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Archive for April, 2008


Is Cardamom the new Cinnamon?

This entry is dedicated to Karen, my brunch-loving friend who will always have a soft spot for Oreos!

Has anyone else noticed this? Cardamom is everywhere now; in blogs, recipe books and other food-driven media. For centuries, Middle Easterners used this unassuming pod to flavor teas, coffees and the occasional desserts. Now, the humble cardamom pod has been given the 90210-celebrity treatment and is making its way to pantries around the world. If you need to see it to believe it, you could check out these blogs featuring delicious cardamom Christmas cookies and cardamom roasted cauliflower for yourself.

Sweet or savory, I love the lemony fragrance that Cardamom brings to the table.  The idea of pairing cardamom with french toast came to me when my friend Desiree told me of this exquisite cardamom crème brûlée she had tasted in a restaurant.  The way she described the fragrant cardamom undertone that the dessert carried through made me eager to experiment some more with the spice. I figured both, French Toast and Creme Brûlée, are custard-based so the cardamom pairing should adapt well.

Random Fact: In France, French Toast is called Pain Perdu, which literally means Lost Bread.  This is because stale bread is traditionally used to make this dish and so it is a great way of using stale, or “lost,” bread.

This past weekend my friend Karen came to visit me in Ithaca now that it’s springtime no longer subzero. On Sunday we enjoyed the day together by climbing Cornell’s clock tower and making brunch.  It was the perfect time to try out the Cardamom French Toast that I had been meaning to experiment with. Here is how it went:

Orange Cardamom French Toast

(yields approx. 6 servings)

Components

  • 6 slices of Challah bread
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. orange zest
  • 1 tsp. cardamom, ground
  • powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Putting them all together

  1. Mix the milk, eggs, honey, orange zest and cardamom in a bowl.
  2. Soak Challah slices in egg mixture.
  3. Melt butter in a large nonstick saute pan and cook the slices until golden brown on each side.
  4. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve alongside your favorite brunch items.

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Eliminating the Middle Stick

Special thanks to Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah of Taste and Tell for hosting this month’s cheesecake challenge from Jill O’Connor’s cookbook, Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey.

For me, cheesecakes fall under the small category of mystical foods. It might just be my over-indulging tendencies, but it seems like I can never say no to a slice of heavenly cheesecake, no matter how full I am. Of course, in order to make myself feel better before taking part in one of the seven deadly sins, I always preface my request by asking for a tiny slice (adding more and more diminutive adjectives relative to how stuffed I feel at the moment).

This is my second challenge for the Daring Bakers and, at first, I was ambivalent at the idea of making cheesecake. Upon reading the challenge, two annoying voices consumed my thoughts – one asked me to double the recipe while the other insisted that I halve it. Of course, there was no getting past the evil snicker behind the little devil persuading me to double it, so I fought my temptation and decided to half the recipe.

As a college student, I cut corners wherever I can. In fact, I’m the student who will buy used text books not to get extra booze money, but rather to buy myself Crate & Barrel’s hottest serving platters. By admitting to my (sad, but true) weakness, I hope you will all understand why I had to cut out the middle stick: buy me!

mise en place

When I was given the liberty to create my own flavor combination (so long as I preserved the basic recipe) I started imagining a whole range of possibilities and decided to go with the classic orange-chocolate duo. The chocolate, of course, is brought to you by yours truly, the ubiquitous Oreo cookie.

3-step mini Oreo crusts

Muffin tins are one of my favorite pans because they lend themselves perfectly for a variety of hors d’oeuvres (e.g. tapas), desserts or other tiny edibles. They also drastically cut down baking time, which I’m always a fan of. 

candied orange zest on top

After inverting them, I decided to garnish each cup with a basic cream cheese frosting (1 part cream cheese, 1 part powdered sugar, 1/4 part butter, dash of pure vanilla) and sugared orange zest. To make the sugared orange zest, all you have to do is rub the zest of an orange with some sugar until the sugar turns orange and the air around you begins to smell like an orange grove.

Cheesecake Cups

Cheesecake Cups

(adapted from Jill O’Connor’s recipe)

(yields approx. 24 cups)

Components

  • 2.5 8-oz. packages cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 15 Oreo cookies
  • 4 tbsp. butter, unsalted
  • Boiling water, as needed

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Melt butter and set aside to cool. Use some of this butter to butter your mini muffin tins.
  3. Crush Oreo cookies and mix with melted butter. Add one heaping teaspoon to each cup and compact with your favorite shot glass.
  4. Process all the ingredients (at room temperature) in a food processor until smooth.
  5. Fill each cup and bake in a water bath for 10-15 minutes. They should be slightly jiggly.
  6. Run a knife around the edges, cover with plastic wrap and store in your freezer until ready to decorate.
  7. Decorate with your favorite Cream Cheese Frosting and top with sugared orange zest.

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Tastes like way more than a sandwich

Although I’m sure many of us enjoy the rich flavors of a 6-hour Bolognese sauce (the way nonna used to make it) or the flaky homemade texture of Baklava, there are just not enough hours in the day to indulge in these treats on a regular basis. Since I would never advocate resorting to fast food, there are always ways around this pickle. I knew I had to create a variety of dishes that I could rely on when time was breathing down my neck. College was the perfect place to develop this habit because it wipes your bank account clean and works you till the wee hours of the morning.

One of my favorite go-to dishes (and the one I decided to feature in today’s entry) is focaccia sandwiches. I make the focaccia at home using store-bought pizza dough and keep it in the fridge for easy access throughout the week. Also, the topping combinations for focaccia are as endless as the ingredients you can pair with it. A panini press is not required; but if you have been thinking about getting one lately, you definitely should (it’s probably one of my favorite toys in the kitchen!). Before I got mine I used toast the sandwich on a grill pan or in the toaster oven if I was feeling particularly lazy.

Focaccia Recipe

other go-to dishes of mine include:
Pasta alla Zarina (Spinach Pesto Pasta)
– Chicken Piccata
– Low-fat Vanilla yogurt with frozen blueberries, cereal, almonds & flax seeds (my usual breakfast)

It’s no guac, but who cares?

Living in the godforsaken Ithaca tundra, I realized that despite how bad the weather is, there are always things to look forward to. In the spring, for instance, it’s regaining the sensation in my fingertips and the opening day at the farmer’s market. Last Saturday, the latter of the two was realized. The weather is still too cold for my liking; but a 40-degree high is certainly appreciated after such a brutal winter.
Luckily, the rest of America is right on schedule with the commencement of spring and so I was excited to find ripe avocados calling my name at the store last week. After poking all of them to pick the ripest out of the bunch (don’t judge, I know you do it too) I bought 4; I used the first one to shoot the Avocado Milkshake Video, and the rest to experiment on an Avocado Pesto I dreamt up recently. Believe me, just like the milkshake, it’s a lot tastier than it sounds.

mise en place

The ingredients are similar to a regular pesto, but with minor alterations. The bulk of the greenness now comes from the avocado while the basil is merely a supporting actor in the whole production (I didn’t have the heart to exclude it). Then I decided to add lemon juice for zing and milk for a creamy touch.
No, the sauce will not curdle because the natural fats in the avocado help keep everything together (clever, huh?).

the spoon test

After processing everything together you’ll have a super thick sauce. No panicking is necessary as you’re only a couple steps away from pesto heaven at this point. The sauce will later be brought to consistency with pasta water, so just remember to reserve a cup before draining it.

vibrant green color

One of my favorite components of this dish is the vibrant forest-green color that the spinach takes on after sautéing. Of course, I keep it Italian by throwing in some toasted pine nuts. And if you don’t dig spinach, you can substitute arugula for a more peppery flavor that works out just fine (especially if you’re a big fan of arugula, as I am).

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve a cup of the cooking water and toss the pasta with the sautéed spinach and sauce. You’ll notice that the sauce is still very thick and this is completely normal. Incorporate the pasta water a little at a time until you reach the perfect consistency you’re looking for.

Avocado Pesto Pasta

Avocado Pesto Pasta

(yields approx. 4-6 servings)

Components

  • 1 lb. pasta
  • 1 hass avocado
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 10-12 leaves of basil
  • ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, shredded
  • 2 tbsp. + 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 oz. pine nuts, toasted (approx ½ cup)
  • 6 oz. baby spinach
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. In a large pot, cook pasta to specifications as directed on the package and set aside a cup of the cooking water.
  2. Blend the avocado, milk, basil, Parmigiano, 2 tbsp. olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and ¼ of the pine nuts until smooth to make the sauce.
  3. Using the remaining olive oil, sauté the spinach and the pine nuts just until the spinach wilts and turns a vibrant green.
  4. Toss the cooked pasta, sauce and sautéed spinach together and add a little of the cooking water at a time until you reach the consistency you like.
  5. Serve with some extra Parmigiano shredded on top

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Avocado Milkshakes

Earlier this week HoneyB, from The Life and Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybunch, presented me with my first blog award! Now it has fallen upon me to pass the torch along to some of my favorite food bloggers.

use real butter – This colorful blog showcases gorgeous step-by-step photos that always entice me to make the featured recipes. Jen has perfected the highly sought-after art of making cooking appear effortless and displays her talent in each entry.

Food Beam – “Lovin’ the beam” was the subject of the first e-mail I sent to Fanny of Foodbeam. This classy and fun chronicle on French cuisine offers a fresh perspective on classic dishes with the perfect, sassy food commentary on the side!

Orangette – A highly addictive food blog that “reads like fiction.” Each entry offers an escape out of the ordinary and into the world of magical foodism. Her artful pictures will draw you in and her witty banter will keep you reading all night!

Mad Baker – This was the very first blog I came across after joining the mystical world of food blogging. Karen showcases her creations as pieces of art in each of her entries that she is Mad About!

La Tartine Gourmand – A meticulous depiction of fabulous food! Bèa has a masterful eye for design and a fine-tuned palate to match. Her entries are highly entertaining and always a joy to read.

The avocado milkshakes featured in the video are a breeze to make at home and always bring intrigue into the kitchen. Also, the recipe I’ve included is extremely flexible and you can pretty much adjust the quantity of any of the ingredients to fit your tastes.

Avocado Milkshakes

(yields approx. 4 servings)

Components

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup ice
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 scoop vanilla ice cream

Putting them all together

  1. Blend all the ingredients together until smooth.
  2. Taste and adjust for sweetness and texture by adding more sugar or milk.
  3. Serve chilled.

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