Ukrainian Poppy Seed Cake

This is a lemon poppy seed cake with emphasis on the poppy seeds.  It’s practically health food because poppy seeds are high in dietary fiber and minerals.  With three eggs, plus the additional nutrition from all those seeds, this cake is solidly in the ‘okay for breakfast’ category!

I  found this recipe in one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen.  I love her handwritten recipes, doodles and drawings.  The recipes are delicious and healthy without sacrificing richness and flavor.

Ukrainian Poppy Seed Cake

3/4 cup poppy seeds

1 cup milk

1/2 lb (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 cup sugar (white or light brown is ok)

3 eggs

2 cups all purpose flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

zest and juice from 1 lemon

  • Place poppy seeds and milk in a small saucepan and scald (heat to almost boiling, then remove from the heat).  Set aside and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 10 inch tube pan.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Sift together the dry ingredients on wax paper or in a separate bowl.  Add this to the butter mixture alternately with the poppy seed – milk, beginning and ending with the dry mixture.
  • Stir just enough to blend well, adding the vanilla, lemon juice and zest at the end.
  • Bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a plate. 

This cake has so many poppy seeds that it’s almost nutty tasting.  It’s a little different from your average lemon poppy seed muffin or cake, but still very familiar in flavor.  I love that it’s not super sweet, I also love the crunch of the seeds and the little hint of lemon flavor.  If you want more sweetness, you can add a simple glaze of lemon or orange juice mixed with powdered sugar.

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Macarons

French Macarons are one of my son’s absolute favorite treats.  Whenever we travel to a ‘big city’ and visit a bakery he always begs for one of the cute, brightly colored little sandwich cookies.  I’ve read quite a bit about these and how difficult they are to make, so I never bothered to try at home until last week.  Fortunately for me, I have been practicing all the necessary skills to make macarons for years so my first two batches turned out great!

After realizing that I do not have a cookbook with this recipe (!??), I visited my most trusted blogger for French desserts,  David Lebovitz.  He offered great advice, links, and a well tested recipe for chocolate macarons.  After success with chocolate I tried Martha Stewarts recipe for plain almond flavor.

I was nervous about how these delicate cookies would come together, so I pulled out my baking scale for accuracy and set to work.  You can click through for the recipes I used, but I will share a few things I learned.  First of all, it’s important to pulverize the almonds into a fine dust with the confectioners sugar.  I used my Nutri Bullet for this and it worked great.  Secondly, my scale came in very handy.  It’s difficult to get accurate measurements without weighing ingredients.  The more I practice baking with a scale, the easier it becomes.  It’s very satisfying to achieve such precision.  Third, making macarons is all about whipping the egg whites and your folding technique.  If you’re not comfortable separating eggs, making meringue, and folding delicate batters, then this might be a frustrating recipe to attempt.  A good tip which I didn’t come across until after baking is that the batter should be like lava; on reflection mine was a bit too stiff and that’s why the tops were not perfectly flat and smooth.  I did not aim for perfectly uniform size with my cookies and instead went free hand with the piping bag.  I made smallish macarons and thought they were just the right size for sharing and having more than one.  Lastly, please keep an eye on the oven as they bake.  Both my chocolate and plain macarons baked more quickly than I anticipated and I came close to burning them!

I’ve mixed up the photos from the plain and chocolate batches, but you can get an idea of the process.  I was pleased that my macarons achieved that cute little ‘foot’ and a shiny top.  You can also see the sort of belly button lumps on top of most of my cookies which as I learned was a result of slightly stiff batter.  I attempted to smooth the tops of some of the plain cookies with a wet finger, but got overzealous and ended up with some ugly tops as seen below.  They still tasted wonderful!  I filled the chocolates with raspberry jam and the plain almonds with vanilla buttercream.

Vegan Meringues

For Valentine’s Day this year I made meringue cookies.  Although I’ve made meringue for pies many times, I had never made the cute little crispy cookies.  They were a total success and my son said they were one of the best desserts I’ve ever made.  Egg whites and sugar, what’s not to love?

About a week later I decided to explore vegan meringues.  I was aware of this as a theoretical possibility, but thought it was probably harder than it appeared.  Vegan meringue is made from aquafaba.  Aquafaba refers to the liquid from cooking any dried bean or legume. Beans leach proteins and carbohydrates into the water they’re cooked in, which transforms that water into a substance rich in those nutrients and ripe for whipping.  While aquafaba can come from canned or stovetop cooked beans, most aquafaba-based recipes call for the liquid from canned chickpeas.  This is because chickpeas are supposed to have a neutral flavor and reliably consistent starch content.  Okay, let’s see if the dessert made from chickpea water really tastes the same as delicious, marshmallowy meringue from egg whites.

For this recipe all you need is one can of chickpeas, cream of tartar, sugar and vanilla.  Sounds easy enough, and this will be another opportunity to practice my piping skills.

Vegan Meringues

Recipe from The Kitchn – click through for more tips for success!

Liquid from one can of chickpeas – about 3/4 cup

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees and line 2 baking pans with parchment.

Using a stand mixer, beat the aquafaba and cream of tartar until it forms soft peaks (see photo below).  Add the vanilla.  Slowly add the sugar with the mixer running.  Mix until stiff peaks are formed.

Use a piping bag to create little swirls and shapes for the cookies.  If you don’t have a piping set, just scoop by teaspoons onto the baking sheet.  If you’re new to piping, set the bag in a tall container and fold it down so that you have both hands free to fill it.  As you can see, my piping skills need more practice.  Bake the cookies for 2 hours, then turn off the oven and leave them for another hour until totally hard and cool.

So, it looks like meringue, right?  Yes, the chickpea water whipped up beautifully and this recipe was easy.  However, it had a funky smell and it was just…. weird.  When I tasted the meringue before baking it had a salty, acidic, beanish flavor that I didn’t love.  I thought maybe it would go away during baking.  I didn’t tell my husband or son what these were made of and just let them taste the results.

They both noticed that something was different.  They couldn’t say what was different and still liked them, but frankly they just are not as good.  The texture of the finished product is a little different from egg white meringues.  These are more starchy?  I don’t know.  Vegan meringues are a cool thing to make and very easy, but why?  They make a great substitute and you probably wouldn’t notice the difference in certain applications where there’s a sauce or some other toppings.  But you know, a substitute just isn’t the same.

 

Tarte Tatin

Here’s a classic French recipe I’ve never made before.  I’ve seen the upside down apple tart made on cooking shows many times but never bothered to try it at home.  Yesterday I was watching my very favorite television show:  The Great British Baking Show and Mary Berry made her Tarte Tatin in the master class series.  She made it look so easy and gave several great tips for success.   I love the simplicity of the ingredients.  All you need is apples, crust, and a little sugar.

I got up off the couch and went to my best reference book for French classic recipes and techniques, Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques.   I used his recipe for pate brisee (pie crust) and followed his instructions for parts of the recipe and Mary Berry’s tips for other parts.  Tarte Tatin has been reinterpreted so many times it’s impossible to say what the ‘real’ or ‘original’ or even ‘the best’ technique might be.  Here’s what I did:

Tarte Tatin

1 pie crust – here’s the link to the recipe I use most often.  You could use a store bought puff pastry for this recipe.

1/3 cup white sugar

1/4 cup water

6 cups apples – sliced thin – This could be anywhere from 6-8 apples.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Get out your pie dish so it’s in arms reach.

Place the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat.  Do not use a non-stick pan when making caramel.  Bring to a boil and keep boiling until it turns a golden caramel color.  Pour the caramel into the pie dish and immediately swirl by tilting the pan to cover the entire bottom of the dish.  I struggled with this step because my caramel hardened too quickly in my cold pyrex dish.  Oh well, I pressed on.

Set the pie dish aside and allow the caramel to cool completely.  Meanwhile, slice the apples evenly and thinly.  Choose one or two good looking apples to use for the bottom of the pie. Place the first layer of apples on the cooled caramel in a nice design.  Remember, this will be inverted and the bottom will become the top; you want it to look pretty.  Fill the rest of the dish with the remaining apples.  It’s okay if the apples come above the top of the dish a bit because they will shrink as they cook.  Place the rolled out pastry or pie crust over the apples.  Tuck in the edges all around the dish.  Cut a small vent hole in the center of the pie.  Place in the hot oven for 45 minutes to an hour.  The crust should be golden brown.  When you take the dish out of the oven, let it cool for about 5 minutes.  To ensure a caramel top that’s not too runny, carefully hold a dish towel over the crust while you pour the juices into your caramel saucepan from earlier.  Next, invert the tarte onto a plate.  Now, add 2 Tablespoons of sugar and heat to a quick boil.  Pour this caramel sauce over the finished Tarte Tatin and serve just warm.  The finished tart was intensely apple flavored and super delicious.  The caramel is subtle and emphasizes the taste of the apples.  The crust was crisp and buttery.  Total success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thai Green Curry Soup

The season of soups is here again!  Who knew that making delicious Thai curry soup could be so easy?  The hardest part is remembering to buy Thai Green Curry Paste and a can of coconut milk.  Like so many soup recipes, this one is easily adjusted to suit your needs.  You could make it vegetarian by leaving out the chicken, or use shrimp or tofu if you prefer.  Any vegetables would work, so don’t let a lack of these specific vegetables stop you from making this!

I fully customized this recipe to my family by keeping the chicken and one ear of corn separate from the soup.  My husband had a lot of chicken with soup on top.  My son got an ear of corn, some plain chicken, and a sample of the soup.  I had a nice bowl of soup with a little chicken in it.  Everyone was happy.

Chicken and Vegetable Green Curry Soup

Recipe adapted from Anna Kovel via Better Homes & Gardens magazine

Thai Green Curry Paste

1/2 onion, chopped

1 sweet or mildly hot red pepper

4 cups chopped eggplant, zucchini, and/or yellow squash

1 cup corn kernels

3 cups chopped greens such as kale or spinach

2 1/2 cups water or broth

1 can unsweetened coconut milk 

2 cups cooked shredded chicken

1 lemon

The whole recipe can be made in one 5 to 6 quart pot.  (I used 2 because I also had to cook the chicken.)  Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and add the onions and peppers and cook until softened.  Next, add the curry paste and cook until fragrant.  Now add the eggplant or and/or squash and zucchini and cook until brown, stirring occasionally.  Add the water or broth and bring to boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are tender.  Add the corn, greens, chicken and coconut milk and heat through.  Serve with lemon wedges.

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Blueberry Banana Bread

Quick breads are so easy and satisfying to make.  This recipe is a direct offshoot of my Grandmother’s Banana Bread which I blogged about in 2012.  It’s not too high in sugar and includes some healthy rolled oats and blueberries.  Please try it and let me know how it goes.  Don’t worry about exact measurements for this one, it’s practically foolproof!

Blueberry Banana Bread

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 very ripe banana

1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup blueberries – fresh or frozen

3 tablespoons turbinado sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare the baking pan(s) with a good smear of butter; this recipe works well in three mini loaves or as muffins.

Begin by measuring the rolled oats into a bowl or jug like the one pictured.  Add the buttermilk to the oats, stir and let this combination sit while you gather and prepare the rest of the ingredients.  The buttermilk will tenderize the oats.

Melt the butter in a large mixing bowl and add the 3/4 cup sugar and the banana.  Mash the banana with a fork and mix well.  Add the eggs and vanilla and continue mixing until well combined and relatively smooth.  Now add the oats/buttermilk mixture and stir it all up.

Add the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda to the bowl.  Begin to mix the dry ingredients in gently and then add the blueberries and continue to mix gently until just combined.

Pour the batter into prepared pan(s) and smooth out the top.  Combine the 3 Tablespoons turbinado sugar and the cinnamon in your 1/4 cup measuring cup and sprinkle this all over the top.  Turbinado sugar has larger crystals than white sugar and will give a wonderfully crunchy top.  Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out to continue to cool.

 I couldn’t believe it when my husband said he thought it might even be better than banana bread!  The crumb is tender and moist and the crunchy top really sets it off.

Herbed Bean Salad

What do I have in my garden right now?  It’s mostly a dry wasteland, but there are some nice red peppers, a lone basil plant and some hardy oregano.  Here’s a salad to use what I’ve got.  If you do not have these exact vegetables, this recipe is open to improvisation.  For example, you could leave out the celery or substitute cherry tomatoes for the red pepper.  Also, this dressing is pretty punchy, so you could tone it down with a little less dijon or vinegar.  I love this salad because the main ingredients are pantry staples that I always have on hand.  It’s easy, nutritious and delicious.

Herbed Bean Salad

2 cans cannelini beans, rinsed and drained

3 Tablespoons red onion, chopped

3 Tablespoons vinegar (apple cider or white wine vinegar are nice choices)

1 sweet red pepper, chopped

2 or 3 stalks celery, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard

1/4 extra virgin olive oil (that’s 4 Tablespoons)

1 cup fresh herbs, chopped

salt and pepper

Begin by chopping the onion and placing in a small bowl.  Add 2 Tablespoons vinegar and about 1/2 teaspoon salt and set aside.

Chop the remaining vegetables and herbs and set aside.

In a medium bowl, add the dijon and remaining 1 Tablespoon vinegar along with the olive oil and pepper.  Whisk or stir rapidly with a fork until creamy.  Add the onion and vinegar mixture and stir to combine.  Add the beans, pepper, celery, and herbs then stir gently to coat all ingredients in the dressing.

Let the salad rest and marinate for 10- 15 minutes or place in the refrigerator overnight.  This will get tastier as the flavors mingle and will be delicious for 3 or 4 days.  Serve as a side dish or on a green salad.