Sunday, June 28, 2009

International cuisine... johnson style

This week was full of food from all over the globe in the pre-wong house this week, so here's the overview!

The Mediterranean Diet would suit me just fine...

I have recently been introduced to olives. I'm not sure I love them yet, but last week I had a craving and Henry's had blanched almond stuff olives. Paired with sourdough bread, extra sharp cheddar cheese and Pomegranate wine (yes, from pomegranate juice) and watermelon for dessert, this dinner was all kinds of delicious. I actually only ended up eating about 1/3 of what you see there because it was so satisfying, I was pleased as punch!
Along the olive thread, Jonathan and I tried some spicy persian style (??) olives this week at the farmer's market and I was in ecstasies. What a fantastic burn on them! I need to explore this fruit a little more...

For the love of Italian Butter Rum cake

I have been trying to emulate a particular cake for quite some time now called Italian Butter Rum Cake, also found at our local farmer's market.
The necessities for this cake:
  1. It must be a bundt cake. Something about this shape just works.
  2. The cake is very, very moist with a light flavor rum.
  3. The topping has a layer of nuts that do not fall off the cake when you eat it.
  4. There is some kind of sauce or syrup poured over the top of the cake that makes it even *more* moist and a little bit sweeter.

Off to the market, I bought a bottle of Rinaldo black label rare reserve dark rum and 2 boxes of cake mix. I didn't want to make the cake from scratch, so I decided to go with the appropriately named Butter Yellow Cake mix from Betty Crocker, I think. To reconstitute this cake you need to add 1.25 cups of water. I have a different cake recipe that calls for 1 cup of sherry wine to the batter for the flavor of the sherry, so I used that knowledge and substituted 1 cup of the water with 1 cup of the rum. I was lazy and only used oil in place of butter in the cake.

Now for the topping. I had pecans and walnuts, I had brown sugar, and I melted butter. I figured these were good ingredients to start with, now to find the right combo:
Section One: pecans AND walnuts + brown sugar on the bottom of the pan.
Section Two: pecans + melted butter.
Section Three: pecans.

Result? FAIL CAKE.
The cake part was WAY too alcohol-y. After 2 bites I was feeling flushed. So here's the first captain obvious lesson learned: Rum is strong.
The topping wasn't much better. Pecans are better than walnuts because of their sweeter meat, but the sugar section became hard and gross and the liquid butter was displaced by the batter and was just absorbed upon cooking. This was not the rich and moist result I anticipated.

I made the cake mix with 1/3 cup rum + vanilla extract + butter as called for.
About 1.3 cups of chopped pecans went into the bottom of the pan, poured the batter on top carefully so as not to displace the nuts.
I shaved 5 minutes off the baking time.

Meanwhile, I melted some butter, mixed in a few tablespoons of brown sugar, a dash of vanilla and 1 tablespoon of rum. When the cake was done I spooned this onto the nuts and the sides of the cake.

Result? Not too bad.
The cake was MUCH better, I could get the accents of the rum flavor without getting knocked out, but then I think the rum in the sauce ruined it. Too many nuts, and the cake was still not as moist or as sweet as it should be. The cake part was still lacking something in my opinion.

Next time: 3/4 cup nuts for the top, possibly with cubed cold butter in the bottom of the bundt before adding batter.
Vanilla pudding mix to the cake plus poppyseeds I think.
The sauce should have more sugar and vanilla, less butter and no rum.

Everyone loves Irish food... or at least Corned Beef Hash

Last night we had corned beef with boiled potatoes and cabbage (yum). There were plenty of leftovers which of course means Corned Beef Hash for breakfast!
Pretty simple: chop up potatoes and onions, fry in a bit of oil (cook these together and before you add the meat) until your onion are carmelized and your potatoes are crispy. Add a bit of garlic and the meat until warm and you're good to go!

The potatoes above are too big and there were too many and the meat was crispier than I would have liked as I threw it in the pan all at once. I think maybe smashing some of the potatoes would be tasty as well.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Banana Carrot Cookies

This recipe came from Angela off Facebook. I had 2 very ripe bananas so I decided to try her little creation. It’s just 2 ripe bananas, 2 carrots (I just used a bunch of baby carrot that I had), and 2 cups of flour in a food processor. 350 degrees for 12 minutes. They’re ORANGE cookies so a bit fun! Makes me want to make orange chocolate chip cookies! They are healthy, chewy, moist and taste like sweet potato. I’d make them again but I wouldn’t sell them at my bakery.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pound Cake Showdown!

As you can see from Kameran's post, we were all quite intrigued by the pound cake feature in this month's Martha Stewart Living. It was my turn to make pound cakes and since the article featured at least 8 different variations, I thought I'd try as many variations as I had ingredients for. I made the standard recipe for comparison, which can be found here. The recipe makes 2 standard loaves, so I decided to try four different variations. There was some math involved.

Since I only have one loaf pan, I baked the cakes in a muffin tin. I was worried they would dry out, but I watched the time carefully. It took about 15-20 minutes, depending on which variation. The variations with "stuff" added in (i.e. blueberries, raisins) took longer. The standard recipe made a total of 24 muffins, or 6 of each of the different variations. Perfect for sampling!

Classic Pound Cake

Nothing to say about this. Classic pound cake taste and not dry. I served this with a candied kumquat syrup I had in the fridge. Mmmm.

Blueberry Sour Cream

Very moist from the addition of sour cream. This was probably my favorite, but I also love blueberries. I did not make the lemon cream and didn't think it needed it.

Brown Sugar Walnut

Substitute brown sugar in place of white sugar. Fold in 2 cups toasted walnuts into batter before baking. (for 2 loaf recipe)

I think I baked this slightly too long. I had these in with the cinnamon raisin ones, which needed more time. Still tasty. It would taste even better with the maple syrup peach glaze outlined in the article, but I was lazy and didn't make it.

Cinnamon Raisin

Toss 2 cups raisins with 2 tablespoons flour, then fold into batter. Divide batter in half. In one half, mix 2 tablespoons cinnamon. Alternate adding scoops of each batter, then swirl with knife.


Still waiting for the verdict on which one is the winner...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Green Macaroni and Pound Cake

As of late, I have been slacking off on my cooking duties and Jonathan has been making most of the new recipes. I decided I would have something nice ready for dinner when Jonathan came home on Thursday. While stumbling along the internet, I found this recipe. It caught my eye for several reasons...
1. The blog is called "the food in my beard" which is wonderfully weird almost to the point of being gross.
2. Green? As in eco friendly? Or pesto-y? Either way, I'm game!
3. The picture of it looked awesome compared to the peanut butter and crackers I was having for dinner that night.
4. And I had a whole box of basil in my fridge that I was planning on using for pesto anyway.

I decided to change a few things: I had no fresh arugula, oregano or marjoram available to me, so I decided to just add lots of cilantro and a zucchini to the pesto mix instead (the food processor is a wonderful, wonderful thing!) I also added some grated parmesean. made ALOT.

For the cheese bechamel sauce I used monterey jack, provolone and parmesean and only used 3 cups of milk. I didn't know how I was going to fit all the pesto, all the cheese and all the pasta into our little 9x13" pan and I don't think bechamel freezes well.

So! In went both sauces, the pasta, some broccoli and kielbasa to round it all out and it just barely fit in the pan. Topped off with more parmesean and 30 minutes later...

...we had dinner!

I thought it was pretty tasty, though a little heavy as mac and cheese usually is. I loved that it has so many vegetables built in (zucchini, spinach, cilantro, broccoli crowns and stems and onion). I definitely would have added more sausage as it adds the extra protein and flavors. All in all, I would say I enjoyed the recipe very much (and the leftover pesto will make an appearance in pesto bread... (though possibly after the move).

Now onto Dessert!

Thanks to both Jen and Stephanie, this pound cake recipe is ultimately from Martha Stewart magazine. As Jonathan already had two dishes, I took over dessert responsibilities. I originally was going to make the toasted coconut and chocolate chip varieties, except that yours truly was retarded and got all the ingredients except for the coconut (quick! plan b!? what do I have in the fridge?) blueberries! eureka! blueberry almond pound cake!

So, after divying up the batter base into two parts, one half got 1 cup of chocolate chips and a quick mix, the other half got 1/2 teaspoon almond extract and a small clamshell of fresh blueberries. About 10 minutes after putting the loaves in the oven I was inspired by this morning's breakfast almond croissant to throw some slivered almonds on top.

I was pleased! The blueberries stayed fairly uniform throughout the batter and were nice and moist without staining the loaf. I would have added some more extract, maybe 3/4 tsp. or 1 tsp. instead. The almonds on top provided a nice contrasting texture. I think this loaf was my favorite.
Jonathan preferred the chocolate chip loaf, though I think it was missing something, maybe ice cream :). I was sad to find that the chips all mostly sunk to the bottom of the loaf. boo.

All in all, a successful weekend of cooking so far!


In looking for another dish to cook this week, I stumbled upon Ratatouille on Looking at it, it seemed simple enough. And of course after Ratatouille the movie, I had to try making it :P. Well the recipe again was just alright. I didn't have as much cheese as I would have liked for this recipe, but it was a nice way to have some roasted vegetables with dinner. The dish as it is would probably not stand on its own, but it is a great way to get your kids to eat vegetables if they liked the movie ;).

Cinnamon Pecan Monkey Bread

This month's King Arthur Flour catalog illustrated a mouth watering Sticky Bun. I knew I had to make it or something like it. I decided to go with the monkey bread approach. I researched a few recipes... Sticky Bun + Monkey Bread = Cinnamon Pecan Monkey Bread... maybe it is better termed Sticky Monkey Bread...

Due to time constraints this weekend, I took the lazy approach. I bought the dough at the store instead of making it from scratch. Turned out delicious and it was simple to make.

4 dinner roll packs cut into quarters (Next time I would use 3 packages. Four will fill the bundt pan but three is probably sufficient.)
1/2 cup corn syrup/maple syrup/honey (I used a mixture of maple syrup and honey.)
3 tbsp melted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup diced pecans
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

1. Grease bundt pan
2. Whisk melted butter with corn syrup/maple syrup/honey. Pour mixture into bundt pan.
3. Mix brown sugar and pecans. Sprinkle over pan.
4. Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
5. Roll dough into sugar and cinnamon mixture. Place dough lightly into pan.
6. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

the plant that keeps on giving

Last year we bought a big red tomato plant. We thought it died after the season was over but it keeps on giving us tomatoes. Yesterday I picked our first set of tomatoes of the season.

Chana Masala

With our recent trips to different Indian restaurants recently, I decided to try to make Chana Masala. I found a recipe off of which sounded pretty good. And then I did some more searching online and found a recipe off of to compare. Against my better judgment, I decided to use since there were reviews. I say against my better judgment because although I followed the recipe to a T, it was missing salt, which I had to add, some more water to cook the chickpeas (it definitely took longer than 10 minutes), and I think the potatoes that were used in the recipe at would have complemented the dish nicely. I think it was a good starting point overall, but could use some more work.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cherry Tomato Harvest

A few months ago I bought two tomato plants, a Cherokee Purple and a Sweet 100 cherry tomato. I was a bit of skeptic about buying cherry tomatoes, not usually being a fan of raw tomatoes (and how else do you eat cherry tomatoes but raw in a salad?) but my mom had been going on about her delicious Sun Gold cherry tomato and I was sold. Sadly, my cherokee purple has yet to bear anything more than pretty yellow blossoms but the sweet 100 is laden with small green fruits. Well, earlier this week they began to ripen!
They're delightful! I think I may have picked them a few days too early but they still had a nice firm texture and sweet light tomato flavor. I think when the rest are ready I will be popping them in like grapes until I overdose on lycopene.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Malted Milk Ball cookies

Because I couldn't get enough of Dorie Greenspan, I chose to make another of her recipes... this time it was Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops. There was a potluck at work and who can resist a childhood favorite like Whoppers?!

I lived on the dangerous side again, not testing the recipe before presenting it, but I wasn't too worried even if they turned out badly. I work with a bunch of fast food-eating, non-foodie guys so they're generally happy with anything I make.

It's a good thing there was no need to impress because I didn't feel that this recipe lived up to my expectations. It's quite possible that there was some operator error involved as I did tweak a few things, but I'm not sure that I would have liked the original version either.

The recipe called for 6 oz of semi-sweet chocolate chips, which was the same amount of Whoppers added to the mix. I didn't want the chocolate to overpower the malt flavor so I used less. What I should have done is increased the amount of Whoppers at the same time. Doh. I also couldn't find malted milk powder so I ended up Ovaltine. Other bloggers did this as well, but I felt it didn't give the dough a good malt flavor. Maybe because it was chocolate-flavored Ovaltine? These cookies had a cakey texture, which am I not overly fond of. The dough tasted like chocolate cake, with bits of caramelized sweetened candy dispersed randomly.

The work crowd liked them well enough, but they couldn't quite figure out the "mystery" ingredient. Someone guessed Honeycomb cereal. Really?! Um yeaaaah... more malt flavor next time!

If I make them again, this is what I'd do differently:
  • I'd use more Whoppers and less chocolate... probably close to a ratio of 4:1 (Whoppers : chocolate chips).

  • I'd try harder to find Carnation malted milk powder.

  • I'd bake them for slightly less. Mine were done around 11 minutes, but maybe next time I'd try 9-10 for a chewier texture.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Surati Farsan Mart

The J-Wongs + K were in town and we decided to check out one of the many restaurants on my "to-try" list, Surati Farsan Mart. It's located in a small shopping center off of Miramar and Black Mountain Road, surrounded by other Indian businesses. They serve Gujarathi food and the prices are very reasonable. We walked through the doors and quickly noticed we were the only non-Indian folks inside. Must be authentic! :)

The place is clean and the staff were very friendly, explaining what some of the items were and later asking if we enjoyed the food. It is casual and everything is served on disposable plates and bowls on plastic trays.

We had stopped in earlier in the week and grabbed a menu on the way out. Since we know very little about Indian food, Jon asked one of his Indian friends, who is from that region, to make some recommendations. We started with those:

Pani Puri ($3.50) - these were deep-fried pockets filled with a potato and bean mixture. Some kind of spicy mint syrup was served with it, which made the little puffs more delicious.

Bhel Puri ($3.50) - This tasted like puffed rice cereal mixed with cilantro, potatoes, onions, beans, and other spices. It was a tasty combination.

Masala Dosa ($3.99) - This is a thin rice crepe, wrapped around a spiced potato filling. It is served with a coconut chutney and a vegetable soup. I tried to eat some of the soup alone, but it was a bit too peppery for me. I was coughing.

Chole Samosa ($3.99) - This was my favorite, but I am a chickpea-lover. The bowl contained a spicy chickpea curry with 2 crispy vegetable samosas. I loved how the crispy samosas dissolved and softened into the warm curry.

K tried the Chai tea and enjoyed it. It tasted sweet but we were told there was no sugar added to it. There were some other interesting drinks on the menu, including one with lychee! Must try next time.

We were still game to try a couple more items so put in another order:

Khaman ($3.50) - This had an interesting flavor! Not at all what we expected it to taste like. I'm not sure what we expected but because of its plain appearance, I wasn't expecting something so flavorful. These are steamed squares made of chana flour and served with a green chutney.

Delhi Chaat ($3.99)- This was described as crushed fried whole wheat shells mixed with potatoes and beans. It had some kind of sweet and spicy sauce mixed into it and was topped with yogurt. It was good, but I liked the other dishes better.

With a spread like this, we had to try a few desserts! We had no idea what to order, but Jon and Kameran talked to an Indian woman in line who gave her recommendations. This is what we ended up with:

I'm not completely sure about the names of the things we had but my guess is that we tried a dried fruit barfi, bundi ladoo, mango barfi, sutar feni barfi, jalebi, and barfi.

Overall, we were not fans of the desserts. I think they are spiced too differently from what we're used to. The two must-haves that everyone seemed to be eating were the regular barfi and jalebi. Sadly, I probably liked these the least. The caradamom in the barfi overwhelmed me and tasted too strong. The jalabi, which was fried dough in a sugary syrup was far too sweet for me. My favorite was probably the dried fruit barfi... it was simple and not too sweet. The desserts weren't necessarily bad, just not for me.

Our overall experience at Surati Fusan Mart was positive. I'd definitely come back to eat and try more of the numerous items on the menu. I'll just skip the desserts next time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

At last, World Peace is mine!

I had been wanting to make these cookies for quite some time, after reading about them on several blogs. Who can forget a name like "World Peace Cookies"? When a friend's birthday came up and he requested "anything chocolate", I knew we had a winner!

I'm always reluctant to give away treats without a "test run" first, but with so many positive reviews, I didn't think it would be a problem. I'm glad I was right. These were a big hit at the party and with the birthday boy. I only wish I had made more...

They have a rich, dark chocolate taste. I found them sandy in texture -- not quite cakey, chewy or even fudgy (I was reminded of pecan sandies). I used 72% dark chocolate from Trader Joe's and normal sea salt because I couldn't find fleur de sel. The dough does have a tendency to crumble a bit when slicing but no fear, it was easy enough to push back together.

You can find the recipe here.
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