12 September 2015

A September Cake with Fresh Prune Plums

This past week I made the annual discovery that never ceases to excite me: the first of the prune plums are in! Always available only briefly sometime around late August or September, these plums are a hallmark of the season. I love the pleasant tart flavor, how easily the fruit separates from the stone, and the gorgeous red color they yield upon baking. And beyond baking, I think they're also my favorite plums to eat in hand, as they aren't very watery and thus can be eaten relatively daintily and respectably--no worry of juices running all over the place!

 At first glance, I thought these were Italian prune plums, but then their enormous size had me questioning. Turns out they are actually a variety called "President Plums," but other than their size, they are essentially like my beloved Zwetschgen.

Traditionally, I go straight to my family's German recipe for Zwetschgenkuchen, but this year I decided to change it up a bit with a simpler cake. This one is not too sweet and is great on its own, or you can add a dollop of yogurt for breakfast, or dress it up with whipped cream for dessert.

September Plum Cake
Makes 15-18 servings

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 scant cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups of sifted, all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 milk, room temperature
6 cups Italian prune plums in 1/2-inch slices

Cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract. Beat until light and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom. Add half of the flour mixture and all of the milk to the creamed mixture and gently incorporate. Then add the remaining flour mixture and gently mix until just combined.

Spread dough in a lightly-greased 9x13-inch pan and arrange the plum slices over the top. Bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly before cutting.

07 September 2015

Quinoa with Kale Pesto and Broccoli

With temperatures hitting 95 F today, it feels like we're still in the throngs of summer! All this heat brings me back to a year ago, when I was in Korea, fighting off the heat- and humidity-induced languor that lingers on even through early September. My were those sultry days; no matter that I lived on the coast within a stone's throw of the Korean Strait! I looked forward to the whispers of cool air that would stir late at night, beckoning me (and all my neighbors) to head out for a midnight stroll. Thankfully, now that I'm back in Santa Barbara, I no longer have to contend with the oppressive humidity, and I've got a lot of my favorite ingredients--like homegrown basil!--within reach again, to help tempt the appetite even in this warm weather.

Looking around the pantry and the garden, I felt something cool and green would be perfectly refreshing for dinner this evening, and here is the result: Quinoa with Kale Pesto and Broccoli. There's something about getting lots of good greens, like kale and broccoli, that makes me feel light and happy--just what I want on a hot summer night. Then there's pesto--fragrant with basil, garlic, and pine nuts--that has always been a delicious homemade staple in my family. And quinoa, with its fantastic nutritional profile, is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

This immensely flavorful and healthy side dish is a playful combination of colors, flavors, and ingredients. Even the pesto--although brimming with the usual flavors--is actually riffing on the classic recipe with a generous dose of kale.

We sure enjoyed this quinoa dish out on the patio tonight, dining al fresco and waiting for the cooling temperatures. And I have to say, I am so thankful that this year it is a "we enjoyed" and not an "I enjoyed." Being together again with family makes a world of difference.

Quinoa with Kale Pesto and Broccoli
Makes 2-3 side servings

1 bunch kale, stems removed
1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

1 head broccoli
1/2 cup uncooked red quinoa
1/4 tsp. salt
More fresh basil leaves for garnish (optional)

To make the pesto, blanch the kale leaves in a large pot of boiling water for 45 seconds, then plunge kale into ice water to stop cooking. (Reserve boiling water for blanching the broccoli.) Once kale has cooled, drain and squeeze well to remove all water.

Place blanched kale, basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan, olive oil, lemon zest, and juice in the large bowl of a food processor. Pulse mixture until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

(Pesto can be made ahead, although the color will darken as oxidation occurs. Store refrigerated up to 1 week.)

Peel the broccoli stem; separate into small florets and cut stem into bite-sized pieces. Blanch for 45 seconds in boiling water, then remove and plunge into ice water to stop cooking. Drain well and set aside.

Place the uncooked quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse in 3 changes of water, scrubbing briskly by hand. (This is to remove the bitter-flavored saponins coating the quinoa seeds.) Drain well, then transfer to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup water and 1/4 tsp. salt to the saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. At end of cooking time, drain remaining water from the cooked quinoa using the fine-mesh sieve. Return quinoa to hot saucepan and let sit uncovered over the warm burner, fluffing occasionally, to evaporate the remaining moisture. Transfer quinoa to a large mixing bowl and let cool, then mix in half of the kale pesto, or more, to taste. (Reserve remaining pesto for another use.)

Add the broccoli stems and stir to combine with the quinoa. Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper, as needed, then transfer to a serving dish and garnish with fresh basil. Serve at room temperature.

05 August 2015

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte - A Birthday Cake!

We recently celebrated a very special family day, my father's birthday! With my parents, my sister and her two little kids, and my brother all in town (first time us siblings have been together in over a year and a half!), we had a great day. There's nothing like being together with the important people in your life that makes a celebration special.

As always, my present to the birthday child is to bake them a cake of their choice. This year, my father--a transplant to the California coast from Germany--requested a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, that is, in English, "Black Forest Cherry Cake." It's a towering, intimidating creation, usually with at least three layers of chocolate-flavored cake, juicy sour cherries, and more fluffy fresh whipped cream than you would ever imagine. The last time I made one was way back in the time of Ancient History, and as I searched for photo inspiration online this time around, I was excited by the potential of something great. Yet at the same time, I shuddered at how easy it would be to fail in the assembly, ending up with a sloppy pile of whipped cream garnished with messy swaths of chocolate shavings and cherries so unnaturally bright red that I suspected they might be radioactive.

So, while I chose a seriously legit recipe (taken from a well-loved and well-used copy of the Bayerisches Kochbuch) and the flavors are all there, I decided to keep the finish minimal, going for a more natural and rustic look. I love how it turned out, and importantly, so did my father!

Delicately chocolatey and with a pleasing nutty fragrance, the cake layers are enriched with the addition of grated semisweet chocolate and ground almonds. Then there are the juicy cherries and spikes of kirschwasser, keeping the cake tender and giving fun bursts of flavor. And the whipped cream, also enhanced with kirschwasser, marries the layers and flavors of the torte in the exquisite way only possible of the German Sahnetorten.

Yes, there is a lot of whipped cream, but then, with all the family in town, we've got lots of help to polish it off! Though the recipe is certainly a labor of love (I've added some of my personal tips to help avoid trouble spots along the way), the staggering cake is a wonderful treat--definitely worth it for someone as special as my father. We enjoyed it together for a late-afternoon birthday Kaffeetrinken, and I hope you have a chance to enjoy it sometime soon too!

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte
Serves 12-16
Translated and adapted from the German Bayerishes Kochbuch

For the cake: (prepare the day before)
125 g butter, room temperature
125 g granulated sugar
6 egg yolks, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract

125 g finely grated semisweet chocolate (halbbittere Schokolade)
125 g finely grated almonds or almond meal

125 g all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

6 egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of salt

Prepare a 24 - 26 cm (9.5 - 10.5 inch) springform pan by lining the base with parchment paper, then lightly greasing and dusting the base and sides with flour. Set aside.

In the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Slowly add the sugar and beat until well incorporated and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, 2 at a time and beating well in between each addition, scraping the bottom of the bowl as needed; then add the vanilla extract. Beat well until the creamed mixture is very light and fluffy. Remove the whisk attachment from the stand mixer and fit with the paddle attachment.

In a separate bowl, stir together the grated chocolate and almond meal, then add to the creamed mixture in 3 separate additions, gently beating to incorporate evenly, and scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.

At this point, set the oven to preheat at 170-180 C (340-350 F).

In a separate bowl (can use the same bowl previously used for the chocolate and almonds), sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form, using an electric hand mixer.

Add the flour to the batter in 3 separate additions, gently beating with the paddle attachment to incorporate evenly, and scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and, using a spatula, gently fold in the stiff egg whites in 3 separate additions.

Immediately transfer the batter to the prepared springform pan and bake for 40-60 minutes, depending on the size of the pan, until toothpick inserted comes out clean of batter (there may be some melted chocolate on the toothpick).

After baking, let the cake cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and invert onto a cooling rack, removing the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake. Let cool completely. If making the day before, wrap well in plastic wrap and store at room temperature overnight.

For the assembly:

The fruit (prepare the day before)
2 1/2 - 700 g jars of sour cherries in juice (I used Trader Joe's Morello cherries, which are 700 g with juice and 340 g drained)

The cake flavoring (prepare the day-of)
6 Tbs. sour cherry juice (reserved from the jars of cherries)
2 Tbs. kirschwasser

The whipped cream filling (prepare the day-of)
3/4 liter fresh heavy whipping cream, well-chilled
3 1/2 tsp. gelatin powder
5 Tbs. cool water
50 g superfine sugar (or powdered sugar)
2 Tbs. kirschwasser

The night before assembly, drain the cherries well of all juice (reserving the juice for another use) and set them to chill in the refrigerator.

The day of, set a large metal bowl and the whisk attachments of an electric beater to chill in the freezer. The whipping cream may be measured out and chilled in the freezer too, to get it extra cold.

Split the cake into 3 layers. (Toothpicks around the perimeter as cutting guides, and a noose of sewing thread, are my tricks to getting even layers with a minimum of crumbs!) Place the bottom layer on your cake plate.

Mix 6 tablespoons of the reserved cherry juice with 2 tablespoons kirschwasser and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the gelatin powder and cool water, and let sit 5-10 minutes to soften. (Avoid letting the gelatin dry out from sitting too long--you want it to be loose and stir-able when you add it to the whipped cream. While the gelatin softens, this is a good time to measure out the sugar.)

Whip the cream until very soft peaks just start forming, then whip in the softened gelatin and beat thoroughly. Just before stiff peaks form, add the sugar and the kirschwasser and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Brush or spoon 1/2 of the cherry juice-kirschwasser onto the base layer, then spread about 1/6 of the whipped cream over (a thin metal spatula works well for this job). Completely cover the base with a single layer of drained, chilled cherries tightly-spaced, then spread another 1/6 of the whipped cream over. Place the 2nd cake layer on top and repeat with the cherry juice-kirschwasser, whipped cream, cherries, and whipped cream.

Add the last cake layer, then top with the remaining whipped cream, swirling decoratively and creating a slight depression at the center with a fluffy rim. Arrange the remaining drained cherries over the center of the whipped cream. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving, to let the whipped cream set and to let the flavors of the layers meld.

19 June 2015

Stacked Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

Since trying these "stacked enchiladas" for the first time 8 years ago, this has been my go-to recipe for enchiladas. The delicious combination of flavorful and healthy ingredients--the tart tomatillos and fresh herbs of the nuanced salsa verde, the tortillas all soft and creamy from their slow bake nestled among layers of salsa and sour cream (or in my most recent version, Greek yogurt), juicy bites of chicken throughout, and savory cheese with a golden crunch on top--gets to me every time!

I'll just say up front that this is not your typical enchilada recipe. This is my kind of California cooking--a relaxed fusion of fresh ingredients and local flavors, using what I have on hand and figuring out an easy and healthy way to enjoy one of my favorite dishes. I mean, tomatillos!! cilantro!! quality cheese!! oh my goodness, I just am beside myself with joy to have these ingredients at my fingertips again. Hope you enjoy these enchiladas as much as I do!

Stacked Chicken Enchiladas Verdes
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 4-6

9 corn tortillas (6-inches in diameter)
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached and shredded
4 cups Salsa Verde (recipe below)
3/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt, loosened with 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup (packed) grated white cheese (I used a Manchego-Jarlsberg mix, but mozzarella, Emmentaler, Jack cheese, and others are great substitutions)
Oregano-Pickled Carrots, for serving (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. While oven is heating, assemble the enchiladas: spread 1/2 cup salsa verde over the bottom of an 8 x 8 glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange 3 tortillas in a single layer, breaking tortillas in half and overlapping them as necessary to cover the surface. Sprinkle half of the shredded chicken over the tortillas and drizzle with salsa (a generous 1 cup worth) and half of the thinned yogurt. Repeat with 3 tortillas, the rest of the chicken, a generous cup of salsa, and the remaining yogurt. Top the enchiladas with the last 3 tortillas, the remaining salsa, and sprinkle the grated cheese over.

Bake the enchiladas for 45-60 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and turning golden brown. Remove from oven and serve hot. Pass chilled Oregano-Pickled Carrots at the table as a refreshing accompaniment. 

Salsa Verde
Makes 5-6 cups. Any leftovers not used in the enchiladas would be delicious served over slices of grilled tri-tip!

3 pounds tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 large jalapeno chiles, halved with stems and cores removed
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 bunches fresh cilantro (stems included), coarsely chopped
1/2 bunch fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves

Place the whole tomatillos, jalapenos, and garlic cloves in a medium saucepan and add just enough water to barely cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until softened (avoid over-cooking, which will cause the tomatillos to burst).

Drain off and discard the water, then place the cooked ingredients in the large bowl of a food processor (or blender). Let cool slightly, then pulse to coarsely chop the tomatillos. Add the cumin, salt, and fresh herbs, and process until smooth. Salsa can be made ahead; keep stored in the refrigerator and use within 1 week.

Oregano-Pickled Carrots
These quick-pickled carrots are a tasty accompaniment to enchiladas and tacos and serve equally well as part of a charcuterie plate or as a simple snack on their own!

2/3 cup white vinegar
2/3 cup water
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 Tbs. salt
3 large carrots, peeled, sliced diagonally into thin ovals
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cumin

Place vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a rolling boil, stirring until sugar and salt have dissolved. Pack carrot slices into a clean, heat-proof glass jar and sprinkle the oregano and cumin over, then pour the hot vinegar solution over. Press carrot slices to submerge. Let cool slightly, then close the jar and chill completely in the refrigerator before serving. Use within 1 week.

02 May 2015

Sprouted Lentil Burgers on Yogurt & Green Sauce

I've had so much fun getting back into cooking! Not only do I have my familiar kitchen tools around me again, but I also have appreciative family members around me that make the effort worth it. Last night, I experimented with this recipe from San Francisco's Bar Tartine for Lentil Croquettes with Watercress and Kefir, published in Bon Appetit's April 2015 issue. Uncertain of how it would go over with my parents, I hedged and presented it as a first course before the actual dinner. But it actually turned out to be such a hit that we ended up making it the main part of our meal!

At first glance, the original recipe sounded not only delicious and healthy, but also absolutely intriguing, with a medley of fascinating ingredients combined in ways I hadn't thought of before. The problem was, however, that the ingredient list and prep steps seemed just a tad too extensive to make this immediately accessible for the home cook. Though I have many types of whole seeds on hand, I just didn't have whole caraway seeds. Then there were items that I've never cooked with. Onion powder? Nope. Pomegranate molasses? No again. Watercress? Couldn't find it in my local stores. I also don't happen to have a spice mill, and I never feel like shallow-frying is worth the inevitable clean-up of oil spatters afterwards. So, I made a bunch of substitutions in both ingredients and method, and I discovered this is a pretty forgiving recipe.

One thing I did indulge in was to make the sprouted lentils at home. You can find sprouted lentils in many produce stores and farmers' markets these days, but actually it is quite easy to do at home. I sprouted 3/4 cup dry lentils in a 1-quart mason jar, ending up with about 3 cups of sprouted lentils after 2 days. First, wash your lentils and remove any debris. Then cover your lentils with about 3x volume of water and let sit 12 hours. Drain and wash lentils (a fine-mesh sieve held against the mouth of the jar helps to keep the lentils in the jar), cover loosely (cheese cloth or mesh works well--anything to allow breathing but to keep dust out is great), and let sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for about 2 days, washing and draining well every 12 hours. When sprouts are of desired length, store lentils in the refrigerator and use within a few days. Besides this recipe, sprouted lentils are fantastic in salads or just as a snack as-is!

This dish is such a tasty and fun combination of flavors, colors, and textures, that I am keeping the recipe to make again.

Sprouted Lentil Burgers with Yogurt & Green Sauces
Adapted from Bar Tartine's recipe
Makes 6 appetizers or 3 more substantial servings

Yogurt Sauce
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tsp. agave syrup (or honey)

Green Sauce
2 cups baby greens
1 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth (tip: I used Trader Joe's liquid concentrate)
1/2 tsp. salt

Lentil Burgers
4 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 slice of whole wheat toast bread, torn into small pieces
2 Tbs. goat cheese
1 Tbs. Greek yogurt
2 cups sprouted lentils
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
Olive oil (for cooking)
Baby greens (for garnish)

Yogurt Sauce: Stir yogurt and agave syrup with a little water to loosen; set aside.

Green Sauce: Combine all ingredients in the large bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer sauce to another container and set aside. (No need to clean out food processor--it can be used as-is for the next step.)

Lentil Burgers: Heat a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat; add cut scallions and cook until blistered and charred, turning occasionally. Reserve pan.

Process scallions along with all remaining burger ingredients (except for the oil and garnish) until a paste forms. (Note: I was worried by how loose and moist the paste appeared to me, but the cooking process will dry out the paste and the burgers will actually hold their shape and flip well. In fact, I found that in the end the patties turned out on the dry side, but that was perfect for sopping up the juicy green sauce and complemented well by the creamy yogurt sauce....yum!)

Heat the non-stick pan over medium-high heat once more and lightly brush with olive oil. When pan is sizzling (a drop of water dances), portion out the sprouted lentil mixture as desired, smoothing to form patties. (I divided my batch into 6 patties, cooking 3 at a time in the pan.) Cook until edges begin to show a toasty golden brown, then flip, cooking the second side. Patties may be served warm, but they are delicious at room temperature as well.

To serve: Plate swirls of the yogurt and green sauces in shallow bowls. Top with sprouted lentil patty and garnish with greens.

27 April 2015

Oisobagi (오이 소박이): Stuffed Cucumbers Kimchi

Kimchi. Some people are wild fans, whereas others...let's say they just don't realize it, but one day they will love it! It has a deep and pungent flavor and is often (but not always) spicy, qualities that make it so addictive. Chances are, most Americans have tried the traditional Napa cabbage kimchi if they've had kimchi at all before, but there is an endless number of delicious varieties like daikon kimchis, radish-tops kimchis, green onion kimchis, and the cucumber kimchis I'm showing you here.  And like any country's beloved dish, the recipes for each of these styles vary from region to region and household to household.

This version, in which small cucumbers are stuffed with Korean red pepper and vegetables, is called oisobagi (오이 소박이). Flavorful and refreshing, it goes well with simple soups and porridges, or as one of many side dishes in a larger meal setting. Start by cutting and salting the cucumbers, and as the water is drawn from them, prepare the delicious stuffing of carrots, green onions, and Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru).


Traditional oisobagi uses a combination of green onions and buchu (a Korean herb like chives but much more delicately flavored), but lacking buchu, substitute with more green onions.

There are so many ways to enjoy kimchi. Korean style, it could be served in combination with any of your favorite Korean side dishes, or (especially with the cabbage variety) chopped up and incorporated into fried rice, as a part of a stew (great use for more aged kimchi!), or simply over a bowl of steamed white rice. Or try incorporating it into Western dishes. These oisobagi, for example, when chopped, would be a great new topping to try out on hotdogs or hamburgers--think a spicy cross of pickle and sauerkraut!

Oisobagi 오이 소박이 Stuffed Cucumbers Kimchi

2 lbs. small seedless cucumbers (about 12)
2 Tbs. koshering or coarse grained salt
½ cup shredded/julienned carrot
2 cups buchu (Korean chives) or green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces and shredded
¼ cup fish sauce
½ cup Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
1 ½ Tbs. (2 cloves) minced garlic
1 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs. sugar

Wash cucumbers and cut cross-wise slits down the length of the cucumbers, leaving sections attached at one end of the cucumber. Rub all surfaces of the cut cucumbers with salt and let drain 30 minutes. Thoroughly rinse off salt from the cucumbers under running water and drain cucumbers well, patting dry.

Mix together the fish sauce, gochugaru, garlic, ginger, and sugar to form a paste, then stir in the carrots and green onions. Working with gloved hands (to avoid staining them with the pepper paste), stuff each cucumber with some of the filling. Enjoy right away or store away in an airtight container, refrigerated, for later use. When serving, you might want to cut each cucumbers cross-wise once or twice with kitchen scissors to make smaller pieces.

19 April 2015

Couscous Tabbouleh Salad

As I ease back into life in Santa Barbara, I'm inspired daily--by the natural beauty of this place, the beckoning hiking trails, the sunshine, and the fresh air--to get out and be active and seek out healthier eating habits. And as springtime warms up, I'm definitely craving flavorful and fresh food that satisfies but requires minimal effort.

This tabbouleh fits right in. Using chewy pearls of Israeli couscous instead of the traditional bulgur, it's a delight for the tastebuds and a breeze to make. You'll love eating this as a refreshing side dish to juicy grilled steaks, sausages, chicken, or fish, or simply as a vegetarian main dish all on its own.

Based mostly on veggies and protein-rich legumes, this salad is oh-so-good for you. And it's a great dish to make ahead! Munching on leftovers the next day, the flavors had melded, and it was so delicious to tuck in spoonful after spoonful. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Couscous Tabbouleh Salad
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main

1/2 cup dry Israeli couscous
1 cup (packed) shredded cabbage
1 cup (packed) finely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
1 cup shelled edamame
2 Tbs. minced Spanish (or red) onion
3 medium tomatoes, diced
Salt and pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil to taste

Cook the couscous according to package directions, then let cool to room temperature. Once cooled, gently combine the couscous with the cabbage, herbs, edamame, onion, and tomato (along with any tomato juice released during dicing). Season to taste with salt and pepper and a few dashes of lemon juice and olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Can be made 1 day ahead; gently stir to redistribute any collected juices before serving.