Thursday, January 28, 2010

Let Them Drink Cake



My college roommate Kristy was from Tacoma, only a short drive from UW. This meant she visited her parents more often that I visited mine, and it also meant that we had her mom’s rich, gooey, boozy chocolate-kahlua cake on a regular basis. When Kristy returned from visits with her parents we stood, fork in hand, at her desk in the dorms…and then in the big messy kitchen of our 6-girl party house…and later at the kitchen counter in our little Northgate apartment, devouring the decadent Bundt cake straight from the cake plate or Tupperware container her mom sent it in. I loved that cake, and made it several times after college, always getting rave reviews. It was a pretty simple and easy recipe—boxed cake mix, boxed chocolate pudding mix, and lots of kahlua—but it packed a huge punch.



The other night, I felt a little nostalgic and decided to whip up the sugar coma, booze buzz-inducing dessert. Instead of going with the ol’ standby box mix recipe, I wanted to experiment with a homemade chocolate cake and change a few things up. I started from scratch, reinventing the cake to make it even more boozy, gooey, and rich than it already was.



The cake itself was moist and deeply (but not too sweetly) chocolaty, studded with pecan pieces that added just the right amount of crunchy texture, especially after I soaked it with rich, boozy syrup made from Mel’s homemade kahlua. The cake soaked up the syrup, and after removing it from the pan after 30 minutes, the outer edges were gooey and almost fudge like, without being soggy. It’s definitely best served warm, alongside a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream, with an extra drizzle of kahlua syrup over the top.

But...old habits die hard. As I stood at the kitchen counter eating it straight from the Bundt pan at 9:30PM, I knew my experiment was a success…this one is a keeper, a recipe that really lets you have your cake and drink it too.

Boozy Chocolate Kahlua Cake

For the cake:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cups cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup lowfat milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup kahlua
1 cup chopped pecans- divided in half

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a budnt pan. Add 1/2 cup of pecans to bottom of bundt pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt- whisk or stir together. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; mix on medium speed until well combined. Add boiling water and kahlua. Pour batter into prepared bundt pan, and add remaining nuts. Baked for 50-55 minutes. Pour about 3/4 of the Boozy Kahlua Syrup on cake while it's still hot out of the oven. Let sit for 30 minutes before removing cake from pan. Serve with remaining syrup.

For the syrup:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1/4 cup water
3/4 cups kahlua

Boil sugar, butter, and water for 2 minutes, until bubbly and gooey. Remove from heat and add kahlua. Pour about 3/4 of syrup over hot cake, and let sit for 30 minutes before turning upside down and removing cake from pan. Serve cake with remaining syrup.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dinner and a Movie



Evan, LB, and I went to the Sunday matinee showing of Daybreakers. First of all, did you know that matinees are now like…$8.50!? Boy do I feel old. I remember (back in the good ol’ days) when a matinee was cheap, like $4, and a prime-time movie was more like $7.50, rather than $13.00. So anyway, we went to an afternoon show…and good thing we did because it was still light out when we left, and I certainly didn’t want to be a human walking around when the sun went down after that movie… with all that nighttime vampire business going on…and not to mention the underground subsider activity… (you’ll just have to see it to understand). I actually liked the movie a lot more than I thought I would, but hey, vampires, Ethan Hawk, and Willem Dafoe, what’s not to like? Well, I suppose the vampires’ excessive amounts of blood consumption (a little O-negative in your coffee?) was a bit much right before dinner time. I like my horror movies, and I like gory movies… but this one was a little hard to stomach.

I couldn’t bring myself to prepare meat after the movie, which worked out just fine since Evan and I had made a haul at the Farmer’s Market earlier that morning. Evan, with his vampire tendencies, would have loved a big bloody steak (steak, not stake…get it) right after the movie. I, on the other hand, was perfectly content with a meat free (with the exception of chicken broth) mix of roasted tubers and roots over lemony braised kale. Unfortunately, I hit up the farmer’s market prior to the blood-sucking vampire movie, and didn’t think twice about buying dark, blood-red beets that stained everything a bright crimson and left a slightly unsettling red juice in the bottom of the roasting pan…good thing the sweet earthy caramelized veggies and tangy kale were so delicious that I dismissed the color and devoured every last bite (juice and all) with the ravenous blood-thirst of a thousand vampires.



You can take my word for it, or you can make it for yourself… but be careful, once the sun goes down, all bets are off.



Roasted Roots and Tubers over Lemony Braised Kale
This is one of those un-recipe recipes… more of a method

For Roasted Veggies:
1 large parsnip- sliced in ‘fries’
1 large turnip- sliced in thickish slices
2-3 medium size beets- halved and quartered
2-3 medium size sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes)- cut in ‘chunks’
4ish cloves of garlic- peeled
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme
A spoonful of dark molasses
Sea salt
Ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Toss everything in a roasting pan with a splash of water and roast until golden brown, caramelized, and delicious. Anywhere between 25-40 minutes (just fork and taste check it).

For Lemony Braised Kale:
1 thinly sliced shallot
Olive oil
Salt
Red pepper flakes
Chicken broth (1-2 cups)
Juice from half of a large lemon
1 big bunch kale

Sauté shallot in olive oil in a large pot (I used my large nonstick wok). When golden, add salt (about a ½ teaspoonish…or more, depending), a pinch of red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and broth. Slowly add kale, letting wilt before adding more. Cook down in this fashion for 5-10 minutes, to desired consistency.
Serve kale and juices in a shallow bowl, topped with roasted veggies.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood

Ok, ok. You’re right, that’s the jingle for one of those crappy chain restaurants that’s located in strip malls and airports, maybe Applebee’s or TGIFriday’s, who can be sure? I happened to be thinking about my lovely little neighborhood, and then that little diddy casually rolled into my head, where it has since taken up residence and has been forcefully making information like names of US presidents and state capitols take a hike…

But in other news, back to my neighborhood. I didn’t realize until the other day (when a friend called me out on it) that I have become a true Ballardite…just in the last 6 months or so! Evan and I have both lived in Ballard (and loved it) for a few years, but we were on the Eastside of Ballard, and regardless of our affection for the neighborhood, the sense of community just wasn’t there for us. Since moving to the Westside, my Ballard pride has taken over. Yes, I want to support my local Ballard businesses and ‘shop locally’. Yes, I only go out to Ballard bars. Yes, I’m on the La Isla mailing list. Yes, I think Cupcake Royale is better than Trophy. Yes, I read myballard.com religiously. No, I don’t have a ‘Free Ballard’ bumper sticker on my car, I haven’t gone that far (…yet).

But still, I finally feel (for the first time in Seattle since I live on campus during college) like I’m part of a neighborhood community. And it feels pretty awesome. Of course, my favorite part about the ‘hood is the food. And yes, I definitely support our Ballard restaurants with large portions of Evan and my paychecks every month. Since moving in August, Evan and I have discovered a new favorite, go-to restaurant in Ballard, and it just so happens to be mere feet from our doorstep: O’Shan Sushi.



I love sushi. Actually, I think I’m a bit of a poser when I say that, because really, I love maki-style rolls—especially western style—and a lot of sushi-snobs would say these aren’t the real deal (and Seattle has its fair share of sushi-snobs). I mean, I like nigiri… sashimi is good… but it’s the exciting fun flavor combos of raw or cooked seafood, veggies, and sauces rolled up in nori (seaweed) and sticky sushi rice, soaked in wasabi-clouded soy sauce that really gets me jazzed for sushi. Call me a sushi rookie, poser, or wannabe if you must, but I don’t care, I’ll be happily savoring a smoky-sweet salmon, buttery cream cheese, crisp cool cucumber, rich creamy avocado, and salty soy sauce doused Philly Roll. Call me what you will…O’Shan’s got my back.



From the outside O'Shan doesn't look like much, nestled unassumingly next to Wing Master. The interior, however, is small but inviting, with simple Japanese décor and art that makes it feel sophisticated and welcoming, without being pretentious or too hip. With a sushi master (Dad? Grandpa?) behind the counter making fresh sushi right in front of you and smiling at everyone that walks in, and the super-nice sisters handing out friendly compliments and plates of delicious food, it’s the kind of place that you go to on a whim on a Wednesday night, or for a romantic date on a Friday night, or for takeout every night. Especially when you live a block away and need quick takeout for an impromptu movie-date night.



I’ve tried a lot of the amazing rolls on the menu, including some of my favorite ‘western rolls’ like the tempura fried Firecracker Roll with spicy tuna and avocado topped with sweet sauce and spicy aioli, or my all time favorite the Philly roll. I also love some of O’Shan’s more creative unique rolls, like the Tuna Poke Roll, filled with tempura scallion and fresh cucumber, topped with raw tuna, avocado and sweet chili sauce; the Red Mango Roll with a refreshingly sweet combo of mango, shrimp, red pepper, and avocado; or the chef’s choice fresh veggie rolls, which are never the same twice. Evan likes to order the hot plates- teriyaki, chicken katsu, fried oysters, miso soup… all equally delicious.



So, next time you find yourself in my ‘hood, stop by O’Shan and tell ‘em Amber sent you. Ok, just kidding, they don’t know my name so that wouldn’t get you anything but awkward looks… but you should stop by anyway. And, if you’re one of those aforementioned ‘Sushi Snobs,’ you’re in luck, because O’Shan has a pretty impressive nigiri and sashimi menu… if you’re into that sort of thing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Match Made in Mango

Some things just don’t taste good together. Consider exhibit one: the Full House episode where little Michelle Tanner, eager to earn a Honeybee badge, creates ‘recipes’ by combining her favorite foods…things like tuna and ice cream, or maybe it was Oreos. And what about the ol’ no cheese with seafood rule? Sure, like all rules, there are exceptions (for instance, tuna cheddar melt…not tuna ice cream melt though) but for the most part, a light, fresh fish does not benefit from the sharp, salty, overpowering mustiness of cheese. I don’t think it takes a great chef, or even a good home cook to figure out what combinations absolutely do not work. But does it take a great culinary genius to figure out what flavors do go together?



I was having one of those ‘feel sorry for myself’ days last week, and to cheer myself up I did what most great women do—I bought myself something (spare me the feminist rant… you know a new pair of shoes makes you feel better every time!). Instead of a fabulous new pair of shoes, or a purse, or bath soaps, or another favorite pick-me-up, vodka, I bought myself a book. This book. The Flavor Bible. This giant text book sized mammoth of a book is supposed to be everything its title describes it to be… the bible of flavor combinations. It’s supposed to be a beacon of inspiration for the amateur cook all the way up to the restaurant chef de cuisine. Pages, upon pages, upon pages of flavor combos. Want to know what pairs well with artichokes? Refer to the bible. How about figs? Check the bible. Quail? Bible. It’s all in there.

But… really, corn and salt go well together!? Get outta here! And cinnamon and apples? Who knew!? From my initial thumbing of the Bible’s pages, I’m feeling a little bit like I spent $35 to learn that umbrellas and rain go together. That being said, I want to give the book another chance. I’m hoping my reading thus far was too brief to fully appreciate the nearly 400 pages of flavor pairings. If the book works like it’s supposed to, maybe one of these days I’ll have turbot in my shopping cart, and I’ll make a fabulous fish-dish based on the Bible’s suggested pairings. Or maybe I’ll see something crazy and foreign to me at the Farmer’s Market, like purslane, and I’ll feel confident that the book will guide me in it’s usage (pairs well with green beans, in fact). Or maybe it will simply give me the inspiration I need to get dinner on the table, when I have a cupboard full of uninspired odds and ends (neither ice cream or oreos pair well with Tuna, according to the Bible).

For the time being, however, I think that I’m doing just fine putting flavors together on my own. I mean, if I can get Evan to eat brown rice AND mango, I must be doing something right! We had a simple semi-homemade dinner last night that Evan actually devoured, despite his affinities to the aforementioned items. Black bean mango chicken over green chili brown rice.



The juicy tart mango chunks combined with grilled cumin-spiced chicken, (a can of) black beans, and red onion slivers served over (a microwave packet of) brown rice mixed with (a can of) green chilies and a splash of pineapple juice provided a perfect balance of sweet, salty, and savory. And I didn’t need a book to tell me that…one Honeybee badge, coming right up!


Monday, January 11, 2010

Once Upon a Time



There was a weekend long ago (well, a few days ago) that was particularly depressing to my palate. Things were spiraling down, getting worse and worse as the weekend progressed. Just when I thought I was doomed to spend eternity in the depths of culinary-deprived hell, hunched in the corner eating cardboard slathered in fried oil and dipped in bright red processed ketchup, Sunday evening’s meal came along, enlivening my taste buds and reinvigorating my will to live…er, eat.

It all started Friday afternoon. It was a rainy, dark, dreary day, the kind that sends a shudder down the spines of even the bravest Seattlites. I spent the gloomy day dreaming of soups, stews, and other hearty, stick-to-your-bones dinners. Racing home in the rain, spices and herbs danced in my head. Upon my arrival home, however, the unthinkable happened…our dinner plans fell through! I tried to convince Evan to go out, but in the endless rain, my efforts were futile. The cupboards were bare. With no other choice, we gave in to a meal that would kick off the blandest of all weekend eatery: frozen fish sticks and cheetos.

Saturday I awoke to sunny skies and the possibilities of a new, delicious day. Unfortunately, it was like I was stuck in Groundhog’s Day, unable to break the awful curse of the cardboard diet. With dinner plans falling through yet again, we resigned ourselves to a fate even more awful than frozen fish sticks… Wendy’s Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, and fries… what had life come to? Would my taste buds ever again bring my lips to a pucker upon greeting sour and bitter flavors? Would I sing at the contrast of sweet and salty on my tongue? Would I ever again be swept up by the richness of umami in my mouth!?

As Sunday rolled around, I lingered sluggishly in bed, unable to face another flavorless day. And just then, when I thought that all hope was lost, when I was about to give in and forever succumb to lifelong dread, I remembered: it was the day of our first ever book club meeting! And I was preparing dinner! Just the motivation I needed to pull myself together and reignite my withering taste buds. The menu: Brown Butter and Beer Butternut squash soup with ricotta and parmesan cheese; caramelized fig and pecan salad with gorgonzola and shallot vinaigrette; and buttery buttermilk biscuits sprinkled with flavored sea salt made by Evan’s sister Teresa. And just in case the velvety soup, fluffy biscuits, and sweet savory salad weren’t enough to save me from a life of tasteless misery, the gals in shining armor came to the rescue with wine, V’s nutty asparagus and prosciutto appetizer, and the biggest hero of all, Chelsea’s dessert.



Artfully arranged on my bright, colorful dessert plates, Chelsea’s smooth caramel flan served with slices of juicy mango was exactly what I needed to shake away my weekend doldrums. With one bite, I was whisked away on a culinary adventure to an exotic land. A creamy custard dripping with caramel, tasting of Crème brûlée, paired with fresh, sweet mango…I was alive once more! The weekend, at last, was saved. As book club began, full of the promise of many flavorful dinners and lively discussions, I licked my plate clean, and quietly rejoiced in the awaking of my slumbering palate.


Chelsea's Classic Creme Caramel
Serves 4


1/2 cup plus 2 T. sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups half and half
4 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
1/2 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Have four 6-oz ramekins or custard cups ready and a 10-inch square baking pan. Put kettle of water to boil for the water bath.

Heat 1/2 cup sugar and the water in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil, washing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush if you see any sugar crystals. Boil, without stirring, swirling the pan toward the end to even out the color, until caramel is a dark amber color. Immediately pour caramel into the ramekins, tiling to coat the bottom and sides evenly. Let cool and harden at room temperature.

In the meantime, heat the half and half in a medium saucepan over medium heat until hot. Whisk together the egg yolks, the remaining 2 T. sugar, and the salt in a medium bowl. Slowly pour in the half and half into the bowl, whisking constantly. Pour the custard through a fine strainer set over a medium glass measure or bowl. Whisk in the vanilla.

Divide custard evenly among the ramekins. Place the ramekins in the baking pan, place it in the oven, and carefully pour enough boiling water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until custard is set around the edges but still slightly jiggly in center. Don’t overbake! The custards will settle further as they cool.

With tong, carefully transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, tightly covered, for at least 3 hours, until thoroughly chilled and set, or up to 1 day. To serve, run a table knife around the edges of the ramekins and invert onto serving plates.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Can't BEET the Best




I don’t know if you’ve taken the time to peruse my blog roll below, but there are some tasty food blogs in there, which I gobble up like others do with tabloids or gossip sites. Last night, as I got caught up on my reading, I noticed a trend… a lot of my favorite food bloggers were ending the year with a ‘Top Eats of 2009’ list. Since I wasn’t in the blog writing biz when we rang in ’09, I guess I never got the memo!

I tried to think of my top 10 favorite foods I’ve posted on here, but that’s like picking your favorite child (John and Mel, it’s ok, you can pick me if you want…I won’t tell Amanda). My cider pork tasted amazing…but the crack chicken was so much fun to eat with friends! My chocolate chipotle cookies were creative and exciting to experiment with, but my orange spice teacakes are by far a better cookie. How could I possibly choose!? I kept thinking about all my recipes and delicious eats, and kept coming back to one meal, not just for the flavors, but for the experience—my favorite meal of 2009: dinner at Elemental.



We went for Father's day, and we're still talking about it. The meal's multiple courses were creative, fun, and fantastic. The truffle popcorn changed our lives (seriously, Amanda makes it about 2 times a week now). The wine was (a little too) plentiful. We drank until we couldn’t walk straight (wait, was that just me?), we laughed hysterically throughout the several hour long meal (wait, was that just me?). We forced Amanda to try the liver. We ooh’d and aah’d with every new plate. We made quite the impression on the owners (oops, was that just me?). And it was the first time that Amanda and I really got to share our passion for food and for Seattle with our parents.



We all agreed that our favorite dish of the night (and the one we could all remember the next day...wait, there was a dessert course?) was the stack of pineapple rings, beets, and goat cheese sprinkled with pistachios, olive oil, and sea salt. Thinking about this amazing dish got Amanda and I dreaming of the suprisingly delicious flavor combo. With Christmas packages containing home-canned jars of beets from Mel and John’s garden, Amanda and I decided to put a spin on the components and toss them up a little…making a tossed salad with beets, greens, feta, pistachios, and pineapple dressing. As with the salad at Elemental, the flavors melded perfectly. And, like I said, I'm starting out the New Year with a few more salads (and maybe a little less wine)!




Elemental Inspired Beet Salad

Salad:

2 servings mixed greens with spinach
1 small-medium jar of canned beets- sliced (reserve a few tablespoons of the juice)
2 green onions- sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup pistachios-toasted
sea salt

Pineapple Dressing:
2-3 slices of pineapple with juice (or can of pineapple tidbits)- blended
equal part extra virgin olive oil
fresh ground pepper
1 splash cider vinegar

Layer salad ingredients in 2 bowls in following order: greens, onion, beets, nuts, feta. Whisk together dressing ingredients- with equal parts pineapple slush and olive oil (you could also use just canned pineapple juice instead of whole pineapple). Or shake in a cruet to mix. Pour dressing over salads, sprinkle with beet juice, and top with sea salt. As at Elemental, enjoy with multiple glasses of wine!

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010!

Happy New Year! You know what that means…time to get moving on those New Year’s resolutions! Like usual, I have some food related resolutions… which, for me, do NOT involve dieting. Diet Schmiet! Don’t worry… I vow to continue enticing you with delicious recipes and ooey gooey scrumptious pictures! I might eat a few more salads in the coming weeks… but that’s only to balance out the New Years Eve cupcakes.




New Year’s Resolution #1: Don’t Double It
I want to get back in shape, but I’m not going to stop making buttery baked goodies… I should, however, stop doubling the batches if I want to continue fitting in my little kitchen! We had a few people over to celebrate for New Years Eve, and of course I made way too much food. Double batch of bean dip (from Mel’s old Mexican cookbook), Pork Posole (always eat pork for the New Year- pigs represent progress!), and two recipes from a little grocery store coupon magazine my Grandma sends (Raley’s): Queso Fundido (Chorizo/verde/cheese dip), and buttery addicting Dulce de Leche cupcakes with toffee bits and butter-brown sugar frosting. The recipe made only 9 cupcakes, so I doubled it, making 18. The next day, I realized we had exactly 9 cupcakes left… which I of course ate. Did I mention we only had about six people over? Yes, I have a fridge full of bean dip…and a belly full of cupcakes!

New Year’s Resolution #2: Wake Up!
I’m not a morning person…but I want to be! I resolve to start getting up earlier to attack the day…and make breakfast—like this!



I’ve been wanted to make breakfast pizza for some time now, after seeing this, but never have time in the mornings! And when I try to make breakfast while I’m also getting ready for work… bad things happen. This first attempt at breakfast pizza tasted DELICIOUS—based on the components and flavors of my favorite breakfast sandwich at the Leary Traveler, I started with an olive oil brushed crust, sprinkled with garlic and rosemary sea salt, ribbons of sage and basil, shredded parmesan and white cheddar cheese, thin sliced salty prosciutto, a layer of tomatoes, whole eggs, and fresh cracked pepper.



But…I was busy getting ready for work, and lost track of time. The pizza was hard as a rock and the eggs so were so done they were like rubber. If they weren’t stuck to the crust, which was stuck to the pan, I could have probably bounced them like a basketball. That’s what happens when you don’t get up early.

New Year’s Resolution #3: Post It!
I have some great recipes and pictures that I haven’t had time to post for you, so in 2010, I resolve to do better at posting more often! So… in the spirit of the New Year, Loves Food, Loves to Eat's first recipe of 2010: Dulce de Leche Cupcakes! Enjoy (and don’t double it…unless you have 18 guests or plan to double your workout after!)



Dulce de Leche Cupcakes
Adapted from Raley's Something Extra: makes 9

Cupcakes:
1/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup toffee bits

Frosting:
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin cups with paper liners. Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and creamy. Add milk and eggs, and beat on medium-high for 2 minutes. Add flour, baking soda, and salt- beat until combined. Stir in toffee bits. Spoon into prepared tins and bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from tins while slightly warm. While cupcakes arebaking, prepare frosting by combining brown sugar, cream, and butter in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue boiling for one minute, without stirring. Transfer to a mixing bowl and cool for 20 minutes. Beat in powdered sugar with an electric mixer until smooth - spread on cooled cupcakes!