undoubtedly been repeatedly army-crawling towards dangling electrical wires? Of course, my (silly) internal question was immediately followed up by the answer: Duh, it was last November; Teddy wasn’t born yet. (Maybe this is what people are talking about when they say they can't remember a time that their son or daughter wasn't a part of their lives.)
I bring this up because our original plan was to shoot a video of the making of this zuccotto pudding, which was completely inspired by this video, which stars my newest culinary hero, Gennaro Contaldo, who had me shouting, "Hoo dont like chocolate chip?!" for the better part of my Saturday. But alas, by the time we were ready to start shooting, it was 5pm; Teddy was becoming less and less able to entertain himself; and the light in our kitchen had gotten all weird. So, we shifted gears.

The good news is that we still made this Italian dessert; Matt still photographed it; and we got to eat it. The bad news is that it’s an example of a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. See, I love the videos Matt and I make. We have a lot of fun shooting them and, bonus, as Bon Appétempt is essentially an ad-free space, the videos are the one component of the site where we get paid a little bit. But, as we probably should have expected, with Teddy growing up more and more each day, it’s getting harder and harder to make them. Not because Teddy is super demanding while we’re shooting. It’s much more because our weekends—the time when Matt is home from work and can work on his other job as the in-house Bon Appétempt photographer—have become even more precious. And even though this site is basically 99% fun for us, it’s of course, still work, and well, oftentimes I’d rather spend the time lounging around in my house clothes and eating lunches and dinners made by Matt.

I also like the videos because they’re less work for me! (They’re more for Matt though. Hi, Matt!) With posts like these, I have to write something, which I normally quite enjoy as well. But as you probably already know, my first book is coming out February 3rd, 2015, which is just over six months from now. As far as I see it, I have six months to work on a follow-up. Not that it needs to be finished in six months. Not at all. But I would like to be invested in something by then. Currently, I have four different word documents with four different potential next projects, none of which have taken on much shape. And as you can see with this very post I’m writing now, it’s difficult for me to share a recipe here without telling you a little bit about what’s going on inside my cluttered headspace, and thus, I end up using my window of writing time on blog posts and very little on the next project.
OK, so I’ve done some quick brainstorming and have come up with a few possible solutions to my problem(s):

A. Offer to make potato salad so that Matt can quit his day job to focus on Bon Appétempt, Heirloom Lab, and glorious child-rearing shifts during the week.

B. Post a little less here so that I can have more time to focus on my next long-form project.

C. Stretch our finances as far as they can go so that we can up our childcare from one day a week to three.

D. Move back East so that Teddy’s grandparents can help out on a regular basis.

What do you guys think?

For now, the winner is option C, but I hope you won’t be too alarmed if occasionally option B wins out anyway. Ultimately though, and it feels strange to say, I like the sound of option D—provided we can find the right jobs, of course.

Now that my problems are solved (ha!), let’s talk zuccotto. I loved it. It’s neither too sweet nor too heavy. Like an unfamiliar light cheesecake that’s just right for summer. And it was pretty cool to unmold too. The trick, I think, is finding an appropriate vessel to build it in. I didn’t have the patience to watch the video with pencil and paper and write down all of the ingredient measurements Gennaro (God bless him!) used before my own attempt. (Plus, they were in milliliters and grams!) So, I kind of winged it, and the bowl we ended up using was a little too large for the pound of ricotta we were working with. I’ve adjusted the recipe below accordingly and hope things will work out a bit more ricotta-y for you!

OK, my nanny needs to go home. Bye! 
Zuccotto Pudding inspired by Gennaro Contaldo

2/3 cup Amaretto
One 7-8 oz. package of Ladyfingers (You may want to buy two packages just to be safe.)
4 tablespoons sugar
16 oz. ricotta
approx. 1/3 cup chocolate chips
approx. 1/3 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
2-3 tablespoons of cocoa powder

special equipment: cling wrap, bowl that holds about 1 qt.

Line your bowl in a couple of layers of cling wrap, leaving plenty of overhang. Place the ladyfingers in a large bowl and pour over the amaretto, tossing them to evenly distribute so that each biscuit gets slightly wet.

Press a few ladyfingers into the bottom of the bowl and then add them along the sides until the bowl is completely lined in Amaretto-y ladyfingers. (Watch Gennaro if you’re feeling unsure. He seems to have this part down.)

Mix the sugar into the ricotta and then add the chocolate chips and chopped, toasted almonds. (Gennaro adds dried fruit. I decided to skip it.) Mix it all together and then add half of this mixture to the ladyfinger-lined bowl. Cover with a layer of ladyfingers. Follow Gennaro’s lead and press it down with your knuckles.

Add 1½ tablespoons of the cocoa powder to the rest of the ricotta mixture and stir until combined. Scoop this out on top of the ladyfingers, and press it down with a spatula. Cover with another row of ladyfingers. Next, pull up the overhanging cling film, gathering any ladyfingers that were sticking out past the top of the bowl along the way. The cling wrap should completely cover the surface. Once more, press down on the mixture a few times. Then, cover it with a plate; put something weighty on top of the plate and place the whole thing in the refrigerator.

After 24 hours, remove it from the fridge, pull back the cling wrap, and unmold it. Finish it off with a dusting of cocoa powder. Congratulate yourself on a job well done.
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Video Attempt: Green Minestrone

I think the beauty of this soup is that you don't have to be too precise with amounts and you can use whichever vegetables you have on hand. I think mushrooms, zucchini, summer squash, or fresh corn would be great in here as well (or as substitutions).

Green Minestrone adapted from Bon Appetit
serves 6

8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
8 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 handful (or more) of green grape tomatoes, sliced into halves (optional)
4 small carrots, peeled, thinly sliced lengthwise on a mandoline
1 cup (or more) fresh shelled peas or fava beans (from about 1 lb. pods)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups dried pasta (use whichever shape you prefer)
3 cups (lightly packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 shallot, finely chopped
Shaved Parmesan (for serving)

Heat 4 Tbsp. oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Cook leek, fennel, yellow onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add broth; bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, 10–15 minutes.

Add tomatoes (if using), carrots, and peas and simmer until carrots are just tender, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain and add pasta to soup.

While pasta is cooking, process parsley and remaining 4 Tbsp. oil in a food processor to a coarse paste, transfer to a small bowl, and mix in shallot. Season pesto with salt and pepper. Serve soup topped with pesto and Parmesan.
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Green Rice Salad with Nectarines and Corn (and Babies?)

Before Teddy came along, I was rather happy at home all by myself. I'd write in the mornings, read through cookbooks in the afternoon, grocery shop for the ingredients I needed, call my mom or brother while cooking, and then spend the rest of the evening with Matt. Sure, I'd occasionally meet up with friends for a hike or yoga class or lunch, but for the most part, I was on my own and very OK with that. And for the first few months of Teddy's life, except for the visits from my out of town family members, I continued on this pleasantly quiet loner path.

But then suddenly, about two months into motherhood, I started to feel pretty lonely (which I understand is a little ironic given that I was no longer alone).
Enter Mommune, my weekly hangout with other new moms! Its roots begin with my friend Rachel, who had a baby boy last October and who works from home one day a week. Then, my pal, who runs this really cool card company had a little boy a couple of months after that. Teddy was born in January. Then, my friend Peggy had a little boy two months later, which was quickly followed up just three weeks later by Bon Appétempt-regular, Jodi, who, yes, also had a boy. So, in short, between moms working from home and moms still on maternity leave, the five of us and our five sons have managed to get together pretty consistently for the past two months, and honestly, it's kind of been a lifesaver for me.

Not only is it fun to meet up with friends in the middle of the week and talk shop on the ins and outs of baby-rearing, but it's also a great place to grab lunch. Last week it was my turn to host. It was also the week The Year in Food's book came out, so of course, I would be cooking something from that. There are so many things I want to make from this book, but for Mommune, which meets around lunchtime, this grain salad seemed perfect. First of all, I love a grain-based salad. Secondly, I loved the idea of making a dressing out of a bunch of cilantro, parsley, and a jalapeño (or two). And lastly, I knew I could do almost everything ahead of time so that in the morning, while Teddy squealed and rolled around on the floor of his room, all I had left to do was cook the rice in my beloved rice cooker and slice some nectarines.

The salad was delicious—perfect for a Los Angeles summer afternoon—as was everything my fellow moms brought to accompany it, from the vichyssoise with croutons Carolyn brought, to the guacamole Rachel brought (recipe via her all-star chef brother) to the Burmese semolina cake Jodi brought. Peggy stopped by with both of her kids that week so was off the hook for also bringing food, which is another reason I love Mommune: we're flexible! In fact, I'm typing up my love for Mommune while missing today's session because Teddy decided to take an ill-timed extra long nap.
On that note, have a great long weekend, friends! And if you have a potluck to attend, I highly recommend bringing this gorgeous salad and/or buying this cookbook for more ideas! xoxo
Green Rice Salad with Nectarines and Corn super slightly adapted from Kimberley Hasselbrink's Vibrant Food
serves 4 to 6

for the green rice:
1 cup brown basmati rice
1 2/3 cups water, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons more for sauce
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 small jalapeño, seeded and chopped
zest and juice of 1 small lime
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

for the grilled corn:
2 small ears fresh corn, husks and silk removed
extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lime

2 tablespoons or more of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 medium-ripe nectarines, pitted and thinly sliced lengthwise
3/4 cup crumbled soft goat cheese

In a saucepan, combine the rice and water, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Let the rice stand for a few minutes, then fluff. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Preheat the broiler.

To grill the corn, lightly oil both ears of corn and place in a small baking dish. Broil about 6 inches from the heat source, turning every few minutes, until golden and blackened in spots, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to plate and set aside until cool enough handle. Using a large sharp knife, cut the kernels from the cob to yield about 1 cup. If you have more than this, save it for another use. Transfer the kernels to bowl and toss with pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime. Set aside.

Transfer the rice to large bowl. In a blender, combine the cilantro, parsley, jalapeño, lime zest and juice, olive oil, pinch of salt, and 1 tablespoon water. Blend until smooth. Add up to 2 more tablespoons of water to thin the sauce if it's too thick. Spoon the mixture over the rice, scraping any remaining sauce out of the blender with a spatula, and mix until the rice is evenly coated. 

To finish, add the corn and additional parsley and cilantro to the rice. Toss to combine. Transfer the rice to a serving platter. Sprinkle the nectarines and cheese over the rice in even layers. Garnish with additional parsley and cilantro. Best served immediately. Can be made up to a day in advance; bring to room temperature before serving. 
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Video Attempt: Rice-Cooker Blueberry Pancake

Rice-Cooker Blueberry Pancake
makes 1 giant pancake*

*We have a really large rice cooker. If you have a more sensibly-sized one, you probably want to halve this recipe.

2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
4 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil
2 large eggs
A heaping cup of blueberries
the zest of one lemon
maple syrup and more butter, to serve

In the bowl of your rice cooker, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Give it a mix. Add in the milk, butter, and eggs. Stir until just moistened. Add the blueberries and lemon zest and give it one last gentle stir to combine.

Place the bowl in the rice cooker, close the lid, and press the "cook" button. After a few minutes our rice cooker switched to the "keep warm" setting, but our pancake was nowhere close to being done. Everything we read online told us to keep it in there for 45 minutes. We did, and then some. After an hour and a half, ours finally looked cooked. And voila, it was!

Serve with a bit of butter and maple syrup.
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Blackberry Ice Cream, Kind of

While I tend to stick to topics surrounding food, Teddy, and dancing, recently, I’ve found my thoughts treading in slightly different waters. In other words, is it cool if I speak my mind on some issues for a few moments? Yeah? OK, great. Here I go:

One of the problems with people like me is that it takes having a newborn to discover—and fully feel the impact of—the fact that though yes, some employers may opt to offer generous paid maternity and (not quite so generous) paternity leave, they don’t have to. In terms of parental leave, unlike most developed countries, all that is required by law here in the U.S., via the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, is 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Apparently, the intention of this bill was to assist in "balanc[ing] the demands of the workplace with the needs of families.” But let me ask you this? How the heck would this really help out a young family if one of its members just had a baby and was hoping to have the support, at least for a week or two, of the other member? To be fair, I should note that some states have expanded on the aforementioned FMLA. For example, in California, PFL (Paid Family Leave) provides up to six weeks of benefits for individuals who must take time off “to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, or registered domestic partner, or to bond with a new child.” Though pay attention to the word "benefits" there; this means that PFL will pay you only a portion (about 55%) of what you’re used to making.

Full family disclosure: Matt’s company offered him one week of paid paternity leave. And yes, he could have taken more time because of FMLA and could have received a portion of his salary for up to six weeks thanks to California’s PFL, but because of the nature of Matt’s job, the fact that we really rely on his full salary (as my writing and our videos don’t quite pay enough yet to sustain us—yet being the key word there, amiright?), as well as the fact that my mother was planning to visit and help that second week of Teddy’s life, Matt and I decided he should go back to work that week after Teddy was born.

Now, I realize that this is a complicated issue with all sorts of implications, but as a new mother who lives thousands of miles from family, not only could I have really used Matt’s help with our newborn son, but this situation also made it so that Matt was constantly playing catch up on all of the various tricks of how to soothe and care for our little boy, which I undoubtedly picked up in between the hours of 8am to 7pm while he was at work.

I know, I know. You’re like, “Amelia, when do you talk about blackberry ice cream?” Hang in there. I’ll get to it! (Maybe.)
The second problem with people like me is that I rarely take my political frustrations any further than signing the occasional petition, arguing with my mom, emailing Barbara Boxer, or studying up on California’s props right before an election (and voting).

Now, I bring all of this up because I have a new cause; and one that though I can’t do much about, I can’t seem to do nothing about either.
Perhaps you’ve read an article or two about the current battle between the book publisher, Hachette, and the online super-store, Amazon? Well, for those of you who haven’t, I will try to sum it up as briefly as possible. (I will also link to this interview with Sherman Alexie on The Colbert Report, which sums it up quite well and quite hilariously.) In short, the two companies are in a dispute over contract negotiations and caught in the crossfire are 5000 of Hachette’s books, which Amazon—a company responsible for 40-50% of all book sales as well as a company known for its speedy service—currently says they will ship in two to five weeks if customers order them. At the same time, they’re offering “similar titles” available immediately and at their standard discounted price. Most devastatingly for Hachette authors whose books are coming out this summer, you cannot pre-order their books. As stated by Sherman Alexie in the aforementioned interview, pre-publicity and pre-sales are everything, especially for a first-time author; they help determine how many copies booksellers order from the publisher, whether said books reach various bestseller lists in their first weekend, which, in turn, drive sales, etc.

Point being, as a first-time author whose book is being published by Hachette—albeit not until February of next year—I’m very invested in this dispute. And I would like to think that even if I didn’t have a book coming out, that as a book lover and someone who values an ecosystem where artists and content creators are not squeezed or bullied by the companies that sell the things they work so hard to create, I would still be invested.

And so, perhaps you’re wondering (if you’re still reading, that is) what am I going to do about it?

For starters, I hope writing this post counts as something. (C’mon, I had to do fact-checking and read articles without skimming them!) But mostly, for me, it comes down to being happy to spend a little more for books (and other things) at places I can feel good about supporting. (By the way, Amazon is giving similar advice to those people not willing to wait the two to five weeks for a book to ship. In a statement to their customers, they wrote: "We regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.")

Amazon says that it’s all about getting the best price for you, their beloved customer, but there's another price to be paid for getting things cheap; especially when Amazon wants to drive down cost while also taking a bigger cut of the profits. Publishers, authors, artists, vendors, and their employees all suffer in that scenario and that’s something I just can’t buy into.

p.s. This blackberry ice cream was delicious.

p.p.s. Here are a couple of places where you might consider spending your hard-earned dough.
My mom shows her distaste for Amazon's negotiating tactics. Just kidding! This shot was taken after I brought up the idea of making basil ice cream. She  wasn't into it.
Blackberry, on the other hand...
Blackberry Ice Cream slightly adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones

For the blackberry purée:
2 half-pint baskets blackberries (2 cups)
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, as needed

For the base:
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large egg yolks

Cook the berries:
Combine the berries with the sugar, using 1/4 cup if they are very sweet and 1/2 cup if less so, in a small nonreactive saucepan and stir well. Put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the berries are soft and the liquid they release has reduced somewhat, about 10 minutes.

Let cool slightly, then transfer the berries and their juice to a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth. Strain half of the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much purée as possible. Discard the solids. Add the unstrained purée to the same bowl and stir once to combine. Cover the bowl and refrigerate.

Make the base:
In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in half of the sugar (1/4 cup). Set aside.

In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, remaining sugar (1/4 cup), and the salt. Put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.

Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.

Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and holds a clear path when you run your finger across the spatula, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Turn off the heat.

Set the pan into an ice-water bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir the base occasionally until it is cool. Remove the pan from the ice-water bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the base for at least two hours or overnight.

Whisk the blackberry purée into the chilled base.

Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. While the ice cream is churning, put the container you'll use to store the ice cream into the freezer. Enjoy right away, or for a firmer ice cream, transfer to the chilled container and freeze for at least 4 hours.
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