World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Dirty Snowballs

 

These are a family favorite.  Being New Englanders we always called them ‘dirty snowballs.” I don’t think that needs much explanation.  They are simple and elegant and most of the work can be done ahead of time.

DirtySnowballs_2015

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs, room temperature (takes about 20-30 minutes)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups AP  flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder diluted in warm water (optional)*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Note:  If you would prefer a peppermint flavor substitute espresso powder for 1 teaspoon peppermint extract.

Step 1

In a bowl measure out the AP flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Step 2

Combine in a mixing bowl the cocoa powder, about 2 teaspoons of the espresso liquid (if using),  granulated sugar and vegetable oil.  It should be well-mixed and glisten, shiny (means the oil is integrated with the dry stuff).

Step 2

Add the eggs one at at time — wait about 30 seconds after adding one before adding the next one. Finish this step by adding the vanilla.

Step 3

Mix the dry ingredients ever so slowly into the chocolate mixture on low speed until just combined–do not overmix. Go gentle into the batter of night folks. Keep the batter in the bowl, or transfer into a smaller one and wrap the bowl in plastic wrap.  Chill for 4 hours or overnight. This batter is better if made the day before and chills for 8 hours. It never hardens completely it is firm with give.

Step 4

Preheat the oven to 350°F,  line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or baking mats. Place confectioner’s sugar in a wide bowl as you need space to roll many at a time. Using two spoons get about a rounded teaspoon of the chilled dough and roll them into 1-inch sized balls using your hands Work quick as you want these firm and cool. Roll the balls in the confectioner’s sugar and place on the cookie sheets (you should be able to get a dozen or so on each baking sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool a few minutes, transfer to a wire rack to cool.

 

 

 

Cukes & Zukes.

Bread-Butter-Pickling 2015-06-30 at 8.49.31 AM

…or bread and butter pickles….I do about 80% pickling cucumbers and the balance is zucchini because they are everywhere in the summer. This recipe is the essentially the variation from the Ball Complete book of Home Preserving which if you are doing any measure of canning or pickling would be of endless value. This is the British variation which swaps out, in equal measure, white vinegar and white sugar with cider vinegar and brown sugar.  The taste will be sharper if you go the traditional route. Regarding the brining spices you can go with this variation here or purchase a pickling spice.  The bay leaf adds a crispy bite to the final pickle so if you like the crunch keep the bay leaf.  And that brine makes an excellent addition to cocktails especially a dirty martini.

You can scale this down or make a whole lot of pickles and skip the canning process as when done they will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.


Bread & Butter Pickles

Makes about five pints

10 cups pickling cucumbers sliced into 1/4″ slices  (trimmed of any blemishes, ends discarded)*

4 medium white onions, sliced thinly into rings

1/2 cup pickling or canning salt (see note below for kosher salt)**

3 cups cider vinegar

2 cups packed light brown sugar

2 tbsp mustard seeds

1 tsp celery seeds

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 dried bay leaves coarsely crumbled

Fresh dill about 1 sprig per jar

At least two hours ahead in a large glass, ceramic, or stainless steel bowl combine in alternating layers cucumbers/zucchini, onions and salt. Mix well. Let stand for two hours and up to four hours.  This process removes excess water which leads to good texture.  After it’s been sitting for that period rinse with cool water in a colander to remove the salt.

While the vegetables are sitting prepare canner, jars and lids for processing. This part I am assuming you know how to do if not see this over at the Ball website. Note I do the dishwasher technique for sterilization in pickling but not for jam. I haven’t lost any friends or family yet. I also experimented via a recommendation of placing washed jars on a cookie sheet in a 225 degree oven for 20 minutes. Leave them in there to keep warm.

Put a large pot on the stove and combine vinegar, sugar and spices.  bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Add vegetables and return to a boil.

Fill jars and process.  My method–Using a ladle for the vegetables I first add fresh dill to the jar, then the cooked vegetables, then a little more dill, THEN I add top off with additional brine, leaving about a 1/4″ head space before placing the two-part lid.

If there’s not quite enough for a jar place in glass or ceramic storage bowl and pop in the fridge.  The flavor improves over a few weeks but after a week–so good.

*Upon selecting your cukes keep in mind the presentation of your sliced cucumber–I like a medium to small width for a pickle.  Also, if you want to do the zucchini just replace 2 cups of cukes with the zukes.  

**Kosher substitute = 1 1/2 cups flaked kosher slat equals 1 cup canning or pickling salt. In this recipe you’ll need 3/4 cup of kosher salt.

Lobster Chowder.

20130813-201505.jpg

Farmers markets at this time of year can be overwhelming, in the best kind of way. Corn is in super abundance and at a very good value. I easily over bought. So what does one do with corn for many and you dine as one? Time to turn out a summer favorite of mine–corn chowder.

After steaming and removing the kernels I decided to simmer the corn ears by just covering with water and adding a few sprigs of fresh basil, garlic, and dried chili peppers for about 50-60 minutes. I portioned off enough to replace the water called for in the recipe.

Recipe is a variation from a lobster fisherman as published in Yankee Magazine. In advance, I steamed the lobster versus a par-boil and could not see using all that butter as I have plans next week! Find the master version over here. And no, I do not know why his is red and mine is not. Hmmm.

Overall a win in taste as the lobster was sweet; the broth possessed a slight heat. I froze the remaining corn.

Note: The corn stock method is from the August issue of Bon Appetit. Photo is mine and taken with the one that is never far, the i-device.

Peach Pecan Pound Cake

A tongue twister of the most southern kind…

While rooting around for ideas for a simple summer fruit dessert for a dinner party I came across a peach pound cake in Southern Living.  Frankly, it made me anxious.  Not the ingredients, although peach schnapps is a little out of the ordinary.  It was the methodology. Pound cake is simple but there are small tips that will guarantee success.

All ingredients need to be of the best quality you can source.

Bring all butter, eggs to room temperature–it takes about 30-45 minutes. Really, this makes a huge difference.

Cream the butter and sugar together so the finished cake is fluffy and light.

And the final step that I take is one that will probably make many wonder.  Start the baking time in a cold oven.  That’s right, fill the pans, pop in the oven then turn the oven on. Bake for about an hour, test with a toothpick and when clean pull out from the oven. There are many bakers who say this is true with older ovens or less professional-quality ovens (apartment ovens!) as the heating begins at the bottom.  Others say it forms a better crust.  All I need to know is that since I started using these tips and this technique my results are consistent. It was shared by  Tom Hudgens and his “The Commonsense Kitchen”  during a butter making class.

So while I liked the idea of the original magazine recipe, I needed to make it my own by altering the method, adding honey, pecans (how Southern is that?) and cinnamon. Inspiration arrives in many forms.

peach pecan pound cake

Peach Pecan Pound Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups AP  flour
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 cups butter, softened, cubed
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup peach schnapps
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups diced fresh peaches (skins can remain)
  • 2/3 cup pecans broken into smaller pieces

Method

Do not preheat oven.  Butter and flour dust 2 loaf pans or a large bundt pan.  Tap the pan/s to remove excess flour.

In a bowl combine flour, cinnamon and mix  together. Set aside.  Take a generous pinch or two of the flour mix and sprinkle and toss over the diced peaches.  This will prevent the fruit from sinking to the bottom.

In separate bowl combine peach schnapps, milk, vanilla and honey.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together, until the mixture is cohesive, light in color and fluffy.

Using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon alternately mix in the eggs. Now add the milk-peach schnapps liquids and the flours by hand in 3-4 additions, blending in each addition only partially before adding the next one.  Mix until just combined so as  not to overmix.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, speading evenly. Each pan/s should be filled about two-thirds full.

Place in cold oven.  Turn oven on to 325F.  Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cook in pan for 15 minutes; turn out cake on to a rack.

notes:

~if you don’t have cake flour just use AP flour instead.

~to finish the cake dust with confectioner’s sugar or make a lemon icing and drizzle over the top (mix 1 cup confectioner’s sugar with 2-4 teaspoons lemon juice depending on the consistency sought).

~serve on it’s own or with vanilla ice cream

Apricot-Almond Cake

20130614-233533.jpg

                                             

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
13 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 apricots, cut in half and pitted, then cut the halves again
1/4 cup slivered almonds mixed together with 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease and lightly flour with cornmeal an 8″ round cake pan or an 8″ springform pan, tapping out any excess flour. Set aside.

In a small bowl, toss the cornmeal, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar together with an electric mixer, until pale yellow and creamy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula adding the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the whole eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the lemon zest and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and blend by hand until just combined. Don’t use mixer as that’s will probably cause the batter to toughen. Gentle fold the dry ingredients into the batter.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. It’ll be thick so use the back of a soon to spread it out to the edges. Place the apricot halves, skin side down, at even intervals on top of the batter. Sprinkle the slivered almonds over the top of the cake followed by the brown sugar on top of the fruit and batter. I placed them just enough apart that when cut into 8 pieces everyone had a piece of apricot. You could leave use more fruit. Bake until the cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes.

Notes

Original recipe calls for plums, you could also use peaches with the skins on.

Although I haven’t tried this I am pretty confident that replacing the AP flour with almond meal flour would taste quite good–and gluten free.

 

The Pursuit of Deliciousness

A short little documentary for coffee lovers providing a window into the soul of being an artisan coffee roaster.  All of the featured roasters are based in California: LAMILL Coffee and Handsome Coffee in Los Angeles, and Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland. The documentary is the latest in the Subculture Club series by Thrash Lab.

Eggnog Bundt Cake.

20121208-190931.jpg

photo by Sean Timberlake, 2012

Tis the season for eggnog. Creamy, rich and well, eggy.   The origin of the holiday drink varies.  One story says that the word nog derives from an Old English word for strong beer, hence “noggin;” another tale states that the name in Colonial America refers to when colonists referred to thick drinks as “grog” and eggnog as “egg-and-grog”.

Whatever the story may be we drink it once a year mostly in lattés it seems. In Puerto Rico the drink is known as  coquito which involves, baking, cracking and draining coconuts. Ambitious for sure.  Rompopefrom Mexico, features almonds and lots and lots of eggs.

I don’t have a particular desire to drink eggnog but I do like the taste of it–rum, cinnamon, cloves–perfect for holiday baking. Over the weekend I had lunch with friends and decided to surprise them with this holiday cake as dessert. Super easy, and the taste was as seasonal as you need.  Oh, and if you are like me you may need this Leftover Eggnog: 10 Delicious Uses.

PS: Don’t you love the photo? Squiggles on squiggles…

Spicy Eggnog Pound Cake
Adapted from Oxmoor House

Yield: 10 servings in an 8″ bundt pan plus 2 mini loaves

Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
3 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
1 1/2 teaspoon ground pumpkin pie spice
1 cup refrigerated full fat eggnog**

Glaze
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon whipping cream

30-40 minutes ahead of start bring butter and eggs to room temperature.

Preparation

Generously grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan and mini loaf pans.

Slice butter into tablespoons and beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer about 2 minutes or until creamy. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating 5 to 7 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears.

Combine flour, baking powder, spices and salt. Add to butter mixture alternating with 1 cup eggnog, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla and, if desired, brandy.

Bake at 350° for 50 to 55 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. The mini loaves will take about 7 minutes longer. Cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack.

Place cake on a cake plate; dust with powdered sugar. Combine powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste or extract and whipping cream, stirring until smooth. Drizzle glaze over cake.

*I recently discovered a cinnamon blend from Penzey’s which I think really contributed to the cake’s taste profile.  It’s a blend of four cinnamon barks: China, Vietnamese, Korintje, Ceylon.  Penzey’s

**Note: I substituted 1/8 cup for some of the eggnog to equal the amount called for–so if you want to do that 2 3/4 cup eggnog and 1/8 cup dark rum. You could also use brandy.

Other tasting adventures:

Ad Hoc Pie Crust.

Pie crust, often the cue of a strong baker, is seemingly simple and at the same time elusive for many. And while ingredients used are important, technique is also quite primary. There are many recipes that play with the amount of flour and the types of fats in ratios and type (lard, Crisco, butter etc.) it is a quest. I think spending time on the method is a bit more important, as it is in making biscuits. Over handle the dough and it will toughen. Go lightly and quickly. The following recipe is one that my long-time friend S. has begun using over the last year. He is a very good pie baker. He made the honey-pumpkin pie pictured above for Thanksgiving. The secret here is the amount of butter revealing a very flaky pie crust.

Ingredients:

Adapted slightly from the Ad Hoc cookbook.

2 1/2 cups AP flour, plus additional for rolling

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 1/2 sticks unslated butter, cut inot 1/2″ pieces and chilled

4-5 tablespoons ice water

Instructions:

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.

Add the butter and toss to coat with flour.

With two forks or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the butter pieces are small pieces resembling grains.

Drizzle 4 tablespoons of the ice water over the top and with a fork mix dough until it just comes together when pinched. If it is dry add a bit more of the ice water (not the cube) until it does stay together.

Quickly, using your hands or a combination of the forks and hands, bring the dough together until it is smooth and the butter is integrated. The less you touch it with the warmth of your hands, the better.

Divide the dough in half, shaped each into a 1″ thick round, wrap well in plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to a day.

Lightly flour the work surce and a rolling pin.

Dust one of the rounds with flour and roll out to a 13″ or 14″ round and about 1/8″ thick. This will be the top of the pie. If making a one crust pie roll out an an inch or more beyond the size of your pie pan so that a crust can be formed.

20121123-171532.jpg

Italian Wedding Soup.

A few weeks back I met up with friends for lunch at St. Vincent where they recently began offering casual one-pot lunches. Lucky for us we were able to experience a very simple yet satisfying Italian Wedding soup that day as the rain fell in almost a monsoon manner.  I rather liked the addition of country bread with an egg salad. While there are many variations for a lunchbox-meal-at-the-desk type of lunch or quick mid-week supper. In this recipe I made the meatballs with turkey for health reasons but equal parts beef and pork would be equally good. By preparing the essentials in advance, in particular, the cooked pasta, broth and meatballs it’s quick and you’ll feel almost virtuous.

Soup
8 oz. small pasta (tubes, small shells, etc.)
4 quarts chicken stock
3 cups baby spinach

Meatballs
3/4 pound ground chicken or turkey
1/2 cup panko
1/4 cup 1% low-fat milk
1 1/4 pounds 97% lean ground turkey
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed, crushed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced

Serves 4.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

First, cook pasta to nearly cooked per package instructions.

Prepare the meatballs (can be made ahead):
Combine breadcrumbs and milk. Let stand 5 minutes; squeeze out excess milk, and place in a large bowl. Add turkey, parsley, basil, 1 tablespoon oil, and next 5 ingredients (through garlic). Gently shape meat mixture into 48 (1-inch) balls (do not pack tightly).

Line a baking pan with parchment paper and place the meatballs onto the baking pan.  Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Bring the chicken stock to a gentle boil .  Add the cooked pasta. Add meatballs, and simmer for 1 minute.  Add the spinach and return to a gentle boil.  Cook for an additional minute.  Taste for enough salt, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with parmesan.

Serves 6.

Cranberry Bog.

Back in October, while in Massachusetts for business, I toured a cranberry farm. This outing was one that had long been on my list of adventures since I was a girl growing up in New England. The bonus was that I was able to see an in-progress bog harvest. I also think that I was luck due to the patience and knowledgeable guide who was also the assistant operations manger. Unfortunately, his name is not in my notes.

A.D. Makepeace, the “Cranberry King”, has been in the business of growing cranberries in southeastern Massachusetts since the 1800s. In 1930 the family joined two other cranberry companies in creating what would become Ocean Spray Cranberries, an ag cooperative that has become synonymous with the fruit.

A few highlights I did salvage from my scribblings:

  • The name for the fruit, comes from the Pilgrims” lexicon”crane berry,” as the vine blossoms resembled the neck, head and bill of a crane.
  • Massachusetts was the first site of the first documented cranberry cultivation in 1816.
  • Costs $25-30 to grow a barrel of cranberries. Makepeace, delivered 370,000 barrels in 2011.
  • Massachusetts is second to Wisconsin in production.
  • Cranberries float due to an air sac within the berry.
  • Along with Concord grapes and blueberries, cranberries are are one of only three native fruits grown commercially in North America.
  • Thanksgiving trivia bonus:  440 cranberries in one pound; 4,400 cranberries per gallon of juice; 440,000 cranberries in a 100-pound barrel

A common misperception is that the cranberries grow in water.  They are grown in sandy bogs or marshes. If the fruit is to be processed for juice or other use the bog is flooded and corralled (as shown above). What I didn’t know was that these bogs are more than watery fields.  They are classified as state wetlands requiring environmental controls and allows for protected designation for the grower.  And the other challenges are long, springs in Massachusetts have become increasingly warmer meaning it is getting tougher to grow cranberries due to higher incidences of pests and fungus.  Come autumn, which have been warmer the berries need a few consecutive evenings of cooler temperatures to turn from white to red.  All of these factors add to cost and yield. Makepeace takes this sustainability responsibility seriously. It is also extended beyond the bogs to the community.

Cranberry Sauce

1 12-oz. package fresh (about 3 cups), picked over and rinsed

3/4 cup real, pure maple syrup, Grade B (if possible)

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 medium orange, finely grated to yield 1 tsp. zest, squeezed to yield 1/3 cup juice

Combine the cranberries, maple syrup, and orange juice in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium low to a simmer while stirring every now and then. After five minutes in the cranberries will begin to burst. Let this happen for about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the zest, and cinnamon. Allow to cool to room temperature, at least an hour, as this will allow the sauce to thicken up.

Leftover sauce?  Serve over a chicken breast poached in lemon water or by mixing with butter and spread over sourdough toast. 

Recipes from Ocean Spray

Recipes from Epicurious