Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Click a 'shroom or 3?

Au Naturel.

Endless possibilities ...

Which just means I'm stumped.

And it gives me infinite reasons to procrastinate :)

15 minutes till the deadline. Guess this will have to be it.


Pic: Hon-Shimeji mushrooms
Camera: Leica Digilux 3
Kit Lens
No tripod, but lots of gyrating was involved

10 minutes ... Damn, Bee is going to kill me! :)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mushroom Lemongrass Soup (Tom Yum Het Mangsawirat)

No, I did not know the full name of that soup. Like most other people, all I call it is Vegetarian Tom Yum. I just looked up the name so I could increase my coolness factor tenfold :)

I've often felt like writers' block is nonexistent when it comes to talking about food. Except for today. I read Mele Cotte's post about her Cooking to Combat Cancer event a few days ago and finally figured out a recipe I wanted to try out in honour of it. But attempting to write about it has been insanely difficult. As I've sat here typing/editing/erasing sentences over and over, I've can't stop thinking of people I've encountered who have battled the disease - some survived, others didn't, in all cases the disease seemed to take a toll on everybody involved. And, in all cases, the indomitable strength displayed by everybody involved is just phenomenal. The will to live, to battle it out, the will to stand by friends or family - it makes for amazing stories of humanity.


Mushrooms - apparently, they're a powerfood when it comes to foods that fight cancer.
  • All wild mushrooms ostensibly contain the complete natural range of trace ingredients (72+).
  • Several mushrooms contain polysaccharides, especially Lentinan - that help build immunity. They also contain lectin, which attacks cancerous cells and prevents them from multiplying.
  • Mushrooms that contain thioproline can stimulate the production of interferon in the body.
  • Extracts from mushrooms have been successfully tested in recent years as an adjunct to chemotherapy.

Feeling empowered by all this new found knowledge, I marched off to a couple of stores determined to find atleast one mushroom variety that I wasn't familiar with! Well, that's a pretty easy task - there are probably a zillion that I've never eaten before :) The booty for the day ended up being a pretty fun stash:

Enoki - These insanely cute looking mushrooms have a delicate fruity flavour and are usually served raw.
Clamshell - Apparently, these have a taste evocative of shellfish (I wouldn't know anything about that!). They're best when blanched or cooked.
Brown Beech - Also known as hon-shimeji mushrooms, these are highly esteemed in Japan. These are often grown on wood, especially beech trees hence the common name beech mushroom.
Crimini - Probably the most familiar of all - apparently, these are portabellos that are harvested real young! They tend to retain their firmness with cooking and work great in sauces and soups.

End-of-Botany-Lesson :)


So, in spite of the disappointing adventure with drunken noodles last week, the craving for thai flavours has not mellowed in any way. Tom Yum flavours are always so light and comforting, and with the mushroom booty on hand, how could one resist trying out this soup?

TYHM is the vegetarian version of Thailand's most popular soup - spicy and sour, it is usually served scalding hot in a pot with a fire underneath - very exciting! :) Well, we didn't quite go for that ultra traditional effect, though the spice in the soup more than made up for the flames! :)

The original recipe was for a clear soup with just mushrooms and tomatoes. I went for a couple of variations - some shallots, a slew of grated carrot and a few spoons of coconut milk. Also, we ground the thai chillies so the spice blended in a little more - which it totally did, the last batch of bird's eye chillies from Uwajimaya pack a whopper!

Tom Yum Het Mangsawirat
Oodles of mushroom goodness!

Servings: 4 cups/2 bowls

2 small shallots - sliced long and thin
3 cups water
1 lemongrass stalk - cut into 4" pieces and smashed
4-6 whole torn lime leaves
3 slices galangal (about 1 t)
8-10 crimini mushrooms - sliced
4 small thai chillies (Prik Kee Nuu Suan)
2 cups of mixed mushrooms (enoki, brown beech, clamshell)
1 medium carrot - grated
1 tomato - cut into eighths, lengthwise
3 T coconut milk
2 T white soy sauce
1 t sugar
3 T lime juice
1-2 stems cilantro
1 t sesame oil

Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the shallots till lightly browned.
Add the water along with the crimini mushrooms and boil covered on medium-high (6-8 minutes).
Once the mushrooms are completely cooked and soft, remove them from the water.

[We only want the "mushroom stock" flavour from the crimini - I have a couple of ideas on what to do with the cooked crimini, I'll try to post about it in the next week.]

Crush the lemongrass in a mortar and add it to the water. You could alternatively just shred/separate the lemongrass if you don't want to deal with fishing out small pieces from your soup later :)

Add the torn lime leaves along with the galangal.

Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, for about 5 minutes - to release the flavours of the herbs. The water should be murky brown/green when done.

Add the mushrooms and ground chilli paste. Boil for 2 minutes till the mushrooms are just starting to get soft.

Add the tomatoes along with the coconut milk and cook for another minute.

Take the soup off the heat and stir in the soy sauce and sugar. Add the lime juice just before serving - you want to hold off on this till the end since lime juice loses its tartness when boiled.

Check the flavours before serving - tom yum is traditionally served *hot* and is insanely spicy and sour!

Transfer into bowls and garnish with sprigs of cilantro.



Yum! This was exactly what I wanted tonight. Simple, flavourful, elegant, insanely spicy. If someone threw me into a giant bowl of tom yum, I could just swim around and drink it forever!

I'm sending this to Chris for her awesome event - Cooking to Combat Cancer - Stay strong and healthy, Chris!

This is a shout-out to all those incredibly brave survivors and fighters out there - we raise a toast to your strength and hold many good thoughts for you as we revel in this simple and healthy meal.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Eat a cheesecake pop, will you?

When I first read about cheesecake pops being the DB challenge for April, it took me a while to figure out what these crazy things were. I had to read and re-read the recipe before understanding how these pops got done. They're made of cheesecake, but there's more to them. They look like lollipops, but that isn't what they are. They need to be frozen, but they are not icecream. They're a crazy olio of dessert techniques leading up to these really fun looking finger foods! Crazy, eh? There's a DB challenge for you :)

This month's challenge was organized by Elle (Feeding My Enthusiasm) and Deborah (Taste and Tell)- they picked these funky cheesecake pops from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor. Seriously, this is the perfect title for a book that has a recipe for cheesecake pops! They're gooey all right, was quite a bit messy assembling them, sticky - a bit ... chewy - somewhat :) I've never baked anything from this book before, now I'm totally intrigued about what other quirky recipes it contains!

These cheesecake pops make for the perfect party food. And given that tomorrow is Vodka's b'day, I decided to tailor these for him. A few pops got the prescribed chocolate dunk, but a few others were set aside for Vodka - they got a yummy crust of sliced almonds in a vodka-honey sauce. That's the tradition - for the 9th year running - the pooch gets a Vodka-based dessert on his birthday :)

This was actually a really simple and straightforward recipe - a basic cheesecake baked using a water bath. There is plenty of flexibility in the dipping flavours and colours which was fun! I ended up going for the traditional cheesecake balls instead of any fancy geometric shapes, but the fun started with the dipping and decorations. The first few got dunked in semisweet chocolate and topped with sprinkles - very festive! And then Vodka's preferences took over - which made for a big hit!


Cheesecake Pops
(based on Jill O'Connor's recipe from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey)

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure va
nilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks
1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)
2 tablespoons vege
table shortening
(Note: White chocol
ate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)
Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.


Allowed Variations

Yes you can make some changes to this cheesecake as long as you promise to use the basic cheesecake recipe (although you can add a flavor to it if you like) and do keep it white (sorry, no chocolate or coffee or mocha), and keep the pops to the 2 ounce size.

The dipping flavors and colors are completely up to you.

If you want to use decorations, go for it. Same with drizzles and ribbons on the sticks. Or leave them plain after dipping them. You can even dip them in graham cracker crumbs and then the chocolate – to get more of the cheesecake feel to them.

You can cut the cheesecake into geometric shapes instead of making balls…triangles or squares or diamonds…just keep them about 2 ounces each. We can't wait to see what combinations our Daring Baker come up with…just make sure to use the basic cheesecake recipe, to make the pops 2 ounces or close to that in size, and to dip each pop in chocolate or confectionary coating and have it on a lollipop stick.


This isn't my typical kind of dessert, I'm not even a big cheesecake fan, but these things turned out pretty good! I was afraid the cheesecake was going to be super dense, but it was actually pretty light - probably courtesy of a couple of changes I made to the recipe - I used neufchatel cheese instead of regular cream cheese, I skipped the egg yolk and heavy cream in favour of a couple of tablespoons of silken tofu - these made for a much lighter cheesecake! Dipping the pops in chocolate was a cinch, rolling them in sprinkles and nuts was ... a piece of cake! :)

The best part of it all was that Vodka absolutely loved his treats and then sat around licking his chops for a while after! :)

Thanks, Elle & Deborah for this really really fun challenge. I had a blast and Vodka is thrilled to bits - nothing like making a pooch happy on his birthday!

And now it is time for me to stay up all night checking out all the other awesome DB posts!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sweet'n'Tangy Kumquat Daal

We chanced upon some kumquats at Uwajimaya a few days ago. And I couldn't hold my curiosity any longer. So, we bought a bunch of them even as we kept wondering what we'd do with them! I'd eaten them raw a couple of times and liked them as long as they were perfectly ripe and juicy (except for the damn seeds which are bitter and sometimes a weird blue in colour!)

And I realized earlier today that these crazy cute fruits are the theme for April's round of AFAM. Hmm ... we'd come full circle. Now, we had to come up with a recipe for these crazy cute citrus fruits! I poked around on the web - the most interesting recipes I came up with were Elise's salsa, Sig's cocktail and a few relish ideas on CookingLight, all of which sounded delicious :) But I was hoping for an idea for a main dish for dinner. Hmm ...

Anyway, I love this whole AFAM idea. By the time we end up working with a fruit, we've read so much about it, I feel like I have a new best friend :) Before today, we'd seen kumquats, tasted them, we knew they belonged to the citrus family ... that's about it. And now, I'm a minor font of information!

  • Kumquats are not part of the citrus family, but are related to it and belong to the genus Fortunella. The slow growing trees produce 80-100 fruits a year.
  • Kumquats readily hybridize with citrus fruits to produce limequats and orangequats - hmm ... these could be the makings of a comic series!
  • Kumquats make for a great martini garnish and can be macerated in vodka or any clear spirit.
  • Candied kumquats are pretty popular in China.

Back to our recipe search ... after much dithering, we finally decided to experiment with a daal recipe! Simple lentil flavours can never be wrong, right? :) And we're huge fans of raw mango daal - the tartness is so overwhelmingly delicious. Maybe we would enjoy the flavour of kumquats too!

Sweet'n'Tangy Kumquat Daal
Little bits of juicy goodness

Servings: 4-6

1/3 red onion - diced
20+ cherry tomatoes
4 thai green chillies
20 kumquats - sliced and deseeded
1 cup whole moong daal
1 cup masoor daal
1 T sesame oil
1 t cumin seeds
1 t mustard seeds
1 t urad daal
1 t turmeric powder
salt to taste
Chopped cilantro for garnish

Rinse the moong and masoor daal and cook with 4 cups of water either in a pressure cooker or on the stove.
Heat the oil in a wok, add the mustard, cumin and urad daal and let them splutter.
Add the green chillies and onions and saute till the onions start to brown (4-5 minutes).
Throw in the kumquats and tomatoes along with the turmeric and saute for another 4-5 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup of water and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Add the cooked lentils, season with salt and simmer for 1-2 minutes for the flavours to blend.
Garnish with chopped cilantro.


Wooo Hoo Hoo! Love it! Those crazy little kumquats rock! The daal just oozed with this sweet+tangy citrus flavour. And the sauteed kumquats softened up and tasted *so* juicy and chewy. Yay! Happy :)

Off this goes to Coffee and Vanilla who is hosting this month's edition of AFAM (Maheshwari's brainchild). Thanks to both of them for organizing this fruit fest!

And we're so hooked onto these fruits, we already have a couple of other ideas for working with them! Expect to see a post about this in the next week or two!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Trying to get wasted on drunken noodles ...

Pad Kee Mao.

Three magic words that can make me skip around in circles. Easily my favourite Thai food, I'm pretty much the informal PKM taster of the city. In fact, there are so many joints that dish up a killer PKM that I've hardly felt the need for attempting a recreation at home.

Until today. We had this hankering for chef-fin' it out. We wanted to be the masters of our own Pad Kee Mao destiny. For some reason, hitting Typhoon or Thin Pan just did not seem enough. So, we embarked on this PKM journey. It was our first time working with those crazy wide rice noodles. When we first saw this dense package in the refrigerated section of Uwajimaya, we weren't quite sure if that was what we wanted - where were the ribbons or pieces of noodles? This just looked like a giant brick! Well, guess we'd have to figure it out. We loaded up on thai basil, a slew of vegetables and sauces and got to work! :)

The insanely delicious drunken noodles is a multi-step dish - with a fascinating assortment of sauces and spice - tamari, soy sauce, oyster sauce, white soy sauce (or fish sauce), red chillies, thai bird chillies, the list goes on!

So, we have to talk about our pitfalls upfront here. For some bizarre reason, we decided to try some additional seasoning here and went for a spoon of chili bean paste. *bad* idea. Don't even try it. I mean, this might work well with other szechuan dishes, but it is not a thai flavour by any means. And the bean bits add a weird flavour to drunken noodles. So, don't do it. Don't.

(Which is why I've excluded it from the recipe.)

Pad Kee Mao

Servings: 4

7-8 oz wide rice noodles (sen-yai)
1/2 cup firm tofu - cubed
3 cloves garlic - finely chopped
1 small onion - sliced long
3 T white rice vinegar
3 T white soy sauce (See-yew Khaaw)
4 T palm sugar
3 T lime juice
2 T tamari
4-5 T vegetarian oyster sauce
2 T ground dried red chillies
2 green jalapenos - finely chopped
1 small thai chilli - chopped (Prik Kee Nuu Suan)
7-8 broccoli florets
7-8 cauliflower florets
2 small carrots - sliced
1 tomato - cut into eighths
1 baby bok choy - chopped
1 cup fresh thai basil leaves
2 T peanut oil
1/2 cup egg whites

Soak sen-yai noodles in water for 15 mins. Place soaking sen-yai noodles on the stove and bring to very slow boil, removing the sen-yai noodles while they are still firm (after about 10 minutes). Drain with cold water and set aside.

Spray the tofu chunks with oil spray and stick them under a broiler till browned.

Blanch the broccoli, cauliflower and carrots in a pot of boiling water for 3-4 minutes till al dente.

Heat the oil in a wok and saute the garlic till it starts to brown.
Throw in the onions along with the jalapenos and saute briefly.
Add the scrambled egg whites and saute a bit longer.
Now throw in the rice vinegar, dried chillies, lime juice, sugar and white soy sauce
Turn the heat to high and let the sauce thicken.
Once the sauce reduces, add the thai basil leaves along with bok choy, oyster sauce and tamari.
Saute for a couple more minutes before adding the blanched vegetables.
Add the cooked noodles and tofu and saute for 4-5 minutes on medium heat. Keep tossing the ingredients to mix the sauce completely with the noodles and vegetables.

Top with the tomatoes and cilantro before serving. Maybe even garnish with sliced green onions or chopped garlic or jalapenos.


*mediocre*. Firstly, we killed the drunken high by adding that damn chili bean paste. That was a serious mistake. It'll never happen again! But the main issue here was that we're so damn stuffed from the flu that plagued us for the past week that our sense of smell is still on vacation. And that in turn is still greatly hampering our taste buds. *grr*. Even a nice dose of spicy thai chillies couldn't quite fix it! Another thing we did, as odd as it may sound - we used too many vegetables! Next time around, we're only going with broccoli and some carrots, no cauliflower - that's a bit of an overkill in our PKM.

So, we didn't end up being the Iron Chef of PKM. We barely got drunk on our noodles! But we learned our lessons. And the PKM flame burns bright now - we're itching to try it again :)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Silly Fusilli!

Estelle Costanza: Where have you been? You were supposed to fix the stove! I've been waiting for hours!
Frank Costanza
: I fell on some Fusilli!

Estelle Costanza: Fusilli?
Frank Costanza: You know, the corkscrew pasta. It was a Fusilli Jerry. It got stuck in me. Had to go to the proctologist.

~Seinfeld, Episode: The Fusilli Jerry


Could I ever cook fusilli with a straight face after watching this? :) Guess not! As long as I can keep cooking and eating fusilli, I'm happy - straight face, screwy face, who cares! :)

This was one of those meals thrown together when we were craving healthy carbs - we had whole wheat fusilli on hand, a slew of bell peppers waiting to be worked with ... some onions, garlic, a slew of juicy baby carrots ... let's get the meal on!

Fusilli with Peppers, Carrots and Onions
Damn, that corkscrew pasta tastes good! :)

Servings: 4

1 lb red and yellow bell peppers
3 T olive oil
1 large red onion - thinly sliced
8-10 baby carrots - cut into long chunks
4 cloves garlic - minced
1 lb whole wheat fusilli
salt, freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 T finely chopped fresh parsley

Place the peppers under a hot broiler and turn occasionally until they're blackened on all sides. Turn off the broiler and let the peppers sit for 5-10 minutes.
Peel the peppers, cut them into chunks and remove the stems. Most recipes ask for the seeds to be discarded, but we like the pungent zing of the seeds, so we usually incorporate them in our recipes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook until the pasta is just al dente.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onions and cook over moderate heat till translucent (about 5-8 minutes).
Stir in the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.
Now, add the carrot chunks and saute for 3-4 minutes.
Throw in the peppers and mix together gently.
Stir in about 3-4 T of the pasta water and continue to stir.
Season with salt and pepper, and stir in the parsley.
Drain the pasta and tip it into the pan with the vegetables.
Cook over moderate heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly to mix the pasta into the sauce.

Serve topped with Parmesan.


Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it.
~Author Unknown


Simple, flavourful, insanely quick! And honestly, being condemned to reheat the pasta sounds like a pretty good option to me :)

A certified candidate for Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Whole lotta nut love!

There's no such thing as too much of 'boarding! Really! Even when my ass hurts after two days of sliding, gliding, rolling down the mountain :) But follow that up with an insanely long run ... hmm ... the body starts whining a bit. And wants some serious TLC. And the mind just wants to some long overdue blogging!

And what could be be better than an insanely nutty comfort dessert? The minute we remembered that it was TNY, the reflex was to embark on making something simple, something sweet, something oozing earthy nut flavours!

Our version of phirni does not have chunks of almonds, instead we ground up the almonds along with the milk. We also cut back on the rice and let the almonds define the flavour and consistency of the pudding. And, obviously, topping the pudding with a variety of other nuts could only be more goodness! :)

Badam Phirni (Almond Pudding)
Nuts topped with ... nuts!

Servings: 4 ramekins

3/4 cup almonds
3 cups nonfat milk
1 T rice
1/2 cup demerara sugar
1 T pistachios - crushed
1 T cashews - broken into bits
1 t charoli seeds
1 t crushed green cardamom

Soak the rice in hot water for 1 hour before grinding it to a fine paste.
Soak the almonds in hot water for about 10-12 minutes.
Peel the almonds and grind them into a fine paste with 1/2 cup of milk.
Heat the rest of the milk in a saucepan along with the ground rice.
Add the almond paste and stir constantly, bringing the mixture to a slow boil.
Let the milk thicken - this takes about 15+ minutes.
Add the sugar and cardamom and continue stirring over low heat.
In the meantime, toast the pistachios, cashews and charoli seeds.


Think we like this version of our badam pudding better than the traditional phirni! The soft creamy badam consistency is *so* good. And if we're in the mood for a thicker version of payasam, this is what we'd settle for! Plus, this is a certified favourite with Vodka, he licked the bowl clean in record time :)

Happy New Year to the multitudes celebrating it - I didn't quite realize how many people celebrate the New Year today - tamils, malayalees, bengalis, punjabis, sinhalese, thais, the list goes on!

Added bonus: Today is
N'Ko Alphabet Day! :)

Other nutty dessert recipes:

Brazilian Chocolate Bananas
Orange Almond Chocolate Cake
Date Candy
Nut Barfi
Sugarcane-Banana cake in cashew-pistachio milk

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Honey honey, how you thrill me ...

I'm quite sure ABBA didn't have food on the mind while penning this song. But I usually do when I'm humming it :) A spoonful of honey is often enough to make me burst into song, if we're talking about a recipe centered on honey - that can just send me into raptures!

Ultimate Dessert Cookbook by Rosemary Wilkinson - I *love* this book. Almost as much as I love honey :) And I've been hoping to work through pretty much all the recipes in this book - maybe within the next 10 years? I don't often quest to work through a cookbook, I enjoy picking and discarding recipes, but this book is different. Every picture makes me drool. ,Every time I think I don't have a sweet tooth, this book makes me think again :)

So, one afternoon, while on aunt duty, I was flipping through this book and stumbled upon a recipe for a greek honey and lemon cake. Greek dessert? Honey?? Lemon??? Oh my! My curiosity and taste buds were totally piqued! Plus, it seemed like something the niece and nephew would totally enjoy. A whole litany of excuses to start baking! W00t!

The recipe called for a mix of semolina and all-purpose flour. I replaced the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour - chewy is usually good :) Also, I went for a moister cake by increasing the honey-lemon drizzle - can't quite go wrong with that!

"The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey....and the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it."
Winnie the Pooh in A.A. Milne's 'The House at Pooh Corner'

Greek Honey Lemon Cake
Oh! So thrilling! :)

Servings: a standard loaf or an 8" square pan

3 T whipped spread (I went with Earth Balance)
3 T + 2 T honey
finely grated rind of 1 Meyer lemon
juice of 2 Meyer lemons
2/3 cup nonfat milk
1 1/4 cups of white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup fine semolina
2 egg whites
2 t sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Grease a loaf pan and line the bottom with wax paper.
Place the margarine/whipped spread and 3 T of honey in a saucepan and heat gently till melted.
Reserve 2-3 T of lemon juice for the drizzle and add the rest of the juice to the honey mixture after taking it off the heat.
Stir in the lemon rind and milk till the mixture is smooth and blended.
Sift the flour with the baking powder and nutmeg before mixing in the semolina.
Beat the semolina mixture into to the honey mixture till completely blended.
Whisk the egg whites till they form soft peaks and fold evenly into the semolina mixture.
Spoon into the loaf or square pan and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
Bake for 25-30 minutes till golden brown.
Mix the reserved honey and lemon juice and drizzle over the cake while it is still warm.
Cool in the pan before cutting into bars or slices to serve.


*sweet*! *tart*! *earthy*! Those greeks sure know how to make their desserts! The kids wolfed this down and so did the rest of us. A definite repeat!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

I'm red but not embarassed ...

I'm hot for you, baby
I'm a big old beet
I'm red but not embarassed
and I'm good with meat
Of course, I make an excellent borscht
and I'm hot for you, baby!

The Hot Beet Song from the Brak Show :)

No meat or borscht today. But we're definitely talking about a red beet, red enough to stain our penne :) We're pretty big fans of penne - always seems like the perfect length for pasta, thick and chewy and lately, there seem to be a plethora of varieties that are insanely tasty - like the fabulous whole wheat and flax version carried by TJs.

This recipe was a quick'n'easy thrown together on one of thost post-workout nights when one craves carbs - the healthy kind, made all the better when tosses with an abundance of vegetables. We settled for a whole wheat penne, tossed with marinated beets and a few other vegetables. The killer flavour though was the dry curds we added as an afterthought!

If you haven't tried Sunshine Ithe most common brand of dry curds) as yet, I would strongly recommend it. It is a little hard to find, we've only consistently found it at Whole Foods. These dry curds make for a great substitute for cottage cheese - drier, chunkier, WAY less sodium, tons of protein and they absorb flavours incredibly well. We've used them with pastas, in salads, even in purees for sauces - every single option has worked outstandingly well. And when you're in training and trying to load up on protein, it makes for incredible nutrition, especially for someone who is predominantly vegetarian!


Beet-stained Penne + vegetables
I'm definitely red, but not embarassed :)

Servings: 2

3 cups of whole wheat penne - cooked al dente
1/2 vidalia onion - sliced long
1 red beet -diced
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil
8-10 large green olives (pitted)
1 cup Sunshine dry curds
8-10 brussel sprouts - sliced thick
salt, red pepper flakes
1 T dried marjoram

Mix 1 T of olive oil and the balsamic vinegar and toss with the diced beets.
Let the beet bits marinate for about 1/2 hour.

Heat the remaining 1T of olive oil and saute the onions till browned.
Add the sliced brussel sprouts and saute for 3-4 minutes.
If the olives are marinated in brine, wipe them clean and slice them.
Add the olive, salt and marjoram and saute for 1-2 minutes.
Add the cooked penne and toss till all ingredients are well mixed.
Add the dry curds and saute for another minute or 2 on low.
Take off the heat and toss with the beets, add the marinade into the pasta too.
Season with red pepper flakes (and salt) as needed.



Simple and really tasty - we kind of achieved the optimal blend of sweet and tart flavours accentuated with a touch of spice. And the dry curds totally absorbed the juices, making for a succulent addition to the pasta!

Quick? Definitely! Pasta? Hell Yes! Off this goes to Ruth of Once Upon a Feast for Presto Pasta Night. :)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

'Boreking' some bread :)

"Mediterranean Street Food" - how can one not fall in love with this book? *sigh* As I turn the pages, I'm totally mired in nostalgia as I'm taken back to the souks of Fez, the bustling streets of Cairo, Monastiraki Square in Athens ... *sigh*. And then I start dreaming of wandering around Istanbul, sitting on a beach in Sicily and visiting the multitude of mediterranean destinations that I haven't been to yet! Damn this travel bug.

Anissa Helou is a master of weaving stories around street food - and who can resist that? Her book is a treasure trove of travel encounters, local foods, interactions with berbers and irresistable recipes of local foods that she samples as she hops from tea cart to sandwich stand to candy stall. Sure sounds like a good life, doesn't it?

I flipped the pages of this book, sighing as I read the blurbs, I could almost smell the foods that she was talking about!


That was my belly! Guess it was time to find something to cook instead of dreaming of all the fabulous street food I could be noshing on.

Saj Borek.

That's where my eyes landed. Hmm ... this sounded like a cross between a calzone and a stuffed paratha. Saj Boreks are a specialty of Anatolia - the Asiatic area of what is modern Turkey (called Asia Minor in ancient times).

The traditional dough for saj borek uses a variety of flours - bread flour, all-purpose and whole wheat. The pastries work with a plethora of fillings - ground meat, potatoes, spinach and feta.
I didn't feel like a plain cheese filling or something as heavy as potatoes, so I went with a broccoli filling instead. That might just be one of the best things I've done all week!


Saj Borek with Broccoli and Cheese
Yummy savoury street food

Servings: 8-10

For the dough:

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 t salt
1 t chilli powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
warm water for kneading

For the filling:

1 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 T flat-leaf parsley
2 medium heads of broccoli - chopped
1 T harissa

To finish:

1-2 T butter - melted

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the salt, chilli powder and buttermilk.
Start kneading the dough, adding warm water as needed.
Knead for 5-10 minutes till a smooth, firm dough is formed.
Cover with a damp paper towel or cloth and let the dough sit for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, run the broccoli and parsley through a food processor to make a coarse crumble.
Add the crumbled feta cheese along with the harissa (you could use hot sauce or red pepper flakes if you don't have harissa).

Flour the work surface and a rolling pin.
Take a ball of dough and roll it out as thinly as possible, flouring it all the time till a 12" diameter circle is formed.
Sprinkle a handful of the broccoli-cheese mixture over the lower half of the dough.
Fold the plain side of the dough over the filling to make a half circle.

Heat a nonstick griddle over medium heat.
Place the filled dough on the hot griddle and cook for a couple of minutes on one side.
Flip the pastry over and cook the other side for another 1-2 minutes.
Both side should end up crispy and somewhat golden.

Transfer the pastry to a plate, brush with melted butter and serve.


Borek + Raita = bliss.


O.M.G.! I love Anissa Helou. I love her recipes. I love her books. I *just* ordered one more. More than anything, I love boreks. Is that plural version even right? Do I even care? All I know is that I want many a borek in my life :)

And this broccoli filling rocks! As much as I want to try out other fillings, I could just eat this forever and be satisfied!

Seriously, how can something so simple taste so fabulous?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Dare to bake a mini cake? :)

Ok, it is time to stop being so damn tardy. No more last minute bakeoffs. No more late posts.

I'm s.e.r.i.o.u.s.

I'll admit that I was initially disappointed when I found March's DB Challenge to be a party cake. Hmm ... I was craving savoury. *grumble* *grumble*. And then the baker kicked in :) Yay! A party cake! And tomorrow is Monte's b'day. Perfect. Wait ... more than perfect! That even gives me an excuse for this delayed post!

Morven picked Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake from her insanely droolworthy book Baking: From My Home To Yours. If you haven't checked out this book, now is the time to get it. Dorie's recipes are really well written out and she had a fabulous collection in this book.

The really neat thing about Morven's pick was that it gave us a lot of liberty in playing with the flavour and filling of the cake. Sweet! All I needed to do was channel my zen to inflate my cake and then I could totally party with it! Dorie suggested a raspberry filling, but I had this stash of wild boreal blueberries sitting in my fridge, so I decided to use that instead. Also, I went in for a mini-cake - I didn't have tiny "cakelet" pans, so I baked a regular layer cake and used a wide cup for cutting out the mini cakes. Worked pretty well!

I decided to take the plunge and veer away from the buttercream and coconut toppings. Instead, for the filling, I went with a lightly sweetened and buttered bluberry filling. And for the topping, I went in for a "fake" bitter chocolate ganache. Ok, no cringing allowed here - I made a ganache with chocolate and silken tofu and chilled it before slathering it all over the cakes. It turned out surprisingly good, the 72% dark totally rocked here. And I have no qualms indulging in this "tofanache" if I feel like going light!

This recipe was insanely easier than expected. Then again, with Dorie behind it, I shouldn't have been surprised! Thanks Morven, for the fine pick :)



The Perfect Party Cake
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours)

For the Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing

2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable

About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake

Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.

Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.


The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.


The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around

Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake

If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Additional Notes

If you want to bake mini-cakes, either use smaller cake pans or bake a regular 9" layer cake and cut out smaller cakes from it using cake rings or a sharp-rimmed cup.



The cake rose perfectly. I can only credit that to my sis (the real baker) who insisted that I pound the cake pan a zillion times till all the air bubbles are released, which I did, to Vodka's utter consternation! Slicing the cake to make layers was ... a piece of cake! The lemon flavours (I skipped the extract and went with lemon juice and zest) were outstanding. The boreal berries were divine, like always - they're much smaller than regular blueberries, not as sweet, but have a fabulous earthy flavour that makes for a fine topping on most desserts. And the "tofanache" made me quite happy. It isn't meant for everything - there are times when nothing but the real ganache would suffice, but in this case, it did a pretty good job.


Is this going to be a repeat?

I would totally bake this cake again - maybe I'll even use some buttercream next time around! Besides, I have a ton of leftovers from the cake that I can't wait to work with - that's often the fun part, isn't it?

Thanks Morven, for this insanely fun pick and even more for letting us exercise our creative license. Picking and choosing fillings and toppings was a party in itself!

And now I'm off to finally spend some time checking out all the other fabulous Daring Bakers' creations!