Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tangy Dill Mayo

This one goes in the "A little extra effort makes a huge difference" category.  The next time you are making dinner and want something to boost the enjoyment factor and subsequently, the praise to the cook, try this one. 

1/4 c. good quality mayonnaise
1 generous Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
several large sprigs of fresh dill, finely chopped (~ 1-2 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

The Method
Add all ingredients to a small bowl and whisk together until smooth.  Serve on or along side your favorite meats and produce. 

Food for Thought
This goes well with anything you could eat ranch dressing on (only better) and beyond.  If  you want it on a salad, knock yourself out.  I recommend it on fish and pork (preferably grilled) and potatoes and veggies; for example, we had it with grilled pork loin, grilled potatoes and  sautéed green beans with toasted almonds and minced garlic.  So good!

Our vegetable for this meal was a matter of the so-called "pantry principle", which says use what you have.  This principle is always important but is especially time-sensitive where produce is concerned.  As we had a batch of fresh green beans from our sister-in-law's garden (Yay!), and we had fresh dill growing in the backyard, it was a no-brainer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jacket optional, Thai required: Mango Sticky Rice

After a memorable dinner with our great foodie friends (the same friends who made the great collard green and baked beans on our Southern-friend theme dinner, I am quite a different person. 

The cuisine theme (Thai) was previously fairly unfamiliar to me but I was given a great recipe to work from for the Nam Tok I was assigned to make.  The cooking experience and the enjoyment of all of the great dishes there (including this one for Mango Sticky Rice) have broadened my horizons and guaranteed that I will have powerful, spontaneous, episodic cravings of some great versions of southeast Asian cuisine for a very long time.

This recipe for Mango Sticky Rice comes from our friend Katie.  To say it was a life-changing experience would be only a slight exaggeration.  Thanks Katie.

1 1/2 cups Thai sticky rice (khao niao)
1 can (19 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 mangoes, peeled and sliced

The Method
In a large bowl, combine the rice and enough water to cover by 2-inches. Soak for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain.

Inside a wok or steaming pot, place a bamboo steamer and line the steamer with parchment paper/thin cloth. Add enough water to come up just below the steamer. Bring the water to a boil and steam until rice is tender—about 30-40 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the rice to a bowl.

Mix the coconut milk, sugar and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Pour over the rice (but reserve about one third of the sauce to be able to drizzle over the mango when you serve), mix well, cover and set aside until liquid is absorbed into the rice, about 30 minutes.  Dish rice into serving bowls, add a few slices of mango to each bowl and drizzle a bit of reserved sauce over each dish. 

Food for Thought
It's like if a fresh peach pie had been born in Bangkok instead of Georgia.  It was great!

As a final note, when using produce in a recipe, it seems fairly obvious to state that you should use good stuff.  That said, it is especially important in a recipe such as this where the produce goes in straight - with little or no processing, subjection to heat, integration with other ingredients, etc.  Bottom line, if you can't find good stuff for your given recipe, make a substitution if possible (the red cabbages are lousy but the green cabbages look great) or just wait.  The mangos used in this recipe came from Bountiful Baskets and they were excellent.  We've heard a lot of good things about them so I suppose we'll have to check them out.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lemon Dream

This is the best cake I have ever made; I have made a similar cake many times from a published recipe, (which I have modified in several ways over time) and I thought I would use it as a jumping off point for a more bold variation.  By now, I think it is safe to say that there is no recipe under the sun, published or unpublished, which is exactly like this one.  It was a fragrant, citrusy, torte of creamy, textural perfection.


For the Cake
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 large whole eggs, at room temperature
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. milk
1. tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. orange extract
1/8 tsp. yellow food coloring

2 1/4 c. cake flour
1 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. Salimon
1/8 tsp. iodized salt

12 Tbsp. ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

For the Frosting
3 1/4 c. powdered sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
2 Tbsp. milk
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. orange extract
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/8 tsp yellow food coloring
Pinch of salt

For the Simple Syrup
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. lemon extract

The Method
Place oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Trace 2 9-inch cake rounds on baking parchment paper and cut out the rounds.  Lightly spray the inside of the cake rounds with cooking spray and lay parchment paper rounds inside of cake rounds.

Whisk wet ingredients together in a medium sized bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl for mixing or in your stand mixer bowl.  With mixer on low speed, beat in pieces of butter, one piece at a time until mixture is coarse and crumbly. 

Increase mixer speed to medium-high and gradually add in egg mixture.  Stop mixer and scrape down sides then resume mixing and beat until batter is light and fluffy.  This batter will be thick.  

Divide batter evenly between the two prepared cake rounds and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with few crumbs attached (28-34 minutes).  

Remove cakes and set on top of cooling racks and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Run a small knife around between the cakes and the pans to loosen and flip out onto racks.  Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of each cake and flip cake upright onto another cooling rack.  Cut each cake in 1/2 with a bread knife or other long serrated blade taking care to maintain a constant, even thickness as you cut.  

Place a small amount of frosting on your cake plate and place a bottom layer of cake on the plate.  Lightly brush the top of the layer with the simple syrup using a silicone sauce brush then add a generous (~1/4 inch even layer of frosting.  Add another layer of cake and repeat with additional layers.  Use a small portion of remaining frosting to go around the outside of the cake (called the crumb layer) and refrigerate for 20 minutes then remove and add remainder of frosting for the final outer layer of frosting.  Refrigerate for an additional 30-60 minutes prior to serving.     

Food for Thought
Regarding lemon zest, the less-is-more technique works best as the outer portion of the lemon peel has everything you want.  As you grate deeper into the white pithy matter, the lemon peel has a very unpleasant bitterness that reminds us of why we do not eat lemons and other citrus fruit out-of-hand like we do apples, pears and so forth.  

Also, when frosting a cake, remember that you always want to put down more frosting than you think you will need, push the frosting where you want it to go, then scrape off the extra.  This will prevent tearing the cake and besides, even with 4 layers, there is no need to be stingy when you've got this much frosting.  When frosting a cake, you should have the right tool for the job and that means an icing spatula (I like the offset handle).  They can be purchased at your local craft store, WalMart, Target, etc. and online.  

Finally, this cake needs no additional company other than a fork and a glass of cold milk.  However, if your friend sends you a jar of lemon-ginger marmalade, a bit of that on the side really pumps up the jam (pun intended - how shameful - sorry).  But seriously folks, after you try this recipe, you will forgive my sins of humor (Doh! Another one. Help!).