Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Goal Roundup: February

It's that time again!
  • Financial: We had to get the car fixed, which wiped out last month's progress, but an unexpected bonus at work put us back on track and then some. A
  • Health: Lifted weights.... once. D
  • Food: The Cake Book (multiple), 100 Great Noodle Recipes, Fine Cooking Soups and Stews (multiple). Though I fell behind on blogging, I managed to get caught up. A 
  • Reading: Bicycle Diaries; Making Money (reread) B 
  • Writing: Joined a second virtual crit group. Replotted much of Book 1. Resubmitted the first two chapters to critters. A
  • Birthdays: Only one this month, but it was observed A
And now I really must go clean the fridge, since I'm all caught on the blog....

Fresh Ginger Spice Cake

This was another office birthday effort, and alas it is likely to be the last one. The group is getting bigger, and I find myself lacking the time and energy to put together something appropriately impressive pretty much every month. Maybe some day I'll be back in a place where I can do that, but right now I feel like I'm not being fair to some people.

Unfortunately, I can't say I was thrilled with this cake, the first less than stellar result I've gotten from The Cake Book. Everyone claimed to like it, and it all disappeared, but it's not really to my taste (of course, it wasn't my birthday, either). I was dubious about it the entire time; the baking method is certainly like nothing I've ever made before.

My boss (who is English) seemed to think it was just fine, so it may be that it it fits in with a more European style; my own term of description was "primitive." You could have made a cake like this 200 years ago, though probably not with fresh ginger.

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 c unsulphured molasses
3/4 c firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 c peeled, finely chopped fresh ginger
1 c unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 c water
  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Place the crystallized ginger in a small bowl. Add 2 Tbsp of the flour mixture, and stir to coat the ginger pieces. 
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the molasses and brown sugar, breaking up any lumps. Whisk in the eggs until well blended. Whisk in the chopped fresh ginger. 
  4. In a small saucepan, combine the butter and water and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and whisk about 1/4 cup of the butter mixture into the molasses mixture until well blended. Whisk in the remaining butter mixture. Whisk in the flour mixture until just blended. Whisk in the crystallized ginger. Pour the batter into the pan. 
  5. Bake 50-60 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove the sides of the pan and invent the cake onto a rack. Peel off the parchment paper and reinvert the cake. Let it cool completely. 
  7. Dust with confectioners sugar before serving (I used whipped cream).

It is very, very dense and moist, and the flavor of ginger sings out loud and clear. If you know someone who likes that, and who doesn't expect a lot of sweetness from their cakes, this might be worth a try.

Garlicky Tortellini, Spinach & Tomato Soup

Since it's the last day of the month (already!) I guess I'd better catch up here. Two recipes today, the first of which is this lovely little soup, an excellent addition to anyone's repertoire. It's easy, and like many soups, can be put together largely out of pantry-friendly, low-cost ingredients. And it tastes divine, even with dried basil.

Can't ask for much better than that.

2 Tbs. unsalted butter
6 to 8 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups (1 qt.) homemade or low-salt chicken broth
6 oz. fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
14 oz. canned diced tomatoes, with their liquid
10 oz. spinach, washed and stemmed; coarsely chopped if larger
8 to 10 leaves basil, coarsely chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. 
  2. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 min. 
  3. Add the broth and bring to a boil. 
  4. Add the tortellini and cook halfway, about 5 min. for frozen pasta, less if using fresh. 
  5. Add the tomatoes and their liquid, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook just until the pasta is tender. 
  6. Stir in the spinach and basil and cook until wilted, 1 to 2 min. 
  7. Serve sprinkled with the grated cheese.

From Fine Cooking

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spicy Thai Beef Curry

This week's new recipe isn't actually from a book, but from one of those heavy magazines Fine Cooking puts out every now and then, when it thinks I'm not spending enough money or something. This was a very quick and easy recipe to put together. All of that coconut milk does make it on the indulgent side, though! It also cuts the spice considerably--I only used one tsp of curry paste and probably should have used two.

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1-1/2 lb. beef sirloin tips
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 2 medium-large)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh ginger
1 to 2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup low-salt canned chicken broth
1 13-1/2-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1 Tbs. fish sauce
1-1/2 cups frozen sugar snap peas
1 large lime, zest finely grated and fruit cut into wedges
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Heat the oil in a 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the sirloin tips with salt and pepper and sear the meat in batches until nicely browned on two sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the shallots to the pan and cook until just tender and lightly browned, 2 to 4 min. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 min. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Stir in 1/4 cup of the broth, scraping up any bits that are stuck to the pan. Add 1/3 cup of the coconut milk, stirring until the curry paste has blended in completely. Stir in the remaining coconut milk and broth. Add the fish sauce.
  3. Increase the heat to medium high. Return the beef to the pan (along with any juices), stir, and simmer until the meat is just cooked through, 8 to 12 min.
  4. Take the pan off the heat. Remove the meat and transfer to a cutting board. Stir the sugar snap peas into the sauce and cover the pan. Let the meat rest for 1 min., then slice it thinly across the grain; return it to the pan along with the lime zest. If necessary, return the pan to medium heat until the peas are thawed and  heated through.
  5. Portion the curry into four warm bowls, sprinkle with the cilantro, and serve with the lime wedges. Serve over jasmine rice.
We spent a quiet pre-Valentine's Day out at the Worcester Art Museum, then had dinner at local destination restaurant The Sole Proprietor while Grandma and Grandpa watched the kids.

I am working my way through the crits I've gotten for Book 1, making some changes to the story but nothing heavy--yet. The second half will probably need more work, but I am still thinking about what I can do to punch up the plot. The revised first chapters are back in the queue at critters.org, and I hope to be getting feedback in early March.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rich Marble Pound Cake with Chocolate Glaze

Yet another one from The Cake Book. Why yes I do like pound cakes. They're not fussy and they are awesome. This one is a little fussier than most because you layer the batter to get the marble effect, but that's not a big deal, and it does look fantastic. While making this I tasted the chocolate batter and actually said "Oh my God" out loud. It's good.

3 c cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 c granulated sugar, divided
1/2 c natural (not Dutch-processed) cocoa powder
6 Tbsp water
1 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs
1/2 c whole milk
  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. 
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 c of the sugar, the cocoa powder, and water until smooth. Set aside. 
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until very creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in 2 cups of sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and  beat until well-blended and light, about 4 minutes. At medium speed, beat in the vanilla, then beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. At low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk in two additions and mixing just until blended. 
  5. Add 3 c of the batter to the cocoa mixture and stir until blended. Spoon 1/3 of the plain batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer. Spoon 1/3 of the chocolate batter over the plain batter and smooth. Repeat, alternating layers.
  6. Bake the cake for 60-70 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. 
  7. Invert the cake onto the rack and cool completely.
  8. Glaze the cake.
Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 c heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Place the chocolate in a food processor and process until finely ground.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove from heat an add the chocolate. Stir until melted and smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer the glaze to a small bowl. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and let cool for about 10 minutes before using.
Makes 2/3 cup, enough for the cake above.

Saffron Scallops on a Bed of Noodles

This was a spur of the moment selection, and I am happy to report that it turned out very well indeed. It is a simple recipe that takes little time to give you extremely flavorful results. I found mine enhanced by a sprinkling of sea salt at the table.

This is also my "cook from a book" recipe for the week, from Cara Hobday's 100 Great Noodle Recipes. I bought it remaindered, almost certainly more than ten years ago, so it's not something you're likely to find on a shelf these days.

1 tsp saffron threads, lightly crushed
2 Tbsp warm water
8 oz medium egg noodles
2 oz butter
16 large scallops
1 scallion, finely sliced
3 tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and chopped
3 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
pinch of salt
  1. Combine the saffron and warm water, and leave to infuse.
  2. Cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain well and keep warm.
  3. Melt the butter in a pan just large enough to hold all of the scallops. Stir in the saffron liquid. When the butter is medium-hot, add the scallops, scallion, tomatoes, and chives. Cover and cook over moderate heat for 7 minutes. Season with salt.
  4. Serve the scallops and sauce over the noodles.

4. Bicycle Diaries

There is a distinct shortage of famous people in this book. Maybe if you're part of the art world you'll know more of the names (are there any famous artists these days?). It's a fun little ramble of a book. David Byrne is a fairly standard-issue US liberal, so I didn't come across much by way of philosophy that I found startling, but given all of the musical and other projects he's involved in, he does have a unique perspective. Since I've never been to the vast majority of the cities he talks about, I found plenty of interest, particularly the ones outside the US.

I always feel a bit sheepish when I read screeds about the unsustainable nature of our car-based culture; yes, I know, I'm part of the problem.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Had to Update the "About Me" Again

We lost another cat -- Cicero died yesterday, peacefully and asleep. We'll miss him.