Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The New [Favorite] Kid in Town: Sticky Toffee Pudding

When it comes to desserts, I do play favorites. I have my favorite cookie, favorite cake, pie, pudding, ice cream, etc. –sometimes even becoming more specific like: favorite chocolate chip cookie, favorite carrot cake, favorite sherbet flavor. Perhaps this rating system seems a bit all-inclusive. But there are just too many varying types, tastes and techniques to each dessert category. There can’t be just one that ‘takes the cake’.
Today marked the day of yet another dessert category creation. You won’t see this “pudding” in a Jello box, and though it’s been labeled a cake, it’s so moist and spongy you almost wonder if it’s not half-baked. The category is obviously ambiguous. I might settle for “favorite toffee dessert”?
In one bewitching bite the dessert is already entreating you “Make me your favorite! Pretty please, with buttery toffee sauce and a date on top!” How can you say no? You don’t. You surrender yourself to the warm, gooey pudding-cake. Waving the white flag never seemed so appropriate.

This recipe fell into my hands from a well-connected friend in the restaurant business, but I made a few alterations necessary to relate back to being a college student. Granted, it’s not easy-bake brownies, but the prep and cook work are comparable. Although the ingredients don’t come from a plastic package, the richness and depth of sweet buttery flavor are going to blow the minds of your typical brownie-baked audience. At first glance, the reddish, brown dates might seem like overgrown raisins,but they are much meatier and apt for dessert pairings. Fresh dates come from a date palm, though I used dried and sweetened ones you could pick up from a grocery. Their most valuable contribution was the texture they added to the dessert. I wouldn’t recommend the substitution of raisins unless the raisins were first soaked for at least 30 minutes to plump up. Best served warm and paired with vanilla bean ice cream, this dessert is bound to make it into at least one of your “favorite dessert” categories.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 pkg [8-12 oz] dried, sweetened dates
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup water
1 ½ cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups self-rising flour
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup golden Karo syrup
½ cup heavy whipping cream
Vanilla ice cream, to serve
1. Preheat oven to 350˚ F.
2. Grease and flour a 13x9 pan.
3. Place dates and water into small pan. Bring to a boil, simmer for about 2 min. Remove from heat and add baking soda. Stir until mixture stops foaming.
4. Cream together 1 stick of butter and sugar. Add vanilla.
5. Gradually add eggs. Beat well after adding each.
6. Fold in flour with spoon.
7. Fold in date mixture.
8. Pour into greased pan. Place in a larger [preferably somewhat deep] pan filled with about 1 in boiling water.
9. Bake for at least 30 min, until well risen and firm. [I cooked mine for about 40-45 min, but I was using a friend’s shifty oven]. Allow to cool for about 5-10 min, as it is best hot.
10. Meanwhile, make toffee sauce by adding remaining stick of butter, brown sugar and Karo to small sauce pan.
11. Bring to simmer and cook for about 2-3 min, until thickened. Stir in cream and allow to bubble down, then remove from heat.
To serve, cut squares of the pudding, scoop of ice cream, drizzle toffee sauce over all. Consume and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Japanese Udon Soup with Chicken

Trying a new recipe, especially a foreign one, is not what I would recommend when planning a dinner for company. The novelty will wear off as soon as you finish converting measurement from the metric system. If your company happens to have the necessary patience and tender encouragement however, you may be able to trudge through. In my frantic attempt to create this Japanese meal, I learned to never again go with a recipe that says “please reference this other recipe”. This makes it at least twice as confusing and severely unnerving, as you are always wondering if things apply to both? Either/or? Will the madness ever end?! Luckily, this frustration was just concerning these Japanese Green Tea Rolls I wish not to mention due to their malignant recipe.
The story resolves itself at the table place with a big, steaming bowl of Japanese Udon. Swirling my soup around, smelling the pungent ginger-and-sesame-infused broth seemed to compensate for everything. The simple-minded western cook in me is tempted to call this recipe Asian Chicken Noodle Soup, but I know it would be heresy. It had much more body and unique character than typical chicken noodle: shiitake mushrooms, leeks and spinach [also sriracha or hot seasonings if you choose]. The mushrooms, ginger and touch of sesame oil and soy sauce give it a pleasant oriental taste, as I am sure the additional heat would as well. The white udon noodles were about half the size of regular fettuccini, but about the same width; they were very salty, even when dry. I kept them separate until serving so they would not become bloated and limp by soaking in the broth for hours. Homemade chicken or vegetable broth is always better than canned and quality matters with this broth-based soup. There are many varieties of udon, as well as varying methods and ingredients. I wanted chicken in mine, so I was inspired to use this recipe.
I paired the meal with those Japanese Green Tea Rolls, which were quite yummy, and their unique green shade did become a talking point of the table. However, I sincerely believe that this recipe was intended to be my culinary chagrin of the night. It sent me on a wild goose chase of multiple recipes and odd ingredients, so I have decided against including such a recipe. Once I find a simpler one, if it exists, I will post.
Japanese Udon Soup with Chicken
4 tsp olive oil, divided
2-3 tsp sesame oil
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced
3 leeks, cleaned and sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 ½ cups shiitake mushrooms, sliced
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sriracha [Asian hot sauce], optional
10 oz package udon noodles
2 cup fresh spinach
1. Heat 2 tsp olive oil and sesame oil in large pot over medium heat.
2. Add chicken; cook until just browned. Remove.
3. In same pot, add remaining oil, leeks, garlic and ginger. Cook until leeks are almost tender, add mushrooms. Cook another 5 min until mushrooms are soft.
4. Add broth, soy sauce, and sriracha. Return chicken to pan. Boil, then reduce to low for about 25 min.
5. Meanwhile, prepare udon noodles according to package instructions.
6. Just before serving, add fresh spinach. Once spinach has wilted, ready to serve.
7. Serve over bowl of noodles.
Serves about 5-6 people.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Name Can Say It All: Adadaba Shrimp and Avocados

Adadaba. Although seemingly counterintuitive, this is not an infant’s first babbles. It’s a spice and a very intricate and comprehensive one indeed. When they called it “multi-purpose”, I thought: Okay, flavors should then blend well with chicken, vegetables, some red meat, some fish, etc. I hardly expected it to include everything in an advanced spice rack! Over 40 spices go into this super-spice.
Ingredients: Allspice, Basil, Celery Seed, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cumin, Curry Powder (a blend of 7 spices), Dextrose, Dill Weed, Granulated Garlic, Garlic Powder, Ginger, Marjoram, Nutmeg, Granulated Onion, Onion Powder, Onion Salt, Oregano, Sweet Paprika, Parsley, Black Pepper, White Pepper, Crushed Red Pepper, Rosemary, Sage, Sour Salt, Sea Salt, Savory, Spearmint, Tarragon, Thyme, Turmeric and MSG.
When I opened the tiny package I had bought from the Seattle market to take a whiff, it was like an entire spice family reunion! The amount of spices blew me away. Perhaps all you are able to utter after experiencing it is the mindless prattle: “adadaba”.
In the package, the spice is a burnt orange color, with flecks of green and brownish black. When I smelled the chaotic culmination of spices, the obvious dominant spice jumped out at me first: curry, garlic, turmeric, cumin, tarragon, etc. I decided to test it out on some shrimp; a nice clean, light meal for this blisteringly hot day of over 102˚. Also, I figured that my ordinary shrimp and rice could use the extra “oomph”.
The waft I got from the adadaba only brushed the surface of the deep intensity of flavor that it punched out when eaten. After cooked and mixed in with food, the curry and turmeric paint most a yellow color, speckled with some black dots from the pepper and darker spices. The flavor was spicy, but with strong aromatic qualities. It was delicious; however I was glad to have had the rice to dilute some of it down, as I had just dredged the shrimp through a little bowl of the adadaba. Next time I might add filler of some sort; just a teaspoon or two of flour to help keep the balance.
The recipe itself was simple. And when you hardly want to move out from underneath the fan blowing cool air on your face, that’s a plus.
Adadaba Shrimp and Avocados
7 raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
Less than 2 T adadaba spice
About 2 tsp all-purpose flour
1 T olive oil
1/3 rice
1 T lemon juice
½ ripe Hass avocado, chopped
Salt and pepper
1. Cook rice.
2. Heat olive oil in small frying pan over medium high heat until hot.
3. Mix adadaba and flour, dredge shrimp through.
4. Fry shrimp until pink and nearly curled – about 1 min a side.
5. Add lemon juice, avocado, salt and pepper and cooked shrimp to rice. Mix. Serve.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Red, White and Blueberry Cake

Summer holidays and American celebrations began the tradition of potlucks. Whether you love or loathe them, most of us will inevitably find ourselves hauling in a bucket of baked beans, a heaping pile of potato salad or the infamous bag o’ chips. Of course, it’s not necessarily about ditching or overhauling the classic dishes. People tend to expect certain staples, and I would recommend not adding anchovies or chocolate sauce to the coleslaw. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t improve on old methods.
Take for example, that all-too-typical, iconic “Flag Cake”. You know that yellow cake with cool whip, strawberries, blueberries like the stripes and stars? As fun as it probably is to make with little kids, if your audience isn’t under the age of 12, I suggest a modified version: a cold blueberry cake with lemon icing. The end product is a refreshing, sponge-like sweet cake with a bit of tangy lemon on top. You don’t get bogged down by bites of just fruit or just cake. Fruit and batter unite to be baked together forever.
The recipe I used from All Recipe’s inspired me to add stiff egg whites to the cake for a lovely overall fluffiness. The icing was my own personal pairing, offsetting the sweet with the sour – turns out it tantalized the taste buds just as I had hoped.
Blueberry Cake
½ c butter
½ c white sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 c milk
2 egg whites
¼ c white sugar
2 c fresh blueberries
1 T all-purpose flour
½ stick butter, melted
2 c powdered sugar
3 T lemon juice
Lemon zest
1. Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease and flour an 8 in square pan.
2. Soften butter, cream with sugar. Add salt and vanilla. Separate eggs, stir egg YOLKS in with butter mix. Set egg whites aside in separate bowl.
3. Combine flour and baking soda. Alternate gradually milk and butter egg yolk mixture to flour.
4. Coat blueberries with 1 T flour, add to mix.
5. Beat egg whites with electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add ¼ c sugar, tablespoon at a time until stiff peaks form.
6. Fold egg whites into the batter.
7. Pour into pan, bake for 50 min, or until cake test done.
8. Meanwhile, combine last four ingredients to make icing – should be creamy, not too thick. Adjust measurements on icing as needed. Set aside.
9. Once cake has cooled, spread on icing. Store in fridge as long as it will last.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Heat It Up, but Don’t Lose Your Cool: Summer Chili

In my family’s house, summer chili usually refers to putting on the air conditioning. Alright, that was a groaner. But you learn to love it – chili in the summer I mean. Chili might have a reputation to show up on your table during bone-chillingly cold winter nights, where you need food to stick to your sides and keep you warm. Yet, with such a variety of ways to make chili why confine it to one season? Can’t one still enjoy the standard culmination of tomatoes, beans, beef and chili powder in the summer? I say, yes.
Tonight’s chili featured a special guest, orzo. And not just any orzo, but Parpardelle’s Southwestern Orzo, which incorporated Indian maize, black bean and chili flavors in the orzo.
Once I finally brought it to the table, I was salivating like a hungry dog waiting for a juicy bone. I’ve watched and stirred it over a smoldering burner for hours. Now that it’s in front of me, it’s like majesty in a bowl: bottom layer lined with orzo, on top is a mountain of chunky chili, followed by finely shredded cheddar cheese and sprinkled with cilantro. My spoon is buzzing in my hand, like a spaceship ready for takeoff. It crashes in the chili, but returns to home base with an amazing crew. Chili powder and cumin are the first to land on my taste buds, making way for the burst of juicy tomato. Then I am greeted by the heartier, filler characters: beans, beef and orzo. My mouth is happily getting to know everyone, when a warm undertone slips in: cayenne pepper. The heat it delivers is slight, not the kind to set your mouth on fire, but enough to rosy your cheeks. Now that’s a complete guest list.
Whether it’s your Fourth of July party, or just a neighborhood get-together, don’t cross chili off the list of possibilities.
Beef and Bean Chili with Orzo
3 cans [28 oz] whole, peeled tomatoes, diced
1 lb ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
½ green pepper, diced
About ¼ cup chili powder
About 1 tsp cumin
About 1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
1 can [15 oz] kidney beans
1 can [15 oz] plain baked beans

1. Dice tomatoes, cutting out pits and skins. Put into large pot over medium low heat.
2. Brown hamburger in skillet over medium high heat.
3. Drain off grease/fat into glass container. Place meat on newspaper and paper towels to soak up any remaining grease/fat.
4. Dice onions and peppers, mince garlic. Cook in same skillet over medium high heat until onions have turned translucent.
5. Add meat back in. Season with chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper. [Make sure you taste!]
6. Add meat mixture into pot of tomatoes, along with the two cans of beans.
7. Cook for about 3 hours, or until thickened, over low to medium low heat, stirring at least every 30 minutes.
8. Chili should turn out thickened and chunky.
9. Can be stored overnight in fridge. Once served you can add anything from cheddar cheese, cilantro, saltine crackers, sour cream, orzo, spaghetti, or rice to it – it’s all delicious in its own unique way.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Not Your Average Noodle: Pappardelle’s Pasta

“Noodle” is too generic and bland of a term to describe what Pappardelle’s sells at Pike’s Place Market. It’s more along the lines of tasteful art. The blends of flavors are thoughtful and bold, giving you the opportunity to challenge the current pasta precedent.
The spread of playfully colored pasta first bedazzled my eyes as I was shuffled past in what I would call nothing less than a “Great Migration” of hungry Marketers. You just had to stop, at least for the taste of…chocolate pasta?! It is a shop entirely based on pasta. Would it work? As a personal testimonial, we bought our first ½ lb. the first day in Seattle, and came back each day for more.
Pappardelle’s Pasta reminds you that pasta doesn’t have to be confined to that cardboard-tasting, wiggly starch at the bottom of the bowl. The original, taste-tweaking flavors they have invented will embolden your taste buds and make your rethink pasta’s place in a meal. From the zesty pairing of rosemary garlic, lime cilantro and basil tangerine, to the head-scratchingly-delicious raspberry and chocolate; I promise you won’t tire of this treat.
Still not a believer? What about a taste-test? They offer little bites of the pasta to prove their dedication to not only the art of pasta-making, but of satisfaction. Needless to say, we were always pleased with our purchase. It’s incredible how much flavor can be packed into just one noodle.
All the meals I cooked in the hotel used Pappardelle’s Pasta. Whether it was Rosemary Garlic Linguine or Lemon Garlic Linguine, even I was surprised at the depth of complex taste this pasta had. It was made for dancing in your bowl with fresh vegetables, pesto, or a variety of sauces.
It’s the kind of pasta I would go back to Seattle for. But, I will let you in on yet another secret: there is a website you can order from!
Visit today and order your perfect blend of creative pasta. You will be the talk of the table!