Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Alan of Ma'ona Returns to Foodblogging

"Food is my mistress, and I love letting people in on the details of our affair." Heh, heh.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Key Lime Protocol

Coming soon: Key Lime Pie made with real key limes. Found them at my local Trader Joe's, the first time I'd ever seen a key lime in the flesh, so to speak!

Below is a picture of a key lime (left) next to a regular lime. Apparently, the best way to juice the smaller key limes is with a garlic press or a potato ricer.

Flooding A Stone's Throw from Our House

The East Coast is getting hit hard with torrential downpours. Daisy, one of the Charming Canine Companions, remains unamused by the weather conditions.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Good Egg

Remember a number of years ago, when the food police was screaming that eggs were bad for you? I ignored them then, and I continue to do so now. Now, there is evidence that says are actually really good for you:
If you don't like eggs think twice. Eggs could protect against heart disease, cancer and eye problems, says a new study disapproving the assumption that eggs were bad for cholesterol levels.

Bruce Griffin of the University of Surrey analysed 30 egg studies and found that people who consumed one or more eggs a day were at no more risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease than non-egg eaters, reported the online edition of Daily Mail.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Blogger-Posted Recipes to Try

I love reading other food blogs and seeing what appeals to all the cooks out there in the blogosphere. Here are a few recipes on my "to-try" list that I hope to get to in the near future. So many recipes, so little time!

1. A luscious-looking Rahmapfelkuchen over at the Candied Quince. Be still my heart!

2. Sweet-potato and haupia pie, (you need purple Okinawan sweet potatoes), at Ma'ona.

3. The Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

4. Clafoutis à la Fraise at Chocolate and Zucchini. Looks simple yet tasty.

Oh, there are some savory dishes, too, which I'll post later. I'm just in a baking mood!

Cookies Spreading in the Oven?

Julie D. posted a mouth-watering recipe for Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars. In her comments section, someone asked if they could use unbleached instead of bleached flour. An interesting question. Rose Levy Berenbaum discusses the impact each type of flour may have on cookies, and has some suggestions if your cookies spread too much in the oven:

[U]se a lower protein flour such as bleached all-purpose flour. [U]nbleached has higher protein which ties up the liquid keeping it from turing to steam and puffing up the cookie. [A]lso, after shaping the cookies, refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes or freeze them for 10 minutes if you have freezer space. [T]hat way they can set in the hot oven before they start to spread. [I]f this doesn't help enough, try increasing the oven heat by 25 degrees.

Berenbaum's website is a recent discovery on my part, and it's loaded with useful baking tips.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Experiment

Master Chow enjoyed a strawberry-rhubarb pie that I made a couple years ago, using a Nick Malgieri recipe. One of the ingredients was Cointreau, and while I liked the faint orange taste, the filling was very runny and not as concentrated in strawberry and rhubarb flavor as I would have liked.

I have since discovered that all strawberry-rhubarb pies are runny the first day, and do much better after an overnight stint in the refrigerator. You could add tons of thickeners to avoid this problem, but that affects the taste of the filling.

A couple weeks ago, on a day entirely too hot to work with pastry, I decided to make a pie with the strawberries in my fridge and some fresh rhubarb that I had picked up at our local farmer's market. I used a pate sucre crust (sweet crust) that refused to behave, and I decided to experiment with the filling.

Well, the taste was amazing: Sweet, with a concentrated jam-like flavor, but with many distinct chunks of fruit. And it froze well, too. So, here is what I did, but please keep in mind that measurements and baking times are approximate, and will vary from oven, batch of fruit, and location.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Pie crust - I used only a single crust for this pie.
8-10 cups (total) of fresh rhubarb and strawberries. Slice the rhubarb into 1/2-inch chunks, and slice the strawberries.
1 1/2 cups white sugar
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon orange oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For Pie Filling:
Combine rhubarb and strawberries in a big bowl. Combine sugar and flour and mix in with fruit mixture. Let sit for at least two hours, while you make pie dough, or putter about doing other things.
Pour the fruit into a sieve or collander, and catch the juices in a bowl. Reserve the fruit in a large bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl, make a slurry by mixing 2 tablespoons of juice with the 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Place the fruit juices in a pot on LOW heat. Add the scraped vanilla bean pod and seeds. Add the cornstarch slurry, and cook over low heat, mixing often, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and add the 1/4 teaspoon orange oil. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then remove the vanilla bean pod.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Pour mixture over reserved fruit. Mix thoroughly, then pour into your crust (which should be in your pie plate, please!). Dot top with 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
Bake for 10 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional hour or so. Pie is done when golden brown and juices bubbling from pie appear thickened and clear.
Pie will be best the next day. I also recommend placing the pie on a Silpat or parchment-lined jelly roll pan to catch all the juices that will overflow.

"Chocolate," by Jan Hedh

Photo: Barnes and Noble

Last night, Master Chow and I dined with friends at a local mall. We wandered into the nearby Barnes and Noble and, predictably, I found myself in the "bargain book" cookbook section.

Among all the summer grilling books, I discovered a wonderful tome: Chocolate, by Jan Hedh. It is filled with beautiful color photographs of virtually every finished dish (a big plus), as well as technique photos. This is not a book for novice bakers, unless they aspire to greater culinary feats. Many of the recipes are quite complicated. Some are simple, yet time-consuming, taking up to five days in one case.

If, however, you are hard-core, or love beautiful cookbooks, or desire a valuable resource on hand as your skills develop, this may be the book for you. Where else will you find recipes to make your own marzipan and marron glace? Seriously. All that for only $9.98!

Some of the book's contents:

Chocolate candies
Chocolate cookies
Petit pains au chocolat, brioches, and other goodies - brioches, chocolate jam (!), chocolate mint buns
Chocolate cakes
Exotic tarts and cakes
Ice cream bombs and ice cream cakes
Mousses, brulees, and bavaroises
Hot chocolate desserts
Drinking chocolate
Chocolate menu (savory chocolate dishes)
What to drink with chocolate

The dishes are very European, with heavy use of ganache, Valrohna chocolate, marzipan, hazelnuts, fruits, and liqueurs. They range from the simple, such as a Chocolate Pain de Genes (an almond, rum, and chocolate cake that uses potato flour), to a Christmas "pine cone" cake decorated with meringue mushrooms, to an Italian tarragon cake that is filled with chocolate mousse, a hazelnut brulee, and then all wrapped up in luscious white chocolate.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Penzey's - A Cook's Resource

Are you looking for fresh, exotic, or bulk spices? Penzey's is one of my favorite resources. Its flagship store is located in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and when I visit, I end up spending at least an hour and entirely too much money!

Penzey's also has some excellent custom spice blends. The Cake Spice is very good, not only in baked goods, but sprinkled on top prior to baking, or on foods like French toast.

Here is a description of the Brady Street Sprinkle, which I like to use on popcorn:
Rich Romano cheese with Italian herbs and a touch of green peppercorn. Shake on garlic bread, salads and popcorn. Use 1 TB. per Cup sour cream or yogurt for vegetable/ chip dip, baked potatoes and salad dressing. Hand-mixed from: Romano cheese [made from sheep's and cow's milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes, disodium phosphate], salt, garlic, green peppercorn, sweet basil and minced parsley.
And I have used the Sandwich Sprinkle on grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast sandwiches. Master Chow was pleased. Enjoy!

So, You Want to Publish Your Own Cookbook?

Heidi, at 101 Cookbooks, has an exciting post that tells you how to do it.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Fried Whaleburgers

Mmm, good. Well, some people think so:
The sandwich, which features fried whale meat nestled in a bun with salad greens and lashings of mayonnaise and ketchup-based sauce, is the creation of a small whale restaurant in the town of Wada, about 100 km (62 miles) southeast of Tokyo.

"Young people think whale and bread really go together well, so the burgers are quite popular," said restaurant owner Akiji Ichihara.

A young Japanese woman bites into a whale burger at a restaurant in the port city of Hakodate on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido, June 23, 2005. To woo young customers more fond of burgers than traditional whale cuisine, a Japanese restaurant has come up with a new taste sensation: the fried whaleburger. REUTERS/Courtesy of Lucky Pierrot/Handout

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Amazon Has Groceries!

Wonder of wonders - you can now order some grocery items through Amazon. What will they think of next? I might take advantage of this if I lived in a remote area without farmer's markets, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe's. In case I wasn't clear, I love farmer's markets, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's. Love 'em!

The Charming Canine Companions

They are so cute!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Summer Culinary Reading List

Julie D. has posted her summer culinary reading list. Here are some of mine.

Tide Is Turning on Soy

Long touted as a miracle food, the tide is turning on soy:

Perhaps no food could withstand the hype heaped on soy. But with more rigorous examination, the bean's starry promise seems to be crumbling.

In January, the American Heart Association published an advisory pulling back on its 2000 stance on soy, which had recommended "including soy protein foods in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol."

January's statement said that a review of 22 studies showed that soy protein with isoflavones did not, after all, seem to improve cholesterol.

This April, there was more bad news. Many women consume soy or soy supplements in the hope of preventing breast cancer, but a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute concluded that though soy may very slightly reduce the risk of breast cancer, it's not enough to recommend it.

For breast-cancer survivors, taking soy supplements (as opposed to soy-based food) could actually be ill-advised, says study co-author Robert Clarke, a professor at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Unlike soy foods, supplements contain high levels of estrogen-like isoflavones, such as one called genistein. And estrogens coax breast-tumor cells to divide, says co-author Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, a professor of oncology at Georgetown.

The hot-flash connection also has begun to erode. In early trials, soy isoflavones reduced hot flashes by 9 to 40 percent in menopausal women, but most of the 25 or so trials done later showed no difference from placebos.

A few scientists are actually voicing fears about soy's safety.

Some are worried about reproductive problems. Last year, researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) found that mice given genistein right after birth developed irregular reproductive cycles and problems with ovulation and fertility. This year, they reported that genistein disrupted the development of ovaries.

"Whether these things cause problems in humans, we just don't know," says Wendy Jefferson, an NIEHS scientist and the paper's lead researcher. "But so many babies are on soy formulas. If these things are going to be a problem it is a problem that would only manifest later, when a woman was trying to get pregnant, or having reproductive-cycle problems."

The research led an independent panel of 14 scientists to meet in March and decide whether soy formula is hazardous to human development or reproduction.

The panel concluded that soy formula was safe but one pediatrician on the panel expressed concerns, saying exposure to soy formula occurs during a critical time in infancy and might possibly affect development of the brain and reproductive system.

But the news isn't all bad:

Even as some soy fears grow and much of its promise is being shot down, new possibilities are popping up.

A recent study suggested that if women consume soy during the third trimester of pregnancy, it could help program fetuses with a craving for healthful foods and a good metabolism.

Others suggest that when women eat soy could be key. Research by Anna Wu, professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, suggests that girls who eat a lot of soy during adolescence may be less likely to get breast cancer later.

And bone strength may be one place where soy really delivers. A three-year, $3.4 million study funded by the National Institutes of Health is testing whether soy isoflavone supplements can help preserve bone in the lower part of the lumbar spines in post-menopausal women.
. . . .
Nutritionists watch the very public taking down of soy with bemusement — and slight exasperation. Many point out that meta-analyses (which pool results of different studies) are not the best way to judge a food or medicine.

But they also see the fall of soy as part of the cycle of pop culture, be it celebrity or bean: Hoist it up to impossible heights, then drag it down and bash it. The truth, they say, is somewhere in the middle.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Falling Cloudberries

What a lovely name, for a lovely book. I discovered Falling Cloudberries, by Tessa Kiros, via Who Wants Seconds, which posted a mouth-watering cinnamon and cardamom buns recipe, which I must try.

Despite my best efforts, I could not resist temptation and logged on to Amazon.com. Sigh. The book is a U.K. publication, available through Amazon/U.K., or through Amazon marketplace (used books) in the U.S. So, I forked over $35 and bought the book through the marketplace. And then, I waited. Would the book be in "new" condition, as described, or would I be the victim of an over-zealous bookseller prone to exaggeration?

It arrived on Saturday. I tore open the package as if it were a Christmas present. The book is gorgeous, just under two inches thick, and loaded with beautiful photographs. Even the slipcover is lovely, with raised lettering.

The book is organized in a non-traditional way: each chapter covers a different country relevant to the author's life, from Scandinavia, to Italy, to South Africa. The recipes are not elaborate haute cuisine, but the home cooking she experienced in these places. I look forward to trying many of them!

Terrible Photo of the Lemon Cake

This is a terrible photo (I'm just learning how to use a digital camera, not to mention learning how to stage food) of my dud lemon cake loaf (see previous post) - the one baked in the Pyrex. You can see that the very bottom of the loaf is a bit underdone. Master Chow assures me, however, that the taste and texture were in no way adversely affected.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Barefoot Contessa's Lemon Cake

Yesterday, I went to my "to try" recipe file and pulled out a Lemon Cake recipe by Ina Garten. Master Chow said to put it on the repeat list. It's like a lemon drop; very sweet at first, then you get hit by a tart aftertaste. I'm a citrus fanatic, so I am pleased to find a very lemony cake recipe.
**Update- I forgot to mention that this loaf is very moist, and the crust caramelizes to a chewy consistency, with crunchy little brown edges. Delicious.**
Lemon Cake

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:

2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

The Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired. (Note - I highly recommend you use the parchment paper).

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

The Syrup

Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.

When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely before you glaze.

The Glaze

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

  • Make sure the ingredients are at room temperature - the batter will be more uniformly blended if you do so, and the texture of the cake will be good. If you forgot to pull the eggs out in advance, just put them in a bowl of warm water (not hot!) for 10-15 minutes.
  • Sift the confectioner's sugar! I forgot to do that and ended up with interesting little white polka dots in the icing. I choose to blame my goof on my canine companions, who were underfoot the entire time, hoping for a goodie.
  • Don't be in a hurry to remove the cakes from the pans - let them sit for 10-12 full minutes before you unmold them. I had two different loaf pans - one was "nonstick," and the other one was Pyrex. Even though I buttered and floured both pans, I had a big sticking problem with the Pyrex. Next time, I will use the parchment paper.
  • Another strange incident with the Pyrex pan: Even though I tested both cakes for doneness with a bamboo skewer, the cake baked in the Pyrex was slightly undercooked in the middle (exactly where I tested!). This may be due to the vagaries of my particular oven. In any event, follow your own cooking instincts, and take into account the type of pans you are using and the idiosyncrasies of your oven.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Vegetarian Steamed Dumplings

These are excellent, courtesy of Alton Brown's show, Good Eats. In fact, Master Chow, a meat-lover if ever there was one, actually preferred these to the pork potstickers. I was stunned by the admission.

The key here is to dice everything, including the tofu, very finely, so that you get a little bit of everything in every bite. A food processor works well for this.

You can also make these into potstickers by pan frying them instead of steaming them.

Vegetarian Steamed Dumplings
Adapted from Alton Brown's "Good Eats"

1/2 pound extra firm tofu
1/2 cup coarsely grated carrots. After grating, rough chop a bit more with a chef's knife.
1/2 cup shredded Napa cabbage
2 tablespoons finely chopped red pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bowl of water, plus additional water for steamer
35 to 40 small wonton wrappers
Non-stick vegetable spray, for the steamer. Or you can line the bottome of the steamer with a leaf from the Napa cabbage.

Cut the tofu in half horizontally and lay between layers of paper towels. Place on a plate, top with another plate, and place a weight on top (a 14-ounce can of vegetables works well). Let stand 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, cut the tofu into 1/4-inch cubes (I cut them even smaller than that - about 1/8-inch cubes) and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the carrots, cabbage, red pepper, scallions, ginger, cilantro, soy sauce, hoisin, sesame oil, egg, salt, and pepper. Lightly stir to combine.

To form the dumplings, remove 1 wonton wrapper from the package, covering the others with a damp cloth. Brush the edges of the wrapper lightly with water. Place 1/2 rounded teaspoon of the tofu mixture in the center of the wrapper. Shape as desired. Set on a sheet pan and cover with a damp cloth. Repeat procedure until all of the filling is gone. Do not overfill or your dumplings will burst open!

Using a steaming apparatus of your choice, bring 1/4 to 1/2-inch of water to a simmer over medium heat. Spray the steamer's surface lightly with the non-stick vegetable spray to prevent sticking. Place as many dumplings as will fit into a steamer, without touching each other. Cover and steam for 10 to 12 minutes over medium heat. Remove the dumplings from the steamer to a platter. Repeat until all dumplings are cooked.