Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fresh Blueberry and Lemon Cake Recipe

There are very few organic items that are naturally blue. In the food category, there are a number of things which we refer to as "blue", but which are not really blue. Blue cheese is actually grey or green, blue crabs lose their color when cooked, blue potatoes are actually purple, and blue kale is actually green. Blue corn is usually purple, although some of it is legitimately blue.

On the other hand, there are a number of edible blue items that are artificially flavored – blue curaçao, one of my favorite spirits, is made from the dried peel of bitter oranges and is dyed an electric blue. Incidentally, it changes color inside your body (as my friend Jana and I can attest). There was also Bridget Jones’ famous blue soup, discolored by melted plastic; and blue colored M&Ms and smarties, which have recently been banned in the UK since they are artificially dyed.

Psychologists say blue is a relaxing color with a positive influence on mental and physical performance. Some weight loss plans suggest serving food on a blue plate since it is reported to be an appetite suppressant.

My favorite "blue" food is blueberries. Despite the fact that they aren't really blue, they star in this week’s recipe.

2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 eggs
2 teaspoons pure lemon oil
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup milk (skim, whole or soy)

Directions1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a bundt pan with butter and then dust with flour. Shake out excess flour.
2. Mix 2 1/4 cups flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add lemon oil.
5. As you stir, add half the flour mixture, then milk, then remaining flour mixture.
6. Toss blueberries in remaining 1/4 cup flour. Dredging fruit keeps it suspended in cake batter and prevents it from sinking during baking.
7. Fold blueberries into batter and pour into bundt pan.
8. Bake for about 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
9. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes, and turn onto a wire rack to completely cool.
10. Optional: dust with powdered (confectioner's) sugar when cool. The best way to get an even dusting is to put the sugar into a sieve or a tea infuser and tap lightly over the cake.
The cake should last about 5 days if wrapped in saran wrap and placed under a cake dome or in an airtight container.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Honey Almond Barquettes Recipe

French baking is much more precise (some may say precious) than American baking. The quintissential "American" sweet is a chocolate chip cookie (mix ingredients in one bowl, add any other ingredient you like, drop batter by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet and bake = total time about 30 minutes). The quintissential French treat is a croissant (make yeast dough, wait til risen, envelop block of butter in dough, repeatedly roll and fold, repeatedly cool, cut, shape and bake = total time about 6-8 hours).

Americans seem to produce many free-form items including cookies, squares and scones. The French, on the other hand, seem to have many sweets that require a specific mold just for that recipe -- such as financiers, brioches, darioles, madeleines and tarts, to name a few. How many Americans do you know with a cookie press? I suspect the number is much higher in France.

I was introduced to the world of French pastry making by my friend Yvonne who spent a summer at the Cordon Bleu in Paris perfecting her pastry skills. She taught me how to make a number of things including these lovely honey almond barquettes (adapted from a Cordon Bleu recipe) which, unsurprisingly, require specific molds!

Look for other Yvonne-inspired recipes in the coming weeks and months.

Makes 20 barquettes


1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond meal or almond flour
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder (available in specialty stores or online)
1/2 cup plus one teaspoon butter
1 egg

1 cup sugar
1/5 cup water
1/2 cup minus one tablespoon butter
1/5 cup honey
2/5 cup cream
3 cups untoasted sliced almonds


To make this recipe you will need to purchase barquette or boat molds, which are available from a number of online retailers. Get the plain version (not the fluted one with scalloped edges).

1. Combine all purpose flour, almond flour, sugar, salt and vanilla powder. Cut butter into small cubes.
2. Using a food processor or pastry cutter, incorporate butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Beat the egg and incorporate until the dough just comes together.
3. Roll out the dough to a 1/4 inch thickness. Using a butter knife, cut almond shapes larger than the barquette mold.
4. Generously spray each mold with non-stick spray, and lay an almond shaped piece of dough inside. Press the dough into the mold. Using a butter knife or a rolling pin remove the excess dough which is outside of the mold. Repeat and re-roll scraps until all 20 molds are lined with dough. Refrigerate.

5. In a saucepan bring sugar and water to a boil. Cut butter into small cubes and add when the mixture is light yellow or barley colored.
6. Once the mixture starts boiling again add honey, and after three minutes add cream and reboil until smooth.
7. Remove from heat and add almonds. Stir thoroughly. Let cool until it is at room temperature (approximately one or two hours).
8. Fill the molds with the almond mixture. Be careful not too overfill as mixture will bubble during baking.
9. Place filled barquettes on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 325 F for 13-17 minutes or until exposed crust is medium golden.
10. Remove and let cool for five minutes. Use a butter knife to carefully unmold barquettes. If you wait until barquettes are cool, they may break during unmolding.
11. Allow barquettes to cool to room temperature.
12. Optional: drizzle baked barquettes with chocolate. To drizzle: melt bittersweet chocolate in the microwave, spoon into a small plastic bag, snip off the corner, and drizzle in a zigzag pattern.

Chickpea Salad Down Under

My dear friend Stephanie and her husband Michael live in Melbourne, Australia. They recently made the chickpea salad that I blogged about last week. She sent along this photo from her sunny terrace (notice the gin bottle...). Stephanie just shaved her head to raise money for leukemia research. Thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mediterranean Shrimp and Chickpea Salad Recipe

I was recently in Washington, DC and a former colleague took me to a fabulous brunch at the Lafayette Room of the Hay-Adams Hotel. Not having heard of the place before, I was bracing myself for the “Hey Adam!” Irish pub, but was delighted to discover this DC institution.

In 1884 two famous Americans – statesman John Hay and historian Henry Adams – built homes on the site where the Italian Renaissance mansion (built in 1928) now stands, next to Lafayette Park and the White House. I was told that this is the place for a power breakfast in DC – and as close as you can stay to the White House without being a guest of the President.

The brunch included an appetizer buffet, plated course (I had seared ahi tuna) and a dessert buffet. The food was good, plentiful and well-displayed. One item that caught my attention was the chickpea salad, which I have noticed as an increasingly popular brunch item. Their dish was mild, but I have a flavorful version which is my treat of the week.

What I love about this recipe is that you can include or exclude items based on what is in your fridge and pantry, which makes this a great last-minute dish. It can also be made without shrimp and feta for our vegetarian and vegans friends. If you omit the feta, season with salt before serving.

My father is a huge fan of chickpeas and he often extols their versatility, especially in Indian cooking where they are known as channa or chana, and are ground into flour (called gram flour or besan) and widely used in sweets and snacks. Look for more chickpea and chickpea flour recipes in the coming months.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 8-10 as a side-dish


30-40 shrimp, cooked and de-tailed
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
juice of two lemons

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 garlic gloves, minced
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 16-ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cucumber peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced
one small red onion chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro chopped
1-1/2 cups grape tomatoes halved
6 ounces feta cheese cubed (if omitting, season with salt)
juice and zest of one lemon


1. Clean and cook (or thaw) shrimp and toss with 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, oregano and juice of two lemons.
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat sauté cumin seeds, minced garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Stir occasionally and after 3-5 minutes, cool completely.
3. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl, adding the feta and shrimp last.
4. Pour the infused oil mixture over the salad and toss to blend. Serve at room temperature.

This dish tastes best if prepared a day or two in advance, and stored in the fridge. Do not add feta until ready to serve.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Simple Healthy Chocolate Chip Pancakes Recipe

I’ve loved pancakes since I was a kid. Who wouldn’t? It’s a parent-approved, society- sanctioned main course which consists of cake doused in syrup.

Pancakes were not part of my parents’ culinary repertoire (although there is a savory Indian version called chillas or cheelas, which I hope to feature one day), so as a child I grew up eating and making pancakes from the Aunt Jemima mix. As brand marketers would be thrilled to know, I closely associated her image with my positive pancake experience.

Only as an adult did I understand the nature and power of the stereotypical and racist depiction of Aunt Jemima. In my lifetime I have seen the image change from a woman wearing a kerchief to one with a hint of collar. Looking back, the earlier illustrations seem so blatantly offensive in their depiction of Aunt Jemima as an obsequious servant.

I’m not alone in having been impacted by the image and idea of Aunt Jemima. She inspired Andy Warhol and was analyzed in an academic book entitled “Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima”. Manning Marable, a professor at Columbia University says that: “In the white imagination few images are as recognizable as Aunt Jemima…the racist image of the black mammy has had a powerful impact upon American culture and society.”

As an adult I no longer purchase Aunt Jemima products (or any pancake mix, for that matter). As you will see below, pancakes require four ingredients: flour, baking powder, eggs and milk. The recipe below is low in fat (though I provide full fat substitutes as well).

Earlier this week my friend Christina forwarded a link to a two-minute video about pancake making. It is charming and has a catchy theme song. Note: the cook does not use baking powder in his recipe, so the pancakes he produces look more like what we would call crepes.

Makes 4-5 medium pancakes (serves 2)


1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/4 cup pasteurized egg product (can substitute 1 egg)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (optional)
1 cup skim milk or soymilk (can substitute whole milk or buttermilk)
1/4 cup chocolate chips


1. In a medium size bowl, mix flour, baking powder and cinnamon.
2. In a cup or small bowl mix egg and vanilla extract.
3. With a fork, mix egg mixture into flour mixture.
4. Quickly add 1/2 cup of milk. Using the fork to fully incorporate the milk until the mixture is smooth.
5. Add another 1/4 cup of milk and mix until fully incorporated. Add the last 1/4 cup of milk and incorporate. You may have to beat fairly intensely to produce a smooth batter.
6. Heat a non-stick skillet or griddle on medium. To cook, use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of butter or 2 or 3 sprays of cooking spray. Pour 1/2 cup of batter and let cook for 2 minutes until bubbles form on top and the cooked side is medium brown. You can check the underside by using a spatula lift the pancake.
7. Before flipping put 10-15 chocolate chips on the wet batter. The pancake should be stiff enough to flip in one motion. Let cook for another 2-3 minutes.
8. Place pancakes on a plate covered in aluminum foil. If you want to ensure the pancakes are warm, keep the plate in the oven on 200 F until ready to serve.
9. Serve with Canadian maple syrup. In a pinch you can also use molasses or honey.

If you make this recipe with the listed and optional (but not substitute) ingredients and use cooking spray, the pancakes will be low in fat and sugar but still quite tasty. To be even healthier, you could substitute chocolate chips with blueberries or raspberries (about 8-10 per pancake). You can also serve pancakes with applesauce or berry syrup instead of maple syrup.

If you are looking for something more decadent, serve with the substitute ingredients (real egg and whole milk). You can also serve with crème Chantilly, sweetened fresh whipped cream (use 1/3 cup granulated sugar per cup of whipping cream). You can flavor the cream with 2 teaspoons of vanilla, brandy or rose water. Some people spread one or two tablespoons of peanut butter on their pancakes before dousing with syrup (this tastes best with chocolate chip pancakes and is not recommended for fruit pancakes).