April 30, 2008

Five Spice Duck with Roasted Mango Sauce

1 5 lb duck

for the dry rub:
zest of one lime
2 tablespoon 5 spice powder
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/2 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

for the mango sauce:
1/2 cup cubed mango
1 whole mango
1 1/2 inch knob fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon bourbon
zest and juice of 1/2 lime

Preheat oven to 350. Place the whole mango on a pan and bake 1 hour or until soft. Remove and allow to cool for one hour. Meanwhile, whisk together the rub the dry rub into the skin of the duck. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. Reduce heat to 325. Place the duck on a roasting rack on a roasting pan and roast for 2 hours or until cooked though*. Meanwhile, scoop the roasted mango out of the skin. Place in a saucepan with the cubed mango, cornstarch, ginger, bourbon and soy sauce. Heat, stirring occasionally until a thick sauce forms. Serve with the duck.

*If you would like to reserve the duck fat for another recipe, drain it off the bottom of pan every 1/2 hour to 45 minutes and pour into a heat safe container. Duck fat is amazingly tasty to cook with.

My thoughts:

My husband is obsessed with duck. Obsessed! But it is somewhat hard to find at the store and often very expensive. We've been wanting to make one for ages as I had actually never cooked a duck before and he loves them so. We had come across a reasonably priced duckling during a free trial visit to a big box store and snapped it up. I wanted to make sort of a modern version of the kitschy '60s staple duck a l'orange and thought mango would be perfect fruit to pair with duck. After attending the mango festival last year I have become a firm believer that everything tastes better with mango! So I decided to make "duck a la mango" with a Chinese twist instead of a French one. The roasted mango has an almost caramelized flavor and soft texture that is wonderful in the sauce while the fresh mango provides some texture contrast. The duck, of course, is excellent. Succulent and with just a hint of spice.

April 28, 2008

Smoky Mango Pulled Pork

3 lb boneless pork shoulder roast (trim off excess fat)
1/4 cup chili sauce
1/4 cup pomegranate infused balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup bourbon
1 tablespoon chipotle hot sauce
2 teaspoons smokehouse black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoon mesquite liquid smoke
1 1/2 teaspoon Mexican hot chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon chipolte chile powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 habanero peppers, seeds removed and chopped
juice and zest of one lime
1 large mango, cubed
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil

for the spice rub:

1 teaspoon Mexican hot chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoon chipolte
1 teaspoon smokehouse black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper


Mix the spice rub ingredients together. Rub them on the pork. In a large skillet heat the oil and then brown the roast well on all sides. Place roast in slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients to slow cooker. Cook on high in the slow cooker 6 hours*. When done, meat should shred easily with a fork. Remove roast from slow cooker. Shred with a fork (or use your fingers) and set aside. Mash any solid bits of the sauce with a potato masher. If the sauce is very thin, heat it in a saucepan until it thickens**. Return the pork and the sauce to slow cooker, and toss to evenly coat. Serve on rolls.

*Or on low for 8-9 hours.

**I actually didn't need to do this step, but I find pork gives off a lot of water when cooked in the slow cooker and you might need to do this so the mixture isn't too soupy.

My thoughts:
This is one of those recipes that I made by running around the kitchen like a crazy person and trying to use whatever I have on hand. Thankfully I bothered to write down my measurements because this possibly my favorite of all of the recipes I've posted this year and I can't want to make it again.

Normally when I make pulled pork I saute the onions and garlic and let the pork sit overnight in the dry rub. However, I was running low on time and just tossed the raw cloves in whole, cut the onion into 8 pieces (instead of chopping them) and didn't let the meat sit with the spices at all-just a quick rubdown followed by a quick sear. I was worried the pork would suffer but it turned out great. Better than great, actually this is literally the best pulled pork I've ever eaten-the perfect combination of sweet, tart, fruity, smoky and spicy flavors. Matt loved it; we've never been so sad about finishing leftovers before. I wish I had some right now, and every day after that. It is just that good! And one of the easiest things you can make for dinner tonight, the prep is so quick it can be done in just a few minutes before heading off to work. You won't be sorry!

April 26, 2008

Turkey with Red Mole

1 1/2 turkey (about 6 lb)

for the dry rub:
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground chipotle
1 teaspoon hot Mexican chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

for the sauce:
8 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
5 dried pasilla chiles, stems and seeds removed
14 oz canned fire roasted diced tomatoes*
1 onion, cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic
1 plantain, sliced
1/2 cup pepitas (raw, hulled pumpkin seeds)
1 3 inch stick Mexican cinnamon
1 tablespoon dutch process cocoa (I used Guittard's cocoa rouge)
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Warning: You must start this recipe at least one hour before you plan to roast the turkey!

In a small bowl, whisk together the spices for the dry run so they are evenly distributed. Rub over the skin of the turkey. Allow to rest at least one hour in the refrigerator.

Next, roast the turkey at 325 for about 2 hours for a 6 lb half. Roast until the internal temperature is 170 in the meatiest part of the thigh.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small pan. Add the pepitas and cook until they start to pop. Set aside. Heat a dry pan, add the chiles and pan-roast until fragrant. Remove to a heat-safe bowl and submerge in hot water for 15 minutes then drain, reserving the liquid. Then, in a food processor, blend the the pepitas, chiles, onion, plantain, garlic, cloves, tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, cocoa and cinnamon stick until smooth. If the mixture is very thick, add about 1/4 cup of the reserved chile broth. Pour into a saucepan and heat through. Allow the turkey to sit 10 minutes once it has reached the proper temperature, then shred the meat. Pour the sauce over the turkey and toss to distribute the sauce. Serve hot with rice and (white) corn torillas.

*Homemade roasted tomatoes would be great too, but tomatoes aren't in season yet.

My thoughts:
Despite their links to winter holidays, most stores sell turkeys, turkey breasts or in this case a turkey cut in half lengthwise year-round. While mole in restaurants seems to be paired mostly with chicken, traditionally it is made with turkey. Half turkeys are perfect for a more everyday meal and don't yield an overwhelming amount of leftovers. I like to roast them at a slightly lower temperature than I would the whole bird to avoid it drying out. Most mole recipes don't call for the meat to be treated with a dry rub first, but I think it imparts the turkey with a extra burst of flavor that is worth a bit of effort. Since I was using turkey, I shredded the meat before tossing with with sauce. If you were making it with chicken pieces, you could simmer the cooked pieces whole in the sauce if you'd prefer. This mole isn't super spicy but it is very well flavored and complex.

I created this recipe for red mole to incorporate all of my favorite bits of different red moles I've had over the years and used pepitas, plantains, roasted tomatoes and various chiles rather than making a super strict Coloradito Oaxacan mole (which normally has French bread in it and no pepitas). Which isn't to say it is totally inauthentic, just a slightly looser interpretation than the moles I've made in the past.

Suggestion: the recipe for the sauce might yield more than you need to coat the turkey. Reserve it and any leftover turkey for enchiladas the next day.

*If you are interested in learning more about traditional Mexican cooking, even if you are like me and not a recipe follower, The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diane Kennedy is an excellent resource of the spices, fruits, vegetables and flavors of the region.

April 25, 2008

Mango & Avocado Dessert Sushi & Onigiri


sliced avocado
sliced mango

for the rice
1 1/2 cups uncooked Japanese rice
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon sugar
juice of 1 lime

black sesame seeds


For the rice:
At least 1 hour before you want to cook the rice, wash the rice. Allow to dry in a colander. In a small, bowl, whisk together the lime juice and sugar, set aside. In large nonstick saucepan (with a lid) add the water, rice and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Cook 5 minutes or until the water level is almost equal to the rice. Cover, reduce heat to low. Cook 10-15 minutes or until the rice is tender. Remove from heat, keep covered and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar and lime juice.

To make the triangular onigiri: Cut some of the avocado and mango into small cubes. Place a small amount of rice in your hand, place some cubed avocado and mango in the middle and press down slightly. Cover with another mound of rice and firmly shape into to a triangular shape. Take care to fully cover the filling on all sides with rice. You could also use a triangle shaped onigiri mold/press. Garnish with sesame seeds.

For the mock sushi: The easiest way is to use a tubular onigiri mold . Fill it halfway with rice, then add one strip of mango and one of avocado vertically in the mold so the filling makes it to both short ends of the mold and won't be totally encapsulated by the rice. Top with the rest of the rice, then place the top of the mold on top and push down firmly. Unmold and make one cut down the middle to form two pieces of sushi. Alternately, follow the instructions to make maki sushi and use soy wrappers instead of the nori or use a small amount of plastic wrap instead of the nori then remove it before serving for wrapperless rolls. Roll in sesame seeds.

Note: While rolling the sushi the traditional way works well, using the tubular onigiri mold is quick and easy. Each use yields 6 slices (most tubular onigiri molds have 3 wells) which is the same amount as it would if you rolled them out the traditional way.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

My thoughts:
I have always wanted to make dessert sushi. I've made (and love!) mango and coconut sticky rice before and thought a sushi version would be fun. Onigiri, while not sushi, is a fun and easy way (especially if you have a mold! They are about $2 at most Asian grocery stores) to quickly make any eat any number of treats. Normally it is savory snack but here we have a lightly coconut flavored and slightly sweet rice covering a filling of two of my favorite things to eat together: mango and avocado. The creaminess of the avocado really sets off the tart-sweet juiciness of the mango.

When it came to make the sushi, I tried rolling it out the traditional way and it worked but the process seemed a little involved for making only a couple of rolls. If I was wasn't also using the same batch of rice to make the onigiri, that might have been fine, but for such a small amount, I wanted to come up with a quicker alternative method. The tubular onigiri mold worked great, three little tubes filled with mango and avocado (just make sure you don't cover the short ends with rice-let the filling peek through on both sides) and then slice them each in half to make the "maki sushi".

April 23, 2008

Dark Chocolate Ice Cream with Cocoa Nibs

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar, divided use
1/2 cup cocoa nibs
1/3 cup cocoa
3 oz 75% dark chocolate, chopped
4 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a large pot over medium heat, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar, milk and cream until the sugar dissolves and the mixture almost boils, about 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar, salt and the egg yolks until it forms a ribbon and is yellow and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add about a 1/2 cup of the cream mixture into the eggs and whisk to combine. Pour the egg/cream mixture it into the cream mixture on the stove. Whisk in cocoa and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and whisk in the chopped chocolate. Strain mixture into a bowl. Stir in the nibs. Allow to cool on the counter then cover and place in the refrigerator to cool completely then pour into a ice cream maker and churn until cold and set. Place in a freeze-safe container and freeze until solid.

Note: I used Askinosie single origin organic bars, cocoa and nibs for this recipe. I highly recommend them.

My thoughts:
I've become nibs obsessed. Who wouldn't like tiny bits of crunchy chocolate? I've been hard at work trying to come up with new recipes that showcase them. I was thinking about making coffee-nib ice cream after I got some yummy coffee from Swing's Coffee but I also had some cocoa powder and bars that I wanted to try so I went the chocolate-chocolate-chocolate route. I did a little experimenting and ended up with what I think is one of the best ice creams I've ever had. It is intensely chocolate with bits of nibs that aren't jarringly crunchy (thanks to the chilling process) and a rich, creamy texture. Perfection!

April 21, 2008

Cocoa Nibs & Toffee Bits Rice Krispies Treats

4 tablespoons butter
45 large marshmallows (about 11 oz)
6 cups crisped rice cereal (AKA Rice Krispies)
1/2 cup toffee bits
1/4 cup cocoa nibs*

Coat 13x9x2 inch pan with cooking spray. Melt butter over low heat in a large, tall pot. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Removed from heat and stir in cereal, toffee bits and nibs. Use a greased spoon or spatula the cereal into the pan. Use the back of the spoon to press it firmly into the pan in an even layer. Cool, cut into squares and eat.

* I used the extremely delicious Askinosie single origin roasted cocoa nibs.

My thoughts:
Some might ask why one would want to tamper with a classic like Rice Krispie treats. I ask: why not? Unlike some of overblown "adult" variations* out there, this version doesn't detract from the original, it enhances it with with grown-up worthy add-ins. Toffee adds a lovely caramel flavor and the nibs lend a touch of chocolate and crunch while the bars are still as chewy as we've come to expect. The nibs also keep the bars from being tooth-numbingly sweet, even after addition of the toffee, a nice touch for a grown-up palate.

*I don't think anyone liked those Caramelized Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats that made the rounds a while back.

April 20, 2008

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes with Balsamic-Dijon Dressing

10 oz small brussels sprouts, halved
1 lb Russet potatoes, cut into 2 inch chunks
1/2 lb onion, cut into wedges

for the dressing:
1/18 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
leaves from one sprig of thyme

Preheat oven to 350. In a small bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Set aside. Arrange the potatoes, brussels sprouts and onions in a single layer in a 11x 7 inch baking dish. Pour the dressing evenly over everything, then give the pan a good shake to help coat. Bake about 30-40 minutes or until the food has begun to caramelize. Leave it in if you like it a little extra crispy. Serve hot.

Yield: about 4 servings

Quick tip:
The trick to roasting a few different vegetables together is to cut them all the same size so they take roughly the same amount of time to bake.

My thoughts:
My husband always says that he didn't think he like brussels sprouts until he ate some that I made. I'd like to think that is because of some cooking magic on my part, but really, done well, brussels sprouts are delicious. I took advantage of their sudden availability and the still chilly weather to roast some with potatoes, onion and a slightly Spring-y dressing.

When roasted, brussels sprouts become nutty-sweet and not at all cabbage-stinky like their ill-deserved reputation might suggest. Roasting is possibly the forgiving way to cook brussels sprouts. The longer they bake, the more caramelized and sweet they become.

April 17, 2008

Two Ways to Use Up Leftover Risotto: Riso al Salto and Arancini di Riso

Quick notes:

If your leftover risotto is very cold from being refrigerated, let it sit out a few minutes to allow it to come closer to room temperature. This will help ensure that the final product will be heated all the way through and it will be little easier to handle.

It is best to use risotto that is free of large chunks. If your risotto has large chunks of meat or vegetables, remove the largest chunks before making either of the following. I used leftover and relatively smooth fennel risotto and can't wait to try it with roasted beet risotto but I bet any risotto would be tasty.

Arancini di Riso
1 1/2 to 2 cups leftover risotto
1 cup matzo meal or bread crumbs
1 teaspoon oregano
1 egg, beaten
4 oz mozzarella, in 3/4 inch cubes
canola oil

Heat 1/2 inch oil in a large skillet. Meanwhile, mix the matzo meal/bread crumbs with the oregano in a shallow bowl. Pour the beaten egg in a second shallow bowl. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of rice into the palm of your hand. Make a flat round and place a cube of cheese in the middle. Fold the rice over the cheese and roll lightly between your hands to form a ball. Then roll in the egg to coat evenly, then roll in the crumbs. Repeat for remaining risotto. Fry in the oil, turning to evenly brown on all sides-I found a heat-safe slotted spoon worked well for this. Serve hot.

Riso al Salto
1 1/2 to 2 cups leftover risotto
1 egg
3 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Meanwhile mix the egg into the risotto. Shape into flat patties. Pan-fry in oil, flipping once to brown on both sides. Serve hot.

My thoughts:
While I love risotto, I don't always want to eat the exact same thing again the next day for lunch. Enter these yummy risotto balls (which would be great with a bit of shrimp or maybe even ham as a filling instead of mozzarella) and risotto fritters. Both are made with minimal fuss but excellent results. The riso al salto is especially quick and easy and both would be great served with a simple salad. You're going to want to make double batches of risotto just to have an excuse to make them.

April 16, 2008

Fennel Risotto

5 cups chicken stock
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 (loose) cup fennel fronds, lightly chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Arborio rice
1/3 cup Parmesan, grated
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons sweet vermouth
1 tablespoon butter


In a saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan Saute the fennel, salt, pepper garlic and onion until lightly caramelized. Add the vermouth and let it cook off. Add the rice and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring continually. Add the broth a 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, and waiting until the liquid is absorbed before each addition. This will take about 20 minutes total. When the risotto is creamy and the rice is al dente remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan and fronds.

My thoughts:
Fennel is in season right now (on the way out, actually) and I've been seeing some prime examples with fresh, fluffy fronds in my local markets. Rather than let the fronds go to waste, I stir them in and the end for a little extra flavor, color and texture interest. This is a pretty subtle tasting risotto so even the fennel wary should like it, the anise flavor is mellowed by the sautéing and all of the broth. Risotto is also super easy and quick to make on a weeknight especially if you (or your dining partner) are a compulsive stirrer like my husband.

April 15, 2008

Stone-Ground Grits with Spinach and Parmesan

4 cups chicken stock
1 cup stone-ground grits (not instant)
1/2 cup defrosted frozen spinach
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

In a medium pot, bring the broth to a boil. Add the grits and stir continually for about 10 minutes or until all the broth is absorbed. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, salt, pepper and spinach. Keep covered until ready to serve.

My thoughts:
If you've been reading this blog for a while you know of my penchant for making side dishes do double duty. Macaroni and cheese with rapini, mashed potatoes with extra veggies etc. While we cook nearly every meal we eat and I generally don't have any problem coming up with the main dish, side dishes always stymie me. Since we are only two people (and I generally spend a lot of time on the main dish, taking notes and whatnot) it seems superfluous to make two or more separate side dishes. So I either like to stuff vegetables in the main dish or make one all-encompassing side. These grits have your starch/bread covered, the spinach takes care of the vegetable and the Parmesan (besides making it a little creamy without adding butter, cream or even milk) is an excellent source of calcium.

April 12, 2008

Sesame Chicken Salad

2 cubed poached chicken breasts or about 2 cups leftover roasted chicken
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 cup diced snow peas
1 small bunch green onions, sliced
white pepper

In a small bowl, stir together the mayo, sesame seeds and the sesame oil. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the chicken, salt, white pepper, snow peas, celery, and green onions. Stir in the mayonnaise and make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed.
My thoughts:
Chicken salad is a classic way to use up leftover chicken but it can be a little boring. I've been utterly obsessed with sesame and sesame seeds lately and thought they might be just the thing to perk up my salad. And they were, they transform a simple dish to something totally company worthy. And don't forget the snow peas! They add a great little crunch and burst of freshness.

April 10, 2008

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

2 oz semisweet chips
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup cocoa
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, vanilla and sugar. Add the egg, beat until fluffy. Add the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and oatmeal. Mix until well combined. Fold in chips. Place heaping tablespoons of dough on the lined cookie sheet about 1/2 inch apart and bake for 12-14 minutes or until they look "set". Carefully remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: roughly 2 dozen cookies

My thoughts:
I had a guest in the kitchen this morning and had a lot of fun talking about what I was making and how I come up with recipes while I was actually doing it. Cooking is such an automatic process that it was great to slow down and think about exactly what I was doing. To think about how I replaced 1/4 cup of what would normally be flour with cocoa to make chocolate cookies, that 2 oz of chips was just enough to add some extra chocolate and texture interest without being too much and the importance of using a room temperature egg (so it doesn't harden the butter into chunks when you mix it in). I was a little nervous about baking and talking at the same time, but I remembered to take the cookies out of the oven on time and my guest said that the texture of the cookies was "perfect". What more could you want? Of course they are also very chocolate-y, a little chewy and since oats are cholesterol-lowering and all that, practically a health food. Okay, so maybe it isn't health food, but is tasty!

April 09, 2008

House Special Chow Fun

for the stir-fry:
14 oz fresh rice noodles, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips*
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 lb snow peas
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 1/2 cup char sui thinly sliced
1 1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
6 dried shiitaki mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced thinly
1/2 cup water
1 cup dried cloudear mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced thinly
1/2 cup dried tiger lily buds**, rehydrated, hard ends removed

for the sauce:
3 cloves garlic, grated
2 inch knob fresh ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons palm sugar
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil


First, tie all of the tiger lily buds into knots, like you were knotting a piece of string, with the knot in the center. Set aside. Heat the oil in the wok. Stir-fry noodle until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add snow peas and green onions, mushrooms, tiger lily buds, and water then stir-fry until snow peas are bright green and crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Add the sauce mixture, and pork and cook, stirring occasionally. Cook until the sauce thickens and all ingredients are well distributed and coated in sauce.

*Or boiled dried rice noddles. If you use the dried noodles add them at the end, with the sauce.

**Also known as golden needles.

My thoughts:
I love ordering chow fun for take-out but sometimes it is on the greasy side and a little short on the vegetables. To me that made it a perfect candidate for another "homemade take-out" make over. It seems like every Chinese restaurant has their own "house special" versions of dishes that have slightly different ingredients than the usual. I took a cue from that and made my own house special chow fun; my ideal version of the dish. I think it came out pretty good, not greasy at all and full of my favorite vegetables, mushrooms and some exceptionally tasty pork*.

*We actually marinated the pork one night, roasted it the next, then sliced and used it the third day. Yum!

Recent homemade take-out posts include wonton soup, chicken lo mein and sesame noodles. Entered in this blog event.

April 08, 2008

Radio Interview

Today I was interviewed on NPR and talked about food blogging, rhubarb and smearcase. If you're interested, you can download the podcast.

Recipes mentioned during the broadcast:
rhubarb cupcakes with fluffy rhubarb frosting
rhubarb-strawberry compote

April 06, 2008

Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

3 1/3 cup flour
1 1/3 cup milk
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
3 tablespoons vanilla paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 egg yolks

chocolate cream cheese frosting

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour or spray with baking spray two 8 inch round pans. In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugars until fluffy. Add eggs and egg yolks, mix until well combined. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. Add the vanilla paste to the milk. Mixing continuously, add the flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Divide evenly into the prepared pans and bake about 40 minutes or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Cool on wire rack, removing from the pans after about 5 minutes. Cool completely then ice.

My thoughts:
We had some friends over for dinner and I used it as an excuse to make a classic vanilla cake with chocolate icing. I've been wanting to make a layer cake for ages but living in the household of two, there is just no hope that we would be able to finish it. Th cake is moist and has tiny flecks of vanilla beans throughout. The vanilla flavor is present but surprisingly subtle considering the amount of vanilla paste that went into the cake. Which isn't to say it is bland just that the flavor is very natural tasting and not overpowering.

 photo coconut-sig_zpsb2fb208a.jpg

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting (enough for a layer cake)

3 cups confectioners' sugar
8 oz block cream cheese, at room temperature
4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
2 tablespoons butter


In a small saucepan, melt butter and chocolate together, whisking occasionally. Pour into a medium sized mixing bowl and allow to cool. Add cream cheese and mix thoroughly together. Add sugar and mix until well blended and spreadable. Add additional sugar if the mixture is too thin or runny. Spread on cooled cake.

My thoughts:
This frosting combines two of my favorite foods: chocolate and cream cheese. Since it isn't a cooked icing, I actually used the "1/3 less fat" cream cheese (this is sometimes labeled as "neufchâtel" and is sold in the same bricks as regular cream cheese) and didn't notice much of a difference in taste and no difference at all in the texture. Great on my vanilla bean layer cake.

April 04, 2008

Eggplant Rollatini with Rapini

For the sauce:
58 oz canned coarse ground (or crushed) tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil

for the eggplant:
2 eggplants, striped* and sliced in 1/4 inch wide slices
1 cup matzo meal or bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 egg, beaten

for the filling:
1 bunch rapini, coasely chopped and steamed
15 oz ricotta
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

canola oil
Parmesan for sprinkling

WARNING: this recipe make a double batch of eggplant rollatini or about 8 servings, one to freeze and save, one to eat now.

First, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Saute the onion and garlic until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and basil and simmer on low until heated through. Spread a layer of sauce over the bottom of two 9x13 inch pans. Set aside.

Second, mix together all of the filling ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside. Pour the remaining egg into a shallow bowl. Then mix together the matzo meal and the oregano in a second shallow bowl. Coat both sides of each eggplant slice in egg, then dip both sides in the matzo meal. Heat about a 1/4 inch of oil in a large skillet. Preheat oven to 350. I suggest coating all of the slices and stacking them on a plate so they are ready for frying before you fry your first batch. Fry each slice in the hot oil, about 3 minutes on each side, until golden. I was able to fry about 5 slices at a time in a single layer with ease. Immediately remove the slices to a paper towel lined plate, place another paper towel on top and allow to drain. Meanwhile, place the next batch of the eggplant in the pan and fry. While they are frying, place about a tablespoon of filling on top of one of the cooked eggplant slices from the first batch. Wrap the edges of the eggplant to enclose the filling. If the slice is on the small size you might end up with something that looks more like an eggplant taco than a complete circle. That's okay. Place the eggplant rollatini seam side down on the baking pan. Repeat for remaining eggplant slices. By the end, both of the 9x13 inch pans should be filled with a single layer of the rolls. Top with remaining sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan. Cover one pan with foil and bake 30 minutes or until bubbly, remove foil and cook 5 additional minutes. Serve over pasta if desired. Cover the remaining pan (I like to use this freezable Pyrex container with lid) tightly and freeze. The night before you want to eat the frozen portion, place in the refrigerator to thaw overnight. The next evening bake according the above directions, adding a few additional minutes in the oven if the food is not totally defrosted.

Tip: The eggplant slices should be still warm when you roll them, if they are cold, they have a tendency to crack during folding. I found that by the time I got the next batch of slices frying, the first batch was cool enough to handle. If I worked quickly, stopping once to flip those that were frying, I could fill one batch in the time it took the next to cook. If you would rather not do two things at once, I suggest that after you drain the slices you cover them to keep them warm until you are ready to fill.

*Peeled in alternating strips. This helps the eggplant maintain its shape while remaining malleable.

My thoughts:
Rollatini is sort of a vegetarian version of involtini (meat rolls) that is a fun alternative to eggplant parmesan. It seems like more of a winter dish than one for early Spring but it has been freakishly cold and rainy so I've been sneaking some bubbly and warm from the oven dinners in while I still can.

As part of a recent assignment, I've been experimenting and developing recipes that have at least one component that can be made ahead of time. This recipe is a little more involved than what I plan to use for the project but the results were so delicious I couldn't help but share it with you. It is a bit of work, but none of it is difficult and at the end you have two days worth of meals, one to eat now and one that simply needs reheating. I know a lot of people fear frying but in this case it is actually rather simple, the eggplant isn't totally submerged in the oil so it is easy to flip the slices without splashing, making it more of an exercise in pan frying than deep frying. Just remember to keep the oil hot and drain the eggplant slices (on both sides!) immediately so they don't soak up any oil while cooling. I added the rapini to sneak a little extra bit of vegetable into the mix and I am glad I did, the slight bitterness really really brightens the tomato sauce and keeps the cheese/eggplant combination from slipping into blandness.

April 02, 2008

Chocolate Coffee Coffee Cake

for the cake:
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup room temperature, strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, at room temperature

for the streusel:
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tablespoon cocoa


Preheat the oven to 375. Butter and flour or spray with cooking spray with flour a 9-inch springform pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa baking powder and salt. Set aside. In large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Stir together the milk and coffee. Set aside. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour until a thick dough forms. Scrap the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with the back of a spoon or spatula. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix together all of the streusel ingredients until a rough crumb forms. You can achieve this by using a fork, pulsing a food processor or briefly mixing with an electric mixer. Sprinkle streusel evenly over the raw cake. Bake about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Remove to a wire tack to cool. After about 15 minutes, release the cake from the pan and serve.

My thoughts:
One of the more random questions* I get from readers, mostly from those living outside of the US, is if coffee cakes have coffee in them. Generally they do not. Coffee cake refers to a cake that is meant to be served with coffee, not one that contains coffee, just like tea cake doesn't normally include tea. They are generally a little on the dense side and often have a crumb topping. The question got me thinking though. What if there was a coffee cake that had coffee in it? I just got a new thermal french press and when we tried out this weekend, I made a little extra so I make make a cake. I wasn't sure what else should go in the cake but I knew it should have a streusel topping and since I was using coffee, I went dark and chocolate-y rather than going the more traditional pale vanilla cake route. It still would be perfect with a couple of coffee (or tea!), it isn't too rich and the flavor, while very present, isn't overpowering.

*While I don't mind answering questions, this one is particularly random considering that until today, I've never posted a recipe for any sort of coffee cake.

April 01, 2008

Cold Black Rice Noodle Salad with Mixed Vegetables

13 oz black rice noodles
1/2 lb snow peas
1/2 lb broccoli florets
3-6 bunches tat soi, cut into 1 inch wide strips
6 dried shiitaki mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced thinly
1 bunch green onions, sliced

for the dressing:
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 inch knob ginger, grated
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Cook the noodles according to package instructions, keeping care to stir frequently so they do not clump together. Meanwhile, steam the snow peas, broccoli and tat soi. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Set aside. Rinse the noodles in cold water then drain. Place in a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Add the vegetables and mushrooms and stir to evenly distribute. Sprinkle with green onions and serve.

Yield: about 4-6 servings

My thoughts:

When I found these black rice noodles I immediately started thinking of what high contrast foods I could pair with it. I finally decided to make a cold noodle salad. The noodles have a almost nutty flavor and really absorbed the flavor of the sauce without losing its own character. I made them as a side dish for dinner last night with the idea that we would eat what was left for lunch today. You know what? While we enjoyed them immensely last night, I think they are even better today; the flavors really came together and the vegetables stayed nice and crunchy.

Note: If you cannot find black rice noodles, regular, thin rice noodles or even somen could be substituted but the texture and flavor of the noodles will be different. Additionally, 3 bunches of baby bok choy could be substituted for the smaller tat soi.