Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Every Recipe Repertoire - Jewish Apple Cake - Weekend Herb Blogging #218


Apple Bundt Cake

Every once in a while, I hand the writing reins for this space to Scott, my husband. The last time was when I couldn't resist talking up his diner-perfect pancake recipe back in February 2008. It was around the time his first book, Where Does the Money Go? - Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis, was released. And that was something to talk up, too.

It's been almost two years, now, since that pancake post, and another one of Scott's recipes has emerged as a favorite in our fairly newly married household, one that I'd never grown up with anymore than I did with that spectacularly classic and kitschy American holiday staple, the green bean casserole. Scott's second book was recently released, too, and I can't resist talking it up anymore than the fabulous bundt cake which I baked and photographed the other day. As you will read below, the recipe doesn't really belong to Scott, but his book does. If you'd like to take a peek at the great and good guy I married, the one who introduces this experienced cook to yet more irresistible fare, he and Jean Johnson, colleague, co-author, and friend, were recently on Bill Moyer's Journal to discuss Who Turned Out the Lights? - Your Guided Tour to the Energy Crisis. The Friday, January 22, broadcast is available on video through PBS online.

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I’m not sure how the apple bundt cake floated into my mother’s recipe file. Once there, the Jewish apple cake established itself as the family favorite for many reasons, not least of which is that it is that rarest of baked goods, the one that actually gets better the day after it’s made. It may be better still on the third day, but in our house no cake ever made it that long.

But one of the qualities that made it special was that no one else in our part of rural New Jersey seemed to have heard of it. It was our family’s equivalent of the 11 secret herbs and spices, the killer culinary app, the blue ribbon submission.

So when I baked this for Susan, I felt like I was letting her in on something big. Susan instantly agreed that it’s a great cake. But then there was a flurry of Googling, and she said, “Oh, this recipe is everywhere.” You can check it out yourself – the last time I Googled “Jewish apple bundt cake” the search returned 13,500 entries.

So, the apple cake is not a secret. It just hadn’t made its way to our part of the world. But the reason why there are 13,500 entries about it is because it is that good – and very adaptable. Though this is the original recipe baked with apples, Susan has made it with pears, and Ricki, my sister, has made it with peaches. Maybe its adaptability is not a secret, either. If so, it's just as well, because this cake is too good to keep to yourself.

Jewish Apple Cake Recipe Card

Jewish Apple Cake - Adapted by Susan from my mother's recipe and 13,500 others

Ingredients

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 teaspoons sugar
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs
1 cup oil
1 tablespoon orange extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup dried currants
4 cups baking apples, such as Granny Smith, Jonathan, Stayman (4-5 medium)
1 large bowl cold water with juice of 1 lemon

Method

Combine cinnamon and smaller measure sugar in a small cup, then reserve. In a very large bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking powder. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, then add oil and extracts. Pour wet ingredients into large bowl of dry ingredients. Beat with mixer or by hand. Batter will be very stiff and oily, similar to marzipan. Ensure all dry ingredients are incorporated. Stir in dried currants. Press some plastic wrap on batter to keep it from drying while you prepare apples. Core, peel, and slice apples (about 1/4 inch wide), dropping slices immediately into lemon water to prevent them from discoloring. Continue until all apples are sliced.

Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Well grease a 10-cup bundt pan. Drain and blot dry apple slices. Evenly press half the batter into pan, ensuring all nooks are filled. Arrange half the apple slices over batter, pressing them down, then sprinkle apples with half the cinnamon sugar mixture. Repeat layering once, ending with cinnamon sugar on top.

Place pan in center rack of oven on a cookie sheet. Bake for 1 1/4 hours. Insert a skewer in cake to test for doneness. If still wet, return to oven 15 more minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 20 minutes. Invert pan to remove cake onto large plate or cake stand. Allow to cool completely before cutting. Cake will develop an irresistible chewy crust the longer it sits. Serves 8. --
Jonathan Apples

Jonathan Apples.
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This apple recipe is for Rachel of The Crispy Cook, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging #218 for Haalo of Cook Almost Anything at Least Once.

Been There, Done That ~

Peach Rum Savarin
Cinnamon Bun Savarin
Yorkshire Parkin with Lemon Neufchâtel Frosting

Other People's Eats ~
Jewish Apple Cake
Black Russian Bundt Cake
Chocolate Pumpkin Bundt Cake

Friday, January 22, 2010

Good Luck with That! - Hoppin' John with Spicy Okra, and Brown and Wild Rices

Hoppin' John

Still January. Still time for that good-luck thing - not just for me, but for everyone. I always wish you well and good fortune. Considering, however, my 2010 Blogging To-Do List, I know I'm going to need it. Here's what's coming up, in no particular prioritized nor organized order:

Home Page Design - I've got to face it: I simply cannot operate on all cylinders amidst clutter, not a cluttered mind, desk, nor website. I already starked-up my header, and will be trimming away some non-essential sidebar chaf in the next several weeks. The biggest challenge is the blogroll. It can't go and it can't stay as it is. I've some ideas, but welcome any suggestions on how to tame this beast. The current roster does not accurately reflect the number of sites I enjoy. I've tried to manage this several times over many months. If I list them all in the sidebar, you will be scrolling down through infinity. I swear, your mouse hand will cramp.

FAQs Answered - After almost three years, it's time to disclose a little more about myself than tidbits collected from tags, memes, and my somewhat outdated About page. I constantly juggle reserve against intimacy, and am still not quite sure what that means, considering the scope of the broad and small worlds of the Internet.

Disclosure, Advertising, and PR Policies - All will be included in the FAQs. Up front, I abide by the FTC guidelines for alternative media.

Events - Love them. Despite having created the long-running and still-popular My Legume Love Affair, I miss hosting (having given away more slots than expected to others eager to take on the challenges - it's hard for me to say "no" sometimes). In light of this, I will continue to be in the host rotation for Weekend Herb Blogging, as well as look forward to my inaugural hosting of Presto Pasta Nights. If that ain't enough, I will be announcing a one-off event in the next week or so. It wasn't in the plan, but came to me one recent morning when I'd just lifted my lids.

MLLA - A promise to get my recipes up and out to the guest hosts before the drop-dead, end-of-the-month hour. The Hoppin' John recipe featured in this post is for EC of Simple Indian Food, hosting MLLA 19.

Black-Eyed Peas
Black-eyed peas, dried and at their most beautiful.

Whip it Up Wednesday and No Frills Friday - Two themes which I commenced ages ago and then promptly fell off my planet. As much as I like to write, there are some quick and easy recipes that beg for brevity. You will see them again regularly.

Adopt a Blogger - Now that I've earned my stripes (and bruises), I'm ready to mentor a newbie. More details to follow once the match has been made.

Does My Blog Look Good in This? - I'll be hosting/judging the March edition, so think about what you'll shoot in February to possibly join in the competition.

Reading, 'Riting, and Responding - Given my much wider audience, and that ever-growing blogroll alluded to above, it's become so much harder to keep up with commenting: yours and mine. If you've been around a while, you know what I'm talking about. I'm trying to work out a routine that will manage my time better, but there are still only twenty-four hours in a day...unless you know something that I don't. Please, tell me you do.

Twitter - Resist it as I have, for better or worse, I'm on it. Just.

Recent Memes, Tags, Awards, and Other Assorted Pipeline Kindnesses - I haven't forgotten about any of you. They are written down, to be incorporated into posts. Thanks so much for thinking of me.

More Desserts - Though you wouldn't know it by this blog, I have a savage sweet tooth. There. That's my confession. And I plan to fess up far more often online. It's about succor. We all need it. I know I do.

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Vegetarian Hoppin' John with Spicy Okra, and Brown and Wild Rices - My own recipe

Ingredients

1 cup mixed brown and wild rices (any ratio works; take care that all rices chosen have same general cooking time)
2 cups salted vegetable stock
1 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring
2 cups okra, chopped after trimming stems and tails (If using frozen, do not thaw before using.)
4 tablespoons oil, divided
1 tablespoon Cajun spices (prepared or a mix of black and white peppers, paprika, dried thyme, cayenne, and garlic powder; emphasis on peppers and cayenne)
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced (I used portabellos)
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups cooked black-eyed peas
Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Method

In a medium saucepan, combine rices, vegetable stock, and liquid smoke flavoring over medium heat. Once mixture comes to boil, reduce heat to low and cover saucepan. It takes about 50 minutes for these rices to be tender.

In a large oven-proof skillet, warm half the oil over medium heat until thin (no more than 10 seconds), then scatter spices over surface. Add okra to skillet, turning heat up to medium-high. Toss frequently to ensure all surfaces of okra are coated with spices and benefit from direct contact with hot skillet to burn away much of the slime. Keep tossing until okra is mostly dry and burnished with spices. Remove from burner and set aside in a very slow (100 degrees F) oven to keep warm.

In an extra-large skillet, heat remaining half of oil over medium heat. Add onions, celery, and mushrooms. Sauté until mushroom water content dries and other vegetables are tender-crisp (around 15 minutes). Remove from heat. Stir in cooked rice and peas. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Using pot holders or oven mitts, removed okra skillet from oven. (Make sure you turn off oven.) Stir okra into vegetable, rice, and pea mixture. Return skillet to heat on lowest setting just until peas are hot. Adjust once more for salt and pepper. Serves 6. --
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Been There, Done That ~
Piyaz
Con Gris
Cannellini Beans, Fennel and Olives

Other People's Eats ~
Chipotle Black-Eyed Peas

Fennel-Scented Black-Eyed Peas and Wild Greens
Che Dau Trang

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Regrets, Resolutions, and Recipes - Dried Apricot Chutney

Apricot Chutney

For a gray, cold, and grim month, January bears considerable spiritual weight. We pass through a membrane of time as if we can walk through a wall. Remembrances of the year that was can be satisfying or sorrowful; often, they are both. Yet the first thirty-one days of another year, however briefly, have the supernatural power to keep our focus towards an unknown future while we reconcile the past. It's about taking stock. We get a chance to do it all over, correcting our missteps, and realigning our commitments.

This ritual applies to food, too. Especially food. There is no more prominent and daring a New Year's resolution than the promise to go on a diet after the celebratory feeding that technically starts at Halloween and stretches until The Feast of the Epiphany. It is a promise that most of us will break by Valentine's Day, just in time to break open that box of shapely, diminutive chocolates: a resolution that becomes a regret.

I do not regret the foods I have eaten over the last year, but I do regret the foods that showed such promise, yet failed to deliver. The most crushing disappointment of all was the criminally expensive local organic apricots, the most glowingly gorgeous fruit to ever light up my eyes. They were also the most tasteless, watery, and mealy mouthfuls I've ever had to spit out, a vast departure from the air-freighted, conventionally grown dried Turkish apricots that I stashed ages ago in my cupboard. These little shrunken ears, adorable as they are, certainly aren't the eye candy of the New York State-farmed femme fatales of last summer, but they didn't shame the pot of syrupy, vinegared spices they collapsed in for a quickly boiled-up chutney.

Glow Girls

Turkish Dried Apricots

Do I look forward to the year ahead, the harvests of wild, wonderful greens; color-crazy fruit; and sturdy, stalwart vegetables, which will punctuate the growing season here from May through October? Of course, I do. But there's sometimes to be said for the taking stock of what we have laid in for the long haul of these so-called barren months, as fiendish temperatures risen on dry, bitter winds slap and scratch our faces silly. During the ritual of the New Year, we are reminded that for however we go forward, the past is always with us.

Apricot Chutney
Gloss and Glitter. The gold-leaf coaster framing this dish
was a gift from Sra during her visit to New York last summer,
one of a handful of highlights to remember in 2009.


Dried Apricot Chutney - My own recipe, ingredients hand picked off the panels of my favorite retail products.

Ingredients

12 ounces dried apricots, chopped into irregular, small pieces (soaked overnight in water, then drained; soaking removes much of the sulfites often added as a preservative)
1/2 cup dried currants
1 inch fresh ginger root, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 small hot green Thai chiles, minced
4 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water (or more, if necessary - see method)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Method

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chutney is done when apricots become limp, and mixture thickens. If it has reduced before apricots are tender, add 1/4 cup water, and continue simmering another 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. More vinegar or sugar can be incrementally stirred in to taste. Chutney will continue to thicken as it cools. Can be served either hot or cold; refrigerate leftovers promptly. Use within a few days. Makes 2 1/2 cups. --
Apricot Chutney

This recipe is for Haalo of Cook Almost Anything at Least Once, for her Weekend Herb Blogging # 215, an excellent place to launch another year of food blogging.

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Been There, Done That ~
Halvah Ice Cream with Poached Apricots in Orange Flower Water
Olive and Pomegranate Relish
Quick Eggplant Caponata

Other People's Eats ~
Rhubarb-Apricot Chutney
Lasun Chutney
Pumpkin Chutney