Orange Almond Cake

I’m naturally attracted to any recipe that starts with boiling 2 oranges for 2 hours and then blitzting them skin, pith and all. My catnip is everyday ingredients used in unusual ways. This Claudia Rogen cake is a famous cake- it routinely makes the lists of world’s best cakes and I think that is partly due to the ingredients and partly due to the texture of the final cake. This cake has a very delicate but dense sponge- the almond flour becomes drier and more “orangey” the next day. I generally serve it with whipped cream mixed with a tbsp of orange zest.

Start by boiling 2 clean oranges for 2 hours or as I did pressure cook the 2 oranges for 40 minutes. The pectin becomes all gelatinous then- think marmalade. Cool oranges- cut down the center- remove seeds and blitz to a fine puree.

Next- heat oven to 375F. Prep a 9 inch pan- the recipe suggests a round pan with a springiform bottom, I used a 9×9 inch square pan and lots of parchment. This is a delicate cake- prepping the pan is essential. In a large bowl- whisk 6 large eggs with 250g sugar till the sugar is all dissolved (I used my stand mixer and it took about 4 minutes on medium). Add 250 g of almond flour and 1 tsp of baking powder. Mix well till mixture is homogenous. Add orange puree and pour the mixture (it will be fairly liquid) into the prepared pan. Bake at 375F for 45 minutes and start testing till a skewer comes out clean. It took 55 minutes in my oven. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes and then remove and cool on rack.

Serve with berries, cream, candied oranges – think of it as a pudding rather than a cake. It makes for an unusual end to a dinner party and it is delicious.

Spicy corn soup in coconut milk

I’m always on the lookout for corn recipes. When people ask me why I live in Nebraska (and they ask me that a lot), I always tell them the corn is superb in summer. This recipe is delicious and feels great on the palate. The spiciness of the jalapeno is balanced by the creaminess of the coconut milk. The recipe is based off this NYT Sarah Jampel recipe. It’s vegan if you skip the butter and use oil.

Remove kernels from 5 corn cobs. With all due respect to Alton, this unitasker is essential in my kitchen. I love this corn stripper. In a large pot, add 2 tbsp of butter and about half a cup of finely diced red onion. Cook gently till the onions are golden brown and very soft (about 10-15 min). Add 1 tbsp of grated ginger and 1 tbsp of finely chopped garlic and 1 finely chopped jalapeno. Cook for 30 seconds. Add 2 large russet potatoes diced into inch dices (about 2 cups). Add 4 cups of vegetable broth ( I use better than bouillon). Boil for 10 minutes till potatoes are tender. Add 1 15 oz can of full fat coconut milk and add the corn kernels and boil for another 5 minutes or so.

Serve with a huge squeeze of lemon in each bowl and finely chopped cilantro. Finely chopped peanuts would be good as would more chillies.. I added rice noodles to each bowl to make it a complete meal.

Socca with Chickpea Salsa (from Ottolenghi)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes appeal to me as a scientist- they are precise, use ingredients in ways that I’ve never used before and always deliver. For example- this recipe has 1/2 of a spring onion and 2 slices of lemon diced up small (pith and all). I’ve made socca before- it is a French-Moroccan chickpea crepe. Indians are very familiar with besan or chickpea flour and the alchemy of deliciouness when it is fried. But this recipe finally showed me why people rhapsodize about socca. Now I know what to expect when I finally visit the French riviera. The recipe is based off this Guardian recipe.

For the socca batter- In a 10 inch non stick oven safe pan- add 90 ml of olive oil and 3 finely diced shallots (or half of a large red onion diced) and cook over medium heat stirring every few minutes for 15-20 minutes till golden brown and very soft. Cool for 10 minutes. Whisk 150 g of chickpea flour, 370 ml of water, 1/2 tsp of baking powder together till smooth. Add 100 gm of cooked chickpeas (tinned or pressure cooked for 15 minutes after soaking for 12 hours), 1 tsp of fresh thyme, zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Add the cooled oil and onion mixture and let the batter rest for 30 minutes. It will thicken up some.

For the chickpea salsa- To 100 g of cooked chickpeas, add 1 tsp of finely chopped rosemary, 1/2 tbsp of finely chopped parsley, 1/2 a clove of garlic (yes finely chopped or grated), 1/2 a spring onion (also finely chopped), salt, pepper and 60 ml of good olive oil. Squeeze the juice from the lemon you had zested into the bowl. Take another lemon and slice off 2 thin slices from the middle. Remove the seeds and finely chop the 2 lemon slices- pith and all and add to the salsa. Crush the chickpeas slightly so all of the flavors meld together and let it hang out.

Cook the socca-This is slightly tedious and requires trips to the oven and stove and back- this is a restaurant quality dish though.Heat oven to 350F. Wipe down the 10 inch oven proof non stick skillet and heat a tbsp of oil. Add 1/4 of the batter (about a cup or so) to the skillet. Cook stovetop for a minute or two and then in the oven for 5-6 minutes till the top is set and then back on stovetop- flip and cook another 3 minutes till the top is charred and the bottom is crispy and golden brown.

Split into quarters and serve with salsa. This is a truly outstanding dish. The next time- I will use 2 pans to alternate oven and stove to make dinner quicker.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake by Alton Brown

This is my favorite cake (and husband’s favorite cake) from my favorite baking book – Alton Brown’s I’m just here for more food. I’ve made it for countless dinners and potlucks over the last 15 years- it is always a hit. Two things to remember- a cast iron pan is essential as is the pineappe in heavy syrup. Fresh pineapple and pineapple in juice will work in a pinch but the cake won’t be glorious. Cast iron pans are cheap and last for ever and are totally worth it. For the perfect toffee bottom and the delicious sponge on top- you need the cast iron pan and the pineapple in syrup

Preheat oven to 350F. Melt 1 stick of butter (8 tbsp) in a 10 inch cast iron pan and 1 cup of dark brown sugar together. It melts in about 5 minutes. Don’t burn this. Then scatter the pineapple pieces from 1 can of pineapple chunks in heavy syrup on top. Scatter 1/4 cups of chopped walnuts on top too along with 3 tbsp of the pineapple juice from the can. If you like- add a few maraschino cherries here and there. I skip those. This is the “top” of your upside down cake. Try to get the pineapple and the nuts in one layer so they will all get candied.

Wet ingredients: Whisk 3 eggs, 5 tbsp of pineapple juice and 1 cup of white granulated sugar till the sugar dissoves. Dry ingregients: Mix 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1 tsp of baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt

Mix the wet and dry together till they just come together- an occasional lump is fine. Dump batter into the cast iron pan. The butter will float to the top. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean and the internal temp should be 210F.

I’m all for instant gratification but this cake needs about 10 minutes for the hot sugar and butter to cool down. Invert on a cake platter and eat vast quantities of it with joy.

Marathi Amti (dal)

There is a misconception that Indian food is tedious and takes forever to make. This is not true- Indians cook quick food all the time at home. This is my standard dal – to be served with rice and a vegetable side or raita. A quick healthy protein rich dinner.

Pressure cook 1/2 cup of toor dal for 10 minutes in 3 cups of water till the dal is soft.

Make the tadka- in 1 tbsp of oil, add 1/2 tsp of jeera (cumin) seeds, when they sputter, add in quick succession- a pinch of asafetida, 1/2 tsp of turmeric, 1/2 tsp of red chilli powder and 3-5 torn kadipatta leaves.

Add dal and about a cup or so of water- less if you like it thick. The Marathi Amti (dal) is thinner than north indian dals. Add cilantro (about 2-3 tbsp chopped) and maybe one jalapeno and salt (about 1/2 tsp). Simmer for 10 minutes. Top with ghee just before serving if you wish.

Another spinach and artichoke pasta

The large bag of prewashed babyspinach was a revelation when I moved to the USA- spinach without the dirt, the bugs, the need to remove large veins- it was wonderful. Despite my environmental concerns- it’s been a grocery staple ever since. The Monterey farms grilled artichoke hearts are not always available, but when they are, I always buy extra and freeze them. They are fantastic. I’m all for shortcuts that taste as good as the real thing

For this pasta- prep work involves crushing and peeling 3-4 cloves of garlic and opening up packets. My favorite sauces cook in the time required to boil water and cook the pasta. This makes it a perfect lunch or weeknight dinner pasta.

First – boil some water for the pasta and in another pan, heat about a tbsp of butter – add the 3-4 crushed garlic cloves as the butter heats up. No need to peel them. Dump the entire large bag of spinach in the hot butter and wilt those leaves. Next blend the spinach, the garlic cloves with a cup of vegetable stock (I used better than bouillon- my current base of choice).

In the same pan, add another tbp of butter and brown the chopped grilled artichoke hearts. Add a glug of wine to deglaze the pan and then pour the spinach mixture back. Add the pasta to the now boiling water. Simmer the sauce for the 10-12 minutes it takes to cook the pasta. Finish the sauce with some cream and some more butter if you are feeling decadent. Taste for salt and pepper.

This tastes delicious with parmesan but I served it today topped with some dollops of ricotta, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Coconut Chutney

This is my standard coconut chutney. My Tamilian friend Meena shared this recipe with me years ago. The frozen coconut and the Vitamix makes this recipe very easy.

In your vitamix- blend 200 mg of fresh coconut (the pitaya brand of frozen coconunt for smoothies is the best frozen coconut I’ve ever used) and a handful of cashews (about 1/4 cup) with about half a cup of cilantro, 1-2 jalapenos, 1/4 tsp or so of salt and enough hot water (about 1/4 cup) to blend to a smooth paste.

Top with tadka- heat 1-2 tbsp of oil and 1/2 tsp of mustard seeds till they sputter. Add a big pinch of asafetida, 1/2 tsp of turmeric, 5-7 torn kadipatta leaves and 2-3 torn dried red chillies. Taste for salt.

American Sandwich Bread from Bread Illustrated

I’ve spoken before of my love for Bread Illustrated, one of my favorite bread books. Others bake sourdough- I don’t, I worry about mold and other bacteria in the “mother”. So I stick to dried yeasts. This is a good intermediate bread to start with. It is also delicious- the honey makes it very slightly sweet. I’ve always used a stand mixer for this- I guess you could do it by hand and use the same gluten development tests I talk about. You need a 81/2 by 41/2 inch loaf pan and high gluten bread flour for this recipe. An instant read thermometer is ideal.

Weigh out/measure the wet and dry ingredients. The wet ingredients measure well by volume, the flour not so much- weighing it is best.

Dry ingredients: In the bowl of a stand mixer- weigh out 13.75 oz of bread flour (2 and half cups) with 2 tsp instant yeast and 1.5 tsp kosher salt

Wet ingredients: Mix 6oz whole milk (3/4 cup) and 2.66 oz water (1/3 cup) and 2 tsp of melted unsalted butter and 2 tbsp of honey. Get this to room temperature and dissolve the honey well

Mix: Add wet ingredients to dry and mix with a dough hook. Start slow and go to medium speed. It takes about 8 minutes. Do the window test- see if you can spread a golf ball sized dough piece enough to allow light to shine through it- if the dough tears- you need more gluten development and knead for 2 more minutes. The dough should be smooth and clear the sides of the bowl- if it sticks to the bottom of the mixer- that is ok.

Proof 1: Take dough out of mixer and knead gently into a round smooth ball. Proof in a oiled covered container. A square container with volume markings helps you measure the “doubling in size”. This takes about 2 hours at 85F and will take longer if your home is cooler (I have a proofing setting in my oven)

Proof 2: Grease your loaf pan. Remove dough on lightly floured surface and flatten gently into an 8 inch by 6 inch rectangle. Roll tighly to form an 8 inch cylinder. Pinch the seams and drop into your loaf pan for the second proof. Cover with oiled plastic film till the bread rises a inch above the lip of the loaf pan and if you indent the dough with a knuckle, it barely bounces back

Bake: Spritz with water or brush top of loaf with water and bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, rotating the loaf once midway. The bread is done when the top is golden brown and the temperature of the loaf reads between 205-210F. Let loaf cool in pan for 15 minutes and then on a wire rack for 2-3 hours before slicing.

Green Beans and Tofu Skins with Rice Sticks

Mark Bittman is my favorite food writer. I recently came across a 2007 column of his (I do miss the Minimalist) in which he ,very sensibly, talked about using more veggies and less noodles while cooking. So when I saw the vegan recipe he described, I immediately ordered tofu skins (which I’ve never cooked with) and rice sticks off the internet. Like all Bittman recipes, this one is a masterclass in simplicity of techniques and strength of flavors. I did double the rice noodles and added more soy sauce that he calls for. Simply fabulous! I bet this will be even better with haricot verts.

First boil some water and soak 4 oz of tofu skins (10 min) and 4-8 oz of thick rice sticks (20 minutes).

In a pan- heat 2 tbsp of regular oil and 2 tbsp of sesame oil. Fry up 2 tbsp of chopped ginger and 1-2 chopped green chillies for a few seconds. Add a pound of green beans (I used frozen) and cook covered for 10 mintues or so. Add tofu skins cut into strips if they are wide. Cook for 5 mintues or so covered. Add rice noodles and 2-4 tbsp of soy sauce. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with chopped green chillies in vinegar.

Sweet and Sour Eggplant with garlic chips

Eggplant when fried slowly becomes luxurious and soft and full of flavor. This takes time- but it is always worth it. This recipe combines the best of Thai and Vietnamese flavors. The herbs are essential . My recipe is based off this Su Li recipe from the NYT.

First make the garlic chips. I’ve made these in the microwave before which is easier but you don’t get the garlic flavored oil to fry the eggplant in. So add 1/4 cup of a neutral oil to a 10 inch non stick skillet. Add 4-5 cloves of thinly sliced garlic and simmer on low heat till they just start turning brown (they will cook further as you take them out and they burn very fast). Inevitably you will cut some garlic chips thinner and will have to triage the situation and fish those out sooner.

Next- fry up about inch size cubes of a pound of eggplant in batches. I used 2 small purple ones. I peel the eggplants but you don’t have to, especially if you have the thin skinned Japanese kind. When you start frying the eggplant- it will soak up all the oil like a sponge- which is a bit scary. Keep at it- medium heat, turn the pieces frequently, the eggplant is done when it is a beautifully caramelized brown and the oil has returned back to the pan. This takes 15-20 minutes per batch (so start with a bigger skillet). You can stop at this step and keep the fried eggplant and garlic for several hours (or even days)

If you have fried the eggpant in batches, add them all back to the pan and add the sauce. The sauce is 3 tbsp of soy sauce, 2 tbsp of light brown sugar, 1 tsp of chilli flakes and 1 tbsp of rice vine or any stronger vingegar. The sauce will become thick and gooey in a minute or two and you are done.

Top with a cup and half of herbs (I used a mixture of cilantro, parsley and mint) and the garlic chips. Serve over rice noodles or rice.