Friday, November 30, 2007

Orange Cauliflower and Fuji Apple Soup with Sage Cream and Aged Cheddar Tuiles


This is the second course I served at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. (I know the photo isn't great; it's hard to tell your hungry family that they need to wait another 5 minutes because you need to take your food to an area with better lighting in order to photograph it. And check out my parents' now-antique china from the '70s!)

 Last year, I made a swirled roasted purple and orange cauliflower soup, and my family loved it. They requested that I make it again this year, but I decided to elevate it this time around by adding more flavors while taking care to not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the roasted cauliflower.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Honey-Glazed Bartlett Pear, Gorgonzola, and Walnut Salad

This is the first course I served for my Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a salad I’ve been making for years, but this year, I made it a little better by using gorgonzola dolce, which is aged for less time than regular gorgonzola cheese, making it milder and softer; it goes especially well with pears.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Tender Potato Bread - Daring Bakers Challenge

Another month, another Daring Bakers challenge! I like these monthly challenges because they “force” me to make something new that I normally would not make while also allowing me to put my own spin on it (within specified limits, of course). This month’s challenge was a tender potato bread. I’m not really a fan of potato bread; its soft, fine texture is great for hamburger buns, but, in my opinion, for nothing else. I prefer European-style loaves that have a crispier crust and more texture inside. I made this bread into 4 medium-sized boules in an effort to mimic my preferred style of bread. They actually ended up coming out great and worked well for pressed sandwiches, but I don’t know if I’ll be making it again any time soon, as it was indeed very tender and soft.
Tender Potato Bread
From Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
(makes 4 medium-sized round loaves)
1 ½ – 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into ½” cubes (about 2 cups – you can use more or less depending on how comfortable you are with sticky dough)
4 cups water
1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
7 ½ – 9 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter, softened
Optional:
16 Kalamata olives, cut into small pieces (about 4 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crushed
1 ounce parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
***************
In a large pot, bring the water and potatoes to a boil. Cover the pot and crack the lid; cook the potatoes until they are very tender, about 8 minutes.
Put a colander over a large bowl and drain the potatoes. Transfer the potatoes to a small bowl. Measure out 3 cups of the potato water into a large bowl. If you do not have enough, add more water to make 3 cups. Mash the potatoes very well and add them to the water. Cool until lukewarm.
Add the yeast to the potato mixture, stir with a large spoon, and let it sit for 5 minutes.
Add 2 cups of flour, stir, and let the mixture sit for another 5 minutes.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon salt, the butter, and 3 more cups of flour. Stir well to incorporate all the flour. The dough will be very sticky at this point.
On a large clean work surface, spread out 2 cups of the remaining flour. Turn the dough out onto the center of the surface and knead the bread until it is smooth and supple, about 10 minutes. Work in all the flour on the surface and add ¼ cup more at a time (up to 8 ½ cups) if the dough is still sticky – I used about 7 ½ cups total. The dough should be very soft when you are done. Do not add too much flour!
Place the dough in a large clean bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and place it in a warm, draft-free spot. (I usually put it in my oven.) Let the dough rise until it is doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
Sprinkle about ¼ to ½ cup flour onto a clean work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough for a few minutes.
At this point, you can shape the dough any which way you please and add any flavors you want. I split the dough into 4 equal portions and made 4 medium-sized round loaves, two each of rosemary-olive and garlic-parmesan. You can make a regular loaf in a loaf pan, focaccia, dinner rolls, a braid, whatever you want. You can also add in any sort of flavoring you’d like – I was contemplating sun-dried tomatoes, cheddar cheese and jalapenos. Here are some guidelines:
------
Regular loaf:
Butter a 9x5 loaf pan. Cut off 1/3 of the dough and reserve it. Flatten the large piece into an oval that is approximately 12x8, then roll it up from the narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and place the dough, seam side down, into the loaf pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 40 minutes. Bake for about 50 minutes.
Medium-sized round loaves:
Divide the dough into 4 equal portions and form them into flattened balls. Put each piece onto a piece of floured parchment paper that is at least 2 inches bigger on all sides than the dough. Cover each ball of dough with plastic wrap and let them rise for about 30 minutes. Bake for about 35 minutes.
Focaccia:
Flatten the dough into a rectangle that is about 1” thick. Transfer the dough to floured parchment that is at least 2” bigger on all sides. Brush the top with olive oil and salt. Press your fingertips into the dough to create dimples. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 20 minutes. Bake for about 10 minutes.
-----
While the dough is rising, put a pizza stone, tile, or baking sheet onto the lowest rack of your oven. (If you’re using a cookie sheet with sides, turn it upside down.) Heat the oven to 450° F.
After the dough has risen, place it (either in its pan or on the parchment paper) on the hot stone/baking sheet. Bake undisturbed for the specified time. Remove the bread from the oven and from its pan/parchment. Return the bread to the hot stone and bake for another 5-7 minutes to crisp the bottom. (This step isn’t necessary for the focaccia.)
Let the baked bread completely cool before slicing.

Coconut Cupcakes with Ginger-Lime Frosting


I’ve been wanting to try my hand at coconut cupcakes for a while and I had some coconut milk left over from the pumpkin curry I made last week, so I decided to go for it. The cupcakes came out incredibly soft and moist, and the ginger and lime in the frosting were the perfectly tart and tangy twist to top them off. They’re a wonderful way to brighten up a cold and dark almost-winter day.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving

For the past few years, I’ve been in charge of Thanksgiving. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, because I’m only cooking for four (my parents, my brother, and myself). I love that I get to put together a menu that features traditional Thanksgiving ingredients but presents them in a more updated – and completely vegetarian – way. This year I made the following:

The recipes for all of these will trickle in over the next week or two while I take a break from the kitchen and feast on all the wonderful food my mom is sending home with me. Who am I kidding, I can’t stay out of the kitchen for more than a day or two, which means that I’ll be doing more baking and less cooking these next few weeks. Any requests?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple-Ginger Frosting


I decided to be a nice co-worker and bring in some cupcakes for the folks in the office. And with Thanksgiving coming up this Thursday, what better than a cupcake rich with the quintessential flavors of fall.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pumpkin and Tofu Red Curry

I can’t believe it’s mid-November and I haven’t made anything with pumpkin yet. I absolutely adore pumpkin and all my friends know it, too – one of them joked that I was going to make every course of my Thanksgiving dinner contain pumpkin…for the record, I’m not. In my defense, I didn’t have much desire to cook last week, and I was away for the weekend, so I haven’t really been in the kitchen very much this month. But you can be sure that there will be lots of pumpkin recipes coming your way the next few weeks and months.
Here’s the first of them – it’s a really quick and easy Thai red curry that tastes just like a pumpkin curry I got at one of my favorite Thai places in NYC. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mango Kulfi Cake

Here it is – my mom’s birthday cake, which is based on my mango kulfi cupcakes but has been spruced up with the addition of saffron to the cake batter and pistachios between the layers and on top of the cake to make it taste even more like real mango kulfi.



Some of these photos are of the original cake, and some are of the corrected version that I made on Monday (the new cake has three rows of piped stars on the border as opposed to the one row of big stars on the original cake). I wish you could taste this – I am not a big dessert person but I absolutely love this cake and have to restrain myself from devouring the leftovers that are in my fridge.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Booze: good for cakes

As I previously mentioned, I was in NY this past weekend. My mom's birthday was on Friday, so I made her a cake that used the flavors of my mango kulfi cupcakes.

I used a recipe for a white cake from Cook's Illustrated, which is my favorite cooking magazine because they test recipes in a very scientific manner. Therefore, I figured that their white cake recipe would be the best one out there.

I followed the recipe exactly as written (or so I thought), but my cake turned out more dense and dry than I expected. Overall, my family loved the cake, but my brother did point out that it was dense. Now, there's nothing wrong with a dense cake, but I didn't want my cake to be dense. I was upset by this, because 1) I am a perfectionist, 2) I consider myself to be an advanced baker (I've been baking for nearly 20 years - wow, I'm old), and 3) I worked long and hard on making the cake look perfect (the cake itself didn't take long to make, but I made a wonderful Alphonso meringue buttercream frosting for the cake and I took a great deal of care to frost the cake perfectly with it).

On the drive back to Baltimore, I contemplated what went wrong with the cake. The answer hit me somewhere along the 50-cent-per-minute drive through Delaware: I didn't add enough alcohol. (BTW, it takes 14 minutes to drive through Delaware from NJ to MD and the toll is $7 - literally highway robbery.)

Alcohol in cakes? Yes, my friends, there is a decent amount of alcohol in a white cake, and I, in a moment of scientific ineptitude, forgot about this.

The Cooks Illustrated recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon of almond extract. I didn't want to add those flavors to my cake (as I was adding cardamom powder and saffron), so I only added 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Here's my error: I didn't add any other liquid to make up the 2 3/4 teaspoons that I omitted. This may seem trivial, but any scientist/baker knows that even a slight change in a recipe will result in an altered cake. And I am 99% sure that this omission destroyed my cake. (1% of me thinks that the temperature of my parents' oven was off, but their oven is awesome, so I'm pretty sure the temperature wasn't the reason for my cake's density.)

Tonight, I decided to make the cake again and to stick to the exact recipe. But how could I do this if I was cutting down on the amount of extracts? Easy - substitute plain vodka for the omitted extracts.

This time around, instead of adding just 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract, I added 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of Absolut vodka. The vodka is 40% alcohol (as compared to vanilla/almond extract's 35%); the extra 1/4 teaspoon of alcohol is negligible because the increased percentage of alcohol of the vodka ultimately results in less water in the batter. (I hope that made sense.)

The result: the cake I wanted. It was light, fluffy, moist, and, quite frankly, the best cake I have ever eaten. It was a major improvement from the dense and slightly dry cake I had made a few days earlier.

The lesson (which I should have known by now from my many years of work in a molecular biology lab): when you remove one ingredient, you must substitute an equal or very similar ingredient. In this case, I had to replace the alcohol that the large volume of extracts added, and vodka was the perfect substitute because it is flavorless and almost the same proof as extracts.

Lesson learned: booze is good for your cakes.

Green Tomato Contest - I'm a Finalist!

Last week, on a whim, I entered my recipe for thakali masiyal (South Indian green tomato stew) into a green tomato recipe contest hosted by Apartment Therapy: The Kitchen. Who knew that my recipe would end up as one of the six finalists! In addition to a surge in pride, the winner of the contest will receive a tomato-themed prize package, the best part of which is an awesome W├╝sthof tomato knife.

You get to decide who the winner is, so head over to Apartment Therapy: The Kitchen, register (it's quick and painless, I promise), and cast your vote (hopefully for me). Voting closes at 5 pm (EST) on Monday November 11th, so please, don't be a procrastinator like me, and head over before the voting closes.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tartness, Diwali, and treats from the UK

It’s been a slow week in my kitchen. I actually did make some chole (aka chana masala) last night, but I’m not posting it here because I wasn’t completely enthralled with it. It was good, but it didn’t taste the same as my regular version, and I know why that is. I normally use this garam masala, but last night, I used this chana masala mix that I had bought a while back but had never used.

What's the difference? Here's the difference:

Garam masala: Cumin, Black pepper, Coriander, Cardamom seeds, Cloves, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Dry Ginger, Bay leaf, Caraway, Mace.

Chana masala: Coriander, Salt, Dry Mango, Pomegranate seeds, Chilli, Cumin, Musk melon, Black Pepper, Black Salt, Fenugreek leaves, Cloves, Mint, Nutmeg, Dry Ginger, Cinnamon, Bay leaf, Cardamom seeds, Caraway, Mace.

Dry mango, pomegranate seeds, and musk melon all add tartness. (By the way, all of these things are dried and ground up and added to the mix; there aren't whole pomegranate seeds in there.) Black salt adds a salty and sulphuric taste. I'm not so concerned about the salt or chili because I add those ingredients to my chole so they would have ended up in the pot anyway.

I always add a bit of tamarind paste (which lends a bit of tartness) to my chole, but clearly I didn't need to do so, what with all the things in the chana masala mix that are tart. Furthermore, I’m not a huge fan of those spices, as they’re not used in South Indian cooking and so I’m not accustomed to them (nor do I really like them, unless they’re in chaat). I'm going to save this mix for making chaat that involves chickpeas. I have learned my lesson and will stick to good ol' garam masala for my chole. (I should have listened to you, mom.)
Anyway, I did manage to fix up the over-tart chole and it was actually really good, but it just wasn’t how I like it to be. Which means that you don’t get to see it.

My brother and I are going to NY this weekend for my mom’s birthday (happy birthday mommy!) and for Diwali, so you better believe that I’m not cooking this weekend, as my mom, who is an amazing cook, is cooking up a Diwali feast for the family. Although my mom is also making some Diwali sweets, I will be baking a birthday cake tomorrow (it’s a spin on my mango kulfi cupcake). I will definitely bring back photos of my mom's awesome food, and the recipe for the cake will go up next week.

In the meantime, here are some interesting confections I picked up in the UK.

I’m not a big fan of chocolate, so most of these things are going to my friends.
OK, I'll admit that I've tried almost all of these while in the UK. The bf and I shared a peppermint Aero bar or two (which I liked, but really couldn't eat more than two pieces of) and the Mars planets (of which I only liked the crunchy, of which there were far too few in the bag). I ripped open a Flake bar the other day, and I was disappointed - it's not all that flaky, but the dark chocolate is pretty good.
I saw these cookies in a convenience store in Edinburgh and I had to get them!
They're not that great - they're just chocolate chip cookies with hazelnuts - but they're good for fixing a cookie craving.
And here is the best purchase: Scotch Whiskey!
We picked these up at the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. We didn't take the tour, but we did pick up one tiny bottle (50 ml) of each type of whiskey there is - Single Malt (of which there are four types - Lowland, Highland, Speyside, and Islands), Blended, Malt, Liqueur, and Cream. These are being saved for a rainy weekend, at which point we will sit down and have a proper whiskey tasting (and no we are not going to get drunk because each bottle is so tiny and we're splitting them over the course of a number of hours).

OK, back to work.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Spinach and Avocado Sandwich


Look, people, I apologize for the dearth of activity on here, but I haven't been feeling inspired this week. I've been a bit out of sorts due to residual jetlag and a barely-there-but-noticeable-enough-so-it's-annoying fever/malaise. That's not usually enough to stop me, but, because I had been out of the country for ten days, my fridge was empty save for condiments (I recently discovered that I have lots of vinegars), onions, potatoes, and jarred olives. I did have things in the pantry with which I could have culled together a meal, but that would have required far more brainpower than I was willing to exert. The combination of these circumstances has resulted in lunches of penne with defrosted vodka sauce (good thing I made lots of it last time) and dinners of microwaved black bean Gardenburgers with melted cheddar cheese (and sans bun – call it Atkins if you want to legitimize it; I just call it pathetic), a baguette with olives and brie, and chickpea, leek, and saffron soup (yet another thing I froze before I left). Go ahead, make fun of me and my weak meals.

Well, I felt slightly inspired this morning and threw together this sandwich for lunch because, quite frankly, I'm pretty damn sick of penne alla vodka. It would be silly for me to write this out as a proper recipe with measurements and all because, come on, it's just a sandwich that I made this morning. But I do think that the combination of ingredients is a good one and, having just eaten said sandwich, I can vouch that it's also a tasty one.

Spinach and Avocado Sandwich
serves me at lunchtime

  • Good bread – I like oatnut or 12-grain
  • A few slices of Fontina cheese
  • Greek yogurt (or mayo…which is what I might have used if I had any in my barren fridge because I have no qualms admitting that I love mayo on sandwiches and with my fries, or frites, if you will)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Toasted pine nuts – just a sprinkling
  • A few leaves of basil – I threw these in because I accidentally shook Basil (my basil plant, clever name, huh?) and he dropped a few leaves in his anger at this agitation that had been inflicted upon him. I showed him who's boss by putting them on my sandwich.
  • Avocado slices – I used an entire half because my avocado was small
  • Sliced cucumber
  • Sliced tomatoes (good luck finding ones that aren't pink and don't cost upwards of $3/lb – I cheaped out and got mediocre romas that are sort of red…sort of.)
  • Fresh baby spinach – a big handful is plenty

***************

Assemble all the ingredients on the bread in a manner that makes architectural sense. (You should probably do so in the order in which they are listed because, last time I checked, recipes list ingredients in the order in which they are used, right? Right.)

Slice the sandwich in half diagonally (you cannot slice it in half any other way because then you wouldn't be following my recipe, now would you) and scarf it down at mealtime, whenever that might be.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Bostini Cream Pie - Daring Bakers Challenge


A few months ago, I ran across a blog that is a member of The Foodie Blogroll: The Daring Bakers. Their premise is simple and fun: each month, one member shares a recipe for a baked good and all the other members make it exactly as written (substitutions are only allowed for dietary reasons and for certain flavorings, and the recipe can be scaled down) and then everyone posts their results on their blog on the same day at the end of the month. It was interesting to see how one recipe produced such different results, and, since I bake so much, I thought I’d join.
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