Thursday, March 29, 2012

Poppy Seed Cake

So, after all that derision of poppy cakes (see here), I had half a can of poppyseed filling left over from Purim and decided to try the cake recipe on the can.  Everyone loves the Solo hamantaschen, so I figured I'd try their poppy seed cake recipe.

I don't own a Bundt pan.  I got rid of it last year after a conversation with myself that went something like this:

  • I have never, EVER made anything in a Bundt pan.  Why do I still have this?
  • Because it was your grandmother's, and you love all her baking stuff.
  • But I could use the space for those mini-loaf pans I want, or another muffin pan.
  • You already have TWO muffin pans!
  • But one's a half-pan, so I can only make 18 cupcakes at a time, and most recipes make two dozen.
  • C'mon, you never know when you'll need the Bundt.
  • Something's gotta go.  It's either the Bundt or the one that makes a dozen cupcakes shaped like roses.
  • (pause) Sorry, Bundt.
So, for anyone keeping score, a half-batch of this recipe will fill two mini-loaf pans.

1 C butter
1-1/2 C sugar
1 can Solo Poppy Seed Filling
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
1 C sour cream (I used light, and it came out fine)
2-1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
powdered sugar for dusting

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan or 10" tube pan and set aside.

2.  Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add poppy filling and beat until blended.  Beat in yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add vanilla and sour cream and beat until just blended.  Slowly beat in flour, salt and baking soda.

3.  In a separate bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites to stiff peaks.  Fold into batter.  Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

4.  Bake 60 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.  Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

My addition of lemon glaze:  Stir together 1/4 C fresh lemon juice and 1 C powdered sugar.  Be more patient than I was and let the powdered sugar dissolve completely.  Drizzle over cooled cake and allow to soak in and set before cutting.

Makes one 10" cake, enough for at least 14

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dried basil pesto

A while back, I made tabouli with dried parsley, to use one of the many containers of it in the spice cabinet.  The taste was slightly different than fresh, and the texture was definitely altered.  It tasted like the Casbah brand of tabouli that comes in a box.  Not bad, just different.

I wondered what would happen if I used some dried basil flakes to make pesto.  First, I don't know what possessed my mom to buy dried basil flakes in the first place, much less three jars of it.  I expected it to taste like a cooked version of pesto, instead of the fresh sweetness you usually get.  To my surprise, it tasted just like the stuff that costs $5 in a jar.  Hmm, wonder what they use....

Aside from the pine nuts, I was able to make this from pantry items on hand.  And I got the nuts out of the bin, so they were only a little over a dollar.  If I had realized that you can use almonds or walnuts, I wouldn't have had to buy anything.

*1/2 C (about 1 jar) dried basil flakes
1/4 C pine nuts
*3 cloves garlic
*1/2 C grated parmesan
*1/2 C olive oil

1.  Toast pine nuts in a dry pan over medium heat.  Place in food processor with basil flakes, garlic, and parmesan.  Pulse, then run full until nuts have broken down.  You will get a slightly moist paste.

2.  With processor running, drizzle oil into processor.  Continue to run until it stops making that grating noise, about half a minute.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  If possible, make at least a few hours ahead, so the basil has time to hydrate and meld with the other ingredients.  This will make a thick sauce.  If you want it thinner, use 3/4 C oil instead.  I like the more intense flavor.

Makes 3/4 cup

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, March 23, 2012

Azuki Beans with Mango

Think sweet chili.  This very easy dish can be served either as a side or as the main dish, maybe with a salad.

I didn't add chili powder, but I think it would liven it up a bit for those who find mangoes bland.

2/3 C dry azuki (red) beans
1 large mango

1.  Soak beans 8 hours or overnight in water to cover by 2 inches.  Drain.

2.  In a 2 qt saucepan, cover beans with 2" of water.  Add a touch of salt.  Bring water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let the beans cook 1-1/2 hours.

3.  To cube a mango:  Slice down on one side of the flat pit to create a hemisphere, then the other to get the other half.  Discard pit.  With a paring knife, cut a grid into each half.  Invert skin, and the cubes will rise up and become easy to pull off the skin.  Add to beans and cook another half hour.

4.  Taste, add more salt if necessary, and a little chili powder if you're feeling adventurous.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Other Meat

You've probably noticed that I cook a lot with dried beans.  In addition to them being very healthy for you, there's an economical reason.

Meat is expensive.  Mammals have always cost a lot per pound, but poultry has crept up lately.  Good-for-you fish can cost even more.  Per pound, cheese can be even more expensive than beef.

Plant-based proteins aren't entirely off the hook.  Pine nuts are $18 a pound out of the bins at Sprouts.  You'll pay over $25 if you get them in packages.  Walnuts and almonds run about $8, rivaling most meats and fish.

Two sources of protein cost pennies a serving, and they are some of the most complete proteins you can get: legumes and eggs.  And isn't "protein" what we mean when we say "meat"?

Legumes (beans) are high in protein.  They also provide a chewiness like pasta or bread, while being loaded with fiber.  The only food group you wouldn't consider them is dairy.  Well, unless you're having soy as tofu, which is very cheese-like.  And I also prefer that everyone soak their own beans instead of buying canned.  It's cheaper, stores easily, and there are no chemicals or salt added if you soak your own.  All it means is you have to plan ahead a day.  This is how the colonists of New England and pioneers of the American West ate, making it the first American cuisine.  I'm going to skip the salt pork and salted-down fish in barrels, though.

Don't be mistaken, I am not advocating everyone go vegan.  It is VERY hard to be a healthy vegan.  But subbing in beans or eggs a couple of times a week is a good way to make your protein dollar go the distance, while getting a healthier meal in the bargain.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Checkerboard Cookies

I just bought my Girl Scout cookies for the year, and made Hamantaschen for Purim (poppyseed this year), but I've got a blog to write.  That means baking lots of teatime sweets.  Fortunately, most cookies freeze very well for up to six months.  Pull them out an hour to a day before you intend to have them, and you're good to go.

This recipe from the Afternoon Tea book was unnecessarily complicated and made four dozen.  It required you to do a lot of math (half of 3/4 cup?) and to make two batches of dough.  I've scaled it down to the one-egg version, done all the math for you - hence measuring by tablespoons - and simplified it so you only have to make one batch of dough.

They did come out a bit more, um, solid than I was expecting.  Them's dunkin' cookies.  Cup of hot coffee or cocoa, there's nothing to complain about.  Considering how hard Girl Scout cookies are, no one's going to notice before May.

6 Tb butter
6 Tb sugar (1/4 C + 2 Tb)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2-1/4 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp milk
1 Tb cocoa powder

1.  Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in vanilla and egg.  Add flour and baking powder and beat until combined.

2.  Weigh the dough on a food scale.  Set half by weight (my batch weighed 17 oz, so I kept out 9 oz) on a work space and put the rest back in the bowl.  Beat in cocoa powder and milk.  The milk offsets any dryness introduced by the cooca.  Place chocolate dough on work surface.

3.  Get the scale back out.  Divide each flavor of dough in half, so you have a total of four pieces of dough.  Roll each piece out into a rope 12" long.  Lay a chocolate rope next to a vanilla one.  Place a vanilla on top of the chocolate and vice versa with the last rope.  Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and press the ropes together a little.  Refrigerate about 1 hour, until firm.

4.  Preheat oven to 350º and grease two cookie sheets.  Cut log into 24 1/2" slices and place cut side up on the sheets.  The cookies do not spread out much, so you may be able to get all of them on one large sheet.  I was limited by the size of my silpat.  Bake for 20 minutes, until bottoms are browned and tops are starting to brown lightly.  Remove to wire rack to cool.

Makes 2 dozen

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Part VII: Meals on a Budget

I got gas today.  The cheapest place I know was $4.24/gal.  And gas prices affect more than just what you put in your tank.  Every item you buy in a store got there on a vehicle that consumes gas.  That is often charged per case as a surcharge from the supplier, usually around 5¢.  That small fee adds up quickly, and is commonly passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.  It's only good business sense.   What I don't understand is that the last time oil was $110 a barrel - just a few years ago - gas was around $3.50.  It didn't get to $4.50 until oil hit $149.  How come they get to charge more now?

Anyway, where was I?  I already covered a lot of ways to buy food at lower prices in the post Shopping Smart.  Now, I'm going to find ways to make lower-priced meals using those and other tactics which don't look like I was consciously trying to save money.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Purim Feast

Tradition holds that Queen Esther was either vegetarian or vegan.  They didn't exactly have a kosher butcher in Persia back then.  For Purim, it is customary to have a meatless feast.  I couldn't resist putting a cheese dip in there, but that's the only reason it isn't vegan.  Oh, and the cookies.

Even if you're not into vegetarian dinners, this makes a great crudité plate.  It's also a good teatime selection or veggie-heavy lunch.




Difficulty level  :)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

White Bean Hummus

I've decided I don't really like hummus made with garbanzo beans.  I like the flavor of tahini and garlic.  Whatever I blend with it, like eggplant or beans, defines the flavor profile of the dip.

Using Navy or Great Northern beans also ups the fiber and protein content of the dip.  Can't do anything about the fat; that's in the sesame paste.

When Techie Smurf was visiting, I realized one thing I do different in this house as opposed to my old apartment: I don't buy lemon juice.  He was looking for some, so I just went out back and got a lemon off the tree.

If you don't like soaking beans, just buy canned and rinse them very well.  I couldn't find any canned white beans that hadn't been turned into BBQ baked beans.

3/4 C dry white beans like Navy or Great Northern
1/4 C tahini paste
4 cloves garlic
1/4 C lemon juice
salt to taste
olive oil as needed
paprika for garnish

1.  In a saucepan, cover dry beans with 2" of water.  Allow to soak 8 hours or overnight.

2.  Drain water from beans and add fresh.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until beans are very tender.  Drain.

3.  Place beans in food processor with tahini, garlic and lemon juice.  Pulse to combine, then run on full until smooth.  Taste and add salt if necessary.  If too thick, drizzle in olive oil while processor is running.

4.  Chill before serving.  Place in serving bowl and dust with paprika, if desired.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Crab and Rice Salad

Honesty time: it's not real crab.  Surimi treated to taste like crab tastes pretty much like the real thing. The texture is different.  Just like Turkey Ham doesn't taste like real ham, but close enough.

The seasoning for the rice is almost the same as for sushi rice.  You could easily add avocado and roll this salad in seaweed to make California rolls.

I used regular long-grain rice this time.  Short-grain Calrose (sushi) rice makes it a bit creamier, for those who thought I was going to be using mayo in this salad. I don't really like mayo.  It has its place, but nothing should ever go for a swim in it.

1 lb cooked crab (or krab) meat
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 C finely chopped green onion
2 C cooked white rice
3 Tb seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar

1.  Stir vinegar and sugar into rice while still warm.  Let cool to room temperature.  If rice starts to get hard, add more vinegar.

2.  Stir in carrots, green onion, and crab meat.  Chill until ready to serve.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, March 2, 2012

Houseguest Leftovers

Techie, Writer, and Melody Smurf spent the week here.  I stocked up on meat, fish, fresh fruits, veggies, and other healthy meal-making items.  Except for Fondue night and one chicken dinner, we ate out.

I did end up throwing out some of the Chinese we brought home because it had been close to a week, but I'm determined to eat the rest in some fashion.  The fondue leftovers made a stir-fry that tasted almost exactly like a Benihana dinner.  The fondue cheese is tonight's shells & cheese dinner.  We were sensible when ordering Cuban take-out, but there was still enough left for me to have three small lunches.  I did get to use most of the last loaf of Stollen on French toast one morning.

And then there's the bag of corn chips.  I don't buy chips, other than the occasional Veggie chips.  They're just sitting on the counter, daring me to dig in.  They're marginally better for me than the cakes I've been making for tea.

As soon as the leftovers are gone, I'll make the crab salad that I was originally going to post today.