Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rustic Lemon Cake

One of my most favorite lemon recipes (besides the Extra Tart Lemon Bar Recipe I posted previously), is this Rustic Lemon Cake made with cornmeal.  The cornmeal gives the cake a slightly "rougher" texture, which goes nicely with the sugary glaze.

You can make these in small individual mini-bundt pans, or just use one large 12-cup (standard sized) bundt pan.  Make sure you grease and flour the pan generously, so that it turns out of the pan smoothly.

Rustic Lemon Cake:
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 c.)
1 3/4 c. sugar
zest of 3-4 lemons
1/4 c. lemon juice
4 eggs
1 c. plain non-fat yogurt

Lemon glaze:
1/2 c. lemon juice
1 c. sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a bundt pan.  (I used a mini-bundt pan and a 9-inch round cake pan instead today.)

2.  Sift flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3.  Cream the butter, sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice.  Gradually beat in each egg, 1 egg at a time.

4.  Add the yogurt to the butter mixture.

5.  Working in 3 batches, add the flour, mixing on low speed until combined.

6.  Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan, and smooth down with a rubber spatula.

7.  Bake for approximately 1 hour, until done.  If using a mini-bundt pan & a 9-inch round cake pan (instead of the standard bundt), bake 25-30 minutes until done.  Cool in pan 5 minutes before inverting onto a serving platter.

8.  To make the lemon glaze, mix sugar into the lemon juice.  The sugar crystals will not fully dissolve.

9.  Drizzle lemon glaze onto the hot cake with a spoon, a little at a time.  Serve when the cake has cooled to room temperature.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Copycat of Cheesecake Factory's Pasta Da Vinci

A few days ago, my friend Christina introduced me to the Cheesecake Factory's Pasta Da Vinci.  I can't believe I've never tried it before!  If you've been to the Cheesecake Factory, you know how long and overwhelming their menu is - so I guess that explains why I've always overlooked it when browsing the pages and pages of their menu.

This time, I ordered the Pasta Da Vinci (without onions, of course, as I've never been a huge fan of onions in pasta).  It was soooooooo good!  I immediately wanted it again, but the nearest Cheesecake Factory is a 45 minute drive, and I didn't think I could convince my husband to go there on a weeknight.  Sigh.

So this craving led to an internet search for a copycat recipe.  I found two recipes that looked promising:  this one, which called for heavy cream and button mushrooms, and this one, which called for even more heavy cream AND sour cream, and the use of canned or dehydrated mushrooms.  Remembering back, I am quite certain that no button mushrooms were in my plate of pasta, nor were there any canned or re-hydrated mushrooms.  I'm pretty sure that the Cheesecake Factory uses fresh shitake mushrooms.  Also, while I wanted a creamy texture, all the extra heavy cream and sour cream just seemed like overkill - the dish just didn't seem quite that "heavy" to me.

In the end, I used the two copycat recipes as a starting point, but made some changes to make the pasta more similar to what I remembered:

Mika's version of Pasta Da Vinci:
2 cups penne pasta, uncooked
5 chicken tenders
1 1/2 c. shitake mushrooms (3.5 oz)
1/4 c. chopped red onions (optional)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 T. canola oil
1 T. olive oil
1 c. Madeira wine
2 T. unsalted butter
1 T. flour
1/2 c. half and half
1/4 c. water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 T. parsley
3 T. grated parmesan cheese

1.  Slice 3.5 oz of shitake mushrooms (approximately 1 1/2 cups), discarding stems.

2.  Slice the chicken tenders into bite sized pieces, discarding any tendons or cartilage.

3.  Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.  Once boiling, add the 2 c. uncooked penne pasta, and set timer to 9 minutes.  When done, drain the pasta and set aside.

4.  Add 1/2 T. olive oil and 1/2 T. canola oil to a large cast iron skillet, and heat on medium high.  Add the mushrooms to the pan, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  (If you choose to add onions, you could add 1/4 c. chopped red onions at this point.)  Saute the mushrooms until golden brown, then remove from the pan and set aside.

5.  Add the remaining oil to the pan, and add the chicken.  Season chicken with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Saute until golden brown, then set aside with the cooked mushrooms.

6.  Add the butter to the pan, and allow to melt.  Meanwhile, scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.  (The brown bits that you are now scraping up will help flavor the sauce.)

7.  Add the flour to the butter, cook and stir for 1 minute to create a roux.  (This will help thicken the sauce for the pasta).

8.  Turn off the heat.  Add the half and half and the Madeira.  Once the sizzling has subsided, turn the stove back on and heat to a gentle simmer.  You must cook this for several minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate and to allow the flavor of the sauce to develop.

9.  After 2-3 minutes, taste the sauce, and if it seems too strong, add 1/4 c. water.  Add a little extra salt and pepper if needed.  Add the mushrooms and chicken back into the pan, and simmer 1-2 more minutes.

10.  Add the pasta into the pan, and stir.  Allow the pasta to heat for 1 minute, then turn off the heat and stir in the parsley and parmesan.

This made about 3 dinner sized servings - perfect as a dinner for two - and lunch for one the next day.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spam Again? This time, Harumaki.

What is Harumaki?  It's a Japanese Spring Roll.  And what would a Mika recipe be without the use of Spam?  Haha!  Now that I'm on a Spam kick, I seem to be finding myself using it in everything pork-related these days... 

Spam Harumaki:
1 can Spam Lite 
9 oz raw pork loin (2 small pork loins, fat trimmed off)
1 c. shitake mushrooms
1 can (8 oz) bamboo shoots
3 stalks green onions
1 1/2 T. soy sauce
2 T. sugar
1 T. sesame oil
2 T. potato starch
2 T. water
1 pkg. spring roll wrappers

1.  Finely slice shitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and green onions.
2.  Put spam and raw pork into work bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until finely ground.
3.  Heat 1 T. canola oil in a large wok.  Cook the spam and pork on medium high heat until fully cooked.
4.  Add the shitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, soy sauce, and sugar, cook for 2-3 minutes.  

5.  Mix the potato starch into water, and add to the wok, cook 1 more minute.
6.  Allow the harumaki filling to cool to room temperature.

7.  To fill the spring roll wrappers, lay one sheet out on a cutting board.  Wet the edges of the wrapper with water, all the way around the perimeter.
8.  Place 2 T. of filling into one corner.  Fold the bottom up over the filling.  Fold the sides of the wrapper inward, and roll upwards across the cutting board.
9.  Heat about 2 inches of canola oil in a small saucepan.  (You will want to leave the burner on medium to medium high heat.)

10.  Fry 3 harumaki at a time, 2-3 minutes, until golden brown.  Drain on a metal  rack over paper towels.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Apple Pie Amalgam

On Easter Sunday, we decided to take a day trip out to the historic mountain town of Julian, about 1.5 hours East of San Diego and just West of the Anza Borrego Desert.  If you haven't heard of Julian - well, they are pretty famous for their apple pie. 

The Julian Pie Company's Dutch Apple Pie is one of my favorites, and we never leave the town of Julian without purchasing one to take home.  Unfortunately, we arrived to find the Julian Pie Company closed for Easter.  Since I couldn't have the real thing, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to see if I could duplicate the recipe at home.

I found a recipe online for Julian Pie Company Apple Pie (not sure if it is the original, but you have to start somewhere...).  The recipe stated to just use a "pie crust", but no specific mention of a pie crust recipe.  Hmm... 

As a side note, my other favorite "apple pie" is an Alton Brown recipe ("Free-form apple pie") from his book, "I'm just here for more food; food x mixing + heat = baking".  It's not really a "pie" - more of a galette, but it's really good.  The texture of the crust is a little "toothy" - it's tender with a little bit of "bite" to it. 

I decided to use Alton Brown's crust recipe (with a few modifications) with the Julian Pie Company's crumb topping recipe, and make my own amalgam of Apple Pie.  I was very pleased with the results, and I think I now have my new favorite apple pie recipe...

Dutch Apple Pie:
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 c. flour
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. cornmeal
3 T. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2-3 T. cold water
3 granny smith apples
3 golden delicious apples
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 T. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. lemon juice
Crumb Topping:
3/4 c. unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 c. sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Prepare the crust.  Pulse the butter and all dry ingredients in a food processor until the texture of coarse crumbs.  Add 2 T. of water and pulse a few times.  If the mixture is too dry, add an additional T. of water.  Pulse until a dough-like consistency.   Shape the dough into a flat disk, and put in a ziploc bag and refrigerate until ready to roll out.

3.  Peel the apples and core.  Cut the peeled apples into small slices, and combine with sugar, cinnamon, flour, salt, and lemon juice.  My recipe calls for 1/2 granny smith (tart), and 1/2 golden delicious (sweet) - but you can go with any apple that you prefer.

4.  Roll out the crust between 2 large pieces of waxed paper.

5.  Peel one side of the waxed paper off gently, and flip the pie crust down onto a 9 inch pie plate.  Gently peel off the other side of the waxed paper.

6.  Easy the sides of the pie crust into the pie pan, making sure the dough lies flat against the corners without any air space underneath.

7.  Roll and pinch the edges of the dough into pleats - work your way around the edge of the crust until you have a nice fluted edge.  It's actually a lot easier to do this than it looks.

8.  Pour the apple mixture into the unbaked pie crust, and level the apples all the way out to the edges.  It's ok if the apples are slightly mounded in the middle.

9.  Prepare the crumb topping.  Pulse all crumb topping ingredients in a food processor until the texture resembles very coarse crumbs, similar to couscous.  Don't go overboard, otherwise the crumbs will form into a dough ball - and it's the crumb texture that you want.

10.  Gently spread the crumb topping over the apples until well coated.  Place the pie pan on top of a cookie sheet lined with foil (this is to catch any juices that bubble up out of the pie while baking).

11.  Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour.

12.  Cool thoroughly before slicing, otherwise the juices will run out of the pie, and you will end up with soggy slices that don't hold up.

13.  You can keep the pie stored at room temperature for a few days, covered with plastic wrap.

This is great served a la mode with a great big scoop of french vanilla ice cream.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cheddar-Herb Beer Bread

A few days ago, I went to lunch at my friend Maria's house to meet up with some old friends that I hadn't seen for a long time... it was a blast!  When you combine great food with good friends, time just flies by, and before we knew it... it was 5 hours later!  Maria served a wonderful beer bread with lunch - it was sweet and savory, yet buttery at the same time.  It was really good!

This afternoon, as I was strolling down the baking aisle at the market, a beer bread mix caught my eye.  But oh my - it was $6.99!  $6.99 for what was essentially some flour mixed with leaveners and flavorings (you still had to add your own beer) seemed outrageous to me, when sitting not even 2 feet away was a 5 pound package of self-rising flour for only $1.79.  I was not about to buy the rip-off mix, so instead, I bought the 5 pound bag of Gold Medal Self-rising flour.

I'm not a big beer drinker, so I wasn't sure what type of beer to get.  I settled on Corona, because I figured I could use it as a marinade later for chicken.  The flavor of the bread tasted good to me, but I'd imagine that stronger beers would carry more specific flavors into the final product.  I would go with a mild beer if you typically don't drink beer.

Cheddar-Herb Beer Bread:
2 2/3 c. self-rising flour
12 oz. can/bottle beer
4 T. sugar
1 tsp. chopped herbs
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Lightly grease a loaf pan with butter or baking spray.

2.  Sift self-rising flour and sugar.  Stir in the grated cheese.

3.  Chop about 1 tsp. of your favorite herbs.  I used a tiny sprig of fresh rosemary and a few sprigs of french thyme, picked fresh from my patio herb garden.   Stir chopped herbs into the flour/cheese mixture.

Any herbs like sage, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, or chives will do.  You can probably use dried herbs, but I would cut back to about 1/2 tsp., and make sure you crush them with your fingers before adding to the flour.

4.  Add one 12 oz. bottle or can of your favorite beer to the dry ingredients.  Stir until just combined.  (Do not over-mix or the bread will turn out tough instead of light and fluffy.)

5.  Scrape the dough into the prepared loaf pan and smooth down out to the edges.  Pour 1/4 c. melted butter over the top of the dough.

6.  Bake for 45 - 55 minutes, remove when done.  Let cool for 5 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool.  Serve warm.
So in honor of my Math Teacher friends that I had lunch with that day, some basic math:

A 5 pound bag of flour has roughly 20 cups.  So I could make this recipe about 7.5 times with my $1.79 bag of self-rising flour.  That's about $0.24 of flour per loaf.  I buy unsalted butter for $1.99 per pound on sale, and store it in the freezer.  So that's about $0.25 worth of butter.  The beer was $6.99 for a 6 pack ($1.17 per beer).  I get a 2 pound chunk of (black label) Tillamook extra sharp Cheddar at Costco for about $10.00, which I then grate and store in 1 c. portions in the freezer in ziploc bags.  It works out to about $0.77 per cup of grated cheese.  The herbs were free, and the amount of sugar so minuscule that I won't even factor it into the cost.

Total, $2.43 for my version, including the beer.  Sure, if I bought the mix, it might have been a little bit easier.  But how much effort does it take to put 2 2/3 cup of flour + a few spoons of sugar into a bowl?  That's essentially what was in the mix.  Comparing my homemade version at $2.43 to the rip-off mix (plus cost of beer) at $8.16... I'm glad that I went the homemade route.