Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tea-scented tea cake

I had a lovely invitation to visit a friend for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres yesterday. Rosemary is a longtime friend of my aunt’s and is now a friend of ours. She lives in a wonderful apartment on the Upper East Side and wanted to show us her great kitchen and the specialty cookbook store up the block (very dangerous: I bought two!).

I didn’t want to go empty handed, and brought along some truffle salt, which I am now in love with, and particularly like in the baked risotto dish I shared recently (coincidentally, Rosemary is making it for company this week so the timing was perfect!). I also decided to concoct a matcha tea cake, which was inspired by the different versions I’ve seen around the blogosphere lately, namely on Tartelette and 80 breakfasts. The versions I’ve seen include white chocolate, which I’m not terribly fond of, and it occurred to me that I could easily adapt the moist and marbled coffee cake that I love to create a matcha-marbled version. I love that cake for its moistness and perfect balance of sweetness: it’s a phenomenal base for any flavoring. I last used matcha to make green tea ice cream. Next, I'd like to try cookies.

The little cake, which I made in a loaf pan, was a hit. It’s not only delicious but the green marbling is quite beautiful: how perfect to perfume a tea cake with tea?

Matcha tea marbled tea cake

1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
1.5 teaspoons matcha powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Butter a loaf pan. Line with a piece of parchment paper that covers bottom and long sides (leave some poking up from the pan to facilitate lifting the loaf out later). Butter the parchment paper.

3. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Put the butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with sour cream. Add vanilla, and mix 1 minute.

4. Portion out 1/3 of the batter into a small bowl. Mix in matcha powder, stirring well to combine.

5. Spread one-third of the plain batter into prepared pan. Use a small offset spatchula to ensure an even, flat layer. Dollop with 1/3 of matcha batter and use a spatchula to gently spread the matcha layer on the top of the other. Spread another third of the plain batter on top, followed by another third of the matcha batter. Repeat one more time so that the final layer is the rest of the matcha batter. Run a thin knife through batter to marbleize. Run spatchula over top to ensure the batter is flat in the end.

6. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire cooking rack for a few minutes. Lift cake out by the parchment handles and allow to cool completely on rack.

Ah! Almost forgot: I'm submitting this to this month's "click" event, the theme of which is "au naturel." I know this image is a tad random here, but it needs to be posted to my blog!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Breakfast your way: homemade granola

I’m bringing another old favorite up from the archives and updating it with recipe tweaks and new photos. It’s been a little while since I have posted a breakfast recipe, and this is still one of my favorites.

I love making my own granola because I know exactly what goes into it. If you study the ingredient label of your favorite granola, you will likely see loads of oil and some rather unfamiliar preservatives you didn’t think were in there. My granola reduces the amount of oil typically found in commercial varieties. Also, if you are as picky about what’s in your granola as I am, you can adjust this recipe quite easily to suit your taste and your pantry.

We seem to pick up nuts and oatmeal every time we're in the store forgetting how much we already have. Making granola is a great way to clear out those leftover nuts and dried fruits that tend to accumulate over the winter. This recipe calls for one 18 oz container of Quaker old-fashioned rolled oats, which yields approximately 6.5 cups of oats. If you don't have that much or don't want to make as much, use the following approximate ratios (volume) as a guide: 2:1 ratio of oats to nuts (combined, not including coconut and seeds), ~2.5 tbsp liquid per cup of oats (oil and honey).

Homemade granola

6.5 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking)
2.5 cups unsweetened, desiccated coconut
1 cup raisins
1 cup dried cranberries (if you don’t like these, leave them out and double the quantity of raisins)
1 1/4-1 1/2 cups sliced almonds (or whole, chopped, slivered or a combination)
1 1/4 cups pecans (whole or chopped to the size you like)
1/2 cup high-quality honey
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well to distribute oil and honey evenly. Spread a thin layer of mixture on two rimmed baking sheets (half sheet pans) lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes stirring mixture and rotating sheets half way through until mixture is an even golden brown. Be careful to watch granola: it will quickly turn from golden to burnt and will continue to cook as it cools when you take it out of the oven. Mixture will moist when it comes out of the oven but will crisp and clump as it cools. Keeps for 1-2 weeks (but I promise, it won’t last that long!).


• Substitute any of the nuts for other nuts such as cashews, walnuts or peanuts (it's nice to leave some of the nuts whole as it varies the texture)
• Add additional dried fruit such as apricots or dates
• Add 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
• For extra-nutty granola increase proportion of nuts

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Baked (not stirred): risotto

I’m a big fan of risotto but not really a big fan of hovering over the stove and stirring and stirring. When I saw a recipe for baked risotto in Donna Hay’s issue 33, I had to give it a try. After all, I’d be willing to make a few texture-related trade-offs if it meant I could throw Arborio rice and chicken stock in the oven and end up with ready to eat risotto 40 minutes later. The recipe did not disappoint. I’ve gone from making risotto, well, almost never, to having it as a side dish fairly frequently. DH suggests a number of flavor combinations: pancetta, sweet potato and sage, prawn artichoke and lemon, and spinach feta and pine nuts to name a few. The possibilities are endless: the only thing to decide when adding ingredients is whether the add-ins need to be precooked, cooked along with the risotto, or stirred in afterwards.

My favorite is an adaptation of her mixed mushroom risotto. I’ve discovered a new ingredient which makes the risotto outstanding: truffle salt! You can certainly make it with regular sea salt but the truffle salt adds another dimension and is worth the splurge!

Mixed mushroom and pea baked risotto (adapted from Donna Hay Magazine, issue 33)

10g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
300 g mixed mushrooms (I like button mushrooms, shitakes, and brown mushrooms) – quarter some and slice some to vary the texture
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
4-4 ½ cups chicken stock
1 cup sweet peas (defrosted if frozen, blanched if fresh)
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 T coarsely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
40 g unsalted butter to add at the end
plenty of sea salt and cracked black pepper
truffle salt

Preheat oven to 355°F

Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the butter, oil, garlic, and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes or until mushrooms are golden (add in the parsley after the first few minutes).

Place the rice, stock, and mushroom mixture in an 8.5 x 12 in (10 cup capacity) baking dish and stir to combine. Sprinkle generously with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. If using, sprinkle with truffle salt. (note: Donna Hay shows her baked risotto with slightly more liquid than I prefer. I have been using 4 cups vs. her recommended 4.5 cups of chicken stock: adjust to your preference. The amount of liquid required will also very based on your add-ins).

Cover tightly with foil and baked for ~40 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from oven, stir in peas, parmesan and second quantity of butter. Taste and adjust seasonings (you will likely want to add an additional generous amount of sea salt/truffle salt and pepper). Serve immediately.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Back to basics (sort of): a great green salad

I’m taking us back to basics today.

This was one of the first recipes I shared when I started blogging and it’s still one that I use all the time. It’s the secret to a wonderful green salad, and it features one of my three favorite go-to homemade salad dressings.

Sure, most of the time I just drizzle a little olive oil and vinegar on my salad. I add a little lemon juice if I have it. That’s it. And that’s pretty good.

But, I discovered a little trick that only adds one more step and turns a typical salad dressing into a fabulous one: shallots.

A couple of years a go, Saveur printed an article on David Tanis and Randal Breski and shared a few of their recipes. David Tanis and his partner, Randal, operate an occasional “dinner club” in Paris in their 17th century apartment called Aux Chiens Lunatiques (''At the Crazy Dogs' Place''). It’s occasional, because they run the club for six months out of the year, and during the other six months, the pair re-locate to Berkeley California, where Tanis is the head chef at Chez Panisse. What a gig! (you can read more about them in a New York Times article here)

I love the idea of an occasional restaurant in someone’s home (no less at the Parisian outpost of a well-respected chef!) and the dream of the interesting and eclectic fellow diners one might find. When my husband and I were last in Paris I attempted to reserve at Aux Chiens Lunatiques only to find that I had hit the wrong six months. Needless to say, I will try to plan better next time!

Back to recipe. There are a few tips Tanis shared for a great green salad:

1. Wash the greens by gently swishing them in a baisin filled with cold water
2. Drain them and then dry them by gently rolling them in a clean dish towel. Tanis says salad spinners damage tender greens (which I've noticed too).
3. Don’t forget to season the greens with salt and pepper
4. After dressing, toss the salad gently (he recommends using your hands)

The secret to the vinaigrette is the chemical reaction that occurs between the vinegar, shallots and salt. It produces a very flavorful vinegary, tangy dressing that is addictive! Here’s the formula:

Mince one shallot into a tablespoon of vinegar in a bowl, add half a teaspoon of salt and let the mixture steep together for ten minutes. Whisk in about 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Drizzle just enough dressing over the leaves to make the leaves glisten (roughly a tablespoon for five or six cups of greens). Grind some fresh black pepper over greens.

Give it a try . . .

p.s. As an aside, I am the very honored nominee (with two other great bloggers) of the Inspiring Food Photography award for this month. It's a reader-voted award hosted by Coffee and Vanilla. The polls are open now and voting closes at the end of the month. Please check it out and cast your vote!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Apartment Therapy, Poha and Chai

Last week I did my second kitchen tour for Apartment Therapy’s kitchen-related site, the Kitchn. This time, I chose to tour my friend Devesh’s kitchen. Devesh is an old and dear friend, and an avid and adventurous cook. I focused the piece on his spice treasure trove, and he agreed to cook and share the recipes for a couple of dishes that take advantage of his stash. After some brainstorming, we agreed on a flavorful breakfast dish made with flattened rice, and authentic chai to go with it. You can read the main article and view the slideshow here. For the recipes, see here and here (or keep reading below).

Usually, I try to share recipes that I think you will have a reasonable likelihood of trying. I don’t like to post things that are unnecessarily complicated or time-intensive, too specialty-ingredient heavy (or too banal for that matter). It gives me great pleasure when I hear that a post actually inspired you to cook the dish, and a huge thrill if you loved it!

In this particular case, I know the odds are against me. These dishes most certainly require a trip to an Indian grocer or specialty spice store. Unless you have breakfasted in an Indian home, you have most likely never had Poha, and chances are high that you have never heard of flattened rice. You probably can’t quite imagine what this dish would taste like, and it might sound a little unusual for breakfast. If I have earned any credibility, at all, I’d like to cash in a little of it and get you to at least read the recipe and consider it.

It’s a very quick dish. It cooks in less than 10 minutes. It is incredibly flavorful and hearty yet light at the same time. The flavors for breakfast are not that far of a stretch: after all, we eat huevos rancheros and we don’t consider the zip in that dish to be unusual. The truth is, while traditionally a breakfast dish, you could certainly serve this as a side dish at lunch and dinner if you wanted to. But it works great for breakfast: I left the table full but not weighed down. I didn’t have that heavy residual egg taste in my mouth, and wasn’t high on sugar. It truly hit the spot. And the chai – well if you think of chai as that stuff that comes in a green and white takeout cup, think again . . .

p.s. the "click" photography contest voting polls are open. I entered my photo of peppercorns in spoons for the theme of metal. Hop on over and have a look at the gallery and cast your vote. Voting ends Monday, April 7 at noon.

Poha (flattened rice) (note: ingredients are pictured at the top of this post)
(makes ~3 cups)
2-3 cups (when dry) (thick) Poha (flattened rice)
A generous pinch asafoetida
1.5 teaspoons mustard seeds
1-2 green chilies (chopped small) (or according to desired level of heat - can leave out if you prefer)
1 onion (small dice)
1 potato (small dice – use the waxy kind, i.e. red bliss, Yukon gold, eastern white. Avoid boiling potatoes, which don’t retain their shape once cooked)
1/2 cup peanuts or cashews
3/4-1 teaspoon turmeric
5-6 curry leaves
Salt to taste
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (chopped) for garnish
Fresh lemon (to squeeze at end)

Soak the Poha for 5 mins then drain in a colander (there's a thick and a thin Poha - this recipe is for the thick Poha). Heat oil in a pan (Devesh uses a wok). Season with asafoetida, then mustard seeds. As soon as they crackle, add diced onion and green chilies. Fry until translucent.
In parallel, heat diced potatoes in microwave for ~2 minutes to partly cook them. Add turmeric and curry leaves to hot oil once onions are done. Add nuts. Add heated potatoes. Sauté until potatoes are done. Add Poha and salt and mix thoroughly. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
Transfer to serving bowl and sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro and lemon juice (or lime juice) before serving.

Authentic Chai
(All measurements are per cup – multiply for the number of cups or medium-sized mugs you are making. There are two approaches: focus on one key spice, like cardamom, or use a smaller quantity of several ingredients)
3/4 cup water plus 1/4 cup milk (if you are using skim or 1 percent, use half milk and half water)
Sugar to taste
Roughly ~2 teaspoons per cup loose black tea leaves (Ideally Assam or Ceylon tea – English Breakfast will do)

Some or all of the following (measurements are per cup or per medium-sized mug):

2 green cardamom pods
2-3 whole black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1-2 pieces cinnamon (“real cinnamon” not Cassia. May be labeled “Vietnamese cinnamon”)
Fresh ginger (2-3 thin slices for extra zing)


Loose tea masala (a mixture of spices) (Devesh has both the MDH and Everest brands. Kalustyans has a loose Tea masala sold by weight);
and ginger (see above) if desired

Heat water and milk. Before it comes to a boil, add fresh ginger (with skin, sliced into thin rounds), if using and any or several of the following: a few pods of green cardamom, Cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, peppercorns and/or cinnamon. Devesh used 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon of tea masala per cup and fresh ginger, skipping the other spices. When the milk / water mixture boils, add loose black tea. Turn off the heat and let steep for 2 minutes. Pour into a cup through a sieve to strain out tea leaves and spices. Add sugar / sweetener to taste (start with one Tbsp per cup).

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

DMBLGIT winners announced!

It has been great fun hosting last month's DMBLGIT contest. There were 107 photos submitted. Thank you all for your participation! It was great getting to know more of you through your photos and blogs.

I had fun coordinating efforts with our five judges:
Thank you all very much for all of your time and effort!

Now, without further ado, I announce the winners:

In third place, we have a tie:

Peter from Souvlaki for the soul with Sponge cake with passion fruit curd and whipped cream. . .

. . .and Arfi from HomeMadeS with All about peas

2nd place: Piggy from Piggy’s cooking journal with Buttermilk chocolate chip crumb cake

And in first place: Helen from Tartelette with Salade de fruits

In the individual categories:

Aesthetics: Cenk from Café Fernando with Homemade granola

Edibility: Rachel from RKhooks with Blueberry pancakes R khooks stylee

Originality: Bea from La tartine gourmande with Bicolor soup: green pea and potato

As you know, as host, I have the ability to award a few of my own. I'm giving out two host awards:

One to Andrew from Spittoon extra with Apricot and Fig frangipane tart

and last, but not least, one to: Meeta from What's for lunch, honey? with Tropical fruit salad

Congratulations everyone!!!!

This month's host is Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy. Have fun Sara!