Tuesday, May 12, 2009

for my mom - carrot cake

i really love cake (i know, shocker given the title of my blog). i love decorating cakes and turning simple yellow butter cakes and rich, dark chocolate cakes into mini-mastepieces, dressing them up with buttercream basket-weaves and sugar-flowers. i love piping elaborate designs onto a flat canvass of icing and i could literally spend hours jst decorating and drawing and creating. fancy cakes are my favourite, and quite frankly, my specialty. but every now and then, i get the urge to make something a bit more rustic, more rough around the edges, less polished, more plain and simple.

well it doesn't get much simpler than Dr. Weil's carrot cake which i made for my beautiful mother on mother's day. a few very basic, very simple, healthy ingredients blend together to create a really great cake that you cannot feel bad about eating because there's really nothing bad in it (unless you consider honey to be bad which i don't, especially because it's natural and rich and because i only use organic, unpasteurized honey).

my mom has been a long-time fan of Dr. Weil. for those of you who have not heard of him, he is an allopathic physician who is also trained in many different complementary medical techniques and practices. he takes a very holistic approach to health care and has been on the natural-health bandwagon for decades, long before the rest of the world joined in on the natural, holistic health care fun. anyway, i'll let you read more about him here if you'd like. his website is great but obviously i'm most interested in the Dr. Weil's Healthy Kitchen section wher he offers up some really nutrient-dense recipes. i first tried his carrot cake recipe about 5 years ago and it was a big hit. i remember getting several requests from friends and acquaintances- in fact, it was the first time i actually made a cake to order, for a fee :o) now, i'm fuzzy on the details, but for some reason i didn't try making this recipe again for years, but when trying to come up with a good mother's day gift this year, i remembered how much my mom loved this cake and thought it would go along well with the orchid and the new book that i bought for her.

this cake is unpretentious. it does not try to be something it is not. it does not try to be one of those cream-cheese frosting laden show-stoppers with marzipan carrots and dense, spicey, sweet layers. this is more of a snacking cake, perfect for breakfast or with some tea. as i said, i made this for my mom but i think it was actually my sister who ate most of it.

i can't blame her, it was pretty irresistable.

Carrot Cake (recipe courtesy of Dr. Weil's Healthy Kitchen)

2 cups firmly packed finely grated carrots
juice of 1 large orange
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup light olive oil
1 cup honey, liquefied in microwave (30 seconds)
1/2 cup crushed or chopped pineapple, drained
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

preheat oven to 350°F. in a mixing bowl, stir together the carrots, orange juice, vanilla, olive oil, honey, and pineapple until well blended. in another bowl, stir together the flours, baking soda, and spices. mix in the walnuts.

blend the dry ingredients into the carrot mixture, stirring until just mixed. pour the batter into a nonstick 8-inch-square baking pan and bake for 45-60 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. remove from oven, let cool slightly, and remove from pan.

i love this recipe. i'm a huge fan of the use of olive oil, especially since it's such a minimal amount. the walnuts give this cake a real omega-3 kick, and the lack of any dairy and eggs means that the cholesterol count for this one is zero.

also, don't be afraid of the large amount of honey here. in my opinion, honey has a richer flavour than sugar, but it is not as sweet. that means that this cake is really not too sweet at all. in fact, i ended up drizzling a combination of icing sugar and lemon juice over the top of the cake for some extra sweetness. and you're going to get a good 12-16 servings out of this recipe meaning 1-2 tablespoons of honey per serving, max. the honey also helps to keep the cake moist.

ps - it's ok to have a bite with a touch of butter

happy new year!

sri lankan new year that is - actually, it was sri lankan new year over a month ago but i didn't get a chance to write about this because of all the hoopla with my cat. anyway, i'm not entirely sure about the history behind sri lankan new year but i believe it has something to do with the end of the harvest and the movement of the sun from the House of Aries to the House of Pices. monsoon season also begins around this time of year which symbolizes regrowth and renewal.
it's a pretty holiday in sri lanka and i'm sure the towns are decorated with laterns and lights and the people are all eating the numerous new year's treats.

i know that i have spoken of kiribath before. it is a heavenly combination of rice and coconut milk with a touch of salt added for flavour. kiribath translates directly from sinhalese to milk (kiri) rice (bath - pronounced 'buth') and it is made on auspicious occasions such as new year's day and the first day in a new house. we wanted to make this all those weeks ago when we thought Mac would be home from the hospital to celebrate new year's with us. well, that obviously didn't happen, and so we had to wait for the next best occassion to make it - another 'new year' celebration.

Wesak is the Buddhist name given to the full moon day in May. this is the day that the Buddha is believed to have become enlightened. it is a very special day for Buddhists around the world and it is certainly considered to be an auspicious occasion, similar to new year's. Wesak this year fell on Friday, May 8th. Mac returned home a week earlier. the rice was washed, the coconut milk purchased, the stars were aligning - it was finally time, for kiribath.

kiribath is best when made with starchy rice so that it thickens up well. use 1 part of short grain white rice to 2 parts liquid. i use half coconut milk and half water. add a pinch of salt and cook over medium heat until the mixture is thick and the rice is tender. kiribath is really just a very thick rice pudding, so once most of the liquid has been absorbed, remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for a few minutes to cool. after about 10 minutes, spread the mixture onto a plate or a platter. it should be about 1 1/2 inches thick. once it has cooled completely, cut it into squares.
kiribath is typically served with lunu miris and hakuru (palm treacle/syrup that has been formed into a hard ball - think about the best brown sugar you have ever had and then imagine in a million times better!).
it is honestly one my favourite things to eat, in the world. i could live off of this stuff...

white chocolate

i just wanted to announce my love for white chocolate and to show you what my typical white chocolate stash looks like on any given day. clearly, Lindt is my favourite, particularly because they never try and sell "white confection" or any white chocolate flavoured product -just pure cocoa butter, milk solids and sugar. YUM. i also don't enjoy white chocolate mixed with any kind of fruit - not my thing.

among Lindt's various white chocolate offerings, my favourite is probably the white chocolate truffle with the soft, buttery center. it melts in your mouth and it's really just the best thing...

ok, just wanted to put that out there. I LOVE WHITE CHOCOLATE.

lunch time! summer pea and spinach soup

i love martha stewart. i have always loved her. many young women who strive to be domestic godesses seem to reject the structure and poise that embodies martha stewart. they identify more with people like nigella lawson who breaks almost all the rules in the kitchen and rarely follows a strict recipe. she is the anti-martha and young women who feel shackled by the rules and regulations of the martha stewart era embrace nigella with a sense of power and determination that i've never really understood.

the thing is, martha stewart is so many good things - she worked her way to the top on her own, turning what she learned during her undergraduate degree into a multi-billion dollar business. she is a wonderful teacher, an exceptional role model for young women (except for that whole blackmail/stock fraud/jail thing), and a real, true inspiration. in fact, the whole scandal thing has made her all the more endearing to me because she has proven that successful people can make huge mistakes, suffer through months of very public embarrassment and still come out standing on top. people seem to think that she takes herself too seriously and that she follows the rules to the T, but anyone who has ever really stopped to watch martha will realize that she is just a strong woman who finds humour in the silly things that men do, who really honestly wants to make cakes that look like gardens because she thinks they're cute and she has fun doing it, and who love, love, loves her animals. she also really loved her mom, which i love. her little polish mother was always featured on the original Martha Stewart Living show and after her death in 2007, it's so obvious how much martha misses her presence in general, and on the Martha show.

i frequent marthastewart.com often for ideas and recipes. she had some really great easter ideas that i only discovered the day after easter. take these chocolate easter eggs for example. i wish so much that i had seen these earlier so that i could have made them for my sister and impressed the socks off of her. if only. anyway, browsing her website the other day, i came across a recipe for a pea and spinach soup. it was neatly filed under "spring recipes" and the photgraph on the website made me think of the sunny, warm days of spring that lie ahead. i rushed home to make the soup right away; i didn't follow the recipe exactly but i must say that whatever it was i concocted turned out really, really well. and green.

Summer Pea and Spinach Soup (adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 cups vegetable stock (depending on how thick you want it)
1 pound frozen summer peas (about 1 cup)
8 ounces spinach (curly or flat leaf), tough stems discarded (about 6 cups packed leaves)

heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. add onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. cook, stirring, 3 minutes. add stock, and bring to a boil.

add peas, and return to a boil. reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. stir in spinach. cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach has wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.

remove a few big spoonfuls of the soup and reserve. with an immersion blender, puree the rest of the soup and until smooth, adding enough water to achieve desired consistency. stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

when i took the soup to work with me for lunch, i added a few tablespoons of cooked brown rice. it was delicious and it really felt like i was eating spring in a bowl.

i'm back!! with brownies!!

i can't believe it's been almost a month since my last blog post. furthermore, i can't believe it's been over a month since mac was taken to hospital. long story short, he was away from home for about 3 weeks and was at home, in isolation, recovering for another week and a half. needless to say, the past 5 weeks of my life are a bit of a blur, filled with endless trips to the vet hospital in guelph and many, many, many, many sleepless nights. two surgeries later, mac is finally home. in fact, his sutures were removed today so for the first time in over a month, he is free to roam around the house like he always used to do. it feels good.

but onto more serious matters - brownies. i have to say, i am thrilled that my cousin is pregnant, not only because we will soon be welcoming a new baby into the family, but because, due to her pregnancy, she is hungry, which means i get to cook for her. a few weeks ago she came to spend the day, but not before announcing that she wanted something freshly baked when she arrived. not one to disappoint, i promptly grabbed Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook off of my shelf and leafed through the pages for something indulgent.

buttery. rich. chocolately. dense. brownies. i made these on a saturday and they were all gone by sunday night. i kept them in the oven longer than what the recipe calls for because each time i tested the center, it was still gooey and a bit runny. after the brownies were cut and cooled, i wished that i had taken them out sooner because they would have been a smidge better if they were softer (not that they weren't amazing just as they were). so i guess the disclaimer here is to take them out in about 45 minutes, even if the center is a bit soft. they will firm up to a nice, fudgey consistency after cooling in the pan for a while longer. also, the minimal amount of flour in this recipe ensures that these decadent delights are heavy and chewy and really dense. it also means that flour substitutions are easy for those who cannot tolerate gluten ;)

Chocolate Brownies (recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt *optional - 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts

preheat oven to 350 degrees. butter an 8-inch square baking pan or heatproof glass dish. line pan with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on 2 sides. set aside. place butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water; stir frequently until chocolate and butter are melted, about 7 minutes. remove bowl from heat; let cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

stir sugar into cooled chocolate mixture until combined. whisk in eggs one at a time, whisking until smooth after each addition. whisk in vanilla. gently fold in flour and salt and nuts, if using. pour batter into prepared pan, and smooth top with an offset spatula. bake until cake tester inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes. transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

run a knife or offset spatula around the edges of the pan. using parchment, lift brownies out of pan and onto the rack. transfer to a cutting board; cut into 2-inch squares. brownies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Monday, April 13, 2009

today's the day the bunnies have their picnic

happy easter! how much do i love easter? so much so that i spent this saturday night, by myself, blowing and dying eggs for no other reason than to be festive and eastery and decorate my house. sure, if mike was around i would probably have been out, not being such a homemaker, but i'm sure i would have still managed to work in some easter cheer by way of an easter-themed cocktail or something like that. actually, easter this year was a little subdued in my household. my own easter bunny, also known as my cat, mac, was having some bladder stone issues and was in hospital all weekend. it was sad cause mac is really a bunny who is just disguised as a cat and so, he should have been home for the bunniest of all days.

without mac, my house was almost unbearable and i needed something to distract myself. so i made some cookies for my sister who requested something plain and buttery, but i was still antsy. so i made some rice crispy squares for myself, cause i wanted something sweet and comforting, but i was still on edge. so i decorated some easter eggs and decorated the kitchen, and i couldn't believe how unsettled i was. so i decided to christen the new KitchenAid mixer that i broke down and bought on a whim last weekend when it was on sale on the shopping channel, and i made some easter bread.

now, anyone that knows me as a chef, knows that i hate the idea of stand mixers, KitchenAid in particular. the cumbersome bowl, the monstrous size, the lack of range of motion all add up to an inefficient mixer. additionally, there is so much pleasure to be derived from mixing things with a wooden spoon, or even a hand-held mixer. you can control the way the ingredients are mixed, you can make sure that all of the ingredients are incorporated properly, you can physically feel whatever it is you're making...i just don't get why you would ever use a stand mixer. why would you want to have to turn off the mixer in order to scrape down the sides of the bowl which you inevitably have to do because the whisk and beater don't reach either the bottom or the sides of the bowl? why would you want to awkwardly pour ingredients into the narrow bowl while trying to avoid getting any flour or eggs onto the top of the whisk or beater? i don't understand. and i don't understand why martha stewart loves her KitchenAid so much. sure i see why you would want a heavy-duty mixer when making a really large batch of say, gingerbread, which is formed from a heavy, stiff batter, but why would you want to make anything else in this thing? you have no control over anything!! i honestly believe that there was one person who thought that a KitchenAid mixer was a cool thing and so they told another person and then that person didn't want to look silly so they just agreed that it was good even though they knew it wasn't. and it just grew. and now no one wants to admit that KitchenAids are bad because they don't want to be the odd man out so now everyone just pretends that they love KitchenAid stand mixers. it's all a big conspiracy, and i am speaking out. shari k is saying 'no!'

but the shopping channel had a good deal on and i felt like maybe i should give the KitchenAid stand mixer a chance - i mean, don't knock it till you try it, right? i had already spent the money and set the thing up and so i decided to take the mixer on its maiden voyage, knowing that i could still return it if i hated it. and i hated it. hated it, hated it, hated it. it was one the most uncomfortable experiences i've ever had in the kitchen and i wanted to run away screaming. ingredients were strewn about, there was butter on the walls and flour on the floor. it's a wonder that i survived such an awful ordeal. in fact, the only good that came from the experience was the Portugese Sweet Bread that i made; i jazzed it up by forming it into a braid, making it look (and taste) a lot like challah. the dough was very sticky and wet and i added a lot of extra flour while i was kneading it, but the bread itself turned out to be really soft and sweet, perfect with some butter and a cup of tea. it made my house smell wonderful and it lifted my spirits on a nerve-wracking, mac-less weekend during which i couldn't sit still for the life of me, although it didn't make a KitchenAid stand mixer believer out of me.

Portuguese Sweet Bread (adapted from Good Housekeeping: Great Baking)

3 tablespoons warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon + 6 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup warm milk
6 tablespoons butter, softened
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
about 2 ½ cups flour

combine water, yeast and sugar; stir to dissolve. let stand 5 minutes until foamy.

with mixer at low speed, stir in remaining sugar, milk, butter and salt, just until blended. stir in eggs and ¾ cup flour to make a thick batter. beat 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl often. stir in 1 ¼ cups flour to make a very soft dough.

turn dough out onto a well floured surface. knead dough for abour 10 minutes, adding ¼ - ½ cup more flour as you knead to form a smooth, soft dough. place dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel. let rise in a warm place for about an hour, until doubled in size.

punch down dough and separate into 3 equal balls. let rest 15 minutes. form balls into long strands and place on a greased or lined baking sheet. form dough into a braid. cover and let dough rise for another hour.

preheat oven to 350 degrees. brush dough with an eggwash or with milk or cream. bake for 35 minutes until golden brown and loaf sounds hollow. enjoy.

*makes one loaf

i wanted to bake something eastery and as i read through my many cookbooks, this bread seemed like it would work well. a quick google search this morning showed that i was on the right track and that this bread is an easter standard for many people. it was really yummy and one of the best loaves i've made, if i do say so myself! and my mom is convinced that my bad experience with the mixer was just a one-time thing. she is sure that with time, i will come to love the mixer. 'you need to give it a chance,' she said. well, maybe. i do want to try some meringues next weekend, and mac is coming home on tuesday and he should come home to the smell of something freshly baked. i could give the KitchenAid another spin, but the thought of my pink, melamine bowls and my big wooden spoon is so much more appealing...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

comfort food

so i've been sick. it started out last wednesday as a little tickle in my chest which i definitely aggravated by going for a run that evening. by the time thursday rolled around i was down for the count and i've been basically dead to the world for about 4 days - meaning no going outside, no internet and (gasp) no eating. well, that's a lie. i've been eating toast. and rice. and i've been drinking lots and lots of gatorade. but today i feel a bit better - despite the relentless and deafening pounding in my head - and my appetite is slowly coming back, thank goodness. as my luck would have it, today was the perfect day for the return of my ability to eat because my mom decided to make some roti with the fresh new coconut she picked up last week!

granted, my appetite for anything that has much flavour has still not returned and i'm only really interested in dry, plain, cracker-like things, but that's why the roti was so perfect. plain flour, fresh coconut, salt and water mixed together to form a soft dough which is then flattened and cooked on a heavy skillet. so simple, so plain, yet so good.

i have no real recipe to give you - just mix equal parts all purpose flour and fresh coconut meat. add enough water to form a soft dough and season with salt to taste. form dough into balls that fit in the palm of your hand. flatten the balls into disks about 1/4 inch thick. cook on a skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes per side. you don't need to worry about greasing the skillet because the coconut has enough fat in it to keep things in check!

you can really eat them with anything - most of the people in my family go for lunu miris...

but i prefer them hot off the grill with butter on the side.

i'm so glad that my appetite returned for this.

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