Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chocolate Amaretto Cake

This recipe takes the cake (pun intended) for most exciting dessert to put together. It calls for you, as the baker, to fold dry and wet ingredients together WITH YOUR HANDS. That's right—the moist and spongy finished product is a result of you actually rolling up your sleeves and oozing your fingers into the dough. This is going to delight your inner child! The best part is licking your fingers when you're done.

Chocolate Amaretto Cake is novel for its ingredients as well as construction. I've done sour cream and buttermilk before in baking, but I've never heard of putting mayonnaise in my chocolate cake. This recipe has all three. Guess it adds moisture and flavor. I love the almond tones. A touch of almond extract and amaretto adds a nice hint of nuttiness. Of course a sprinkling of sliced almonds atop the chocolate icing is an attractive presentation. Serve with ice and/or whipped creams.

Eggplant Parmigiana

The only eggplant I could find in town was Japanese eggplant. Turned out great!

Let's start with the marinara sauce in the eggplant parmigiana. It's delightful. Has a nice spice to it from the pepper. Quite spicy really. It made me hiccough (I love to spell things the old-fashioned way, none of this ‘hiccup’ business). I do that when I eat spicy things. Does that happen to anyone else? Unless I focus on very regular and mindful breathing, I always hiccough when I eat something spicy. What’s your hiccough cure? I heard holding a pencil in your mouth while drinking water does the trick. What the heck is that?! My old standard is plugging my ears while drinking.

Anyway, back to the marinara. Nothing like some hearty Italian old world red sauce. Your house will smell amazing. Red wine, garlic, rosemary, oh my! This sauce really makes the eggplant dish. Well, that and the cheese. And the eggplant. Ooh, I love eggplant. I caught onto it in college, and fried slices became a favorite snack. The eggplant in this recipe is breaded and fried. Actually it's sliced and sweated first. That’s right. You set the slices out and sprinkle them with salt.

After 30 minutes, or when tiny beads of water form on them, they’re ready to be coated in flour, dropped in egg, and sizzled in oil.

From right to left: coat eggplant in flour, dip in egg, and fry in oil

Layers of fried eggplant, sauce, and cheeses blend into the hot, comforting, and quite delicious vegetarian recipe. Bon appétit!

P.S. It's quite easy to make this ahead. For a Sunday night meal, I chipped away on the prep throughout the weekend. I knew I was going to ski on Sunday, and didn't want to have to spend long daylight hours in the kitchen. I started Friday night slicing and salting/sweating and making the marinara. Saturday morning I fried the slices. Come Sunday all that was left was layering and baking--mercifully so, as it was a blue bird day with temps above 50 degrees!

P.P.S. I didn't take any pictures of the marinara sauce. It's red. You can probably make it out in the photo of the baked dish above. That and a bottle of pinot noir, and the no-knead bread that's changed my life.

Brown Rice Salad

Got brown rice leftovers? Brown Rice Salad will spruce up any old brown rice into an attractive healthy meal. Over a bed of leafy greens drizzled in Fiddlehead vinaigrette (I keep some on-hand in the fridge), dollop a mound of warmed brown rice mixed with sautéed bell pepper, onion, tofu, and more vinaigrette. Top it with sliced tomatoes, sprouts, and cheddar cheese and you've got a hearty salad with a nice presentation. That vinaigrette gives it great flavor. The sprouts are grown here in Southeast and are so good! If you have some leftover leftover brown rice, re-heat it and wrap it in a tortilla with fried eggs to make a dandy breakfast burrito.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fresh Vegetable Saute with Brown Rice

Orange. Yellow. White. Green. Purple. Brown.

This colorful dish is a bowlful of health. It’s super simple, just some veggies and rice. It seems so unassuming, but it has just enough tads of this and dashes of that to draw out some nice subtle flavors. If you added red pepper and blueberries (do we have a blue-colored fruit?), you’d have ROY-G-BIV—all colors of the rainbow, in one bowl!

It felt like a particularly long day. When I got home, I poured myself a generous glass of Spanish rioja wine, turned on some music, threw my apron on, and started cooking. Some hot, fresh, healthy food sounded so good. On the menu: Fresh Vegetable Saute (Page 119) with Brown Rice (Page 209).

Golly gee willikers, this is a lot of chopping. Make yourself comfortable, because when you slice ten different kinds of vegetables at once, you’re in it for the long haul. Once everything’s chopped, into hot oil it goes! This stir-fry really makes me want a wok. But I don’t really sauté vegetables enough to justify that kind of investment (not to mention the space investment of another pan in my not-so-very-large kitchen). Oh well, a soup pot stood in for the part.

Get creative and add your favorite vegetables. The simple sauté—with a bit of dry white wine and a dash of soy sauce—is really nice. Only cooked for 5 minutes, the veggies were still a tad crunchy, and oh-so-tasty.

The rice has nice aromas of bay leaf, thyme, and pepper, and a quick hit of heat in oil brings out a nice nutty flavor. Brown rice is just so darn good.

I was applauding myself for choosing a Fiddlehead recipe that didn’t involve large quantities of cream and butter…just when the ½ pound of shredded cheddar cheese jumped out at me from the ingredient list. That’s for six servings, mind you, but I still wasn’t expecting it in this otherwise very virtuous recipe. Guess I shouldn’t be too surprised—and it was nice, at the end of the day, to have the sprinkling of cheese melted in. The chopped almonds were a nice topping, too! To serve, I made a well in the middle of the rice, filled it with veggies, and topped it all with cheese and almonds. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Salmon Matisse

Salmon marinating in the freezer

My friend Laura told me once I have an energy efficient freezer, in that keeping it full means it takes less energy to cool. It’s completely stuffed to the gills with frozen salmon, halibut, moose, venison, and homemade ice cream—so stuffed there’s no space even for ice. It’s a treat to cook salmon mid-winter, a taste of summer that takes you straight to sitting on the back deck grilling after a day of play. I was looking forward to trying Salmon Matisse (page 104). With a yogurt-based topping, it sounded healthy and I thought it would satisfy my hunger for healthy omega-3s. But it just didn’t turn out quite right: I lit the oven on fire and thought the fish, once served, tasted like dirty socks. Guess you can’t win ‘em all.

The salmon marinates for four hours in a blend of oil, vermouth (I used dry white wine), and spices. Next it’s broiled and the yogurt topping added in the last couple minutes. I drizzled some of the oil over the salmon before placing it underneath the broiler coils set to “high.” After a couple minutes, flames licked inside the oven, my boyfriend and I frantically trying to get the fiery tray outside. Must’ve been that the excess oil ignited. Luckily, the filet survived. After the stress of the fire, we turned the broiler to low and checked frequently ‘til the salmon flaked nicely. But once plated, the taste was off. Maybe the thyme reacted funny when overheated, I don’t know what. I think it might be better another time/place. But for me, Salmon Matisse was more a disaster station than a winter treat from the freezer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cardamom Coffee Cake

Mm, butter. It makes everything better. With one pound of butter, the Cardamom Coffee Cake (page 158) is darn good. It probably should be called a pound cake, though—it is serious! Seriously delicious that is, with its hint of the unique spice cardamom, and its attractive double swirl of streusel. It’s moist and robust. Did I mention there's lots-o-butter?

Now I’m a firm believer that a coffee cake should be featured as an accompaniment to coffee, and not much more. The cakey (sometimes dry and bland) aspect doesn’t do much for me if it’s a side on a plateful of other breakfast foods. But enjoyed alone with a cup of joe (with room for cream) really does it wonders. There’s nothing bland or dry about this recipe, though. Mm, mm.

With no cardamom on hand, I swung by the bulk spices section at Freddy’s to get the stuff. What a genius way to shop for spices, let me say. Instead of spending eight dollars for a tiny jar, I got more than enough for my recipe: total bill $1.06.

It’s been windy here the last week or so…No, that doesn’t quite capture it, let me try again…our community hunkered down the past week in the face of blasting, icy Taku winds—siding’s been torn off buildings, trash cans bounce like balls down the street. They’re clocking gusts at 90mph at sea level, and over 150 on our mountain tops—isn’t that hurricane force? I’m sure the guy who was just rescued off the ice field is enjoying his coffee cake an extra notch these days. Winter roared its ugly head, the people in Juneau quivering in its breath. There. That captures it a bit better…And it was in the might of this weather that I baked up this slice of comfort, viewing the world from the inside-out, and making it all the more satisfying.

I used organic butter in this recipe. Creamed with sugar, vanilla and eggs, it's mixed in with dry ingredients and sour cream and layered in a bundt pan between sprinklings of streusel. Pretty simple. The Fiddlehead says they borrowed this recipe from a cafe in Vermont; there, they served the slices grilled in butter and drizzled with real maple syrup. Whoa. You've got to try this recipe. Make a breakfast date with your loved ones, brew a pot of coffee, and hunker down inside.

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