Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

OR, Fluted Cornmeal and Yogurt Cake (with Dates)

After scanning this recipe, and my larder, I realized I would either have to go to the store, or get creative.

I chose the latter.

After scanning the recipe and seeing sugar AND honey, AND a stick of butter (always makes me heart skip a beat), I decided to see just how much recipe alteration I could get away with.

Turns out, quite a lot!

I chose yogurt, not just because I had about a half gallon on hand, but because I make my own, and I knew the addition would be delicious, and nutritious.

Being a probiotic, yogurt has frequently been studied for it's many beneficial effects. I found an example of a published article where researchers studied the beneficial application of probiotics, where "the affects of probiotics at suppressing the growth of bacteria which convert procarcinogens into carcinogens, thereby reducing the amount of carcinogens in the intestine"1 were beneficial in colon and breast cancer.

Near to my own heart, I found a study where investigators examined the use of yogurt to treat bacterial vaginosis (a common cause of bacterial infection) during pregnancy 2. Pregnancy is a time where special precautions must be taken when using any medications, therefore the potential to use yogurt to treat a pregnant patient is very interesting.

On to the Cake!

Here's my (severely altered) recipe for Fluted Cornmeal & Yogurt Date Cake

500 g chopped dates
1 C yellow corn meal
1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 C yogurt (I make whole milk yogurt)
1/4 C water
1/2 C honey
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 large eggs
4 TBS room temperature unsalted butter

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 10 ½-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Toss dates into a small pan of boiling water and steep for a minute, then drain and pat dry. Chop dates into smaller pieces.

Whisk the corn meal, flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the yogurt and water and lemon juice together on low speed until very smooth. With the mixer at medium speed, add the honey, and lemon zest and beat until light. Beat in the melted butter, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are fully incorporated. You’ll have a sleek, smooth, pourable batter. Mix in chopped dates. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth out.

Bake for 50 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The cake should be honey brown and pulling away just a little from the sides of the pan. Transfer the cake to a rack and remove the sides of the pan after about 5 minutes. Cool to warm, or cool completely.

This is my weekly submission to Tuesdays with Dorie, hosted by Laurie of quirky cupcake. Check out all the other creations by my fellow TWD bakers. A big thank you to Catlin of Engineer Baker for picking this weeks recipe. Come back next week as we tackle Peanut Butter Torte.

1. Nova E, Wärnberg J, Gómez-Martínez S, Díaz LE, Romeo J, Marcos A. Immunomodulatory effects of probiotics in different stages of life. Br J Nutr. 2007 Oct;98 Suppl 1:S90-5.

2. Neri A, Sabah G, Samra Z. Bacterial vaginosis in pregnancy treated with yoghurt. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1993 Jan;72(1):17-9.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chicken, again

One of my favorite styles of cooking is what I call (in my head, and now on this blog) 'leftover cooking'. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I can take a series of leftover-filled tupperware, add some fresh ingredients, and turn it into a completely new dish.

Last night we had friends over for dinner, and since I've been pouring over a basic culinary techniques book this weekend, I decided to roast a chicken.

Roasting a chicken is a fairly simple thing to do which turns fairly cheap ingredients into a fabulous feast. For our feast, I used a local chicken ($10), and a mixture of organic carrots, potatoes, onions, and asparagus (together around $5). I slathered the bird with a mixture of butter, salt, and pepper, and filled it with a few cloves of garlic and fresh rosemary from my herb pot.

To fancy up our humble feast I procured a series of cheeses and made a little cheese tray.

But the real star of the show came today. Using the leftover carcass I made quite a lot of chicken broth, half of which went into today's chicken and dumplings.

Into the pot of broth went last night's leftover roasted chicken and vegetable bits, and a few extra fresh carrots and potatoes that wouldn't fit into the roasting pan. I added some fresh parsley and I got my stew on.

In lieu of leftover bread from last night, I whipped up some simple parsley dumplings from my Joy of Cooking and we feasted again. Since the stew recipe is such that anything can be added I'll leave you with the roast chicken that started this whole episode.

Roasted Chicken

3-3.5 lb chicken
1-2 TBS butter + salt and pepper
5 cloves of garlic + 3 sprigs rosemary
4 Carrots, peeled and chopped
3 Potatoes peeled and chopped
7 asparagus stocks, chopped
2 medium onions, choppped
1 TBS olive oil + salt and pepper

Toss all the veggies in the oil/salt and place in the bottom of a roasting pan. Rub the chicken with the butter and salt mixture and place the garlic and rosemary inside. Place the chicken on top of the veg (no grill required), and roast for 1 hour at 425 F. Cover the breast with a bit of aluminum foil so it doesn't over cook. At the end of the cooking time, flip the chicken and broil the underside for a few minutes till it's nice and brown. Chicken is done when it is around 160 F, and the juices run clear (not pink).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A carrot a day will keep the (eye) doctor away

Although, when your family practitioner finds out you've been filling up on cake all week (and calling it vegetables) he might have a bone to pick with you.

Among carrots many health virtues is it's amount of Vitamin A. While it can't give you super night vision, it may protect against night vision difficulties, but "it's probable that people attributing poor driving ability to their vision may be eating more carrots in the hope of reversing this decline."* Sorry, not the best bit of research, but I’ve been a bit cramped for time this week.

As you can see, I skimped on the delicious icing. Having only two cake pans, I decided to cut the recipe in half and just use the two pans, and that everything would 'be cool'. This resulted in two very skimpy cakes (ok by me) and not nearly enough of the delicious icing (probably because I insisted on icing the outside too). I decreased the cook time to 30 minutes and the cakes were a little over done.

I was serving this cake to friends who weren't fond of raisins, or walnuts. So, instead of leaving them out all together, (I'm not that nice) I chose to throw in the biggest raisins and walnuts I could find (to aid in their pick-out-ability). The result was actually kind of humorous with the cake being so shrimpy and the mix-ins to gigantic.

I also changed up the frosting a bit. Not wanting to purchase lemon extract, I simply added a bit of lemon zest to the icing to amp up the lemon flavor. Although I like carrot cake this recipe felt a little confused with all the additional flavors (coconut, raisin, walnut, lemon). But that didn’t stop us from finishing it in record time.

One of the best things about this cake are the healthy mix-ins. While cooking (or baking, or studying, or...you know…) I usually snack on whatever I can find. In this case, I had the leftover carrot hunks that didn't get shredded in the food processor, raisins, and walnuts. A tasty AND healthy trio.

This is my weekly submission to Tuesdays with Dorie, hosted by Laurie of quirky cupcake. Check out all the other creations by my fellow TWD bakers. A big thank you to Amanda of slow like honey for picking this weeks recipe. Come back next week as we tackle Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake.

*Smith W, Mitchell P, Lazarus R. Carrots, carotene and seeing in the dark. Aust N Z J Ophthalmol. 1999 Jun-Aug;27(3-4):200-3.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

IKEA - Where fun and fantasy meet

One of the major drags to living in the midwest is the lack of cool stores. Of the three stores I've grown to love via reading about them on other food blogs - Penzeys, Trader Joes, and IKEA - only one is within a days drive (the first).

Therefore, whenever we visit family near Chicago we always find an excuse to visit IKEA (and Trader Joes).

"IKEA?" You say, "but isn't that a furniture store?"

Right you are! But they also have some of the tastiest Swedish treats around. Annual trips to IKEA allow me to stock up on Lingonberry jam and those crispy flower-shaped Swedish cookies.

On the most recent visit I discovered packets of powder-mix to recreate their delicious meatball sauce. While I'm not much of a mix kind of girl, I was curious to see how close the taste was.

The verdict? Spot on! Unfortunately my attempts at meatball formation was not such a good recreation (i.e. the balls fell apart and turned into meat slop).

So, instead of a meatball/slop recipe here's my simple version of mashed potatoes. Easy for a weeknight dinner, and always delicious! And since the UN has declared 2008 the year of the potato, I think it's time to get out there and enjoy some spuds!

Garlic & Rosemary Mashed Potatoes

4 largish potatoes (I used red) washed and chopped
2 heads of garlic roughly chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary (just the leaves)
Salt & Pepper
1 TBS butter
about 1/2 cup potato water

Boil the potatoes until tender, and the drain and reserve some of the liquid (1/2 cup). Mix the remaining ingredients and smash the potatoes up against the side of the bowl while mixing, leave partly chunky. Add enough of the potato water to increase smoothness to desired level. Salt and pepper to taste.

Over Christmas my mother in law made mashed potatoes in the Kitchen Aid, they were super smooth. I'm too lazy to get out another machine, but if you feel up to it, Kitchen Aid potatoes are tops!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Marshmallows

I did it! I finally did it!

Every week I see all the cool kats posting their weekly Tuesdays With Dorie recipe together and I think, "I should do that". Well, now I am!

Being a young married college student, I haven't done too much baking yet. I can whip up a cupcake or limited selection of breads on my own, but marshmallows? Before this book I, didn't even realize they were even possible to make from scratch!

Turns out they're not too hard (although I did manage to burn the sugar syrup the first time), but yet very impressive (my favorite kind of dessert).

I ended up making half the batch plain, and half with cappuccino flavoring. Most likely all of them will be used for hot chocolate, as Oz still hasn't quite made up it's mind that it's spring and has decided to continue the showers of flurries.

Unfortunately, my research uncovered few articles extolling the health virtues of the common marshmallow (oddly enough). But I did find one article which showed that marshmallows could be a "viable option for saliva stimulation" used to "determine toddler cortisol concentrations". So, they're not all bad.

You can find this recipe at Judy's Gross Eats, and make sure to check out all the other fabulous marshmallows.

Clements AD, Parker CR Jr, Dixon WE Jr, Salley B.: Marshmallows used as saliva stimulant do not affect cortisol concentrations: finally a palatable alternative for toddler saliva collection. Dev Psychobiol. 2007 Nov;49(7):702-7.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Salmony Paddy's

Fish is something our diet is sadly lacking.

For awhile now, I've been toying with the idea of forcing myself to learn how to cook fish. It's not that I don't like fish (although I by no means love it), it's just that up till now the bulk of my fish-exposure has come in the form of fish sticks.

I know there's better forms of fish out there (I'll gobble up sushi grade ahi any day) but correctly cooking them has thus-far evaded me.

Why do I think we should be eating more fish?

Among it's many health benefits, salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, including: EPA and DHA.

Why should you care? The FDA does.

In 2004 the agency allowed the qualified health claim that Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

This may not seems like much. But coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the US for both men and women. More than half a million Americans die each year from coronary artery disease. Scary statistics, scary enough to entice me to learn how to cook salmon.

The first meal with this salmon was a pan seared recipe which gave edible results. But the paddy rendition, using the leftover flaked salmon, was a winner. This is a great way to introduce fish into our weekly diet (although I imagine the fried patty's probably nix the beneficial aspects of the fatty acids-but I've got to start somewhere).

Salmony Paddy's

1 Cup cooked, and flaked salmon
1/4 cup crushed saltines
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup yogurt
Salt and pepper

Mix ingredients and form small rounds. Fry in batches in a bit of oil, don't crowd the pan.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Snow in April (aka WTF)

April showers bring May flowers.
April snow really blows.

Although, it does set the stage for great chowder-making weather.

Here, in Oz, few clams roam, but there is corn aplenty. Therefore a hearty corn chowder is perfect to sooth any frustrations resulting from ill-timed snow. This week everything has been blooming, and I was hoping to get in another hike or geocache this weekend. But with the sky looking gloomy and snow falling, I decided it would be prudent to make and eat lots of delicious food instead.

Yesterday we had chowder for lunch with crusty whole grain bread and plugra, Cucumber salad, and fruit salad.

Today we had the leftover chowder, with freshly baked sweet potato biscuits, salad, and grapefruit.

Corn Chowder (loosely adapted from the Joy of Cooking 75th edition)

5 strips of bacon
1 large onion, chopped
2 large red potatoes, peeled and diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
3 Cups milk
1 package frozen corn
1 generous handful of fresh dill, chopped
Salt and Pepper

Cook the bacon in a large pot, remove and drain. When cool, crumble and reserve.

Using the leftover bacon grease, fry the onion and potato for 7 minutes, until partial cooked. Add the celery and cook 3 minutes more.

De glaze the pan with some of the milk, then add the rest of the milk, the corn, the bacon, and half of the dill. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and leave for 10-15 minutes, returning every so often to stir things up. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, sprinkle with some of the remaining dill to make things look pretty (my picture has no fancy garnish because it was of the reheated leftover soup).

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Drool Inducing...?

Cucumber salads will always and forever be associated in my mind with church potluck dinners. My first taste of culinary diversity came in the form of the beloved casserole.

Literally anything (eg: tuna, chicken, corn, green beans) can be mixed together with a can of cream of (fill in the blank) and smeared into a casserole dish to produce a perfect potluck feast. Topping it with french friend onion rings is a bonus.

While I no longer create many casserole masterpieces, I do still enjoy a good potluck style salad once in awhile. Potluck salads ascribe to the same notion of
1) mix multiple seemingly unrelated ingredients (apple, marshmallow, fruit tidbits, ramen noodles...) together
2) add sauce of choice (vinegar, mayonnaise, whipped cream)
3) spread into a bowl and act natural.

Potluck dinners are the only place where salad does not equal lettuce.

I have no problem with this.

My church supper salad of choice is the simple, yet satisfying:

Cucumber-Red Onion-Vinegar Salad
As the name implies, the ingredients are:

1 cucumber, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
3-4 TBS vinegar (I used rice vinegar since I was serving this with ginger/soy sauce baked salmon)
salt and pepper

Mix the above ingredients and allow to sit at room temperature for an hour (or all day in the fridge). Stir a few times, and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sushi 2

A quick post to show off pictures of our recent sushi dinner. The ingredients used were: ahi, cucumber, avocado, cream cheese, and a spicy crab mix I whipped up. The rice didn't turn out too great, so I'll have to work on that some more, but overall everything was pretty easy, tasty, cheap (except for the ahi) and healthy (except for the cream cheese). That's my kind of meal!