Sunday, September 28, 2008

Equal Opportunity Cooking

Pear and Honey Cake

I am not going to pretend to know much about the Jewish religion. I have a very superficial knowledge of Jewish holidays and customs. I have had one Jewish friend in my life and few Jewish aqaintances. There is no specific reason why I just have not encountered many Jewish people. According to Sperlings Best The Jewish population of Fayetteville makes up just 0.10% of the total population. I have lived here for about 14 yrs so that might have a little something to do with it.

Honey Cake is a Traditional Rosh Hoshana/Jewish New Year dessert. I saw this Honey Cake on Smitten Kitchen and it looked so moist and was such a beautiful dark brown that I knew I had to make it.

I am pretty sure you don't have to be Jewish to eat or enjoy Honey Cake but I thought it might be nice to understand a little bit about it.

Rosh Hoshana (Jewish New Year) begins at sundown Sept 29th (this year).

Like Southerns eat black eyed peas for good luck on New Years (according to the traditional calendar) and Northerners eat cabbage;Jewish people eat Honey. Honey is supposed to encourage a "sweet" new year. Apples are also supposed to be good luck as they represent the "sweetness of life." Apparently the two combined are especially good luck.

The apple thing ...well I read that AFTER I had my heart set on adding pears to this. I mean honey and pears? Tell me that does not sound good! I am sure apples would also be a great addition. Heck, Go CRAZY, add BOTH! I also did not add the almonds to this but the recipe calls for them sprinkled over the top.

The only other change I made to this was the original recipe called for whiskey I did not have any whiskey so I substituted spiced Rum. I thought the spicy flavor would compliment it nicely.

Was I right? Well let me tell you I can't find anything wrong with it! I was very diligent in measuring ingredients and my "non-baking self" is pretty proud of this. I was not disappointed in how moist it is and it is equally dark and beautiful just like the pictures I saw on Smitten Kitchen

Pear and Honey Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup room temperature coffee
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup-spiced Rum
2 pears peeled and diced
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds (optional)

Fits in three loaf pans, two 9-inch square or round cake pans, one 9 or 10 inch tube or bundt cake pan, or one 9 by 13 inch sheet cake.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Generously grease pan(s) with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Make a well in the center, and add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee , orange juice and rum . (If you measure your oil before the honey, it will be easier to get all of the honey out.)

Using a sturdy wire whisk mix until dry ingredients are well incorporated. Fold in diced Pears.

Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds, if using. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets, stacked together (this will ensure the cakes bake properly with the bottom baking faster than the cake interior and top).* This part is Smitten Kitchens specific instructions I am not sure why but since she is a master baker and I am not, I listened.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Hunger For Reading

Thia Coconut Curry Shrimp

Though cooking is my number one passion, reading comes a very close second. Of course, the two are often combined. Because of this I have learned that though I love bookstores they are quite a dangerous place for me to visit. Dangerous to my wallet that is! Between my love of reading (anything and everything) and cookbooks I could spend a small fortune in a very short period of time.

I am always reading a book (often 2). I keep one under my pillow to read myself to sleep (occasionally that bites me in the butt when I get to the climax of a book and can't put it down) and one in my bag at work for rare moments when we get some down time. I sometimes keep magazines, especially cooking magazines (or gossip rags...shhh don't tell anyone) in the car for times when I have appointments or have to wait for anything (I am very impatient and if I have something to read I don't get as irritated).

I have come to the conclusion that spending $8-20 (often more for cookbooks) on a book that I often finish in a week (or less) when I can get used books for a fraction at Edward McKays is kind of extravagant. I am just as happy reading a book someone else has read as I am reading a brand new one.

As far as cookbooks are concerned, unless I find one that is just chock full of recipes that I like or has a theme that I use a lot ( My Perfect Party Cook Book is my bible) buying new ones is not very frugal. I can find a recipe for most anything somewhere on the Internet.

Magazines? Well I have a friend who subscribes to Food and Wine and she passes them on to me when she is finished and the bookstore does not seem to mind me paging through theirs while I enjoy a cup of coffee. I just have to leave my credit card at home.

There is one other alternative. The Library. The only problem I have with that is ummmm... Returning the books. I recently went to the library after a long hiatus. Why would a person who loves reading so much shun the library? Perhaps it was the $30 of overdue fines I had.(blushing) BUT, I am happy to report that I have cleared that all up and I am once again welcome at the library.

What does any of this have to do with cooking? Well, a few weeks ago when we had a rare slow day in EMS we decided to make the library our base station (it is right behind the Fire Dept). I was flipping through a copy of Cooking Light and came across an interesting recipe for Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp. But as fate would have it we got a call and I had to hurry out to "save a life".

As often happens, we never got another break that day So I never made it back to the library to copy the recipe When I got home I looked up the website and was very pleased to find the recipe with no problem. I was even more pleased when I tried it. It was really quick and really good.

I have made it twice now and I am adding it to my regular repertoire. The first time I made it exactly more or less just as it was written. The second time I was serving the shrimp over pasta and wanted a bit more "sauce" so I doubled everything (and used a lot more curry) except the oil and shrimp and onions. it was not quite as "light" but it was delish seved over a bed of angel hair pasta. This is the recipe as originally printed in Cooking Light.

Thia Coconut Curry Shrimp

1 teaspoon canola oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon red curry paste (such as Thai Kitchen)

1 teaspoon sugar

12 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/3 cup light coconut milk

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and curry paste to pan, and sauté 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in sugar; sauté 15 seconds. Add shrimp; sauté 3 minutes or until shrimp are done, stirring frequently. Stir in coconut milk and fish sauce; cook 30 seconds or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat; stir in green onions and basil.

Makes 2 servings, 1 cup each.

Nutritional Information as provided by Cooking Light

Calories: 255 (26% from fat)
Fat:7.4g (sat 2.6g,mono 1.8g,poly 1.9g)
Iron: 6mg

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fear of Phyllo


I vowed years ago, after a completely botched attempt that I would never EVER again try to cook with phyllo dough. When I say botched .....I mean botched! I can't remember what I was trying to make but I do remember that after much frustration and colorful expletives, the whole lot ended up in the trash can. But, never say never!

My friend Savanna (and my personal resource for Greek food) has assured me over and over that it's not that hard and she will show me how to handle it. But there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Her advice? Butter, lots and lots and LOTS of butter and keep the phyllo moist by placing a damp towel over it. Sounds messy and like a lot of work.

My friend Sandy finally convinced me to give it a try for her when I visited this summer. Actually, she sort of tricked me. She began telling me about this "spinach pie" her Hungarian neighbor made and that I should try it. So we went to her to get the recipe and that is when I realized it was know ...stuff made with PHYLLO! She assured me that "its not hard at all" I skeptically looked over the recipe. The first thing I noticed is that instead of using butter, she used butter flavored pan spray. The second was that this was made as a casserole which means no cutting or folding of the phyllo (traditionally Spanakopita is made into individual triangles). Hmmm... OK, I will take the challenge!

So, I have made this twice now. The first time I followed her recipe exactly and had a nice finished dish; though, a little bland for my taste. In her defense. English is not her first language and she never uses a "recipe" so it is quite possible that though she painstakingly wrote out a recipe for me, that something was missed or lost in the translation. She also talked a lot about finding "good feta"and I used the brand I found in the grocery store which may be a lot less flavorful than what she uses.

My second attempt I was more confident and I researched some different recipes and of course added my own twist to it. So, I don't claim that this is authentic Greek or Hungarian. But it is pretty tasty. I do think at some point I will try it with the butter thing because when I asked my friend Savanna what she thought about it and if it tasted like it should. She said her only advice would be to "use more butter".

The things you want to remember before starting this recipe is to keep the phyllo moist. Though it seems painfully tedious you must keep it covered with a damp towel. I recommend taking what you will use for each layer out from under the towel at a time (about 6 sheets). The other is plan to use nearly a whole can of butter spray for this dish. The alternative is using melted butter (not sure how much but I am guessing at least a whole stick possibly more) and brushing it on the layers with a pastry brush. .

2-10 oz Pkgs Frozen chopped spinach
1 pkg phyllo dough(comes 2 pkgs to a box)
1 TBS Olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced onion
2 cloves garlic,minced
1 lb crumbled feta cheese
1/2 Parmesan cheese (no powdered stuff)
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh is best)
4 eggs,beaten

1 can butter flavored pan spray

Thaw phyllo (in sealed pkg) for about 30 min. on counter. Thaw spinach (or defrost in microwave). Squeeze spinach dry as possible in a clean kitchen towel.

In a large skillet heat oil. Add onions and saute for 1 minute. Add garlic and saute an additional minute. Turn off heat. Stir in spinach, feta, parmesan and sundried tomatoes. Add beaten eggs, lemon, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x13 glass casserole dish with pan spray.

Open phyllo dough and unfold onto counter. Cover with damp kitchen towel. Remove 6 sheets of phyllo and place on top of towel.

Place 1 layer of phyllo dough in dish. Spray phyllo evenly and completely with pan spray(don't forget edges). Repeat with 5 remaining sheets. Spread half of spinach mixture on top of phyllo.

Repeat 6 sheet phyllo layer, repeat spinach layer and finish with additional 6 sheet phyllo layer.

Bake for 40-45 min until top is golden brown. Let cool for about 15 min before cutting into squares. May be served slightly warm or at room temperature. This is best served immediately for a nice crispy texture. It may be refrigerated and reheated in microwave for a few seconds. It will still be tasty but will lose the crunch.



Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Well, Butter My Ears!


As I am sure you guessed, I did not reveal the full menu of my BBQ to you on the last post. Thought I would stretch it out a little. I didn't want overwhelm you with too much goodness in one post. OK, yeah I was being lazy! Busted!

Have you tried grilling corn on the cob? If you haven't you DEFINATELY should! Grilling really brings out the sweetness in the corn and a little char on it? ...yum! If you already grill your corn hold on. I have a recipe (if you use the term really loosely) for you that will Knock your socks off! Chilli Lime Butter! It takes about 30 seconds to make and takes corn on the cob to a new level. Of course you can put it on corn that you cook by any method but really, try grilling it.

I have seen this several times in different places. I always thought it sounded good but had just not got around to making. I didn't think my daughter would like it but her reaction was something like this "mmph butter ..mmmphf Good Mmph! Translation:Oh man! That butter is really good Mom! (said with her mouth full of corn)

Grilled Corn with Chilli Lime Butter

Corn still in husks ( 1 , no better make 2 for each person)
1/2 stick Butter room temperature (Enough for 8-10 pieces of corn)
Tsp Chilli powder
1 lime
1 tsp lime zest

Soak corn in water for 30 mins.

In a small bowl mix chilli powder with butter. Zest lime with fine grater (microplane works best) Cut lime in half and squeeze juice of one half of lime into butter. Mix well. Set aside. (can be made ahead and refrigerated but bring to room temperature before serving)

Place corn on hot grill for 15-20 mins turning 3-4 times. Husks will be blackened but corn (at most) will only have spots of browning and THAT is a VERY good thing!

Remove Corn from Grill and allow to cool for about 5 mins. Shuck corn and brush with butter. Serve immediately.