I’m not a huge coconut fan, but my dear husband is and it’s his birthday so there you have it. I had visions of a beautiful two-layer cake with fluffy white frosting and loads of golden toasted coconut sticking out in curly spikes. Well, this is nothing like that but man alive, it’s the best darn coconut cake I’ve ever tasted.

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Now I’m not making any claims that this is the cake it was intended to be. Let’s face it, it looks nothing like the picture. I cut the recipe in half and used a 9″ round pan, so I’m guessing mine is a thicker version of its Martha Stewart self. Oh, and there’s the matter of frosting (specifically, the fact that mine has none).

I’ve never made 7-minute frosting, but they sure did make it sound easy. Not so much. I started by scrambling the eggs. Now I know this wasn’t in the instructions but I was not deterred! So as not to waste six eggs and a whole lot of sugar, I put it through a sieve and kept going. I cooked and cooked and cooked those strained eggs until they almost reached the appropriate temperature. Then I threw them into the stand mixer and went to town on high speed for 10 minutes (as instructed). That was where the volume was supposed to quadruple, producing a light, fluffy, and highly stable frosting with a lovely sheen. Or, in my case, marshmallow fluff.

Meanwhile, I cracked, peeled, and shredded a fresh coconut and toasted it to a lovely shade of tan, only to find that it had very little flavor and a somewhat bark-like texture. With no frosting to adhere it, it just didn’t make the cut.

A little powdered sugar and a lovely cake stand to the rescue – by the time we dug in, the cake’s appearance was the last thing on our minds. Tender crumb, delicious coconut flavor, and a slightly crispy and chewy outside edge – heaven.

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Spring has sprung and I could not be more obsessed.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve checked to see if new seedlings have sprouted.  Or how many weeds I’ve pulled (where do they come from?!?)  I’m determined to have a better crop than last year and I’ll do [almost] whatever it takes to make that happen.

I do get distracted though.  I’ve let seedlings die from lack of water from time to time, and I may have planted seeds too close together in an effort to get everything into the ground before June.  I’m not perfect.

Yesterday I noticed that my peas were starting to collapse onto my carrots.  But it’s okay; nature is forgiving.  Carrots are survivors and a full day of sunshine always perks them right up.  I like that about carrots.

The parsley, dill, cilantro, and basil are an inch or two tall.  The sage, tarragon, and scallions should sprout by next week.  The lettuce seeds that started outside never appeared but the seedlings started inside back in February are making a go of it despite the downpouring rain.  The strawberries are a new addition and bound to be popular with little H, and the nasturtium with their broad flat lily pad-like leaves are reaching toward the sky.  The rhubarb roots need planting if I can just decide on the perfect spot for them while last year’s raspberries are coming up in full force.  The blueberry bush is lush and leafy, the perennial herb garden in full bloom.  Our yard has turned from a weed-filled, tire rut streaked, broken glass strewn nightmare to a bountiful oasis of delectable produce.

There is little in life more satisfying than gardening.  It nourishes my soul.  It grounds and grows me.  It makes me feel like part of a larger whole, a provider, a self-sustainer, an independent.  To share these gifts with my little H and my big R is rewarding beyond compare.

Because I totally forgot!  Seriously, I was so distracted by little feet at my feet and big feet coming home from a long day of work, that I completely neglected to take photos.

I am forgetful, so this is not entirely suprising.

I learned about these little gems a few weeks ago when a fellow Dining Diva selected El Salvador for our upcoming dinner gathering theme.  She selected pupusas for the main event and invited us all to get our hands messy by making them with her last weekend.  Last night’s repeat wasn’t quite as successful, making it clear that these babies take practice.  The masa needs to be just right, the filling flawlessly seasoned, and the pan perfectly oiled and heated.

Despite the lack of photographic proof, these pupusas must be documented.  They are delicious.  And not just a little bit, not just because I needed a break from hum drum taco night, not because I was way too hungry to judge properly. 

Served with curtido, a fresh pickled slaw, these are a winner.

I used a recipe from Whats4Eats.com but this is really just the beginning.  Practice is the main ingredient that cannot be substituted.

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It all started with some leftover whipped cream.

Leftover whipped cream is a sad sight. Before long, it turns into a floating island of whipped cream on top of a milky puddle. Mmmm.

But if you’re careful, and you act quickly (say, by the next day) you can save the part on top from being completely lost.  In fact, I once learned that whipped cream is best stored in a sieve propped over a bowl.  I had not done this in my sleepy haze the night before, so I had no time to waste.

Rewind to Sunday, grocery store day. Beautiful rhubarb in the produce section and a recipe from Gourmet Live just waiting to be tested.

That’s when this happened:

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The recipe isn’t too fancy. Chop some rhubarb and toss it in a pan with just enough sugar to keep it tart. Simmer until it turns jammy. Cool.

Whip some cream, add some sour cream and powdered sugar, whip some more, then add a splash of sherry.

Layer them together in a pretty cup and crumble some ginger snaps on top. I used the ginger snap recipe from my dear old copy of Joy of Cooking, subbing about 1/3 of the flour with whole wheat flour…combined with dairy and fruit, this might even pass as breakfast!

What’s the problem with this recipe?  Too much whipped cream. Fast forward to Wednesday.

I was going to make a quiche, so first I made some pastry dough. I like to use Julia Child’s recipe from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (signed by Jacques no less — thanks Rob!). It’s classic and easy and I realized that my past failings with pastry dough came largely from lack of confidence. Using the same recipe over and over has helped me overcome.

Letting the dough rest in the fridge gave my taste buds just enough time to start thinking about the whipped cream…and the leftover rhubarb jam…and the apples on the kitchen table…and then the quiche became a frittata with a lovely fruit pie for dessert. Perfect!

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So a few weeks ago my coworkers and I started planning a potluck. And, of course, we needed to make up goodie bags for everyone because, well, we all like to cook and bake and enjoy having excuses to do both.

For no explicable reason, I had a sudden urge to make caramel popcorn with salted peanuts.

I browsed my favorite bloggers for ideas – Deb then Joy – and then checked to see if Martha had a good recipe (or twelve, as it turns out). Fortunately, I’m not the first person to have had a sudden craving for crunchy, caramelly, nutty deliciousness.

I settled on Deb’s version from Smitten Kitchen, a spicy, salty, and sweet popcorn that she adapted from The Craft of Baking, a cookbook not in my collection but possibly soon to be if the other recipes are anywhere near as delicious as this one.

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I made a full batch with peanuts first, including just 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne (barely noticeable except a little bit at the end) and about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt.

Then I decided that I really needed to make more for the potluck crowd (plus some to keep at home) so I made another half-batch with unsalted almonds. I mixed them all up together and they were outrageously yummy!

One quick note about making the caramel. I was a little nervous about making this for the first time without a specific temperature in the instructions. I started with a candy thermometer and it ran up to about 260 degrees before I pulled it out of the pot. I then decided to let it get a little darker brown before continuing, so I’m guessing that it probably got up to 270 before I added the baking soda. For the second batch, I left the thermometer out completely and just used my judgment. Both batches came out great!

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I have very fond memories of Pizza Night.  Specifically, I remember the local Greek pizza restaurant we frequented when I was a kid. I’m not talking about the renovated, expanded version that moved in when I was in high school. I’m talking about the small, dark, tv on in the corner variety, complete with booths and a counter seating three.

Take out was fun because I, the awkward 10 year old as tall as most 14 year olds, would always get a wink from one of the two brothers who owned the shop. There was Tony and there was Paul…one of them was the front-of-the-house charmer and the other was always slinging pizzas in the kitchen.

Eat-in was fun because the Greek salad would arrive on a huge white platter with a giant slice of salty feta cheese on top. All of you from big families know what it’s like to be staring down a beautiful platter of food and wondering who’s going to get the first (and biggest) serving. Oh man does my mouth water just thinking about sneaking bites of that feta. A shake of oil and red wine vinegar on top was all it needed. Delish.

Today, pizza has a whole new meaning in our family. My honey runs the local pizza shop, started by his dad over 20 years ago.

“Do you ever get tired of pizza?”, you ask.

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Heck no!  Thin crust, Sicilian, pan pizza, pizza by the slice, New York style, Greek, Italian – and don’t get me started on toppings – who could get tired of pizza?

Sure, everyone is ready to go home at the end of the workday. But Pizza Night is here to stay.

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Last night’s pizza was made from store-bought dough in a seriously-well-seasoned pizza pan from the restaurant, topped with fresh pineapple, crispy turkey bacon, and a blend of cheddar and provolone cheeses.  H’s personally decorated mini cheese pizza was made on a lightly oiled piece of foil.  Both were heavily loaded with cheesy goodness this time.  And we like our pizza extra crispy!

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Ever sprouted lentils?

Let’s just say, back in February someone was a little desperate for spring. Lentils, water, shallow dish, done! 

Sprouted lentils are also one of the Haft Sin, seven traditional items served at the table in celebration of Nowruz (the Persian New Year or first day of spring).

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In just a few days, hope was alive for a future with some green in it.  Several weeks later, we have this beautiful bounty on our window sill.

Yesterday, I actually saw lentil sprouts in the produce section of our local grocery store…four ounces for four dollars.  They were about 3-5 days into the sprouting process (no green yet in sight). 

A new family tradition has sprung – happy spring!

A month or so ago I tried scallion pancakes for the first time (while on a day trip for work).  Suffice it to say that lunch with colleagues was the highlight.  They were DELICIOUS.  Crispy on the outside, chewy and layered on the inside…how did they DO that?

A few weeks later, the fabulous Dining Divas set a date for a long-overdue potluck gathering with a theme, as luck would have it, of Dim Sum. And worlds collide…

So I started searching. I found several great recipes from The Cooking of Joy (a great blog that sadly seems to have been abandoned), Ming Tsai, and The Kitchn, as well as a few how-to videos on YouTube.

In the end, I combined several recipes into one. They are best eaten right away but I also reheated them for the Dining Divas in a pan with a little oil and the whole platter disappeared! 

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup warm water
1 large bunch scallions, thinly sliced
Salt
Vegetable oil for cooking

Technique

Slowly add the water to the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until it starts to come together. Knead with your hands, adding more water as needed until the dough forms a nice smooth ball. Brush the dough ball with oil, place in a bowl, and cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (I did the first batch overnight and then decided to do a second batch at the last minute…I couldn’t tell the difference).

Knead the dough for a minute or two and then let rest for another 30 minutes, if you have time.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Cover the ones you aren’t using right away so they don’t dry out.

Roll out one ball of dough until it is super thin…you can almost see through it! It’s really amazing how resilient this simple dough is. I used the back of a jelly roll pan, very lightly oiled.

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Brush the dough lightly with oil, then sprinkle with salt and scallions (try one first and see how it goes…my first one was too salty so I adjusted the others). Starting on the long edge, roll the dough into a log.

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Cut the log into two shorter logs.

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Take one piece and twist it a few times, then coil it up. Flatten it slightly with your hand, then let it rest for a few minutes while you do the others. Roll each one into a pancake, about 1/4″ thick. Some scallions might poke through, but that’s okay!

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Put about a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium heat. The oil should be shimmery and it will sizzle when you put the pancake in. When you cook the first side, you’ll start to see the dough turn a little bit transparent after 3-5 minutes…almost a light grey color. It will be nice and brown on the bottom…then flip it and cook for another 2-3 minutes on the second side.

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Cut into wedges and serve right away with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce
Adapted from Ming Tsai’s Ginger Dipping Sauce

Ingredients

1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine ingredients and dip!

If only I had discovered the glory of Gourmet magazine a little bit sooner. But, no. I had to subscribe precisely nine months before Conde Nast decided to pull the plug. The inequity!

Two consolations followed.

First, a subscription to Bon Appetit arrived in place of the last few issues of my Gourmet subscription. Pretty and entertaining but, let’s face it, just not the same.

Second, Rob’s dad bought himself an iPad, which I borrowed for just enough time to discover the Gourmet Live app…another less than equal publication, but a substitute nonetheless.

This next recipe comes from the latest issue of Gourmet Live (whose content still expires despite having a paid subscription – robbed, I tell you! – but, I digress).

It’s pretty quick, it’s definitely easy, and it is wholly satisfying in the my-body-is-thanking-me-for-this kind of way.

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I actually took this photo the next morning while packing leftovers for Grandpa’s lunch…not quite as vibrant looking as the night before, but you get the idea!  It was amazing to see such rich colors become muted during the cooking process.

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Curried Red Lentil Stew

Serve with basmati rice (and plain yogurt if you wish, though it is quite saucy on its own)

Ingredients

6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 2×1″ piece peeled ginger, quartered
5 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
5 cups water (plus a little extra)
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
3/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 cup red lentils (they really look orange)
3 medium carrots, quartered and chopped roughly
3 cups chopped trimmed spinach (we used 3 oz. frozen)
1 cup frozen peas (we were all out so we left them out!)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. hot red pepper flakes

Accompaniments

Steamed basmati rice, roasted cauliflower (salt, EVOO, roast at 450 until tender), fresh cilantro, plain yogurt.

Instructions

Heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat in a heavy pot.  Saute onion with a little salt until golden (8-10 minutes).

Puree garlic and ginger with a little water in a spice grinder or food processor until very smooth.  Add to onion and cook until water evaporates and the onion begins to fry a bit in the oil.  Add spices and stir for one minute.  Stir in lentils and 5 cups water, then simmer covered while stirring occassionally for 30 minutes.  Add carrots and remaining salt and simmer another 15-20 minutes, covered.

Stir in spinach and peas and cook another 3 minutes, uncovered.  Stir in cilantro, salt and pepper to taste.  Add a little water if needed to achieve desired consistency.

Heat remaining 2 tbsp. oil in a small saute pan until shimmering.  Add cumin seed and pepper flakes and fry for one minute, then add this mixture to the stew before serving.

After watching many Cook’s Illustrated test recipes come and go from my email inbox, I finally received one that interested me enough to give it a try. I have mixed feelings about the experience, but judging by how quickly these ginger snaps disappeared, I’d say it was a success.

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The recipe called for lightly browned butter with spices added to bring out their flavor. And flavor they do have!

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A little thicker and darker than I would like, but perhaps that’s a problem with our oven temperature…note to self: pickup an oven thermometer for future accuracy.

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Ginger Snaps

2 ½ cups (12 ½ ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½  teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups packed (8 ¾ ounces) dark brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pinch cayenne
1 large egg, plus 1 large yolk
½ cup granulated sugar
 
Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in bowl.

Place brown sugar, molasses, and fresh ginger in second bowl.

Heat butter in 10-inch skillet over medium heat until melted. Lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook, swirling pan frequently, until foaming subsides and butter is just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and cayenne. Cool slightly, about 2 minutes.

Add butter mixture to bowl with brown sugar and whisk to combine. Add egg and egg yolk add whisk to combine. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined (use a wooden spoon and be prepared to work for it!). Cover dough tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen for up to a month.)

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place granulated sugar in shallow baking dish or pie plate. Divide dough into heaping teaspoon portions; roll dough into balls about the size of small walnuts. Working in batches of 10, roll balls in sugar to coat. Evenly space dough balls on prepared baking sheets, 20 dough balls per sheet.

Place one sheet on upper rack and bake for 15 minutes. Transfer partially baked top sheet to lower rack, rotating 180 degrees, and place second sheet of cookies on upper rack. Continue to bake until lower tray of cookies just begin to darken around edges, 10 to 12 minutes longer. Remove lower sheet of cookies and shift upper sheet to lower rack and continue to bake until beginning to darken around edges, 15 to 17 minutes. Slide baked cookies, still on parchment, to wire rack and cool completely. Cool baking sheets slightly and repeat step 3 with remaining dough balls.

(Note: After reading this through again, I just realized that I completed messed this last part up – I put both sheets in then rotated and swapped them after 15 minutes…much less complicated but could account for the very dark edges on half of my cookies.  I guess I just have to try again!).

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