Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Baingan Bharta (Fire Roasted Eggplant Stew)

The eggplants were so shiny and stacked up high at the farm stand last week, I couldn't resist. They were the perfect small/medium size for good flavor, and I thought I might make eggplant parmesan this week.

However, we are trying to eat a little healthier these days. The holiday, birthday, anniversary season is here and food is getting heavy! So we need to compensate a bit with what we can control. But, ugh, it's a lot more work making healthy dinners sometimes, isn't it?

I dipped into my experimental archives to find the bharta recipe I created last year. After moving, we were having fun with our bbq grill, and had actually made the effort to grill the eggplants and tomatoes over flame. I searched my computer and drawers and finally found my barely decipherable scribbling of a rough recipe in a drawer.  This time I did not feel like firing up the grill, so I broiled the eggplants and used canned tomatoes. This year's version was not as smokey as the first, but I did improve the seasoning of the dish well enough to share it here.

Baingan Bharta
1 hour, 4 servings 

2 small eggplants (3” thick / 8” long, about 1lb)
Olive Oil
1 T unsalted butter
1/4  tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, chopped
2 tsp (1/2” thick / ½” round piece) ginger root, peeled and sliced
2 large cloves garlic (about 1 T)
*½ tsp fresh hot chili pepper, finely minced (Thai/Bird chili or Cayenne) *optional, add extra chili powder to taste if not using fresh
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp chili powder (Indian chili powder)
¾ tsp garam masala spice mix
¾ tsp kosher salt
½ C fire roasted tomatoes (canned with juices, or 3 fresh tomatoes broiled or grilled)
½ C green peas (frozen)
1 or 2 T fresh lime juice
¼ C Cilantro, plus more for garnish
*pinch of methi (fenugreek) leaves, *optional

1. Grill or broil the eggplants until mushy inside.

Pierce the eggplants a few times with a knife and rub with olive oil. Grill outside over flame or broil them on a foil lined pan. Grilling will be quick, 10-15 minutes, so check and turn every few minutes. Broiling takes about 20-25 minutes, turning every 5 minutes (don’t keep them too close to the oven’s coils or flames to avoid oil flare-ups). If you don’t have these options, 30 minutes in a 500F oven is fine. Test for doneness: a knife inserted should go in to the center easily and move around easily, you want a squishy mushy texture inside (like an over-baked sweet potato).

If using fresh tomatoes, add them (whole, coated in oil) for the last 5 minutes, just to char the skin. Chop them, including the skin.

Let the eggplant cool while preparing the other ingredients. Peel and discard most of the skin and stem (a few charred skin bits are good to keep) and give it a quick chop to break up the lengthwise strings of the flesh (careful to reserve the juices – I just run a paring knife through the mass inside a bowl to break up the strings).

2. It’s best to prep and measure all the ingredients before cooking. Measure out the powdered spices into a small dish ahead of time (turmeric, cumin, chili and garam masala). Also, making a paste of the onion, ginger and garlic is also a key to a more flavorful curry. If you have a food processor or mini chopper, add 1-2T of the onion, sliced ginger and garlic cloves and pulse until well chopped or even pasty. Otherwise, finely chop the 3 together and use a large knife blade at a 30 degree angle to mash and scrape them together with a little salt.

3. In a medium skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Toast the cumin seeds, stirring until fragrant and they start to pop a bit. Add the onions and cook 3 minutes until softened. Add the onion/garlic/ginger paste and fresh chili and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the dry spices and add the tomatoes, eggplant and salt. Turn the heat to low and cover, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Check and adjust the seasoning to taste.

4. Add peas and simmer covered for another 5-10 minutes. Add lime and cilantro, methi leaves if using, and re-taste for seasonings. Leave hot or simmering until ready to serve.

Garnish with cilantro. Serve with basmati rice or hot naan (or other lightly toasted flatbread).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Famous Eggless Lemon Cake

Eggless Lemon Cake for a boy obsessed with "Yellow Balloons"

Here it is. The famous eggless cake from Ian's first, and now second, birthdays.

Last year, caught up in Pinterest fever for my son's first birthday, I threw him an elaborate themed party. (I swear it's some sort of hard-wired hormonal situation that moms of 23-month-olds simply have no control over). For that party, I felt that I absolutely needed 3 varieties of cupcakes - all eggless, as appropriate for vegetarian family members. Only the best eggless cake would do. I tried mixes, and even bought some from a vegan bakery, but was driven to concoct a from-scratch recipe that I fine-tuned over the course of a few weeks. Cake flour made dense cake, egg replacer powder made dense cake, soda gave it a chemical taste, and so on. We had a lot of cake last October, and we don't even like cake that much, ourselves. I'm also a notoriously lousy baker.

Oh look, we were a little obsessed with Brown Bear and making things cute.... Pinterest accidentally threw up in my house... (FYI this is just one station... there was one for each character... who was I a year ago and where did I find the time???)

So, being a lousy baker who hates cake (I had pie at my wedding, not cake), why should you even continue reading for my recipe? Because, I somehow created an eggless cake recipe that's super easy with only a few ingredients that I always have on hand. Even I have not managed to screw it up, after several batches. Everyone at our party last year loved this cake, hardly believing it was actually eggless. There were no high-pitched "oh these are... great" comments... like, they took them home, ate more, and emailed me for the recipes. I think that qualifies as a "famous" recipe you might want to try!

Cupcakes for the class
I recently repeated the lemon version of the cake for Ian's second birthday. It took a giant batch of batter, but in just 45 minutes I pumped out 12 cupcakes for his pre-school class and a double layer 9" cake for the family. Frosting time is additional, but that's up to you what type of frosting you prefer and how crazy you get with it (I don't expect many re-Pins of my cake pics based on their decorative merit). The cake holds up nicely when made ahead of time (even a few days) and refrigerated, protected by a layer of frosting. The 2-year olds devoured them, and the family was happy to see it again too. My MIL informed me that I'll need to make all the family cakes now.

Just a quick shot of the inside, in the hurry to hand out slices
Eggless Lemon Cake
Two 9” round cakes for a double layer cake
or 24 cupcakes

3 cups milk (2% or Whole) – or use your favorite vegan milk (I like almond or hazelnut, or use soy if you’re going nut-free)
3 tsp apple cider vinegar (white is fine in a pinch)
3 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp almond extract (omit for nut-free)
4-1/2 tsp lemon extract (this is not a typo, you need a lot)
2-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable or canola oil (vegetable oil is usually from soy, it works slightly better here)
3 cups all-purpose flour (cake flour does not work well here)
2-1/4 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 T fresh lemon zest (from 3-4 lemons)

Cupcake liners or non-stick spray
5 Cups Frosting (see below for Basic Buttercream recipe)

1. Heat oven to 350F. Prepare pans with non-stick spray or cupcake liners.

2. Measure out milk and whisk in vinegar. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, soda, powder, and salt. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, combine sugar, milk and vinegar mixture, oil and extracts. Whisk it vigorously until it bubbles and froths.

5. Right before you are ready to bake, slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients a little at a time. Combine and whisk just until the lumps have disappeared. Whisk in the lemon zest.

6. Pour the batter into the cake pan, or use a 1/3 C measure to scoop batter into cupcake pans. Bake at 350F until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 9” cake: 25-30 minutes. Cupcakes: 18-20 minutes.

Cool 15 minutes and remove cake from pans to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting. Refrigerate frosted cake covered in plastic wrap (I suggest serving within 1-3 days, but it keeps for much longer), or freeze wrapped in plastic and foil.

Chocolate Cake
Omit lemon extract and zest. To the dry ingredients, add 1 cup high quality unsweetened cocoa powder (such as Dagoba)

Chai Cupcakes
(These go great with a whipped cream frosting)
Omit lemon extract and zest. Use chilled Chai tea made with milk instead of plain milk. Add spice mix to dry ingredients.

Spice mix:
6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

For the tea:
Use 3-1/4 cups milk or soy milk (extra to account for evaporation), bring to a boil in a saucepan. Toss in 6 Chai tea bags (Indian Masala tea) removing paper from the strings. Reduce to a simmer for a few minutes and remove from heat. Discard tea bags and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

Basic Buttercream Frosting
One 9” cake (1 or 2 layers is fine) or 24 cupcakes

1 C unsalted butter at room temperature (this may take 2-4 hours)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 C confectioners sugar
1 T milk or cream, optional

Using a hand mixer in a deep bowl, cream the butter and extract. Add sugar a little at a time, blending on low-medium speed, until the consistency is creamy but not too thick. You can add milk to thin it, or more sugar to thicken it.

Some novice notes on buttercream:

I stick with a basic buttercream frosting because it’s easy. Milk helps it spread easier, but it’s not necessary. I leave out the milk if I plan to let the cake sit at room temperature for several hours. I usually frost my cake, reserving any extra frosting. I blend a little more sugar into the extra, along with any coloring to make a thicker decorating frosting.

It’s always easier to make a big batch of frosting than a small one, so if you will do much decorating, increase the recipe right from the start (such as use 3 sticks butter + 6 cups frosting, 1-1/2 tsp vanilla).

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pappardelle with Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce and Maple Baked Delicata Squash

Wild Mushroom Pappardelle and Maple Baked Delicata Squash

Whoa! I have two new recipes for you! Did you miss me?

How can I possibly sum up the last few months' hiatus? I can't. Life is just busy with a toddler. Not just chasing, carrying, caring-for busy, but MENTAL busy.

My tired brain is not here today to impress you with funny anecdotes or witty comments. Or maybe I will, let's see where we go with this.

We've been in one heck of a food rut during this exhaustive and picky period, and there's now a light at the end of the tunnel. That light happens to be called SCHOOL. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out with my kid. But, this little sponge is thirsty for more than I can provide, leaving me physically and mentally drained long before dinner time. School provides me with 3 guaranteed hours of freedom to do and think whatever I want. That's what I like to tell myself, although I usually end up doing chores, or just enjoying an early shower (early meaning before 2pm) and eating my breakfast in peace.

I got real excited the first day of school and drove around doing errands. 3 hours was an eternity. The 2nd day I got to do a 90 minute yoga class. The 3rd day my house looked pristine. The following week, 3 hours started to go by quickly. A month in, I feel like I get home and have to turn back around and pick him up! And apparently he's so stimulated in school that he just can't bring himself to nap consistently anymore. So my 3 hour school plus 3 hour nap dreams have gone right out the window.  Fortunately, this is likely a phase and things will even out. We've got a few months before potty training, so maybe we can get back on the good meal bandwagon.

This week I'm to provide snacks for the 7 pre-nursery kids, so I'll try to share the menu here later. The class snack rule is organic, (mostly) whole foods that are healthy. I bet you're thinking, oh sure, that food snob would send her kid to a prissy school like that, wouldn't she? Actually it's just one of the parents, and everyone has agreed to support her initiative - otherwise it would be goldfish and crackers. My objective is to get a little more protein in there, since popcorn and apple slices have been sending my 2 year old home in a hunger tizzy of tears and terror.

Enough already with the long-winded excuses, right? I'm sure everyone's too busy to read it anyways.

Last week, my little adventure was to find a different Trader Joe's in a town I've never been to, just to see if it was a better experience than the crowded area we usually shop. The answer is no, since my cart wasn't overflowing with frozen meals, as it usually is at the more populous store. However, I was inspired by a display of dried egg pappardelle and low-priced dried wild mushrooms on the side. Mushroom pappardelle is a dish that usually catches my eye at restaurants but I never order, because I feel like the giant bowl of pasta soaks up the oil and becomes dry when you are half-way through it. I like a good, hearty, cream sauce that reminds me of popular dishes in Germany around Oktoberfest time when the best mushrooms are abundant.

In summoning memories of brauhaus dishes and crisp fall air, I happened to come up with a really nice creamy pasta dish. Personally, I like to stay away from all kinds of mainstream button and cremini mushrooms, so I think the choice of porcini, oyster, shiitake is a nice combo with cream. They are milder, gentler, earthier mushrooms. I used pecorino romano cheese also, more because parmigiano was too expensive this week, but it has a nice tart flavor to it.

On the side, I baked another fall favorite: delicata squash. Finally found at Trader Joe's! It's been scarce this year in the stores. I like this one because you don't have to peel it (I hate peeling squash it sucks), and it's almost always sweet when baked - where acorn and butternut are very hit or miss. Acorn squash have been particularly crappy and watery this year, even locally. I threw some maple syrup over the delicata, along with ginger and nutmeg, as I wanted it to contrast the creamy, garlicky, richness of the sauce. It would make a really fantastic festive holiday dish, too.

Hopefully I find a little time this fall to start making interesting food again. October is usually an extra inspiring month for me, being a Libra. We shall see what it brings!

Approx 4 servings 

8oz pappardelle pasta

3 T butter
3 T olive oil
½ C shallots, sliced into thin rings
1 T (2 cloves) garlic, minced
8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps sliced
1 oz dried wild or porcini mushrooms
1 C heavy cream or whipping cream
1 C Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1 T dried parsley flakes

1. Rinse dried mushrooms thoroughly in cool water bath. Pour hottest tap water over them to cover (about 2 Cups). Soak for 20 minutes. Remove mushrooms, and chop. Reserve soaking water, you will need about ½ Cup for the sauce.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.  Wait to add the pasta to the water until the mushrooms are cooking in the pan, in the next step. You will want the pasta just undercooked, al dente, about 2 minutes less than total cooking time.

3. Heat butter and olive oil over med-high heat in a deep skillet. Sauté shallots until tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in fresh mushrooms, cooking about 3 minutes, and add the soaked dried mushrooms. Cook another 2-3 minutes and add cream and ½ C of mushroom liquid.

4. Reduce heat to low and simmer the sauce, stirring frequently. Cook 3 minutes and stir in the cheese. Continue to simmer over low heat and stir. Add parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Add a ladle of pasta water (1/4 C)  to the sauce and stir in. Drain the pasta and add to the simmering sauce pan. Fold together gently for about 2 minutes before removing from heat.

4-6 servings

2 medium (6-8” long) delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeds and pulp removed, cut into ¼” slices. Doesn’t need to be peeled, but you can if you like.

3 T Extra virgin olive oil
½ C Maple syrup
1 tsp Ginger powder
½ tsp Nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tsp Sea salt
½ tsp Black Pepper

Heat oven to 400F.

Toss squash slices by hand with oil, syrup, ginger, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Follow the measurements, or just use your best judgement and eyeball it depending on how much squash you have.

Place in a large glass baking dish and bake 30-40 minutes, checking often. Cooking time with depend on how big your baking dish and how deep the layers of squash are. Toss and turn them every 15 minutes for even cooking. The squash will look a wet dark orange and tender when done.

*I baked mine about 30 minutes at 400 and kept it warm at 275 for another 20 while dinner cooked.

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