Flax Seed, Quinoa and Raisin Whole Wheat Bread

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1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup raisins
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
3 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 tablespoons honey
Cooking spray, oil or softened butter

Toast flax seeds for a few minutes in a dry skillet over medium heat, until color changes slightly or they start to pop. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Toast quinoa in the same skillet for a few minutes until it starts to change color or they start popping, then add 1 cup water. Increase heat to bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 20 minutes or until water is absorbed. Transfer to the same plate as the flax seeds. Add raisins and toss, spreading the quinoa on the plate so it cools quickly

In a mixer bowl (or in a bowl using a spatula and/or your hands) combine yeast, flour, sea salt, honey, and approximately 1 cup water. Knead 8 minutes or until well-combined. You want a wettish dough but not too wet that you can’t shape it. I always hold back some water and watch the dough as it’s being kneaded so I know if I need to add more or less. You’re shooting for a dough that mostly leaves the sides of the mixer bowl, but not too dry.

Knead in raisin and quinoa mixture until well combined. Shape into a ball. Spray or brush with a bit of oil or melted butter and let rise at room temperature in the bowl until doubled, covered.

When doubled, punch dough down GENTLY and re-shape into a ball. Return to bowl and let rise in the refrigerator for an hour.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Heat up a pizza stone, or quarry tiles, or an upside down baking sheet on bottom third of oven.

Take dough out of the refrigerator, dust a peel (or a cutting board, or a piece of parchment) with some flour and turn the dough out gently, shaping it into an oval.

When oven is ready, slash the dough 1/4 inch thick with a sharp paring knife or razor blade — you need to be quick and decisive when you make your slashes. (I used to use a French lame to slash dough, but found that my paring knife did a better job, partly because I felt more confident holding it/slashing with it. I did a Google search for you here to give you some ideas on how to do this — couldn’t find a good infographic though. Adding that to the endless list of to-dos.)

Slide dough onto heated stone/tiles/sheet quickly and bake 15 minutes.

Remove from stone/tiles/sheet and transfer to upper third of oven (right on the rack). Bake 15 minutes more or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom (or use a thermometer, it should register ~190 degrees F).

Let cool completely on a rack before slicing (if you can wait that long).

Yummy with salted butter, what else?

Red Salad with Tahini Sauce and Pomegranate Dressing

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This is such a festive and yet simple salad that’s especially fitting for the holiday season when you’re likely to look for showy but not work-intensive dishes. The jewel-like pomegranate seeds that sometimes seem to be lit from within really liven up the dining table. That the individual components are easy to put together is just icing on the cake.

Radicchio is a cold season veggie, and has a touch of bitterness that pairs well with sweet salad fixings and dressings. It can also be grilled or pan-fried briefly in a bit of olive oil to take some of the bitter edge off, if you like. Pair with some scrambled eggs and you’ve got a healthy, scrumptious breakfast. Pile on those antioxidants!

To serve 3-4, you need

1 head radicchio, trimmed and separated into leaves, the leaves torn into smaller pieces if you like, rinsed and spun-dry
The seeds from 1 pomegranate
Tahini sauce
Pomegranate-Balsamic Vinaigrette

To make the tahini sauce, you need:

2/3 cup tahini (I like this one)
1/2 cup water
the juice of 1 medium lemon, about 2 tablespoons
1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste with a large pinch of salt (this is optional — I’ve found that the garlic doesn’t clash with the pomegranate in this recipe, but you can leave it out if you don’t agree)
salt to taste

A couple of notes on the tahini sauce: People seem to either love or hate tahini, as it’s such a strong flavor, especially if made with garlic. I love the contrast it brings to this salad in terms of flavor and color, but if you don’t like tahini sauce, you can leave it out altogether and the salad will still work.

Also, the recipe above produces a little over a cup of sauce, so you’ll have extra. You can either halve or even quarter the recipe if you don’t want that much sauce, or save for another use. Tahini sauce makes an excellent dip for crudites, and as a foil for grilled/roasted meats. It’s yummy especially on nightshades — tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers.

To make the vinaigrette, you need:

Equal parts pomegranate molasses and balsamic vinegar
Olive oil, equivalent amount to the molasses/vinegar combination
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

So for a cup of dressing, you’ll use 1/4 cup molasses, 1/4 cup of the vinegar, and 1/2 cup of olive oil. Run in a blender, or shake in a jar, or whisk in a bowl until combined well.

In a large bowl, toss the sauce and the dressing with the radicchio leaves and the pomegranate seeds, and serve.


Variations

You can also turn this into a coleslaw type dish and use red cabbage instead.
Roasted red beets would also make a great addition.

Elderberry Syrup

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The cold and flu season is upon us once again, so I just made a batch of elderberry syrup to give our immune systems a boost, but also because it’s plain delicious and we love it. Elderberries are a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Iron and Potassium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber and Vitamin C (reference here, for FRESH elderberries, but you get a good idea of the nutritional value).

Elderberry extract is available commercially, but I prefer making our own version since I like knowing what I put in it and I’m able to control the sweetness, plus it’s more economical to DIY.

Disclaimer: This isn’t meant to replace medical advice — I’m not a health or medical practitioner, just a mom who loves good food and who has made decisions about our family’s nutritional needs based on experience plus the wisdom of other moms. Here’s some basic info from WebMD, and there are scientific papers linked below if you want to read more on elderberry, but your doctor’s the best person to ask if you have any questions. All I know is our family hasn’t been seriously hit with the flu since 2011, so we’ve just continued making/taking it. And there isn’t a consensus on recommended dosage, so we limit ourselves to a tablespoon or so a day, except on those days when we enjoy a bit more on our pancakes or mixed into a smoothie. Not for kiddies under 2 (because of the honey) and also, this review says not for pregnant women. If in doubt, always ask your doctor. Whenever we take something that’s not prescribed by the doctor I always make it a point to let him know that we’re taking it so he can put it in our charts and if there are any problems, he’s already informed.


To make this syrup, you’ll need:

2/3 cup dried black elderberries (I like these)
3 1/2 cups water
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped finely
2 cinnamon sticks (Ceylon preferred, like these) broken into pieces or run briefly in spice grinder (doesn’t have to be ground finely)
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 cup raw honey (we like this)

(I prefer using organic ingredients, but it’s not necessary.)

Put all ingredients except honey into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for an hour, and then remove cover and boil on high heat 10 more minutes to reduce. Remove from heat and let cool, partially covered, to lukewarm. Strain into a large bowl, pressing on the solids to get all the goodness out of them, then add the honey and mix well with a whisk (or when I’m lazy, I run through the blender). Store in an airtight container (I like these flasks) and refrigerate. I honestly don’t know how long it lasts because there’s 7 of us and it gets used up pretty quickly around here.

Store in the fridge and take 1 tablespoon daily, or every 4 hours if you get hit with cold or flu.


More reading if you like:

Herbal Therapies for Prevention and Treatment of Influenza and Influenza-Like Illness
Anti-Influenza Virus Effects of Elderberry Juice and Its Fractions
The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines
Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections
Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virus in Vitro and Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama

Bacon and Contraception? Not the Same Thing

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A pro-lifer friend shared his concern with me this morning, asking if we should oppose bacon along with contraceptives, since bacon has been declared a Class 1 Carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

First of all, the processed meat and cancer connection is nothing new. I’ve heard that since I was a child, that’s why my mom (who’s a pharmacist) never stocked it at home. Bacon, SPAM, hotdogs — especially the bright red ones available in the Philippines — rarely appeared on our dinner table.

What has always concerned me more as an adult and what I think has not been explored enough is the connection between GMO feed, antibiotic use in animals, factory farming, the use of pesticide in plants that end up as animal feed… and cancer.

My friend is concerned that we make a big deal about OCPs being Class 1 Carcinogens, but we proclaim our love for bacon all the time, and therefore we’re being inconsistent and hypocritical. That bacon is now a proven carcinogen (I don’t agree with this 100%) means we can no longer use “the carcinogen argument”. I still don’t think it’s the same thing.

Contraceptive pills are taken daily and are promoted by the World Health Organization as essential medicine. (Most recent list here.)

The message given to us by the WHO, by Big Pharma, by pro-choice lobbyists, by supposed philanthropists, is worlds apart from anything we’ve ever said about bacon. First of all they either don’t even acknowledge that OCPs are carcinogens, or they downplay that by telling a woman to do it for her family, her country, and for the man who uses her body. They sell it as a NEED and a COMMON GOOD.

By contrast, our position about contraception is so much more nuanced than “It’s a carcinogen.”

Contraceptive pills and bacon are both LIFESTYLE CHOICES. People can choose to take pills or not. They can also choose to consume bacon or not. We’ve never promoted bacon as a MUST. It’s food, and one that poor people can rarely even afford, if at all. We don’t go around giving away bacon for free or selling it at discounted prices. The Catholic Church doesn’t fund bacon distribution to the poorest countries saying that it will help them, whereas contraceptives have been touted as panacea for poverty and hunger. For much of the world, bacon isn’t even an option. One could even say “bacon is carcinogen” is a first world problem.

Contraceptives, on the other hand, are not only sold so people can purchase and use them freely as they wish, they are MANDATED and PAID FOR BY TAXPAYERS, even those of us who don’t use them and don’t agree that it’s beneficial to do so. When was the last time we lobbied for access to bacon?

And I say all this not just because I love bacon, but because I love people too. I am all for increased awareness of the dangers of processed meat consumption. Educating and informing people about it doesn’t dilute our advocacy against contraception one bit. As far as our family is concerned, we are always trying to increase our consumption of plant-based foods, just because we’ve read and learned enough to know that it’s the healthy way to eat. When it comes to meat I try to purchase grass-fed beef, pastured pork, naturally cured meats (or we cure our own without the use of things like saltpeter) whenever I can. I try to find out as much as I can about our local farmers’ practices so I can discern better what to feed my family.

I’ve only ever seen pro-lifers promote healthy diets, with everything in moderation, and that includes bacon, though we tend to agree that bacon makes everything better! Pills? Not so much. Besides, Bacon Causes Cancer? Sort of. Not Really. Ish.


More reading:
Save Your Bacon! Sizzling Bits about Nitrites, Dirty Little Secrets about Celery Salt, and Other Aporkalyptic News
Nitrites & Nitrates: Are They Harmful Or Actually Healthful?

Fruitcake!!

fruitcake

If you grew up hating fruitcake like I did, maybe it’s time to recalibrate. We’ve heard the horror stories of fruitcake being used for doorstops, or regifted from year to year through the generations. This isn’t your grandmother’s fruitcake. And while this recipe is a natural shoo-in for Christmas gift-giving, it can be made any time you feel a hankering for a bite of something decadent.

Years ago I used to troll the Gardenweb forums and collected people’s favorite fruitcake recipes. Almost every person had a “best recipe”. One thing I learned quickly from the fruitcake connoisseurs: do not ever use pre-packaged chopped fruit, like this. Ick.

You don’t have to put many fruits or the priciest ones: raisins, prunes, dried apples, whatever you have is fine, but coloring-less, naturally-dried fruits are best. I also try to avoid sulfur dioxide if I can. Dried figs are delicious!! I make several kinds all through the holiday baking season, varying the flours, nuts, and fruits according to giftees’ preferences or allergy needs, if any. The alcohol can be replaced with apple or white grape juice if you’re trying to be careful about sulfites or just want a non-alcoholic cake. It’s fun to experiment.

This recipe should make three mini fruitcake loaves, more or less, depending on the size of your pans. I like using these Italian paper pans, though I’ve had trouble coming up with the perfect solution to baking + anointing that keeps the paper dry and greaseless. What I’ve done in years past is bake the cakes in the pans, take them out and keep them in plastic bags in the fridge for several weeks until it’s time to give them away, anointing every few days with liquor. Then the fruitcake is returned to the pan it was baked in, and wrapped with some parchment and string. Maybe this year I’ll bake a double or triple batch of this recipe, to make one large fruitcake in my largest baking pan, and cut it into loaves that will fit in those pretty little pans. We’ll see. For now, here’s my basic recipe:

A day or two before baking, macerate the fruits in a bowl and cover (no need to refrigerate):

1 1/2 cups dried fruits, one kind or a mix, chopped (as fine or as coarse as you like)
1/4 cup rum or brandy (amaretto will work too)

2 cups all-purpose flour or flour substitute, homemade or storebought, if you’re gluten-free
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and allspice
3/4 cup yogurt (I like full-fat but you can use whatever yogurt you like; even fruit-flavored yogurt will work here)
1 cup your choice of nuts, chopped

Additional brandy, rum, amaretto or whiskey for anointing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set rack in middle of oven.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt onto a sheet of wax paper.

Beat butter and sugar in bowl of mixer (elbow grease and whisk will work too!) until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, then the extract(s). Mix just until smooth. Add in flour and yogurt alternately, in batches, mixing until well-incorporated. Stir in macerated fruit (and any unabsorbed liquor) and the nuts.

Divide into pans and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out mostly clean.

Remove from oven and stick with a skewer or fork all over to create little holes for the alcohol to seep through.

Run a spatula carefully along sides to pry off the cake if needed. Let cool to room temperature on racks. Remove from pans and transfer to plastic or glass containers. Spoon additional liquor on top, a spoonful or so every few days until cake is moist. Keep refrigerated until time to give away.

Variation:
To make chocolate fruitcake:
Reduce flour to 1 1/2 cups
Omit cloves, ginger, and allspice, and add
1/2 cup cocoa powder (any kind will do) and
3/4 cup chocolate chips to the batter. You can also try cocoa nibs for a little variety.


Related reading: Fruitcake 101: A Concise Cultural History of this Loved and Loathed Loaf

Homemade Vanilla Extract (for Gifts)

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Are you thinking of Christmas presents yet?

Vanilla extract is one that doesn’t take much thought, just some planning, and a bit of assembly. Fancy it up as much as you like.

All you need are

vanilla beans (I like these)

alcohol: vodka or bourbon are the usual, but I also made some using BRANDY last year and it smells so good and I can’t wait to use it in all kinds of baked goods. You also don’t need premium vodka, the people at the liquor store said cheap vodka will work just as well as the more pricey ones.

and bottles.

You can use just about any bottle/jar, but I *love* these cobalt blue bottles from Mountain Rose Herbs.

These little funnels are also helpful.

There’s no recipe for this really. I like using 2 beans, split lengthwise and halved crosswise for little bottles and 4 larger ones. I also dumped a whole bunch into a half-finished bottle of brandy for good measure. Heeeee.

Put in the bottle, add alcohol, cap, and shake. That’s it! And of course, the longer you let it steep, the more concentrated the flavor becomes. Past the 6-month mark though, I wouldn’t know the difference (between a 6-month and a 12-month, let’s say) so you’ll have to try it out yourself.

People have done 30-day vanilla extracts, 3 months, and 6 months (my personal recommendation) — but since we’re only 2 months away ’til Christmas, you might want to add a little note for your giftee to be patient if they can be.

Your favorite baker will love you!!

Other sources for vanilla beans:

Beanilla has quite the selection, if you want to try different kinds/origins

Loaves and Fishes: We Can Be the Miracle

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Sunday morning before Church I decided to stop by Twitter, where I saw this tweet from Grist:

Can you have kids and still be a good person?

The article it links to asks:

“How, in a world where we are increasingly aware of how our carbon footprint is dooming the planet to uninhabitability, do we make the decision to have a child? Or two children? Or three?”

And I know it’s difficult to see the poor, especially children, suffering around the world, and not ask this question. However, depopulating is not the answer!

The overpopulation myth has been debunked so many times, but it just won’t die. I’ll let other moms who have answered that charge before speak for me:

Big families, the new green
“Are You Done Yet?” In Defense of our 5th Child
Why My Big Family Is Not Overpopulating the Earth

You gotta love God’s timing, though. We left for Mass and I was still upset over the Grist tweet, but the Gospel that day was about the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. Various homilies I’ve heard through the years focus on the Miracle, and Jesus’ divine power to multiply the loaves and fishes to feed the multitude; others focus on the generosity of those who contributed the loaves and fishes to be multiplied. And coming out of Mass that day, I decided that the answer to Grist’s question is yes, you can have children, and still be virtuous, and actually have the well-being of the planet in mind.

Jesus continues to give Himself to us daily, in the Holy Eucharist. This Gift of all gifts is multiplied through us. We are called to be part of that miracle by being good stewards of this earth and sharing the gifts we are blessed with. Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ talks about this stewardship. The Vatican (and in essence, the Church) has always been concerned about world hunger, as this 1996 document illustrates: World Hunger a Challenge for All: Development in Solidarity.

What’s puzzling to me is that we’ve made so many scientific and technological advances that we are now to the point where we can develop artificial uteri, but we can’t seem to think of better ways to end world hunger and get safe drinking water to those who need it most! We excel in finding ARTIFICIAL solutions, but for some reason we always balk at NATURAL solutions. Why can we not find ways to work WITH God’s creation instead of AGAINST it?

Is it because people stand to lose money if we were to end world hunger? Are bottled water companies not paying attention?

Here in the US, we are obsessed with “perfect food”, when billions out there would be happy with just any real food. I’ve seen the video I linked to above so many times, and it still disturbs me. But we can’t just say “too many people” and leave it at that. Food waste is a huge problem, not just here in the US, but in places like China and India as well. Clearly it’s a problem of distribution too. I’m glad to see solutions like this one and would love to see it implemented all over.

At the same time, giving the poor access to healthy food doesn’t solve everything. People these days are so dependent on processed food, and so disconnected from the food that they eat, they don’t even know where it comes from.

I personally would love to downgrade from our large refrigerator and get a smaller one. Things get lost in there. Ten years ago when we got it it made sense for our family of six living in a small town in Pennsylvania, stocking up on Asian food from two hours away. These days we have access to local farmers, and the international store is just ten minutes away. We’re also trying to grow more food for ourselves than we have before. These Nanofarms in San Francisco sound wonderful!

If you’ve got a favorite charity or group that works specifically on world hunger and water distribution, especially if it’s one you’ve worked with personally and can vouch for, please comment so we can check them out.

Coquilles St. Jacques on St. James’ Feast Day

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It’s St. James’ Feast Day, so this is what we had for dinner. It’s the classic Coquilles St. Jacques, simmered briefly in vermouth and then enrobed in sauce and browned briefly in the broiler. A green salad, some bread, and perhaps some white wine to round off the menu and you’re good to go.

And as always Jenn Miller over at Catholic Culture gives us some great material for reading to the kids at the dinner table.

We might not be able to make the medieval pilgrimage journey to Santiago de Compostela, but this feast gives us a chance to think of the physical journey of the pilgrim, and remind us of the spiritual journey we are making.

Coquilles Saint Jacques

2 shallots, chopped finely
2/3 cup French vermouth (I like this one)
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
water
1 lb. sea scallops (bay scallops are fine too)
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
the juice of 1/2 lemon or to taste
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Gruyere or other Swiss cheese

In a 2-quart saucepan, bring the shallots, vermouth, salt and bay leaf to a boil. Just when it reaches boiling point, bring down the heat to low and simmer 3 minutes. Add scallops and enough water to almost cover the scallops, but not quite, about 1/2 cup. Simmer scallops, covered, 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and steep 10 minutes so that the scallops absorb the flavors.

Remove scallops to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain cooking liquid into a liquid measuring cup. You should have about 1 cup water. If you have more, return to saucepan briefly and boil to reduce to 1 cup.

While liquid is boiling, in a small saucepan over low heat, whisk together the flour and butter. Cook for a few minutes, whisking but do not allow to brown. When thick, add the cooking liquid, a squeeze of lemon juice to taste, and 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream. Whisk until smooth and add salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste. Fold in scallops.

Distribute scallops into clean scallop shells set on a baking sheet. (You can also use ramekins, or small baking dishes, or a shallow baking pan; even a pie pan would work.) Sprinkle with grated Gruyere.

Broil about 3 minutes or until tops are brown.

Black Bean Salad

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Another flexible recipe that will adjust to whatever you have on hand, but as always, the more colorful, the better-looking (for your eyes) and the better for your health. This one had:

1 cup dried black beans, which I brought to a boil with water to cover in a saucepan, over high heat, then turned off and left overnight, then cooked a bit more the next day to just the right tenderness, which takes 15 minutes or so — this will amount to about 2 1/2 cooked beans
1 medium sweet potato, peeled, diced, tossed with 1 teaspoon olive oil and roasted in 400 degree oven 12-15 minutes or just until it has a touch of color (indicating a Maillard reaction has occurred — this brings out flavor)
1 cup frozen corn, toasted in a dry skillet until slightly colored
1 orange, peeled, cut into sections and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 handful cilantro, minced
1 red pepper, roasted in 400 degree oven ~20 minutes, then cooled, peeled under running water, and diced
the juice of 1 lime
3 scallions, trimmed and sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, minced (I do this to taste because of the kids)
1 avocado, chopped and immediately tossed with some juice from the lime
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

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After you’ve got all that up there done, the rest is easy. Just toss, adjust seasonings, and enjoy.

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Note: I try to use all organic ingredients whenever I can, so if you peruse the recipes here, there are many that will specify “organic this” and “organic that”. I’ve decided to stop doing that now since many people are more aware about the benefits and implications of opting for organic foods whenever and wherever possible. However, to make it easy for the reader who isn’t used yet to this kind of intentional shopping, here’s a handy guide that may help.

organicvsconventional
This is a graphic that appeared here but it seems they’ve taken the original down and I can’t find a new link. No copyright infringement intended.

Boca Negra, or Black Mouth

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This, besides black forest cake, is my oldest child’s favorite cake. I’ve only made it twice because she’s actually allergic to eggs, so as you might understand, when I do make it, she savors every mouthful. And for good reason — it’s rich, and yet light, and decadent. (My daughter wasn’t allergic to eggs the first time I made this. And though she won’t die from eggs now, her skin suffers horribly for at least a couple of weeks. I made the cake recently because she was leaving for two months and requested this for her farewell party.)

A food processor is helpful, though good old-fashioned bowl, whisk, and elbow grease will serve you well. The results are definitely worth it. And you’re not slaving away either in a hot kitchen, because it’s quick to mix up.

The original recipe appears in Julia Child’s Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers, one of my favorite baking books. I bought it brand new when I was younger and couldn’t get enough Julia Child on my shelves. But lucky you, there’s over a hundred copies available today at Amazon, starting at $1.82. I highly recommend it.

Make the bourbon cream early, ideally the day before:

12 ounces white chocolate, chopped up (White chocolate I like: Callebaut, Valrhona, or Lindt)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup bourbon

Put the chopped chocolate in the bowl of a food processor. Heat up whipping cream in a saucepan over low heat just until bubbles start to form. With the motor running, pour hot cream through the chute into the chopped chocolate, processing until smooth, about 15 seconds. Add bourbon and process 5 seconds more.

Transfer to bowl, cover, and chill overnight. Bring back to room temperature, and stir well before serving.

Make the cake:

12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped up (I default to Lindt and Callebaut and Valrhona’s Guanaja especially when it’s for a birthday or anniversary)
1/2 cup bourbon
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 sticks / 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons flour (I’m quite sure this will work with gluten free flours, since it’s such a minute amount as to not affect texture that much)

Prepare a 9×2-inch round cake pan by greasing the bottom. Line with parchment cut to fit the bottom, then grease the parchment as well. Set the pan in a shallow roasting pan. You will also need hot water for baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put the chopped dark chocolate in the bowl of a food processor. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat up bourbon and sugar until sugar is dissolved and mixture is syrupy, . With the motor running, pour bourbon mixture into the chocolate until smooth. With the motor still running, add butter, a bit at a time, then the eggs, one at a time. Add flour and process just until smooth.

Pour into prepared pan. Pour hot water around the cake pan, to come up the side of the pan about 3/4 to 1-inch high. Bake 30 minutes.

Remove pan from water bath and wipe dry. Run a small, sharp knife along the sides of the pan to loosen. Put a plastic sheet on top of the cake pan. Turn over onto a flat plate. Remove parchment, then set a flattish serving plate or cake server on top and flip again. Serve warm or at room temperature with the bourbon cream and the optional raspberry sauce.

Optional raspberry sauce: Puree 8 oz. frozen raspberries in food processor or blender, adding a few tablespoons sugar, or to taste. Pour through a sieve, pressing on the seeds.

Addicted to Ayran

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Ayran is my go-to drink this summer. It goes so well with Mediterranean food, or you can try it with Mexican or anything that has a bit of a kick or bite to it. Ayran is easy to make too, just three ingredients:

yogurt
ice water
salt

I start out with a 1:1 ratio with the yogurt and ice water, run it in a blender, or whip quickly in a bowl with a whisk, and adjust accordingly to the thickness I like. I prefer it just a little thinner than a smoothie. Add salt to taste. The saltiness shouldn’t overpower at all, just add another dimension to the flavor. It’s *kinda* like a very mild, drinkable cheese. Really refreshing with samosas, or a gyro. Enjoy!

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Fresh Figs

Was getting a bit tired of our usual veggie salads, and needed more vegetarian ideas, specifically those with more of a Mediterranean bent, so I got me Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. I cannot wait to try ALL the recipes. Okay, maybe 99%. I’m not a leg-o-lamb person. But hubby is, so maybe I’ll make that one for him. For now, I’m going page by page and just having fun discovering new flavor combinations. This one with the figs and sweet potato and reduced balsamic is excellent, though I wish I would have added some feta to up the salty element. (I don’t like goat’s cheese, which is in the original recipe. But maybe next time I make this I’ll add some just for the hubs, since he can eat that.)

sweetpotsalad1

3 medium sweet potatoes, cut into wedges (I cut each in half lengthwise, then each half into quarters, then each quarter into 3 pieces, lengthwise)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Toss the above in a large mixing bowl, then transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast about 20 minutes until tender and browned in places.

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While sweet potatoes are roasting, reduce

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (doesn’t have to be fancy)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (superfine if you have it, but regular will do, what’s important is it gets dissolved well before you heat it up)

in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer a few minutes until thickened, but not too thick as to be unpourable or undrizzleable.

Also, prepare

2 tablespoons olive oil
large bunch green onions, trimmed, cut into 2-inch thickish shreds
1 red hottish pepper, sliced thin
6 ripe figs, wiped or rinsed clean, quartered (if large) or halved (if small)
Maldon sea salt (or other coarse salt) and additional black pepper for seasoning

Heat olive oil in a saucepan or skillet. Add green onions and red pepper and cook over medium heat, for a few minutes or just until wilted and fragrant.

When sweet potatoes are done, arrange in a platter, along with the figs. Scatter the green onion-red pepper mixture all around, including the oil, and drizzle with the balsamic reduction. Sprinkle Maldon sea salt and black pepper on top to finish and you’re done! Enjoy!

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Can be prepared for St. Albert of Jerusalem‘s Feast on September 25, though fresh figs may be tricky to find at that time. I wouldn’t hesitate to sub dried Calimyrna figs, which is available year-round, either stewed in a bit of wine, or soaked in the balsamic vinegar prior to use in the recipe, or used as is but chopped.

Shrimp Pad Thai

This is the dish I turn to when I need some Thai comfort food. I’ve adapted it from Chez Pim’s recipe from years ago. It was the first pad thai recipe I tried that actually worked for me and so I’ve kept it as part of my regular arsenal and whip it out when cooking for a group.

Though with a really large skillet or a wok you can cook all of it in one go, it’s best cooked in batches, just enough for one or two people at a time, so everything cooks evenly. That also makes it more fun to do when you’ve got a whole bunch of hungry people in the kitchen waiting for their turn to cook and/or eat.

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1 package rice noodles (the flat kind, about 1/2 to 1-cm wide)
Half of a 1-pound block of tofu
a 2 x 2 inch square of tamarind paste (from a block), soaked in 1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup shaved Thai palm sugar, or brown sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup fish sauce, or to taste, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon Thai chili powder (or regular chili powder), or to taste, plus more for serving
Canola or other vegetable oil for frying
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 large eggs, beaten with a couple of pinches salt
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined if you like (can use fresh or frozen here — thaw frozen shrimp in cool water an hour or so before cooking)
4 cups mung bean sprouts, rinsed (tailed if want and/or you have the time)
1 bunch garlic chives, cut into 2-inch pieces (chives and/or scallions will do as well)
Water in a large measuring cup, to add as necessary while cooking
chopped roasted unsalted peanuts, to top finished dish
roughly chopped cilantro for serving
lime wedges for serving

In a large bowl, soak noodles in water to cover, about 30 minutes or until pliable (but take note, you don’t want it too soft as it still has to cook in the wok, so drain and set aside if it takes you longer to prepare the rest of the ingredients).

Put the tofu block down in a colander set on a plate (to catch liquid), and weight it with another plate plus something heavy like canned beans (I like using my marble mortar). Set tofu aside while preparing the other ingredients.

With a fork or mashing tool, break tamarind paste apart in the water; stir well. Pour into a saucepan through a sieve, pressing well on the solids. Discard seeds and any fibrous material. Add fish sauce, palm sugar and chili powder to tamarind water and whisk gently over low heat until well blended. Keep warm while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Cut the tofu into 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ “sticks”.

Drain the noodles.

Taste the sauce and adjust if needed — you want a balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet.

When all ingredients are ready, set them in an area within easy reach of the stove. Set your sauce pot with a ladle on another burner over lowest heat. You’ll have to work fast so keeping things near is essential.

Ready? Let’s go.

Heat your wok or other large skillet over high heat. Pour a couple of tablespoons oil into the wok. Add some garlic, stir fry for a few seconds, and then the tofu. Stir fry a minute or so, then add a large handful of the noodles, and a ladle of the sauce. Stir the noodles around several minutes or until noodles are soft but not mushy — add a bit more sauce and/or water if things are getting a little too dry, a bit more oil if you think it’s necessary.

Push noodles to the side and pour a bit of the egg in. Let set for a bit, break up the omelet roughly, then give everything a nice toss. Add several pieces of shrimp and a handful of bean sprouts plus some garlic chives and stir, stir, stir, until shrimp turns color. Add a bit more sauce if things are looking a little too dry. Toss one more time. The noodles and shrimp should be done at this point.

Transfer to a plate, sprinkle with cilantro and serve with the chopped peanuts, as well as lime wedges, additional chili powder, and additional fish sauce for diners to adjust seasonings at the table if desired.

The peanuts could be added into the wok when the bean sprouts are added. However, since some of our family members have peanut allergies we keep the peanuts separate and let people add them to their serving.

Wash your wok out quickly with hot water, heat and repeat, until everything is cooked and everyone is happy. Enjoy!

Fresh Spring Rolls

It’s spring!! The perfect time to make spring rolls!

These can be made vegetarian simply by omitting the shrimp or substituting tofu. Or, you can add on more meat like barbecued pork, grilled chicken breast, and the like. The vegetables also are very flexible. What you’re shooting for here is a combination of bright colors to contrast with the whiteness of the spring roll wrapper. But there really are no rules. You can even use this for a Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato roll if you like. (I’ll post that recipe one of these days.)

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1 small bundle mung bean vermicelli/cellophane noodles, soaked in hot water 30 minutes, then drained and cut into 4-inch strands
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup julienned red cabbage
1/2 cup julienned green onions
1/2 lb. large shrimp, blanched in boiling water with a couple of large pinches each salt and sugar, then peeled, deveined, and sliced in half lengthwise
cilantro sprigs, Thai basil (optional), and lettuce leaves, rinsed and spun dry, leaves torn/sliced in half if large
2 eggs, scrambled with a bit of salt and pepper and cooked in batches, to make thin omelettes, then sliced into strips
1 package banh trang, aka rice wrappers

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Dip banh trang — one at a time — for a few moments in the water, feeling the ridges with your fingers. When the ridges start to disappear and/or the banh trang is soft and pliable, it’s ready for wrapping. Lay it flat on a cutting board.

Layer shrimp, lettuce, a bit of the vermicelli, and the different vegetables and roll up the wrapper, enclosing the filling. Fold in the left and right edges as you roll. (Click here for a video tutorial.)

Pile neatly on a plate lined with lettuce leaves. If not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap to prevent from drying out.

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Dipping Sauce #1:
3 tablespoons fish sauce
the juice of 1 lime
1-2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 Thai chili, sliced thinly, or 1 teaspoon chili-garlic paste
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ cup water

Dipping Sauce #2:
1/2 cup peanut butter or almond butter (or tahini, for those with nut allergies)
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
the juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon soy sauce (optional, or use tamari if you’re gluten free)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 Thai chili, sliced thinly, or 1 teaspoon chili-garlic paste
water, to thin to dipping consistency