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Persian Spice Cake

Saffron Vanilla Frosting
I’d been waiting for an excuse to make a cake – a birthday, an anniversary, a holiday… something – and nothing soon was coming up. But why does anyone really need an excuse to make a cake? Cake is good all the time. So for no reason at all I made a cake last night to bring into my office. I called it a Happy May Day cake (a day early).

Now, does anyone else get tired of eating chocolate and vanilla cakes over and over? I mean, dont get me wrong, I love them both. I love chocolate cakes with coffee or chocolate stout (recipe for that one to be made and posted soon) or vanilla cakes that use real vanilla beans. Great fruit fillings can also turn an ordinary cake to something brilliant (I want to make a fig filling when they come back in season). But sometimes you just want something different. Something you wouldn’t know where to buy, but if you saw it on a menu you’d say to yourself (or out loud), “ah ha! that sounds fantastic. I’m ordering one of those!” Well… this is one of those cakes.

The ingredients are based on flavors found in Persian, Turkish, and Indian foods. I succeeded in finding 2 out of the 3 ingredients that I didnt have at home: ground cardamom and saffron threads (apparently the most expensive seasoning in the world, or so the bottle told me). I searched through four different stores to look for rose water/oil/essence with no luck – Boston/Holly fail. So I decided to make my own by using organic flowers from Whole Foods and letting the petals steep in boiling water. I’m not sure that the end result was what I would find in a store bought bottle (it wasnt especially strong), but it worked well enough with the light flavor. And honestly, I’m guessing it would be great completely without it.

The texture is light like angel food or chiffon cake. The cardamom is just enough to balance the lemon zest without overpowering the experience. The saffron adds a twist while visually providing the whipped cream with a beautiful yellow color and vibrant red streaks. If you’re feeling like something new for Mother’s Day or an upcoming celebration – you might consider this. I know I’ll make this again (and again).

Persian Spice Cake
adapted from Bon Appétit

Cake
1 c cake flour
1 c sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt (I like sea salt)
5 large eggs, separated (3 egg yolks, 5 egg whites)
1/4 c water
1 tsp rose water (optional)
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon peel
2 tsp ground cardamom

Frosting
2 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
Small pinch of saffron threads
1 c powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Very slightly oil two 9″ cake pans and line with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, combine 1/2 c sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate small bowl wisk 3 yolks, waters, vegetable oil, cardamom and lemon zest. Add yolk mixture to dry ingredients; whisk until smooth.
3. Beat 5 egg whites in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 c sugar and beat until whites form solid peaks.
4. Slowly add the egg whites to the batter and mix well.
5. Divide batter between prepared pans and bake until cakes are golden, about 20-25 minutes.
6. Invert pans and cool upside down on rack for 25 minutes ( It doesn’t rise much so dont worry if it deflates a little).

To make the frosting:
1. Combine 1/2 cup cream and saffron in small saucepan and bring to a slight boil. Remove from heat and chill until cold.
2. Beat remaining 2 cups cream, powdered sugar, vanilla and rose water in large bowl until soft peaks form. Add saffron cream and continue to beat until solid peaks form.

Frost one layer flat-side up. Place second layer on top, also flat side up. Spread remaining frosting over entire cake and allow to chill for at least 1 hour.

Cake + Rose

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Chickpeas

Today I feel like sharing more than I feel like writing. So I’ll make this sweet and simple – just like recipe. Hopefully the pictures can speak for themselves.

Small note: I will hopefully be updating this more often in the coming weeks once I buy a new light source. The lack of entries isnt because I dont have recipes and such to share, but because I’d be embarrassed to publish the photos.  I went to a fantastic dinner on Friday hosted by a chef in his own home (I’ll tell you all about it later) and noticed the light source that his wife uses to photograph the dishes. I spoke to him about my white balance/blurry picture problem and he recommended the one they have. Stay tuned!

Oh, and Happy Monday!

Fire Roasted Tomato Soup
adapted from Orangette

Ingredients:
2 15oz cans chickpeas
3 tbs olive oil
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 shallot, roughly chopped
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, needles removed and finely chopped
2 15oz cans fire roasted tomatoes
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt (feel free to omit this if your stock is high in sodium)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3.5 c veggie stock

1. Head the olive oil in large pot on low heat. Add garlic, shallot, and rosemary – cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper, 1 can of the chickpeas, and the stock.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. After the soup is boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes – 15 minutes covered, 10 minutes uncovered.
3. Wait until the soup has cooled slightly, and puree it in small batches in a blender or food processor. If using an immersion blender, you can do this step in the pot.
4. Add second can of chickpeas and serve warm.

This soup can be made ahead and stored for 2-3 days in the fridge.

Soup

Sliced Bread
I love learning new things about food – either from people, magazine, or food blogs. Lately I have been taking classes at the Cambridge School for Culinary Arts. I love it because it is relatively close to my apartment, the instructors are great, I get to meet new people (which is REALLY hard to do when you move to a new city), and I learn. So far I have taken 3 classes – a sushi class, a 6-part basics course (one 4 hour class of knife skills – yes! I finally know how to properly cut an onion!), and a baking series. In fact, my recent baking addiction is partly due to the baking classes.

This bread came from my last cooking class. Flour, Sugar, butter, wine, cranberries, walnuts. What else could you want in a dessert breakfast? The recipe tells you to grill it once the bread is cool and sliced. In class, we have an indoor grill and I was able to do so – at home, not so much in my tiny Boston (read: very very old) apartment. It also is accompanied by directions to make an extremely delicious Mascarpone to go on top of it in the event that you wish to eat it as a dessert like we did in class.

Me? I chose to eat the leftovers for breakfast this week. I think that worked out pretty well. It’s not too sweet, the wine flavor doesn’t stand out too much (others may disagree with me on this one), and has hearty breakfast ingredients like cranberries and walnuts. I will say that if you dont plan to add the cream to the top, beware that the cranberries can get you. Personally I like tangy flavors, but you may want to add a little bit more sugar to the recipe if you want to eat it plain.

Cranberry Zinfandel Bread
adapted from The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts

Bread
2 tbs oil
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 walnuts, chopped (I might toast these a little next time I make it)
1 1/2 cup, whole raw cranberries
1/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup white zinfandel
2 tbs butter

1. Preheat the oven to 350* and lightly butter/spray 1 loaf pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine the oil and eggs. Mix well to combine.
3. In a separate bowl add the flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Slowly incorporate mixture into the large bowl, stirring until just combined (this will be VERY crumbly).
4. Fold in walnuts and cranberries.
5. Add orange juice and zinfandel and stir until it just comes together.
6. Pour into prepared bread pans and bake for 1 hour (or once a wooden toothpick comes back clean and the top springs back).
7. (optional) After bread is cool, fire a grill and lightly brush both sides of the bread with melted butter. Each side will need no more than 3-4 minutes to get nice grill marks and that toasted flavor.

Orange Mascarpone Cream
1 cup mascarpone
2 tbs orange zest
4 tbs orange juice
1 1/2 orange liqueur (Grand Marnier or other)
1 tbs confectioner’s sugar
pinch of salt (yes, I know, salt – it brings out all the flavors. promise. try with and without it and then see)

Stir to combine. Top the bread with a dollop of cream (or eat with a spoon like me right out of the bowl)

Lemon Buttermilk Cookies

Cookies Cooling
I havent spent much time in the kitchen lately. I went on a trip to DC, had several out of town friends visit, restaurant weeks, just plain laziness after work, etc. There’s no real excuse, I just havent made the time in the last two weeks and it didnt feel right. Cooking has become very therapeutic for me, it helps me unwind while I dance to my ipod and whip up batter for cookies. At the end I have something real in my hands to look at and enjoy (and/or photograph) and I know exactly what went into it.

The end result is never as important to me as the process. For example these cookies. I love baking and making sweets in general; however, I dont enjoy eating them all that much. I’m really more of a salty/savory kinda girl. When I have a craving its usually for chips or fried food that has more than a days worth of my recommended sodium intake. But there is something special about baking, maybe the smell, that I cant get enough of.

Batter
In the spirit of reducing my waste and wanting to bake, my secret ingredient this week was buttermilk. I cant quite remember why I bought it in the first place, but I remember the story goes along the lines of not being able to buy a pint – they only had half gallons. Epicurious had this recipe for buttermilk cookies that rates 3.5/4 forks (usually a decent sign that the recipe is good) so I thought that I’d try them out. These “cookies” are more like mini cakes in that they are light and fluffy. They dont quite have the dense/chewy consistency that cookies do. Nonetheless, they are delicious. I halved the recipe for the most part, but kept some of the ingredients the same ratios (vanilla and lemon rind) to give it extra flavor. You can play around with the glaze as well – maybe add some zest as a final finish before the glaze has set.
Cookies

Lemon Buttermilk Cookies
adapted from Gourmet

For cookies:
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, soft
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk (shake it!)

For glaze:
3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tbs buttermilk (shake!)
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Make cookies:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and oil baking sheets
2. Whisk together dry ingredients – flour, zest, baking soda, and salt.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl. Once mixture becomes pale and fluffy add egg, beating well after the addition, then beat in vanilla.
4. Mix in small amounts of flour mixture and buttermilk into the butter/sugar alternately in batches at low speed, until smooth.
5. Drop level tablespoons of dough about 1 1/2 inches apart onto baking sheets.
6. Bake until cookies are puffed and edges are golden, approximately 12 to 15 minutes per batch.

Glaze cookies:
In a small bowl, whisk together all glaze ingredients. Dunk tops of warm cookies into the mixture and set aside on cooling rack. Let stand until cookies are completely cooled and glaze is set.

Cilantro Pistachio Pesto

Ingredients

At work we have whats called a soup group.  Each Monday nine of us get together to share lunch in our cafe and on a rotating basis three people will make a soup, one will make a carb – it’s fantastic. Not only are the soups incredible, our weekly “meeting” forces us to eat away from our desk and gives us something to look forward to on dreary Mondays like yesterday in Boston (please go away rain….). My favorite part is that we all get to try different recipes that we may not have attempted to make ourselves. For example, I never had quinoa or vegetarian sausage before our gatherings (both good btw). I love eating with people who eat differently than I do. I’d like to think that I’m up for trying anything at least once. I may not eat it again, but I’m not the type to rule out an ingredient because I’m scared of it.

pistachios garlic and cheese Pesto

It was my turn this week and I decided to make a Thai curry soup. Along with the many vegetables, the recipe called for cilantro as garnish. Now, I’m notorious for searching through my inspirations (lately food and wine magazine and smitten kitchen) and choosing 2-3 recipes that ask for VERY different ingredients. This week was no different. Only needing a small portion of the cilantro bunch for the soup, there was a ton left over. I’m on a mission to stop throwing away so much food – it’s sad how much bad produce ends up in my fridge. I have to learn to make recipes that have common ingredients.

I decided to make a pesto. Google found recipes for making basil pesto and I eventually came up with my own combination that reflected similar ratios with different ingredients. It’s amazing and simple. There is a nice crisp/spicy flavor that is complimented with the nutty flavor of the pistachios. If you prefer creamy pesto, adding a tablespoon or two of a cream base (plain yogurt, whole milk, cream, etc.) would work well. I didnt think it needed it.

dinner

Cilantro Pistachio Pesto

1 bunch washed cilantro
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pistachios
1-2 oz of parmesan or other hard cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Top with cover and process 1 minute or until smooth, scraping sides of container occasionally.

Serve on top of your favorite pasta. I served it with whole wheat pasta with flax seeds.

(quick. easy. delicious)

Candied Kumquats

Kumquats

For my second post I was trying to think of something new to try out. Noticing my kumquats on the first post my friend suggested that I try candied kumquats. Let me tell you – they are fantastic. My dad used to take me after school to this hotel in my hometown that had several trees out front. We would sneak a few bags and eat them on the ride home. Before Monday, that was the only way I tried them – straight off a tree.

Kumquat pile

Simmering them in sugar creates a nice balance between the tart citrus taste and sweet. They’re best after a few days soaking in the sugar reduction. They’d go great on sugar cookies, in salads, part of a salsa, or you can eat them like me… out of the container. Feel free to experiment with other flavors in the sugar syrup too, I think cinnamon and/or nutmeg would be delicious.
candied kumquats

Candied Kumquats

Ingredients
2 cups sliced kumquats
1/2 water
1 cup sugar

1. Slice the kumquats in half, taking out any seeds that are easy to get. Luckily the seeds are edible so you dont have to worry too much about the ones that are hard to reach.
2. Stir water and sugar together on high heat in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low heat and simmer for a few minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved.
3. Add kumquats to the pot and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
4. Drain the kumquats and set aside in small bowl. Return sugar mixture back to the pot and reduce on low heat for a few more minutes (note: be sure not to reduce for too long or you’ll end up with carmel like I did the first time I made these).
5. Combine kumquats and sugar in a small container.

Can be stored in a container for a week, but they’ll probably be eaten by then – they are VERY addicting.

When I graduated from college I could barely make a grilled cheese sandwich without burning it. My mom was a great cook so I never bothered learning because… well… why would I? Someone else made me great food which required little to no effort on my part – nice! Then I went to college and lived on-campus all four years; again, someone else making me great food that required no effort – perfect! And then I graduated, moved back home to a mom who decided she wasnt going to cook my every meal (sad), and found I had massive amounts of time on my hands now that I wasnt involved in thesis, class, internships, student groups, etc. What to do…

Scones

Well, I decided to cook. It started off with simple meals that I could put together from Trader Joe’s – premade salads, meats, pastas (they’re so easy!); however, I had no idea what to do with the left over. I started googling food websites and stumbled upon epicurious.com – my life changed. I found recipes for everything I could possibly think of ordering at a four star restaurant and loved making them myself. Adding a little bit more of this, less of that, and always more garlic. So here I am, a couple years later buying new gadgets, attempting new things, taking a few recreational cooking classes, and trying to find someone to cook with.

Dough Dough Ball

This blog is an attempt to do two things:

1. Keep track of the meals I make – recipes and notes included. I can never remember where the recipe for my chocolate chip cookies came from, what substitutions I made, what did NOT work, and what did.

2. Try something new. Food blogs bring together two of my favorite hobbies – photography and cooking. Indoor photography is new to me, so I’m counting how long it will be before I buy a better light source and macro lens… and a KitchenAid Mixer for that matter; although I have been told many times that the only reason to get married is to register for one of those… a) I think that’s sad and b) I’m not going to wait. It’s just a matter of time.

So it begins…. I thought I’d start off with blueberry scones.

Blueberry Scones
inspired by smitten kitchen

Take a bite

Ingredients
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
3/4 cup dried blueberries
1 cup heavy cream

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425°F.

2. Place flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in large bowl. Wisk together until completely mixed.

3. Pour flour mixture onto counter and add butter*. Use a bench scraper (or pastry cutter/knife) to cut in the butter until the pieces are pea sized (try not to handle the dough as much as possible). Create a small trough in the middle of the dough and add cream, 1/2 cup at a time. Use the bench scraper to cut the cream into the dough.

4. Mix in blueberries.

5. Knead dough by hand just until it just comes together into a rough ball, approximately 15 seconds (note: the dough will not be sticky). Press out into an even layer 3/4″ thick. Using your bench scraper, cut into 8 wedges.

6. Place wedges on ungreased baking sheet and bake until scone tops are slightly brown, 10-15 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Scones are best served on the same day, but can be kept in an air tight container up to 2 days.

*Note: the key to making scones is to have cold ingredients. Make sure you dont take the butter or cream out of the fridge until you are ready to use it. The warmer the dough becomes, the less flakey it will be.

Breakfast