Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Welcoming a New Baby with a Sad Cake

I attended a baby shower on Sunday, and I was asked to bring a dessert for brunch. I felt like baking my famous pound cake which I haven't made for a long time (I got sick of it after making hundreds of them for the local farmer's market). So I tried a new twist on an old fave: Lemon Buttermilk Blueberry Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze. I just hoped that it would turn out nicely for the party.

Hoping that it "turned out" ended up being tragically prophetic! I either didn't let it cool down enough, or I should have floured the bundt pan, but pieces of it stuck when I flipped it out, and I nearly bawled. My next thought (since I made it Friday night) was, oh well, at least I have time to make something else before Sunday. But the bits I tasted were so yummy, that I wondered if I might salvage it.

I carefully stuck the pieces back on and gently pressed them in (the cake was VERY moist). And then I made the glaze a little thicker than usual and applied it very liberally to cover the multitude of sins. I put it in the fridge overnight to firm up (and so, hopefully, it would hold together when sliced). But the icing just seemed to emphasize the unsightly fault lines on the cake. So my friend, Jan, offered a brilliant solution--to hide the structural flaws with fresh spring flowers! It ended up looking lovely on the brunch table, and no one was the wiser. And it was tasty to boot! Whew--catastrophe averted!

Lemon Buttermilk Blueberry Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze

2 sticks butter, softened
1/3 cup shortening
5 large whole eggs
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose white flour (measure on the 3rd and last sift)
zest of 2 lemons, very finely grated (preferably, with a Microplane/wood rasp)
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon lemon oil
2 cups frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 325. Spray or grease bundt pan and lightly flour entire surface. (Or the Pam with flour for baking makes it even easier!) Cream butter and shortening together at slow mixer speed. Add sugar and eggs, one at a time, alternating with the sugar. Begin and end with sugar. Scrape bowl often. When all added, set mixer on high speed for exactly four minutes. Sift flour three times, adding baking powder, soda and salt on last sift, then measure three cups. Whisk the lemon zest into the flour mixture and set aside. Add the vanilla and the lemon oil to the buttermilk and stir. Add the buttermilk and the flour mixtures to the bowl, alternating ingredients, beginning and ending with flour. Gently fold in the frozen blueberries. Spoon batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

The cake will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes to cook depending on your altitude, humidity and oven calibration. Test by inserting a knife or tester. It's done when it comes out a little oily but no batter. Cool on rack until the bottom of bundt pan is warm but not hot, then turn out on a plate. Let it cool a bit, and then glaze with the recipe below.

Lemon Glaze

3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
splash of vanilla

Whisk the powdered sugar and lemon juice together until smooth. Add the butter and microwave on high for 30 seconds to one minute (until butter is melted). Add a splash of vanilla, and whisk again until smooth. Coat pound cake with every last bit of the glaze (using a pastry brush is very helpful here), then let cool until set before serving.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Need a quick fix idea? I gotchyo back!

I made a yummy "quick fix" dinner tonight: Fresh Fettucine with Chicken and Tomato Cream Sauce. This may be a new weeknight go-to "recipe!" Ready for a real "cheater" meal? Here we go...

Start with a deli chicken that you break down (remove the skin and bones and inedible bits) and shred. In a large skillet over medium heat, saute a chopped onion and a couple/few cloves of minced garlic until softened (you might also throw in some sliced mushrooms if you have them on hand). When the veggies are tender, toss in the shredded chicken, a jar of your favorite pasta sauce (I used a three cheese blend from Sam's Club), and some fresh black pepper (1/2 teaspoon?). Cook for a couple of minutes until heated through, then stir in about a cup of half and half.

In the meantime, boil a one pound package of fresh fettucine for about four minutes until al dente (or whatever the package directions say to do). When cooked, add the drained pasta to the skillet, and add some pasta water to thin the sauce if need be. Taste to see if it needs salt, but as you'll want to top it with some coarsely shredded parmesan, go easy. And that's your dinner! You're welcome.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Bringing a little taste of NYC home...

For today's post, I pay homage to my recent Spring Break NYC trip with a couple of my infamous recipe recreations. First up is my version of Momofuku's Spicy Cold Noodles with baby spinach, Chinese sausage, and honey roasted cashews. SO GOOD--especially when it's NOT 15 bucks a bowl (as the dishes are above)! This was so easy, too--a real weeknight quick fix.

Momofuku's Spicy Cold Noodles (Copycat Version)

I started by preparing 8 oz. of soba noodles (boiled for 4-5 minutes in salted water, then cooled thoroughly under cold water and drained).

Then I made a vinaigrette from the following ingredients and poured it over the noodles:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons sriracha
1 tablespoon miso (you could use another tablespoon of teriyaki)
1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

I put the noodles in the fridge while I browned three large links of Chinese sausage (removed from the casing and crumbled in the pan). Then to assemble, I placed a large handful of baby spinach on the plate, half of the dressed noodles, half of the cooked sausage, and a handful of honey roasted cashews to garnish. That's it! Easy, fresh, and yummy!

Though my dessert at Momfuku was SUBLIME (pineapple and brown butter cake soft serve swirled together to make pineapple upside-down cake ice cream!), the other NYC-inspired knockoff that I want to share is hazelnut chocolate bear hug rice pudding, a la Rice to Riches--the amazing rice pudding shop in Soho--with amazingly high prices for a dish consisting mainly of rice, milk and sugar. I am VERY pleased at how my inexpensive rendition turned out.

Rice to Riches' Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug Rice Pudding (Copycat Version)

1 cup arborio rice
1 quart whole milk
1 cup cream
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)

Put everything except the vanilla and Nutella into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to boil, stirring frequently. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until rice is tender and mixture is thick and creamy.

Remove from heat and add vanilla and Nutella. Stir until Nutella is fully melted and mixed in. Serve warm or cold.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Food from Friends

I have some fabulous foodie friends, Jaymie and Audrey, and we like to swap recipes on occasion...or at least food ideas or inspirations. One of their favorite fun dinners that they are often Facebooking about is cheeseburger pizza. I'm not sure if they've ever made it the same way twice, and when I tried it, I didn't make it exactly as they do (they like American cheese on theirs--BLECH!). But man, is it YUMMY! And you can be so creative when you make it--just think about all the things that you like on your hamburger, and incorporate those things as pizza toppings. I think this would be a very fun meal to get kids involved in, too...if'n I had any. ;-) Here's how I went about making my my version:

Bacon Double Cheeseburger Pizza with Mushrooms and Onions

I cheated and started with a thin crust Boboli. I spread about a half cup of ketchup on it (you might also consider Thousand Island dressing for that Big Mac appeal), then about a cup of a pizza blend cheese (mozzarella and cheddar), then a layer of cooked ground turkey and/or beef (about a half pound) that had been seasoned with a little BBQ rub, then another cup of cheese. I put that in the oven at 450 degrees for eight minutes while I got on with frying and crumbling up four pieces of bacon, sauteeing six sliced baby bella mushrooms, and chopping some white onion (1/4 cup or so). When the timer rang, I topped the pizza with the cooked mushrooms and bacon and put it back in for another four minutes. When it was done, I sprinkled it with the (raw) onions, sliced it up, and served it.

Jaymie and Audrey also turned me on to this delicious Peruvian pepper sauce that's kind of a cross between salsa verde and chimichurri called Aji Sauce (Salsa de Aji Amarillo). There are too many recipes to determine which is the definitive version--apparently, folks keep their secret recipes close to their vests--but I loosely followed a template provided by Serious Eats blogger, Andrea Lynn, who attempted to clone the sauce at a well-known Peruvian restaurant in NYC, Pio Pio.

Aji Sauce

2 Cubanelle peppers, seeded and roughly chopped (what I had on hand, but I would normally use four large jalapenos)
2 tablespoons aji amarillo paste (check the Latin foods aisle for this)
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
8 cloves of garlic, peeled (normal people might use 4!)
bunch of cilantro (mostly leaves)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
juice of one large lime (or two small ones)
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese (cojita cheese would be more authentic--again, it's what I had on hand)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Throw everything except the mayo in the food processor and blend it all until it is as smooth as it's going to get. Then add the mayo and pulse a few more times until it's all mixed together. DELISH! You'll want to put it on EVERYTHING: grilled steak, pork chops, fish, hamburgers, nachos, burritos, Mexican omelettes, you name it. This would be welcome anywhere you would normally use a tomato salsa. Throw in a couple of avocados, and you'd have a kickin' guacamole, too!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Happy weekend! Make yourself a lovely omelette to celebrate it...

Sometimes, the best dishes are "use what you have" melanges from the veggie and deli drawers in your fridge. I made a faaaaabulous omelette for brunch today, and I just thought I would share the (admittedly slapdash) methodology.

Melt a bit of butter in a nonstick saute pan over medium-low heat. Toss in a couple of tablespoons of finely-chopped onion, one very small clove of minced garlic, and a couple/few baby bella mushrooms, sliced somewhat thinly. Cook for a few minutes until the mushrooms have become tender, then throw in a big handful of baby spinach that you have sliced into a chiffonade. Wilt that for another minute, then pour in a splash of balsamic vinegar and a generous sprinkling of black pepper. Swiss chard is good in place of the spinach, too. I like the tanginess of the balsamic with the greens. But only use a little bit, or it will overpower your eggs!

Crack three eggs on top of the vegetable saute, sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt, then kind of jostle everything together (so that the yellow and white is not homogenously mixed), and toss on a handful of the shredded cheese of your choice. Turn the pan to lowest setting and cover with a lid. Leave the pan go while you get on with making some toast. But the time your bread or bagel has been toasted and buttered, it will be time to remove the lid from the pan, flip the omelette over on to itself and serve. YUM!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Garlic Lovers, UNITE!

OUCH! Eyes were burning and noses were running when I made Susan Spicer's (of Bayona, New Orleans) Cream of Garlic Soup. It calls for six cups of chopped onions and two cups of garlic cloves! But it was the perfect excuse to try out my new purple stick blender that I bought at Sur la Table over Spring Break in the Big City! I had a boring white one that I liked very much, but I accidentally melted its cord (draping it across a hot burner--oops!). So now that they make a purple one, I thought it was a sign that it was time to replace my old damaged one.

Now I know that TWO CUPS of garlic and all those onions sounds scary, but you first caramelize the onions and garlic until they are golden brown and sweet (like roasted garlic). The soup is DELICIOUS, silky smooth and with a wonderful depth of flavor. This is a must-make for garlic lovers!

Bayona's Cream of Garlic Soup
(8 servings)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups peeled and sliced onions (about 2 pounds)
2 cups peeled but not chopped garlic cloves (save yourself and buy a big jug of peeled cloves at Sam's Club!)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
6-7 cups chicken stock
1 bouquet garni* made with parsley stems, thyme sprigs and bay leaf
half a loaf stale French bread, cut into cubes
1 cup (up to a pint) half-and-half or heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste

Blend the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until they turn a deep golden brown,30 to 40 minutes (up to an hour). Add the thyme, 6 cups chicken stock and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Stir in the bread cubes and let simmer for 10 minutes, until the bread is soft. Remove the soup from heat and cool for 10 minutes. (If you use a stick blender, you can skip the cooling step.)

Remove the bouquet garni and puree the soup in a blender ( in batches, if necessary), until completely smooth. Return the soup to the pot and heat to the desired temperature. Whisk in more chicken stock if the mixture is too thick. Add half-and-half or cream until the soup reaches the texture of a classic cream soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*I didn't have fresh herbs on hand, so I just used dried thyme (one teaspoon), parsley (one tablespoon) and two bay leaves. I fished the bay leaves out before pureeing the soup.

(Susan Spicer, Crescent City Cooking. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2007)