April 30, 2012

Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake

I’ve been walking around for the past two weeks saying, “Bundt? What’s a bundt?...Oh, it’s a cake!”

I don’t even know if I’m remembering those lines correctly from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But that’s how I hear them in my head (and how my family hears them coming out of my mouth, fake Greek accent and all).

This was my first bundt. I bought my bundt pan about a month ago in one of those Target-induced I don’t own a bundt pan? How could I possibly not own a bundt pan?! moments. 

I admit this was not the most gourmet of efforts. But it was school vacation week and I needed to keep my kid entertained. And I’ve found that too much emphasis on authenticity when baking with an 8 year old sous chef is not a good idea. So I settled on a recipe that started with a box cake mix but added enough extras to keep things interesting.

And you know what? I got a moist, intensely chocolaty cake that everyone enjoyed. I’m not entirely sold on the whole bundt thing. The cake ends up with too much crust for my taste. But the presentation sure is nice.

In a mixing bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, oil, water and eggs.

Stir gently until the ingredients are combined.

Then beat on medium until the batter is light and fluffy.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour into a bundt pan.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool for a few minutes in the pan, then finish cooling on a wire rack.

Dust with powdered sugar.


Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake

Slightly adapted from Real Mom Kitchen

1 box (18.25 ounce) chocolate cake mix
1 package (3.9 ounce) instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup oil (something mild like canola)
1/2 cup warm water
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
powdered sugar

1.    In a mixing bowl, combine cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, water, and eggs.

2.    Beat on low speed until moistened. Then beat on medium for 2 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in chocolate chips.

3.    Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan.

4.    Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

5.    Cool for 10 minutes. Remove from pan to wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with a dollop of whipped cream. 

Serves 12 to 15

April 18, 2012

Roasted Asparagus with Tarragon Vinaigrette

Last April I wrote about roasted asparagus with hollandaise sauce. Crisp-tender stalks of asparagus dripping in a luxuriously thick, lemony sauce. I can still practically taste it. Practically. Because I haven’t eaten it since then. One look at the ingredients and you’ll understand why. 4 egg yolks and 12 tablespoons of butter. Literally an annual (if that) indulgence.

So this year I decided to post a healthier asparagus recipe. This one is delicious too, but not as decadent. The asparagus is roasted again, just tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roasting caramelizes the asparagus in spots, giving it a really rich, sweet-savory flavor.

This time it’s topped with tarragon vinaigrette. Tarragon is one of my favorite herbs. It has a delicate licorice flavor that goes great with asparagus. (It also pairs really well with chicken and seafood.)

The vinaigrette is also no-fuss. Just toss the ingredients in the blender and puree until smooth. Blending the ingredients rather than just whisking them together gives this vinaigrette a thick consistency that really sticks to the asparagus.

This is a dish you can enjoy more than once a year!

Toss asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet.

Roast until asparagus is tender and browned in spots.

Combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a blender jar.

Puree until smooth.

Arrange asparagus on a platter.

Top with vinaigrette and a sprinkle of tarragon leaves. 

Roasted Asparagus with Tarragon Vinaigrette

Recipe adapted from HealthySeasonalRecipes

1 bunch asparagus, woody ends trimmed
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
½ shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp champagne (or white wine) vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp chopped tarragon, plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1.    Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2.    Toss asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place asparagus on baking sheet. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until crisp-tender.

3.    Meanwhile, combine shallot, olive oil, vinegar, honey, tarragon, Dijon, salt and pepper in a blender. Puree until smooth.

4.    Arrange asparagus on a platter. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and sprinkle with remaining chopped tarragon.

Serves  2

April 12, 2012

Quick Chicken and Spinach Curry

Indian food is a multisensory experience. There's the taste, of course, the layers of flavor from toasted spices, ground spice pastes, and onions. There's the visual component, the bright red chili powder, marigold turmeric, and earthy ground cumin and coriander. There's the smell of cloves and cinnamon hitting hot oil. And the audible hiss of onions sizzling away.

And don't think I've forgotten the sense of touch. Indian food is much more tactile than other cuisines. Traditionally, we use our fingers as our utensils. And when I think of Indian food, a big part of my mental image is the way it feels in my hand.

When I visualize this chicken and spinach curry, for example, I can practically feel the soft, pillowy naan in my fingertips as I scoop up a tender piece of chicken while a drop of thick, spinach-filled curry escapes down my finger.

And that's all before the bite even reaches my mouth. Once there, it's a riot of textures and flavors. Exciting, and yet comforting.

A treat for all the senses.

Combine yogurt, ginger/garlic paste, turmeric, salt and pepper in a bowl.

Add chicken and marinate overnight.

Sauté onion until golden brown.

While the onion browns, combine ground spices: cumin, coriander, garam masala, chili powder and paprika.

When the onion is golden, add the spices and sauté until fragrant.

Add the chicken. Stir and cook until the chicken is opaque.

Add the spinach and mix thoroughly.

Add coconut milk.

Simmer until the chicken cooks through and the curry thickens.

Dig in!

Quick Chicken and Spinach Curry

Recipe from Mehan's Kitchen

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into 1-inch cubes
2 Tbsp Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp ginger/garlic paste
1 Tbsp turmeric
black pepper

1 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp canola oil
20 oz frozen, chopped spinach (thawed)
1 14-oz can coconut milk (I used lite)
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp paprika

1.    Mix together Greek yogurt, ginger/garlic paste, turmeric, salt and pepper. Add cubed chicken and mix together. Marinate for several hours or overnight.

2.    In a medium pot sauté onion in oil until soft. Add spices and sauté for a few minutes, until fragrant.

3.    Add chicken and cook until the chicken is just opaque. Add spinach (no need to drain). Let this cook and allow flavors to combine as water evaporates slightly.

4.    Pour in coconut milk. Simmer for 10 minutes until the mixture thickens. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings if needed.    

5.    Serve with naan or rice. 

Serves 4

April 6, 2012

Baked French Toast with Pecans

Last weekend my college friends came over for brunch. There's something really special about college friends. These are the people who accompanied you on your journey from the kid you were when you left home to the adult you are today. In fact, you're probably the adult you are today because of your college friends.

When I get together with my college friends, no matter how long it's been, it's as if no time has passed. We pick up conversations we started years ago and talk and talk and talk.

The friends who visited last weekend were friends I hadn't seen in a while. I wanted to make them a nice meal. But I didn't want to miss a moment of their company.

That's the great thing about brunch. It really lends itself to dishes you can prepare ahead of time. 

Like this French toast. Not traditional French toast prepared at the stovetop, slice by slice. No, I'm talking about baked French toast that's more like a cross between a casserole and bread pudding.

The prep is super easy. Slice up some bread (I used challah). Mix up some eggs, light cream and flavorings (essentially, a custard). Combine. Bake. That's it.

The French toast I prepared  rich, vanilla custard with a maple pecan topping  is just one example. But you could do a hundred variations. Put some orange zest in the custard. Add some dried cherries or raisins to the bread. Leave out the nuts altogether. Whatever you like.

The point is that you assemble the whole thing the night before. It actually needs an overnight stay in the fridge for the bread to soak up all the custard. Then, in the morning, pop it straight into the oven.

Grab a hot cup of coffee and enjoy good friends and good conversation, while your French toast happily bakes away in the oven.

First prepare the maple pecan topping. Combine butter, brown sugar and maple syrup in a saucepan.

Heat until the butter melts.

Pour the mixture into a baking pan and sprinkle chopped pecans on top. Set aside.

Slice your challah into pieces about 1 inch thick. Set aside.

To prepare the custard, whisk together eggs, light cream, cinnamon and vanilla until everything is thoroughly combined.

Now, one piece at a time, dip a slice of challah into the egg mixture...

...then lay it into the baking pan on top of the maple pecan mixture.

Repeat until the pan is full. After a few slices you may have to tear the challah into smaller pieces and smoosh them in the pan in between the larger slices. That's fine and it will still look beautiful once it bakes.

Pour the remaining egg mixture on top. Then cover the pan and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, put the baking pan in the oven and bake until the french toast is puffed and golden.

To serve, cut a piece of the French toast and place it pecan-side up on a plate. Drizzle with warm maple syrup.

Baked French Toast With Pecans

Recipe from Bon Appetit magazine

This dish is assembled a day ahead so the buttery sauce can soak into the bread.

½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup maple syrup (the real stuff)
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
8 eggs
1 ½ cups light cream (or half and half)
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 1-pound loaf challah or egg bread, sliced (1 inch thick)
maple syrup, warmed, for serving

1.    Stir butter, brown sugar and maple syrup in heavy saucepan over medium heat until melted and smooth. Pour into 9" X 13" glass baking dish. Sprinkle pecans over butter mixture.

2.    Whisk eggs, light cream, cinnamon and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Dip bread slices into egg mixture and arrange in single layer in prepared dish.

3.    Pour remaining egg mixture over bread slices in dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

4.    Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake French toast uncovered until golden brown and puffed and knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

5.    Cut into six pieces. Serve pecan-side up with additional warm maple syrup. 

Serves 6

April 4, 2012

Jam Puff Pastry Straws

What can I say about these straws, other than — make them!

Lovely, sweet jam (I used Stonewall Kitchen's seedless black raspberry, my absolute favorite) twisted into strips of puff pastry.

A few ingredients, so little time, and minimal effort. And for that you're rewarded with a fun, crunchy, tender and sweet — but not too sweet! — little treat to add to your brunch table.

Place a defrosted puff pastry sheet on a well-floured surface.

Roll it out a bit, until it's a couple of inches larger on each side than when you started.

Cut the pastry sheet in half. A pizza cutter works really well for this job. Then spread jam liberally on one of the puff pastry halves.

Place the other sheet on top of the jam-covered sheet. Roll sheets together lightly, so the jam doesn't spill out.

Slice the sheet into strips. Then gently twist each strip with your fingers.

Place twisted strips on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake until puffed and golden.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and eat!

Jam Puff Pastry Straws

1 package puff pastry (2 sheets)
1/3 cup jam (use your favorite)
Flour for dusting
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

1.    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside.

2.  Thaw puff pastry as directed on the package. Dust work surface with flour and lightly dust rolling pin with flour. Roll out puff pastry until about 2" larger on each side. Cut crosswise into two rectangles. 

3.    With a pastry brush, coat one piece of puff pastry with half the jam. Cover jam-coated piece with the remaining plain piece of puff pastry and gently roll together with rolling pin.

4.    Slice into long or short strips and twist, then place on parchment lined pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before removing from the pan.

5.    Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.

6.   Repeat process with second sheet of puff pastry.

Makes approximately 30 straws