Monday, September 27, 2010

Welcome fall

In my opinion, there is no better way to welcome fall then with a fall-themed potluck dinner! Bonnie and I were lucky enough to have some wonderful friends join us in celebration on Thursday night, and we enjoyed a pot of delicious sweet potato soup, curried cauliflower, kale and mushrooms, homemade hummus, Berkeley Bowl olives and some delicious Barbera wine. The night was capped off with an appropriately fall-themed apple cake. The cake was so popular that I decided to share the simple and accessibly recipe here for everyone to enjoy.

Now we all know I'm not a big baker, but thanks to my dear friend Jen Greer, I posses the world's easiest apple cake recipe (although I still managed to mess it up somewhat the first time I made it by not cutting the apples small enough....of course!) Anyhow, I have now perfected the recipe (which, unsurprisingly really just requires following the directions) and I have to admit that the cake came out deliciously! It's super easy to make and although the batter looks really dry and chunky when you put it into the pan (it has the consistency more of cookie dough than batter), the cake is super moist because of all of the apples in it. The prep literally took about 10 minutes, I highly recommend trying it out if you like apples. And cake. And really, who doesn't?! It's even better with a little vanilla ice cream:)

Jen's Apple Cake

1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar (I used a combo of brown and white, you can use either/both. I liked the earthiness the brown sugar imparts)
2 cups flour
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla (I dumped in a little more because I love vanilla)
3 cups cubed apples, peeled (should be about 1 centimeter squared)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until well mixed. Batter will be very lumpy, more of a dough texture. Spray baking pan (I used a bundt) with oil and then sprinkle the inside of the pan with flour. For extra credit, dust the inside of the pan with cinnamon sugar for a crunchy crust. Bake for 1 hour, or until set all the way through. Once cooled, invert onto a plate and sprinkle the top with powdered sugar for decoration.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Back in the kitchen

Hello friends! It has been a while since I've attended to my blog, and I have missed it greatly. As they say, life got in the way of life, but I'm entering into a new phase now of focusing on things that are truly important to me, and this is one of them. So prepare yourself for much more regular posts, photos, recipes and adventures in the Bay Area!

So, without further ado, I'd like to present my most recently improvised recipe...tofu burgers!

Last week, I decided it was time to do something with the half a block of tofu on the verge of going bad in the fridge. After scrolling through tofu recipes on epicurious, I decided I was in the mood for something hearty and nutty. I found one recipe for toasted almond tofu burgers, which I used as a loose guideline for my creation, which I will hereby name "Toasty Pecan Tofu Burgers." Here is how I went about creating them, which worked well for me. I encourage you to experiment with other ingredients though, I think this is a perfect recipe to make when you have a few random items in the pantry/fridge and you're trying to figure out a way to bring them all together.

Toasty Pecan Tofu Burgers

First, I sliced up the tofu into thin slices, patted it dry and wrapped it in paper towels. The goal here is to squeeze as much moisture out of the tofu as you can (FYI I was using extra firm). I placed the tofu between two plates and stuck a few cans of food on top for pressure and let it sit for 30-60 minutes. If the paper towels seem drenched, either squeeze them out and re-wrap or just use fresh ones.

As the tofu drained, I made prepped the other ingredients. I shredded up a large carrot and finely chopped an small onion and a few cloves of garlic. I sauteed these for about 8 minutes, until soft and set them aside to cool. I then toasted up a few pieces of old bread and about 1/3 cup of pecans until browned. After letting them cool, I pulsed each in the food processor, turning the bread into breadcrumbs and the chopping the nuts up finely.

With all the ingredients now ready, I gave the tofu a final squeeze and then crumbled in into a mixing bowl. I tossed in the breadcrumbs (about 1/2 a cup, for those who like to measure), the pecans and the carrot/onion mixture together with the tofu, and then mixed in a lightly beaten egg white (to hold the mixture together). I also tossed in a splash of soy sauce, some sesame seeds, garlic power, salt, pepper and a little ginger for flavoring. I mashed it all together with my hands and made little patties, about the size of my palm.

I heated up some olive oil in a large skillet, and dropped the patties in, cooking until brown and then flipping over. They stayed in one piece pretty well, but I was gentle with them, having totally botched previous attempts to make tofu burgers due to the crumbly texture of tofu.

When browned nicely on both sides, I removed from the heat and served them with a simple salad of romaine hearts, avocado, heirloom tomatoes and a homemade vinaigrette of balsamic, olive oil and course grain mustard. I have to admit - it was pretty and delicious! I failed to take a photo, but you can take my word for it.

If you try this recipe, let me know how it comes out. I think you put a lot of different ingredients into it to change up the flavor, but the key to the texture success seems to have been the egg white and the bread crumbs, so I recommend continuing to use those.

I am sure I will have more tofu adventures to share soon, as I bookmarked about 10 difference recipes on epicurious in my search for the perfect tofu burger. So stay tuned and get your soy on!:)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Baking and the art of discipline

I am not, by nature, a baker. Reading recipes and following them to a T is not my strong suit in cooking. I'm more of the creative, improvisational cook - a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and voila! Sadly, that approach really does not work in baking. Memorable experiences proving this fact include the time I added 2 tablespoons of salt instead of sugar to a pancake mixture (I was like 8 years old, but still). Or the more recent attempt to make lemon cupcakes "healthy" by using whole wheat flour instead of white flour. I think we can all agree that was not a good choice.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when a recent attempt at baking actually turned out to be incredibly delicious! Last winter, I came across a recipe in the NYTimes food section, by Melissa Clark who writes a column called "A Good Appetite." I love her recipes, as they are usually creative and delicious but not too difficult. And, there is something appealing about hearing the recipe author's story about how and why they came up with that recipe - it adds a layer to the experience that is missing in a lot of traditional cookbooks, I think. Anyhow, this one article, "Secrets of the Cake Stand", had a recipe for Blood Orange Olive Oil cake. It immediately sounded like something up my alley, so I cut it out and filed it away.

Flash forward to last weekend. I had been yearning to make this recipe for months, and had even tried a few times to source out some blood oranges, to no avail. So when they appeared at Berkeley Bowl, I knew that my time had finally come.

I think that the key to my successful Blood Orange loaf was in fact discipline. As “creative type”, I am used to not following directions, preferring to make things up as I go, embellish with my own flair, experiment and create. But via my previous failed baking experiences, I came to realize that in order to be a successful baker, I needed to discipline myself to follow directions, to stay committed to the task at hand, and realize that the end result will likely be more delicious even if I don’t add my own personalized feature to it. As I am writing this, I am wondering if my lack of discipline in baking is somewhat representative of my lifelong struggles with being independent, not liking to be told “What to do” and greatly enjoying the sensation of being right and doing things on my own. Perhaps I’m reading too far into this, but it’s been a theme I have been thinking a lot about recently, and somehow I feel warmed by the thought that my successful cake has something to do with a deeper level of personal progress!

Anyhow – enough introspection, back to the cake. It was every bit as delicious as I had imagined! As I mixed it together, I thought it looked really liquidy, but it ended up being perfectly moist and flavorful. The blood oranges definitely added some depth of color, but I think it would have been just as delicious with regular oranges (I’d go for a smaller juicier variety, as opposed to something like a navel orange). I’ll certainly be experimenting with the recipe using regular oranges, because it was too good to hold out until blood oranges are around again. One thing to note – I baked it in a pyrex loaf pan, and it took a bit longer than the recipe said – maybe an additional 10-15 minutes, I can’t exactly remember. I just checked it every 5 minutes or so after the first 50, and when the cake tested was clean I took it out. For serving, I made the blood orange honey compote that the author mentions, and it was extra delicious.

So – whether you are looking for an exercise in discipline, or just a delicious treat (or both!), I highly recommend trying this!