"I hate people who are not serious about their meals."

Oscar Wilde,
The Importance of Being Earnest

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake

I know it seems like I only update this blog with baked goods lately, but I suppose I've just been in a baking mood.  The weather has begun to cool off, the trees have started to change their colours, and the prospect of having the oven on and the smell of something delicious wafting through the house is an enticing one.
  Plus, it was my mother-in-law's birthday last Friday, and I wasn't going to let the occasion pass without making some kind of birthday cake.  After trawling through numerous recipe sites, I happened across this recipe for 'Torta di Pere'. The combination of pears, dark chocolate and browned butter was immediately appealing to me, and despite not being the most attractive looking cake (it was a little sunken in the middle), the texture and flavours were absolutely scrumptious. The bitterness of the chocolate offsets the sweetness of the pears perfectly. And as someone who can't resist tasting the cake mix left on the sides of the bowl/beaters, the browned butter makes this some of the best tasting batter ever! Everyone here loved it the cake, and I would definitely make it again. I wouldn't attempt this if you don't have a hand or stand mixer though, there's a lot of beating involved!

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake
recipe from Al Di La Restaurant via Smitten Kitchen

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (113g or 1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (I used bartlett, but use whichever variety you prefer)
3/4 cup bittersweet or dark chocolate chips (at least 35% cocoa solids)
Icing (Confectioner's) sugar, for dusting

Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan and dust with flour, set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (About 9 or 10 minutes, think 'ribbons' not 'peaks' as full eggs won't beat up the same way egg whites do.)

Meanwhile, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). Scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan every few minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixer off. Using a spatula, gently fold through one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of the flour. Fold until just combined — do not over-mix the batter or it will lose volume.
Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean.

I served the cake at room tempterature with a little icing sugar dusted over. You could also add some whipped cream, or serve warm with vanilla ice-cream. This should keep for 2-3 days in an air tight container... if it lasts that long!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fresh Peach Upside-Down Cake

No other food makes me think summer like juicy, fresh peaches.  Well.. except perhaps equally juicy, fresh mangoes, but I've discovered the mangoes available in the United States are nothing like the mangoes I grew up with in Australia in looks or taste. They are small and red/green with a pale yellowy coloured flesh, not at all the big, fragrant golden mangoes I am used to. So despite my deep and abiding love for all things mango, I am now avoiding them to stave off further disappointment.  Anyway, back to the peaches. I was initially looking for a recipe to use up a rapidly browning bunch of bananas, and so I settled on a banana upside-down cake.  Unfortunately, when I went into the kitchen to begin baking I discovered that the bananas were rather more browned than I had first thought - that is, they were beginning to turn into complete mush. They would have been fine in the batter, but there was no way I could possibly cut them into presentable looking slices. Looking at the abundance of peaches in the fruit bowl, I decided to wing it and substitute the bananas for peaches. It turned out to be a great idea, resulting in a fabulous looking and wonderfully moist, but not heavy cake - a perfect summer dessert.

Fresh Peach Upside-Down Cake
adapted from David Leibovitz
makes 1 8-inch (20cm) square cake

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2-3 peaches


1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (30 g) melted butter
2 large eggs
1 cup peach puree (about 2 peaches, peeled and blended til smooth)
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preaheat your oven to 350F/180C.
Place the brown sugar and the water into an 8-inch
(20cm) square cake pan. Place the pan directly on your stovetop over low heat, and stir until all of the sugar is moistened. Simmer for 1 minute, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.  While the sugar mixture is cooling, peel the peaches and cut into 1/4 inch (1cm) thick wedges. Arrange in overlapping rows over the melted sugar.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix in the sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, peach puree, buttermilk, vanilla and almond extracts. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until just combined.  Carefully pour the batter into the pan over the peaches, and use a spatula to ensure it is spread evenly.  Bake for 35 minutes, or until the centre of the cake springs back when you touch it.

Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes. To remove from the pan, run a flat-bladed knife along the edges of the cake and invert on to a serving platter. Carefully lift the pan off to ensure no fruit gets stuck to the bottom - if it does you can always carefully reposition it.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream, if desired. 
To reheat the cake, place in a low oven and cover with foil.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Mum's Blueberry Muffins

My Mum makes great blueberry muffins. I remember visiting my parent's house one weekend and awaking to the smell of them baking. Is there anything better? I was out of bed and devouring one practically as soon as it was out of the oven. I first asked for her Blueberry muffin recipe about two months ago, and I haven't managed to have a go at making them until now, for several reasons. Firstly, the oven stopped working properly. Secondly, the weather has been so hot my desire to turn on the oven and do some baking was practically nil. Thirdly, I couldn't find any buttermilk at the supermarket. Crazy, right? Maybe I just wasn't looking in the right place - after more than 6 months in New York I am still getting used to the layout and size of the supermarkets. Some things just aren't where I would expect them to be if I were shopping in an Australian supermarket. So eventually the oven got repaired, and I decided to do some reading up on what I could use as a substitute for buttermilk. There are several different things you can do - yoghurt, etc, but the one I settled on involved adding lemon juice to milk.  This got me to thinking that lemon and blueberries make a wonderful combination, so I added some lemon zest to the recipe to give the muffins a little extra kick. They turned out wonderfully despite the lack of actual buttermilk, and they only have to bake for less than half an hour, so it wasn't so bad, even on a hot day. The house still smells of baking, and I've already eaten two of these beauties. Yum.

Blueberry Lemon Muffins
makes 6 large muffins or 12 small muffins

2 cups Self-Raising flour
3/4 cup demerara sugar
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into your 3/4 cup measure and fill the rest up with milk, mix, and leave for a few minutes)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
finely grated zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.  Grease or line your muffin pan.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Put the oil, buttermilk and egg into a shaker or small bowl and whisk/shake lightly to combine.  Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour the liquid ingredients into it, followed by the lemon zest and blueberries. Stir until just combined, taking care not to smash the blueberries.  Spoon into prepared muffin pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. If you're feeling naughty, these are delicious served warm with a little butter. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My New Favourite Pepper: The Cubanelle

This was my first foray into the world of stuffed peppers (or any stuffed vegetable, for that matter). I have eaten and enjoyed them in the past, at restaurants and other people's houses, but I just never quite found the occasion to make them myself. However, after coming across this recipe during a recent Saturday morning channel-surfing session I decided I didn't need any kind of special occasion.  I'd never even heard of Cubanelle peppers in Australia, so naturally, I was curious to find out what they were all about.  Let me tell you, I am certainly glad I did!  The cubanelles have a great flavour - slightly sweeter than a bell pepper but with a slight spicy kick, they cooked up perfectly in the oven. And the colour! That fabulous fresh green of grass shoots and new leaves - very summery. These were really easy to make, and the Mexican inspired flavours in the stuffing mixture ensured that the kitchen smelled amazing while we were cooking. So if, like me, you were looking for an excuse to make stuffed peppers, you just found it!

Stuffed Cubanelles
barely adapted from Sunny Anderson
makes 6 peppers
(The original recipe is for 8 peppers, but unless yours are very small I don't think you'd get more than 6)

1 packet sazon seasoning
1/2 cup warm water

olive oil

1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped

1 small red bell pepper (capsicum), finely diced

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup long-grain rice
(I used basmati)
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, divided

1 pound/450g ground beef, (80/20 fat content)

6 cubanelle peppers, stalk and seeds removed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F /175 degrees celsius.
Dissolve the sazon in warm water in a small bowl and set aside.  Rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear. Drain and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan or frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and jalapeno and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add in the rice and garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the garlic begins to brown.  Stir in the sazon water, cumin, and season with salt and pepper. Saute for a further 3 minutes, then remove from the heat, add 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce and set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and add the ground beef. Mix with a wooden spoon (or your hands) until completely incorporated.
Stuff the cubanelle peppers with the beef mixture, using a teaspoon or the end of a wooden spoon to ensure the the mixture is pushed right to the ends.
Pour the remaining tomato sauce into a baking dish and arrange the stuffed peppers on top. Brush the outside of the peppers with 1 tablepsoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the peppers are golden and a little browned on top. To serve, pour a little of the tomato sauce from the pan over the peppers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Hero By Any Other Name

Until I came to the United States, I never imagined that a simple sandwich could have so many different names.  What I would have previously referred to as a 'sub' was now a hoagie, a grinder, a po-boy or a hero, depending on where it was coming from.  A little internet research tells me there are still more names for this creation that I've yet to discover in person.  While the etymology of all these different names is kind of interesting, I'm not going to go through all of them here. I understand that the term 'hero' derived from the large size of the sandwiches, a food writer remarking that "one must be a hero to eat such a sandwich".  However, me being a passionate sandwich maker and eater, (and a bit of a cornball) I prefer to think of the term in reference to the fact that a great sandwich can really save the day.  These meatball heros are no exception.  Filled with probably the best meatballs I've ever made, topped with marinara sauce and yummy melted mozzarella, they are truly heroic sandwiches indeed.

Meatball Heros
barely adapted from Guy Fieri

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced red onion
1 small red bell pepper (capsicum), minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (you can use any kind of milk you like, I used rice milk and it worked fine)
2 slices sourdough bread, crust removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces to equal 1 cup
1 pound/450g ground beef (80/20 fat content)
1 pound/450g ground pork
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons red chili flakes
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 egg, beaten

4 submarine rolls
1 cup marinara sauce (I used some of my mother-in-law's awesome sauce, you could use store bought or make your own. The original recipe linked above has a sauce recipe included.)
Mozzarella, sliced

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions, bell peppers and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Stir through salt and cook until tender. Remove pan from heat and let cool.

Put the bread pieces into a bowl, pour milk over and let soak for 5 minutes. Remove the bread from the milk and squeeze out the excess liquid so the bread is moist but not soggy. Ok - time to get your hands dirty! In a large bowl, mix together beef, pork, soaked bread, cooled vegetable mixture, basil, oregano, parsley, pepper, chili flakes, grated Parmesan and egg. Roll into 2-inch balls.  I got 18 balls from my mixture. Add a tablespoon of oil to the same saute pan you used for the vegetables and heat over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs (I did them in 2 batches), until firm, brown and cooked through.

To assemble the sandwiches, split the rolls lengthways down the centre, but not all the way through. Scoop out some of the bread on the insides so the meatballs can fit in nice and snugly.  Place 3 or 4 meatballs into each, top with approximately 1/4 cup of marinara sauce per roll, and finish off with a few slices of mozzarella cheese. Place under broiler (that's under the grill for any Aussies reading!) until the cheese is melted and golden brown.