Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Butternut Squash Creme Brulee


Question. What is the first thing you thing about when you hear creme brulee? Is it, fancy dessert? Is it, caloric assault? Cholesterol overload? Impossible to make at home? The thought that goes through my mind when contemplating making  this dessert is whether I should buy a mini flame torch. The reason I never do is I am convinced that once I get it, it will remained packed up at the back of a cupboard somewhere, next to my mini chopper, my crepe pan and my condiment spoons, only to be found if, and when, we move. 

Now, having actually made the dessert for the first time, I have found that possibly the mini torch would have caramelized the sugar more evenly than under the broiler. That being said, the broiler is a good alternative. 

The two main ingredients in creme brulee are heavy cream and egg yolks, typically six to eight yolks for a recipe yielding four servings. Here, I used two yolks and,  in place of heavy cream,  I substituted low fat evaporated milk.  For the rich velvety texture characteristic of this dessert, using butternut squash puree was ideal. It has both body and a creamy texture; exactly what was needed here. You will notice the oven temperature starts out at 400 degrees fahrenheit and is then lowered to 350. This is crucial because the high temperature sets the dessert while the lower one allows it to continue cooking with being grainy. 

Have a happy and healthy thanksgiving!


Butternut Squash Creme Brulee
Serves four

12 oz low fat evaporated milk
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp dry milk
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup butternut squash puree*
2 egg yolks

1. Set oven to 400 degrees F. 
2. Dissolve the milk, sugar, and dry milk in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the freshly grated nutmeg and cook for 10 minutes. Do not bring to a boil. Remove 1/4 cup of mixture and set aside. To the remaining mixture, whisk in the butternut squash. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly so that when the eggs are added they will not scramble immediately. 
3. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks with reserved milk and return to pumpkin milk mixture. Whisk thoroughly. 
4. Pass mixture through a sieve to remove any lumps and divide among four 4"ramekins. Bake in a water bath at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350  and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes.
5. Once cooked, the custard can be refrigerated over night before caramelizing the sugar crust. To do so, sprinkle approximately half teaspoon (or more) of  sugar on the top of each custard. Using the back of a spoon spread to completely cover the top. Caramelize using a blow torch or under the broiler for less than two minutes, monitoring closely to prevent charring.  Chill before serving.

*To make butternut squash puree, peel, seed,  and cut a squash into cubes. Add to a large pot with about an inch  or two of water. Cover with lid and steam over medium high heat for 15 to 20 minutes until easily pierced with a knife. Puree in blender or food processor. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pumpkin Nut Loaf


Some of my friends (the ones who have been around longer than I have) tell me that as we get older,  we tend to find gratification in odd, simple and, sometimes, mundane things. Wine, a good cup of coffee, a crisp fall evening, highway driving- I have at least two friends in their fifties who enjoy highway driving, in particular, the freedom that the road signifies.  Using this criterion, I must be aging faster than I look because my latest diversion definitely falls into the category of odd, simple, and mundane. I am fascinated with squash. Gourds. You know, pumpkins. (Although, pumpkins are just one type of squash, if we have to get technical.) 

Little did  I know that all it would take to capture my interest in all things ( all edible things) squash, would be a single visit to a pumpkin patch. That fateful visit happened back in October in Wyoming, Minnesota. (Remember A road trip, a fresh pumpkin, and a pie?)  Now, a month later, squash as become for me what a blank canvas is to an artist: a medium of almost infinite possibilities.  Cakes, puddings, gnocchi, stews, breads, soups, and not forgetting the ever popular pie; you name it,  it can probably be prepared with one of the many varieties of squash. 

Throughout the year, farmer's markets as well as the produce sections of many neighborhood grocery stores seem to come alive with all varieties of squash. While most are used as decorations especially at this time of year, a large number is edible. A few of my favorites are acorn, kabocha, butternut, but I can't wait to get my hands on the fairy tale pumpkin. Just as its name suggests, a mature fairy tale pumpkin is shaped like Cinderella's coach in the way that its segments are distinguished by deep ridges. Not to be confused with the cinderella pumpkin which also has deep ridges but whose top is more noticeably flattened. 

Stay tuned for at least one more "gourdish" recipe. Maybe I will be able to find a fairy tale pumpkin. Or not. Either way, the next recipe will be a sweet delight. Meanwhile, enjoy this hearty pumpkin loaf made with homemade pumpkin puree.


Pumpkin Nut Loaf
Makes on   8' x 4' loaf

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg plus 1 egg white
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup skimmed milk
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (homemade or canned)* 
1/4 cup hazel nuts 
1/4 cup walnuts

1. Set oven to 350 degree F. Liberally grease and flour an 8' x 4' loaf pan and set aside. 
2. Coarsely chop the hazel nuts and pecans and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside until ready to use. 
3. Combine  the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Set aside. 
4. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, maple syrup, oil, and milk. Slowly whisk in pumpkin puree and add the freshly grated ginger. Combine the flour mixture into the wet ingredients in two batches. Finally, fold in the toasted chopped nuts. 
5. Pour the  batter into the prepared loaf pan and using a spatula smooth the top. Bake at 350 degrees  F for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the top is cracked and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cook loaf in the pan on a wire rack before serving. 


*Homemade pumpkin puree: Wash and cut a 1 lb pie pumpkin into eight to ten segments. Remove and discard the seeds and stringy interior. Place the "cleaned" segments in a large pot with 1 to 2 inches of water. Set over medium high heat for 30 minutes until the pulp becomes soft and capable of being scraped out with a spoon. Remove pulp and puree in blender. Pour back into pot over medium high heat, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes to remove most of the liquid.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I'm back with Stuffed Mushrooms


As you may have known, my sister had been visiting last month. Consequently, I have been so busy with her, sightseeing, shopping, helping her study for the SAT's (which is a mute point now since she was accepted to medical school- an international one) etc. So my blogged suffered; I had not been able to post since October 15th. I'm not complaining either because I enjoyed every minute spent with her. It is questionable, however, whether or not she enjoyed every minute with me. (Moody, exacting, and bossy are a few adjectives she would gladly use to describe me.)

She was thrilled with the restaurant scene in Minneapolis; a huge difference from what she was used to. Not only the setting but in terms of the variety. She also enjoyed my home cooking, something she didn't know much of since I left home before she was able to appreciate my recipes. Luckily, she devours everything I make; I little bit of affirmation that I, in turn, enjoy. This recipe was created just for her.

Tofu and mushrooms. Two foods eaten in Trinidad but not widely popular. Consequently, and coupled with the fact that she is sometimes a picky teenage eater, she was not particularly fond of the idea that I would "make" her eat it. ( One of the reasons I doubt she enjoyed every minute with me: there was no " I don't like that" protesting allowed when it came to healthy eating.) In the end, I won he over with fresh portabello mushrooms. "I have never meet a mushroom I didn't like,"she said.

Marina's Stuffed Mushrooms

15 to 20 baby bellas
3 large portabellas
12 oz extra firm tofu
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/3 cup grated cheese
grape seed oil (optional)


1. Remove the tofu from its package and wrap in dry paper towels. Place on a plate and set another plate on top of it. Onto the second plate, set a heavy weight such as a can of beans. Place in the refrigerator for at least an hour. This step is very important because it removes most of the extra liquid from the tofu resulting in a crumblier and less soggy topping.
2.Set the oven to 400 degrees F. With a damp paper towel, gently wipe any dirt off the outer surface of each mushroom. Remove and discard the stems. Set on a well greased baking sheet or baking dish.
3. Remove the tofu from the refrigerator (from its homemade "liquid extractor") and crumble into a bowl, either using your hands or a fork. To this crumbled mass, add the cheese, scallion, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Mix well.
4. Fill each mushroom cap with the crumbled tofu mixture, and drizzle lightly with grape seed oil, if using. Bake for 15 to 2o minutes until lightly golden brown on top.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Maple Anise Braised Country Ribs




When I had first begun to cook with the intent of blogging my endeavors, braising used to intimidate me; I felt that it was one of those cooking methods relegated to culinary school graduates who were especially talented in its intricacies.  Partly because I thought braising was laborious and required somewhat special dexterity. Partly because it originated in France and I therefore thought that automatically meant difficult. My first attempt at coq au vin, and the many stews I made thereafter, proved me wrong. It has now become one of my go-to methods whenever want to make something special for just the two of us or when I do not have much time to stand around in the kitchen.

Braising  is the method of cooking that incorporates both dry and moist heat. The food to be braised is first seared on high heat (the "dry" heat), then cooked in the oven or on the stovetop in a highly seasoned liquid (the moist heat) which usually consists of an acid such as a wine or vinegar. This liquid has a two-fold purpose: tenderizer and sauce. By cooking the food covered and in a medium high heat for a long period of time the product is a  soft, highly flavorful dish that is hard to accomplish simple by searing or roasting alone. Pretty straightforward isn't it? 

What I have found is that braising is a useful way of adding flavor to foods without injecting additional fat into the dish. Granted that some recipes call for searing in a significant amount of fat, in my humble (albeit unqualified) opinion, this is not necessary. Not if you have a well-seasoned cast iron or other no-stick pot. Get the pot hot, add the meat,  allow to cook undisturbed for about two minutes, flip, cook undisturbed for two additional minutes, remove, and voila, a perfectly seared piece of meat or vegetable. The other great quality of braising is its convenience. Once the meat is seared, the liquid is added, all you now have to do is place in the oven or stovetop and allow to slow cook for a couple hours undisturbed will you do other things. The day is yours.

Maple Anise Braised Country Ribs
Serves 4 to 6

2 cups low sodium chicken stock
1/3 cup maple syrup
3-4 whole star anise
1  cup sherry
1 tbsp whole black peppercorn
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 lbs country style pork ribs


1. Place oven rack in the middle of the oven and set to 325 degrees F.
2. In a large dutch oven, bring the first seven ingredients to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, place a large skillet over medium high heat and sear each piece of meat for two minutes on either side. 
4. Add the seared ribs to the liquid in the dutch oven, making sure that each piece is covered. Place in the middle of the oven and braise for 2 hours, until the meat is soft and practically falls apart.
3. Remove the ribs to another dish and place the dutch oven with the remaining sauce on the stovetop and cook until almost reduced by half. Pour thickened glaze/sauce over ribs before serving.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blog Award



Last week I received a blog award from Rubybean77 at Broken Yolk. This is only my second award but I am so excited that more are more people are enjoying my recipe ideas.  So to keep the goodwill going, will pass this award to:
1. Cory at  Zesty Cook whose recipes are so easy to follow, such as a delicious recipe for chicken lettuce wraps.
2. TTFN30 at Tri To Cook whose balance of fitness and exercise is exemplary and who is not afraid of thinking outside the box, as with her recipe for chocolate polenta cake. 
3. Arlene at The Food of Love. Her motto is "Life is short so eat what you love and love what you eat." I especially like the human element of her blog in that she sets aside space for important issues such as Ovarian Cancer.

Thanks for visiting!
Natasha

Friday, October 10, 2008

A road trip, a fresh pumpkin, and a pie

For the first time, I am able to host my father and youngest sister at our home in Minneapolis. As expected, there is  a tremendous amount of sight-seeing they would want to accomplish, and there are many things my fiance and I want to share with them, aspects of our life here that must be experienced first-hand, such as the twin cities' fabulous restaurants, our daily lake walks, among other things.  It seems that I am more excited that they are, actually.  Before they arrived, I drafted an agenda for almost each day of their visit. Friday's agenda was the St Croix's Scenic Riverway, 123 miles of beautiful forested landscape bordering central eastern Minnesota and wisconsin on the St. Croix River. 


The St. Criox river with the town of Stillwater, Minnesota in the distance.

I have never made this drive before but was told my born and bred Minnesotans that the vistas are gorgeous this time of year. And boy was it so!  Miles and miles of fall foliage, browns, reds, yellows, purples. On the shores of the St Croix, one can almost forget that the twin cites are just an hour or so away. Road trips, just like life, are highly unpredictable. About forty five minutes into the drive on the outskirts of the town of Wyoming, we drove past a pumpkin patch. I had never been pumpkin picking before and neither had my father nor my sister. We made a u turn and off we went cavorting through fields of bright orange pumpkins, despite the fifty degree temperature.  No matter how old we get, there are some things that, when done for the the first time, bring out the child in us. I found out that a pumpkin patch can do that. There seemed to be an unspoken rule that  fun must be had in this place. 

That evening at dinner, we all commented that the pumpkin patch was one of the highlights of the trip. Probably because it was so novel,  and certainly for my dad because he was able to procure red, blue and purple corn which he plans to cultivate when he returns to Trinidad. Little did everyone else know that all the while, all I could think about was the pumpkin pie I would make from the fresh pie pumpkins we had bought. The fact that this would be a relatively labor intensive and time consuming endeavor did not faze me; I just had to experience this type of pie making for myself. 



The first thing I did was research on the different ways of pumpkin pie making. An online source suggested cooking the pumpkin in a microwave, removing the pulp, then letting it drain in a cheesecloth overnight to remove the excess liquid. This, I thought was a good idea until I stumbled on a Cooks Illustrated magazine which suggested cooking a can of pureed pumpkin on the stovetop to remove excess liquid. Why not implement this method for my fresh pumpkin pulp? Genius! I discovered exactly what the magazine explained. Cooking the pumpkin pulp/puree does three things: (1) it enhances the pumpkin flavor, (2) it makes the filling hot which allows the custard to firm up quickly while in the oven, and (3) it removes a significant amount of excess liquid which prevents the crust from becoming soggy. The other helpful tip was to bake the pie at an initial high temperature followed by a lower temperature to prevent the eggs from cooking. A mistake many cooks, myself included, frequently make is using a uniform high temperature to bake the pie; this produces a crumbly texture (because the eggs cook quickly)  as opposed to the velvety texture produced by aforementioned method. 

As for the crust, I made my own but, by all means, you can use the pre-made version or your personal recipe if you prefer.  The reason I make my own is I can control the amount of fat I put in. Everyone can agree that a pie without a good pie crust is no a pie at all, but I disagree that two pounds of butter must be used. In my recipe, I used only five tablespoons which created the right amount of flakiness that my family enjoys. Yes, the crust is somewhat thinner than your standard crust so one might assume that it would turn soggy easily. Not so at all. In fact, pre-cooking the pumpkin puree as described above removes much of the liquid thereby reducing the risk of sogginess in the crust. The resulting pie is unlike any that I have made form a can with a smooth and consistent texture and, best of all, the pumpkin flavor is intensified.




Pumpkin Pie made with Fresh Pumpkin
Makes one 12"pie

1 pie pumpkin, about 2 lbs
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 12 oz can low fat evaporated milk
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 twelve inch pie crust (see recipe below)


To prepare pumpkin filling:
1. Wash and cut the pie pumpkin into eight to ten segments. Remove and discard the seeds and stringy interior. Place the "cleaned" segments in a large pot with 1 to 2 inches of water. Set over medium high heat for 30 minutes until the pulp becomes soft and capable of being scraped out with a spoon.
2. Using a spoon or ice cream scope, scrape out the pulp of each segment. Add all the pulp to a blender and puree until smooth. An emersion blender can also be  used here.
3. Return the puree to the pot and cook over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent burning. This step removes some excess liquid and intensifies the pumpkin flavor. 
4. Add the fresh ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and cook further for two more minutes. Whisk in the evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla extract, brown sugar and maple syrup. 
5. Pour the filling into a prepared pie crust, set on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degree F and bake for a further 30 to 35 minutes. Remove dish to a wire rack and allow to cool for at least an hour before serving.


For the Crust
Makes one 12" pie crust
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 to 6 tbsp ice cold water

Combine the first four ingredients in a food processor, pulse to mix. Slowly add the water one tablespoon at a time, until mixture begins to clump together. Remove dough unto a floured surface and shape into a round disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use, at least an hour. When ready to use, remove from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for at least 5 minutes. On a well floured surface, roll into a 12 inch disc and place in pie dish which had been sprayed with cooking spray. Return to refrigerator until you are ready to add the filling. Just before adding the pumpkin filling, line with foil and fill with dried peas or another form of baking weights. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and foil and bake for a further 5 minutes. 


 

Friday, October 3, 2008

I like family with my cheesecake please



If culinary decadence could be described in one word, it would be cheesecake. I know, I know, cheesecake puts a wrench in the raison d'etre of my blog but this is not your ordinary cheesecake. (Who says a healthy lifestyle does not include cheesecake anyway?) From the moment I made the decision to start a food blog, I have enjoyed the process of relearning the art, the science and the history behind many traditional recipes. Not just relearning how to make them but how to incorporate them as part of a healthy lifestyle, that is, as an unforgettable taste sensation which which does not wreck havoc on our efforts to stay or get healthy . No other dish has proven to be as much of a challenge in this aspect than cheesecake. Yes, I could have just whisked together fat free cream cheese, some eggs, flavorings, baked it, chilled it , and voila, "healthy" cheesecake. But, a cheesecake is more than just a disc of sweetened cream cheese. Have you ever had a slice only to taste an overwhelming amount of sugar, nothing else? I have had this happen to me on occasion. Or, have you ever had a slice with a texture that was hard to discern from that of card board? Acheiving the perfect texture, together with the lusciousness that is characteristic of this grand daddy of desserts, is a task too often not afforded it rightful reverence.

In the two weeks I spent experimenting with different sweeteners, different proportions of fat, etc, a couple valuable tips were learnt. (1) Brown rice syrup is a great sweetener when used to sweeten desserts. Not only did it enhance the chocolate flavor in this recipe but it also has a low glycemic rating. It contains approximately 50 % carbohydrates, 45 % maltose an 3 % glucose. With low glycemic foods, there is a steady release of sugar into the blood stream as opposed to high glycemic foods that inject large amounts of sugar causing a high spike in blood glucose levels which can then increase insulin levels, the number one reason people develop type two diabetes. (2) Blending, as opposed to using a hand or stand-mixer, produces a more "velvety" texture. I was unable to get as smooth a filling with a hand mixer as I was with the blender. In the end, I found that making a healthy, decadent dessert takes sufficient preparation, and if you're like me and want to experiment with flavors, a little creativity. 

It also helps to have a goal or company to entertain. I specifically made this dessert for tonight because, in less than eight hours, my father and my youngest sister will be here. I will be seeing them for the first time in four years. Well, I've "seen" them via the internet, but to be in the same country, the same city, under the same roof after so long...it is almost overwhelming. It feels like a dream so I won't allow myself to be ecstatic until I know for sure that their plane has landed at MSP airport. Strangely though, for the first time in my adult life, I don't know what to cook. A complete blank. What does one prepare on an occasion such as this? At least I have a cheesecake.



Mocha Cheesecake

Crust
2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
2/3 cup matzo meal
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg white
2 tbsp canola oil

Filling
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips
2 tbsp instant espresso
2 tbsp water
8 oz fat free cream cheese
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1 egg
1 tbsp corn starch


Set oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9" spring form pan or pie dish with cooking spray. To prepare crust: combine all ingredients well, until the crumbs clump together easily. Pour out unto the greased pan and using your finger tips or the back of a spoon, press along the bottom and half way up the sides. Bakes for 15 minutes and set aside until filling is ready.

To prepare filling: In a heavy saucepan over medium low heat, pour milk and chocolate chips. Stir continuously until chocolate has melted. Dissolve instant espresso in 2 tbsp warm water and add to milk and melted chocolate. Stir, remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. With the pour lid off, slowly pour in the chocolate mixture and continue blending until fully combined. Pour into the prepared crust and set in a water-bath. If using a spring form pan, remember to seal the bottom with aluminum foil to prevent the water from seeping in. Bake for one hour, then cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least four hours before serving.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cauliflower Gratin


If there is one vegetable that I can do without, it would have to be the cauliflower. To me, the taste is not anything to write home about.  My fiance, on the other hand, likes all vegetables.
Whenever he tags along on  grocery  trips, he endeavors to pick up at least one of every type of vegetable in the produce section. Consequently every couple months or so, I have this large cauliflower in the fridge starring back at me until I decide to cook it. 

Typically, we would have it blanched served with different sauces  on the side or cooked in n indian curry, such as  aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower.)  Still, it wasn't something I craved. Then not too long ago, I prepared it au gratin, in a recipe that I typically reserve for potatoes or summer squash. What a difference preparation makes! I will admit, this way is much tastier than blanched and has opened up a new way for me of thinking about this vegetable. In fact, I look forward to experimenting with all the different and tasty ways in which this vegetable, that was once so low on my grocery list, can be prepared. The more I think of it, the more I'm grateful for my previous aversion to cauliflower; this way, my approach can be from a clean slate, or should I say, from a clean plate. 

Cauliflower Gratin
1 large cauliflower
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 large bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp tsp chilli powder

For topping
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated cheese (of your choice; I like a mixture of mild cheddar and parmesan)
1/3 cup sliced, fresh scallions


1. Mix all the ingredients for the toppings and set aside.
2. Cut the cauliflower in half and remove the hard stem. Proceed to break apart florets into two to three inch pieces. Place about 1 cup of the florets into a food processor together with the diced onion and garlic cloves. Mince thoroughly. 
3. In a large skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil, minced mixture, bay leaf and dried thyme. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture now appears dry and crumbly. Also, remember to stir frequently to prevent burning. Add the vegetable stock and cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes. At this point, thoroughly whisk in the flour and nutmeg,  and remove the pan from over the heat. 
4. Steam the remaining cauliflower in a bamboo or metal steamer for three to four minutes, until slightly fork tender but not too soft. Toss steamed cauliflower pieces and onion-cauliflower mixture in a large bowl. Pour into a baking dish and top with panko topping. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes. 


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Roasted Mushrooms with Shallot Chilli Oil

Clockwise from right: shiitaki, enoki, button, and oyster mushrooms

It all started a month ago. We had just sat down at one of our favorite (athentic) chinese restaurants and was in the middle of giving our order to the waitress. Hot and sour szechuan soup, ma po tofu, pea-tips in garlic sauce. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said to me in a hushed voice, "the pea-tips are not great today, wait until September when they are good and mature." Disappointment. Disappointed because those soft, leafy greens were the reason I cajoled my fiance to make the twenty minute trip to Richfield. 

On the drive home, we decided that in a month we would make a trip to the asian supermarket for some of those mature pea-tips. Taking the waitress' words to heart, last Sunday was the day we designated for the asian market. All month I had been looking forward to this day, which turned out to be a bleak and raining day. I was not fazed; that evening we were going to dine on crisp pea tips sauted with garlic and drizzled with a little  olive oil. 

So you can only imagine my disappointment at the sparse vegetable selection that awaited us. (Sparse is putting it subtly.) The vegetable shelves were practically bare, the pea-tips leaving much to be desired. It took me a few moments to contain my disappointment and make the most of the circumstances. We were already there, why not take this opportunity to stock up on some other asian ingredients such as sauces and our favorite roasted, brown rice tea. We eventually left with bottles of ponzu, various teas and  an assortment of mushrooms, the one vegetable that was fresh and plentiful that day.  


Roasted mushroom medley

6 oz enoki mushrooms
6 oz shiitake mushrooms
6 oz oyster mushrooms 
6 oz button mushrooms, slices
1/4 cup ponzu
2 - 3 tbsp chilli oil (depending on desired level of heat)
1 shallot, thinly sliced


1. With a damp paper towel or tea cloth, clean mushrooms lightly to remove any dirt. 
2. Toss with ponzu. Evenly spread the mushrooms onto a baking sheet and broil in the middle of the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
3. Meanwhile in a hot skillet over medium heat, (it is important to heat the skillet before adding the oil) add the chilli oil and shallots. Cook shallots for 1 minute, without stirring, just long enough to infuse the oil with its flavor. 
4. Pour hot oil and shallots over mushroom. Serve immediately. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Come mister tally man, tally me banana...crumb cake


Besides the beach, there is nothing more synonymous of the tropics than bananas. In Trinidad, where there are many varieties of this fruit, you can find a plethora of dishes featuring bananas. Cooked at the three main stages of ripeness: unripe, just ripened, and very mature; in stews, soups, au gratin, even for breakfast. When we were both toddlers, my sister and I graciously devoured my grandmother's "banana pot" for breakfast. Made with a variety of small bananas called chiquitos, salted cod fish, fresh tomatoes, onions and local herbs; this was regular weekend breakfast fare in our town.  

Interestingly, as Trinidadians we never tire of bananas in our diet, so ingrained is it within the culture. Although oil and natural gas are now our two main exports, bananas were at one point a major source of revenue.  As in American homes, there might be a bowl of apples sitting on the kitchen counter, in Trinidad there would be a bunch (or as it is called in the country side, a "hand") of bananas.

Recipes for banana breads and cakes also abound. Within my own extended family, there might be enough for a recipe book! My own recipe is extraordinarily moist (if I may say so myself.) So delicious, with  just the right amount of sweetness, and just the right amount of crunch; I dare you to have just one slice. I took a different route with the topping. Traditionally, crumb cakes are topped with a mixture of  approximately equal parts flour, sugar and butter. Here, less than two tablespoons of unsalted butter is combined with pecans for an irresistible crunch. Throw in a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg and you would be singing too!

                                                                       Pecan crumb topping

Banana Crumb Cake
Makes one 9" cake 

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp low fat cream cheese
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup low fat evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large bananas, mashed
2 large egg whites

1. Set oven to 300 degrees F. Spray a 9 inch spring form cake pan with cooking spray and flour lightly. Set aside.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. Whisk eggs whites until stiff peaks form.
3. In another large mixing bowl, cream together butter, cream cheese, and sugar. Add evaporated milk, vanilla extract, and mashed bananas . Whisk together until smooth.
4. Slowly whisk in flour mixture in two installments, thoroughly incorporating each installment into the batter but being careful not to over-mix.
5. Fold in egg whites, also doing this in two installments.
6. Pour into a 9 inch cake pan. Sprinkle pecan topping over top (see recipe below.) Bake at 300 degrees F for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Set cake in pan on wire rack and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before removing sides of pan.


Pecan Crumb Topping
1 cup whole pecans
1 1/2 tbsp softened unsalted butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp all purpose flour

Coarsely chop or grind pecans in a food processor. Combine with the remaining ingredients to to a crumb-like texture.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Blog featured on Finest Foodies Friday

At the moment, I am getting ready to attend a wedding. I have 10 to 15 minutes until my biore strip is ready (Ladies, you know what I'm talking about. Guys, it's not important.) Just enough time to check my email. To my surprise, this blog was featured on the Foodie's Blogroll's Finest Foodies Friday. Yay! Here is what Jenn from the Blogroll had to say:

"As always here is what the FFF is all about. Finest Foodies Friday! FFF is a Friday post featuring favorites from The Foodie Blogroll! We do this so we can share in the rich diversity of what The Foodie weekly Blogroll has to offer by featuring some of our favorites yours!...Natasha of Healthy and Gourmet: I must admit I have a natural love for these kinds of blogs because my food outlook is healthy and gourmet, so I usually find a lot of great ideas on blogs that have a similar outlook. Especially when those blogs do as great of a job as Natasha’s by showing how healthy does not mean tasteless! Here’s a quote: “Food should make us happy and healthy, energized and euphoric. Not guilty, tired or self-loathing”. You said it! "

Thank you Jenn and to all of my visitors!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Nectarine chutney and a short history lesson


For the past week or so, there was a box of fresh nectarines sitting on my kitchen counter. Every morning I passed by them, I thought about making a pie or galette. Eventually, I decided against this, however, because I am home alone during the day, each day this week. Nothing is worse than being home alone, bored, with pie in the refrigerator. So I decided to make a chutney. That way, it can be bottled and shared with my lucky friends.

Chutneys are very much a part of Indo-Trinidadian cuisine. It is often served on the side with almost everything: curried meats, vegetables, and even street foods and non- Indian foods. The most popular ones are mango, cucumber, and, my favorite, coconut. This recipe is a variation of mango chutney. The spices used here are easy to find in your neighborhood grocery store, with the exception, maybe, for amchar masala which can be found at West Indian grocery stores. If you are adventurous, you can make you own. I found a simple recipe at GourmetSleuth.

This blend of masala is unique to Trinidad and Tobago. The history behind it is quite interesting actually.  In 1845, after the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean, workers were still needed on the sugar cane plantations. Enter: East Indian indentured laborers. They brought with them much of their Indian culture: religion, food, dance, dress, language. Indentureship ideally should have lasted for five years but many chose to remain on the islands instead of returning to India, for different reasons. Some feared not regaining their social status upon their return, others had nothing to return to (the reason they left in the first place) and yet others contemplated renewing their indentureship to earn more money and return at a later date, only that date was postponed  so many times until all thoughts of returning faded. Much to the benefit of our island culture.

Amchar masala was one of the many spices brought from India. Each cook has his/her own uses for this particular blend of spices. In my family, we use it mostly in relishes and chutneys, and to season meats. It is quite versatile so if you do mange to get your hands on a package or make your own, feel free to experiment. 

Nectarine Chutney
Makes about 5 cups

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
1 inch piece scotch bonnet pepper
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp amchar masala
6 nectarines, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes


1. In a stock pot over medium heat, add vegetable oil and fenugreek and mustard seeds. Once seeds begin to pop, add minced garlic, sliced onions, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and scotch bonnet. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until onions have softened, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile in a large bowl, dissolve sugar in water, vinegar and white wine. Set aside.
3. Once onions have softened, stir in nectarines, masala and coriander. Add liquid mixture, stir, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and cook for approximately 1 hour until chutney thickens  and nearly all the liquid has evaporated.
4. Pour into sterilized jars and seal tightly.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Caramelized Red Pepper and Garlic Flatbread



Today around noon, I thought about going out for dinner. I was thinking about Azia. Once afternoon came around however, the skies turned dark and soon I wasn't in the mood to go any where. I have an irrational fear of the Minnesota weather. My fear is that one day I'll be caught outdoors in the path of a tornado. Coming to think of it, it might not be too irrational. Last year, it almost happened; I was driving, listening to XM, and had no idea that a tornado had touched down not too far away because 1) I was not paying attention to the weather news, and 2) my windows were rolled up so I could not hear the sirens.

It is better to be safe than sorry. That being said, dinner plans were forfeited for my homemade flat bread. And hot chocolate.



2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp honey
1 egg
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 red bell peppers
2 tbsp spicy brown mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced finely (very finely)
1/2 cup grate cheese (or more if you desire)

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together yeast and warm water. Set aside until foamy, about 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Add egg, honey and flours to yeast and knead into a soft dough. Move dough to a floured surface and continue kneading for three to five more minutes. Return to the mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and allow to rise for 30 to 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a skillet set over medium heat, add two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add thinly slices bell peppers to the pot, season with sea salt and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
4. Once the dough has risen, set oven to 350 degrees F. Roll into a disc or rectangle to fit your baking sheet (which has been sprayed with cooking spray.) Brush mustard onto the entire surface of dough and sprinkle minced garlic throughout. Top with cooked bell pepper, followed by cheese. Bake for 15 minutes. Consume immediately.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Brownies baby!




Double Chocolate Brownies
Makes about 15 to 20

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup low fat evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Set oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 9 baking pan.
2. Combine flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
3. Whisk together vegetable oil, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract.
4. Meanwhile, in sauce pan heat milk and chocolate chips until all the chips have melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Slowly add to sugar mixture while whisking.
5. Add flour mixture to chocolate mixture and whisk until just combine. Fold in remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips and chopped pecans. Pour batter into baking dish and bake in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. At this point, an inserted toothpick will probably not come out clean but this does not mean that the brownies are not cooked. Set on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then cut into cubes.

Whole Wheat Poppy Seed Dinner Rolls



They say the key to success is preparation. (That's what they say right?) This year, we are hosting Thanksgiving at our place and there is the possibility that my sister from Toronto might visit. Thus, I want it to be extra special. I decided to serve rolls with dinner this year and have been working on a recipe for whole wheat poppy seed rolls. This is what I came up with.

2 tbsp active dry yeast (110 to 120 degrees F)
1 cup warm water
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp poppy seeds

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, sugar, 1 cup of flour and water. Set aside in a dry place away from drafts until foamy, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Add the remaining one cup of flour and poppy seeds, and mix until it all comes together. Remove dough to a dry floured work surface and kneed for 5 to 6 minutes until smooth and elastic. Sprinkle a little dry flour if dough becomes too sticky. Place in a large greased bowl and set in a dry place. Let rise until dough doubles in size.
3. Form into rolls and arrange unto a greased baking . Allow to rise for for a second time until almost doubled in size. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Trip Down Miso Memory Lane



When I first met my fiance, I was still in college. He was so attentive, a trait he portrayed mainly by bringing me food every weekend. We joke that in the beginning he cooked for me regularly, he's actually quite a creative cook. (I should post one of his recipes here one day) Now, I cannot even recall the last time he turned on the stove. In his defense, he has offered a great compromise: his new way of cooking is taking me out to dinner every night during the weeks that he doesn't work, which is quite often and which I gladly accepted.

What kinds of food did he bring me during those first months of our relationship? Grilled salmon, stuffed portobellas, to name a few but the one that stands out the most was miso soup. At that time, he didn't know that I was not particularly fond of miso, and not wanting to seem ungrateful, I graciously accepted and it eventually it grew on me. Surprise, surprise.

It pays to be open-minded because, the truth is, I have found that despite its strong, distinct flavor, miso is quite versatile and I have learnt to incorporate it in my cooking. Over the past four years, we have eaten many a miso dish. From miso noodles, to miso duck, to miso cod. Which brings me to m newest miso creation: miso glazed scallops. Enjoy!




Miso Glazed Scallops
Serves 3 to 4

6 to 8 bay scallops
1/2 cup miso paste
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
2 tbsp canola oil
2 onions, sliced thinly
fresh scallions to garnish

1. Combine miso paste, white wine, brown sugar and grated ginger. Add scallops and marinate overnight in refrigerator or for at least four hours.
2. Remove scallops from marinade and broil under broiler for 3 minutes on either side. 
3. Meanwhile, transfer marinade to a sauce pan and cook over medium high heat, until reduced by half, about 3 to 5 minutes.
4. For caramelized onions, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat, add onions and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently until soft, fragrant and brown.
4. Spoon reduction over roasted scallops and serve with a mix of fresh scallions and caramelized onions.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Low Fat Oatmeal Cookies



A more accurate name would have been "low fat oatmeal chocolate chip cranberry cookies" since each nook and cranny of this cookie is chuck full of goodies. Just the way I like it. These are also great with coffee on mornings.

2 tbsp butter
2 oz fat free cream cheese
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups whole oats
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Beat together butter, cream cheese, sugar until light an fluffy.
3. Whisk in egg, vanilla, extract and milk.
4. In a separate bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and 1 cup of the whole oats.
5. Using a spatula, mix the flour mixture to the cream cheese mixture. Fold in the remaining oats, chocolate chips, and dried cranberries.
6. Drop approximately 2 tablespoons of batter per cookie unto cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, pat-a-rice-cake


If you ever wanted an alternative way of serving rice, rice cakes are it. Either as a side dish or as part of an entree, these are a great way of adding more fiber to your diet. With two cups of broccoli and substituting brown rice for white rice, these small patties pack a heavy fiber punch.


Brown Rice and Broccoli Cakes
Makes 6 to 8

1 shallot, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cup broccoli florets
2 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1/3 cup bread crumbs
3 tbs dijon mustard
3 tbs olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 whole carrot, grated
salt and pepper

1. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, shallots, and garlic. Saute for two minutes. Add broccoli, season lightly with salt and pepper and continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes.
2. Once broccoli has cooked, and cooled, add to food processor and mince finely.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine minced broccoli, rice, and the remaining ingredients. Combine throughly.
4. Using a 3.5 inch circular cookie cutter, form 1 inch thick rice patties. Transfer to a well greased baking sheet
5. Place oven rack in the middle of oven and turn on broiler. Bake patties for ten minutes on each side. Remove baking sheet from oven, and allow patties to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before servings. This time is also necessary for the starches to set so that they don't fall apart.

Namaste Cafe and a Smoothie Recipe

Two days ago we had lunch at Namaste Cafe, a small Nepalese restaurant in Uptown. The big pluses here are that most dishes are made from organic ingredients and there is a wide selection of vegeterian options to chose from. In fact, each dish has both a meat and vegetable option. Now, I am not vegetarian, but I do try to incorporate a healthy balance of meat and veggies in my routine. Thus, it is always favorable to find an establishment where it is easy to maintain personal dietary habits.

One might be tempted to characterize Namaste as just another Indian restaurant. Absolutely incorrect for, although similar spices are used, and there is definitely a slight Indian undertone, the main dishes are unique to Nepalese cuisine. For example, the soy bean dhal soup is a pureed dhal suspension with the added taste of soy beans. Not your typical dhal. 

This was by no means my first visit to Namaste; I even have my favorites: kamandu curry- a delicious mix of fresh tomatoes, onions, turmeric, cumin and other spices served with either tofu or chicken- and mamacha - small, soft dumplings filled with just a taste of lamb or chicken. It was the first time however that I ordered their mango lassi.

If you knew me, you would know that I never order milk or diary based drinks. I just don't associate them with eating out. In addition, they are usually in such large serving sizes that I can never finish one. (Just a little quirk I have.) Well, there is always a first time for everything. Maybe it was the ambiance: outdoor seating, colorful garden scape, the fact that, in late August, we could still dine outdoors. Surprisingly, Nasmaste's lassi was just the right serving size for me, about eight ounces. I was used to  mango lassis that are thick and too sweet. This was the opposite, light, airy and just the right amount of sweetness. 

The following day, I was inspired to make a "mango lassi smoothie." Smoothies are the ultimate pick-me-up on mornings. They are also a great pre- or post-workout drink. The best part is that you just add all ingredients to a blender and press start.


Mango Lassi Smothie 

1 cup frozen mango cubes
1/2 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup fat free vanilla soy milk
1 tbs. honey
pinch of ground nutmeg

Instructions: Blend. Pour. Enjoy.


Namaste Cafe
2512 Hennepin Ave. S. 
Minneapolis, Mn 55405
(612) 827-2496

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Coconut Shrimp Spring Rolls


I prefer spring rolls with only a few ingredients. What I like most about making them, however, is the versatility. There is an endless assortment of ingredients which can be used for the filling. I, myself, am partial to tofu and shrimp but in the past I have had many traditional and not so traditional combinations of meat and vegetables, the most notable of which was fried rice and raisins.

This recipe is also a non-traditional twist but it incorporates flavors that are common in east asian cooking. In particular, coconut, fish sauce, and chili flakes.

Coconut Shrimp Spring Rolls
Makes 6 to 8 rolls

1 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 cup red wine
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp chili flakes ( more or less depending on desired spice level)
1/2 lbs raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
salt and pepper to season shrimp
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut
6 to 8 rice paper sheets
1 to 2 cups warm water in a deep plate or shallow bowl

1. Whisk together fish sauce, red wine, olive oil, and chili flakes. Set this marinade aside.
2. Season shrimp lightly with salt and ground black pepper. In a heavy skillet over medium high heat, cook shrimp for 1 to 2 minutes on each side until cooked through. Transfer to marinade, mix well and set aside.
3. To assemble rolls:
a. Working one at a time, soak a rice paper sheet in warm water until soft and pliable. Set on a paper towel or tea cloth.
b. Place 2 tablespoon of cabbage on the end closest to you. To that, add a teaspoon of toasted shredded coconut and finally two or three shrimp.
c. Fold the vertical sides about 1 inch inwards, then pull the horizontal end closet to you up and over the filling. Continue rolling up and away from you until you reach the other edge.
d. Continue steps a. to c. until all the filling ingredients have been used up.
4. Any left over marinade can be used as a dipping sauce.

Clockwise from top right: toasted shredded coconut, shredded cabbage, marinade.

Cooked shrimp in marinade.


Assembling spring rolls (step 3.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mixed Fruit Pie with Peanut Pate Brisee



You know the song that's stuck in your head that you can't get rid off? You sing it in the shower, waiting in line at the grocery, whenever you have a quite moment it is the first thought that pops into your head. To make matters worse, it is not even a song you like. Most likely an annoying commercial jingle.

Well, this describes my relationship with peanuts, in a nut shell (pun intended.) I like other nuts: cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, but not peanuts. Yet, I do eat them time and again. My own mystery of the ages. Recently, I even had an unsual obsession with peanut butter and had been working on a recipe for peanut pate brisee. 

Peanuts are quite popular in East Asian cooking which is a frequent part of my dining routine, and honey roasted peanuts are a standard street snack in the Caribbean. Thus, my present and past are spotted with peanut (or dare I say "nutty") experiences. Could it be that I find a sense of familiarity or that I want a reminder of those times? Maybe. Either way, mine is an odd relationship with America's most popular legume.

That's right, peanuts are actually legumes much like peas and beans. They grow under the ground unlike true nuts which grow on trees. Just like their legume cousins, peanuts are rich in protein and, like true tree nuts, they are rich in good unsaturated fats. Of course, too much of a good thing can sometimes be a bad idea. A diet with too much unsaturated (although they are called the "good" fats) can be harmful. Remember, excess fat can contribute to and/or complicate many health problems.

 
Mixed Fruit Pie with Peanut Pate Brisee

1 peach
1 apple
2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1 tbsp of all purpose flour
1/4 tsp corn starch
peanut pate brisee (see recipe below)

1. Set oven to 400 degrees F. 
2. Dice the peach and apple. Add to a large bowl, together with blueberries, sugar, lime juice, spices, 1 tablespoon all purpose flour and cornstarch. Mix well and refrigerate until ready to use.
3. On a well floured surface. roll one piece of pate brisee into a 10 " disc. Gently place into a well greased pie dish, cutting off any excess dough. Bake blind at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from oven.
4. Meanwhile, roll the second half of the pate brisee into 9 to 10 " round disk. Refrigerate until ready to use.
5. Fill bottom pie shell with fruit mixture. Cover with top pie crust, either as a whole or in strips to form a crisscross pattern.
6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 45 to 50 minutes. If the crust darkens too quickly, then cover with aluminum foil. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.


Peanut Pate Brisee
1 cup peanuts, toasted
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp cold water

1. In a food processor, grind peanuts to a powdery consistency. 
2. Add peanuts, whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, sugar and salt to a large mixing bowl. Combine well.
3. Mix in butter until the flour mixture looks like sea sand. Add 1/4 cup of cold water and combine until it all comes together into a ball, adding the extra 2 tablespoons of water as needed. Continue to work into a smooth ball. 
4. Cut pate brisee into two pieces, wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tropical Fruit Nirvana

My recent acquisition: tropical fruit.   

Since Saul is from the NYC, we typically would make at least two trips out there each year to visit his family and to refill my inventory of the ethnic ingredients and foods I use often but which are quite difficult to find here. And to get fruit. Tropical, exotic fruit. Rambutan. Chennette. Haitian mangoes. Longhan. At the risk of sounding cliche, there is no place like New York ....when it comes to fruit. My experience has been that the freshest, sweetest, ripest, and every kind of exotic fruit can be found there.

The past six months have been very hectic for us which meant that could we did not travel as often. So this month, his father flew to Minneapolis instead, and brought with him everything we would typically get  there. Trinidadian black (rum) cake, which is a popular Christmas dessert on the island but found throughout the year at Caribbean stores in NYC, cassava (yucca) pudding, and dhalpouries, Trinidadian-Indian flatbreads filled with seasoned, ground split peas. And the fruit. So much good fruit. I feel privileged. Like a spoilt child refusing to share her sweets or new toys. 

Being a proponent of new experiences, especially when it comes to food, I am posting pictures with a link to additional information on these three fruit: rambutan, lychee, and longan. They look different on the outside, are very similar in the inside but all have a unique flavor. For those who are new to exotic fruit, I hope this serves as encouragement to try something new soon.

Rambutan

On the inside. Left to right: rambutan, lychee, longan

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pucker up for good health: the benefits of grapefruit

Pink grapefruit 

Among cirtus fruits, the grapefruit is probably many people's least favorite. Its bitter quality is an acquired taste, a taste which some people mask by sprinkling with sugar or drowning in honey. In terms of health, in particular antioxidants, this citrus fruit has many nutritional properties.

An easy way to get around the bitterness, and to avoid loading up on unnecessary sugar calories, is to remove the white pith which surrounds the pulp. Of course, by eating it this way, much of the nutritious fiber is removed. (With the pith, a grapefruit has six grams of your daily fiber requirement; without the pith, you still get about two grams. ) That is not to say that the pulp contains nothing nutritious. On the contrary.

When it comes to vitamin C, grapefruit is almost on par with oranges. It packs an astounding 78% of our daily requirement. And we all know how important vitamin C is to our bodies. Besides boosting our immune system and preventing colds, this vitamin is an important antioxidant, helping to neutralize free radicals both inside and outside of our cells. As a result, grapefruit has been associated with preventing many inflammatory conditions, in particular asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Vitamin C's antioxidant property has also been linked to a reduced of heart disease, stroke and cancer.


Grapefruit pulp

Additionally, grapefruit is also high in lycopene, another antioxidant beneficial in the fight against cancer. Scientists have found an association between lycopene and the risk of colon cancer: a diet rich in lycopene has been shown to reduce men's risk of developing this form of cancer. Furthermore, it has been found that grapefruit and other citrus pulp contain compounds called glucarates may reduce the risk of breast cancer in women.

So whether you choose to have it for breakfast or freshly squeezed as a drink, or even brulee- which I discovered recently- consider grapefruit as part of your plan for a healthy lifestyle.


References
Schadt, David. "Just the grapefruit facts- health and nutritional benefits of grapefruit."
           Nutrition Action Health Letter. Jan-Feb, 1997. http://findarticles.com/p/
           articles/mi_m0813/is_n1_v24/ai_19085297

"Grapefruit." The World's Healthiest Foods. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?
          tname=foodspice&dbid=25

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hot Pepper and Garlic Beef



1 1/2 lbs round steak, cut in 4 equal pieces
1 small scotch bonnet pepper
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
3 garlic cloves, minced finely
4 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt 

1. With gloves on, finely mince scotch bonnet pepper. Add to grated ginger and minced garlic and combine well. Divide into four.
2. In a large bowl, assemble steak and seasonings as follow: place one piece of steak on the bottom of bowl and spread 1 tsp on olive oil on top followed by one fourth of the seasonings. Place another layer on top and continue layering with seasonings and meat until all four pieces of steak have been properly coated with olive oil and seasonings. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
3. Remove from refrigerator and season with salt.
4. Heat skillet over medium high heat. Cook each piece of steak for 3 to 4 minutes on either side for medium rare, 4 to 5 minutes for medium.
5. Cover cooked meat with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Cut into thin slices and serve.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Low Fat Almond White Chocolate Blondies



Last night, we went for a walk around the lake. Gorgeous. It was around eight so the tail end of the sunset was just visible on the horizon. Lights from the buildings on the edge were shimmering on the water. There was a slight breeze, gentle, and cool. In other words, a extraordianry late summer night in Minneapolis.

Then this morning I awoke, nasal. Sneezing. Itchy eyes. Itchy throat. Even my eyebrows were itching! A full blown allergy attack. And it's all my fault. I had totally forgotten that peak pollen times are early in the morning and late evenings. My entire day can be ruined from an allergy attack if I don't take proper precautions, namely an allergy pill before bedtime. So mesmerized was I by the seemingly idyllic lake walk, that medicating was the last thing on my mind. Well I paid for that lack in judgement. All. Day. Long. Few things are worse that an allergy attack for me.

On the up side, I discovered something about myself: even at my most irritable, I still enjoy cooking. My plan for today was: exercise, shopping, and baking. I cancelled the first two but, after taking zyrtec and being semi-unconscious until 2 pm, I made my best recipe for blondies.


3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda 
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup part skimmed ricotta cheese
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup fat free sour cream
1 egg
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup slivered almonds plus 1/4 cup
1/3 cup white chocolate chips


1. Set oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Toast 1/3 cup of almonds and set aside.
3. Combine flour, almond powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
4. Using a hand held electric mixer, whisk together the ricotta and sugar, until light and fluffy, about one minute.
5. Whisk in egg, followed by sour cream, and almond extract.
6. Add flour mixture in two batches, whisking well between additions.
7. Fold in white chocolate chips and toasted slivered almonds. Pour into an 8x8 baking pan. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup untoasted almonds. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
8. Remove pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cook for 15 minutes. Cut blondie into squares and cool completely.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Edamame Succotash


One aspect I admire in the traditional Native American culture was their ability to work with nature, not rushing the seasons but making good use of the bounties of each one. Succotash is an example of this wholeness with nature. Invented by the Native Americans themselves, this dish consisted mainly of lima beans and corn, two crops that grew abundantly, each with unique characteristics. Lima beans are full of protein while corn packed a high concentration of starch. Combined, they made a wholesome, nutritious meal which supplemented daily activities.

Succotash has survived history while being transformed into a dish that spans more than just a combination of lima beans and corn. In the southern United States, a mixture of vegetables and lima beans are combined with butter. In some parts of the midwest, green beans and lima beans are combined. In other places, kidney beans are substituted for lima beans.

In a small kitchen in Minneapolis, edamame and lima beans are mixed with red peppers, red onion and rosemary pecans, and tossed in a tangy key lime dressing.


Edamame Succotash

1 cup shelled edamame, already steamed
1 can red kidney beans, drained
1/2 cup diced red onions
1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
1 red red bell pepper, diced
1 cup rosemary honey pecans (optional; see recipe below)
key lime dressing (see recipe below)

Combine all ingredients and toss well. Chill before serving.


Key Lime Vinaigrette
5-6 key limes, juiced
2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp pepper flakes
3 tbsp grape seed oil
1 tbsp red wine
sea salt and pepper

1. Whisk together lime juice and sugar until sugar disolves.
2. Add pepper flakes and grape seed oil until a slight emulsion forms. Whisk in red wine and season with salt and pepper.



Rosemary Honey Pecans
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper
4 cups pecan halves

1. In a sauce pan over medium heat. add honey, rosemary and chili powder. Cook for two minutes until honey has liquified.
2. Remove pan from heat and toss pecans thoroughly until well coated. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Spread out on a baking sheet and allow to cool.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Roasted Cornish Hens for Two



Last year, a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, we were at the airport getting ready to board a plane for a quick trip to New York. At the newsstand, I picked up a cooking magazine with instructions on planning a flawless Thanksgiving dinner. Since that upcoming Thanksgiving would be my first time hosting dinner at our new apartment, the first time I would make dinner for Thanksgiving period, I thought, why not give it a try. After all, I really wanted to host an unforgettable dinner so I could use all the advice I can get. The day came and went and my mission was accomplished and I was left with the best technique for roasting the perfect turkey. The key is brining. The result is the most succulent meat.

I decided to employ this method with cornish hens; it is a smart way of roasting poultry to get added flavor and to prevent the meat from drying out without having to add a ton of butter. You are probably thinking this is a lot of work for such a small bird. Yes it is but the results are worth it. And with a little planning, this should not be a tedious endeavor.

Roasted Cornish Hens for Two

For the Brine:
10 - 12 cups water
3/4 cup sea salt
3/4 cup honey
1 large bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns

Seasonings:
1 tbsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
2 small bunches fresh cilantro

2 whole cornish hens (1 to 1 1/2 lbs each)

1. Bring the brine ingredients to a boil. Allow to cool to room temperature. Place hens in brine, cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least eight hours. Remove the birds from the brine and rinse with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
2. Set oven to 400 degrees F. Place hens in a roasting pan and season liberally with dried thyme, salt and pepper, remembering to also season the cavity. Stuff the cavity of each bird with a handful of fresh cilantro. Roast in oven for 1 hour, rotating 180 degrees halfway through. If you find that the birds are getting too dark too quickly, cover with foil and continue to roast. Remove from the oven, and let rest, covered in foil, for 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Saul's Birthday Cake

Today is Saul's birthday! Here is the cake I made for him.







Vanilla Cake with Fresh Raspberry Filling

1 1/3 cups cakes flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup part skimmed ricotta cheese
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 vanilla bean pod
1/2 cup low fat evaporated milk
4 eggs whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Filling
1/2 cup fat free cream cheese
1/4 granulated brown sugar
1 pint fresh raspberries (plus more for garnish)

Frosting (see notes below)
8 oz fat free cream cheese, softened
2/3 cups plus 4 tbsp confectioner's sugar, softened. See notes. 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract


1. Set oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans. Set aside.
2. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. 
3. With an electric hand mixer, whisk together butter and ricotta cheese. Add 3/4 cup of the sugar and cream together until the mixture becomes fluffy and has lightened in color, up to three minutes. 
4. Split the vanilla bean pod and carefully scrape out all the "pulp". Add vanilla "pulp", evaporated milk, and vanilla extract. Mix well. In two batches, add flour mixture, beating well between additions. 
5.  In a separate bowl, whisk eggs whites and cream of tartar until medium stiff peaks form. Add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. Mix in a half of eggs whites into  batter, until properly incorporated. Gently fold in the remaining half. 
6. Divide the mixture into two 8" cake pans, previously greased and floured. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Carefully remove the cakes from pans and cool completely on wire racks. 
7. To assemble: Place one cake round on a cake dish or cake stand. Spread filling mixture evenly on top, being careful not to spill down the sides. Place the second cake round on top of the filling. Cover with frosting. Garnish with reserved raspberries.


To prepare filling:
Whisk together sour cream and sugar. Gently fold in whole raspberries.

To prepare frosting:
Whisk together all ingredients until light and fluffy.

Notes:
1. To sweeten the frosting, you can use up to 1 cup of confectioner's sugar. I achieved the right level of sweetness with a little less. 
2. You can also shape the cakes into squares the way I did here. 
3. I tend to use dark brown sugar in most of my recipes because I find it enhances both the flavor and color. However, light brown sugar or granulated sugar can be substituted.