Tag Archives: recipes

Cinco de Mayo Takes the Cake

If you’re wondering what the above photo is all about, it’s the leftovers from a Kahlúa Bundt cake I made yesterday for a company potluck in honor of Cinco de Mayo. (I suppose it was technically Quatro de Mayo, but oh well.) As you can see, I clearly forgot to take a picture of the cake in all its glory before everyone tore into it, but I managed to salvage a small slice and some additional crumbs for Dr. J, who didn’t get to sample it before I brought it into the office. I hate to brag, but it was the bomb, and I’m pretty sure everyone wasn’t just saying it was delicious just so my feelings wouldn’t get hurt. So, as you can see, the picture above may not be the prettiest, but it’s proof that this cake can be easily decimated in no time flat. It’s moist, richly flavored with one of Mexico’s finest spirits, and had the perfect glaze that tied everything together.

It’s really nothing fancy–just boxed yellow cake mix, pudding and booze–but it’s definitely one of my favorite cakes to make, since it’s an easy-breezy party showstopper. Plus, people seem to get excited about the idea of alcohol in cakes. (Ooh, it’s so naughty, yet so socially acceptable!)

Here’s the recipe, which may also be called a Black Russian cake if you’re celebrating a Russian holiday. (Defender of the Fatherland Day, anyone?) Feel free to make it as boozy as you wish.

Boozy Cinco de Mayo Kahlúa Cake

1 18-oz. box yellow cake mix with pudding inside (I like Betty Crocker Super Moist)
1 small box instant chocolate pudding powder
4 eggs
1 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. water
1/4 c. vodka
1/4 c.  Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

Glaze:
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
1/4 c. water
2 tbsp. vodka
2 tbsp.  Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

Directions:

1) Heat oven to 350 °F.

2) Use the paper wrapper from the stick of butter for the glaze to grease a 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle the pan with a little flour to make it easier to pop the cake out of the pan once it’s done.

3) In a mixing bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, oil, water, vodka and  Kahlúa, and beat everything for 10 minutes by hand or five minutes with an electric mixer.

4) Pour the mix into the Bundt pan, and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

5) While the cake is baking, make the glaze, Combine the sugar, butter and water in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove the glaze from heat and cool it slightly before mixing in the vodka and Kahlúa.

5) Once the cake is finished baking, cool it in the pan for 5 minutes, invert on wire rack to cool, then poke holes in it using a chopstick. Pour the glaze slowly over the cake, making sure every bit of it is saturated.

6) Just before serving, sift a bit of confectioner’s sugar over the cake to make it pretty.

This cake would also be perfect for a Big Lebowski party. Just give the glaze a White Russian-inspired twist, substituting the 1/4 c. water with 1/4 c. whole milk.

¡Buen apetito!

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Hip to Be Square

Snap, crackle, pop

On the rare occasion that I do go to a coffee shop for some joe, I’m often tempted to pick up a crispy rice square to go along with it, but two things usually deter me. 1) The fact that shops usually charge as much as $2 per square, which seems way overpriced for something you could make at home for a fraction of that, and 2) the fact that they usually don’t taste very good after sitting in a pastry case for, hell, I don’t know, a half day?

This morning, I was jonesing for some crispy rice squares to go with my morning coffee. I thought about attempting fellow blogger Foodie on the 49th’s insanely delicious-looking bacon, peanut butter and chocolate Rice Krispy treats, but I didn’t have any bacon or chocolate on hand. So, I turned to my trusty copy of Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery, for inspiration, and found a recipe for Brown-Butter Crispy Rice treats. Brown butter? Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Yes, please!

Brown butter, or beurre noisette, is that extraordinary ingredient that lends a certain je ne sais quoi to pastries and sauces. Rich and aromatic, this butter is definitely one to add to your cooking repertoire. I first discovered the wonder that is brown butter in this Epicurious recipe for Spoon Cookies, which are basically shortbread cookies, and was immediately smitten. It’s like magic–one moment, you have an ordinary stick of unsalted butter, and the next, you’ve struck culinary gold.

As the pan heats up over low heat, the butter separates and the milk solids sink to the bottom of the pan and turn a lovely hazelnut color. And the smell! Oh, the smell is to die for. It’s what I would imagine inhaling nutty toffee cocaine would be like, and I think it must put my pituitary gland’s endorphin production into overdrive because I am always in the BEST mood after making a batch of beurre noisette.

Anyway, I digress. On to the good stuff. I’ve adapted this recipe from the Flour recipe book, since I wanted to try a little something extra to go along with it. And yes, I could have just called them “Brown Butter Crispy Rice Squares,” but Frenchifying phrases seems to make everything sound/taste better.

Beurre Noisette Crispy Rice Squares

1 stick unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 16-ounce bag of large marshmallows
9 cups crispy rice cereal

1) Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan and set aside.

2) Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot over low heat.

3) Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod** and mix in with the butter.

4) Keep a close eye on the butter. At first, the butter will foam up, and then the foam will disappear. A thicker layer of foam will come up and blanket the surface just as the butter solids start turning brown. You’ll smell a nutty, toffee-ish fragrance, which should signal that the butter is changing. This process takes about 6-8 minutes, depending on your stovetop burner.

5) Once the butter has browned, turn off the heat and take the pot off the burner. Immediately add the vanilla powder, kosher salt and marshmallows, and stir constantly until the marshmallows melt and you’re left with a smooth mixture flecked evenly with vanilla seeds.

6) Add the crispy rice cereal to the mix, and stir until everything is well blended.

7) Dump the contents of the pot into the prepared baking pan, and press the mixture into the pan.

8) Let cool for about an hour, cut into squares and go to town with a cup of coffee, tea or milk.

**Don’t throw away the vanilla pod! Those things are expensive. Try sticking it in an airtight glass jar and cover it with granulated sugar to make vanilla sugar, which lends a lovely flavor to other baked goods. After all, want not, waste not, right?

Stay hungry, my friends.

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Easy Like Sunday Morning

Rise and shine!

Sunday morning breakfast has become something of a ritual ever since Dr. J and I got together. I usually whip up something easy, like pancakes and bacon or eggs, bacon and hash browns, and he makes the coffee, sets the table and grabs the morning paper. (Yes, we still get a physical newspaper, and no, we’re not 80-year-olds.) I also like to put on some music, perhaps a little Django Reinhardt (okay, fine, maybe we are kind of like 80-year-olds).

Over the years, I’ve tinkered with several pancake recipes, like banana caramel, lemon ricotta and chocolate chip, and sometimes mixed it up with Belgian waffles, challah French toast and Danish ebelskiver.

But I’ve finally settled on a recipe that I know will be my go-to in the kitchen, mainly because it doesn’t require running out and getting extra ingredients–you should have everything on hand already. Besides, grocery shopping in your PJs? Not cute.

Lazy Sunday Pancakes
(adapted from Allrecipes.com)

3/4 c. milk
2 tbsp. white vinegar
1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 c. fresh blueberries or other fresh fruit (optional)
1 tbsp. canola oil for pan
Silicone pastry brush

  1. Combine the milk and vinegar in a small bowl and let it sit and curdle for five minutes.
  2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Whisk egg and butter into soured milk.
  4. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth.
  5. Gently fold in blueberries or other fruit if you like.
  6. Heat a large skillet over low-medium heat, and brush lightly with oil.
  7. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Using a spatula, flip and brown on the other side. Makes enough for two very hungry people or four semi-hungry folks.
A couple of tips: I like to keep the pancakes warm in the oven on a cookie sheet while I go through the whole cooking process. Also, if you have any left over (unlikely), just stash them in the fridge and pop them in the toaster tomorrow morning.

Here’s a little Django to go along with breakfast and ease you into the day. Happy Sunday!

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Book It: The Preservation Kitchen

This book has a can-do attitude. (via Amazon.com)

In yesterday’s budget-minded post, I forgot to mention one skill that would behoove any thrifty cook to learn: preserving and canning. Can’t say why I haven’t gotten around to trying my hand at this age-old kitchen tradition myself–it could be because I have no room to store all necessary canning equipment, or maybe it’s because of my irrational fear of botulism. (Fun fact: The word “botulism” is derived from the Latin botulus, which means sausage, because the problem was first identified with improperly stored sausages in the 1800s.)

Still. Learning how to can and preserve is still at the top of my to-do list for 2012. Hopefully the experience will be food poisoning-free.

In any case, if you’re as interested in these kinds of techniques as much as I am, you might want to check out the upcoming cookbook The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves and Aigre-Doux, by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy, due out April 3. (What’s aigre-doux, you say? It’s a French term used to describe combined sour (aigre) and sweet (doux) tastes, as in, for example, a sauce with a sugar-vinegar base.)

Ok, so full disclosure here: Kate Leahy is the very talented cookbook writer/cook/epicurean genius behind the food blog A Modern Meal Maker, and she also happens to be one of my good friends. We met while we were both doing our master’s degrees at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and have been talking about food ever since!

She not only has an impressive culinary backgroundbut she’s also co-written the famed A:16 Food and Wine cookbook, which came out in 2009. (See my at-home A16 feast here.) And now she’s gone and collaborated with Paul Virant, the acclaimed executive chef at Vie, a Michelin-starred New American restaurant in Western Springs, Ill. that specializes in seasonal cuisine, to create what looks to be a truly beautiful cookbook that’s jam-packed (ha) with recipes for preserves, such as jams, relishes, pickles, brandied fruits and conserves.

The second half of the book apparently pairs the recipes in the previous pages with seasonal menus. Example: brandied cherries in a cherry clafoutis and smoked spring onion relish with chicken fried steak. Yum!

So I may be biased toward this book, since my friend co-wrote it, but it’s worth checking out if you’re really interested in preserving and canning technique since Virant is quite the expert on the subject . If you’re like me and just can’t wait to get your hands on a copy, you can pre-order it at Amazon.com (naturally). This might be the push I need to finally invest in a pressure canning set. Or at least get over my angst over botulism in general.

Congrats, Kate, on putting another fine cookbook on your shelf!

 

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Mushroom Watch 2012: ‘Shroom to Grow

My beloved mushrooms meet their fate.

It seems like only yesterday that my shiitakes were but wee spores. I tended to them every day, carefully misting them three times a day and following every instruction in the handbook–even going so far as e-mailing the mushroom patch company to ask someone questions about the welfare of my little ones.

Then they started growing like gangbusters in girth and height virtually by the hour, reaching 1 inch in diameter, then 2, then 3. After they stayed at nearly 5 inches in diameter for a couple of days, though, I knew they were good and ready to be harvested.

I feel sort of silly even typing this, but I actually felt the slightest tinge of sadness when I cut the stems and chopped them up. I’d invested quite a bit of time and effort in my patch, and even though I only got two mushrooms out of it, they were the very first fungi I’d ever grown, on purpose anyway. A girl never forgets her first shrooms.

At first, I thought about just sauteeing them with a little butter and salt, but then I found this drool-worthy Epicurious recipe for Wild Mushroom Risotto.  Dee-licious.

So what now?  It looks like my patch is dormant at the moment, so no more updates for a while. Hopefully, the next time I get a flush of mushrooms, they’ll grow bigger and badder than the first ones.

Maybe I should get some advice from Ian Neale, a Welsh farmer whose vegetable-growing prowess caught the attention  of a certain hip hop star who also happens to be a fellow gardening enthusiast.

“Let’s smoke some swede, fo’ shizzle.”

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Gong Xi Fa Cai! Let’s Eat!

Let the festivities begin! (via SmashingTube.com)

There are lots of things to love about Chinese New Year, no matter what your cultural heritage is–firecrackers, dragon and lion dances, lively drums, gorgeous red paper lanterns lighting the night sky…and the FOOD. Oh, the food. It’s amazing that there aren’t more obese Asian people, given the way we gorge ourselves on special occasions and our zest for food in general.

Basically, Chinese New Year lasts 15 days, and kicks off with a New Year’s Eve reunion dinner (or, more precisely, feast), featuring some key foods, each of which have a symbolic significance. The feast usually includes whole fish, perhaps a steamed red snapper or rock fish with a soy, cilantro, ginger, sesame oil and green onion sauce, to signify prosperity and abundance; jiaozi dumplings filled with pork and green onions or leeks, which stand for wealth; spring rolls, which resemble gold bars and signify good fortune; oranges and/or tangerines to bring luck; nian gao, or Chinese New Year cake, made with sweetened glutinous rice; and some kind of noodle dish, which signifies longevity.

Trying to eat egg drop soup is SO much harder while wearing a fancy empress hat.

Since I’m only a half Chinese (and not a very good one at that), I didn’t really go all out and make a big meal over the weekend. Growing up, my family never really got into the full swing of things during CNY. Sure, we did the whole red packet exchange thing (we kids really enjoyed that), and there was the occasional ten-course dinner at a Chinese restaurant, but it was nothing big.

That didn’t stop me from cooking up Cantonese seafood chow mein, which happens to be one of my favorite Asian dishes of all time. Featuring a colorful mix of veggies and seafood in a brown gravy, all sitting atop a pile of crispy, golden pan-fried noodles, Cantonese seafood chow mein is, in my humble opinion, the perfect balance of textures and flavors. It’s also kind o f hard to find, especially among Americanized Chinese restaurants. Usually whenever I order it, it turns out to be a mess of greasy, thick noodles in a gross, flavorless sauce, topped with mystery meats and limp veggies.

My humble seafood chow mein

Usually, I’m a slave to cookbooks and recipes–I’m trying to remedy this in 2012–but when it comes to Asian foods, I take a more intuitive approach. Sure, I still use recipes as guidance from time to time, but usually I’m flying by the seat of my pants, paying little to no attention to measurements.

Still, for the purposes of this blog, I tried writing things down in a recipe of my own, so here goes. All of these ingredients can be found at any well-stocked Asian grocery:

Flaming Dragon Cantonese Seafood Chow Mein
serves 4

1/4 lb. medium fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 lb. medium fresh scallops
1/4 lb. frozen squid, defrosted, cleaned and cut into 2-inch pieces (you can find packages in the Asian frozen fish section that have already been cut and cleaned)
2 tbsp. plus one tsp. corn starch
1 tsp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 tsp. fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
5 tbsp. canola oil
3 tbsp. oyster sauce
2 tbsp. cold water
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
One 16 oz. package of precooked Hong Kong-style pan-fried noodles (I like Twin Marquis brand, do NOT use that LaChoy crispy noodle crap)
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly and diagonally
4 oz. canned sliced water chestnuts
4 oz. canned sliced bamboo shoots
8 oz. canned baby corn
4 oz. canned peeled straw mushrooms
2 tbsp. dry white wine
1 c. low-sodium chicken broth
4 oz. fresh snow peas, strings removed
12 baby bok choy or 6 large bok choy, with bottoms trimmed and individual stalks separated

Directions:

1) Pat shrimp, scallop and squid dry with a paper towel, and toss with 1 tsp. cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon salt, white pepper and minced ginger and garlic in medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2) Mix oyster sauce, 2 tbsp. cornstarch, water, sugar and sesame oil.

3) Preheat oven for 10 minutes at 300° F.

4) While oven is preheating, heat 2 tbsp. oil in a wok on high until hot. Reduce heat to medium. Gently lower noodles into the wok to avoid splashing hot oil and  cook until golden, using chopsticks or a fork to separate and flip noodles as they cook. If noodles are not browning and look a little dry, then  add 1 tbsp. vegetable oil. Remove noodles from heat and place in a heatproof platter, and keep warm in the oven.

5) While noodles are warming, heat 2 tbsp. oil in wok again on high until hot, then turn down to medium-high heat. Pour in scallops and shrimp and stir until halfway cooked, then stir in squid. Cook until shrimp are pink, scallops are firm and opaque, and squid are opaque and slightly curled, about 5-7 minutes. Remove wok from heat and pour seafood mixture in a medium heatproof bowl. Set aside.

6) Return wok to stove and heat up remaining 1 tbsp. oil on high heat until hot. Turn down heat to medium, then pour in carrot, water chestnuts, bamboo, baby corn, mushrooms, wine and remaining 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Stir fry for 2 minutes.

7) Stir in chicken broth, and bring mixture to a boil.

8) Cook uncovered for 1 minute, then stir in snow peas and bok choy with the oyster sauce/cornstarch mix. Stir until thickened, then return shrimp, scallops and squid to the vegetable mixture. Season to taste with additional kosher salt and white pepper as needed.

9) Take out the noodles from the oven, then pour contents of entire wok over the noodles. Serve immediately.

This is my first attempt at an actual recipe of my own (thanks to Kate Leahy over at Modern Meal Maker for guidelines on how to write a recipe), so hopefully this works for you.

In the meantime, may you all live long and prosper in the year of the dragon, and that these noodles will give you a long and happy life.

Via Dailynews.co.uk

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Kitchen Adventures: Give Pies a Chance

Two-Apple Pie

This morning, I was thinking about food–as usual–and a question came to mind: What was Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite dish? Apparently, it was pecan pie. Oddly, I’d never thought to ask the question in years past, but other bloggers have, and paid tribute accordingly.

But no one has taken King’s appreciation for the pastry as far as Peace Through Pie, a Texas-based movement that wants to start a pie-sharing tradition on MLK Day to promote, well, peace and understanding. Now that’s a cause I can get behind.

I admit that I didn’t know that Martin Luther King Jr., pie and peace were somehow all connected when I decided to try baking a pie this weekend. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of pie-making, only because whenever I make a crust, it never turns out right–it’s usually mushy, and/or too dense. Whoever came up with the phrase “easy as pie” either lied or didn’t know how to make a proper pie.

Over the holidays, I picked up a copy of Flour: Spectacular Recipes From  Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe by acclaimed pastry chef Joanne Chang, whose bakery has reached legendary status among Bostonians. (Her sticky buns were catapulted into the national spotlight on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Flay ultimately said that Flour’s sticky buns were the best thing he ever ate.)

While flipping through the pages before bed–yes, I read cookbooks in bed before I turn out the light–I saw a recipe for a Two-Apple Pie, and an accompanying photo of a delectable latticed pie, packed to the brim with apple slices. It was irresistible, and it had to be mine.

The recipe called for Granny Smith and Rome apples, thinly sliced and macerated in sugar, flour and cinnamon, as well as a  batch of pâte brisée. I soon discovered that the one thing I’ve been doing wrong in all my years of baking was not making this stuff before. What makes pâte brisée special is the French fraisage technique, which creates layers of flaky, buttery goodness within the dough. To achieve pie crust nirvana,  you have to smear the butter into the dough, like so:

Anyway, I won’t go into great detail about the recipe, as there were many steps involved. The whole process became a whole-day affair, because it required making and refrigerating the pâte brisée,  chilling and blind-baking the crust, macerating the apples, making the lattice, then cooking and cooling the whole pie.

Stick a fork in it--it's done.

But I’m happy to report that Chang didn’t let me down–her Two-Apple Pie recipe was a winner. One bite, and I knew: This was a pie I’m going to share with people for probably the rest of my life. Hands down, the best pie I’ve ever made! (Although, not the prettiest, I must say. Please forgive the slightly toasty crust and apples.)

So there you have it. My inadvertent contribution to the Peace Through Pies movement. Thanks to Martin Luther King Jr. for leading the fight for civil rights–and for inspiring more people to eat and share more pie.

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