Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Cherry-almond coffeecake

After eating a lot of Bing cherries this weekend, there seems to be a lot of it left. As always bags of cherries seem bottomless after you have had a couple of handfuls. This coffee cake is quite tender and the cherries, you may find, have turned into a jam-like mush. The streusel topping and sliced almonds are the highlights of this cake.

I did not have a cherry pitter and this method for pitting cherries (scroll down) worked with some success.

Here is the delicious recipe from Cooking Light:

Cherry-Almond Coffeecake

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup regular oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon chilled butter or stick margarine, cut into small pieces

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, softened
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups pitted sweet cherries, quartered
2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350°.
To prepare topping, combine flour, brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon in a small bowl; cut in 1 tablespoon butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Set aside.

To prepare the cake, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Beat granulated sugar and butter at medium speed of a mixer. Add the yogurt, extracts, and egg; beat well. Add flour mixture, and beat at low speed until well-blended (batter will be thick). Spread half of batter in bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray, and top with cherries. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons topping. Repeat procedure with the remaining batter and topping. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Berry-licious muffins

These muffins from the Sunlight Cafe by Mollie Katzen is a healthy way to start the day. They are loaded with blueberries and delicately sweet. They are best with some spread like butter, jam, honey or even lemon curd. I love the baked goods from this book because Ms.Katzen lets me use oil instead of butter and even replace some of the flour with soy powder. If you are not a big fan of having berries in each bite, reduce the berries to 1 cup.

Blueberry-licious muffins- 12 medium muffins

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup soy powder ( or use 2.5 cups flour)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange or lemon zest
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh orange or lemon juice
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted or oil
1 1/2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly spray 10 standard-sized (2 1/2-inch-diameter) muffin cups with nonstick spray.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and zest in a medium-sized bowl.

Measure 1 1/2 cups buttermilk into a 4-cup liquid measure. Add the juice, egg, and vanilla, and beat gently with a fork or a small whisk until smooth. Stir in oil or butter.

Slowly pour this mixture into the dry ingredients. Using a spoon or a rubber spatula, stir from the bottom of the bowl until the dry ingredients are all moistened. Carefully fold in the blueberries at the very end.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake in the middle of the oven for to 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven, then remove the muffins from the pan and place them on a rack to cool. Wait at least 30 minutes before serving.

These do not have heavy cakiness of coffee shop muffins nor do they have the toughness that is normally expected from low-fat muffins.

Friday, July 15, 2005

SHF # 10- Baklava-inspired Honey Gelato

The sweet-loving Nic at Baking Sheet has proposed a great theme for this month's SHF- Honey. I was looking forward to making an SHF entry that was a frozen treat and honey offered a perfect opportunity. In my quest for a light frozen honey dessert, I came across a honey gelato in Cooking Light. Using honey in ice creams and gelato is probably the best way to enjoy the flavor nuances of honey, without the cloying sweetness. I used Kamahi honey, a very buttery honey from New Zealand.

Honey is the only sweetener in this gelato. The idea of using evaporated milk and dry milk sounded a little ahem, yucky but the end result was more than worth it. I took some inspiration from the spices in baklava and steeped cinnamon and cloves into the scalded milk.

I added some crunch to the gelato by adding some chopped spiced, roasted almonds and pistachios (the kind of treats that make the rounds during the Holidays) making it very baklava-ish. Some filo pastry sticks filled with cinnamon and soaked lightly in honey-spice syrup gave a lot of crisp texture and served as munchable spoons.

Baklava-inspired Honey gelato

1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk
12 oz can evaporated fat-free milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
2 sticks cinnamon
4-5 cloves
1 tsp orange flower water

Chopped Spiced almonds and pistachios

Scald 2 % milk with cinnamon and cloves. Let mixture steep overnight. Before making the gelato, remove milk from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature. Stir in orange flower water.

Combine first evaporated milk, honey and dry milk in a saucepan. Heat mixture over medium heat until honey dissolves, stirring frequently (do not boil). Remove from heat.

Combine salt and egg yolks in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add honey mixture to egg mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Place honey mixture in pan; cook over medium heat until mixture reaches 180° (about 3 minutes), stirring constantly (do not boil). Remove from heat; stir in 2% milk. Strain the mixture and cool completely. Let the mixture ripen in the refrigerator overnight.

Pour mixture into ice-cream maker and freeze. Just before the mixture hardens up, add a couple of handfuls of chopped nuts and run ice cream maker for another 2 min. Spoon gelato into a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze 2 hours or until firm.

For filo sticks:

4 -6 sheets of filo pastry
melted butter
cinnamon sugar

Layer sheets brushing each layer with melted butter and dusting with cinnamon-sugar. Cut the sheets into 8 thin sticks. Roll each stick slightly to make them rounded. Bake at 350 F for 8-10 min until golden brown.

While they are warm, brush them with a cooled syrup made of equal parts of sugar, honey and water that has been flavored with whole spices and orange zest.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Tomato chutney

Tomato chutney or thokku as it is known in Tamil Nadu is a good use of summer tomatoes. It is a spicy version and is a common recipe among tamilians. I try to make this at least twice during summer. This is not exactly a recipe that stores well. It will stay fresh for a week in the refrigerator. I also like to use this as a dip with pita or even as a sandwich spread. In South India, this is served alongside dosas, idlis or even pongal.

I love the color vine-ripened tomatoes give but any really ripe tomatoes will do. Personally, I don't mind having the skins left on the tomatoes. If you don't want chunky bits in your chutney, you could blanch the tomatoes and remove the seeds. If you are losing too much of the juice, strain the juice and add to the tomatoes.

8 large ripe tomatoes
1 tsp fenugreek seeds, dry-roasted and ground fine
3/4 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 T oil preferable cold-pressed sesame oil, the Indian kind
1/2 tsp asafoetida or 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Grind the tomatoes to a puree. Heat oil in a saute pan. Add mustard seeds and let them splutter. Add the asafoetida powder, stir for 15-20 sec. If using garlic, add it instead of asafoetida and let it color slightly. Add tomato puree and red chili powder. Simmer on medium heat. The puree will gradually thicken up into a sauce and then to a paste. So there will be lot of bubbling.

When the puree has reduced by half, add salt and ground fenugreek. Continue simmering until it is thick like a paste and oil droplets start floating on top. Taste and add more salt, if needed.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Nuts about boiled peanuts

Corn Pulao

Fresh corn is probably the cheapest vegetable (or should I say grain) this time of the year. I got a dozen of them for $1.00. After doing the usual corn roasts and corn salad, this is a new recipe for me from the tamil cookbook author Mallika Badrinath. The corn is quite chewy and just rightly cooked at the end of cooking, not mushy at all. A good recipe to make use of the plentiful corn.

Corn pulao

1 cup rice (I used basmati brown rice)
1 medium onion, sliced thin
4 cloves
1 inch cinnamon bark
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
3 ears corn, husked and kernels removed

Grind together into a paste:
1/4 cup mint or 1/2 cup cilantro
4 green chilis
2 dried red chilies
1 inch nob ginger, peeled
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp garam masala powder or any curry powder

Soak rice for 10 min. Drain well.

Heat a tbsp of oil. Add Cumin, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves. When the cumin starts to brown, add onion and saute until it is soft. Now add rice and saute for 2 min until the rice seems more whitish and opaque. Add the ground paste and saute for another minute. Add salt as required. Add water according to the usual requirement (I use 2 cups water for 1 cup rice). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer. When the rice is half done, add corn kernels. Cover and cook until rice is cooked through. Serve hot with raita of your choice.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Vegetarian souvlaki

There are no Mediterranean menus that cater to vegetarians. Especially in Pittsburgh. I just sigh whenever the Mediterranean diet is hailed for being healthful and heart-friendly. Besides the ubiquitous Italian fare, Greek food is the most widely available around here. Greek food means the mezze platter and the oily falafel for vegetarians (along with a pasta with feta that has been thrown into the menu as an after-thought).

So when I came across a Greek vegetarian cookbook by Diane Kochilas, I was happy that there were some in Mediterranean countries who ate vegetables as a primary form of nutrition. This great recipe for mock, meat-free souvlaki is amazing. Souvlaki is the hamburger of Greece and seems to have a great fan-following.

Grilled vegetarian souvlaki

1 medium zucchini, cut into 1 inch rounds or half-moons
1/4 th of a large eggplant or 1 long Japanese eggplant, prepared as zucchini
1 large green pepper, cut into quarters
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
8 oz Halloumi cheese or paneer (cut into large chunks)- I added this one
1/4 cup EV. Olive oil
1 T red wine vinegar and 1 T sweet red wine
OR 2 T balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
2 T oregano, finely chopped
Salt, pepper
4 Pita pockets

1/2 cup strained yogurt
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 T mint, finely chopped
1 T olive oil
Salt, pepper, paprika

My additions- pinch of sumac, a tbsp of za'tar

Sauce: Mix yogurt with the other ingredients. Let it sit for at least 20 min before using.

Souvlaki: Mix olive oil, vinegar, wine, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Add the vegetables and cheese to the dressing. Mix with your hands and let them marinate for at least 20 min. Keep mixing now and then.

Heat whatever form of grill you have (even a broiler will do except you won't get the smoky taste). Brush with oil. Insert the veggies onto skewers and grill away until done. The veggies should not be falling apart but should be a little firm.

Grill the pita slightly. Place the grilled vegetable souvlaki on top of each pita (not inside). Hold it like a taco. Add a tbsp or two of sauce. Roll it all up tightly or eat as you would a taco.

It can be messy but if the yogurt used has drained well, then there should be no problem at all.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Chocolate pudding cake

What is the ugly blob you ask? It is not a chocolate cake attempt gone haywire.

It is a quick fix for chocolate cravings. It is good to serve unexpected company especially with ice cream. The top gets dried up into a brownie-like consistency and bottom is a gooey puddle of chocolate sauce. I jazzed up the recipe with some butterscotch chips. Semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips would be a delicious addition. I love this with butter pecan or cherry garcia ice cream. Did I mention it is low-fat?

Chocolate pudding cake

1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butterscotch chips (can use peanut butter, white, cinnamon, or other flavor chip you like)
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350; butter 9 inch round or square pan.
Blend the flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Stir in butterscotch chips.

In a small bowl, blend milk, oil, vanilla. Add to dry ingredients.

Pour into prepared cake pan and spread evenly.

Blend together remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa.
Sprinkle over the cake batter. Pour hot water over the surface of batter, DO NOT STIR. Bake 35-40 minutes until top is dry.

Let rest at room temp. for 2 min and serve immediately. The cake can be rewarmed in the microwave the next day to produce a little sauce. But it is best when served fresh from the oven.

Moorish crunch salad

I am currently reading Jamie's Kitchen by the Naked chef Jamie Oliver. I love his books for the great photos not only of food but Jamie and his sous chefs working, playing and shopping. The writing style seems very casual. I love the way he uses words like bash up and many of his ingredients seem to be a handful of this and that- care-free cooking at its best. All the salads in this book are unique and interesting. Many of them don't even use leaves of any sort. I am trying to make most of the vegetarian salads in the book (before the book is due at the library) and this is my first.

Moorish Crunch salad- (I have reduced the quantity to serve 2-3 people)

1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
4-5 small red radish, sliced thin
1/4 th of an eating apple, thinly sliced
a handful dark raisins
2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
2 T minced parsley or (in my case) cilantro
1 tsp chopped mint (I left this out)

For dressins, mix together:
2 T red wine vinegar
1 T sesame paste or tahini
2 T olive oil
salt, pepper

Mix all the vegatables, raisins and herbs with dressing. This salad can be made several hours before though the book suggests immediate serving. Add the toasted sesame seeds, just before serving.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Kerala style preserved lemon pickle

It is called Neer elumichangai or lemon preserved in water. True to its name, the lemons are soaked in an acidic liquid which is mainly composed of lemon juice, salt and a little water. There is no oil which differentiates it from the normal, spicy Indian pickles that are preserved in oil. My grandmother used to send us jars of spicy pickles every summer. This 'pickle' would be made just for me. My mom still makes this for me as a special request. Since I will not be going to India for a while, I have to venture into the making of these lemons.

This pickle is consumed mainly when you are feeling nauseous or having a stomach bug. People who visit hilly areas carry this and when they feel a wave of nausea, quickly chew on the lemon skins to combat it. For me this is a sort of comfort food when teamed with yogurt rice. Of course, you can use the lemon skins for couscous, tagine or any dish that calls for preserved lemons. I also use the liquid with a little olive oil on mesclun greens.

Keralan preserved lemon pickles

3 large lemons (washed and scrubbed well)
1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
4 serrano chiles or jalapenos, coarsely minced
2 cm fresh ginger, peeled and thinly chopped
salt to taste

Bring about 2 qts of water to a boil. Add turmeric and whole lemons. Cook for 10 min. Remove lemons from water and let them cool.

Mix the chilies and ginger in a bowl. Over another bowl, chop the lemons into quarters, holding them with the palm of your hand. Do not do this on a board because you will lose the juices that come out of the lemons. When you are cutting, look for seeds and remove them. Place the cut up lemons and their juices in the same bowl.

Add the ginger and chilies to the lemon-lemon juice mixture. Add 2 tsp salt or more as required. Mix well. Store in glass jars. When you are pouring them into the jars, push the lemons, chilies and ginger inside such that they get compressed in the juice. There should be a layer of liquid on top. If the liquid does not come to the top, top the jar off with some water. Keep refrigerated. You can use this after a week or so. This will keep forever refrigerated.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Ricotta gnocchi

I always greedily buy the huge container of ricotta cheese that Sam's club sells and try to use it up. Usually I end up throwing about half of it. I came across a recipe for ricotta gnocchi and knew that this was probably the only way of using up the cheese. My previous attempt at making potato gnocchi was horrible and I ended up with pebbles that were tasteless.

Knowing that ricotta gnocchi was the most temperamental type, I gave it a go. I also did not heed the advice from chefs to use them FRESH. I froze them all and used them today almost a week later. The result was unbelievably tasty and soft like a pillow. One thing I learned was making gnocchi is intuitive and the flour proportion stated in a recipe may be misleading. The dough for this is very sticky but resist the urge to add flour. I have adapted Mario Batali's recipe.

32 oz can of ricotta cheese (drain water by placing it in a strainer)
1 egg
2-3 T grated parmesan
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp dried parsley or basil
1/2 a nutmeg, ground
1 cup flour (more or less as required)

Place the ricotta in a fine sieve over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight. In a medium-sized bowl, stir the drained ricotta, 1 cup of the flour, the egg, parsley/basil, parmesan, salt, pepper and nutmeg together gently but thoroughly until a soft dough forms, adding a little more of the flour if the dough is sticky when poked.

Forming the gnocchi: dip 2 tablespoons in cool water. Using 1 spoon, scoop up a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta mixture and use the other spoon to form it into a smooth, pointed oval. I rolled the mixture using wet hands that were slightly floured. A messy job! Place finished gnocchis on a well-floured plate. Refrigerate them until firm and use. Or freeze.

I served the gnocchis with a simple marinara sauce. I just wish the gnocchi gods are just as favorable next time around.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Strawberry bruschetta

Though it sounds weird, it is a pretty interesting thing to try. I really cannot bear the thought of eating strawberries on their own but I like them in baked, scrumptious desserts. When Giada De Laurentis made this recipe in Everyday Italian, it looked good enough for me to give this a shot. I made it as a sort of a healthful dessert last night. It tastes great with the sweetened up strawberries shedding their juices into the crusty bread. You can imagine how tasty they would be on a slice of brioche or pound cake.

Strawberry Bruschetta

2 slices (1/2-inch-thick) rustic white bread
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5-6 strawberries, sliced
4 teaspoons sugar

Spread the butter over the bread. Arrange the sliced strawberries over them. Sprinkle the strawberries with the sugar. Broil until the sugar begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes and bread is toasty.