Monday, November 30, 2009

Grandma Rosie's Persimmon Pudding with Cinnamon Creme Anglaise

This little persimmon followed us all the way across the country from Oregon. It sat ripening with other fruit for a week and change before finally becoming tender enough to be included in a recipe I've been excited to try ever since I came across it in my mom's collection of recipes. Although my mom's mom - my Grandma Rosie was never much of a cook, my mom had this recipe, written in Grandma Rosie's own hand writing on a faded index card for persimmon pudding. Having not ever tasted persimmons until last November and never having cooked with them myself, I was excited to try working with this strangely overlooked fruit.

The pudding looked simple - the simplest of the other persimmon pudding recipes I had encountered online. But I trusted in the simplicity of the dish - especially cooking with persimmon for the first time. I was not disappointed. Similar texture to a traditional English pudding, slightly crunchy carmelized sweetness on the top with a softer middle with a touch of tartness from the persimmon and the warmth of cinnamon. Positively mouth-watering.

However, that little note in the bottom left hand corner to "serve with sauce" left me a bit stumped. What sauce did you mean, Grandma Rosie? The back of the card provided no insight, so I went back to the Internet for some inspiration and settled on a cinnamon crème anglaise - another treat I had never made before, though I have enjoyed it many times. The simplicity of the recipe seemed a natural pairing with the simplicity of the pudding. The crème also did not disappoint - so much of a non-disappointment that I had no qualms using my fingers to scrape out every last bit of the few remaining dregs of crème from the bowl.

Cinnamon Crème Anglaise
2 cups whole milk
1 3 1/2- to 4-inch-long cinnamon stick, broken in half
6 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
Combine milk and cinnamon stick halves in medium saucepan. Bring just to simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat; cover and let steep 1 hour. (I confess to shortening this time to about 20 minutes due to time constraints and added ground cinnamon to intensify the cinnamon flavor).
Whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Return milk mixture to simmer. Gradually whisk milk mixture into yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat until sauce thickens and instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 165°F to 170°F, about 3 minutes (do not boil). Remove from heat. Strain through sieve into small bowl; cool. Cover; chill until cold. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead; chill.

Sweet Potato Rolls

Even though I didn't make much in the way of contributions to Thanksgiving dinner this year, I still had a blast playing with some of the recipes I mentioned in my dreaming of thanksgiving post. One of my favorites were these sweet potato rolls from James Beard. As clearly demonstrated in this blog, orange food and I have a very special relationship - and the sweet potato is in the top teir of those treasured autumnal delights. Put together with a delicious parkerhouse-style roll? Heaven. I certainly wouldn't mind making these again...and again...

Sweet Potato Rolls
adapted from Adapted from "Beard on Bread," by James Beard via the washington post

1 (8-ounce) sweet potato
4 1/2 teaspoons (two 1/4-ounce packets) active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, plus enough to grease the pie plates for baking the rolls
1 teaspoon salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
Oil, for greasing the proofing bowl

Prick the sweet potato all over with a fork, and microwave on HIGH for 5 minutes or until soft. Let cool, then peel and put through a potato ricer or food mill, press through a strainer, or thoroughly mash so it is smooth. You should have 1/2 cup of flesh.
Combine the yeast with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer; proof for 5 minutes. (If the yeast bubbles and foams, it is active. If it does not, it is dead; buy fresh yeast and start over.) Add 2 eggs and beat on low speed, then add the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, the butter and salt. Beat on low speed for about 2 minutes (no need to scrape down the bowl), then add the sweet potato and beat for about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the flour at a time, beating to form a slightly stiff dough that has pulled away from the sides of the bowl; add flour as needed.
(Alternatively, mix by hand: Proof the yeast, sugar and water in a small bowl, then whisk 2 of the eggs in a large bowl just to combine, then add the yeast mixture, along with the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, the butter and the salt. Stir with a wooden spoon to blend well. Add the sweet potato; stir until thoroughly combined, then stir in 3 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl and is stiff enough to work.)
Lightly flour a work surface.
Transfer the dough to the prepared surface; knead for 2 to 3 minutes, adding flour a tablespoon or so at a time, and adding only enough to prevent the dough from sticking to the countertop. It should still be tacky to the touch but should not stick to your hands. When it is smooth and springy, shape it into a ball.
Use oil to lightly grease the inside of a large bowl, then place the dough in it, turning it to coat evenly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap; let the dough rest for about 1 hour or until it has doubled in size. The dough will be ready when you can push 2 fingers into it and the indentations remain.
Use a little melted butter to lightly grease the inside of 2 glass pie plates or round cake pans (9 or 10 inches).
Punch down the dough and use a bench scraper to divide it into 3 equal pieces. Use the scraper again to divide each piece into 8 golf ball-size pieces (for a total of 24). Roll into balls, then arrange them in the prepared pie plates.
Cover with plastic wrap; let the rolls rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Beat the remaining egg, then brush it on the rolls. Bake them for 15 to 20 minutes or until they are a deep golden brown on the top and bottom. Let cool slightly in the pie plates, then cover loosely with aluminum foil and serve warm, letting diners pull them directly out of the plates; or use a large spatula to transfer them (held together) to a cloth-lined basket or another serving dish.
VARIATION: Instead of the freshly cooked sweet potato, you can use 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin or sweet potato puree. Proceed as directed, but be prepared to add up to 1 cup of extra flour in the initial mixing to account for the extra moisture in the canned puree and to create a stiff enough dough.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Baked Doughnuts

As if taking over a certain Portlander's kitchen to make these once wasn't enough, the Mr. and I repeated the deliciousness.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I dream of Thanksgiving...

My family has a long history of hands-on, potluck/bring it and make it dining events. Whether it was a cornucopia of CSA-fresh goodies on "Farm Night", or the annual neighborhood potluck supper, our kitchen was not only the center of some fabulous cooking but community. Thanksgiving for my family these days is no different with friends from all over bringing their own annual specialties, or exciting new combinations of flavors for traditional ingredients. It's always a blast to get together to share, prep, cook and eat together. Though I may not be cooking for the annual event this year (Mr. Pleasant and I are celebrating with the In-Laws this year) I can't resist pouring through the Thanksgiving-related recipes from cooking magazines, websites and blogs with great relish, mouth-watering as I pick out my favorite-sounding recipes. If I were hosting a Thanksgiving celebration, I dream of whipping up the following:

fall harvest salad
sweet potato rolls

main event:
cider glazed turkey or Julia and Jacques' deconstructed turkey
Pumpkin stuffed with Vegetable Stew

chestnut and thyme stuffing or chestnut stuffing or chestnut and apple stuffing
porcini, chestnut and sausage stuffing
Sweet Potato and Grits spoon bread or sweet potato spoon bread
Brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnut butter
carrot with shallots, sage and thyme
green beans Amandie or green beans with roasted garlic
honey parsnip medley
braised potatoes

Red Wine Cranberry Sauce

sweet potato tart tartin or sweet potato souffle pie
vegan chocolate cheesecake
pumpkin pecan pudding cake or triple-chocolate pumpkin pie
sweet potato pie or gingered butternut squash pie or acorn squash and honey pies
apple pie
mini cranberry pies

Monday, October 26, 2009

Carrot and Apple Shortbread Cookies

I saw this recipie at 101 Cookbooks and decided that it would be an excellent way to enliven an otherwise hundrum Monday night. Don't let the nutrient-rich ingredients fool you folks, these cookies are little bites of pure, buttery decadence.

1/4 cup / 2 ounces / 50g semolina flour

1 1/2 cups / 6 ounces whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

5 ounces (150g) unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup / 3 1/2 ounces (100g) light Muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)

2 ounces (50g) carrot, grated

1 ounce (25g) apple, grated

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees, or 180C. Sift the semolina, flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir the carrot, apple, and lemon zest into the flour mixture, and mix until well coated and evenly dispersed. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until a dough forms, then knead a couple times to bring everything together. Split the dough in two, flatten each piece into an inch-thick patty, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least thirty minutes.

When you're ready to bake the shortbread, roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface 1/2-inch thick/1cm. Or, to reduce mess, keep it in the plastic wrap and roll flat between two layers of plastic. Use a metal cutters to stamp out cookies, then place them on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies start to brown just a bit.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Butternut Squash Tartlettes

As I have already mentioned once, twice, or perhaps a few hundred times on this blog, I adore autumn. The flavors, colors, coolness, sense of newness and the beginning of all sorts of possibilities. One of my favorites of the season is the butternut squash. I love it in soup, in ravioli, roasted.... we'll you get the idea. I stumbled across a method of preparing this glorious vegetable described in Deborah Madison's vegetarian cooking for everyone - wrapping up a delicious combination of onion, sage, roasted garlic and butternut squash in a rustic olive oils yeast-raised gallete dough wrapper. It sounded absolutely fabulous, and I was not disappointed.

Butternut Squash Tartlettes
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

1 large butternut squash
1 head of garlic cloves separated but not peeled
1 Tbs olive oil and extra for brushing squash
1 onion, diced
1 tsp dried sage
1/2 c freshly grated pecorino or parmesan
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten

Make dough (instructions listed below). Preheat oven to 375. Cut squash in half, scrape out seeds, brush the surface with oil. Stuff garlic into cavities and place face down on a baking sheet. Bake until flesh is tender- about 40 minutes. When cooled, scroop out squash and squeeze garlic cloves. Mash together until fairly smooth - leaving some texture.

Warm 1 Tbs oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sage and cook until onion is soft and begining to color -about 12 min. Add it to teh squash along with cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Roll out dough into one large tart or 6 small tartlettes ( I did the latter). Spread filling over it, leaving about 2'' around the edges. Pleat dough over filling, brush edges with egg. Bake until crust is golden about 25 min.

Yeasted Olive Oil Tart Dough

2 tsp active dry yeat
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 c warm water
3 Tbs olive oil
1 egg
3/8 tsp salt
1 3/4 c flour, as needed

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water in a meduim bowl and let stand until bubbly or 10 min. Add oil, egg, salt then stir in the flour. Knead with hands when mixture is too thick for a spoon. Knead until smooth and elastic or about 4 min. Place in oiled bowl and allow to rise, covered, until doubled in size - about 45 min. Turn out and roll out if making one large tart, or break into 6 equal pieces and allow to sit for 15 min.

Honey Cake

This was pure pleasure to bake. Sure, it's always a bit of an adventure to coax out the sticky, syrupy honey and molasses 1. out of their containers and 2. into a measuring cup and 3. back out of said measuring cup. That said, after all the mixing was done, the whole house filled with the deliciously aromatic scents of ginger, clove, nutmeg and molasses. And yes, it does taste even better than it smells. And I haven't even let it sit the overnight you are supposed to to get the 'real' flavor of the honey cake. I can't wait till breakfast...

Honey Cake

Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook

2 tsp olive oil for oiling pan
2/3 c good-quality honey
1/3 c mild-tasting dark molasses
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c milk
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp each of: ground clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger ( I used fresh ginger to delicious results)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease loaf pan with olive oil use parchment paper to line bottom if desired.
Heat milk, honey and molasses in saucepan on med-low heat until dissolved. Set aside to cool. Mix together dry ingredients. Form well in dry ingredients and pour wet ingredients into well. Slowly whisk in a circular motion staring from the center until all the flour has been incorporated. The batter will be very thin.
Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake for 40-50 min. until the surface is brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 20 minutes then loosen with a knife around the edges and invert onto plate. Let cool completely, wrap in foil and let rest at room temp. until the next day (or if you are impatient like me, mouth watering from the delicious smell of the bread filling the apt. for the last 40 minutes, slice yourself a delicious warm slice and wrap up the rest of the bread for breakfast;).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Homemade Yogurt and Granola

Though the economists tell us that we're on our way out of the recession that has been plaguing us, it seems like it's always a good time to save a little money. When saving money can mean eating better - if with a bit more work, I'm all for it. It's been great making my own bread and the pennies saved have definitely added up. So, I thought I'd venutre into other suprisingly easily homemade staples - yogurt and granola.

Homemade Yogurt
from Mirelle Gulliano's FWDGF

2 c milk (2% is my preference)
1-2 Tbs plain, good quality yogurt

Place milk in saucepan and heat until slightly foaming around the edges and steaming. Allow to cool to between 110-115 F (or when you can leave your finger in the mixture comfortably for 20 seconds). Take small amount of milk and mix into a seperate bowl with the plain yogurt. Add yogurt mixture to milk in thirds, making sure to mix thuroughly after each addition. Cover milk mixture tightly with a clean cloth. If you have a gas stove, allow it to sit in a warm place near the pilot light for 6-8 hours. If you have an electric stove, boil some water and place it in a pan in the oven, then set the milk in the oven for 6-8 hours. Once set, refrigerate for an additional 8 hours. Then enjoy!

French Chocolate Granola

3 cups rolled oats
½ cup raw almonds, chopped
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
6 Tbsp. mild honey
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
½ cup, or more, finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 300°F.In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, coconut, sugar, and salt. Stir well to blend.In a small saucepan, warm the honey and oil over low heat, whisking occasionally – watch out! the oil will want to splash - until the honey is loose. Pour over the dry ingredients, and stir to combine well.

Spread the mixture evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Set a timer to go off halfway through the baking time, so that you can give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly. When it’s ready, remove the pan from the oven, stir well – this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet – and cool completely.

When cool, transfer the granola to a large bowl, storage jar, or zipper-lock plastic bag. Add the chocolate, and stir (or shake, if using a jar or bag) to mix. Store in an airtight container.

Baked Sweet Potato Falafel

Falafel is one of my favorite street foods. I still have dreams sometimes about the particularly delicious spinach falafel I had in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Alexandria, Egypt. There seem to be limitless variations each bringing something new and delicious to the classic chic pea-based falafel. I also happen to love sweet potatoes, and when I came across a recipie that included both (and also did NOT include deep frying) I couldn't pass up trying it out for myself.

Baked Sweet Potato Falafel

2 medium sweet potatoes (orange inside), around 700g or 1 1/2 pounds in total
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 small cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 big handfuls of fresh cilantro/coriander, chopped
Juice of half a lemon
a scant cup (120g) gram /chickpea flour (can't find any? buy some dry chic peas and grind them in your food processor)
a splash of olive oil
a sprinkling of sesame seeds
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425F degrees (220C) and roast the sweet potatoes whole until just tender - 45 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off the oven, leave the potatoes to cool, then peel.

Put the sweet potatoes, cumin, garlic, ground and fresh coriander, lemon juice and gram/chickpea flour into a large bowl. Season well, and mash until smooth with no large chunks. Stick in the fridge to firm up for an hour, or the freezer for 20-30 minutes. When you take it out, your mix should be sticky rather than really wet. You can add a tablespoon or so more of chickpea flour if necessary (the water content of sweet potatoes varies enormously).

Reheat the oven to 400F/200C. Using a couple of soup spoons (put a well-heaped spoonful of mix in one spoon and use the concave side of the other to shape the sides) or a falafel scoop if you have one, make the mixture into falafelly looking things and put them on an oiled tray. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, until the bases are golden brown.

Makes about 18 falafel, enough for 4 - 6. I enjoyed it on it's own but was especially tasty with a tzadziki sauce or a yogurt garlic sauce (yogurt, garlic and salt and pepper mixed to taste) with some toasty warm pita and sprouts.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bread with a good story

DC is a strange town. It's a town of contradictions, controversy, conflict and confluence. And occasionally little, tiny, adorable bread makers. With a good stories. It's not every town that has some of the world's best brains coming through, trying their darndest to make their mark on teh world. The Mr. happens to work in a place were such said brains congregate to try to find solutions to the worlds trickier problems. One of his favorite colleagues' stay was cut short by an urgent call home - just some trifling thing about prosecuting one of the Balkans' bloodiest tyrants, and needed to move quickly. He ended up giving just about everything of his away to his colleagues and lucky Mr. P came home with a itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny bread machine. Shoved into some dark cabinet and forgotten for years, a fortuitous search for matching tupperware lids uncovered the little bread-making gem. I was instantly smitten and haven't bought sandwhich bread in weeks!

Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good handmade bread. The whole process is remarkably fufilling and cathartic for me. However, in this crazy life, sadly, there is not always time to make bread this way. And so, turning out adorable, delicious loaves of bread in 45 minutes isn't such a terrible alternative. This recipie is scaled for this particular itty, bitty machine, but can be scaled up to other grown-up-sized breadmakers.

Spelt Bread

1/2 c warm water
1 Tbs butter
1/2 c spelt flour
3/4 c bread flour
1 1/2 Tbs agave or honey
1 Tbs dry milk
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp rapid-rise yeast

Place in order in bread machine. Set to "wheat" bread setting and begin baking cycle. Makes particularly amazing toast when well jammed and/or buttered.

for scale

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pulla - Finnish Cardamom Bread

Pulla. I used to love to come home after school to a house warm and smelling of fresh baked cinnamon rolls. A sure sign my Aiti, my father's mother, who spend a good part of the year with us, had a very productive afternoon. At Christmas, she would make little bread men with them, using currants for eyes and buttons, sometimes adding a little simple frosting. I have fondly sticky memories of sharing pulla and my grandmother's homemade raspberry freezer jam, chest puffed out in pride at having helped my grandmother make the jam, at my elementary school's Heritage Day. Although, admittedly, I grew rather tired of hearing "You're Finnish? Finn-ished? So you're done, right?" by the end of the day.

My grandmother passed away a few years ago, sadly, never writing down her own recipe for her cardamom bread. My dad has his own technique for making it (he's successfully adapted the dough-making portion for the bread machine!) and I've tried to recreate it as best I can, giving it my own spin of course. I always make multiple batches at once, as each batch is quite the labor of love. I do love the process of making it though - it always makes me feel closer to my grandmother - a woman who had a very large part in raising us but was no longer able to do much cooking by the time I was getting really interested in it. It also helps me feel a bit closer to my Finnish heritage - though only half of my ethnic makeup, is certainly a formative half. In our flawed but never-the-less melting pot of a society, it feels good to have something solid to hold onto when it comes to tradition and roots. Making pulla is a very grounding thing, especially when preparing it for your pulla-loving family. I don't think I've quite achieved her mastery, but I like to think that she's watching and nodding approvingly.

2 c milk
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
1 Tbs. crushed cardamom seeds
2 pkgs. dry yeast (or 2 Tbs)
6 c unbleached white flou
2-3 c whole wheat flour
2/3 c butter1 tsp salt
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs waterplus about
1/4 c Turbinado sugar
Optional for Cinnamon Rolls:
2 Tbs melted butter
1/4 c white sugar
1/2 brown sugar
3 Tbs cinnamon

1. Scald milk with cardamom and 2 Tbs of sugar from 1/2 c of white sugar
2. Cool to lukewarm, and add yeast. let sit for 5 minutes or until doubled
3. In seperate bowl, add remaining white sugar and brown sugar, salt and 1 1/2 c white and 1 1/2c wheat flours
4. combine melted butter cooled to lukewarm, egg and milk/yeast mixture
5. add wet mixture to dry, adding remaining flour as necessary
6. knead for 10 minutes, then allow to rise about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in greased bowl covered in a damp dish towel.
7. Shape into braids (2-3 depending on size) or rolls*, cover with dish towel and allow to rise 45 mins or until doubled8. For braids, brush with egg mixture and sprinkle with turbinado sugar9. bake in 350 degree oven for 15-25 minutes
*rolls option: roll dough flat into a rectangle to about 1/4" thick, spread melted butter till covered and sprinkle sugar mixture evenly accross it. Roll into a log and cut into 1/2-1" slices and place in buttered cake pan (round or rectangular). Allow to rise as mentioned above and then bake as described.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blueberry Scones

I confess, I was right there with many young girls in the world when it came to tea parties. My sister and I were queens of them - and believe me, it took serious mastery to engender regency to mudpie making (and yes, I mean literal mud). Once we were old enough to be entrusted with slightly battered but shabbily elegant tea set from the thrift store, our parents were hard pressed not to find us taking tea when they came home from work. I'm sure the sticky remnants of cinnamon sugar toast only made our exuberant embraces of them all that more special - if perhaps contributing to increases in dry cleaning bills.

When I reached 5th grade, we once had the very special priveledge of taking high tea at the Four Seasons. Even now, I can perfectly recall the sheer delight at living out one of our favorite girlhood fantasies - the deep puice color and tangy flavor of the black currant tea I ordered (each of us got our own pot, amazing!) and the scones decadently smeared with Deveonshire Cream and topped with fresh strawberries. Oh! I'm salivating at the mere memory!

To this day, scones always taste a bit of wonder and evoke a sprinkling of that magic of childhood and imagination.

Blueberry and Lemon Scones
inspired by orangette

½ c half and half
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 Tbs unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
3 Tbs sugar
1/4-1/2 c frozen blueberries
2 tsp lemon zest

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat together the milk and the egg and then set aside. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Rub the butter into the flour mixture, working until you have no lumps bigger than a pea. Add the sugar blueberries and zest.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Bring dough together gently with a wooden spoon.Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead it no more than 12 times. Pat dough into a round approximately ½-inch thick, and cut into 8 or 12 wedges. Place on an ungreased baking sheet or a Silpat, if you have one. Using a pastry brush, glaze wedges with a little extra half and half. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack.


This, friends, is how all mornings should begin. Licking sticky homemade strawberry jam off of your fingers after swallowing a delicious bite of still-warm-from-the-oven popovers your significant other made for you as you lazily slept in. Maybe a little almond butter on the next bite...

Birthday Cake for Mr. Pleasant

Each new year deserves quite the celebration - and for me that celebration needs cake. Great cake, make you wiggle your toes in culinary exstasy kind of good cake. The enjoyment of said birthday cake depends on a number of things of course - and I truly, honestly believe that the love put into a cake, no matter what the recipe, ingredients or skill, truly make the expereince the most rewarding. Perhaps nothing so dramatic as the magical realisim of Like Water for Chocolate, when the embittered cake baker pours all of her hurt, sorrow and anger into a wedding cake that makes all the guests suffer as she has. No, something more along the lines of sharing something with the people you care about. Birthday cake that my mom or grandmother made always tasted magical somehow. One of the first cakes I ever made all by myself as a kid, albeit from a mix, tasted really, really good to me - surely because of the hope and excitement I poured into it and pride I had in it. That said, I've also made some pretty awful things - no matter what feelings I was channeling at the moment - although in doing so, have good stories that my family still laugh about (ask my sister about the cinnamon bun that exploded the microwave sometime).
So yes, homemade, lovingly made and proudly displayed cake can be very tasty. It's even better when the cake is really, really amazingly delicious. Definitely a testament to Ms. Bernbaum here on the cake itself - such delicate crumb, velvety texture - something I admit to not always achieving with every cake I make. She broke down the basics to make a fool-proof, fabulous cake. It's a bold move to title one's cookbook the "Cake Bible" but Bernbaum does it credit!
Raspberry Chocolate Cake

Cake (from Bernbaum's Cake Bible)

1/2 c + 3 Tbs dutch process cocoa
1 c boiling water
3 large eggs
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 + 2 Tbs sifted cake flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 Tbs baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 c unsalted butter, softened
Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 9 x 1 1/2 inch round pans and line with wax or parchment paper (also greased). Wisk together cocoa and boiling water, cool to lukewarm. In another bowl, lightly combine eggs, vanilla, 1/4 of cocoa mixture. In large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Add butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low until dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down sides. Gradually add egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addtion. Scrape batter into pans, bake for 25-35 minutes - until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and cake springs back when lightly pressed.
approx. 3/4 c raspberry jam ( I used a combo of black and red raspberry jam)
1/4-1/2c frozen raspberries, thawed and drained
dash (to taste) of raspberry rum (we had on hand) although framboise liquer would be lovely
basic vanilla buttercream
powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, milk
Finishing Touches
solid milk chocolate, warmed in hand then shaved. pressed lightly to sides of cake with wooden spoon

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cupcakes - Vegan and Delicious (not an oxymoron)

Despite eating every day, I think many of us hardly think twice about our relationship with food. So much goes into every bite we take. From seed to plant to produce, from source to table, from ingredients to heaping dishes, from nourishment to comfort - our relationship with food is anything but simple. I've found that how you feel about and deal with food says a lot about where you are - and who you are.

Is food just about filling a void? Cramming something down your gullet because it's time to eat- you're running late and just need something to get you to lunchtime? Or is food about nourishment - not only nutritional, but emotional as well? The truth, realistically for most of us is something in between. We are busy people. We are on budgets. We have precious little time as it is, and frequently even less energy to do much with it.

When I think about the meals of my childhood, I don't think about the protein to complex carbohydrates ratio, or the proportion of my plate covered in vege, but I remember time spent with my family. Those precious few moments in an otherwise chaotic blur of sports practice, homework, school, friends, rehearsals and girl scouts - my family always made time to sit down and eat a meal together. Be it 20 minutes of morning oatmeal or 30 minutes of spaghetti, I remember those times because they filled me with something more than just food. They filled me with a special kind of nourishment, body and soul, that did more to get me through the days than old-fashioned oats ever could on their own.

I had the great pleasure of attending Molly Wizenburg of orangette's book signing when she was in DC this week. One of the things she said that I found profound despite seemingly obvious, is that food has a story. I've been trying more and more to really think about the stories around the food I make and eat. Giving full justice to the full experience of food - source to belly and beyond.

Appreciating our imperfect relationship with food - perfection never makes for great stories, now does it? - I turn to this particularly scrumptious, yet relatively healthy and animal-product free chocolate cake. I made it as cupcakes and couldn't get enough of them. Best, of course, when shared with those you love whenever your chaos-filled life allows ;)

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate 'Butter Cream'
from npr

Makes 12 cupcakes or one 9-inch cake

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (can use a mix of wheat and white flours)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease one 9-inch cake pan or line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add the oil, vanilla, vinegar and water. Whisk together until smooth.

Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool before frosting.

For the butter cream:

4 ounces unsweetened (or bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
3 cups confectioners' sugar
8 Tbs shortening (I use non-hydrogenated), room temperature
2 to 3 tablespoons almond milk, plus more, if needed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat chocolate in a double boiler until melted. Let cool to room temperature. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the confectioners' sugar, margarine, milk, vanilla and salt, and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, then reduce the speed to low. Add the chocolate and beat until combined, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute more.

If the frosting is dry, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it is creamy but still holds peaks.

Mom's Irish Soda Bread

My mother brought this to our St. Patrick's day feast and I haven't been able to get enough of it. Breakfast, lunch, dinner... I have no qualms about savoring the deliciousness all day long. My brown bread was not nearly so spectacular, but it never stood a chance next to the sweet, savory, well-crumbed soda bread.

Mom's Irish soda bread

2 cups of flour
1/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ cup currants
1 tsp of caraway seeds
1 Tablespoon butter
1 egg
2/3-1 cup of buttermilk

Sift dry ingredients. Add currants and seeds. Beat egg lightly, add 2/3 cup buttermilk and butter. Stir in dry ingredients. Add more buttermilk if needed. Make a stiff dough, but kneadable. Knead 8-10 times shape in a ball and cut ½’ deep cross on top. Cook at 350-375 for 40-50 minutes. Cool slightly and serve warm.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Taste of the Irish

I love to celebrate St. Patrick's day because my mom loves to celebrate St. Patrick's day. I have particularly fond memories of waking up in the room I shared with my sister to discover a Kermit-the-frog piggy bank my mother had placed on our pillows one March 17th morning. I love celebrating St. Patrick's day because it makes me think of my mother's mother, a woman I never really knew, but who's life-story I've pieced together from my mother's tales, aged family photos and my grandfather's fond remembrances.

The story begins with a "fiery Irish girl" named Mary Rose who lived in the same apartment complex as my grandfather. The only girl in her class at Sacred Heart's all-girls graduating class NOT invited to join the sisterhood, our cousin O'Donnell confessed as we came across a curling snapshot of my grandmother at age 16. She was one of 7 siblings but an orphan most of her life, never quite reached 5', had dark hair and bright blue eyes. Eyes that she passed on to my mother and sister, and held a touch of mischievousness even as she sat for her formal bridal portrait. She had a best friend named 'Mugsy', somehow made her way to Los Angeles and despite the Great Depression, managed to find love with an ornery engineer from Texas who lived in the aforementioned apartment complex.

I love celebrating St. Patrick's day because it gives me a sense of connection, a sense of roots and culture and of belonging - not just to a particularly green island in the north Atlantic, or pipes, flutes and fiddles, Guinness or Jameson's, but to family. Family I didn't necessarily know, but is a part of me and who I am - not just where I come from.

I also love celebrating St. Patrick's day with the tastes of my family history. Though I sadly don't have any recipes passed down from my grandmother for the occasion, I've been working on a few of my own. So far they include tasty Irish-inspired food and time with the family I'm lucky enough to have around. Last night was quite the feast, roasted lamb, shepherd's pie, mashed potatoes, red cabbage salad, brown bread and my mother's contribution of delicious soda bread and my dad's contribution of a few rounds of rummy. The ending was particularly sweet, though. A decadently moist and rich Guinness chocolate cake and David Liebovitz's milk chocolate Guinness ice cream. To really up the ante, next time I think I'll replace a tablespoon or two of the cream with Irish cream. And yes, you only frost the top so the cake resembles a pint of Guinness.

Chocolate Guinness Cake
from the New York Times

For the cake:
Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/8 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the topping:
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream.

1. For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch spring form pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.

2. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.

3. For the topping: Using a food processor or by hand, mix confectioners' sugar to break up lumps. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add heavy cream, and mix until smooth and spreadable.

4. Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Ice top of cake only, so that it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness.

Yield: One 9-inch cake (12 servings).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Far Bretton

I admit. I love custard. In any form, with just about any mix-ins. Fruit, chocolate, spices, lavender... I have yet to be disapointed. When I saw this recipe, I had never heard of a Far before, although I am a fan of baked custards and claufoutis, so it seemed like a no-brainer to give this a try.

Far Bretton

2 cups milk
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2-3/4 c frozen wild blueberries
2-3 Tbs cognac or brandy
powdered sugar

Combine milk, eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in blender jar. Blend 1 minute. Add flour and pulse just until blended, scraping down sides of jar. Cover and chill in jar (ideally) at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

Place blueberries in cognac and let soak as long as your batter chills.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Butter 8-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides. Line bottom with parchment or waxed paper. Butter paper. Dust pan with flour, shaking out excess; place on baking sheet.
Reblend batter until smooth, about 5 seconds. Pour into prepared cake pan. Drop prunes and raisins into batter, distributing evenly. Bake cake on baking sheet until sides are puffed and brown and knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool cake completely in pan on rack.

Place piece of parchment or waxed paper on flat plate. Sift powdered sugar onto paper. Run knife around cake in pan to loosen. Invert pan onto paper, releasing cake. Remove pan; peel off paper. Place serving plate over cake and invert. Dust top of cake with additional powdered sugar.

Pear Tart

The pears at the farmers market this morning just called out to me -I answered their summons and made this scrumptious tart:

Pear Tart
inspired by Julia Child's Mastering French Cooking

Pate Brisee crust, baked for about 15 minutes
4-6 bosc pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 c sugar
2 tbs butter
handfull of fresh or frozen cranberries

Sprinkle 3 Tbs of the sugar on the crust. Arrange the pears in the crust as you like. Here, I kept them in the shape of the pear but sliced them. It's more traditional to slice them horizontally. You can also simply arrange the slices in concentric circles within the crust. Place cranberries in center and in spaces between pears. Sprinkle the rest of the sugar on top and dot with butter. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bean Loaf

Oh yes, the family classic is finally making an apperance on the blog! This recipie has been a staple for family gatherings for a good decade and a half - a product of my mother's work in sustainable agriculture. The concept came from a community food project in Minneapolis, MN - and was lovingly tweaked over the years by my mother - happy to have something to please two vegetarian daughters come Thanksgiving. You can also go hog wild on molds here too - mom has tried a number fun shapes and sizes over the years. It's hard to beat the basic loaf pan, but have fun with it.

A note on beans - though some have predicted that beans will be the food of 2009 - it's hard not to appreciate the humble bean's enduring value to human kind. As a former staunch ovo-lacto vegetarian I can tell you, beans are your friends! Yes, even if you need beano to safely consume them in mixed company. Rice + beans = a perfect nutritional protien, what omnivores get from animal protien, you can get from non-animal sources (and lower calories per serving to boot!). These days especially, it's easy to appreciate the bean's stellar nutritional value and earthly prices. They also have a much longer shelf-life.

Even though I now eat organic, sustainably raised foul, I will always have a very special place in my heart and gullet for the humble and delicious bean.

Bean Loaf

4 c bread crumbs (fresh bread pulsed in food processor or blender is ideal)
3 cans of beans rinsed and drained (kidney, black, pinto, navy, butter beans all acceptable)
2 c shredded chedder cheese
1/4 c non-hydrogenated shortening or butter
1/2 c onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste
1 eggs

In food processor or blender, pulse beans until smooth. Empty into large mixing bowl. Add bread crumbs, cheese, onion, egg, salt and pepper to taste and stir till combined. Pat down into well-greased loaf pan. Bake at 375 F for about an hour - melt the 1/4c butter or shortening & baste the loaf halfway through baking. Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack, then turn over onto plate.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Jambalayah and Bread Pudding

Publish Post

With temperatures the lowest they've been in a decade here, it seemed about time to warm things up in the kitchen. Why not with a flavorful taste from New Orleans? A great end to a day with a windchill close to zero!

adapted from recipe

2 tablespoons safflower oil, divided
2 (12-ounce) packages pre-cooked spicy Italian chicken sausage, sliced diagonally
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green, 1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
2 1/4 cups rice
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1 (1-pound) bag frozen shrimp, thawed, tails removed
Hot sauce for serving


In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon oil over high heat. Add sausage and cook until lightly browned. Remove from pot and set aside. Add remaining oil, celery, bell pepper, onion and garlic. Cook until softened. Stir in tomatoes, broth, water, rice, thyme, salt and cayenne. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 35 minutes, stirring now and then. Add frozen okra and reserved sausage. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until rice is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add frozen shrimp and continue cooking until heated through. Taste and season with more salt or cayenne if desired. Serve with hot sauce.

Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

adapted from the Silver Palatte cookbook

1/2 loaf stale whole grain bagette
1 c heavy cream
1 c milk
3/4 c sugar
3 eggs
1 tbs vanilla

Slice or crumble bread in bite-sized pieces into large bowl. Soak bread in milk and cream for at least an hour. Combine sugar and eggs and vanilla in separate bowl. Once bread is soaked, pour egg mixture into bread and milk mixture, stir till combined. Pour into a well greased 8 x 8 baking pan and bake at 325 F for about an hour and 10 minutes or until browned and set.

Whiskey Sauce

1/2 c confectioners sugar
1 egg
4 Tbs butter
Whiskey to taste

Melt butter and sugar together in a double boiler over medium to medium-high heat. Once both are melted and very hot, remove from heat and add egg, stirring constantly. If the mixture gets lumpy, don't fret!* It's pretty forgiving. Add the whisky and stir till combined. Serve over warm bread pudding. Delicious!


* A trick I learned from an early Moosewood cookbook saved my tukus in college the first time I ever attempted to make a custard sauce (when preparing it for over 40 people!). Use your handy-dandy food processor or immersion blender to smooth! It's that simple, and the texture comes out perfectly!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Millie's Cornbread

One of my mom's gradschool roommates has been a long-time friend of our family. She also happens to work in the world of sustainable food systems. This is one of her recipies that has become a family favorite. It is luscious, moist, with a golden gorgeous crumb, but a fraction of the fat and calories most traditional cornbreads have.

3/4 c cornmeal
1 c unbleached white flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
t tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 c sugar
2 Tbs unhydrogenated vegetable shortening or butter
1/2 c low fat sour cream or yogurt
1/4 c milk
1 egg, well beaten

Combine dry ingredients. Work shortening or butter in with a pastry cutter or your fingers till combined. In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients. Gently mix wet ingredients into dry until just combined. DO NOT OVERMIX or bread will be tough. Smooth into 8 x 8 pan and bake at 425 for 15 minutes or until golden brown and solid through.