Darlington’s Kitchen in Cambridge.

darlington-3Where do you live?
Up your butt.  Or Cambridge, Massachusetts.

darlington-8How often do you cook or bake?
Define “cook”…  Does Annie’s count? Maybe twice a week.

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What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
My ice cream scoop, because of what it implies.  My rubber spatula, in terms of how useful it is in things I make.

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Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
The countertops, because they look pretty, and the big cabinet above my refrigerator, because I can store loads of crap in it.
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What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?
Painting it! Oh, you mean culinary — vegan “Hostess” cupcakes!

Devil’s Food Cupcakes with Fluffy White Filling and Chocolate Icing, from Vegan With a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Makes twelve cupcakes.

For cupcakes
Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 tablespoons black cocoa powder, or more Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup plain soy milk
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For filling
1/3 cup nonhydrogenated margarine, such as Earthbalance
1/3 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
2 ½ to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For chocolate icing
1/3 cup plain soy milk
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or confectioners’ sugar

For royal icing
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons plain soy milk.

  1. Heat oven to 350°. Line a 12-muffin pan with paper liners, and spray lightly with nonstick spray. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a mixer, combine the soy milk, oil, syrup, sugar, vinegar and vanilla. Mix at medium speed for 2 minutes. Add half the dry ingredients and mix to blend. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix for 1 minute.  Use a standard ice cream scoop to fill cupcake liners ¾ full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Turn out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
  2. For the filling: In a mixer, beat margarine and shortening until combined. Add 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar and beat until very fluffy, about 10 minutes. Taste for sweetness and add remaining ½ cup sugar if desired. Add vanilla and beat for 1 minute more.
  3. For the chocolate icing: In a small skillet, bring soy milk to a simmer. Reduce heat to very low and stir in the chocolate and maple syrup, stirring until just melted. Turn off heat.
  4. For the royal icing: Using an electric mixer or by hand, sift sugar into a bowl and add 1 tablespoon soy milk. Mix, adding up to 1 more tablespoon soy milk until consistency is like stiff toothpaste.
  5. To assemble, prepare two pastry bags, one fitted with a large plain tip, and one with a small writing tip. Fill large-tipped bag with filling, and the small-tipped bag with royal icing. (Instead of pastry bags, thick resealable plastic bags may be used. For filling, cut off one corner of bag so the opening measures a scant ½ inch across. For icing, opening should be just large enough to pipe a thin line.)
  6. Using your pinkie, poke a hole in center of each cupcake top about an inch deep. Push tip of pastry bag with filling into each hole, firmly squeezing in filling and slowly drawing tip up and out. When all cakes have been filled, wipe off any excess that sticks out from holes; tops of cupcakes should be flat.
  7. Place cupcakes on a baking sheet or tray that fits in refrigerator. Rewarm pan of chocolate icing over low heat if necessary, stirring constantly. Dip top of each cupcake into icing, swirling to coat completely. When all cupcakes are dipped, refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes to set. When set, use royal icing to make squiggles across center of each cupcake. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve, up to 1 day.
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Dinner at Persephone/The Achilles Project.

Generally, when my friend Darlington and I get together, we hang out in the same areas: Havard Square, Back Bay and the South End. This past Thursday we thought it was time to mix things up a bit, so we headed down to the waterfront; we knew the ICA was open not only late but also for free after five.

Once we decided on the museum, I wanted to make sure there was someplace in the vicinity where we could drop in afterwards for a bite. For almost a year now, I’d been hearing whispers about a new place opening in nearby Fort Port Channel that would ultimately be part boutique, part eatery; recently articles started popping up detailing The Achilles Project, so I knew that the time had come to see if anything could live up to twelve months worth of hype.

The restaurant at Achilles is called Persephone, but before we even approached the hostess to be seated, we had to slide our hands up and down each and every garment hanging up inside the glass-and-steel clothing cases. I’m neither going to lie about nor defend my practically fatal weakness for clothes, but I will say that I was absolutely drawn to a gorgeous tuxedo-style blazer from Alexander McQueen‘s McQ line. I could barely keep my grabby little fingers away from it. And to think, for just under six hundred dollars, it could be mine…

Even though it was difficult, we made ourselves move past the apparel and into Persephone, where we settled into the pair of Emeco chairs at our slatted wood table. The menu is meant to have a Mediterranean twist, but I felt it leaned more toward the Spanish and the French — unsurprising, considering chef Michael Leviton‘s resume includes Le Bernardin, Le Cirque and his own Lumière in Newton.

In a sort of cute spin on the fashion-meets-food concept, the dishes at Persephone are divided not into the normal categories of appetizer and entrée, but rather into small, medium, large and extra-large — just like the sizes of, say, a T-shirt. Our waitress — I didn’t see any waiters — explained that the smalls were literally bite-sized, and that the extra-larges were meant as generous portions for two.

“We can give you a doggie bag though!” she said.

Darlington and I both chose to order from the mediums, then split a side dish. I went with the Roasted Northeast Family Farms Beef Marrow Bone ($12.00), which was served with a parsley and caper salad and grilled bread; in the covered container was a coarse-grained mustard.

Now, before I start in on describing the marrow, is it just me, or is it almost precious, attributing an ingredient to a specific farm? The entire listing at Persephone — and at Lumière as well — is full of such references, and I always feel as though these sorts of descriptives bog a menu down.

Onto the marrow… Darlington is a vegetarian, so I asked her if she would be terribly disgusted if I were to order it; though she said she would be fine, we were both surprised to see the huge bone that was placed in front of me. I felt like a kid in a butcher’s shop; I love marrow. My mother makes an amazing osso bucco, and when I was growing up we used to fight over who would get to suck the marrow out of the veal shanks’ bones. I had, however, never had a quantity of marrow such as this, nor had I ever spread it over a piece of toast like so much butter. As I ate, I kicked myself for have never eaten it like this before, because it was fantastic: salty, meaty and soft.

The parsley and caper combination was equally tasty. Why does parsley so frequently get looked over as nothing more than garnish? This salad was simple, green and crisp, and the perfect companion to the rich and fatty marrow. I’m sorry I can’t say the same of the mustard, which I found to be shot through with such an amount of horseradish that I couldn’t really get any pleasure out of eating it.

As a side, Darlington and I shared the mac and cheese ($6.00). I was curious to know what cheeses were in the dish, but our waitress couldn’t tell us specifically.

“So many kinds,” she said, “and it has a Parmesan-breadcrumb crust.”

That crust was the most delicious aspect of the plate (or should I say skillet?). It was savory and crunchy, and I ate my half of the crust before finishing what it blanketed. The rest of the mac and cheese was kind of generic; Darlington and I even started discussing our favorite Annie’s boxed pastas while eating it. (For the record, I like the Peace Pasta & Parmesan, and Darlington is partial to the Whole Wheat Shells & White Cheddar.) While Persephone’s mac and cheese was lacking in flavor, I will say that the consistency and texture was lovely — smooth, silky and not at all overly oozey.

We were so pleasantly full that neither Darlington nor I could even imagine ordering a dessert. Good thing, that; with the check arrived a pair of chocolate-pomegranate truffles. Though I wasn’t quite able to taste the pomegranate, the truffle had a hint of bitterness that was really nice. It was the perfect amount of sweetness after such a meal.

Do Persephone and Achilles live up to the hype? I like to think so. I wasn’t wowed beyond belief by the comestibles or the clothing, but I did enjoy both very much. The space itself — with its bare brick walls, industrial-chic garment cases and ultra-cool sliding metal tables — is absolutely stunning. The music (Thom Yorke) set a cool, moody ambiance, and the fact that there was a Wii set up in the lounge added an incredible element of fun. So will I be back? Most definitely. And maybe, if I’m lucky, that tuxedo jacket will be on sale.

The Achilles Project
283 Summer Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02210
617.695.2257
achilles-project.com

Persephone on Urbanspoon