Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lemon Cupcakes - first attempt


The long-awaited Lemon Cupcakes turned out quite tasty (lovely lemon flavor), but too dense/heavy to be worth sharing the recipe yet. Not sure what the problem is. Could be:
~ too many ground almonds weighing the batter down?
~ too much whole wheat pastry flour?
~ overmixing? I used the KitchenAid stand mixer, but was only making a small batch (six cupcakes), and the quantity of batter was too small for the machine/bowl. I had to run it longer to get things mixed in.
I'll try again, and post when/if I get it right.
The frosting is nice and lemony, but again, no recipe, as I started with a small bit of leftover cream-cheese honey icing I found in the freezer, added some butter, lemon juice, more conf. sugar and whipped it all up until fluffy. It was too cold to come through the piping star tip well, as you can see, but that didn't interfere with our dining enjoyment.
We'll be eating the last two of these tonight as we ring in the New Year in our usual low-key, at-home, early-to-bed way.
I've probably done the least holiday baking of any cook in blogland, BTW, one reason it's been so quiet here. I didn't make even a single batch of cookies this year. Things I have made have been mostly thrown together with no recipe at all, like the apple crisp I made for Thanksgiving, using some stale multi-grain pancake mix that needed to be used up, plus some rolled oats, a little butter, an egg, and a couple of big spoonfuls of yogurt. It was quite tasty, too, and achieved my goal of being equally good as either dessert or breakfast. But I forgot to take a picture of it before it was gone.
XMas dessert was also a dual-duty effort: pear coffee cake. I do have a snap of that, and it's on my list of blogging topics to catch up on (here and elsewhere) as we get into the new year. First, though, hubby and I are heading to Waikoloa for a long weekend, hoping to see some sun (22" of rain since Christmas!) and hit the beach.
(Don't know what's up with Blogger today, have tried to insert paragraph spaces three times with no success. Sorry it's all run together, but fixing it appears to be beyond my power.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes


It's been a long time since I made cupcakes, but a new era may have begun. The post-birthday week celebrations weigh-in was a setback--not a monster one, but indulgences did show up--and I'm refocusing on my goal to be 10 pounds thinner on Jan. 1, 2009, than I was at the beginning of this year.

I figure cupcakes are the way to go if I want a small indulgence of the cake kind without derailing my late-year slim-down efforts. These little beauties are not much more than half the size of a modest piece of snack cake, and delicious. I frosted them with mocha buttercream leftover from my birthday cake (which I have not yet blogged about, but will get to eventually), yum:

Chocolate Cupcakes
Steps 1-3 can be done ahead of time, which makes final prep quick and easy. Makes one dozen, double the recipe if you want more.

Step 1)
Melt together and set aside to cool to room temp (slightly warm is okay):
6 T unsalted butter
4 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Step 2)
Sift together and set aside:
3/4 cup flour (whole wheat pastry or all purpose, or a combination)
1/4 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 T cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Step 3)
Combine and set aside (it will curdle, that's okay):
1 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 2 T hot water
2 T plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla

Step 4)
Beat together at high speed until very light and fluffy:
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (do not pack down)

When the eggs and sugar are nice and fluffy, reduce mixer speed to medium and slowly add the cooled butter/chocolate, then half the dry ingredients, then the coffee/yogurt mixture, then the rest of the dry stuff. The batter will be runny.

Divide batter evenly among twelve cupcake cups with paper liners, and bake in preheated 350 oven until done (about 18 minutes).

Cool on a rack, and frost as desired.

I'm thinking lemon cupcakes would be good for the next batch. But first I have to go buy a new cupcake tin. I threw the old one out, because after years of exposure to ocean-side air it was looking pretty funky (thank god for paper liners!). One reason the chocolate cupcakes are on the small side is I very carefully did not overfill them (I got 15 from the recipe): I wanted to be absolutely sure that no part of the batter had any kind of contact with anything other than the paper liner.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Big Island Candies excess

My sisters have come and gone, and we had a fabulous time celebrating my 50th birthday for a week. Needless to say, all that site-seeing and chatting seriously interrupted any potential blogging time. Birthday cake recipe and tourist-activity photos will follow as time allows this week (have some serious catching up to do on the business and novel fronts). In the meantime, here's a quickie update on one successful stop appropriate to this blog:


We made not one but two visits to the Big Island Candies showroom (convenient location spells dietary disaster for those of us who live in Hilo, but they do a booming internet and mail order business, too, so go ahead and check out their site!).
I'd successfully resisted popping in to see what the fuss is about until hungry visitors with sweet teeth arrived. We sampled everything and consumed a horryfying quantity of cookies and other sweet treats. These are my favorites:


Mika Mints, oooh, so luscious and smooth and minty and chocolatey!


White chocolate dipped lemon shortbread cookies, for when you want something with crunch. OMG. You're truly better off never tasting these. Once sampled, you will want more. Daily.

Also good, the chocolate covered coffee beans (widely available, but these are better than most) and coffee-flavored shortbread cookies, both dark and white chocolate dipped.

I managed to avoid sampling their brownies, but am sure to do so eventually.
The good news is we did enough walking around at botanical gardens, waterfalls, the volcano, and beaches (to be blogged in days to come) to burn off a few cookie calories. The total damage on the scale, while not pretty, was much less severe than I'd feared. I only need to lose 5.5 pounds in 9.5 weeks to meet my year-end goal. Should be doable, if I stay focused on it, but business catch up and major novel goal (blogged here) have been major dietary derailers in the past. Not as bad as house guests, but progress impeding nonetheless. Wish me luck.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Yogurt-Apple Cake

It's not that I haven't been blogging lately, it's just been going on over here (sewing) and here (novelling). Not a whole lot of cooking or baking going on, just enough throw-it-together and big-pot (chili, mung bean stew) meals to keep hubbie fed. I'm easy, I can live on toast and the occasional bowl of fruit and yogurt for... days, at least.

I did make another quickie cake this weekend. Normally such things are enjoyed once or twice, then the rest goes in the freezer until the next Cake Night(s). But last week's impromptu delight stayed in the fridge. Which means I ate it for breakfast all week until it was gone. Ooops. Shouldn't do that too often! It never got frosted, though, so the ongoing indulgence could have been worse.

Saturday I whipped up a yogurt apple cake from odds and ends of this and that I collected from the fridge. I even made a frosting: a somewhat soft one, with honey and cream cheese. It reminds me of the very runny, not entirely satisfying "healthy" honey-cream cheese frostings my mom used to make when I was a kid, but lump-free and much tastier.

I measured and wrote down what I did this time, so as soon as I get a chance to write up a recipe I'll add it to this post. There's a picture, too, but it's still in my camera. Thought I'd use the few minutes I have right now to at least get a new post up here!

... details to come, just as soon as I pull ahead of the novel and quilt deadlines far enough to type up my notes.

Also in the pending-posts pile, some boasting about the excellent whole grain bread and pizza doughs I've been baking lately, and thoughts about what kind of cake we'll be having for the big birthday coming up...

Monday, September 29, 2008

I did it again

Once again I have managed to throw a bunch of stuff in the KitchenAid mixer, pour into a pan, pop into the oven and, 25 minutes later, pull out a really yummy cake -- all without following a recipe!

Yay me!

Downside: yet another kitchen triumph that may be emulated but never duplicated because not only did I not write down what I did as I went along, I didn't even measure anything. Slap-dash baking at its best!

Which wasn't what I set out to do. Late morning-ish I took 4 eggs from the fridge and a stick of unsalted butter from the freezer and set them out on the counter to warm up to room temp. I thought I was going to make a small genoise with a nice butter-creamcheese-tangerine frosting around, oh, mid-afternoon or so.

Then I got caught up in sewing projects, and laundry, and baking more whole grain bread (a higher priority, to my husband, than cake, though not to me), and the day got away from me and suddenly it was 6 pm and I was wiped and I still hadn't made a cake (Sunday is CAKE NIGHT! in our house, so disappointing when I drop the ball and don't come through with the goodies, even if they're just for the two of us).

By that point the eggs were warmer than room temp (they'd been hit with an hour of late afternoon sun on a warm, sticky day here in Hilo, oops) and the butter was droopy and leaking. And I just didn't have the zip left to do the genoise thing, which isn't all that hard but is a bit of a production.

So instead I dumped the butter in the KitchenAid mixer bowl, poured in some raw sugar and set it whipping up. 4 eggs to one stick butter is a little off as a general cake ratio, though, so I added about 2 TBSP of cream cheese. And the 1/2 cup of grated tangerine rind and sugar I'd had in the freezer, and had thawed with the genoise in mind. In that went. All four eggs, one at a time. A generous glug of vanilla extract. Threw some toasted almond pieces in the mini-chop and ground them up, in they went, too. Then a couple of generous scoops of (fluffed with a fork) whole wheat pastry flour, a bit of salt, a couple teaspoons of baking powder, and a few large spoonfuls of yogurt.

Looked like batter, tasted like batter, so into my 7x11 pyrex baking dish it went, and into the oven at 350 until browned and yummy smelling and done. Total prep time, oh, maybe 3 minutes?

So, some kind of an almond-tangerine butter cake. A little frosting would be good, or a drizzle/soak with orange syrup, but I haven't bothered with any of that. I did, however, have a nice piece for breakfast this morning with my coffee, and the flavor is even better than yesterday.

Now, the dilemma: do I wrap up a few pieces and put them in the freezer for future Cake Nights, or just keep the pan in the fridge till it's gone?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Delicious Brown Rice

Ooops, somehow I've let almost a month go by since my last post. Partly 'cause I've been busy answering feng shui questions on my "Fast Feng Shui" blog, and partly 'cause I've been spending most of my free time sewing lately (and reading, but I'm always reading), but mostly because I haven't cooked much of anything very interesting recently.

What I do cook a lot of, no matter what else we might be eating, is brown rice. My husband sometimes eats it twice a day. And because he's a certifiable health food nut, that means we go through many 2 lb. bags of this wonderful stuff:





The last time my parents visited, my dad (who's a potato man, and not super enthusiastic about rice) commented, with some surprise, that the brown rice I'd served was "really good." That's because I've learned a thing or two about cooking yummy brown rice over the years. Here are my secrets:

Brown Rice Secret #1:
Use organic brown basmati rice, not "long grain"! Plain old long grain brown rice looks the same as basmati and costs a noticeable amount less, but if you've been having a little trouble learning to love brown rice, dig into that pocket and splurge for the good stuff. Get basmati. Lundberg Family Farms Organic Brown Basmati is my all-time favorite and our daily grain. It requires much less washing than the stuff from the bulk bin at any healthfood store I've ever shopped at, and cooks up beautifully. The basic recipe on their website works fine, but I can do better.

Brown Rice Secret #2:
When the instructions say to "rinse," they mean "rinse really well." That means put your measured amount of rice into the pot (or your rice cooker insert) and run cool water in to cover by at least an inch. Swish it around with your fingers, then look at the water. It will be either somewhat or very cloudy. Pour out the water (into a mesh strainer is a good idea, to catch the grains that will make a dash for the drain). Now rinse again, at least once. One rinse is never enough. Depending on what rice you are using, you may have to rinse three or more times before the water is acceptably clear. Skimping on this step leads to gummy rice.

Brown Rice Secret #3:
Most cooking instructions will mention a TBSP of butter, and call it "optional." I use olive oil, rather than butter, and consider it essential. Even with good rinsing, the starch in the water is likely to create lots of bubbles that will seep out under the pot lid, run down the side of the pan, and make a mess on the stove. A little oil prevents a nasty cleanup job later. Plus it's tasty.

Brown Rice Secret #4:
I use a little more water than the 2:1 ratio Lundberg recommends. Back in the days when I cooked on the stovetop, I used 2.5 cups water for every cup of rice. Now that I use a rice cooker I use about 4-1/4 cups of water to my standard 2 cups of uncooked rice.

Brown Rice Secret #5:
Use filtered water. If you don't yet have a Britta filter or equivalent, what are you waiting for?
If you want to get really fancy, substitute chicken or vegetable broth for half the water.

Brown Rice Secret #6:
Seasonings!
Salt to taste, of course, but I also add to the pot:
~ freshly ground black pepper and maybe a dash of cayenne or chipotle powder
~ 1-2 TBSP of fresh lemon, lime, tangerine, or orange juice (basically, whatever citrus I can get my hands on); a splash of dry sherry is a good substitute if there's no citrus in the house
~ about 1 tsp of some kind of dried herb (my standard is thyme)

And I usually also toss in:
~ about 1/2 tsp dried coriander
~ 3 whole green cardamom pods, crushed with a knife blade so the seed flavor can get out
~ 2-3 fat slices of fresh ginger root

This sounds like a lot to put in everyday rice, but my rice cooker is next to the spice drawer, and when you cook rice as frequently as I do it becomes habit and doesn't take long at all to toss the extras in. Especially when you don't bother to measure anything but the rice and the water and just eyeball everything else.

If you want to get really fancy make an easy pilaf:
Add 1/2 cup of french green lentils and an additional cup of water
and 1 cup of finely chopped carrots and celery
yum!

Brown Rice Secret #7
Get a rice cooker. I resisted this for years. I thought a rice cooker was a needless extravagance. Why did people bother? They're pricey, and take up a lot of counter space. Then I got a very nice one for under $40 at Costco, and can't imagine going back. It's just so easy: put all your stuff in the pot (you'll have rinsed your rice really well first, of course!), close the lid, and push the "brown rice" setting. It takes a lot longer than on the stove, but once you get in the habit of remembering to start the rice sooner than usual, you don't have to think about it until the machine beeps at you that it's done. I do not miss popping into the kitchen every 10 minutes or so to check on the rice and see if the flame needs to be turned up or down, or if it's done yet.

If you don't have a rice cooker, bring the covered pot to a boil, then turn town to a simmer and cook until the water has all been absorbed. This will take about 45-50 minutes, but keep an eye on it. If your pot lid is not tight-fitting you could loose a lot of water to steam and the rice will be charred on the bottom, before you expect it to be done. When all the water has been absorbed, remove from heat (still covered) and let sit 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Happy healthy eating!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Still looking...

...for a truly great, quick and easy, "everyday" chocolate cake recipe. You know, a go-to version, that I can rely on to be yummy and can whip up in not too long from stuff I usually have in the fridge. We're not talking about a multi-layered extravaganza that's so much work you only make it for very special occasions once a decade kind of thing. Been there, done that, and I don't think the decade has passed yet, so I'm aiming for simple and tasty.

Made another "okay but not to rave about" choc cake last weekend. Maybe my cocoa powder is to blame? All I've got on hand is plain old Hersheys, and the cannister has been open for quite a while. Maybe it's stale. Does cocoa powder go stale? Would I be happier with my choc cake results if I sprung for some really good stuff? Which I'd have to order online, 'cause gourmet shopping opportunities are pretty much non-existent in Hilo. We make up for that with a great farmer's market, but it doesn't solve the gourmet cocoa powder dilemma.

Theoretically, I could purchase some local cacao pods at said local farmer's market, and make my own cocoa powder.















But -- I know this is hard to believe -- there are some DIY lines I will never cross, and making my own chocolate from the pod stage is destined to stay on the far side of one of them.

Perhaps also I should try, just once, to follow a recipe EXACTLY as it is in the book, before messing around with it and making substitutions.

We've got two more "cake nights" worth of the most recent so-so results in the freezer. Will keep trying when we've eaten those up. Or when I feel like baking again, whichever comes first.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lilikoi Cake

Here’s what I did with all those lilikoi I juiced last week (sorry, didn’t take a picture):

Sift together and set aside:
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 TB cornstarch
2 tsp baking powder

In your KitchenAid stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or with a hand-held mixer), cream together:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (soft)
3/4 cup sugar

When nice and fluffy, add, one at a time and blending well after each:
3 or 4 eggs (my base recipe called for 3, but there were 4 in the carton and I wanted to use them up, and they weren’t all that big in spite of being graded “large,” so I used 4)

Now add, and blend well:
1/3 cup heavy cream (usually I bake with yogurt, but happened to find some aging but still good cream in the back of the fridge that needed to be put to use)
1/3 cup lilikoi juice

Add the previously sifted dry ingredients, and blend well. The batter should be thick and very smooth.

Scrape into a prepared baking pan (I used an 8” glass Pyrex baking dish, sprayed with Pam… meant to dust it with flour but forgot, didn’t seem to matter), and bake in the center of your preheated oven at 350 for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown, resilient to a light touch, and pulling away from the pan slightly at the edgess. Cool on a rack.

While the cake is in the oven, make some lilikoi syrup by bringing to a boil in a small saucepan:
1/4 cup lilikoi juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 TB brandy

Stab the cake liberally with a toothpick or bamboo skewer, then spoon the syrup over the top.

I made this as a “snack” cake, meaning I didn’t bother to frost it and served it from the baking dish. It had little holes all over from the bamboo skewer, but we didn’t mind. It was delicious! Excellent flavor and texture and either the 4th egg or the lilikoi juice or both gave it a lovely pale yellow color.

This would make a superb upside-down cake. Fresh pineapple would be good. I may have to try that next time.

This would also be excellent as a layer cake. If I go that route, I will:
~ increase ingredient quantities by half to make two 8”-9” round layers, double them for a triple-layer extravaganza
~ base final egg quantity on the “3” option above
~ go to the trouble of lining my cake pans with parchment paper, smearing with butter, and dusting with flour… a pain in the patootie but worth it for special-effort desserts
~ reduce cooking time (round pans with less batter will cook faster) to 22-25 minutes (probably, that’s a guess at this point)

My 50th birthday is less than 3 month away now, and I’ve been giving some serious thought to what kind of cake I’m going to make for myself. (We cake junkies like to bake our own birthday cakes.) I’m neither especially horrified nor particularly thrilled about turning 50, and have no interest in any party beyond a modest family hoohah. Although I’m totally psyched that both my sisters are flying out from the mainland to help celebrate/commiserate. What I most want is very little fuss and an awesomely delicious cake.

This one just moved to the top of the list. I’m thinking of using the lilikoi curd from my pie recipe between the layers, and making a lilikoi (…or maybe tangerine …or maybe lilikoi-tangerine) buttercream frosting.

I can hardly wait!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

format clean-up

Yeesh... we got a new computer monitor and now my older posts show up as teeny-teeny-tiny type. So maybe they've been barely readable to all but me all along. Sorry about that. I'm going to spend some time cleaning up the blog layout/format over the weekend; until then hope you'll bear with me.

Good news: the Lilikoi Cake turned out great!
I'll post the recipe for that this coming weekend, too.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Lychee & Lilikoi

I've hardly cooked anything recently. That's July for ya: too hot and humid to feel like venturing into the kitchen. We've been living on fruit, smoothies, and salads, with a little chicken and fish from time to time, cooked as simply as possible.

Local melons -- mostly the small seedless watermelons and honeydew -- have been excellent lately. And pineapple, of course, and papayas. And lychees. Now that August has arrived, lychee season is pretty much over. There are still some around, but the price per pound has doubled and the quality isn't as good as it was a 2-3 weeks ago. We had such a delicious time of it this year: mahalo lychees, you were grand! We'll see you again next summer. Here, just one of our happy moments in lychee heaven.


















I came home from the farmer's market Wednesday with three bags of lilikoi, intending to capture the pulp and freeze it for future use. This bowl of vaguely egg-like things is about two dozen fresh lilikoi (cost: under $5!). Don't be alarmed if some of them are blotchy and kind of wrinkly. Those might be the juiciest ones.

















There were a few more, but Taraka had some as a snack last night. I was upstairs getting ready for bed when he cut them open, and I could smell them all the way up there. Such a flowery aroma; at first I thought I was smelling something blooming outside. The taste isn't quite as floral as the smell: sweet, but beyond tart. If you've ever had a SweetTart" candy, lilikoi are like that, only more so. I rarely eat them "as is." Partly 'cause of the tartness, also 'cause they're full of little black seeds. They look like this when you cut them open.















Brave souls -- and fans of SweetTarts -- can go ahead and eat the pulp with a spoon, seeds and all, as my husband does. The seeds are edible, technically, meaning it won't harm you to consume them. But they aren't what the lilikoi thing is about. So, if you're like me, you'll scoop that pulp into a bowl.















If you start with a big enough pile of lilikoi you'll end up with something like this. It looks dark because of all those black seeds still in there. If you're familiar with fresh lilikoi this will look very, very wonderful. Otherwise, I have to admit, it looks sort of... gross.















Hang in there. What you want to do now is separate the yummy, juicy, slightly gelatinous pulp from the seeds. Mushing it around in a strainer will do the trick, and take forever. A better approach is to strain what liquid you can out, then dump the rest into the bowl of your food processor and pulse it a few times.















This won't pulverize the seeds, so they can still be strained out, but it will loosen up the gel enough so you can get more of the good stuff more easily. Pour it back into the strainer...


















... and mush it around until what you've got left is mostly seeds.

















Toss the seeds, and look what's left! This is almost two cups of liquid gold.
















I'm gonna freeze some. And I'm starting to feel tempted to attemp a lilikoi cake. I've never made one, but surely it's possible. I have a tangerine cake recipe I haven't shared with you yet (I'll post it someday, perhaps when tangerine season rolls around again); perhaps I could adapt it.

Lilikoi Cake: that might be worth turning the oven on for...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Devilish Egg Salad

Sometimes I like egg salad plain and simple: just some chopped hard boiled eggs, a little mayo, S&P, maybe a touch of dijon mustard.

Other times, though, a little pizzazz seems called for in the boiled egg department. I had some eggs to use up, and didn't feel like messing with anything that required turning on the oven -- like a quiche, so here's what I did:

7 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered. (You could just as easily use 6, or 8. I had 7 to do something with.) Place in boil of food processor and pulse a few times to chop fairly fine. (I like my egg salad spreadable, as mostly I eat it on crackers and big chunks of egg white tend to fall off, usually into my lap or onto my chest, so small chop is better).

Dump the chopped eggs out into a medium mixing bowl. Into the food processor (no reason to wash, or even wipe it; why clean it twice?), add:
1/4 cup mayo (I like Hellman's/Best Foods Lite)
2 T plain yogurt
1 T dijon mustard
1 medium stalk celery in 2" pieces
1/4 cup (approx.) green onions, mostly white parts
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1 tsp curry powder (the hotter the better)
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
salt & pepper to taste (the mayo and mustard add enough salt for me, especially if I'll be enjoying on salty crackers, you might want more)

Blend it all together until the celery is well chopped up. Dump into the bowl of eggs and mix well with a rubber spatula.

A little diced ham would be a fine addition to this, if you eat ham. I don't any more, but times like this I miss it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lilikoi Pie

[arggh... I hate blogger formatting! No matter what I do the P-breaks here are f*ck*d up... sorry about that, will try to fix when I'm back on the other computer. Having computer problems, too, today. Double argh.]

I made a lilikoi (passionfruit) meringue pie a year or so ago, following Alton Brown's lemon merinque pie recipe from FoodNetwork.com and substituting lilikoi pulp plus a little OJ for the lemon juice. It was quite good, although meringue pies in general don't get more than a toe-hold in my favorite desserts pantheon. If you love lemon meringue pie, I highly recommend making a lilikoi version sometime.

So I had all these lilikoi from the farmer’s market, and thought I would make a pie again. But not a merinque this time. Something like a key lime pie (i.e., curd-ish, no topping).

I made the crust by grinding up most of a package (I ate some) of Newman’s Own Ginger-O cookies in the food processor with ½ cup of unsweetened shredded coconut. I didn’t quite trust that to hold together, so added an egg white for structural stability. That turned out maybe a little too structurally solid. Next time I’ll try a few TBSP of boiling water instead (can't imagine that all those cookies require any additional fat to hold together!), see if that works.
With hindsight I see this would have been better as a tart, but I don’t have tart pan and didn’t feel like messing with trying to get a cookie-crumb crust to stick to the vertical walls of a springform pan, so took the easy way out and used a glass pie plate.
The filling is lilikoi curd, enriched (as if curd needs enriching!) with cream cheese. That bit was inspired by a key lime pie I had many years ago at Mangoes on Duval Street in Key West. When in Key West, one eats a lot of key lime pie. I did, anyway. Mangoes’ version was halfway between a typical KLP and a lime cheesecake. And it was very, very good.
So I read up on lemon curd and its various permutations in Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking (a great resource for any dessert-obsessed home baker) and came up with a plan:

1) Mix 1 cup lilikoi pulp (seeds strained out; or buy it frozen) with ¾ cup cane sugar and 1 T cornstarch and bring to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring so it doesn't lump up.

2) Cut 6 oz. of cream cheese into 5 or 6 pieces and pulse in the food processor to soften. Add about ¼ cup of the hot lilikoi-sugar and blend until very smooth.

3) Add 4 eggs + the yolk leftover from adding a white to the pie shell, one at a time, pulsing to blend after each4) Add the rest of the lilikoi-sugar and blend well.

5) Scrape it all into a 2-qt. stainless steel bowl and whisk over simmering water until temperature reaches 160.

If you stop here you've made lilikoi curd, which would be delicious instead of vanilla custard under a fruit tart, or between cake layers, but it's very soft, and needs oven time to firm up. So:

6) Pour the curd into the pie shell and bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes.
Here is it, ready to go into the oven:


















7) Cool on a rack to room temp., then into the chill chest for several hours.

I followed the plan: 0h, yum! So smooth and creamy, and what a divine flavor!

As you can see, the filling didn’t quite fill the shell (I used a 9.5” deep-dish pan, will stick with the slightly smaller/shallower 9” one next time). Presentation would benefit from a corona of whipped-cream rosettes around the edge, but I didn't buy heavy cream and piping rosettes is the kind of thing I think about doing but rarely bother with.

Verdict: Extremely delicious!! A bit of a production if you start, as I did, with a heap of lilikoi to pulp and strain, but very worth the effort.

… but not perfect. To be improved next time:
* The crust is very tasty (the ginger-cookie flavor goes so well with lilikoi!), but you can’t taste the coconut at all, so why bother. Next time I’ll leave it out.
* The crust is too thick. Use fewer cookies: 18 instead of 26? Or maybe I'll make a different crust next time, just for variety: something with macadamia nuts in it, maybe? Or even chocolate???
* The filling is divine, but I might cut back on the sugar just a bit.
* Either 15 min. bake time wasn't quite enough or my oven wasn't really up to temp yet. I'll set the timer for 20 min. next time.
* I'm curious about doing this as a chiffon pie: separate the eggs, use just the yolks in the curd, and fold the whipped whites in before baking. Should turn out just as yummy, but fluffy.
This is a very rich dessert, so I don’t think I’ll be repeating it anytime soon. But sooner or later I’ll think back on this one when I’m pondering what to make for Cake Night, and will try the fluffy version. With that in mind, I’m going to pick up some more lilikoi at the farmer’s market and stock the freezer with a couple of 1-cup containers of pulp, so I’ll be ready.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What We Bought at the Farmer's Market


The Hilo Farmer's Market is such a treat!














and what a haul:

3 bunches of apple bananas
14 (that's not a typo!) small papayas
1 pineapple
15 lilikoi
1 thai watermelon
2 lbs. of lychees (yum!)
2 meyer lemons
1 head red leaf lettuce
2 heads green leaf lettuce
2 bags of kale
2 zucchinis
1 japanese cucumber
1 bunch basil
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch green onions
4 white onions
red and green bell peppers
3 avocados

No, I didn't carry it all myself (that's what husband's are for, right?) ... but I forgot to get tomatoes! (smacks self on forehead). That's okay, still got a couple left from last trip, and we'll be back again on Saturday. I'll need ginger and garlic by then, too.

Was tempted by local squashes, but our bags were pretty well full and our arms tired. And I pretended not to notice the orchids and anthuriums. I spend too much on orchids as it is, and have two in bloom. Rule is I can only buy another orchid plants when none of the ones I already have is blooming.















Thanks to the fine folks at flickr.com for the photos!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Spicy Peanut-Sesame Noodles

Do you ever get a sudden craving for a food you haven't eaten in years? I did, not long ago, when the idea of udon noodles with spicy sesame sauce took up residence in the (large) area of my brain that occupies itself by thinking about food. So I picked up a packet of Eden Udon Noodles at the health food store, and rummaged about in the kitchen.

A browse through my cookbook shelf came up with a Sesame Sauce recipe on page 175 of Devra Gartenstein's "The Accidental Vegan" that looked like a good foundation for improvisation. I decided to use a combo of sesame paste and peanut butter, and nudged some of the other ingredient proportions up or down as my preferences guided. I also like spicy, so a good daub of something hot seemed in order, as well.

Here's what I put together, and oh my, is it good!

Peanut-Sesame Sauce

1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste: roasted, not raw)
1/4 cup + 2 TBSP peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
1/2 cup warm water
2 or more TBSP freshly grated ginger root (press through a sieve so you just get the juice without the stringy fibers)
2 TBSP reduced-sodium shoyu (soy sauce)
1 TBSP dry sherry
1 TBSP toasted sesame oil (regular or spicy)
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp or more Thai Kitchen brand Green Curry Paste
1-2 medium cloves garlic

Whiz it all up in the bowl of your food processor or in a blender. Makes about 12 oz. of not-very-thick sauce. If you like yours thicker, start with 1/4 cup of water, then add more if needed. This is slightly but not aggressively spicy with the smaller quantities of heat-producing stuff. If you want more fire, use the hot sesame oil and larger quantities of ginger, curry paste, and garlic.

This is an excellent dip for vegetables (make a guess what happened to the rest of the cucumber after I'd diced up the 1/4 cup for the noodle dish below).

It really shines with Udon noodles. I poured the sauce over a cooked (still hot) 8.8 oz. packet, and mixed in:

About 6 oz. shredded cooked chicken ('cause that's how much leftover chix I had to use up, nothing sacred about the quantity), and

About a cup of sugar snap peas, in 1" pieces ('cause I found them in the fridge while I was looking for cucumber); these I tossed into the pasta pot for the last 1 minute of cooking, so they were just barely done and already mixed in with the noodles.

Dished up the noodles/chicken into bowls, and topped with (total quantities here, not per serving):
1/4 cup diced tomato (seeded)
1/4 cup diced cucumber (peeled and seeded)
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

This should serve four. Taraka and I both indulged in seconds (breaking my rule about never going back for more), and there's a good bit left over. If I have any self-control tomorrow, I will let Taraka finish it up.

1200% improvement

I haven’t been baking – or even cooking – much lately. Partly because it’s been sunny and hot every day. Hot, in Hilo, means mid 80s. Go ahead and laugh, I’m willing to concede it’s hotter where you are. But it’s humid here, and we don’t have air conditioning -- other than the trade winds, which lately haven’t been cooling anything off much. Steamy is not the kind of weather I associate with pleasant hours spent in a warm kitchen.

Also partly because our freezer has been well-stocked with both Chocolate Zucchini and Banana Cake, so we’ve been enjoying that on Cake Night.

And partly because in the wake of a stomach bug I didn’t eat more than a few mouthfuls of fruit and yogurt for three days. Probably started with something I ate, but my husband’s been fine, and he happily consumed all the likely culprits, too, with no ill effects, so go figure. Our produce is all local and either organic or at least unsprayed (or possibly some of the farmer’s market vendors are just telling us what we want to hear), and not suspects in the tomato-jalapeno-cilantro-phobia that’s sweeping the mainland. Oh well. Briefly unpleasant, but an effective way to drop a few pounds. Be nice if I can keep them off.

With a little help from the tummy uglies, I’m very close to my goal of getting back under 150 before I turn 50. And before that, my July 1 weigh-in was a success: down six pounds in six months, yay! That’s speed-of-light progress for me. And, if I’ve done the math right, a 1200% improvement in weight-loss rate over my measly 1 pound for all of 2007. So, nice progress, on that front.

Since I haven’t whipped up any scrumptious delights lately, I’m going to share the Sesame Noodles (see next post) that I whipped up at the end of June and just now got around to typing up. They were yummy. We ate them warm but cold they’ll make a good steamy-day dinner. Now that I’m eating again, I think I’ll go whip some more up…

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spinach Quiche with Oat & Corn Crust

I made a delicious quiche last weekend, and just finished up the last piece for breakfast this morning. There are two secrets to indulging in quiche (if you are among that portion of the population that considers quiche a desireable indulgence) without throwing all dietary caution out the window:
1) Find an alternative to traditional high-fat pie crust
2) Go easy on the cream and cheese

My interest in finding something new to eat for breakfast led to finally trying out my Dad's almost-famous, low-fat, high-fiber pie crust. Here's what he had to say about it when he emailed me the recipe:

"This different approach to pie crust was inspired by the very gluey consistency of cold oatmeal. However, cold oatmeal is much too gluey to do anything with. Cold cooked corn meal is at the opposite end of the friable-gluey spectrum and can be combined with the oatmeal to adjust final consistency and come up with something that might be rolled out into a pie crust. A small amount of oil helps to keep the cold dough from sticking to the wax paper and changes the final consistency from armor plate to chewy crunchy.

The resulting crust should be crunchy with adequate strength for serving but not bullet proof. Do not expect the bland flaky made with lard pie crust your grandmother used to make. The corn flavor comes through nicely and is especially good with squash/pumpkin pies and quiches.

This recipe, published years ago in Prevention magazine, is my sole contribution to gourmet literature. It has stood the test of time."
-- Lloyd Roberts, M.D.


Dr. Roberts' Healthy Pie Crust
(makes two crusts; best for one-crust recipes like quiche or pumpkin pie)

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1-1/4 cups water
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used "lite" olive oil)
"pinch" salt (I used 1/2 tsp)

Dad's instructions say to cook this all up in a double boiler for 15-20 minutes, stirring ocassionally, but I don't have a double boiler so I just brought it to a simmer in a small, heavy, non-stick saucepan then reduced the heat to as low as it would go for a while, until the mix was very thick and all water thoroughly absorbed.

Cool to room temp, and divide into two pieces. Shape each into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least an hour. (One piece can go straight into the freezer if you aren't going to use it right away).

Roll out between two piece of waxed paper. It will be sticky, but rollable. Don't worry too much about tears or cracks, if you get them: you'll probably do some repairs when you transfer to the pie plate anyway.

Peel off the top piece of paper, and flip the dough into a buttered 9"-9.5" deep-dish pie plate (I used a 9.5" Pyrex). Expect some damage in transit. Press into place and trim off the extra around the edge. Use those bits to repair any cracks or holes. This crust is not gorgeous, but it's very forgiving.

No need to prebake, but you can if you want to. I put mine in for about 5 minutes while the oven was getting up to temp, enough to firm it up a little without starting to brown.

I wouldn't recommend this crust for any kind of pie, but it goes very well with:

YOGURT QUICHE
Quiche trick number two I learned from Mom. My version keeps a little of the traditional cream, but replaces most with plain yogurt. I think whole milk yogurt works best. If you're more fat-phobic than I am you can use low-fat instead, but expect it may not keep as well in the fridge without leaking water.

Quiche is an egg custard: basically, a mix of eggs and cream baked until solid. The number of eggs and whether to use heavy or whipping cream, or half and half, or yogurt vary quite a bit from recipe to recipe, along with how much of the liquid of your choice. This is a good clue that the proportions are pretty forgiving and you can probably get away with whatever you've got on hand.

My basic recipe is:
4 large organic eggs

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (Nancy's Organic is my favorite)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
dash ground nutmeg

Whizz this all up in a food processor, or beat with eggbeater, 'til well blended.

For a quiche, you will need:
1 9"-9.5 inch pie shell
1 TBSP dijon mustard
1/2 cup or more of shredded cheese (gruyere is good, but chedder or jack works fine, too)
1-2 cups total of whatever else you're adding: cooked shrimp, diced veggies, ham, crumbled bacon, leftover cooked chicken, whatever you feel like putting in.

For this spinach version, I used:
5 oz mixed dried mushrooms, soaked for an hour in boiling water, then drained
1/2 cup diced shallot
1-1/2 cups frozen spinach, thawed and pressed in a seive to get as much water out as possible
1 link "italian style" chicken-turkey sausage (precooked, what I had left over in the fridge, you could use more, but this was plenty), diced

I sauted the 'shrooms and shallot in about a tsp. of olive oil, then added the spinach and sausage and heated it all through. This is a lot of spinach, and results in something that is about halfway between a spinach pie and a traditional quiche. If you want more of the creamy-egg-custard experience, cut back to about a half-cup of spinach.

To assemble, spread the mustard over the bottom of the pie shell, and sprinkle with about half the cheese. Top with the rest of whatever you're putting in that isn't the custard, reserving the remainder of the cheese. Pour the custard over, then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, until the top is starting to brown and center is set.

Allow to cool for a while before cutting. Delicious while warm, equally good at room temp and not bad at all cold from the fridge.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Walnut Pesto & Walnut-Artichoke Dip

So the inevitable happened, and we got a little tired of hummus. Pesto seemed like a nice change, especially as I'd come home from the farmer's market with big bunches of cilantro and basil. The goal was to use lots of nuts (instead of parmesan, which I'm not fond of in pesto) and some seeds for extra protein. Hubby eats something like this or hummus on a slab of toasted whole grain bread for lunch, so it had to be "meaty" and filling. With that in mind, I threw together in the Cuisinart:

1 C loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 C loosely packed fresh cilantro (leaves and small stems)
1 C walnut pieces
1/4 C "tamari" pumpkin seeds*
1/4 C sunflower seeds
1 smallish carrot (peeled and chopped)
2 T fresh orange juice
1 T lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic
dash of salt

* roasted, hulled pumpkin seeds seasoned with tamari (soy sauce), available at your local health food store, or just substitute something silimar with or without tamari seasoning

Whizzed it all up until a nice thick spread consistency. This was very tasty. Just the thing for hubbie's lunch, and delish on a fresh-from-the-oven cracker. I was surprised that the carrot flavor came through, too, with just a hint of sweetness. Admittedly, adding carrots to a basically green goop (all those herbs) does result in a less-than-lovely brownish color, but the flavor will win you over even though it becomes even browner after a day in the fridge. If that bothers you, I'd say leave the carrot out.

Only problem with this was, it made too much to fit in the 1.2 C fridge container I scooped it into, which resulted in...

WALNUT-ARTICHOKE DIP
There I was with about a third of the walnut pesto batch still in the food processor, when inspiration struck. I remembered I had a jar of marinated artichoke hearts lying around, so I put some of them in and whizzed it all up.


Oh yum... now that was an excellent idea! But the artichoke flavor was a little lost, it needed more, so I put the rest of the jar in, with a TB or so of the liquid.* I tasted a little and thought, "hmm, does it need another little something?" I wasn't sure, so I tasted again. I still wasn't sure, so I tasted again. And again. Then I realized I'd eaten about two servings worth straight from the mixer bowl, and it was very, very good. Even better, as I soon discovered, with the lavash crackers from my previous post. I may have to bypass the pesto stage next time and just make a huge batch of this. Even hubbie, who claims not to like artichoke hearts, pigged out on it.

* That artichoke marinade is GOLD, BTW: do not waste it! I add mine to whatever salad dressing is in the fridge, or use it to make a fresh batch. What? You buy salad dressing? Whatever for? It's so quick and easy (not to mention cheaper!) to make your own, and the varieties are endless. I'll address salad dressing another time, but seriously: oil, vinegar, a little seasonings, herbs if you got 'em, whizz it up and you're done... whaddareya waiting for?

Multi-Seed Crackers

OMG, I've discovered how EASY it is to make crackers! Thin, crispy, whole grain, multi-seed, delicious crackers! Who knew?? Not me, but I do now, thanks to the fine folks at the King Arthur Flour Co., and their fabulous Whole Grain Baking cookbook. If you are at all interested in whole grain baking, you really ought to get a copy of your own. It's full of enticing recipes for such things as:

MULTI-SEED LAVASH
I made these last weekend based on half-recipe quantities for the Whole Wheat Lavash on page 156, with a few changes: I used a combo of whole wheat, whole wheat pastry, and spelt flours; honey instead of sugar; light olive oil instead of butter; active dry yeast (don't have instant), and a little orange juice for extra liquid.

Hmm, now that I look at it again, I see that I changed almost everything. Still, a very similar recipe, and the proportions and process are from the book. I'm totally confident that if you make your lavash the KA way yours will be delish, too. BTW: I rolled these out round on parchment paper and baked them on my pizza stone, which worked great so I'm gonna keep doing 'em that way.

Makes two sheets of very yummy crackers, quantities can be doubled to make more:

1/2 C EACH: whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, and spelt flour
3/4 tsp salt
scant tsp active dry yeast, proofed in 1/3 cup warm water with 1 tsp honey
2 TBSP olive oil
1/4 tsp EACH: cayenne pepper, ground cumin, dried thyme
2 T orange juice (if extra liquid is needed)
mixed seeds for topping*

* I used a combo of roughly equal parts white and black sesame, poppy, caraway, and fennel seeds; about 1 TB of the combo per cracker sheet.

Stir the honey and yeast into the warm water, and set aside to proof.

While that's going on, measure the flours and dry seasonings into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (KA book says use dough hook, but for this quantity the paddle worked better).

Add the proofed yeast-water and the olive oil and mix on low speed for about 2 minutes. If the dough seems very dry and crumbly, add the 2 TB orange juice (or more water). Mix two more minutes at slightly higher speed. The dough should be very stiff and may look crumbly (the paddle will keep breaking it up as you mix), but it should hold together when you gather it up into a smooth ball. Divide the dough into two pieces, pat each one into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven and your pizza stone to 425 (book says 450, but 425 was just right for my oven with the p-stone). Unwrap one piece of the dough (doesn't need to warm up, cold from the fridge is fine), and roll it out on a piece of bakers parchment as thin as you can get it. One dough-disk, i.e., half this recipe, rolled out to almost completely cover my 15" pizza stone (which is a circle with a diameter the width of a sheet of parchment paper, very convenient).

Brush the top of the dough with water (I used a spray mister), sprinkle it with the seed mix, and roll again to press the seeds into the dough. If you want pre-cut crackers, use a pizza cutter to cut the dough. Or leave it whole, and break into irregular pieces after it's cooked, if you prefer. I did the pizza cutter thing: be warned, it makes removing the done ones from the hot oven a little tricky, as they slide all over.

Slide the dough (on the parchment paper) onto the hot baking stone and bake until lightly browned (edges may be darker). This only takes a few minutes, so keep an eye on 'em! Roll out and top the second batch while the first is baking.

Remove to a cooling rack when done.

Try not to eat them all at once.

These were so yummy hubbie and I ended up eating an entire sheet of them with Walnut-Artichoke Dip (see next post) for dinner. We just could not stop until we'd gone too far. Needless to say, the second sheet are long gone by now, too. Hubbie wants me to make more, which I am happy to do. Gonna mix up the dough just as soon as I've finished posting this.

Big questions: Do I dare make an entire batch? Can we adequately restrain ourselves from a total and complete cracker pig-out? If I make these regularly and keep them in the house will we become inured enough for it not to be a diet-disaster? I mean, whole grains are all very well, but at a certain point (which, alas, is likely to come well before we stop reaching for another of these) too many is too much, no matter how healthy the ingredients.

Try 'em if you dare. Awesome with WALNUT-ARTICHOKE DIP (coming right up...)

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

My oven died last weekend, so I haven't been baking this week. Which is okay, it allowed plenty of time to peruse my new cookbooks and think about all the new recipes I'm gonna try.

New stove was just delivered and hooked up (hooray for responsive landlords!), so I'm back in business. You'd think I would have used a bake-free week to catch up on the stuff I hadn't posted about yet but, well, I didn't. So here's update #1:


CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI CAKE
Oh, yum, was this delicious! And I've got a bunch of pieces in the freezer for future cake nights, hooray!

This will be a short post, 'cause I just wanna boast that for once I actually followed a recipe exactly as it appears in the book! Well, almost exactly: I used a combo of yogurt and milk instead of buttermilk, and I didn't have brown sugar, so added a teaspoon of molasses with the raw cane sugar I had on hand. But that's it. Hardly counts as substitutions, compared to the liberties I usually take. Which might be why this turned out so good!

Want the recipe? Turn to page 426 of the King Arthur Flour Co.'s WHOLE GRAIN BAKING cookbook (which I am totally loving, wanna try everything!).

I baked mine in a 12-cup bundt pan. A 10-cup size as called for would probably be better, but 12-cup is what I've got, and it didn't turn out to be horribly too big so all's well.

Only thing I'd do differently next time is use smaller chocolate chips. I used Ghiradelli bittersweet, but they're kind of large and didn't distribute well in the batter. I think mini-chips would work better.

This is a great chocolate cake recipe... although (eeeeh, grimace) I do think the chocolate flavor needs be just a little more intense before I can call it perfect. I'll keep looking. But I will make this again.

I didn't frost this, BTW (feeling lazy), just whipped up some heavy cream with a little vanilla extract and a generous amount of confectioner's sugar. Very nice combo with the choc cake. If you're clever, like me, you will make a little too much of the topping (oops!) because everyone knows whipped cream doesn't keep well even thickened with conf.sugar, and that is a very good reason for putting leftovers in your morning coffee the next day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Help with Whole Grains

My last whole grain bread attempt was a bomb. Make that a brick. Not a total dud: flavor adequate, suffiently edible when toasted to serve as a platform for PB or hummus... but far from my best effort. Hubby thought it was fine, but then he is way, way, way out on the woo-woo end of the food spectrum, and admits that he likes "dense" bread.

Well, dense is okay, I don't mind dense. But if dropping the loaf on your foot would mean hobbling around on crutches for a month I think maybe the recipe (or, more likely) technique, could be improved upon. I do know what the problem was: I used too much of a new 9-grain cereal, and too much water, which resulted in a quantity that was a bit much for the Kitchenaid to handle, so I tried to knead the sticky mess by hand, and ended up adding too much flour just to get the goop into some kind of shape to put into a pan.

Oh well. Smaller loaves will rule from now on. I love home-made bread, don't mind kneading by hand, but hate, hate, hate having to clean up the mess it makes on the counter. Stand mixer with dough hook is the way to go, if you ask me.

In spite of my strong "figure it out for myself by trial and error" streak, I do from time to time wake up and realize I need help. So I googled "whole grain bread tip" and after a few minutes surfing and a few more browsing Amazon.com found exactly what I need:

1) "Whole Grain Baking" from the fine folks at the King Arthur flour company and

2) "Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads" (he's the author of the very fine "The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which would be perfect if only it addressed how to make all those lovely loaves with whole grains: thanks, Peter, for taking care of that!)

A second quick online search of the Hawaii State Library catalog revealed that the first title was sitting right there on the shelf at the Hilo Public Library (one of my very favorite places!), so I hopped in the car and added a stop at the library to my errands.

So far all I've had time to do is browse through it, and I want to bake EVERYTHING. Which will take far longer than the three week loan period -- it's a FAT book -- even if I renew as often as allowed.

So I did the only sensible thing and hopped back to Amazon and ordered a copy of my own. Plus the Reinhart book. Plus "Whole Grains Every Day Every Way" by Lorna Sass. I have a vegan cookbook by Lorna that's full of wonderful recipes (I'm not vegan, but enjoy vegan dishes/meals from time to time), so I'm very interested to see what she does in the grains department.

How Amazon can stay in business offering me free shipping on these books (Whole Grain Baking weighs about five pounds, and the others are probably not much smaller) I don't know. It means a few more days of breathless anticipation, but I've got plenty of stuff on my to-do list to keep me occupied until the books arrive. Until then, I'll be eating what's left of the brick.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Things I bought at Costco

Haven't cooked much of interest lately, although a surplus of squishy bananas has led to several return appearances by banana cake... and juding by the fruit bowl, I'll be baking another one by the end of the week. One recent effort got a cream cheese frosting, which was okay... and then the last one didn't get frosted at all, which was fine, too (banana cake doesn't really need it)... but there's something about that dark chocolate and banana combo that's convinced me to go back to a bittersweet ganache frosting next time.

Yesterday I made some more whole grain bread (still tweaking that recipe: think I went a step too far this time by adding leftover sweet potatoes... generally a good idea with bread, but perhaps one ingredient too many for multi-grain), and figured I'd whip up some maple cornbread while the oven was on. Tossed in some dried cranberries and the end of a bag of pecans with a "best by" date of Feb. '08. Seemed like a good idea to use them up. Very tasty!

Went to Waikoloa (other side of the island) for a "beach and Costco" weekend at the end of April, something we do several times a year. So nice to get away from the computers and lounge on the sand for a couple of days, plus of course the thrill of loading up the car with bulk bargains. Even nicer with a fat rebate check to spend... not that it comes close to covering the bill. When you only get to Costco a couple of times a year you spend a lot! Things I bought include: TP; frozen shrimp; 4 or 5 books; 4 jars of organic peanut butter; fish oil & a gigundo bottle of Vitamin C capsules; chevre; office paper; package tape; a few bottles of vino; Amy's pizzas; swim trunks for hubbie; tampons (what a deal!); frozen organic blueberries & a bag of mixed berries (essential ingredient for post-workout smoothies around here); a six-month supply of trash bags for the kitchen garbage can... etc.

Part of the fun of these weekend getaways is balancing our budget-friendly Costco visits with an indulgent lunch. My favorite spot is the Tommy Bahama Cafe at the Shops at the Mauna Lani resort, where I always get the shrimp BLT... "ono!" (yummy) as we say in Hawaii. The fact that everything's a few dollars more than it needs to be just makes me feel even more like a millionaire on a golf vacation. The pina colada cake is heavenly, but we had banana cake waiting for us back at the condo, so we skipped it (this time).

Hubbie enjoys an "Arnold Palmer" (iced tea + lemonade) with his lunch, although why Arnie gets the credit for that combo I don't know. I decided to go with iced tea and cranberry juice, which is just as yummy, and consulted with our wait-person, Tyler, as to whether or not that was named for anyone. We thought not. Tyler gets the credit for serving it up as an "Eleanor Roosevelt," so if you enjoy iced tea mixed with cranberry juice (go ahead, give it a try!) let's see if we can get the name to catch on.

Our other recent restaurant meal was at Cafe Pesto here in Hilo... our favorite local place. I've fallen into a rut there, too, with the Volcano Mist salad and crab cakes. For dessert we had the Lilikoi Cheesecake. Pretty good -- the macadamia nut crust, in fact, was excellent, as was the lilikoi sauce (tangy!) -- but "New York style" cheesecake is not my favorite version. I like it smoother and lighter. This brought to mind a lime cheesecake with chocolate crust I made about 15 years ago for some celebration or other. Hmmm, I think it might be time to try again. Hubby and I don't eat much cheesecake - ono, but seriously way too rich to make a habit of it. Fortunately, a quick Google search turned up confirmation that cheesecake freezes beautifully, so I figure I can make a smallish one and freeze individual slices for later consumption... spread out all those butterfat calories over time. I don't think I'll get to it this weekend, having just indulged a few days ago. Plus that bowl full of increasingly squishy bananas that need dessertifying. That gives me more time to poke around on line and look for cheesecake recipes... and think about what flavor to make. I'll keep ya posted...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Garbage Soup

Garbage soup is one of my favorite, favorite things to make. It is immensely satisfying to create such yummy and healthy food out of stuff that would ordinarily be thrown out. (Especially if you live, as I do, where grocieries are ridiculously expensive.)

But the grocery bill is just one reason I routinely make soup out things other folks toss out as inedible, undesirable, or just plain tired. (Well, people who cook from time to time, anyway. If you live on takeout and microwaved frozen meals you won't be producing the basic ingredients for garbage soup in the first place.) True, I'm not producing a finished bowl of soup out of this stuff... but the base, a delicious homemade stock, is going into your kitchen garbage can, little bit by little bit, day after day. So why not collect the usable bits in a large ziplock bag in your freezer, as I do?

I don't use everything that ends up in the garbage can, of course, just what you might as well make soup out of: chicken, turkey, lamb, or beef bones; carrot peelings; the little bits around the stem ends of bell peppers and tomatoes after you've cut the rest off; parsley and cilantro stems; the leafy bits and root ends of celery stalks; wilted kale and swiss chard leaves; mushroom stems; the ends you slice off of zucchini, onions, shallots, even garlic cloves; the trimmings from bok choy, celery root, and fennel.

When the bag is full, on a day when you'll be home for a couple of hours, dump it out into your largest pot (no need to thaw first), cover with lots of filtered water, and set on the stove over medium heat. A scattering of whole peppercorns and, if you're feeling daring, a slice or two of fresh ginger root -- and maybe some fennel and/or cumin seeds while you're at it -- are useful for adding a little something extra. If you've got whole bay leaves in the house, toss in a few of those as well. Throw-caution-to-the-wind types might add a dried hot pepper pod or two, and three or four green cardamom pods.

When your pot comes to a boil, turn down the heat to maintain a healthy simmer and let it sit there, burbling happily to itself, for 90 minutes or more. If you want to feel involved, lift the lid from time to time and give the contents a stir, although that's really not necessary. If you've included meat or poultry bones, the stock is done when the joints disolve and the meat has fallen off the bone. Veggie-only stocks will be done sooner, although "done" is a very flexible concept here.

Take the pot off the heat and let it cool a bit with the lid off. If you've used meat or poultry bones it's a good idea to get the stuff into the fridge or freezer reasonably soon, but that doesn't mean you have to deal with it while it's still super hot. When it's cooled down a little, use a large strainer to scoop out most of the solids. Dump the contents of the icecube bin into your kitchen sink (drain plug in place) and fill the sink about half-full with water. Plunk the entire pot into the ice water and stir from time to time. It will cool down fast.

Now you can strain the stock into whatever you're going to keep it in and either freeze or refrigerate until you're ready to use it. Fat-phobics can refrigerate the stock overnight for easy fat removal before putting it into the freezer. (This is unlikely to be necessary unless you have included large quantities of chicken skin in the pot.) I suggest freezing some of your delicious homemade broth in 1-cup containers so you'll always have some on hand for braising, gravy, or to include in the liquid measure next time you cook rice or lentils or make mashed potatoes.

Having made your own garbage soup, the next time you see a recipe for stock in a cookbook, you'll have a good laugh. Sure, if you are trying to exactly duplicate a specific haute cuisine creation, you might want to do things "by the book." But that's not what we're after here; this is just plain old toss-what-you've-got-in-the-pot home cooking.

A few caveats:

1) Skip the broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage trimmings; these veggies just don't taste good when boiled for a couple of hours

2) Potato, sweet potato, or winter squash make a cloudy, very sedimenty stock. If that will bother you, don't use them.

3) Keep an eye on your mix to make sure you haven't loaded it down with an excessive ratio of onion to everything else. Not that the result will be bad, exactly, but it will be intense. It's a good idea to collect enough carrot and celery bits, etc., to balance the onions.

4) An excess of kale, herbs, or other leafy greens will give the broth a greenish hue, and beets will turn it noticeably red. On the other hand, if have beets in the fridge you haven't gotten around to cooking because it seems like a hassle to boil them for an hour, go ahead and plop them in the stock pot, whole, next time you make garbage soup. Salvage them when you strain out the solids, or fish them out after an hour, whichever you feel inspired to do. The skins will slip right off, and the beets will be yummy for having been simmered with other delicious stuff.

To turn this base into a yummy soup, just add some each of:

Veggies: diced carrots and frozen peas (or snow peas in 1" pieces) are my favorites, but just about anything will do

Meat: diced cooked meat or chicken, or cubed tofu if you're vegetarian

Starch: cooked rice, barley, lentils, or pasta (you can also start by cooking the grains in lots of stock then add the other stuff when the grains are done).

Heat and serve.

I don't usually add salt to my soup or base stock. Instead, when serving, I first ladle a little of the broth into my bowl and stir in a spoonful (about 2 tsp) of miso before filling the bowl with soup.

Chicken soup is especially good with a dollop of plain or herbed yogurt stirred in. To make herbed yogurt, put about a half-cup of plain yogurt in your mini-food-processor and add whatever fresh herbs you have on hand (basil, parsley, and/or cilantro are obvious choices) and whiz it up. If you happen to have some cream or sour cream lurking in your fridge, a tablespoon or two of that added in is delicious, but not essential.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mmmmm: Hummus!

Hummus may seem an unlikely food for me to be excited about, but when it’s good, it’s very, very tasty indeed. In an earthy, good-for-you, kind of way. No chance it will ever dislodge cake from the top tier of my food pantheon, but it deserves a place in the good eats hall of fame nonetheless.

That said, it’s also true that I can go long periods of time without thinking about, eating, or missing it. One of those hummus-free cycles ended recently as I was reading Jane Smiley’s 10 Days in the Hills. There I was, happily lounged on a deck chair with book in lap, when one of the characters spread some roasted garlic hummus on a piece of whole grain toast, and I immediately planned a trip to the store to pick up a tub of the stuff and a nice loaf of whole grain bread. Later that day, standing around the toaster getting crumbs on the floor, hubby and I unanimously agreed that we’d been fools to forget what a great combination that is…

… and how easy it is to make, if you’ve got a food processor in the house. Since the two health food stores in town already rake in a monstrous portion of our disposable income every month, I did not feel disloyal about picking up a can of garbanzos and a jar of tahini instead of a tub of house brand hummus the next time I went in. Here’s how the essential ingredients came together in my kitchen:

HUMMUS
1 15 oz. can garbanzos (chickpeas), drained but not rinsed (reserve some of the water from the can, just in case)
1/4 cup tahini (roasted, not raw)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large or 3 medium cloves garlic
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric (if you’ve got it, for color)
1/4-1/2 cup fresh basil, parsley, or cilantro leaves (or a combination)
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Dump all the ingredients in the bowl of your food processor and whiz away. If it’s too dry, drizzle in a little of the reserved garbanzo liquid. Keep blending until it’s nice and smooth.

There are several tricks to getting hummus just right. These are important because, in my opinion, not-right hummus just mopes in the fridge feeling sorry for itself as you consistently pick something else to eat day after day, until it turns sour and slimy and takes that long leap to the trash bin. Worst, in my opinion, is a hummus is that is both runny and lumpy at the same time: pleh. Double pleh if it’s been made with so much tahini you might as well just stick a spoon in the tahini jar as bother with the hummus.

Trick #1: Hummus should be as smooth as pureed chickpeas can get. Be patient. If you process it long enough it will smooth out.

Trick #2: Hummus should be neither dry nor runny. It may be a little thick while it’s pureeing, but take care when adding additional liquid. It doesn’t take much to push it over the edge into drippy territory.

Trick #3: Tahini is a grace note, not the main player.

Trick #4: Garlic, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper are all essential, but too much of any one can tip the flavor balance from oh-so-good to not-your-best-effort.

But that’s all just my opinion. Your favorite hummus may break all of my rules, so go ahead and have it your way: go wild with the tahini, double the garlic, squeeze in the lemon juice until your fingers hurt! Or fancy it up with chopped olives and roasted red pepper: hummus is infinitely flexible and very forgiving, and it wants to make you happy.

I think hummus (creamy and earthy) is at its best on a slice of toasted whole grain bread (warm and chewy), topped with very thinly sliced fresh radish (cool and crisp). What a great combination of flavor, temperature, and texture!

BTW: I’ve been inching towards a really good all-purpose whole-grain bread recipe to be a worthy companion to a great batch of hummus. I'm very close to getting it just right. Watch for that in a future post…