Tag Archive: dessert


Red WineWow, that’s a mouthful! It’s been far too long since my last post and for that I apologize, but I do have something extra special to share this time. I’m not really a “dessert person” (let me rephrase that: I love dessert – just not making it myself) and furthermore baking has never been my strong suite, although I’ll admit my recent successes in making biscuits, popovers, & cupcakes has certainly helped my confidence a little 😛

This recipe is really a conglomerate – let’s call it a “combination” of two different flavors that I wanted to pair together: (1) cracked peppercorns (my all-time favorite ingredient ever); and (2) red wine. Now for baking, I’m talking cheap red wine, but dry – I suggest a Malbec, Grenache, or Cabernet Sauvignon.

I’ve realized that there are oodles of excellent cooks out there who make their own versions of chocolate cake, and quite regularly, but not me I’m afraid. In fact, I have never made a double-decker cake before (it just sounds cool, doesn’t it?!) and at 27 years old, this was an astonishing revelation. Needless to say, I found several reasons to make the particular recipe for this special cake because it seemed so wonderfully full of chocolate…and honestly, how can you mess up chocolate? My dear friend made the frosting in advance so it turned out to be a masterpiece of processes that got off to a helluva great start. I revamped the Mixed Peppercornsfrosting recipe here to reflect a lower-maintenance version that uses light cream cheese. I loved how the cake turned out and next time I will add more red wine 😉

My secret ingredient? Admittedly, the cracked pepper. I know I’ve said it before. No matter what these weirdly spicy little seed pods are crushed over, they always compliment the dish wonderfully and in this case, carried it. I’ve always thought cracked pepper was a taste with some pizazz and depth to it and when paired with frosting, pepper does not disappoint. Does it sound strange? It’s not, really. My friend used a blend of 5 different peppercorns, which also lent a lot of color to the otherwise white frosting 🙂 I encourage you to give this recipe a try, you might be surprised…

Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Cracked Peppercorn Frosting

IngredientsChocolate Cake

(for the cake)

6 Tbs. (85 grams) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (145 grams) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) white sugar
1 large egg & 1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup (177 ml) red wine, dry
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup (133 grams) flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup (41 grams) cocoa powderfrosting
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

(for the frosting)

8 Tbs. (115 grams) butter, softened
8 Tbs. (115 grams) low-fat cream cheese, softened
2 cups (475 grams) powdered sugar
3 Tbs. (15 grams) cream
cracked pepper, to taste
2 round cake pans

1. Preheat the oven to 165 degrees Celsius (325° Fahrenheit). Use butter or nonstick spray to grease the bottom (especially) and sides of two cake pans. 2. To make the cake, mix the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth & creamy, 3 minutes. 3. One at a time, mix in the egg & egg yolk, red wine, and vanilla and continue mixing another 3 minutes until a loose batter forms. 4. Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together over the bowl of wet ingredients. Use the mixer until it is 3/4 combined, and then fold the rest together with a spatula. 5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and put on the same rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until a fork inserted into the center comes out clean. 6. Let the cake cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then flip out and continue cooling on a wire rack for 45 minutes more, loosely covered. 7.  To make the frosting, bring the cream cheese and butter to room temperature first to soften. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar one cup at a time until the frosting is smooth and creamy. Next beat in the 3 tablespoons of cream. At the end, add cracked pepper as desired, folding in with a spatula. Chill the frosting until ready to use. 8. Once the cake has cooled completely, place one piece on a large round plate acakend spread with the prepared frosting. Place the second piece on top and use the remainder of the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake until frosted  🙂 You can store the cake at room temperature or in the fridge covered for up to 1 week.

Serves 8 – 10

I wish I had more reasons (do I need a reason?!) to make cake, especially when it calls for chocolate AND red wine. -I’m just happy it wasn’t a disaster 😉

Now that the weather has gotten a chill to it, I think I’ll have to bake some other not-so-sugary things, like onion rolls and (yes, cracked pepper) biscuits. Oh, the choices…

My question: What was the best cake you ever remember eating? 

9.30.2014

The Best of the Season

Now that we’re in the full swing of Summer, there’s plenty of tasty things in season – apples, apricots, avocados, basil, bell peppers, berries, melon, carrots, cherries, chilies, cilantro, eggplant, fennel, figs, grapes, garlic, green beans, green onions, lettuce, limes – veggies that are relatively inexpensive and arriving at the local markets in abundance. The last two weeks I’ve had my best friend here from the U.S. I cooked up a storm, really couldn’t help myself and we probably ate 90% of what’s on that in-season list. Granted we drank a lot of Sangria too, so I think it’s all a balance 🙂

In this post I’ve sketched out a complete day’s menu. I tried to make it a colorful, tasty spread with a good mix of both rich and fresh, spicy and sweet flavors. The menu is divided into the day’s meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. If I had to categorize it, I’d call the breakfast Danish, the lunch Hawaiian, and the dinner just plain European…I’d be lying if I said the dessert wasn’t Italian 😀

Probably one of this menu’s more bombastic contributions, the breakfast pâté I found in last month’s Bon Appétit. I just happened to have frozen pâté in my freezer, made in the last month of my pregnancy. A container of frozen pâté is one of the best things I’ve ‘lost’ and found again in my freezer. The steak, carrot, and chicken salad recipes I read in Cooking Light a couple years ago (and pineapple dressing for salad – genius!) The dessert is from Cucina La Italiana, still one of my favorite cooking magazines 😀 (nope..no endorsement yet, but a girl can dream).

On a random side note, I have switched from using olive oil to sunflower oil in all of my recipes that involve cooking at high temperatures. I recently read in an email sent from a very helpful friend of mine that when you cook certain oils (most oils, actually) to a certain high temperature, they burn and consequently go rancid. Rancid oils are carcinogenic, which are bad no matter what form they come in. So – as delicious as olive oil is – I guess it’s best to be served with dishes that aren’t cooked. Perhaps I should have known this but hey, I thought olive oil was delicious in any form I used it.

The star ingredient in this menu is citrus, I used mostly oranges but lemons and limes too. I’ve made the case for this fruit time and time again and I never seem to tire of it. I have a tupperware full of citrus slices sitting in the fridge for my water, juice, wine, etc. and I throw orange peels into stir-fries, zest copious amounts of lemons for batches of strawberry lemonade, and am making lime simple syrup for what I think might be the perfect mohito. This family of fruits can sit in the fruit bowl on the counter long after all other fruits there have molded and bruised, all the while giving off verbena aromas in the kitchen. I put unripe fruit in a bag with oranges or other citrus for a day to make them soft and ready to eat. Since I get a lot of my citrus from Spain, I’ve now gotten into the habit of scrubbing the outer rinds with soap and warm water before I zest or peel for cooking. At first what I thought was a pregnancy craving, turns out to be a lifelong addiction to Vitamin C, perhaps? Or maybe I’m just wanting some extra energy 😉 Either way, there’s something wonderfully refreshing about these sweet and sour fruits. If I had to pick a favorite – and it would be hard – I would have to say lemons. When life gives you lemons, you can make just about a million things to eat..

Breakfast

Liver Pâté Crostini with Savory Berry Salad

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups chilled liver pâté (can be chicken, duck, or beef)

1 baguette, sliced

(for the salad)

1 container of fresh blackberries

1 container of fresh blueberries

1 Tbs. olive oil

2 Tbs. fresh chives, minced

2 Tbs. fresh Parsley, minced

1 lemon, juiced

salt & cracked pepper

(1) To make the salad, combine all ingredients – blackberries through lemon juice – in a sealable container. Season with salt & pepper and chill until ready to serve. Turn the oven on to a low broil. (2) In a large metal or glass oven pan, lay out the baguette slices and season both sides lightly with olive oil and pepper. (3) Put pan into the oven about 10 cm from the top and broil, turning once, until both sides are browned, 3-4 minutes total. (4) Serve each of the toasted bread slices with a layer of chilled pâté and a spoonful of the berry salad on individual plates, or set it all in the center of the table and let everyone make their own.

Serves 4

Lunch

Blackened Chicken Spinach Salad with Spicy Pineapple Dressing

Ingredients

(for the chicken)

1 lb. (or 1/2 kg) chicken breasts

1 Tbs. ground coriander

1 tsp. chili flakes

1 Tbs. garam masala

1/2 Tbs. curry powder

1 /2 Tbs. ground black pepper

1 Tbs. cajun seasoning

1 Tbs. paprika

sunflower oil

(for the salad)

1 bag of baby spinach, washed & stemmed

1 package of baby bean sprouts, washed

1 red bell pepper, seeded & thinly sliced

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded & thinly sliced

2 red onions, peeled & thinly sliced

3 carrots, peeled & cut into matchsticks

1/2 of a ripe pineapple, peeled & cubed

(for the vinaigrette)

1/4 cup beer

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup cubed pineapple

2 Thai chilies, coarsely chopped

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed & chopped

1/2 bunch of fresh chives, chopped

2 oranges, juiced

3 Tbs. honey

3 Tbs. yogurt

1 Tbs. rice vinegar

3 garlic cloves, chopped

(1) First, make the vinaigrette: combine all ingredients (beer through garlic) in a blender and puree until smooth. Season to taste with honey and cracked pepper, cover, and chill in the fridge. (2) Second, for the salad, make sure all veggies are washed and the greens are dry. In a large bowl, toss all veggies for the salad together, spinach through pineapple pieces. Cover with a damp paper towel and refrigerate until ready to eat. (3) Third, make the chicken: combine all spices for the chicken- coriander through paprika – in a small bowl. Wash and trim chicken breasts, dry, and then rub with 1 Tbs. sunflower oil. Rub the spice mix on both sides of chicken. (4) Heat 2 Tbs. of sunflower oil over medium-high heat in a skillet. When hot, add the chicken and cook, turning once until both sides are browned and the meat is cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and cover with foil; let rest 5 minutes. (5) When ready to serve, lightly toss salad with the chilled vinaigrette. Slice blackened chicken lengthwise and top each salad bowl with 4-5 pieces. To make the salad as a weekly snack, keep vinaigrette on the side and separate salad into sealable containers, covering with damp paper towels; close and seal the containers and refrigerate until needed, adding the vinaigrette just before eating. Salad goes well with garlic bread or toasted pita triangles 🙂

Serves 4

Dinner

Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Pomegranate-Pinot Noir Sauce

Ingredients

4 beef tenderloin steaks

1 1/2 cups Pinot Noir (or Cabernet-Merlot blend)

4 shallots, peeled & minced

2 oranges, juiced

2 pomegranates, seeded

1 cup of beef broth

2 Tbs. butter

sunflower oil

sea salt & cracked pepper

(1) Season both sides of steak with salt and pepper. Let meat stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking. (2) Heat 2 Tbs. of oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the steaks and cook 3 minutes per side, until  seared on the outside and medium-rare when cut into. Remove steaks from the skillet and cover with foil. (3) Pour 1 Tbs. of oil into the skillet, add shallots and cook about 3 minutes until slightly golden. Add all of the red wine, beef broth, and orange juice next, bringing the sauce to a boil. (4) Stirring occasionally, cook until the liquid has been reduced by half. Lower heat and stir in the butter; season to taste with salt & pepper. (5) Serve the steaks with a generous spoonful of red wine sauce and 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds per plate, cracking black pepper across the top.

Serves 4

Steamed Carrots with Garlic-Ginger Butter

Ingredients

1 lb. (or 1/2 kg) carrots, peeled & quartered

4 cloves of garlic

5 Tbs. fresh grated ginger

3 Tbs. butter

5 limes, zested & juiced

sunflower oil

Sea salt & cracked pepper

(1) Mince all of the garlic and mix with the fresh ginger and lime zest; set aside. Fill the bottom of a large pot with 3 cm of salted water; cover and bring to a boil over high heat. (2) Put the carrots in a colander and then into the pot; cover and steam veggies until tender and easily pierced with a fork, 10-15 minutes. (3) In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbs. sunflower oil and add the garlic-ginger mixture, cooking 1 minute or until fragrant. (4) Lower the heat to medium and add carrots and lime juice, mixing well. Cover the skillet and cook, stirring often, until carrots have absorbed liquid, about 4-5 minutes. (5) Stir in the butter until melted and serve immediately with cracked pepper.
Serves 4

and Dessert..

Honey-Citrus Gelatin with Cream & Cracked Pepper

Ingredients

1 packet unflavored gelatin

3 oranges

1 lemon

4 Tbs. honey

2 Tbs. brown sugar

1/2 cup cream

cracked pepper

(1) Zest and juice all 3 oranges. In a medium saucepan, add orange juice, zest, honey, and brown sugar; bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer until thickened and reduced by half. (2) Juice the lemon and add to saucepan, add the gelatin powder and cook for 1 minute more. (3) Remove from heat and cover, letting stand a minimum of 30 minutes. Once cool, put in the fridge (keeps 3 weeks chilled). (4) When ready to serve, put spoonfuls of the warm (or chilled) gelatin into small bowls and pour cream over the top, garnishing with 1/2 tsp. cracked pepper.

Serves 4

So, my Summer menu has turned out to be both long and filling. Det er både lang og godt fyldende 🙂

My question: What is the best sauce to serve with a steak?

Red wine sauce is still one of my reigning favorites…

8.1.12

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice

Hooray! Spring is here and so is the new baby 🙂 He’s so beautiful it’s hard to imagine I’ll be able to cook anything when I’m not fondly staring at him 😉 Anyways, I decided that in order to tie my latest kitchen creations in with what’s left of Springtime and the whole ‘sweet’ theme I’ve been experiencing lately, I would post a couple of recipes reflective of this celebratory mood.

Below I’ve listed 2 jam recipes – both using the same base (strawberries) but with 2 very different takes on this delicious Spring fruit 😀 Since making jam is so incredible easy (not to mention pretty entertaining), I’m sharing 2 recipes I made up myself, concocted in the last weeks leading up to the big arrival.

The star ingredient in both recipes is (surprise!) strawberries. Admittedly, these berries are some of the best for jam – colorful and sweet – they just scream “eat me!” every time I see them but hey, maybe that’s just me 🙂 The first of these recipes is a spicy jam version which, although it may sound a little strange initially, is absolutely delicious; I spread it on crusty bread, mix it in with plain yogurt for breakfast, and serve it alongside slices of cheese as a snack. Either way, the ‘spice’ element shouldn’t scare anyone away because a tamer version can be made by simply omitting the seeds in the peppers. The second recipe included in this post is a sweet on slightly tart combination with strawberry and rhubarb, an earthier recipe with a syrupy sweet finish. For all those who consider a little jam now and then among the finer things in life, enjoy! 😀

Strawberry-Chile Jam with Cognac

Ingredients

1 bag frozen strawberries, thawed

3 Thai chilies (or other hot red chile)

3 cups sugar

2 Tbs. pectin (or citronsyre) powder

1/2 cup cognac

1/2 lemon

(1) Chop or blend the strawberries so they’re in coarse pieces; dice the chilies but do not seed them (if you’d like your jam less spicy, then go ahead and seed them). (2) Mix the strawberries, sugar, chilies, and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan. Cook until bubbling over medium-high heat until water burns off, about 8-10 minutes. (3) Add the cognac and pectin, stirring often, another 5-8 minutes until jam has thickened and coats the side of a spoon. (4) Juice the lemon into the jam and cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. (5) Spoon the jam into glass containers and let come to room temperature before refrigerating. Serve with anything from bread, meat, cheese, yogurt, scones, or ice cream 🙂 Keeps chilled in the fridge over 3 weeks.

Serves 6

White Wine Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam

Ingredients

1 bag frozen strawberries, thawed

3 rhubarb stalks, coarsely chopped

3 cups sugar

2 Tbs. pectin powder

1 cup white wine

(1) Heat the strawberries, sugar, rhubarb, and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan over medium-high heat until boiling; cook until water burns off and sugar dissolves, about 8-10 minutes. (2) Transfer to a blender and pulse until smooth, return to saucepan and reheat, adding the white wine and pectin. (3) Cook another 8-10 minutes until jam has thickened and coats the side of a spoon. (4) Remove the jam from heat and let cool. Spoon into glass containers and let come to room temperature before refrigerating. Serve with crackers, cheese, on toast, or with chilled cream for dessert 🙂 Keeps in the fridge over 3 weeks.

Serves 6

So this has been my experience with jam-making of late and seriously – god bless berries…jam would simply not be the same without them 🙂

My question:

what fruit & wine combination works great for jam?

The next venture in preserves I’ll be undertaking will be blueberry-grappa jelly, from a recipe I found in Cucina La Italiana, which sounds ridiculously delici0us and sweet, but we’ll have to see..

5.19.12

Menu for a Spring Celebration

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of throwing a baby shower at our little apartment. This post comprises the menu. Everyone brought plenty of soda and juice, and one of my friends even made some delicious Spanish food, which disappeared mighty quick. It was a beautiful day, with wonderful company, good food (if I might say so myself), and turned out to be one lively celebration. I thought it only best to share some of the delectable deliciousness that accompanied everything 🙂

The menu is organized in basically the order in which it was served, with the first course or starter being homemade jam (I mean, marmalade), then the main course, ending with a very simple dessert. I first read this jam recipe in Bon Appetit but after glancing at the picture (bleh..) I decided to make my own version and ended up winging it with the rest of the recipe. My other friend, a very talented individual in ways of baking, was nice enough to make fresh rolls with raisins for the shower and her boyfriend brought along a tasty loaf of bread so the jam ended up being a good way to start off everything. I served both the bread and the jam alongside a soft cheese (something crème), but butter would work just as well..

The antipasti dish I also found in Bon Appetit, accompanied by much better picture this time so I added a couple of things I thought it needed to make the main course dish. Namely, I served the salad with a strip of peppered ham, more slices of mozzarella, baby tomatoes (because it’s a baby shower:-) and plenty of garlic in the raw form, because the store-bought pesto just wasn’t cutting it. Olives I marinated in a spicy-salty brine from the week before I added to the plates as a finishing touch, which turned out to be some of the more flavorful aspects of the meal. It is by request(s) that I include the olive recipe below because frankly, it’s easy to make and the olives turn out so much tastier than they’d normally be just sitting in your fridge. I really hope someone makes their own version of these marinated olives and let me know how it tastes!

The dessert proved to be the simplest dish to prepare out of this menu, which is always good at the end of any event and it included the essentials — fruit, nuts, cheese (yes, again) and honey. I got the idea from last April’s Cooking Network magazine but the nuts were a welcome inspiration on my part. I think the key thing here is to get quality fresh fruit, because pears can be pretty disappointing if unripe. Blue cheese may be a reluctant choice to some but say just yes to the moldy dairy because everything is delicious when sprinkled with honey 😀

The star ingredient in this menu is: cheese! I included cheese in every course (because I can, and so I will) and all different kinds of it too, mild and fluffy with the main course (god bless the mozzarella), light and creamy with the starter, and mottled with flavor for the dessert. Remember, cheese is pure protein (okay, and a little fat) but I maintain the believe it more flavor than calories, so no restraint should be necessary 😉 The Danes love cheese just as much as I do so I didn’t really need an excuse. By the end of the day, we were all so full I feel I may have overdone it just a little. Oh well!

Fig-Thyme Jam

Ingredients

1/2 kilo ( or just over 1 lb.) dried figs

1/2 cup of sugar

1 bunch of fresh Thyme

1 lemon

3 Tbs. honey

(1) Boil a kettle of water. In a bowl, place the dried figs and cover with the boiling hot water. Let soften 10 minutes, then drain, stem, and coarsely chop all of the figs. (2) In a medium saucepan, put the figs and sugar, adding enough water to just cover all contents in the pot. Make sure the thyme is washed thoroughly and secured in a bunch with string then put into the saucepan as everything heats up. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. (3) Meanwhile, zest and juice the lemon and set aside. When the jam mixture is bubbling, lower the heat to medium. (4) Stirring often, cook until all of the liquid evaporates and jam starts to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, 20-30 minutes. (5) Mix in the lemon zest and juice and cook everything a minute more. Remove from heat, discard the thyme bunch, and let the jam cool. (6) Stir in the honey and remove any visible thyme stems (but not the little leaves:-) Chill jam in the fridge 1 hour before serving (keeps chilled up to 3 weeks). Serve with bread or toast and butter or a mild cheese.

Serves 6

Citrus, Coriander, and Chili Marinated Olives

Ingredients

2 cups mixed olives (like green, black, or kalamata)

1 lemon, seeded & sliced

1/2 cup of olive oil

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 fresh Thai chiles, halved (or 4 dried)

1 Tbs. crushed Coriander seeds

1 tsp. crushed fennel seeds

1 tsp. crushed black peppercorns

1 Tbs. sherry vinegar

3 bay leaves

sea salt

(1) In a medium tight-sealing container, mix the olives and lemon pieces. (2) In a saucepan, bring the olive oil, sliced garlic, chilies, and all of the spices slowly up to a simmer over low heat. Let bubble until fragrant and the garlic begins to brown, 20-30 minutes. (3) Remove the pan from heat and add vinegar. Cover and let the brine steep for 1 hour. (4) When cool, pour the oil mixture over the olives and mix well, letting everything marinate at room temperature for up to 2 hours (can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 weeks). Serve the olives at room temperature.

Serves 6

Pesto Antipasti with blanched Beans, Baby Tomatoes, and fresh Mozzarella

Ingredients

1/4 kilo fresh green beans (0r 1/2 lb)

1/4 kilo fresh flat beans (or wax beans)

1 bunch baby tomatoes, stemmed & halved

1 can white beans, drained

1 bunch green onions, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 cup store-bought (or homemade) basil pesto

300 g fresh buffalo mozzarella (or just over 10 oz), thickly sliced

1 cup mixed olives (from the marinated olive recipe above)

1 packet thinly sliced meat, for serving (like ham or prosciutto)

2 Tbs. olive oil

salt & cracked pepper

(1) Top and tail all of the fresh beans, cutting into 2-cm pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Once at a rolling boil, throw in all of the fresh beans and blanch for about 1 minute until bright green. Drain the beans and immediately rinse with ice cold water. (2) In a large mixing bowl, combine the white beans, baby tomatoes, green onions, minced garlic, and all of freshly blanched beans. Add pesto, 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, and lemon juice, mixing well. Season the salad to taste with salt & pepper (or more minced garlic:-) (3) When ready to serve, arrange 3 slices of the fresh mozzarella, 1 piece of meat, and a generous cup of the salad on each small plate. Add 3 or 4 marinated olives on the side.

Serves 6

Pear Slices with Blue Cheese, Walnuts, & Honey

Ingredients

3 ripe yellow pears, cored & sliced

1 wedge of soft blue cheese

1/2 cup of walnuts, shelled

3-5 Tbs. honey

On small dessert plates, arrange 3-4 pear slices alongside 3 walnuts. Spread a thin (but not too thin:P) layer of blue cheese over the pear slices and drizzle the plates with honey. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Well, that was my baby shower menu. I’m so happy everyone came, had a good time, and left with full bellies. I enjoyed everything about that day and have so many baby things now, I dare say the little guy is taking over my closet 😉 Hopefully one day he’ll like cheese as much as I do!

My question: What is the best cheese to serve as or with dessert? I’d love some new ideas..

3.3.2012

And Now for Something Sweet…

Apples, apples everywhere! One dropped on my head the other day as I was walking down the sidewalk, as if the trees themselves were trying to get my attention 😉 They litter the streets and yards and pile up in the gutters; people in our neighborhood put basketfuls out on the sidewalk packed full of apples with a sign saying ‘gratis’.  It seems like every tree over here is loaded down with delicious, brightly colored fruit, from Dutch to Danish apples and endless other varieties I don’t know the names for yet. In my opinion, they all taste good, but I’ve been told some are better than others…and some still are best left for baking so I thought with all this fruitful abundance I’d at least give it a try.

This apple cake recipe I got from a friend, a fellow international student at my University who let me try a piece she made before relaying the recipe; needless to say that after one bite of the sugary fruitfulness, I was sold on the idea of making the cake. And, after going through the motions of baking it once, I’m already resolved to make it again. It’s rare that I enjoy baking as much as I do regular cooking; I’m not sure what it is exactly–all the waiting, whisking, explicit measurements, and intricate chemical reactions are a bit intimidating but this recipe was neither difficult nor complicated, so I highly recommend it anyone craving something sweet }:-]

Can you guess the star ingredient? That’s right, apples. And what would this cake be without them? Just butter, sugar, and flour–still pleasantly sugary–but certainly not possessing the same fruity goodness. I put the ingredients for this recipe in grams & deciliters this time since that’s what I’m working with; if anyone desires a ‘European experience’ as I like to call it, you should try making this recipe doing the conversions yourself, it’s useful math and not difficult, I promise ]:-) At the end of all this baking, I brought the finished product over to a friend’s who was having us for dinner. I arrived with the whole damn cake, thinking I was probably bringing too much but ended up leaving with none at all. I mean seriously, it’s gotta be good if everyone has 2 & 1/2 pieces of it after a large supper. I bet if success had a smell, it’d be sugary and sweet…

Sugary Cinnamon Apple Cake

Ingredients

100 g butter

2 deciliters sugar

4 deciliters flour

2 1/2 deciliters milk

1 egg, beaten

3 tsp. baking powder

4 apples (of your choice)

cinnamon

(1) Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius (or 350 degrees Fahrenheit). Melt all the butter in a small saucepan over very low heat. (2) In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg & sugar together with a whisk until light and fluffy. (3) Stir in the milk and melted butter. Next, add the flour in stages (a deciliter/cup at a time), whisking well to ensure that no lumps form. (4) Grease a round baking pan with a little bit of butter and pour in all the batter. (5) Peel and core the apples, slicing thinly before arranging the pieces in the batter in the pattern of your choice (the cake will rise as it bakes so be sure to add as much apple slices as you can); when done, sprinkle the top with a (generous) layer of cinnamon and sugar. (6) Bake on the top rack of the oven for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out cleanly when stuck into the center of the cake. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting into triangular pieces. Serve the pieces of apple cake with a dollop of clotted cream (if you’re feeling adventurous) and a pot of tea :->

Serves 4

I will admit, I’m a bit relieved to have made a cake successfully and I believe my baking qualms are over, for the time being at least 😉 And while the cake didn’t last (at all), I have confidence that my next food concoction will last just a little bit longer…I mean it’s got to, right?

My question: What is one of the best fruits to use in a cake?

(Other than apples, of course) I’m thinking pears…maybe peaches…

9.9.11

Aphrodisiac Cooking

A Meal for Two

Perhaps three? The first version of this menu I created for a party I helped host for just a few of our close friends last summer. We rented the top floor in a Victorian Bed & Breakfast and insisted upon bringing and making all our own food. Since the ladies were in charge, we decided to create an erotically inclined menu that would be enough to satisfy the hunger of our guests, if not reflect the imaginative tastes of their hosts.

The night turned out so epic I was urged to distribute the menu for similar purposes…Thoughts?

The First Course—Appetizers

Summer Rolls w/Baby Shrimp, Fresh Ginger, Macadamia Nuts, & Avocado

I suggest to make these bad boys ahead of time, that way they simply can be covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. I served the rolls with 2 sauces I made from scratch (don’t worry it’s easy) one being Sweet & Sour and the other Garlic Soy Sauce. I list recipes for both below but these rolls can go with any basic Asian sauce. This recipe is kind of a fusion, if you will—part Vietnamese and part Japanese with a few contemporary ingredients that include, among other tasty elements, vermicelli noodles, sautéed shrimp, diced Avocado, Macadamia nuts, and purple basil.

Owing to this colorful host of fresh ingredients, I named them ‘Summer’ instead of the traditional ‘Spring’ rolls. Light and wrapped in rice paper, these rolls will be transparent, a little crunchy, and very fragrant.

Ingredients:

1 cup cellophane (vermicelli) noodles                                   6 oz raw baby shrimp, defrosted

10 (8-inch) round rice paper  1 Tbs. sugar                             2 Tbs. rice wine vinegar

2 Tbs. lime juice                      1 Ts. Sriracha sauce                2 Tbs. soy sauce

bunch of Thai (purple) Basil   Macadamia nuts, chopped     1 Ts. roasted sesame oil

dash of chili flakes                  1 Ts. fish sauce                        1 Tbs. honey

1 Avocado                               1 medium Carrot                    1 yellow bell pepper

5-6 slices sushi ginger (gari)   ½ bunch green onions             3 garlic cloves

(1)   Wash, cut, and prep all fresh ingredients; this includes peeling and shredding the carrot, dicing the bell pepper and green onions, coarsely chopping the sushi ginger and Thai Basil, mincing the garlic (well), and finally thinly dicing the Avocado (if you have an egg slicer, use that)

(2)   Rinse and cook the baby shrimp in a covered pot with olive oil or butter and wine (or beer) according to package instructions, 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat and let the shrimp cool. Halve all of the shrimp, cover, and refrigerate.

(3)   Cook the cellophane noodles in the same pot, replacing the water, according to package instructions, 4-5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water; cut up all of the cooked noodles into smaller pieces with a pair of scissors.

(4)   Combine noodles, avocado, purple basil, yellow bell pepper, ginger, green onions (set aside a dash for the sweet & sour sauce), macadamia nuts, carrot, and cooked shrimp in a bowl; mix until well blended (add a dash of vinegar or wine if in need of lubrication…)

(5)   Add hot water to a large, shallow pan with a depth of 1 inch. Place 1 rice paper sheet in the pan and let stand 30 seconds or just until soft. Place the sheet flat on a wet wooden cutting board and arrange 1/3 cup of the mixture over half of the sheet, leaving a ½ inch border on all sides. Carefully, fold the sides of the sheet over the filling and—starting with the filled side—roll the paper up jelly-roll style. Gently press the seam to seal. Repeat this process until all of the noodle mixture is used (there may be extra rolls, depending…)

(6)   Place all the rolls, seam down, on a cool plate. Cover plate tightly with cling wrap, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

(7)   To prepare the Sweet & Sour Dipping sauce, combine: rice vinegar, Sriracha sauce, honey, sesame oil, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, soy sauce, and chili flakes in bowl and stir with whisk until thoroughly blended. Serve in a small bowl beside the Summer Rolls.

(8)   To prepare the Garlic Soy Sauce, combine: soy sauce, roasted sesame oil, and minced garlic, stirring until blended. Sauces can be made days ahead and refrigerated until use.

Raw Oysters on the ½ Shell w/Mango Red Onion Vinaigrette, Horseradish, & Fresh Cilantro

When I first made this recipe, I had never tried oysters in any form and was certainly intimidated that I had to clean and shuck the poor bastards right before eating them. But I can say now, from experience, that there is nothing like this and it is definitely worth the effort. After all, Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love) emerged from the sea on an oyster shell and promptly gave birth to Eros, from which we get the very the word aphrodisiac. This dish is complimented by the unusual shape and incredible taste of these creatures’ slippery, salty parts. Since the flesh is served raw it is very important the oysters are bought that day of or the night before and kept cold (and alive) until shucking.

The oysters themselves will be served on the shell, filled with a sweet vinaigrette (made from mangoes, honey, and chili powder), and garnished with a pinch of horseradish, fresh cilantro, & lime juice. The oyster should be consumed in one bite and taste fresh, round, rich, with a bit of spice and salt, much like the sea…

Ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil                ¼ cup fresh lime juice                         2 Tbs. honey

Salt & Pepper                          15 fresh oysters (pick variety)                        2 Tbs. ancho chili powder

3 Ts. prepared horseradish     2 ripe mangoes                                   2 Ts. mustard

1 red onion                              1 Ts. Rice vinegar                               1 clove of garlic

Bunch of fresh Cilantro           sea salt                                                cracked pepper

(1)   Clean all oysters: rinse and scrub the shells and keep in a dish covered with a cold damp cloth while preparation is underway. Use a large platter with room to spare and fill the bottom with crushed ice, place shells on top, facing up, and refrigerate until ready.

(2)   Wash, chop, and prep all the fresh ingredients, including: finely mincing the garlic, peeling and coarsely chopping the mango & red onion, and dicing the bunch of fresh Cilantro.

(3)   Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat; add red onion and garlic and cook 4 minutes. Add the mangoes and 2 Tbs. of chopped cilantro and cook until the mixture is soft, 8 to 10 minutes.

(4)   Put the mango mixture into a blender. Add the lime juice, honey, chili powder, mustard, rice vinegar, a pinch of sea salt, and ¼ cup olive oil; process until completely smooth.

(5)   When ready to serve, shuck the oysters with an oyster knife over the sink, discard one piece of the shell. Rinse the remaining shell & replace on platter over ice; fill the empty shell with 1-2 Tbs. of the mango vinaigrette before placing the raw shucked oyster on top. Garnish each shell with a pinch of horseradish, minced Cilantro, cracked pepper, and a squirt of lime juice.  Serve immediately…

The Second Course—Entree

Sun dried Tomato & Chickpea Ravioli w/Prosciutto & Basil Pine Nut Pesto

I do believe that this ravioli is the best of both worlds. For one thing, it is filled with a type of ricotta cheese called Mascarpone—smooth, creamy, sweet and—yes, Italian. Inside the ravioli is a filling comprised of crushed chickpeas, grated lemon rind, and sun dried tomatoes. And if this dish couldn’t get wonderful enough, it is served with a basil pine nut pesto (which can made days ahead of time) and includes both sweet and salty tastes. Parkinson, a 17th century author, claimed that fresh Basil could be used “to procure a cheerful and merry heart”…which, as far as we can tell in certain concentrations—it still does. There are plenty of flavors in this recipe and plenty of textures, among them garlic, nutmeg, and of course, Basil. Again, I urge everyone to make the pasta ahead of time (and give yourself some time) and just cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

The ravioli will served with small cuts of rolled Prosciutto, a salty, thinly-sliced aged meat (heaven, really) that will compliment the flavors of the pesto. Sprinkled with cracked pepper & grated Parmesan cheese, the dish will evoke all the rich flavors we were warned about in Italian cooking…

Ingredients:

Flour, for dusting                     1 package wonton wrappers      2 cans of chickpeas

1 bunch fresh basil                  4 Tbs. mascarpone cheese     lemon rind

Sea salt                                    cracked pepper                       1 Ts. ground nutmeg

4 garlic cloves                         3 Tbs. sundried tomatoes       6 quarts water

rolled Prosciutto (6 slices)      1 sm. block parmesan cheese            bunch fresh spinach

extra virgin olive oil                1 package pine nuts, roasted  white wine

(1)   To make Pesto: combine ¼ cup olive oil, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 Tbs. white wine, pine nuts, 3. Tbs. grated parmesan, and all of the fresh Basil and Spinach. Blend until the mixture is very smooth; season with cracked pepper and olive oil until pesto is of desired consistency and refrigerate until ready.

(2)   Next make the ravioli filling: combine the chickpeas, mascarpone cheese, minced sundried tomatoes, lemon rind, a pinch of nutmeg, salt, & pepper, and remaining minced garlic in blender. Process the mixture until it is coarsely blended.

(3)   Place wonton sheets on a lightly floured surface and cut the wontons in half to create equal square pieces with which to make the ravioli. Place ≈1 Tbs. of the mixture on one side of wrapper and press the second piece over the top, sealing the edges with a fork.

(4)   Refrigerate the ravioli until ready to cook. When ready, bring a salted pot of water to boil. Cook the ravioli 8 at a time (to prevent this from getting out of control…) about 2-3 minutes each or until they become transparent, removing them from the pot with a slotted spoon to avoid breakage.

(5)   When ready to serve, layer the cooked ravioli in small bowls with the Basil pesto. Cut Prosciutto pieces in half and roll up, placing the pieces around the pasta in the bowl, and garnishing everything with grated parmesan and cracked pepper. Serve immediately.

And the Third Course—Dessert…

Pan-Grilled Figs stuffed with Goat Cheese wrapped in Pancetta

& drizzled with Honey Thyme Syrup

Since dessert should always include sweet flavors, this recipe utilizes a few rich ingredients. Fresh Figs can only be found during their season (which is summer) and so if the fresh fruit cannot be acquired, then dried figs (as long as they are whole) serve as a sufficient substitute. Served warm, the goat cheese will be melting and the pancetta crispy by the time it comes off the pan. The honey thyme sauce is both sweet and aromatic, and when drizzled over the figs at the end makes for pretty presentation (but trust me, you won’t have to convince anybody).

The combined taste of the goat cheese, pancetta, and Thyme help emphasize the fruit’s bolder side as the heat serves to activate its natural sugars). The combination will be rich with flavors, warm, crispy, and did I mention sweet?

Ingredients:

4 oz goat cheese         12 fresh mission figs                           12 thin slices of pancetta

4 Tbs. honey                1 bunch fresh thyme                           3 Tbs. plain breadcrumbs

Red wine

(1)   In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and the softened crumbled goat cheese; season the mixture with salt & cracked pepper.

(2)   Cut the figs nearly in half lengthwise, keeping them attached at the broad end. Hollow the center slightly and stuff each fig with 1 Tbs. of the goat cheese mixture, squeezing gently to close. Wrap a slice of pancetta around each fig, but to too tightly, overlapping the ends. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.

(3)   Mix the honey, a splash of red wine, and all of the minced fresh Thyme in a small bowl and stir with a fork until blended. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.

(4)   When ready to cook, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a skillet on medium-high and cook the figs until the goat cheese has melted inside, turning them every 2 minutes to brown the pancetta on all sides. The process should take no longer then 8-9 minutes.

(5)   To serve, place 3-4 figs on a plate and drizzle with the honey Thyme syrup. Make sure to serve with some utensils or everyone will be leaving sticky…

Wellthat was my massive experiment with aphrodisiac cooking. I do believe all cooks (or just people who love food) should give this theme a try; it sounds silly, but consumption is always aided by the knowledge of the natural stimulating ingredients nature provides for us to cook with. I wish I could get some input on how recipes like this turned for other people, or if anyone felt inspired by these imaginative ravings. I’m definitely hungry again…

And what would be the greatest Aphrodisiac recipe ever? I wonder…

12/17/20