Monday, March 31, 2008

Cake Everlasting - Simnel Cake

For those who live in dread of that other holiday fruitcake,
the Simnel cake just might be the one to convert you.

A rose for every apostle save Judas.

A rose for every guest who graces your table.

Simnel Cake – Heavily adapted from the Diana’s Desserts recipe

Ingredients

1 ½ sticks butter, softened to room temperature
1 ¾ cups light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon each ground ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and cinnamon
4 large eggs
2 cups self-rising flour
2 cups mixed candied fruit peel and/or dried fruit, chopped and coated in all-purpose flower to prevent clumping (I used 1 cup currants, ½ cup candied orange peel, and ½ cup candied citron. Each measure was packed and generous.)

2 pounds prepared marzipan (I used Odense.) Directions here for making the roses.
1/3 cup jam, any flavor

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric beater until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, dissolve the spices in the vanilla extract. Add to the creamed butter and sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour in ½ cup increments, again, beating well after each addition. Batter will be thick but light. With a wooden spoon or spatula, incrementally stir in the candied peel/dried fruit until well distributed.

Grease the bottom and sides of an 8-by-3-inch cake pan. Cut out a circle of parchment to line the bottom of the pan as well as one or more strips of parchment to line the sides of the pan. (If using multiple strips, it is helpful to use bag clips to hold them in place as you pour the batter in). Grease all surfaces of parchment with butter or a non-stick spray. Carefully pour the thick batter into the pan, removing clips, if applicable. Smooth the batter uniformly in the pan.

Bake for 60 - 80 minutes or until a knife or skewer pulls clean when inserted in the center of the cake. Start testing at 60 minutes, then every 5-10 minutes thereafter. Allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before inverting over a large plate and peeling off the parchment paper. Keep the cake inverted. The underside will be crisply planed for decorating.

Divide marzipan in half. Roll each half between sheets of waxed paper. Roll one half to an 8 ½ inch round to cover the top of cake. Leave smooth or press in a design of your choosing. (I made the diamond pane with skewers.) Trim off any excess marzipan from cake edges. Roll the second half to cut out enough circles to create the roses (three circles per two roses). [Decorate with as many roses as desired; Christian tradition is eleven.] Gather up and roll again any leftover trim should you need to use it.

Arrange roses on top of cake. Either serve as is or toast the marzipan under the broiler until golden brown (about 8 minutes, but watch it carefully). The cake will more uniformly brown if you first toast the flat topping, then on a separate cookie sheet, toast the roses. Affix each rose to its position with a dab of jam.

Serves 8-10. --
Buttery and richly decorated with marzipan, yet crumbly
and light with currants and candied peels.

This post is dedicated to my Aunt Lloraine, who died on March 9, and my Aunt Doris, who died on March 23.

I am sending this post to Julia of A Slice of Cherry Pie, hosting Easter Cake Bake - Round 2.

Been There, Done That ~

Easter Cake Bake 2007 - Lemon Curd Cheesecake
Maple Walnut Cake
Peach Rum Savarin

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Raw Emotion - Simple Pearl Onion Salad


When one lists the essential elements of a compelling espionage story, the kind that leaves you breathless but ultimately flattened by the sucker punch in the gut, most would include tension, intrigue, deception, secrets, loyalty, and betrayal. These very qualities are also the complicated netting in the most successful narratives depicting affairs of the heart, specifically those which examine the violation of vows within a marriage. Graham Greene knew both worlds intimately, and wrote about them with a mastery of not only language, but an elusive understanding as deep and mysterious as the scenarios he actually lived.

Many are familiar with Greene’s work through a number of stellar films ((The Third Man, 1949; The Heart of the Matter, 1953; The Power and the Glory (known as The Fugitive, 1947)), but there is one novel, though twice filmed, that can only be justly accessed, pondered and felt through its pages. The End of the Affair tells anything but the prosaic platitudes that taint many a tale of adultery. It is a disquietingly painful and complex portrayal of three souls whose trajectory is as layered and pungent as an onion.


In fact, it all starts with onions. Maurice, an embittered writer, and Sarah, the dutiful and discontented wife of Henry, an amiable civil servant, enjoy an innocent lunch while discussing plot points from one of Maurice’s novels, or rather, the film version of which they have just seen. As they are dickering over realism, Sarah alludes to the likelihood that a straying wife can avoid the welcome-home kiss of her onion-averse husband by eating onions earlier in the day with her lover. In a scene which could be condemned by cynics as transparently implausible in its synchronicity, a waiter brings some onions to their table. The two quickly ignite into a furtive relationship plagued by Maurice’s devouring jealousy and Sarah’s restless weariness.

But the adultery is only the exposition for the real story. Abruptly and without explanation, Sarah ends their liaisons, sending Maurice into a wretched decline of hostile despair, self-pity, and loathing for Sarah and Henry. Little does Maurice believe in love and sacrifice. Though Sarah is not faithful, she is not without faith. The power of The End of the Affair lies not in the mundane foibles of a romantic triangle, but in the mysteries of the deals we make with God, and those signs from above that propel the indecisive to take actions that are impulsive, redemptive and sometimes tragic, be it a plate of onions or a prayer answered.



Super-Simple Pearl Onion Salad - Based on the Maria Brazil recipe

Ingredients (per serving)

10 pearl onions (do not peel)
Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Splash of lime juice
Scattering of sea salt
Baby greens, optional (I used arugula.)

Method

Using a cutting board and a very sharp knife, thinly slice each onion. The peel will release without much trouble. Discard peel with the root and stem ends. Gently push a finger through each slice to create rings. If raw onions are too harsh for your taste, you can soak them for two hours in a bowl of cold water to remove some of the sulphur (see recipe link for more details). Arrange on plate and dress as desired.



This post is being submitted to Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste, co-hosts of the seasonal event, Novel Food, celebrating what is eaten amid the pages of the stories we love to read.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

High on Harisa - Tunisian Chickpea Soup

A crush of oily red pepper paste stirred in the broth, the
hell fury of harisa (harissa) is hard for a heat junkie to resist.



Dried chickpeas.

Leblebi (Tunisian Chickpea Soup) - Adapted from the Global Gourmet recipe

Ingredients

28 ounces canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed OR
2 cups dried chickpeas soaked overnight in 2 quarts of water, then drained and rinsed after 1-2 hours of steady, covered simmer until tender [Length of cooking depends on age of chickpeas and heat intensity.]
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
5 cups water
2 generous teaspoons toasted ground cumin (Heat for 5 minutes in a dry skillet or until browned and fragrant.)
2 teaspoons harisa, prepared or homemade
[No additional salt needed. Harisa, capers and preserved lemon all contain salt.]

Any one or more of the following garnishes:

capers
cilantro leaves
parsley leaves
chopped bell pepper
toasted cumin seeds
chopped hard-cooked egg
preserved lemon slices
toasted bread strips or croutons
additional harisa


Method

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil then add the onion, stirring occasionally until it is translucent and golden without browning. Add garlic, coating with onion mixture before stirring in the chickpeas, water, ground cumin and harisa. Simmer for 30 minutes. Garnish as desired. Serves 4. --

Cilantro, cumin seeds, preserved lemons, capers, and that
extra dollop of harisa, a riot of garnishes for the eyes and tongue.


This post is being submitted to Holler of Tinned Tomatoes, hosting No Croutons Required, a monthly soup event that is also hosted by Lisa of Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen. This month's theme is Spicy Soups.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Repent in Leisure - Pomegranate Soup

When a "quick and easy" recipe with dried pomegranate
seeds goes as south as the garbage can you scrape it into, it's
time to swallow your pride with the ubiquitous bottle of Pom.


Neither quick nor particularly easy, a sweetly soured soup
of lentils, rice and greens forces you to stop watching the clock.

Pomegranate Soup - From the About.com recipe

Ingredients


3/4 cup lentils (any kind)
2 tablespoons butter or oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup uncooked rice
1 teaspoon turmeric
8 cups water
1/2 cup whole fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
2 cups pomegranate juice [I used twice the amount of the original recipe.]
Juice of 1 large Persian lime [You can omit if you prefer less tartness.]
1 tablespoon dried mint
Salt and pepper to taste
Golden raisins for garnish

Method

Pick over lentils for the occasional bits of debris, then wash them in several changes of clean water. In a very large saucepan or stockpot, sauté the onion in the butter or oil over medium heat until golden and translucent. Add the lentils, rice, turmeric and all the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, simmering until lentils and rice are tender, 30 – 40 minutes. Cooking length also ensures that the turmeric will loose its initial raw, medicinal flavor.

Add the parsley, scallions, and pomegranate juice. Simmer another 15 minutes or until soup reaches your preferred consistency. [I allowed mine to reduce to a light stew.] Add mint and lime juice, stirring to heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with golden raisins. Serves 4. --

After much fiddling with complex flavors, a unique
bowl of restoration and, finally, relaxation.


This post is being submitted to Sra of When My Soup Came Alive, hosting the February AFAM theme of Pomegranate for Maheswari of Beyond the Usual, the creator of the monthly event. Sra was gracious enough to accept my very late entry long after the event had closed. Thank you, Sra!

Been There, Done That ~

Pomegranate

Other People's Eats ~

Pomegranate

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Timing is Everything - Sopa de Plátano


Different fruits have different rates of ripening. This is not so much a newsflash as it is a thump on the head, my head, actually, to keep me focused when planning out a recipe. You may think a peach, hard as the stone buried in its center, will come to a sweet, juicy, yielding blush if you put it in a brown paper bag with enough of its own kind, expecting the collected hot gases to speed the pleasures of rivulets dripping down your chin. You may think that the bumped and shiny skin of an avocado is as impermeable as an armadillo, a simple case of waiting it out for that firm press of thumb to leave its imprint before you tear the brittle parchment from the unctuously sublime green flesh. You may think you know the ripening cycles of countless other sweetmeats plucked from branches, brambles and boughs long before they land, mostly off-season, at your greengrocer. You may, of course, be right. I, however, have never, ever had any luck whatsoever predicting the run on even a single, solitary cherry. It’s all a matter of hit and miss for me.

And there is no fruit that has given me more quarrel with its ripening than the banana. If I am like most other U.S. shoppers, it is the rare occasion when I will actually find a glowing yellow hand of long, curved fingers to be whisked away by my own hand, ready to be peeled and poised for a quick nosh as early as taking the register receipt from the check-out cashier. They are usually as green and mean as the face of the Wicked Witch of the West, useless as a quick-fix roadblock of complex carbs and potassium to keep you from that pint of ice cream that has warmed to the most seductive scooping texture. So I do what I always do, dump them into the fruit bowl and forget about them. Scott, on the other hand, knows exactly when they have arrived and starts doing the math so that he can eat one a day with his breakfast, until there are no more. After over two years of living together and not remembering exactly when I last ate a banana, I knew it was time to do a few calculations of my own.

When many Americans think of bananas, they are immediately referring to the dessert banana, the Cavendish variety, widely popular and bannered most often under the Chiquita brand. These fruit are not only a great out-of-hand treat, but they are the first choice for babies, invalids and those suffering from a bout of belly rumbles.

Recently, though, I decided to abandon my quest for a perfectly ripe banana and go green, totally green, with the common banana’s larger, sturdier relative. The plantain, with its bland, starchy flesh, is one of the staple crops in Latin, African and Asian cultures. As revered and depended upon as the potato, the plantain has the added advantage of full versatility as it can be prepared in any state of ripeness, from vivid green to yellow to black, becoming progressively sweeter the more its color changes. While many plantain recipes rely heavily on heavy frying, I found one, a Latin soup, that used far less oil and specified that the plantains be cooked when green. No more fussing and fretting for me. I snuggled two vividly verdant specimens in my shopping cart with the weekly hand of their Cavendish cousins. I would be brewing up my soup the next day.

Green plantains.

The ingredient list and preparation were easy enough, a simple stewing of plantain chunks in stock, then the addition of an aromatic sofrito, followed by a quick whiz in the blender. Done. Well, not so fast. I pulled the plantains out of the fruit bowl; they were going yellow. Already. Puzzled, I tossed them in the freezer for future use, and set out for another green pair a few days later. Sure enough, these plantains were also on a crash course in thumbing their thick fingers at me. How could this be? A northern winter’s climate is hardly hot and humid. Completely frustrated, yet determined, I dropped everything and headed to the store once again for replenishments.

As soon as I got them home, I made for the kitchen and got the saucepan going. I was working against the clock now; there would be no more of these bananas making a monkey out of me. Two hours later, while tipping my spoon into the savory soup pot, adjusting the seasoning, I felt a mild sense of accomplishment, but my overriding feeling was one of humility. When it comes to ripening fruit, I will always be a little green behind the ears.


Sopa de Plátano Verde – Adapted from the Las Culturas recipe

Ingredients

2 large green plantains, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
[Make deep vertical cuts in the plantain skins with a sharp knife to facilitate peeling.]
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups of vegetable stock or water
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ cups canned tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup pickle relish, rinsed (for garnish)
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

In a large bowl, mix the plantain pieces with the salt and set aside for 1 hour, then discard the extracted water, rinsing the salt off, if desired. In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, sauté the plantain pieces in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, turning until they are evenly, moderately browned. With a potato masher or wooden spoon, crush some of the plantain pieces into a coarse crumble. Add stock or water, then lower heat to simmer until plantain pieces are tender, about 45 minutes.

Prepare the sofrito. About 15 minutes before the plantain stock is ready, sauté the onion in a separate saucepan in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes over medium-low heat. Turn off the heat and add the garlic, mixing it with the onion so that it cooks slightly with the stored heat of the saucepan. Stir in the tomatoes, then simmer the mixture over low heat for about 5 minutes.

Pour half of the plantain stock into a blender and whip until smooth. Return it to the rest of the stock. Transfer the sofrito into the blender and also whip it until smooth. Pour the sofrito into the plantain stock, stirring to mix. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each bowl of soup with a tablespoon of relish. Serves 4. --

This post is being submitted to Zorra of Kochtopf, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging for Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen, the creator of this very popular weekly food blogging event.

Been There, Done That ~

Latin Stew

Other People's Eats ~
Plantains