Sunday, December 27, 2009

Squash and Blue Cheese Risotto

Risotto is a rice dish originating in Northern Italy. The rices used to make risotto are characterized by high starch, low amylose and round medium grains – very different from the white rice most commonly consumed in the United States. The most common risotto rices used in Italy are Carnaroli or Vialone, though in American grocery stores Arborio is most more widely available. This is less desirable that the other varieties as it has less starch and is less firm.

To make risotto, first onions or shallots are sautéed in olive oil in a process called soffritto. Then the rice grains are added and coated in oil or butter in a process called tostatura. Hot stock is then added in small quantities while stirring the risotto. The agitation releases starch from the rice grains which forms a thick liquid. The final step is mantecatura when butter/oil and cheese are added and stirred vigorously to create a creamy sauce.

This risotto is adapted from a British recipe. Risottos tend to be mild but this one has strong flavors. The saffron provides fragrance, the squash creaminess, the
Gorgonzola some bite, and the pecans a crunchy texture. Many Americans are intimidated by risotto because rumors abound that it must be stirred for several hours. New York Times food critic Mark Bittman dispels this myth.

In Italy risotto is served as a primi piatti (first dish) instead of pasta; secondi piatti (second dishes) generally consist of meat or fish. In America risotto is often served as a main dish, though is sometimes served as an appetizer or side dish.

Serves 6-8 as a main dish

6 cups vegetable or chicken low-sodium stock (do not use bouillon cubes)
1 pinch of saffron
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 teaspoons crushed garlic
1 lb squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups Arborio or other risotto rice
1 cup dry white wine
8-12 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (or another mild to medium blue cheese)
1/2 lb toasted pecan halves
salt and pepper to taste
fresh Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. In a medium pot warm stock until simmering. Add saffron and stir well.
2. In a larger, heavy-bottomed pot on low heat sauté onion in olive oil until soft (about 10 minutes).
3. Add garlic and squash and cook until slightly soft.
4. Add the butter and rice. Stir until the grains are well coated.
5. Add wine and stir until absorbed (about 1 minute).
6. Add 1 cup of warm broth and stir until it has almost been absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time and stirring occasionally until absorbed. The process should take about 20 minutes but check the rice after 15 minutes. The grains should be
al dente and will continue cooking once removed from the heat.
7. Once the risotto is cooked, stir in the Gorgonzola. Fold in half of the pecans and use the other half to garnish the dish before serving. Add salt, pepper and finely grated Parmesan cheese to taste.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Killer Brownies

Despite their popularity in the United States and my own personal predilection for them, this is only the second brownie recipe to be featured on this blog. The first was for Valentine’s Day almost two years ago. While these are not a traditional Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid or Kwanzaa recipe, Americans adore saccharine chocolate treats at any time of the year.

Brownies are dense chocolate, cake-like squares. They generally contain a higher proportion of eggs and chocolate and a lower proportion of flour than chocolate cake. They are sometimes frosted, and often made with nuts, chocolate chips, cream cheese, dried fruit or coconut. Most commonly brownies are served at room temperature, but many restaurants serve them warm and topped with ice cream, whipping cream, chocolate sauce and/or chopped nuts. Brownies are similar to the less popular blondies (another favorite); the major difference is that the former is made with chocolate batter.

Brownies were first created in Chicago by a chef at the Palmer House Hotel during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. He created these confections for Bertha Palmer, whose husband Potter owned the hotel. The original recipe, which is still served at the hotel, contains nuts and an apricot glaze. The first published brownie recipe produced a cake-like square and appeared in a Boston cookbook in 1906. A new recipe published the following year more closely resembled today’s confection.

This is one of the most delicious brownies I have tasted. It is based on a recipe by Ina Garten but uses less chocolate, nuts, flour and sugar than her version. Still these are exceedingly decadent.

Makes 48 squares

1 lb unsalted butter (4 sticks)
24 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons instant coffee
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups walnut pieces

1. Butter and flour a 3/4 to 1-inch deep 12 x 18 inch baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a medium pan over lowest heat, melt butter and 12 ounces chocolate chips. Set aside to cool slightly.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs (with a fork, do not use an electric beater), then add sugar, coffee and vanilla. Add chocolate mixture and mix well using a spatula. Allow to cool to room temperature.
4. In a small bowl mix all but 2 tablespoons of flour, baking powder and salt. Using the spatula, fold into the chocolate mixture.
5. Toss walnuts and remaining 12 ounces of chocolate chips in reserved 2 tablespoons of flour. Fold these into the brownie batter.
6. Pour batter into the baking sheet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Halfway through the baking, remove baking sheet and drop on countertop or floor several times to remove air bubbles. Be careful not to overbake these brownies – they should be moist and chewy not cakey.
7. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut into squares.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Coconut Pumpkin Pie

As avid readers of Treat a Week have noted, coconut is one of my favorite ingredients. It has made appearances in curries, cakes and bars among other recipes on his blog. However, I’ve never written about coconuts, so I figured Thanksgiving is as good a time as any.

Coconuts palm trees are thought to have originated in South Asia, though some authorities believe that they developed in northwestern South America. Through the dispersal of coconuts (which serve as seeds) in ocean waters and human cultivation, coconut palms are now found throughout the tropics. They require wet, warm, humid and sunny climates; they also do well in sandy and saline environments. The largest coconut producers in the world are Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Brazil and Thailand.

Several food products are derived from coconuts. Coconut water is the sterile fluid in the cavity of the fruit and is often consumed as a refreshing beverage. Coconut meat, the fleshly part of the nut, can be eaten fresh or dried. The flesh can also be processed with hot water or milk to produce coconut milk. Refrigerated coconut milk separates and the non-liquid portion that rises to the top is coconut cream, which is used primarily in sweet dishes such as piña coladas. Several other culinary products can be produced from coconut palm trees – flower cluster sap can be fermented to produce palm wine, coconut nectar is extracted from young buds, coconut sprout is found in newly germinated coconuts, and heart-of-palm is extracted from the inner core of the tree.

This variation on quintessential pumpkin pie is based on a recipe by my friend Elliot, a former restaurateur in Seattle. I use shredded coconut meat in the crust and coconut cream in the filling, which gives it a rich and tropical flavor. The lime zest adds freshness and another layer of complexity.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup finely shredded, desiccated coconut (Asian markets are the best place to find this)
1/3 cup unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 prepared graham cracker crust

3 eggs, lightly beaten or egg substitute
1 can pumpkin (15 oz)
8 to 12 oz cream of coconut (I use Coco Lopez brand) – make it as rich as you would like
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
zest of one lime

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. If you are making a crust, mix graham cracker crumbs, coconut, sugar and butter. Using the back of a spoon or your hands, pat the mixture along the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie dish. I find that a metal dish works best (sometimes the crust gets stuck to a glass dish).
3. In a medium bowl, combine all the filling ingredients. Pour into the piecrust.
4. Bake for 40-60 minutes or until the center is set (should not jiggle when shaken slightly). If the pie starts to brown, reduce the temperature to 275F and bake until set.
5. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight. Serve the next day – chilled or at room temperature. You can decorate it with whipped cream and serve more on the side.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Millet Flour Flatbread (Bajari Rotlo)

Millet is possibly the first domesticated cereal grain. Recent evidence suggests that it has been grown in East Asia since 8000 BC and was the staple grain before the popularization of rice. Its cultivation is mentioned in the Bible.

Today millet is the sixth most cultivated grain in the world, but is largely unknown in North America and Europe. India and Nigeria are the world’s largest producers, followed by China and several African countries. It is a hardy crop that grows well without fertilizer and in water-poor environments. As a result it is widely cultivated in the global South, especially among the poorest people in these regions. It is generally not traded in the international markets.

Millet is gluten-free and non-allergenic. It is high in protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and B-complex vitamins. It is popularly used to make porridge in Russia and China, and is an important alcohol grain in Nepal, China, Balkan countries and India.

In Gujarat and other parts of India, where my family has its roots, millet is used to make the traditional local staple flatbread (known as rotlo or bhakri). Rotlo is thicker, coarser and more rigid than chapati, with which it has now largely been replaced. This recipe is a spicy version, but rotlo is traditionally made only with both flours, salt, oil and water (one can make the recipe below with just those five ingredients). My mother tells me that as a baby, I loved to eat yogurt with crushed rotlo. I guess some things never change...

3 cups millet flour (also known as bajari)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger paste
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic paste
4 green onions, thinly chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons oil (olive or vegetable)
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups water

1. In a large bowl, use your hands to mix all the ingredients (except the water).
2. Add 1 cup of water to form a dough. Add additional water slowly until all the flour is incorporated and you have a soft but firm dough.
3. In the meantime, heat a large non-stick skillet on medium-high heat.
4. Separate dough into four balls.
5. Place one ball on an unused J cloth or silicone baking mat on a flat surface.
6. Flatten the ball using your fingers to press dough towards the edge. Continue until the bread is about 1/4 inch thick and about 7 to 8 inches in diameter. Make sure it is even in thickness.
7. Lift the J cloth or mat to transfer the bread onto one of your hands (flat side up) and run under a small stream of water until wet.
8. Place the bread (wet side down) on the skillet. Cook for two minutes.
9. Moisten the top of the bread and flip. Cook for an additional two minutes.
10. Flip back to original side and cook for one further minute. Using a flat spatula, remove to a plate. Eat warm and serve with yogurt or vegetable curry.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Semolina Pudding (Siro or Sooji Halwa)

In a previous posting I mentioned semolina pudding (also called siro or sooji halwa) which is a common treat in South Asia. This pudding can be served for breakfast, as an appetizer (sometimes with papadums), or as a dessert. I recently made this in celebration of Divali.

2 1/2 cups whole milk (can substitute 1% or 2% milk)
3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 pinches of orange food powder or several drops of orange food color
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup semolina
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 cup evaporated milk (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
2 tablespoons chopped almonds

1. In a deep pot, bring milk, sugar and color to a boil over medium heat.
2. At the same time in another pot over medium heat, sauté semolina in butter until light golden brown. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Remove semolina from the heat. Wearing oven mitts, carefully add boiling water (the semolina will bubble and splatter). Stir well.
4. Quickly add nutmeg, cardamom and saffron to warm milk and mix well. Return semolina to heat and add warm milk mixture. Stir until the mixture thickens.
5. Add evaporated milk and continue to stir well until mixture is the consistency of pre-baked cornbread batter.
6. Garnish with nuts. You can also garnish with shredded coconut, white poppy seeds and/or raisins.
7. This dish can be frozen for up to two months. To defrost, place in fridge overnight. Reheat over low heat by adding several tablespoons of water and stirring well. Alternately, add water and reheat in the microwave.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cauliflower Curry

Mark Twain famously said that “cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education”. Although some interpret this as an insult to the vegetable, it is actually a glorification of education. In Victorian times cauliflower was a prized vegetable while cabbage was a mundane staple.

Cauliflower is a member of the species Brassica oleracea which includes broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts and collard greens. Its name comes from caulis (Latin for stalk or stem). The vegetable originated in the Mediterranean and is now cultivated worldwide. While cauliflower is commonly white, it can also be found in green and purple versions. More recently, an orange cauliflower variety is available – initially created through a natural mutation of a plant in Canada.

Cauliflower is high in dietary fiber, folic acid and vitamin C. The floret or curd (the white portion) is edible. The green leaves are also edible if well cooked. Studies show that cauliflower contains anti-estrogens and compounds that are anti-carcinogenic. My friend Naheed recently alerted me to the culinary micro-craze around roasted cauliflower which apparently tastes like popcorn.

This recipe, originally styled as ‘Satyamma’s Famous Cauliflower Curry’ comes from Mollie Katzen’s The Moosewood Cookbook, one of the holy books in the vegetarian recipe canon. I’ve omitted potatoes from the original, and instead included chickpeas and green peas. By the way, Katzen does not tell us who Satyamma is.

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon garlic paste
2 tablespoons ginger paste
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts, toasted
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 – 1 1/2 cups water
1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
1 large carrot, cut into thin slices
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
1/2 cup green peas
1 lemon, juiced

1. In a large pot over medium, heat oil and sauté onion and salt for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent.
2. At the same time, place the next ten ingredients in a blender and form a paste. Add more water if necessary. Set aside.
3. Add cauliflower and carrots and cook covered for 10 minutes.
4. Add paste and mix well. Cook covered on low heat until the cauliflower is tender. Stir occasionally and add water if necessary.
5. Add the chickpeas, green peas and lemon juice. Mix well, simmer for 2 minutes.
6. Serve with rice and yogurt.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pomegranate Couscous

Couscous consists of small pellets of wheat used as a staple similar to rice or pasta. There are two types of couscous, both of which are used in the recipe below. What I call ‘regular’ couscous is made by creating pellets from moistened semolina coated with fine wheat flour. These are about 1mm in diameter before cooking. The other type, commonly called pearl or Israeli couscous, is about 2-3mm in diameter and is made from hard wheat instead of semolina.

Traditional couscous is hand-made and shaped in a very labor-intensive process. It is often steamed several times until cooked. In North America and Europe, one can purchase pre-steamed couscous which is easily prepared by adding boiling water. This quick-cooking version is popular because it can be prepared in five minutes with minimal fuss.

Early references to couscous date to 13th century Syria and Moorish Spain. By the 17th century it was known in Sicily, Tuscany, Rome and Brittany. Today it is a staple in the Maghreb, and is common but less popular in the Middle East, Southern Europe and among the Sephardic Jewish diaspora. While often topped with meat, fish or vegetables, it is often prepared as a dessert with some combination of nuts, sugar/honey, raisins, coconut, cinnamon, and milk/cream.

I made this couscous as a side dish for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It contains pomegranates which are one of the foods associated with this holiday. It was served with my Aunt Barbara’s Mediterranean chicken. To read about the significance of Rosh Hashanah, see last year’s post for honey cake.

Serves 14-16

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
6 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups regular couscous
1 1/2 cups pine nuts
1 1/2 cups shallots, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups pearl (also called Israeli) couscous
4 dried bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of 2 lemons
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
3/4 cup golden raisins
black pepper, to taste
1 pomegranate, seeds removed

Directions1. In a large pot bring 2 cups stock, 2 tablespoons butter and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil.
2. Remove from heat, add regular couscous and cover for 5 minutes.
3. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
4. Add 2 more tablespoons butter to the pot, and over medium heat sauté pine nuts until golden brown and fragrant. Set aside.
5. Add 2 more tablespoons butter to the pot, and over medium heat sauté shallots until translucent.
6. Add pearl couscous, bay leaves and cinnamon. Stir for 5-7 minutes until the couscous browns slightly.
7. Add remaining stock and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Make sure that the couscous is tender.
8. Remove from heat and discard the bay leaves.
9. In a large mixing bowl, combine regular couscous and pearl couscous. Add pine nuts, lemon zest, parsley, raisins, pepper and half pomegranate seeds. Mix well.
10. Serve topped with remaining pomegranate seeds.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mocha Ice Cream Cake

Nothing says summer like ice cream. To mark Labor Day (which was inspired by Canadian Labour Day), the unofficial end of summer in the United States, I’m offering up a recipe for ice cream cake.

I associate ice cream cake with chain stores such as Dairy Queen and Carvel. Most of these cakes consist of two layers of hard ice cream “frosted” with a soft serve ice cream. Many of them have an additional layer of cookie crumbs, nuts or candy bar pieces. Although common for children’s birthday parties, fancier versions, sometimes containing sponge cake, are now appearing at wedding receptions.

The earliest ice cream cake recipes appeared in the 1870s and took inspiration from bombes, French desserts made from ice cream and fruit in fancy molds and trifles, a British pudding consisting of sponge cake, fruit, custard and cream.

Store bought ice cream cakes can be very rich. This version allows you to reduce calories without giving up taste - the graham cracker crust is made with yogurt instead of butter and frozen yogurt or reduced fat ice cream can be used. For a recent ice cream cake I used Stonyfield Farm’s non-fat After Dark Chocolate frozen yogurt and Starbucks coffee ice cream. The combination of low fat and full fat layers was a healthy and delicious compromise.

Serves 8-12

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
4 to 6 tablespoons plain or coffee-flavored yogurt (reduced fat acceptable)
1 pint chocolate ice cream or frozen yogurt (reduced fat acceptable)
1 pint coffee ice cream or frozen yogurt (reduced fat acceptable)
1/4 to 1/3 cup chocolate chips (optional)
whipped cream (optional), for serving

1. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Coat inside with cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl mix graham cracker crumbs, cocoa, sugar, coffee granules and yogurt and mix well until incorporated.
3. Press mixture into the bottom of the pan. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.
4. Soften chocolate ice cream at room temperature and spread evenly over crust. Chill in freezer for 15 minutes.
5. Soften coffee ice cream at room temperature and spread evenly over chocolate ice cream layer. Sprinkle with chocolate chips (optional). Chill in freezer for at least 1 hour.
6. When ready to serve, use a butter knife to cut around edges of pan.
7. Gently release the side of the pan. Allow cake to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes. If cake is melting, put back into freezer to firm up.

8. Slice cake with a warm serrated knife. Serve with whipped cream (optional).
9. Any uneaten cake can be refrozen for up to one month. For easier storage, cut cake into pieces and freeze individually or in groups wrapped in foil or in tupperware.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thai Tea Ice Cream

Denizens of Thai food restaurants are familiar with super sweet, orange-colored iced tea. In this recipe, my friend Yvonne transforms the refreshing Thai beverage into ice cream.

Thai ice tea is made from strongly brewed black tea which may be supplemented with orange blossom water, food coloring, star anise, and/or crushed tamarind seed. The Black tea is sweetened and mixed with one or more of the following: condensed milk, evaporated milk, whole milk or coconut milk. In the United States, Thai ice tea is generally served in a tall glass; in Thailand it is more often seen in a to-go clear plastic bag with a straw sticking out.

This photograph shows profiteroles filled with Thai tea ice cream. Watch this space for a post about how to make this and other choux pastry treats.

Serves 4 to 6

4 cups heavy cream (can substitute up to half with whole milk)
Thai tea (1/4 cup loose leaves in a tea sock or 3 teabags)
3/4 to 1 cup granulated sugar
1 to 2 eggs yolks, beaten (optional)

1. In a large saucepan over low heat, warm cream and/or milk.
2. After mixture is warm add Thai tea and sugar and infuse for 20 or 30 minutes until mixture is a rich salmon color. Stir occasionally. Taste and extend infusion for stronger flavor and add additional sugar to taste.
3. Add egg yolks to produce a richer and less icy ice cream. Add eggs to warm mixture and stir until it thickens.
4. If necessary, strain mixture through a fine sieve to remove any stray tea leaves.
5. Pour into a glass bowl and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
6. Then transfer to an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spinach and Farmer Cheese Curry (Palak Paneer)

Palak paneer is a South Asian curry made of palak (spinach) and paneer (Indian cheese). It is popular throughout Northern India and Pakistan, especially in the Punjab region where it is a common vegetarian dish.

Spinach is thought to have originated in Nepal, and through Muslim conquests and trade, was spread to China by 647, and later Spain and other parts of the Muslim world. Spinach was a favorite vegetable of Catherine de' Medici of Florence, Italy, and to this day dishes served on a bed of spinach are referred to as a la Florentine.

The world’s largest producer of spinach is China, followed by the United States. California grows almost three quarters of the vegetable produced in this country.

Spinach is considered to be highly nutritious as popularized by the American cartoon Popeye. Although high in iron and calcium, the type of iron spinach contains (non-heme) as well as high levels of oxalate render these minerals difficult to absorb. In addition, the vegetable contains high levels of Vitamins A, B9, C and K. These are highest in fresh or steamed spinach; cooked or boiled spinach has dramatically lower levels of these vitamins and minerals. In fact, cooked broccoli and cauliflower have twice the iron of cooked spinach.

Fresh spinach loses its nutritional value the longer it is stored. Research also shows it to be one of the most heavily pesticide-contaminated vegetables. In addition, it has been the vector for recent E. coli and salmonella outbreaks.

Despite these nutritional limitations and health concerns, which I must admit were largely unknown to me before writing this posting, palak paneer is a tasty and filling curry. It will last up to five days in the refrigerator.

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds chopped frozen spinach
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 - 14 ounces paneer, cut in 1/2 inch cubes (or use extra firm tofu)
2 teaspoons garlic paste or minced garlic
3 teaspoons ginger paste or minced ginger
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne or chilli powder
2 tablespoons coriander powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
up to 1 cup full or low fat sour cream (optional)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. Defrost spinach in the microwave according to package instructions. Set aside to cool. Do not remove excess water.
2. Heat half the oil in a large cooking pot on medium-low. Add paneer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown. Set aside. If using tofu it may take longer to brown.
3. Add the remaining oil and garlic, ginger and cumin seeds. After 3 minutes add onion and salt, and sauté for 5 minutes on medium heat until translucent. Add the tomatoes and continue cooking for 5 more minutes.
4. Transfer onion/tomato mixture to a blender and process for 30 seconds. Add a little water if necessary. Return to pot and add cayenne/chilli powder, coriander, garam masala and turmeric.
5. Mix thoroughly and simmer on low.
6. Transfer spinach to the blender (in more than one batch if necessary). Blend for 30 seconds until mixed. If necessary, add 1/2 to 1 cup of water.
7. Pour contents back into pot and mix well. Add sour cream and paneer and heat until bubbling.
8. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve warm with rice or bread (chappatis, parathas or naan).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cherry Apricot Salsa

Cherry season is in full swing in New York – from Hamptons road-side stands to suburban barbeques, I’ve been inundated with these juicy, red orbs.

Cherries originated in Anatolia, in what is present day Turkey. They were brought to Rome in antiquity from the town of Cerasus (present day Giresun) from which the word cherry is derived. In addition to their fruit, cherry trees are known for their beautiful flowers.

Most cherry cultivars are derived from the wild cherry; the sour cherry, a separate species, is mostly used for cooking. Cherries contain anthocynanins which are antioxidants that are thought to reduce pain and inflammation. Turkey leads world production of cherries, followed by the United States, Iran, Italy and Russia.

I recently remembered a delicious cherry salsa that my friend Karen made years ago in Boston. It requires some heavy chopping (and pitting cherries, which can be difficult), but is a great starter for an outdoor meal. I made the salsa on Friday for a picnic we had with our friends Annika and Christoph in Carl Schurz Park.

The key to success is to use ripe fruit, especially ripe apricots. Mine were a bit too firm, but the salsa still went over well. You can keep it for up to three days but it is best served fresh. Leftovers can also be used as a tangy complement to grilled chicken.

Remember that cherry juice can stain clothing so don’t wear white. The best way to remove a cherry stain is to put the clothing in boiling water.

3/4 lb ripe fresh cherries, pitted, quartered
3/4 lb ripe fresh apricots, pitted, diced (to size of cherry quarters)
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons basil, finely shredded
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon garlic paste or minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. In a large bowl mix cherries, apricots, green onions, basil and thyme.
2. In a small bowl beat together lime juice, orange juice, honey, garlic and salt.
3. Pour juices over fruit and mix well. Store in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavors to mingle.
4. Serve at room temperature with tortilla chips.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake

As a child I thought of Strawberry Shortcake as a doll with scented hair, along with her friends Huckleberry Pie and Blueberry Muffin which were part of a 32-character line (all with dessert-themed names) created in the 1980s. The Strawberry Shortcake fad included stickers, clothes, video games, and many other items. Consumer demand waned after several years, but was revived with mild success in 2002 and has another planned relaunch this year with a film and a television series.

It wasn’t until my adulthood that I experienced the dessert that inspired the character. Shortcakes are thus named because they use shortening, and are a European invention that dates to at least the 16th century. Shakespeare makes a reference to shortcake in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The combination of shortcake and strawberries, however, is an American invention. The earliest known recipe is from an 1847 cookbook where it is called Strawberry Cake. The dessert became very popular in the 1850s and 1860s as the first transcontinental railroad made it possible for fresh strawberries to be shipped nationally. Advertisers induced strawberry fever by encouraging demand for the fruit; strawberry shortcake parties became popular as a celebration of the coming summer.

Originally, strawberry shortcake was meant to be made from piecrust in a round or in pieces covered with strawberries. The current dominant version uses a scone or biscuit. Some modern recipes use a sponge cake, especially common in Japan where strawberry shortcake is a favorite Christmas or birthday cake. While strawberry shortcake is the most common version of the dessert, shortcakes can be served with peaches, blueberries or other summer fruit. Some recipes call for flavored shortcakes; coconut is the most common variant. I suggest serving the shortcake with vanilla ice cream for a more substantive finish to a summer meal.

Leftover shortcakes can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for up a month (thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then bring up to room temperature). You can also eat them for breakfast - toasted and spread with butter and berry jam.

Serves 6

1 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into chunks
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon heavy cream
zest from one orange

Strawberry Topping
1 to 2 pints strawberries, washed, stems removed and quartered
2 tablespoons orange juice or Cointreau
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)

vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, to serve

1. To make biscuits, in a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, cornstarch and baking powder.
2. Using a pastry cutter or two knives work in butter until it resembles coarse meal.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add buttermilk, 1/4 cup cream and orange zest.
4. Stir with a fork until a dough just forms.
5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until it just holds together.
6. Place dough back in the large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 375 F.
8. On a floured surface, pat out dough until 1/2 inch thick. Cut out shortcakes using a 3-inch circular cutter.
9. Transfer shortcakes to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush lightly with remaining heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar.
10. Bake for 15 to 20 or until golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool.
11. To make strawberry topping, gently mix all the ingredients. Stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.
12. To serve, slice shortcake in half horizontally. Place a scoop of ice cream on the bottom, add strawberry topping and top with shortcake top. Serve with a dollop of homemade whipped cream. Alternately, skip ice cream and place whipped cream in shortcake sandwich.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Apricot and Cherry Cake

Less can be more. That’s my lesson after a recent baking experiment. I was poking through my cabinets to find inspiration when I came across a bag of dark dried fruit. I couldn’t figure out what they were. Not dates. Not prunes. Not figs. I then realized they were organic dried apricots. Without preservatives they turn brown after picking but they still taste the same.

I shuffled through my recipe collection and found one for apricot and cherry cake. However, it seemed a bit rich – lots of butter and eggs. To make it lighter, I reduced the butter and egg yolks and added yogurt. As I was beating the batter I noticed how fluffy it was – because of the egg whites.

The batter nearly filled the loaf pan. I thought about removing some of it, but figured it was unlikely to overflow.

Wrong. Halfway through baking, a burning smell reached the bedroom. Rushing to open the door, I saw that some batter had overflowed onto the bottom of the oven. It was blackening and starting to produce smoke. I’m sad to say this isn’t my first such experience so I knew what to do – I removed the cake, scraped the fallen batter, and placed the cake on top of a foil-covered baking sheet before sliding it back into the oven. In the end, it took much longer to bake and didn’t rise very much. However, it was delicious and reasonably light.

The lesson here is that by reducing the egg yolks and butter, I had created a fluffier cake which required a larger pan. Baking is a science so it’s important to understand the chemistry involved when experimenting. The other lesson is to trust your gut. When I saw how much batter there was I should have divided it into two pans.

The recipe below has been adjusted to produce just enough batter for a single loaf pan.

Please note I’ve created a new tag – Freezes Well – on the suggestion of one of my readers. I hope to add this tag retroactively.

Serves 12

1/3 cup dried apricots
1/3 cup dried cherries
1 1/3 cups cake flour (equivalent to 1 1/3 cups minus 2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour + 2 tablespoons corn starch)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 egg whites
2 1/2 tablespoons yogurt (flavored or plain)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk

1. Submerge and soak dried fruit in warm water for 15 minutes. Drain well and cut apricots into quarters. Set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a loaf pan with butter. Line the bottom with wax paper, and grease and flour the pan.
3. In a medium bowl mix combine flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl beat butter on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add sugar and beat for an additional 2 minutes.
5. Add whole eggs and beat until combined. Add egg whites and beat for an additional 2 minutes.
6. Add yogurt and vanilla and beat until just mixed.
7. Reduce beater to low and add half of the dry ingredients, then the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Using a spatula, fold in apricots and cherries.
8. Transfer batter to the baking pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
9. Allow cake to cool completely in the pan. Then unmold and serve. Can be kept in an airtight container or a well-covered plate for 3-5 days at room temperature, and up to one week in the refridgerator. To freeze, seal with plastic wrap and place in a Ziplock bag. Will keep for 3 months. To serve, unwrap and warm to room temperature.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pistachio Shortbread

Pistachios are native to Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan and the first archeological record of their consumption dates to 6760BC in what is present day Jordan. They were brought to Italy from Syria during the reign of Tiberius in the first century. The word derives from Persian and comes to English via Latin.

While Iran still leads in international pistachio production, the United States is a close second. Until the 1970s, most pistachio consumed in the U.S. were imported from Iran. After relations between the two countries deteriorated starting in the 1970s, Americans started growing these nuts on plantations in California.

Pistachios are often eaten whole – salted or roasted - and are a popular flavoring in sweets such as ice cream, cookies and puddings. They are even more common in confections from the Middle East and South Asia including baklava and burfi among many others. These nuts are also traditionally used to make mortadella, an Italian pork sausage flavored with spices, nuts and herbs, and widely used in savory dishes from India, Iran and North Africa.

Research shows that pistachios significantly reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase antioxidant level in humans. In rats, they increase HDL (good) cholesterol without decreasing bad cholesterol.

This recipe is my adaptation of nan khatai, an Ismaili shortbread previously featured on this site.

Makes 24 cookies

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
3/4 cups white sugar
1 egg
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup semolina
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped
1-2 tablespoons milk
pistachios, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 300 F. Grease or line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour, semolina, baking powder, cardamom, nutmeg and pistachios. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Add egg and mix well.
4. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. It may take a few minutes to incorporate all the flour. Add milk to soften the dough.
5. To form cookies, roll 2 tablespoons of dough between the palms of your hands to form a circular disk (thicker in the middle than at the edges). Place on a baking sheet and flatten slightly.
6. To decorate, gently press a pistachio into the center of each cookie.
7. Bake for 20-22 minutes until you see a hint of color. Do not bake until golden brown. Remove immediately to a wire rack to prevent further baking. Once cool, cookies should break easily but not be crumbly. If the cookies are crisp, then they were over-baked.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Berry Cheesecake

In the United States, Memorial Day weekend marks the social beginning of summer (as opposed to the calendar start on June 21). One of the most delicious pleasures of the season is fresh fruit. My favorites include watermelon, peaches, and berries, which were featured in last week’s muffin recipe.

This week, I’ve decided to go back-to-back with another berry recipe. For this cheesecake, you can use one of several types of berries, or a combination. However, I favor blackberries, a generic term which describes several hundred species of dark red, purple or black berries native to the cooler climates of the Northern hemisphere. The berries can also be found in Australia, New Zealand and Chile where they are often considered invasive weed species. Oregon has the distinction of producing more blackberries than any other region in the world.

The earliest indication of blackberry consumption comes from forensic evidence from a 2500-year old Danish “mummy” discovered in a peat bog in the nineteenth century. These fruit contain high levels of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid and manganese. Blackberries are used extensively in cooking, especially in the production of jams, cakes and pies. The fruit is sometimes used to make sauces to marinate or glaze pork, chicken or beef.

In modern life, the word 'blackberry' more often refers to a wireless handheld device than the fruit. So named because of its dark color and a keypad that resembles a collection of seeds, the ubiquitous gadget is so addictive to users that it has been nicknamed the crackberry.

Serves 8

3 cups graham cracker crumbs
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup white sugar

1 lb cream cheese
1 cup white sugar
4 eggs

4 pints berries (whole blackberries, whole raspberries and/or quartered strawberries), washed and at room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar (optional)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 300 F. If using a 10-inch springform pan, use the ingredient list above. If you don’t have a springform pan, make cheesecake in a 9-inch metal pie tin but use HALF of ALL the ingredients.
2. To make crust, in a large bowl mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar.
3. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, pack the crumb mixture so that it evenly covers the bottom of the pan. If using a pie tin, make sure there is crust on the sides as well as the bottom.
4. To make filling, in a large bowl beat cream cheese, sugar and eggs until smooth. Pour into the pan and bake for 40 minutes or until the surface is very light brown. Let the cheesecake cool for 30-60 minutes at room temperature.
5. In another bowl, toss the berries, brown sugar and cinnamon. Spoon onto the warm cheesecake and serve immediately. You can also chill cheesecake in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight. Either way, place berries on the cheesecake just before serving.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Berry Muffins

On Sunday mornings, we sleep in to balance our perennial 6am weekday alarm. Between blinding sunlight and circadian rhythms, however, we’re not always successful. For me Sundays are special because we have time to make a warm breakfast or brunch. Eggs are our regular fare, but once in a while we’ll make pancakes or waffles.

This past Sunday I got up early to create berry muffins, and they were just coming out of the oven when my boyfriend woke up. There’s nothing more divine than warm baked goods slathered in butter, jam, apple butter or cream cheese.

I used frozen blueberries for this version but you can also use strawberries, raspberries or blackberries. Also, flavored yogurt can provide an interesting twist. Try vanilla, banana, strawberry or peach.

Makes 12

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup yogurt (low fat and flavored okay)
1 cup fresh or frozen berries (chop strawberries, other berries can go in whole)

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line a muffin pan with foil cups and squirt each cup with cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, mix flours, sugar and baking soda.
3. In a small bowl, mix butter, eggs, vanilla and yogurt.
4. Toss berries into flour mixture and then add yogurt mixture.
5. Mix well. The batter may appear slightly dry but do not add additional liquid.
6. Spoon batter evenly into muffin liners and bake for 20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
7. Cool for 5 minutes and serve immediately. Will keep in an airtight container for 3 days. To reheat, microwave for 15 seconds. Serve with your favorite spread.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Vegetable Samosas

Samosas are wildly popular among Indians and are commonly served as appetizers or snacks. They are also loved by non-Indians, which makes them a good item to serve in mixed crowds, even with relatively unadventurous eaters. Who doesn't like deep fried stuffed pastry?

In the Ismaili community, we make samosas that are relatively small (3-4 inches on the edge), flat and have a medium-thick pastry. Those of you living in North America are probably more familiar with the baseball sized, thick-pastry variety which are served in Indian restaurants. When I was young my mom would make meat and vegetable samosas from scratch. Later on, we would buy uncooked versions and fry them up for our guests. My mom, who is a health nut, started to bake them, which was much healthier and prevented a 'deep fried smell' in the house. While the recipe below is not hers, I take insipiration from her artery-friendly methods.

Although most commonly associated with India, samosas originated in Central Asia before the 10th century, and were introduced into the Indian subcontinent by traders in the 13th and 14th centuries. The word can be traced to the Persian word sanbosag. Other names include sanbusak in Arab countries, samsa in Turkik languages, sambosa in Afghanistan, sambusa in Iran and chamuça in Goa and Portugal. Due to migration and globalization samosas are now popular in Southeast Asia, East Africa, United Kingdom, North America and the former Portuguese colonies of Africa.

Samosas are usually triangle-shaped pastry shells stuffed with vegetables, potatoes or beef. Variations abound including chicken, fish, lamb, pork, pumpkin, paneer or cheese. Apparently, sweet versions are also produced in some places. In addition to different fillings, the pastry varies significantly from delicate phyllo dough to thick pastry crusts.

Traditionally samosas are deep fried, though in many Western countries they are now baked. I would not recommend frying this phyllo version due to the delicacy of the pastry. If you want deep fried samosas, use commercially available samosa wrappers (you can also use spring roll pastry or wonton wrappers) which are made from a thicker dough. Samosa are usually served with chutney. I prepared a tamarind version but mint or coconut/cilantro chutneys are also popular.

Makes 36 small samosas

Tamarind Chutney
2 cups hot water
2 1/2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon cumin

3/4 pound red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons oil (canola or corn)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
5-8 curry leaves
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (peas, corn and carrots), defrosted to room temperature
2 teaspoons garlic
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon lemon juice
handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
1 to 2 sticks (1/2 cup to 1 cup) unsalted butter, melted (butter substitute or olive oil for vegans)
8 ounces phyllo pastry dough (9 x 14 inch sheets), thawed overnight in the fridge

1. To make the tamarind chutney place all of the ingredients in a medium bowl or large lidded jar. Mix or shake well. The chutney can be prepared ahead and will last in the refrigerator for a week or frozen for three months. To defrost, thaw overnight in the fridge.
2. To make the samosas, boil potatoes until almost cooked. Cool to room temperature. Can be done a day in advance but make sure potatoes are at room temperature for this recipe.
3. In a large pot, heat oil on medium. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves. When mustard seeds pop, add onions, potatoes and vegetables. Cook on low heat until tender.
4. Add the next eight ingredients and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, add cilantro and mix well. Set aside samosa filling.
6. Melt one stick of butter in the microwave or on the stovetop. Once melted, unpack and unroll the phyllo sheets. Cover the sheets with a damp (not wet) towel to keep them from drying out. You will have to work quickly once the phyllo is unwrapped.
7. Place one sheet of phyllo on a clean work surface (a cutting board works well) and brush liberally with butter. Place another sheet on top and brush with butter. Cut the sheets into strips that are approximately 3 inches wide and 9 inches long.
8. Make sure the strips are laid out vertically. At the end of one strip place 1 to 2 tablespoons of samosa filling. Fold one corner in to fully cover the filling (thus forming a triangle tip). Now fold over the section containing the filling twice, making sure to keep it from falling out. Brush all visible surfaces with butter before folding once more. Fold the remaining phyllo over and use additional butter/oil to seal the samosa. Melt more butter if necessary. Click on this recipe for Spanakopita Triangles to see photos of the process step-by-step.
9. Place samosas (seal on the bottom) on two parchment or foil-lined baking sheets. Cover with a damp towel until ready to bake. [see second image above]
10. Repeat with other strips of phyllo and then with all phyllo sheets.
11. Bake at 375F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.
12. Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated in a toaster oven or oven (do not use a microwave as samosas will become soggy). Alternately, unbaked samosas can be frozen immediately and baked when needed (bake from frozen, do not thaw first).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Simple Guacamole

Mexico is getting a bad rap this week as the epicenter of the soon-to-be pandemic H1N1 (aka Swine) flu virus. To balance out the hysteria, especially of those who advocate sealing off the U.S.-Mexico border, I want to highlight one of the great things that has come to us across that border (or maybe it was through the 1848 cession/annexation of Northwestern Mexico, which is now the American Southwest).

In any case, many Mexican dishes have become adapted or served as inspiration for American cuisine, including quesadillas, tamales, fajitas, chilli, tacos, churros and burritos... I could go on. Guacamole, an avocado-based relish or dip, is a great accompaniment to several of these dishes and many others.

The name guacamole comes from an Aztec dialect via the Nahuatl meaning avocado sauce. Traditionally, it was made by mashing avocados in a mortar and pestle and adding tomatoes and salt. Many restaurants prepare guacamole at the table using a traditional molcajete, which is a large mortar and pestle made from lava rock.

Some versions contain lime/lemon juice, chilli peppers, garlic, cumin, cilantro and onions. I once made a recipe from Martha Stewart’s magazine containing fruit chunks including grapes. Yuck! In addition to the above dishes, guacamole is often served with tortilla chips or as a topping for toast, burgers, baked potatoes, grilled meat, eggs and sandwiches.

Why not plan a Mexican-style meal this Tuesday in honor of Cinco de Mayo? ¡Viva México!

1 lime, juiced
2 avocados
1/2 white onion, finely diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons cilantro, thinly sliced

1. Put lime juice into a medium bowl. The lime will prevent rapid browning of the avocado.
2. To remove avocado flesh, slice avocado in half. Turn the halves in opposite directions to separate. Gently peel the skin off each half – it may help to slice the pieces to make it easier to remove the skin. Cut avocado into small cubes and place in the lime juice.
3. Using a fork, mash the avocado slightly. Leave it chunky - do not make it into a sauce. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
4. Guacamole will brown if left out too long. Some claim that leaving the avocado pit in the guacamole overnight will prevent this but it has not worked for me. Therefore I suggest you serve and consume immediately.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sweet Matzoh Brei

It’s been a couple of weeks since Passover and many Jewish people (and their admirers) realize that they have boxes of unused matzoh. I’ve learned that these make great vehicles for peanut butter, honey, chocolate and jelly. However if you want a substantive meal, your best bet is matzoh brei (literally fried matzoh). The dish is essentially matzoh French toast and comes out of the same tradition – a way to salvage unused or stale bread.

Matzoh brei can be sweet or savory and prepared formed like a frittata or loose like scrambled eggs. It can be topped with salsa, apple sauce, jelly, sugar or preserves. Some people incorporate cheese, meat or vegetables. Matzoh brei is generally prepared during Passover when observant Jews do not eat leavened bread. However it makes a delicious and quick breakfast or brunch at any time of the year.

3 matzohs
hot water
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
maple syrup, for serving

Serves 2-3

1. Break matzoh into pieces, approximately 1-2 inch squares.
2. Place in a strainer and pour 2 cups of boiling water over the matzohs. Let sit for 2 minutes.

3. In a medium bowl beat eggs, milk and vanilla.
4. Place skillet over medium heat and melt butter.
5. Dip all the matzoh into egg mixture and transfer to heated skillet.

6. Cook on one side and then flip over to cook on the other side. The matzoh brei should be as cooked as scrambled eggs before serving.
7. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and serve with maple syrup.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

This recipe brings together three of my favourite ingredients – chocolate, coconut and bananas. It’s the second banana bread recipe I’ve posted on this site – check out the first one for more about this American quick bread.

1/2 cup desiccated coconut, toasted
1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup granulated or caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 overripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper and grease and flour the pan.
2. Toast coconut in oven (at 350 F for 10-15 minutes), saucepan or microwave (on high for 30 seconds at a time). Check frequently as coconut can burn easily. Set aside to cool.
3. Mix flour, baking soda, salt, and coconut and set aside.
4. In a large bowl beat together butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well. Add bananas and coconut extract and mix well.
5. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients until combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour batter into loaf pan.
6. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes in pan. Remove from pan and cool to room temperature.
7. Using a sharp serrated knife, slice banana bread into 3/4 inch pieces. Serve at breakfast, brunch or tea time. Store in air tight container for 2 days at room temperature or refrigerated for one week.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Cupcakes

Easter is one of my favorite times of year. I have fond childhood memories of egg hunts, chocolate bunnies and peeping yellow chicks. Alberta, the province where I grew up, has a special connection to Easter. The tiny town of Vegreville boasts the world’s largest Ukrainian Easter egg known as a Pysanka.

This week’s recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s famous coconut cupcakes which are topped with green coconut 'grass' and decorated with chocolate or candy eggs.

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup coconut milk
14 ounces shredded coconut

Frosting and Topping
1 pound cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups shredded coconut
6-8 drops green food color
candy eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a muffin pan with foil liners.
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar on high speed. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.
3. In a small bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
4. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and the milk to the wet ingredients. Mix well. Add another 1/3 of dry ingredients and coconut milk. Mix well. Add remaining dry ingredients. Fold in coconut.
5. Spoon batter into muffin liners and bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 30 minutes.
6. Cool in pan for 10 minutes and remove to baking rack until completely cool.
7. To make frosting, in a large bowl beat cream cheese, butter, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla extract, and almond extract.
8. Using a knife spread frosting on cupcakes.
9. Put shredded coconut in a large Ziplock bag. Add a few drops of food color. Close tightly and shake until the coconut is colored. If you want deeper color, add more food color and repeat.
10. Sprinkle on cupcakes. Gently place two to three eggs on each cupcake. Refrigerate to set the frosting.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sautéed Scallops with Summer Relish

Scallops are marine animals found in all of the world’s oceans. Closely related to clams, oysters and mussels, scallops are active swimmers and have the distinction of being the only migratory bivalves (two-shelled mollusks).

The term scallop comes from the ancient port of Ascalon which is modern day Ashkelon, Israel. The shell has become associated with Saint James the Greater, a disciple of Jesus. It is also a symbol of fertility - images of Venus, the Roman Goddess of fertility and love, are often associated with the scallop. The most well known example is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. As a testament to its enduring appeal, in 1988 the scallop was named the official shell of New York state.

Scallops are popular in Western and Eastern cuisine. In the United States and Europe they are often sautéed (as in this recipe) or breaded and fried. In Japan scallops are served fresh in sashimi, sushi or soup. In China dried scallops, known as conpoy, are used to flavor sauces, stir fries and rice porridge.

In anticipation of summer, this recipe can provide a fresh and tangy start to your meal.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

1/2 ripe mango, peeled and diced
1/4 red bell pepper, minced
1 green onion, minced
1/8 red onion, minced
handful of cilantro, finely chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon honey
few drops of Tabasco or other spicy sauce
1 lb sea scallops (about 16)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 lemon, cut into wedges

1. In a small bowl, mix mango, pepper, onions and cilantro. Set aside.
2. In another bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil, lime juice, honey and Tabasco. Pour over mango mixture. If making in advance, mix the two just before cooking the scallops.
3. Heat remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté scallops over medium heat, about 2-3 minutes on each side.
4. Season scallops with salt and pepper. Serve topped with mango relish. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over each plate before serving.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars

These are a Canadian classic. To read about the origin and history of Nanaimo bars, see my posting for Peppermint Perfection Nanaimo Bars.

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (12 large crackers)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup peanuts or walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten or 1/4 cup pasteurized egg product
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cocoa

1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 tablespoons milk

5 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or finely chopped baking chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Line (with wax paper or parchment) and butter an 8 x 8 inch metal baking pan.
2. To make base, in a large bowl mix graham cracker crumbs, coconut and nuts. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl melt butter. Add sugar, egg, vanilla and cocoa. Beat well.
4. Add wet ingredients to graham cracker mixture and mix thoroughly. Transfer to baking pan and spread evenly using the back of a metal spoon to create an even surface.
5. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
6. To make filling mix peanut butter and butter. Add pudding mix and confectioner’s sugar. Mix until combined. Add milk slowly until the filling is the consistency of toothpaste.
7. Spread on top of the base and use wet fingers to pat down in an even layer.
8. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
9. To make the glaze, mix chocolate and butter and melt in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1minute. Mix until the glaze is spreadable. Apply with a butter knife. Chill to set.
10. To cut the bars bring them to room temperature for 1 or 2 hours so that the glaze does not crack when cut. Use a sharp knife to score the surface and then make deep cuts to divide the bars.
11. Nanaimo bars can keep in the refrigerator for 1 month and in the freezer for 3 months.