30 July 2008

Praline Cake

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge was hosted by Chris at Melecotte. Chris was the best host every and so supportive when I emailed her (multiple times) about the recipe so I really want to say thank you to her for helping me get through this one. At first I had a mini panic attack about all the components (jaconde, syrup, buttercream, praline cream, whipped cream, glaze and ganache- my heart rate is rising just typing it out again) but once I realized that most of the components are very similar to those of the Opera Cake I calmed down a bit and the cake actually started to sound good. Plus, it would give me a chance to use the Shrubb orange liqueur that my friend C- recently brought us from Martinique.

The base flavors of the cake are hazelnut and chocolate, with a hit of citrus with some lemon zest and the Shrubb, along with a tart apricot glaze. The directions Chris gave are really detailed (another reason for my worries- if a recipe goes on for more than a page, I have doubts about my abilities to follow it) but my breaking the cake down into it's component parts and taking two days to put it together it wasn't so bad at all (although Zach might disagree since I dirtied nearly every pan/bowl/dish in the kitchen in the process). I did make a few minor substitutions, like using lime zest (3 for a dollar) instead of lemon ($1.25 each) and Nutella in place of the praline cream. Although Chris gave directions for making praline cream, it was one thing I didn't think my blender could handle and since the only item even resembling praline cream in the grocery store was marzipan I decided to use Nutella to flavor the buttercream since it's a least made with hazelnuts.

For the glaze, I added a tablespoon of lime juice to the apricot preserves instead of water since everything I had made up to that point (the cake, buttercream and whipped cream) was so rich, I thought they really needed a strong and slightly sour fruit flavor to balance them out. Once I had put together the cake with the cream fillings and the apricot glaze, I let it chill for a day before topping it with a rich bittersweet chocolate ganache and attempting to decorate it. I say attempting since you all can see the strange hydra-like creature that is inhabiting the top of my cake. In my defense, I will only say that I don't own any piping tips so it was all done with a ziploc bag with one of the corners cut off.

Well, after piping both the cake and I needed a bit of a break, so it spent another day in the fridge before we gave it a try. This is, by far, my favorite Daring Bakers challenge so far. The chocolate and hazelnut are really the dominant flavors in this cake but the citrus and apricot provide a background fruitiness that keep it from being boring. The jaconde stands up really well to the both the sugar syrup and the creams and remains moist without becoming mushy.

Will I make this cake again? I think so, but only after I get in a bit of practice with piping tips!

I haven't posted a recipe here since Chris's explains everything so well but I did halve the recipe so if you would like a copy of the halved recipe with my substitutions send me and email and I can send you a copy.

29 July 2008

Blender Baba

These two little eggplants were part of this week's CSA delivery. While they are rather cute, I didn't really know what to do with them since besides the Eggplant Rolatini I made a few months ago, neither Zach nor I particularly cares for eggplant. Then I saw a recipe for baba ganoush that Jenn posted at The Leftover Queen. The recipe stuck in my head even though I have always professed a dislike for baba ganoush and had never even contemplated making it before.

Since Zach and I are going out of town this weekend I needed to do something with the eggplants and since I have plenty of friends who do like eggplant spread, I decided to give it a try. Of course I forgot to write down Jenn's recipe and don't have internet at home, so I tried to make it from memory and I think it came out pretty well. Did I love it? No- but it was good, especially when I consider that it is chock full of vegetable and low in fat and I think my friends will like it at wine night tonight.

Blender Baba Ganoush
Makes about 2 cups
Inspired by The Leftover Queen

2 tiny eggplants, or the equivalent, cut into thick slices
1 T. tahini paste
1/3 C. lowfat plain yogurt
1/4 C. olive oil, plus additional for brushing
1 clove garlic
juice from 1/2 a lemon or lime (whatever you've got)
salt and pepper to taste

- Heat grill or grill pan to high. Brush eggplant lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill on both sides till soft and well grill marked.

- Add remaining ingredients to blender and pulse a few times. Roughly chop eggplant and add to blender pulsing till the mixture is smooth.

- Serve with pita or crackers.

Potato Pea Curry

This weekend I was thinking about making a curry for dinner since I had some Thai basil from the CSA, along with some potatoes and an eggplant. While I was searching for recipes I came across one on Allrecipes.com (not a place I would usually look) for Potato Curry. Instead of curry powder, it called for a mix of spices I knew I had in the cupboard and it used yogurt for creaminess instead of coconut milk or cream. I made the recipe quite nearly following the directions- I just used 6 smallish potatoes instead of medium, and tossed in the remainder of the bag of frozen peas in the freezer without measuring. Also- since this is me, I cut down on the amount of fat and used 2T of butter in place of the 3T ghee the original recipe called for. The last change I made was to stir in some silken tofu at the end to add some protein to what otherwise would have been a carb-fest dinner.

The curry turned out really well- creamy and tart from the tofu and yogurt with a good mix of spices (though maybe a little bit to much cayenne; I used a full half teaspoon). It's so simple to make and takes only about 10 minutes of active time in the kitchen. It was also a really good way to use potatoes, since I usually end up just boiling or sauteeing them and would make a good side dish to an Indian meal.

Potato Pea Curry
Adapted from Allrecipes.com
Serves 4-5 as a main course

2 T. butter
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. turmeric
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. salt
1/2 t. mustard seed
1/4-1/2 t. ground cayenne pepper (or you can leave it out for a completely mild curry)
6 small potatoes, diced into 1cm cubes
2 C. water
1 C. low-fat plain yogurt
1.5 C frozen green peas
1 C. silken tofu, cut into cubes

- Melt butter over medium heat in a large skillet, add all spices and salt and toast for 2-3 minutes to bring out the flavors. Add the potatoes and stir to coat well with spice mix.

- Add water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. The water will evaporate and reduce down to a thick sauce during cooking.

- Stir in the yogurt, peas and tofu and bring back to a boil. Serve immediately.

28 July 2008

Strawberry Breakfast Cake

Sometimes I see a recipe and it hits a particular cord in my head and I immediately think 'I want that now.' Such was the case a few weeks ago when I saw the Baked Strawberry Pancakes at Lisa's Kitchen. Strawberries might be my all-time favorite fruit. Though I've more recently come to love nectarines, blueberries and mangoes and have been known at times to claim that one of these is actually my favorite, strawberries will always be in a special category for me as they were my favorite fruit when I was really young. Even know I have been known to eat a kilo of berries in a single sitting, but that might not be something I should brag about.

But back to the pancake. Well- it looked so good I had to make it immediately. Lisa copied the recipe out of a cookbook years ago and doesn't remember her original source, but I think she is right in her assessment that it's a Jewish grandma recipe. It's leavened only with whipped egg whites, so it would be good for Passover and it just seems like that kind of recipe to me. I would call this pancake a close cousin of the angel food cake, but better since the strawberries are built in. It's so light and fluffy Zach and I nearly ate the whole thing for breakfast, but that wouldn't have been too bad since it's fairly low on calories and has only 1 tablespoon of butter in the whole thing.

I made a few changes from Lisa's original recipe to use whole wheat flour and brown sugar and to add a bit of peach for more color, so I'll give the recipe to you here. One note- this pancake does not keep well at all- I suggest eating the whole thing (well, not by yourself) right when it comes out of the oven, or sometime that day. This would be great to serve at a brunch since it bakes in the oven and you don't have to babysit it and it's a good light dessert too.

Strawberry Breakfast Cake
Serves 3-4 for breakfast or dessert
Adapeted from Lisa's Kitchen

1 T. butter melted
2 eggs, separated
1/4 C. milk
1/4 C. whole wheat flour
1/4 C. white flour
1 T. brown sugar
1/2 t. vanilla
5-8 strawberries, halved
1/2 peach, sliced

- Preheat oven to 425F. Put butter in a 9 inch pie plate and put it in the oven to melt.

- In a medium bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Mix yolks, milk, flours, sugar and vanilla in a separate bowl.

- Fold egg whites into flour/milk mix, some streaking is ok. Pour into pie-plate and arrange the fruit in whatever pattern you would like.

- Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

24 July 2008


I will freely admit that I am a pizza snob. I grew up in New Jersey where every local pizza place serves up a thin crust New York style pie, with just the right amount of sauce and cheese. When I moved to DC and was introduced to Papa John's and Domino's I was really appalled. How could they call that thing with a mushy, bready crust, a strange sweetish sauce and an overwhelming layer of plastic like cheese on top pizza? For a while a friend and I fantasized about opening our own pizza place but after a few years here we discovered a few places that serve real New York pies.

Whenever I try a new pizza place I get a bit nervous; pizza is so simple but so many things can go wrong. Will the dough be rolled thin enough? Will the oven be hot enough to give it a slightly singed crust? Will the ratio of sauce to cheese be just right? I've been to Vapiano a German based chain restaurant that does quick service modern Italian food. (I can just see your face cringing with skepticism now - it's actually pretty good). Overall their pizza gets high marks. It's European style, meaning 1 pizza per person, though Zach and I will sometimes split a pizza and a salad, and rolled thinly and topped lightly. They don't have a brick oven so the crust isn't quite as crisp as some other places in DC but given that it's only a 10 minute walk from the apartment, it's my bet for nights when I just don't want to cook and I need a pizza fix.

Locations in the DC Metro Area

23 July 2008

Spring Vegetable Risotto

Whenever I get a craving for something really rich and creamy, I make a risotto. I know you might think that's odd, after all how can a big bowl of rice be so satisfying but I think it's the combination of the creamy yet still al dente rice along with the knowledge that I'm not eating something with eight zillion grams of fat that makes it a totally pleasurable eating experience. Since it always takes me at least 45 minutes in the kitchen to make a risotto (mine never ever cook in 20 minutes- I think I must be buying mutant super hard rice or something) I always tend to make enough for 6 or 8 portions but there really is only so much risotto I can eat in a week, even with Zach's help.

A few weeks ago I made a spring vegetable risotto from a Marcella Hazan recipe. It looked so good, packed with fresh zucchini, carrots and tomato. This time, I decided to try freezing a few portions of the risotto for later consumption. At the time I was mostly worried about the veggies- would the zucchini get mushy or would the tomatoes disintegrate? It turns out I needn't have worried about the veggies as they stood up perfectly fine to the freezing but the rice didn't fare so well. Though perfectly cooked when I packed it away, 3 weeks in the freezer turned it to mush and the consistency was rather like baby food. I'm not sure if I will try freezing risotto again, but if I do, I'll definitely undercook it first. Next time I think I'll try to make arancini, the fried balls of risotto filled with cheese, with the leftovers instead.

I haven't posted the recipe here but if you are interested in it (and it was really good when first made) just send me an email and I'll send it to you.

22 July 2008

Aloha Report Round 2

After the week in the Big Island we flew to O'ahu to spend a few days in Honolulu. Zach and I had the chance to visit last year and pretty much everything we wanted to do on our return trip had to do with food and revisiting our favorite spots. On the first night we walked down Kuhio St. (the skyscrapers were really a shock after the laid back small town vibe of even the biggest towns on the Big Island) to Keo's. Zach and I had the best Thai food ever there (even now that Zach's been to Thailand he still says that) and we had talked it up to everyone else so I was a bit nervous that it would disappoint. Luckily for us not that much had changed. The restaurant was still filled with a somewhat eclectic mix of European and Thai artwork and enormous urns overflowing with tropical flowers my evil jungle prince (that does sound rather funny- I do mean my dish of curried tofu and veggies not a rogue Thai warrior) had the perfect balance of spice and heat with richness provided by coconut milk. For dessert we couldn't resist the mango and sticky rice, as the note told us the mangoes came from Keo's own farm. It was so good it was gone before I realized I hadn't even taken a photo.

The next morning we woke up early and trekked over to Leonard's for malasadas. Zach and I had been to this family run bakery before for their homemade Portuguese doughnuts, always freshly fried and rolled in sugar and sometimes filled with custard. Personally, I prefer the unfilled kind as the warm, slightly chewy doughnut really doesn't need any embellishments. For lunch Zach and I went to Rainbow's, an old fashioned drive-in, for plate lunch. By now we had gotten smart to the portion sizes and shared one plate (which had mahi-mahi, barbecue beef and fried chicken along with the requisite 2 scoops of rice and 1 of mac salad) and then walked to Waiola's for a shave ice.

For our very last meal we all went to Ono Hawaiian Food (ono meaning delicious in Hawaiian language). The staff here are all Hawiian and will take the time to explain what each dish is and how you should eat it (especially helpful with poi). Everyone got the plates that came with a seemingly endless array of little dishes. First off was lomi salmon, a mixture of chopped tomatoes and cooked salmon that even those who didn't like tomatoes (me included) thought was good, then the pipikaula, homemade beef jerky. This may have been the best thing that I ate in Hawai'i. It had the perfect mix of pepper and spices that balanced the intense beefy flavor. Then I had kalua pig, a kind of roasted and shredded pork with a thin sauce. The flavorings took a back seat at the kalua pig really just tasted like the most tender, juicy pork every. For dessert we had a little square of coconut custard pudding, the perfect end to the meal. Then, sadly, it was time for Zach and I to grab our bags and head to the airport for the trip home, but at least we traveled with full stomachs.

20 July 2008

Aloha Report #1,

It seems hard to believe that just a few days ago I was hiking up Diamond Head trail thinking about what to eat for lunch now that I’m back in the lovely summer heat of D.C. and the office air conditioner is broken. But that’s the way it is with vacation, no matter how wonderful it may be, you have to return to real life in the end.

We left for Hawai’i on the morning of July 4th, pretty early in the morning. The food choices during out fourteen hour trip weren’t the greatest (I could write an entire post on the lack of anything remotely healthy in the Phoenix airport so I think it’s better I not say anything at all) so I was really glad that I had packed some chocolate and zucchini muffin cakes (post to come) to help us get through the trip. After seemingly endless hours squished into economy class we touched down on runway at Kona International Airport at Keahole in the middle of a craggy, black lava field and we stepped out into a blast of heat convecting off the blacktop that made me wonder why we left DC. My sentiments quickly changed as less than an hour later we were in the water though and the memories of being scrunched into an airplane seat were fading fast.
After a unremarkable dinner and breakfast the next morning we got in the car (a crème colored PT Cruiser, yes really) and headed for the other side of the island, stopping at Waipio Valley to take a look from the top of a cliff down on a black sand beach and making another stop to pick up some home-made fudge (dark chocolate macadamia for me and chocolate-coconut for Zach) before getting in to Hilo. For lunch we headed to Ocean Sushi downtown, which gave off a grade school cafeteria vibe with its linoleum and white walls but had some very fresh sushi (it was the first time Zach’s dad had ever had it--). That night we headed to Kalapana to see lava flowing into the ocean. At first I was sort of annoyed with Zach for making us drive down after an entire day spent in the car as all we could see was a huge plume of steam coming off the ocean but after the sun set we could see the orange reflection of the lava flow in the plume and occasional explosions that sent fiery lava into the air. For a late dinner that night we ate at Ken’s- a local diner with a really great keiki (kids’ menu).

Food portions on the Big Island really reflected the island’s name and were enormous so I was really happy to see a menu of smaller things at Ken’s that wasn’t just mac and cheese or a hot dog. I got grilled mahi-mahi with a tossed salad and brown rice and managed to clear my plate for the first time on the trip. After a few days hiking at Volcanoes National Park we headed back to the Kona side where I had a bit of a food rebellion.

When I am on vacation I get to eat whatever I want. Not that I’m restrictive about food at home, but on vacation I can eat ice cream every day and really think I should. The only thing that was a bit disappointing on the first half of the trip was that the lunch portions were so big I never had room for an afternoon ice cream. The first day back in Kona was no different as I got a bowl of saimin that was sized for a sumo wrestler. Though the name ‘Big Island Grill’ probably should have tipped me off, I was still surprised to get a massive bowl of steaming pork based broth chock full of soft noodles, pork filled dumplings, cooked egg, Chinese style pork and scallions. As if that wasn’t enough, our server also set down a little bowl with two batter dipped fried shrimp. I kid you not- I ate as much as I could for lunch and still had soup left over after filling a quart-sized take out container. It was delicious, but I could barely eat dinner that night, which led to my epiphany the next day.

After a morning snorkel at Honaunau Bay, where we spent a few hours in the peace of coral covered mountains (they were only 30-50 feet tall but seemed mountainous to me) watching the fish go about their daily lives and sharing the water with Honu, endangered Hawaiian sea turtles, we went to the Coffee Shack for lunch. Recommended in our guidebook, the Coffee Shack is an unassuming building perched on the side of the mountain hugging the edge of the highway. We stepped into a tiny room with a counter and dessert case and the pies immediately caught my attention. French silk, key lime, macadamia nut, not to mention the tall carrot cake with its cream cheese frosting or the dark chocolate layer cake next to it. As we picked a table outside on the veranda and momentarily forgot out hunger looking out over the view of the ocean worthy of a Michelin 3-Star restaurant the epiphany came- I was going to eat pie for lunch.

Now some of you might be laughing at this point at the silly nature of this revelation but for me it really was a revolutionary idea- skip the nutritious stuff and go straight for dessert but I am honestly not sure I’d ever done it before in my life. My plan did backfire a bit though, as the smell of Zach’s pizza reminded me of how hungry I actually was from the morning swimming so we made a trade- I got a quarter of Zach’s pizza and he got half my pie (he really was the winner on that one- though at the time he was quite huffy about it). The pizza wasn’t really what I would consider a pizza- more like thick bread with a sauce and cheese topping, though it was delicious. The pie filling, Kona lime not Key Lime, had the perfect balance of tart and sweet and the real whip cream topping balanced it out with a creamy finish. The crust was actually not the greatest but in the interest of full disclosure I will say that Zach’s mom makes an amazing flaky-crispy piecrust so I’m a bit spoiled.

We liked the Coffee Shack so much we drove down again for our last meal on the Big Island before heading to Honolulu.

To be continued….

03 July 2008

Hawaii Here I Come

I finally turned in my last paper and so glad to be done with the summer semester (well I do have this pesky independent study to do but I won't think about that now) and Zach and I are getting ready to leave for Hawaii! I am so excited and really looking forward to not having to do anything besides enjoy myself and eat Hawaiian food for a few days. We're gone for two weeks so there won't be much activity on the blog but you might want to check out these websites in the meantime...

Food Porn Daily
despite the name this is totally work appropriate and the pictures will really make you drool.

Recipe Muncher get inspired by what other people are cooking, find a new favorite blog, or subscribe your own...

For a taste of the Caribbean, check out Tastes Like Home

And if you want to plan your own trip to Hawaii, the blog can help you out.

See you all when we get back.