Monday, May 30, 2011

Fennel, orange and olive salad

If you are not a licorice lover, fennel is not a  vegetable that you take to immediately - it is a taste that grows on you over time. Before I came to New York, the only fennel that I had eaten were fennel seeds which we use in India for cooking as well as a digestif eaten after a big meal. Typically fennel as a vegetable is associated with French and Italian cooking.

Fennel can be eaten in its raw form, thinly sliced as a salad, cut into sixths or eighths and roasted or sauteed as a side or appetizer, in a delicate soup, as well as in stews with fish or chicken. Today we are eating it in a salad. Fennel and citrus is a classic combination. With some red onion for a kick and black olives for tang, it makes a very refreshing salad and also provides a good dose of Vitamin C and fiber.

Fennel, orange and olive salad

One medium sized fennel bulb
2 large navel oranges
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
fennel fronds
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise . Remove the core and trim the fronds and keep aside. Using a sharp knife or a mandoline, thinly slice the fennel halves and keep in a bowl.

2. Using a paring knife, cut off a slice from the top and bottom of the orange to expose the flesh. Set the orange on the cutting board and using the curve of the orange as your guide, peel the rind off the orange including the white pith from top to bottom. Then, working over a bowl to collect the juices, cut between the segments and remove the segments using your paring knife. Squeeze the juice out of the remaining part of the orange once the segments have been removed. Save the juice for the dressing.

3. Soak the thinly sliced red onions in iced water for 10 minutes, to crisp them as well as remove some of the pungency of the onions. Drain and add to the bowl with the fennel.

4. Add the chopped olives to the bowl with the fennel and onions and set aside.

5. For the dressing, add the red wine vinegar to the bowl of saved orange juice with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grindings of fresh black pepper. Whisk in the olive oil and check for seasoning. Pour half the vinaigrette over the fennel, onions and olives and toss well. Arrange the fennel, onion and olive mixture on the serving plate. Lightly mix in the orange segments on the top and pour the remaining half of the dressing over the oranges. Sprinkle with some of saved fennel fronds.

Serves 3

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Strawberry, granola and yogurt parfait

Everyone in our family loves strawberries and especially the ones from the farmers market. But these are not from the farmers market - they are our California grown strawberries which are sweet and larger than those from the farmers market. They taste great in a parfait with yogurt and granola - a good alternative from cereal for breakfast. French Vanilla Yogurt is my personal favorite and a granola with pecans or walnuts but without dried fruits. A drizzle of good quality balsamic vinegar or balsamic crema (Eataly in NYC has a great one), takes this parfait to the next level, making it worthy of being served for dessert. The version in the picture is the breakfast version.

Strawberry, granola and yogurt parfait
As you can see there is no recipe for this parfait, you can add as much or as little of each of the ingredients that make up the parfait i.e. yogurt, strawberries and granola. If you are using plain yogurt, mix in some honey or maple syrup as per your taste. Greek yogurt is really good as well.

Note: Mangoes can be substituted for strawberries and it tastes great too.

Spring vegetable salad

Roasting vegetables, brings about a sweetness which other methods of cooking does not do. The high temperature of the oven, gives a nice caramelization, which concentrates the flavor of the vegetable. I love eating almost all vegetables roasted and I like to combine roasted vegetables, with some fresh and some steamed vegetables to create a salad with really great flavor.

Since I had some baby artichokes leftover from my spring minestrone soup made earlier in the week, I  paired them with asparagus, new potatoes, Vidalia onions and a tangy dressing with Dijon mustard. I also, added olives for a sharp kick and lots of fresh basil for sweetness.

Spring Vegetable Salad

4 baby artichokes, trimmed and cut into quarters
6 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
8 new potatoes or 16 tiny potatoes (Trader Joes sells them in lb bags)
1/2 cup Vidalia onions, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/4 cup Picholine olives (kalamata olives would be good too)
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 F.

2. Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water till they are fork tender but not falling apart. Cool and cut into quarters if using new potatoes and halves if using tiny potatoes. Toss the cooled potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. Roast in a preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes till the potatoes take on a nice golden color. Flip them halfway through roasting to get an even color on all sides.

3. Cook the artichokes in salted boiling water till they are tender. Toss the cooked artichoke quarters with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. Roast in a preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes till the edges are light brown but not burnt and crisp.

4. Blanch the asparagus in salted boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes till they are crisp tender. Shock the asparagus in a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking. Then drain and set aside.

5. Toss the cooked artichoke quarters with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. Roast in a preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes till the edges are light brown but not burnt and crisp.

6. In a large salad bowl, add the dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, white wine vinegar, and a few grindings of black pepper and mix well. Whisk in the olive oil till the dressing has emulsified. Add the roasted potatoes, roasted artichokes, vidalia onions, and olives and toss all the vegetables in the dressing so that they are evenly coated with the dressing. Finally add the chopped basil leaves - mix lightly and serve.

Spring Minestrone Soup

After the cold winter, spring is a real welcome time of the year. Finally I am not restricted to the squash and the root vegetable family. The beautiful flowers and the colorful vegetables have filled the grocery store shelves. There are so many options that it is hard to decide on what I should cook. Hence, the idea of a spring minestrone soup seemed exciting, to enjoy a bit of all the bounty that the season has to offer.

Today I used  asparagus, baby artichokes, zucchini, cremini mushrooms, button mushrooms, and Yukon gold potatoes. The potatoes gave the soup some body and the mushrooms contributed to providing a texture contrast. With a dollop of fragrant basil pesto and a generous shaving of Parmesan cheese, it is a really delicate, flavorful and satisfying soup. Along with a fresh mozzarella and tomato panini, it made a wonderful  Sunday night supper.

For those of you who are intimidated by prepping artichokes,  here is a link to the Ocean mist site , which has a how to video. Unlike their larger cousins, baby artichokes are really easy to prep and they are almost all edible.

Spring Minestrone Soup

3 baby artichokes, prepped and cut into quarters
6 stalks of thick asparagus, woody ends removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters
3 white button mushrooms (large ones), cut into sixths
1 large Yukon gold potato, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 leek, white part only, finely minced
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
2 plum tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and, finely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
5 cups or more vegetable stock or water

1. Heat a heavy dutch oven with olive oil over medium high heat. Add the leeks, onion, garlic and chili flakes and saute till the onion and leeks are translucent. Add the potatoes and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the chopped tomatoes.

2. When the potatoes are partially cooked, add the zucchini and the mushrooms and salt and continue to simmer till the potatoes are almost completely cooked but still hold their shape. Add the artichokes and cook for another few minutes till they are tender. Finally add the asparagus and simmer for 3 minutes more till the asparagus is tender but crisp. If at anytime during the cooking process, the broth had reduced too much, add more stock or water, a quarter cup at a time. Taste for seasoning and adjust the salt and pepper accordingly.

3. Serve with a dollop of basil pesto and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The marriage of eggplants with dill

Dill is a herb which is native to southern Russia, Western Africa and the Mediterranean region. It is mostly used in Scandinavian and German cuisine. It is fragrant and delicate and pairs well with fish like salmon and trout and makes an appearance in chicken salads and egg salads. It is also an ingredient in tzatziki - the Greek yogurt sauce. In India we use it with potatoes, eggplants, yellow moong dal cooked with opo squash (lauki) etc.

Since, dill does not have too many uses on a regular basis, I was trying to find as many uses as possible, before the feathery leaves wilted away in my refrigerator. My mom used to make an eggplant dish with dill which we had growing up with tortillas (chapati's). With the addition of fenugreek seeds (methi) which have an element of bitterness and tart tomatoes, it is a well balanced dish. The dill lends a fresh flavor to the dish without overpowering it. It makes a great side for a nice piece of grilled salmon as well.

Sauteed Eggplants with dill and tomatoes 

2 eggplants, cut into 1 inch cubes, about 4 cups
2 medium sized vine ripened tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder 
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Heat a large skillet with canola oil over medium heat. Add the fenugreek seeds and saute for a few seconds till they turn light brown - if they turn dark brown or black, they will turn extremely bitter. Add the eggplant and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the turmeric powder, cayenne and salt and mix well. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and once again cover and cook till the tomatoes and the eggplants have softened. Add the chopped dill. Mix and serve with chapati's or pita bread.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan cookies

Oatmeal cookies are best when made with butter and a fair amount of it. I normally make Ina Garten's version of oatmeal cookies with a little reduced sugar and they are awesome. But after I tried Nick Malgieri's version, I am a complete convert. They are totally awesome with a fraction of the butter and with all the delicious goodness. Applesauce does the trick replacing most of the butter in this cookie.

I have tried the apple sauce trick in a ginger apple cookie from Vegetarian Times, but these oatmeal cookies are in a different league.
Oatmeal Raisin Pecan cookies

Adapted from Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs

Makes 16 to 18 cookies
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
scant half cup granulated sugar
scant half cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup organic thomson raisins
1/2 cup pecans
1 large egg at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Set the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

2. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar till light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar, followed by the egg and the vanilla extract and beat until mixed well.

3. Add all the flour mixture and stir until just incorporated. Mix in the oatmeal, raisin and pecan mixture till it is evenly incorporated into the flour mixture.

4. Line two large sheet pans with Silpat or parchment. Using a small cookie measure, scoop out the batter and place it on the lined cookie sheet at one inch intervals. Lightly pat the top of each scoop with the back of a fork to flatten it slightly. Place one sheet on the upper rack and the other on the lower rack. Bake for 12 minutes rotating the racks halfway through baking from top to bottom and front to back to ensure even baking. The cookies will have lightly golden tops and sides but will still be soft to the touch.

5. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheets. Remove and cool completely on baking racks. Store in an airtight container.

Note: The cookies remain moist for at least a week. The best way to keep the moisture is to keep a slice of white bread in the cookie tin and layer them with butter paper. Once the bread is dry, it needs to be replaced by another fresh slice.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pizza night with friends

Over the last few years living in New York we have been to many pizza joints in search of the crispiest crust with the best toppings. A few that we really like are Grimaldi's in Brooklyn, Keste, Artichoke, Patsy's, and Jim Lahey's Co. But the satisfaction of making a pizza at home with toppings of your choice and enjoying it while you relax in familiar surroundings with family or friends and a movie or a board game is a different kind of pleasure.

There are four main ingredients that contribute to successful pizza making - the dough, the sauce, the toppings and the equipment i.e the oven, pizza stone and a pizza peel. For me, less is more as far as the toppings are concerned since overloaded pizzas result in a very soggy crust. Homemade pizzas generally suffer from a not so hot oven as a pizzeria, but 500 F and a good pizza stone can help to overcome some of the disadvantage.

Our first attempt was with store bought dough from the local pizzeria and a pizza crisper to bake the pizza on. Despite not having the best equipment, the pizzas were very good and we were thrilled with our pizza dinners. And then one day, we were introduced to pizza made on a pizza stone when friends of ours invited us home for dinner. The crust was so beautifully thin and perfectly charred and a just a little soft instead of being crackerlike, which tends to happen to pizzas with a very thin crust.

That evening, I came home and had to have a pizza stone. After much research I bought the Emile Henry pizza stone, which can be used on the stove top as well as in the oven. And the best thing about it is that aside from being beautiful, it has handles on the sides, making it extremely convenient to hold, when it is hot. And boy does it get hot at 500 F. There was still one more thing which I needed, which is typically required to slide the pizza in and out of the oven i.e. a pizza peel. I was hesitant to buy it, since I couldn't find one which seemed like a breeze to use. And in a small apartment, which already has a lot of kitchen tools, this was going to be one more thing occupying premium real estate in the kitchen.

While surfing around I found a great tip for making pizzas using parchment paper instead of a pizza peel. All you need to do is assemble your pizza on the parchment paper, a little larger than the size of the pizza and then lift the pizza along with the parchment and slide on to the hot pizza stone. The pizza crust cooks beautifully on the parchment and when the pizza is ready, just pull the parchment off the pizza stone and move the pizza to a cutting board. Once the pizza cools for a couple of minutes, the parchment paper comes off easily. And there you have your custom made thin crust pizza. Moral of the story - NO PIZZA PEEL required.

Since acquiring the pizza stone, I have been making pizzas very often. One weekend, I had Broccoli Rabe waiting to be used and I was bored of sauteing them on their own or cooking them with pasta. Typically Broccoli Rabe has a bitter taste, but when blanched the bitterness goes away which I discovered while making Broccoli Rabe pesto. So, I decided to blanch them and then saute it with some sweet Vidalia onions and a delicious pizza topping was born. I also learned to make pizza dough at home with Michael Ruhlman's recipe. It requires a little bit of planning since the dough needs to rise for a couple hours, but compared to a pizzeria dough which is very good but extremely greasy, homemade dough is really light.

Since I didn't have time, I started with a pizzeria dough and hand stretched it, which gives it the rustic look since it is never a perfect circle. Trader Joes and Whole Foods - both have pretty good ready to use dough as well.

Broccoli Rabe Pizza

This recipe makes a 12 inch pizza

Pizza dough store bought or home made
Half bunch broccoli rabe
1 cup diced Vidalia onions
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup tomato sauce (home made or jarred)
1 cup grated whole milk low moisture mozzarella cheese

1.  Preheat the pizza stone for 20 minutes at  500 F. If you are using the pizza crisper instead of the stone, preheat the oven to 425 F.

2. Trim the ends of the Broccoli rabe and blanch them in salted boiling water till they are slightly tender - about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and shock in ice water. Drain once again and chop into one inch pieces.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat with olive oil and add the garlic and the Vidalia onions and cook till the onions are translucent. Add the chili flakes and saute for 30 seconds to release their flavor. Add the chopped broccoli rabe, salt and pepper and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, till the flavors are well mixed. Set aside to cool.

4. Spread the pizza dough by hand or roll it on a lightly floured surface till it is 12 inches in diameter and about 1/4 inch thick.. If the dough is bouncing back, let it rest for 5 minutes and continue to roll. Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper and start assembling the pizza. The first layer will be the tomato sauce, followed by the shredded mozzarella, and the broccoli rabe mixture on top.

5. Transfer the parchment paper with the assembled pizza to the pizza stone and reduce the oven temperature to 450 F. If you are using a pizza crisper this step is not required and you can directly assemble the pizza on the crisper and place the crisper on the middle rack of a 425 F oven. Bake for 7 to 12 minutes depending on how crisp you want the pizza.

6. Remove the pizza with the parchment to a cutting board and let it cook for a few minutes allowing the cheese to set before you cut into it.

Now sit back and enjoy your own home made pizza.

My very own ChineseTake Out

As I had mentioned in my first post, I love cooking Asian food and when cooking just for myself it is a go to option for me. A bowl of stir fried vegetables and a small quantity of fish or chicken over steamed rice is as close as it gets to a perfect lunch. Fresh vegetables make the best stir-fries since they are cooked so briefly. Hence I use whatever looks the freshest in my refrigerator and has a nice contrast of textures and flavors. The combinations are endless when you mix and match with a few different Asian sauces.

For today's takeout lunch, I combined some spring asparagus,with crunchy celery, soft mushrooms and sweet carrots to make a delicious dish and paired it with a fragrant lemongrass chicken.
Stir fried vegetables and Lemongrass chicken

Stir fried vegetables with Oyster Sauce

2 thick spears of asparagus, trimmed and cut on the bias into 1/4 inch thick slices
2 large button mushrooms cut into quarters
1 stick of celery, cut on the bias into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 organic carrot, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
3/4 tablespoon oyster sauce or mushroom oyster sauce
3/4 tablespoon low sodium tamari sauce
1 tablespoon chinese rice wine
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
4 tablespoon water or stock
1 tablespoon canola oil

1.  Blanch the carrot for 3 minutes in boiling hot water or place them in a microwave safe bowl with 1/4 cup water for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2.  Heat a medium skillet with canola oil over high heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and saute for 30 seconds till it is aromatic. Add the chopped vegetables and carrots, and toss till they are well coated with the oil and garlic mixture. Saute for a couple of minutes and add the rice wine. Cook till the wine evaporates - approximately 30 seconds. Add the oyster sauce, tamari sauce and sugar and mix well. Add the water and cook over medium heat till the vegetables are cooked but still retain their crispness.

3.  Serve over steamed jasmine rice.

Lemongrass Chicken

4 organic chicken tenders, cut into bite sized pieces
3/4 tablespoon fish sauce ( I use Megachef brand from Australia. It has a very smooth finish)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

1 stalk lemongrass, white and tender parts only, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1/4 cup water

1.  Marinate the chicken with fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch and garlic in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

2.  In the meantime, make a puree of the lemongrass and the onion - it should be fairly smooth, so that the sauce will not taste fibrous from the lemon grass.

3.  Heat a small skillet over medium high heat with the  canola oil. Add the chicken pieces and brown a bit for a couple of minutes. Add the lemongrass and onion puree and cook till the mixture cooks down and is almost dry, but not burnt. Add the agave nectar and the water and scrape off the brown bits to form a sauce. Cook for a minute or so and serve with the stir fried vegetables and rice.

Serves 1

Friday, May 6, 2011

Stir-fried tofu in a sichuan sauce

My family loves tofu and we tend to eat it very often. There are a lot of ways to cook tofu - my favorite way is in Asian cuisine. It is a great source of protein and fairly easy to digest. I like to use the Lite Firm tofu made by Nasoya. It has great texture and does not have so much fat as the normal firm tofu. With vegetables and a sauce it makes a nutritious and tasty one dish meal. 

While watching a show called Chinese Made Easy by Ching-He Huang on the new cooking channel, I liked  the look of the Chili chicken Sichuan style. Sichuan food is typically very spicy, but this chef managed to make a great flavored dish without the use of very spicy chilies. And I thought the tangy, spicy and sweet sauce  would work well with tofu.

Stir fried tofu in Sichuan sauce
14 oz organic firm tofu, drained and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 ½ tablespoon canola oil
1 large zucchini, cut into 1 ½ inch batons
1/2 small red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into ¼ inch wide strips
2 small heads of broccoli, florets only, separated
A handful of snow peas, trimmed
4 stalks of thick asparagus cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
2 tablespoons light soy sauce

3 cloves garlic coarsely chopped
1 vine ripened tomato and 1 plum tomato – seeds discarded
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled, sliced and finely chopped
1 small fresh green chili, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a food processor, puree the garlic, tomatoes, ginger, chopped chili, red pepper, water, ketchup, and brown sugar. This will form the sauce for the dish.

Blot any excess moisture remaining on tofu with paper towels. It is important that the tofu is dry so that it gets a nice brown color while stir frying.

Blanch  the broccoli and asparagus in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes and shock them in cold water. When cool, drain and keep aside.

Heat a wok over high heat, and add the oil. Add the tofu to the hot wok, and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it starts to turn brown. Add the zucchini, snow peas and red pepper and stir-fry together for another 2 minutes. Add the broccoli and the asparagus and mix well. Pour in the sauce, and bring everything to a boil. Add the soy sauce and cook till the vegetables are cooked but still crisp.

Serve with steamed jasmine rice or short grain brown rice or basmati rice.

Serves 3

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cheesy loaves

As you can see I am in love with my mini loaf pans and this time I ventured to make savory loaves. Dorie Greenspan's new book My French Table has a very easy recipe for making a cheese and olive bread. It is more like a savory cake since it is a yeast free quick bread. The original recipe calls for tapenade and while we all love olives, we are not big fans of tapenade. Hence I used her basic recipe and made two different kinds of loaves to go with my spring asparagus soup that we had for dinner, along with a side of roasted broccoli with pine nuts and lemon zest and roasted potato wedges with rosemary and lemon pepper. It was a very filling and satisfying meal.

My loaves had basil pesto, olives and cheddar cheese in one, and basil pesto, sun dried grape tomatoes and cheddar cheese in the other. I had used a mild cheddar cheese, which did not contribute enough flavor to compensate for the calorie count. Next time I will use an extra sharp cheddar. Also the sun dried tomatoes were homemade which really enhanced the flavor of the bread.

I had some left over grape tomatoes from a pint container which were getting dry on the counter. Hence, I decided to speed up the process by putting them in a 200 F oven for 4 hours to dry them. It was really simple - I cut them into half, laid them cut side up on the baking sheet, drizzled some olive oil, salt and pepper and let the oven do the rest of the work. Once done, and cooled, I put them in a glass jar covered with olive oil and refrigerated them. This trick was also from Dorie Greenspans book. And if you like French food and are a carnivore, you should check out her book - it has some really great French fare.

Cheesy Loaves

Cheesy loaves - Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's My French Table

1/2 + 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup 2% milk
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon basil pesto
3 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese coarsely grated about 3/4 cup
1/4 cup pitted chopped olives 
1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon sun-dried grape tomatoes in olive oil coarsely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Equipment required: 2 non-stick mini loaf tins

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 400°F. 

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt, together in a medium bowl.
In another bowl lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the milk, olive oil and pesto. Pour the liquid ingredients over the flour mixture and stir gently to blend. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the cheese and the lemon zest. Divide the batter equally among the two mini loaf tins.

Fold in the olives in one of them and the sun dried tomatoes in the other. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 375 and continue to bake for another 20 minutes or so until it’s puffed and golden and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let it rest for 5 minutes, then turn it out. Cool completely on rack.

Wrap and store for 3 days at room temperature or freeze for 2 months. Thaw in wrapper.

July 17, 2011 : I froze one of the loaves and ate it after one month - it did not taste the same. Best to eat it fresh.

A trio of tea cakes

Last week I bought a set of mini loaf pans from William Sonoma which I have been waiting to inaugurate. Today I decided to bake three little loaves to enjoy with my cup of tea. My current fascination is with dried fruits and nuts and hence the three combinations involve just that. Until recently I used to buy the dried apricots from California which are not as sweet as the Turkish apricots and they would not get used as a result. After a visit to Trader Joes, I switched to the turkish ones which are sweet and chewy and great in cookies and cakes. A few weeks back, I used them to make pecan, cranberry and apricot biscotti and they were super. The biscotti was crisp and the the apricots had a nice chewy interlude. I will post the recipe the next time I make them so that I can show you how they look.

For my tea loaves, I use a standard 1-2-3-4 cake recipe by Alice waters and vary the mix-ins that make them unique. You can make them your won by mixing in any combination of dried fruits, nuts, lemon or orange zest, almond extract, chocolate chips etc.

 Apricot and Pistachio tea loaf

 Walnut and Raisin tea loaf

Almond and apricot tea loaf

1-2-3-4 Cake

Yield One nine-inch, two-layer cake
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups cake flour (sift and then measure)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsweetened butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch baking pans and line the bottom of each with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
  • 2. Stir baking powder and salt into cake flour.
  • 3. In another bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the four egg yolks one at a time. Add the vanilla to the mixture.
  • 4. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately, starting and ending with one third of the flour. Stir just until the flour is incorporated.
  • 5. In another bowl, whisk egg whites to soft peaks. Stir one third of the egg whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Variations
  • The recipe can be divided among three cake pans for a three-layer cake. It also makes 24 to 30 cupcakes or it can be baked in a 12 x 18-inch sheet cake pan. Bake cupcakes or sheet cake for about 20 minutes.
Source: Adapted from "The Art of Simple Food" by Alice Waters

Half of the above recipe yields, three mini loaves. I made the batter and divided it equally among the three mini loaf pans. Then I tossed all the dried fruits and nuts in some all purpose flour so that they do not sink to the bottom of the pan, except the apricots for the apricot almond loaf. As you can see in the picture the apricots are at the bottom of the loaf (this was not intentional). The quantities for the dried fruits and nuts are as below:

Apricot and Pistachio Tea Loaf
1/4 cup dried Turkish apricots, finely chopped
1/4 cup shelled, roasted, and unsalted pistachios coarsely chopped
(I bought the pistachios already shelled and roasted)

Walnut and Raisin Tea loaf
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, broken into small pieces
1/4 cup raisins
(I roasted walnut halves on a sheet tray in the oven at 350F for about 10 minutes. Then I cooled them and broke them into small pieces)

Almond and Apricot Tea loaf
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup dried Turkish apricots, finely chopped
(I bought sliced almonds with skin and roasted them on a sheet tray in the oven at 350F for about 10 minutes. Once cool, I sprinkled the almonds on the batter and lightly pressed it to ensure they stick while baking).

I used the Goldtouch nonstick mini loaf pans and the cakes baked in 30 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on a cooling rack for 5 minutes and then remove from pan and cool completely on the rack. And enjoy with a cup of tea and your crossword.