Sunday, February 21, 2010

Just relax

How have I gotten so fortunate? A dinner party tonight, and I am responsible for nothing! It has been so many years that I have been a chef, and but a few friends invite me over without the un-welcomed question, “how did I do?”

Now, I find myself living with someone who is interested in taking control and expressing themselves. Oh sure, there are the struggles over who knows best but when it comes to the kitchen I know I know best. Granted, I tend to stay clear of the kitchen to avoid giving advice, obsessively cleaning, cringing at the lack of knife skills. I am learning to let go, and enjoy the expression of love. Of course, the downside is I now have to do the dishes.

Since I didn’t have to spend the afternoon shopping and prepping I actually felt free to play. So, while the kitchen was empty I ran in and baked….an activity I will indulge, but I would never want to spend my days doing. My icing technique never developed much beyond “homey.”

My intention was to whip up a little dessert I have been holding on the tip of my tongue, and help take some of the stress off my boyfriend’s to-do list. And, the truth-be-told I have been curious to see how coconut milk would work as a replacement for milk in a white cake recipe I love. Or, was it a hidden desire to wrestle control back? No, I am happy to be a guest, and offer a host gift – all right maybe in my mind I might be having a tough time letting go of the meal.

Floral Coconut Cake – yields 8-inch cake (4-layers)
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4-teaspoon salt
6 egg whites
3/4-cup coconut milk
1-teaspoon rose water

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and lightly flour two 8-inch cake pans.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until very light in color and fluffy. In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk the whites, milk and rose water together to completely combine.

To the butter mixture add a third of the flour, and mix to combine. Then add a third of the coconut milk mixture to combine. Continue to add the remaining ingredients ending with the flour. Divide the cake batter between the two cake pans, and then place in the oven. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Remove to a cooling rack, and rest the cakes for 5 minutes. Turn the cakes out of their pans onto the cooling rack, and allow the cakes to cool completely.

Guava Coconut filling:
8 ounces guava paste
1-cup coconut milk
2-egg yolks

In the microwave oven warm the guava paste for 60 seconds. Transfer the guava paste to a 1-1/2 quart saucepan, and add the coconut milk. Over a medium flame stir the guava and coconut milk with a small whisk until the guava is completely dissolved.

In a small work bowl whisk the egg yolks, and then add about a 1/4-cup of the warm guava mixture. Return the egg yolks to the warm guava mixture, and lower the heat to low. With a rubber spatula stir the mixture, constantly, for 10 to 15 minutes. Do not let the mixture boil. Once the mixture has thickened slightly transfer the guava mixture to a small bowl and refrigerate.

Carefully cut each cake into half to create four layers.

Spread a third of the cooled guava mixture on the bottom layer. Continue with the remaining layers. Crumb coat (a thin layer of icing) the over the cake, and refrigerate in order to set this initial icing. Once the cake has chilled icing the cake completely with the buttercream. Refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes to set the icing (any leftover buttercream can be successfully frozen for up to a few months).

Rose scented Italian Buttercream – yields approx. 2 1/2 cups
2 cups sugar
2/3-cup water
6 egg whites
10 ounces (2-1/2 sticks) sweet butter – at room temperature
2-teaspoons rosewater

In a 2-quart saucepan combine the sugar and water, and place over a medium flame. Gently stir the sugar to dissolve in the water. Allow the sugar to come to the boil, and then lower the flame to a medium low. Cook the sugar for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the bubbles that form rise and pop slowly.

Start beating the egg whites in a standing mixer fitted with the whisk. Once the whites reach a stiff peak lower the speed, and very slowly pour in the hot sugar mixture. Increase the speed of the mixture and continue to beat the egg whites until they are cooled completely, about 10 to 15 minutes. Then start dropping in the butter, about a tablespoon at a time, until all the butter has been added. Mix in the rosewater and beat for 5 minutes longer. Refrigerate for 15 minutes to set before spreading onto a completely cooled cake.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Taking Responsibility

It seems to me one of the on-going buzzes is the battle this country has with bulge. Michelle Obama’s initiative to tackle child obesity will help keep this serious abuse of food front and center. Now, there are many institutional changes that need to take place: the re-evaluation of the foods we feed children in school; the subsidy the corn growers get making high fructose corn syrup so cheap and easy to use, and the lack of national support for local agri-business to get to market and compete with behemoth food distributors.

So, until there is real action (and jaded as I am, I don’t see our congress doing much) it is up to us, the individual, to start making choices that will hopefully effect change.

As a consumer, I long ago took responsibility for the items I bought. There are very few commercially canned products I will rely upon and definitely not a single pre-package meal that will make it to my table. Yes, I can shop as needed given the access I have in the area I live – I am spoiled, by choice. We need to take some extra time to plan – plain beans have the ability to be incarnated into multiple meals; quinoa is a terrific grain that cooks in 15 minutes, and fresh or frozen vegetables are an easy go to.

Personally, a mid-week dinner never takes me more than 30 minutes Рbe it a quick saut̩ or a stew that I then allow to simmer pretty much free of constant baby-sitting. Though you need to feel the joy and pleasure of feeding and being fed. The kitchen needs to become your sandbox, and cooking the child-like glee found when making a mud-pie.

Let us not despair to deeply and continue to believe that some change will come, but until that time lets visit the farmer’s market…eat an apple instead of a flip-top serving of apple sauce, or that a happy meal is pleasing no one but the shareholder.

Garlic Broccoli – yields 4 servings
3 garlic cloves – sliced thinly
3-tablespoons olive oil
2 chilies de Arbol (or any other dried whole chili)
1-1/2-pounds broccoli
1/4-cup Kalamata olives
4-scallions – white portion only
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a wok or cast iron skillet over a high heat, and add the garlic and oil. Cook the garlic until it starts to brown.

Then mix in the chilies, broccoli, olives and scallions, and 2-tablespoons of water. Season the broccoli with salt and pepper. Toss the broccoli mixture, and cook until the water has evaporated.

Serve immediately.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Red Stained Valentine

a tangle of limbs
enthralled, enamored, embraced
how to say… LOVE YOU

Love Potion 214 – yields approx. 4 cocktails
2 cups blood orange juice (from approximately 6)
1/4-cup pomegranate syrup
4 whole clove
1/4-cup dried Rose petals
2 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers
1-teaspoon whole fennel seed
1/2-inch slice fresh ginger root
1/2-cup sugar
1-cup vodka

Place the clove, rose petals, hibiscus, fennel seed and ginger root in a 1-1/2 quart saucepan and pour over the blood orange juice, pomegranate syrup, sugar and 1-1/2 cup water. Over a medium heat warm the mixture for 20 minutes covered with a tight fitting lid. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to steep for 15 minutes. Then pass the ingredients through a fine sieve. Cool the infused orange juice mixture completely.

Fill a martini shaker with ice and pour over 1/2-cup of the blood orange mixture and 1/4-cup of vodka. Place the lid on it and shake. Pour into martini glass and serve straight up.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Grey, bleak ominous

dusting turned sideways – whiteout

to the stove to simmer

Chickpea and Chorizo Stew – serves 6
1-pound chorizo sausage – cut into 1/2” pieces
2-ounces sliced pancetta
2-large onions – sliced
1 head of garlic – roughly chopped
2-carrots – peeled and cut into 1/2” pieces
4-celery stalks – cut into 1/2” pieces
1/2-teaspoon whole cumin seed
1-quart chicken stock
1-pint cherry tomatoes
1-can chickpeas (13.5 ounces)
1-cup frozen corn
1/4-cup chopped cilantro
1-lemon – cut into 6’s
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Over a medium heat, in a 4-quart pot, add the chorizo and cook to brown. Remove from the pot, and hold in a work bowl.

Add the pancetta to the pot and cook until it starts to crisp then mix in the onions. Cook the onions until they have wilted down to about a 1/3 of its original volume. You will want to stir the onions frequently in order to prevent them from burning.

Into the onions mix in the garlic, carrots, celery, cumin and reserved chorizo, and allow it to cook for 5 minutes. Pour in the stock and seasonal with black pepper. Bring the stock to the boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the stew for 30 to 45 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas and corn. Continue to cook for an additional half hour. Stir the cilantro and correct seasoning. Serve with a lemon wedge.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Getting Game

Woo – to seek favor, affection or love.

After the awarding of the super bowl championship, and the chili pot is finally scrubbed clean we will be preparing for another bowl – Valentine’s Day. This is the time to make one’s desire known to another; get down on one knee to risk the big proposal, and for others, simply a moment to reaffirm the affection that binds.

I am personally annoyed by the aggressive commercialization and the bouquets of flowers hastily bought. All this lead-up to Cupid’s fiesta is a reminder that courting and wooing the one you love should be constant, and for me, unexpected – there is the touchdown. So, for the last month I have been sneaking notes into pants and jacket pockets and, without the provocation of a fight, offered a bouquet of flowers on a random Wednesday. Mind you this has not completely allowed us to avoid a quarrel but it definitely gives us a place to return.

So, I may seem like a catch…as long as you don’t look beyond the reflective ramblings of this page. I am constantly trying my best, and offering up a line of communication. Like my mother, one of the ways I say, I love you is through food. I will cook a meal next weekend laced with subliminal hopes of seduction -- preparing poached lobster bedded on the soft, creamy chew of a mango; filling the house with the deep aromatic offering of simmering wild mushrooms that await their seared tournedos of beef. Of course, given the subtext of the day (for those of us no longer in grade school), a cocktail is in order…something a bit tangy, a bit sweet and full of potential.

I am learning to cheer one on -- and woo the heart -- that is the touchdown I would like to make.

Yield: Serves 6

3 lobsters (about 1-1/2 pounds each)
2 cups water
2 cups white wine
1 vanilla bean – split lengthwise
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 ripe mango
1 can heart of palm
1 hot house English cucumber

1. In a high-sided 12-inch pan that will accommodate the lobsters, place the water, wine, vanilla bean and peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and place in the lobsters. Cook the lobster for 16 minutes, covered. Remove the lobsters from the poaching liquid and let cool. With a pair of kitchen scissors split the bottom side of the lobster tails to expose its meat and gently loosen the lobsters from their shell. Remove the meat from the claws. Slice the lobster meat into about 2-inch medallions.

2. Peel the mango and remove the flesh from the seed. Slice the mango into 1/2- inch thin slices. Slice the heart of palm and cucumber on an angle into 1/2-inch thick slices.

3. Arrange the ingredients on a plate in an alternating circular pattern. Drizzle with the dressing.

1-tablespoon cilantro leaves
1-tablespoon mint leaves
1/4-cup champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2-cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

To make the dressing place all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Correct seasoning.