Archives for posts with tag: food

So, today is Easter Sunday and kids everywhere are waking up to baskets of chocolate eggs, Reese’s chocolate mini cups, and candy-coated chocolate eggs (could easily eat my weight in those things).  Sense a trend?  Much like Christmas, Easter seems to be overwhelmingly about chocolate.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Chocolate is all well and good – particularly if you’ve given it up for Lent.  But sometimes you just want something a little different.

And that’s this cake.

It’s a really nice, light, moist cake that is perfect for a mid-morning treat or dessert after a heavy dinner.  And the cardamom gives it a fabulous scent and such an interesting flavor that you’ll want to keep this in your repertoire!

I’ll tell you now that it might sound like it’s labor-intensive, but I promise you that it isn’t.  Get everything measured out and ready before you start and it all comes together very quickly.

Espresso, Cardamom and Pistachio Cake

  • 2/3 cup shelled pistachios, divided – half ground finely, half roughly chopped for the topping
  • Seeds from 24 cardamom pods, ground finely then divided in half
  • Just under 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 4 oz butter, room temperature
  • just under 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp instant espresso powder, divided
  • 8 1/2 oz mascarpone
  • 1-2 Tbsp milk

Okay, let’s start by getting everything prepped:  bash your cardamom pods and remove the seeds, grind them finely, then divide in half (you should have about 1/2 tsp each).  Then, grind 1/3 cup of the pistachios, then set aside with 1/2 tsp cardamom and 1 Tbsp instant espresso.  Finish prepping by preheating the oven to 350 and buttering and lining with parchment paper two 8″ round cake pans.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time and scrape down the sides to make sure that the mixture is smooth.  Add the ground pistachio mixture and mix to combine completely before adding the flour, stirring in by hand to make sure you don’t overbeat.

Divide the mixture into the two tins – it’s not going to look like a whole lot, so spread it out across the bottom – it’ll only be about 1/2″ batter in the bottom.  Bake for about 20 minutes until a tester comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare the coffee syrup – in a small bowl, mix 1 Tbsp instant espresso with about 1/4 cup boiling water, 1 Tbsp sugar and the other half-teaspoon of the ground cardamom.  Stir well and let cool.

When the cake is finished baking, poke all over with a toothpick and drizzle in the syrup while still in the pans, then let cool.  (If you have a squeeze bottle, use that for the syrup to make sure that you get a nice, even drizzle.)

Make the frosting by mixing the mascarpone with 1 tsp espresso and 1 Tbsp sugar, thinning slightly with a little milk.  When the cake is cool, spread half the mixture on the bottom layer, then sprinkle half of the roughly chopped pistachios, then top with the other layer, frosting and the remainder of the pistachios.

Espresso cardamom pistachio cake

Oh, how I love bread.  I wish I could say that it was a casual thing – just a fling and it doesn’t really mean anything.  But, no.  My love of bread is a deep, abiding, spiritual thing.  No passing fancy, here.

Which is why I respect a good loaf, roll, or flatbread.  Why I hold in high esteem anyone who can take water, flour and yeast and turn it into something both beautiful to behold and satisfying to chew.  And, why I can’t just foist making bread off onto some machine that will take up valuable counter space and deprive me of actually getting my hands in and feeling the bread develop.

Because, there really is something to the art of kneading bread and feeling it go from being shaggy and sticky to something smooth and elastic.  Then, watching the yeasts in action as the bread goes through its first rise – it’s magical stuff even if you know the science behind every step of the process.

This recipe comes from Paul Hollywood’s cookbook, How to Bake, and is an absolute doddle to make.  Maneesh is somewhere in the hinterland between a flatbread and focaccia and is topped with one of my favorite middle-eastern spice/herb mixtures, za’atar.  Now, if you can’t find za’atar at your local grocery, you can easily order it online or simply make it yourself.  Whatever you choose, make sure you order or make plenty, because this recipe will require about 6-7 tablespoons of it.

As always, because this is a bread recipe, the measurements are in weight not volume – if you haven’t bought yourself a digital scale, this one is very similar to mine and does an excellent job.

Maneesh

  • 500 g bread flour
  • 10 g salt
  • 10 g instant yeast
  • 25 g sugar
  • 320 ml warm water (about 1 1/3 cup water)
  • 6-7 Tbsp za’atar
  • olive oil

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour, salt, yeast and sugar before slowly adding the warm water.  When the dough comes together (it should feel slightly tacky, but not sticky), remove it from the bowl and prepare to knead.  On a clean counter, drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and use your hands to smooth on the counter.  Tip the bread onto the oiled counter and knead for 10 minutes by using the heel of one hand to stretch the bread while using the fingers of your other hand to hold the bread steady.  Gently roll the bread back and repeat, occasionally turning the bread by 90 degrees.  You’ll feel the dough slowly get smoother and more springy.  When you’ve hit the 10-minute mark, test the bread by poking it gently and seeing if the dimple springs back – if it does, you’re ready to let the bread rest and rise.  Lightly oil a bowl and turn the dough in the oil to make sure it’s coated on all sides, then cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit for about an hour, or until doubled in size.  In a small bowl, mix the za’atar with just enough olive oil to form a nice paste and let sit while the bread does its thing.

Preheat the oven to 425F and prepare two baking pans by lining with parchment

Once the dough is done rising, tip it out on a clean (not oiled) counter then do something completely insane – knock out as much air as possible by kneading for 2-3 minutes.  When you’re done, divide the bread into 4 and either form into a round (which I never do) or just flatten it into whatever shape it happens to form (my usual MO).  Divide the za’atar paste among the 4 loaves and use the back of a spoon to spread evenly, slightly pressing into the dough.

Maneesh - uncooked

Let the dough sit for about 20-25 minutes then bake for 12-13 minutes.  Let cool about 10 minutes or so before serving with hummus, baba ganouj, barbecue or even a nice tagine … totally yum!!

Maneesh - cooked

 

 

After last week’s labor-intensive cookies, I thought I’d lighten up a bit with one of the easiest, no-cook recipes around … hummus.

In fact, it always feels a little weird to have what is essentially an “assembly” recipe and call it “cooking.”  But, if you’re looking for a nice, easy dip with veggies or pita chips – or something nice to serve along with grilled meat and salad, you really can’t beat hummus.

I’ve tinkered around with this recipe for about 15 years, now – adding a little more lemon here … a little more cumin there … until I’ve finally found something that I’m very happy with.  It’s got just the right amount of olive oil it in to make it gorgeous and smooth.  Okay, I’ll say it – I’m very proud of how it’s evolved and finally turned out.  And I think you’ll like it, too!

My Favorite Hummus

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp tahini
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Pour the lot of it in a food processor and blend until very smooth.  To serve, sprinkle with a pinch of cumin and drizzle with the best olive oil you’ve got.

Hummus

These cookies are awesome.  They are chewy.  They are chocolatey.  They are a little bit nutty.  And they have a nice tinge of saltiness to complement the chocolate.

What they aren’t are cookies that you can make at 9:00 at night when your kid says “Oh, by the way, I need to take something to the bake sale tomorrow.”

No, these are cookies that strategic planning and timing.  Seriously – I’m talking, there are STEPS that have to be taken.  But, when you taste the end result, you’ll realize that they’re just so darned worth it!  And, yes, this is another recipe that, when I say to use a rimless baking sheet lined with parchment paper, you really should – the cookies are so gooey and soft when you pull them out of the oven that they’d fall completely apart if you had to spatula them onto a baking rack.

The way I make them, the recipe makes three dozen yummy, scrummy cookies.  And, even with the time needed to prep, they’ll be gone before you know it.

Not Your Mama’s Bake Sale Cookies

  • 1 jar of Nutella
  • 1/4 lb hazelnuts
  • 8 oz unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 bars Green and Black dark chocolate (70%), chopped
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Okay.  So.  Here we go.  First things first – you’re going to roast the hazelnuts and brown the butter.  So, heat the oven to 450 and pour the hazelnuts into a wide-enough pan that they’re not too crowded (I used a square 8×8″ cake pan and that was fine), and roast the nuts for about 15 minutes until fragrant.  When they’re done, let them cool for about 5 minutes, then tip them out onto half of a dish towel, folding the other half over the top, and rub them firmly against the counter to get rid of the husks.  It’s a bit time consuming, but worth it.  Once they’ve been de-husked and cooled, put them in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer to get chunks.  You might be tempted to use your food processor – don’t.  You’ll wind up with ground hazelnuts, not roughly chopped.

Next up, brown the butter.  Put all the butter into a saucepan over medium-high heat and melt, then let it bubble away.  It’ll start foamy, then the foam will disappear, then, as the milk solids start to brown, it’ll begin bubbling again.  If you whisk gently, you’ll be able to see as it starts to brown – when you see the solids turn light brown and the butter smells nice and nutty, remove from the heat and pour into a bowl.  Let cool a little bit, then put into the fridge to firm up.  It sounds strange, but you’ll want it to firm, then get soft again to beat with the sugar.  So, my recommendation is that you do the butter and the nuts the night before you want to bake the cookies.  And, when you put the butter in the fridge, throw the jar of Nutella in there, too.

Next day – pull out the butter to come up to room temp and pull out the jar of Nutella.  Get a mellon ball scoop (small – about 1/2 tsp) and scoop out 36 Nutella balls, putting them on a plate, then throw them in the freezer.

When the butter is soft and you’re ready to make the dough, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, then add the egg and yolk, yogurt and vanilla, beating well to combine.  Add the flour, nuts and chocolate chips, mixing thoroughly, but not over-beating.  Wrap in plastic (or just pop it into a large zippy bag) and pop into the fridge for 2 hours to rest.

See???  Now do you understand why I say that these are NOT bake sale cookies???!!!

NOW … preheat the oven to 350 and line rimless baking sheets with parchment.

Once the dough has rested, we’re finally (finally!) ready to make the cookies.  Use a teaspoon to scoop out a ping-pong-ball sized bit of dough, roll it into a ball, then flatten.  Get your frozen Nutella ball and put it in the middle, then form the cookie around it, making sure the Nutella is completely covered, so it won’t seep out during baking.  When you lay them out on the lined sheet, flatten slightly and sprinkle with a little sea salt.  Bake for 12 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.  As mentioned above, don’t try to use a spatula on them when they’re hot, you’ll just moosh them up – pull the entire sheet of paper onto a baking rack to cool, then store in an air-tight container.

Not Your Mamas Bake Sale

Confession time:  Last night, I ate two big bowls of this soup in one sitting.  Partly because it tastes soooo darned silky and yummy, and partly because it reminds me of my grandma.

See, my heritage is Italian – Northern Italian in the Piedmont region, to be specific.  So, while everyone else immediately thinks of tomatoes and mozzarella when they think of Italian food, I think of lighter fare – and, particularly the way my grandma cooked, spinach in everything. (Side note:  her version of ravioli was chicken and spinach served in a chicken broth.  The first time I ever saw ravioli made with beef in a tomato sauce, I was revolted.)

My second confession – I keep this soup very simple – I don’t throw in a lot of potatoes or butternut squash, nor do I add any herbs.  I just wanted the simple flavors of the root vegetables to come through.  You can add layers of flavor by adding some dried thyme when you’re cooking the vegetables, or finish with chopped dill just before serving.  Or you could chop up some waxy potatoes or butternut squash for additional filler, extending the soup even farther.  But, that’s the nice thing about soups, isn’t it?  It’s so easy to adapt and change, depending on what you have in your fridge or pantry.

One other thing – this could easily be turned vegan by substituting vegetable stock – or, if you’d like to make it a little heavier, you could add some chicken or pork, so feel free to tinker with you as needed.

But, if you just want to keep it at it’s basic foundation, you’ll be just as happy – the final result is gorgeous and hearty, filling you and warming you on a cold winter night!

Garlicky Winter Vegetable Soup

  • Good couple of glugs of garlic-infused olive oil (about 4 Tbsp)
  • 3 large leeks, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2″ discs
  • 3 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • About 4-6 oz frozen spinach (don’t worry about thawing and draining)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot over medium heat, add the leeks, carrots and celery, cooking until the leeks are very wilted and the carrots are soft.  Add the garlic and cook a minute, then add the chickpeas and stock.  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes.  Add the spinach, then cook another 5-10 minutes until everything is thoroughly heated.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.

Serve with big honkin’ pieces of garlic toast.

Garlicky winter veg soup

So, last night, I was making dinner for me and the mister when I realized … what’s the most basic, family-friendly, homey dinner you can possibly make?  Spaghetti.  And what is the one dish that HAVEN’T I posted on my bloggy blog?  Spaghetti.  I mean, how lame is that?  Talk about missing the forest for the trees!

Plus, the fun thing about spaghetti sauces is that no two homes are the same.  Much like chilli or curry or any other stew-y kind of dish, everyone has their own take on it.  Heck, I’d lay money that my sister and I each have such divergent ways of making spaghetti, you wouldn’t realize that we’re from the same family.

Then, there is the great carrot atrocity.  Hang on to your seats people, the following scenes contain content which may be disturbing to certain audiences.  Here in the UK, they add carrots to their bolognese sauce.  Carrots!  I ask you!!  I mean, what kind of self-respecting person does that to their spaghetti sauce??!!  Not I.  But, one thing that everyone will agree on is that a traditional sauce starts with pancetta and usually involves a blend of ground beef and pork.  However, since I do try to make things a little healthier so that my husband doesn’t accuse me of trying to kill him with cholesterol, I make mine with ground turkey thighs … thus the “fauxlonese.”

This dish makes 4-5 good sized portions and tastes best if you let it simmer for at least an hour.

Spaghetti Fauxlonese

  • good couple of glugs of olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 large onion, trimmed, peeled, and cut into a small dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into a small dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 1 wine glass of red wine (Chianti or Montepulciano)
  • 2 cans of chopped tomatoes

In a wide, pot over medium heat, pour in the olive oil and add the red pepper flakes.  When the oil is hot and the chili flavor has been swirled into the oil, add the onions and red bell pepper and cook until soft, about five minutes or so.  Add the garlic and cook another minute.  Add the ground turkey and season with salt and pepper as well as oregano, then chop up and mix thoroughly with the onion mixture to thoroughly flavor the meat.  When the meat has cooked through, add the tomato paste and mix into the meat before adding the red wine and cooking for another minute or so until thick.  Add the tomatoes and bring to a rapid simmer before lowering the heat to a light simmer and cooking, partially covered, for an hour.

Serve with cooked spaghetti, linguini or even tagliatelle noodles and big honkin’ pieces of garlic bread.

SpagFaux

I’m feeling a bit housebound.  It’s been a snowy weekend, starting on Friday, then a fresh batch of the white stuff on Sunday, so I’ve been working from home.  And while I do love being able to pack up my laptop and papers and work from the comfort of my sofa, I miss my coworkers.  I miss adult conversation (I love my Wondermutt, but she’s not much of a talker).

But, the nice thing about working from home is that you can make a decent lunch.  I don’t mean putting together a sandwich, I mean, actually cutting up some vegetables and cooking a lunch.  In this particular case, it was soup.  A delicious, warming white bean soup.  And the thing about beans and lentils and legumes in general is that they make you feel full for quite a while.  As much as I love tomato soup (and I so do!), it doesn’t really stay with you, does it?  Not without a good grilled cheese sammich to go with it.

But, this one does – the beans make it good and hearty and filling.  Just what you want for a healthy lunch that won’t make you craving cookies later in the day.

As for the chorizo, I did a bit of a cheat – I bought really thinly sliced chorizo, as thinly sliced as parma ham.  If you can’t find that, just cut up the sausage into a small dice.  The fact is, that it has so much flavor, you don’t need a lot of it – you’re just trying to render out some of the paprika-spiced fat to use as a little extra flavoring and the sausage as a garnish.

chorizo

If you don’t want to use chorizo, then try a little bit of regular bacon.  If you want to keep this a vegetarian dish, then heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil with about a quarter of a teaspoon of sweet or hot paprika to infuse it, then drizzle over the soup when finished.  This recipe serves four.

White Bean Soup with Chorizo

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion (bigger than your fist), trimmed, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium carrots, trimmed peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
  • 4 fat cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 2 cans cannelini beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • 4-5″ sprig of rosemary, chopped finely
  • 5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 slices thinly sliced chorizo or, if you can’t find that, cut it into matchsticks

In a large pot over medium heat, pour a few good glugs of olive oil and add the onion, carrots and celery, cooking until the onions are translucent (about seven to ten minutes).  Add the garlic and rosemary and cook another two to three minutes.  Add the drained beans and stock, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.  While that’s cooking, heat a little olive oil in the pan and cook the chorizo over medium high heat – what you’re trying to do is render the yummy paprika flavor out into the oil and cook it until it’s crispy to make a nice garnish.

When the soup has finished simmering, you’re going to use your trusty hand blender to puree the soup.  The way I like to season is to half-puree, then taste and adjust as needed, then finish pureeing (because, let’s face it, nothing is going to stir in the salt and pepper better than a blender!).

Finish by topping with the cooked chorizo and drizzle with some of the oil from the pan you cooked the chorizo in.

white bean and chorizo soup

 

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