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Desserts

Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie


Looking for something different for the Thanksgiving table? You'll certainly raise a few eyebrows and pique everyone's interest with this deep purple dessert that will taste familiar….but not: Okinawan sweet potato pie.

It was only last year that I made my first every sweet potato pie, but already I couldn't resist shaking things up a little. Usually we enjoy these vibrant sweeties mashed with butter, salt and a touch of bourbon or even sake, and served on the side with everything from salmon to meatloaf. We've even used them in a potato salad. So a pie couldn't be far behind, right?

Okinawan sweet potatoes can be found in Asian grocery stores, especially those catering to Japanese and Korean communities. Here in the Mid-Atlantic region, the large supermarket chains H-Mart and Lotte are the most reliable sources for this unusual sweet potato variety. In Hawaii, they were readily available at most supermarkets, but since the population on the Islands is largely Asian, that makes sense. Elsewhere in the U.S., I know Uwajimaya in the Pacific Northwest and the Japanese supermarkets in California will carry them too.

Recently I was surprised to see white-skinned sweet potatoes at a nearby Giant supermarket (a regional chain), and for a moment thought that the Okinawan had gone mainstream. Unfortunately,a scratch test on one end of the potato showed that it was white on the inside. So unless you live in Hawaii, you may have to make a special trip to an Asian grocer if you want to try this for Thanksgiving.

Why use the Okinawan sweet potato other than for its stunning color? Well, it does have a more robust texture and a deeper, less sweet flavor than their orange cousins. The texture of the sweet potato pie I made last year was similar to pumpklin — silky, smooth and with a light mouthfeel. Perhaps because it is less sweet, the Okinawan is more potato-like when mashed or whipped — and in this pie, each mouthful feels quite substantial yet is creamy and surprisingly light on the stomach. This recipe is based on how I prepare Okinawans as a mashed side dish — with butter, dairy, salt and bourbon or rum; the eggs, sweetener, spices and additional dairy really make it pie-worthy.

But let's not kid ourselves, the best reason to use this sweet potato is for its knock-out color — definitely a stand-out from all the other root vegetables that normally grace the Thanksgiving feast! (Yeah, I said "root vegetables".)

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

OKINAWAN SWEET POTATO PIE
Serves 8

2.5-3lb (800-900g) Okinawan sweet potatoes, scrubbed well

Roast sweet potatoes in a pre-heated 350F/180C oven for 45-60 minutes, or until potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork. If potatoes are of different sizes, remove smaller potatoes as each softens.

Cool until easy to handle. Cut potato in half crosswise and scoop out flesh with a small spoon — you should have 3.5-4 cups (about 850g). You can do this step 2-3 days in advance — throw the potatoes in a pan when you are baking or roasting something else, and keep the scooped-out flesh refrigerated until ready to bake the pie.

To finish the pie:

2 eggs, beaten well
3 TBL unsalted butter, melted
1 cup half and half
¼ cup rum
¾ cup raw sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sea salt
1 prepared pie crust (use your favorite)

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C. Set rack in the middle of the oven.

Line a 9" pie plate with the prepared crust.

Combine everything from eggs to sea salt and blend well, about 2 minutes on the medium setting on your mixer. There may be some small pieces of potato in the mixture — we like the added texture, but if you prefer a smoother custard, you may need to blend for a bit longer.

Pour purple custard into prepared crust, and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack.


I have to admit that I never save room for dessert.
For me, the best time to eat sweets like this
is with that second cup of coffee in the morning.
But whatever time of day you indulge,
don't forget the ice cream!



More traditional desserts for Thanksgiving?
How about a Pumpkin Cheesecake or
Bourbon-Kissed Sweet Potato Pie?

A traditional but less common dessert:
Mock Indian Pudding.




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(Mock) Indian Pudding


Today is National Indian Pudding Day! (Who knew?)

Don't be fooled by the photo of blobs of brown gooeyness — this is a heavenly dish. The scent of molasses and baking corn accented with faint whiffs of cinnamon will drive you wild as it bakes (or bubbles in a slow-cooker). With a name like "Indian Pudding," this corn and molasses laden pudding is sure to evoke images of the first Thanksgiving, Pilgrims and Native Americans. None of this would be accurate. What's more likely is that "indian" (not capitalized) was used as a colonial term for corn in many recipes dating back to the 18th century, so indian pudding = corn pudding! For an interesting historical review of how this pudding has evolved and how it got its name, What's Cooking America is the place to start.

But what I call indian pudding is probably not what most people consider indian pudding. The recipe I know and love has pearl tapioca, an addition that some in the blogosphere apparently consider blasphemous. My condolences to them. My first taste of this filling pudding came 11 Thanksgivings ago. It was love at first bite: a rich and creamy cornmeal custard redolent of molasses and punctuated by chewy pearls of tapioca — what's not to love?! I have to admit, though, that as much as I am inclined to love molasses and cornmeal in any form, it was the jewels of chewy tapioca that really stole my heart.

I begged the recipe from T's mother, who likewise had received it from her mother-in-law (Grandma B) — a native Mainer born and bred. I only learned that indian pudding usually does not include tapioca when I misplaced my copy from T's mom a couple of years ago and did a web search for indian pudding recipes. I was puzzled to find that none of the recipes in the first 15 pages of search results had tapioca as an ingredient. I tried a new search with "tapioca" added to the search query — this time I ended up with mostly South Asian recipes with tapioca, coconut milk and saffron. Then last year T's parents gave me Grandma B's recipe collection, and there I found a recipe card with Grandma's delicate and careful writing titled "Mock Indian Pudding." I can only guess that the tapioca is what relegates it to a mock version. But since this version is still the only one I've ever tried and is the one I first fell in love with, it will always be the real deal to me.

Don't wait for Thanksgiving to try this luscious pudding. With all the milk, cornmeal, egg and tapioca, it's quite the perfect breakfast food any time of the year. And though indian pudding is usually served with whipped cream or ice cream, it is equally indulgent with just a swirl of plain heavy cream or half-and-half for added richness without more sweetening. With a cup of hot coffee, this is a bowl that will warm the cockles of your heart on the coldest morning.

Let this be the day you discover for yourself how the humblest of ingredients can be elevated to such sublime heights.
Happy National Indian Pudding Day!

MOCK INDIAN PUDDING
Adapted from a recipe of Mrs. Helen Buzzell of Brunswick, Maine
Serves 8-10 persons

Grandma B's original recipe was baked, but T's mom adapted it for the slow-cooker. We always use the slow-cooker method. If you're making this for Thanksgiving, the slow-cooker has the added advantage of freeing up precious oven space. Both methods are included here.

4 cups (946ml) milk (recommend whole milk, but anything down to 1% would be OK; non-fat will produce a watery rather than creamy pudding)
3 TBL (32g) coarse-ground cornmeal
cup (158ml) dark molasses (preferably blacktstrap molasses)
⅔ - ¾ cup (128g-144g) raw sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
butter, to grease the baking dish

½ cup (88g) pearl tapioca (available in Asian grocery stores, and in natural food shops)
1 cup (236ml) milk

Pre-heat oven to 300F/150C
In a medium saucepan, scald milk over medium high heat. Grease 6qt or larger baking dish with butter. Combine scalded milk, cornmeal, molasses, sugar, eggs, cinnamon and salt, and pour into prepared baking dish. Bake 1 hour.

(Slow-cooker Method: After scalding milk, add milk, cornmeal, molasses, sugar, eggs, cinnamon and salt to a 5-6qt/L slow-cooker. Set on HIGH for 1 hour.)

Soak pearl tapioca (at right in photo, regular tapioca on left) in cold milk while pudding is baking.

After pudding has baked for 1 hour, add soaked tapioca and milk, stir well to distribute. Turn oven down to 250F/122C and continue baking until tapioca are transparent, another 1½ hours to 2 hours.

(Slow-cooker Method: Add soaked tapioca and milk, stir well, and turn cooker down to LOW for 3-4 hours, or until tapioca are transparent.)


Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream, ice cream or a drizzle of plain heavy cream.




Looking for alternative desserts for Thanksgiving? How about a Pumpkin Cheesecake?

Like molasses? Gram's Molasses Crinkles and Anadama Bread will tickle your molasses sweet tooth.

If you love corn as much as I do, you'll find cornmeal in this Greek cornmeal and greens casserole called Plasto (slow-cooker version), and sweet kernel corn goes into two wonderful soups: Chilled Buttermilk Corn Chowder and Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp; as well as Okra & Corn Stew with Jerk Salmon.







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Blueberry & Lemon Curd Crepes


Brunch, Anyone?

Recently we were gifted with a trove of blueberries, picked fresh this summer from a local orchard and frozen at the height of their sweetness. At the same time, we found ourselves with a glut of lemons. After recently drooling over other people's citrus curds such as these from Michael at Verses from My Kitchen and Viviane at Chocolate Chili Mango, I decided it was time I tried making lemon curd again. Now that I'm reminded how easy this is, there will be more curd.

So there was a rich and creamy lemon curd in the fridge, and fresh-picked blueberries in the freezer. All we needed was a canvas. Pie? Pancakes? Tart?

As we've been unpacking these last few months, we've been coming across all sorts of goodies we haven't seen in a long while. Some we haven't seen since we left Germany. One of these was a crepe pan. Now you would be forgiven for assuming that this is one of my many, many kitchen tools. In fact, it is one of T's. A dyed-in-wool blue-white-and-red Francophile, he loves crepes. He perfected his technique earlier this year on some savory crepes (his preferred variety) and some sweet ones with homemade "ricotta" and fruit. He agreed to whip up another batch one Sunday morning as an envelope for these treats. He gets consistent and delicious results from a recipe he found on allrecipes.com.

As you can see, his crepe pan is not the swirl-the-pan variety with which you might be familiar. Rather it is a home version of the ones the crepe-vendors on the street corners of Paris might have — it even came with a special batter-spreading tool and a crepe turner — both made of wood.





Pretty cool, right?


The best part is that on that Sunday morning my only job was to make the coffee and thaw the blueberries, and voila! I turned around and there were Blueberry and Lemon Curd Crepes. There will be more crepe brunches. Crepe dinners, too.

CREPE BATTER
T. uses this one from allrecipes.com
Makes 10-12 12" crepes

1 cup (100g) unbleached flour
¼ tsp sea salt
2 eggs
½ cup (120ml) milk
½ cup (120ml) water
2 TBL unsalted butter, melted

Directions
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and eggs. Combine milk and water and gradually add to dry ingredients, stirring to mix well. Add butter and beat until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour approximately ¼ cup (60ml) batter onto the griddle for each crepe. Working quickly, tilt pan in a circular motion so that the batter evenly coats the pan.

Cook for about 90 seconds, until the batter just sets. Loosen with a spatula, turn and briefly cook the flip side, about 15 seconds. Remove to plate and cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter. Use wax or parchment paper to separate crepes as they stack.

Fill with sweet or savory fillings as your heart desires!


LEMON CURD
Adapted from Joy of Baking
Makes 1½ cups

It's worth seeking out organic lemons for this recipe since the zest is used in such copious amounts.

¾ cup raw sugar
3 large eggs
3 large organic lemons
pinch of sea salt
4 TBL (56g) unsalted butter, cut into dice, keep chilled until needed

Wash and pat dry lemons.

Over medium heat, set up a double boiler or stainless steel bowl set over a medium pot filled with an inch of water. Remove top pan from heat, and add eggs and sugar. Using a microplane or fine grater, zest whole lemons directly over eggs and sugar. Repeat for all lemons.

Now cut each lemon in half and juice with a lemon reamer or juicer. Strain to remove seeds and measure ½ cup (120ml) fresh-squeezed juice. Add to eggs and beat well with a whisk to combine. Place top boiler/pan over simmering water and continue whisking until mixture begins to thicken (like a cream sauce or sour cream). Don't leave unattended or you may get some curdling.

Add pieces of cold butter, whisking in each addition well before adding the next. Remove from heat and turn curd out into a jar or bowl for storage or serving. Place a piece of wax paper or plastic film on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Keep refrigerated for up to one week.

Besides filling crepes, use lemon curd to fill tart shells, adorn scones, smear on pancakes, bagels and waffles, or swirl into plain yogurt for a breakfast treat. Either alone or with its favorite companion clotted or whipped cream, lemon curd is one of those great secret weapons that transforms ordinary into memorable with a dollop.


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Sweet Potato Pie (with a Kiss of Likker)

All this talk about pie during the last few weeks while cajoling family, friends (we are still friends, right?), and colleagues to buy pies for the Food & Friends fundraiser brought to the forefront of my attention one sad fact: I've never actually tried sweet potato pie, which was one of the pies on offer during the "Buy Pies!" campaign.

Then the Universe, by way of our dear friends down the road, delivered unto us a sign that it was time to try sweet potato pie. A hard-to-resist sign. A huge sign. A really huge sign: a sweet potato larger than a spaghetti squash. See for yourself!


Crazy big, right? These sweet potato and spaghetti squash, along with 2 other of the squash's siblings, were delivered this weekend by the same folks who challenged us earlier to deal with the over-abundance of their CSA order. They also gave us a bagload of green tomatoes, but more on that next time. Of course, I washed and roasted everything — the sweet potato was roasted unpeeled and whole with a few well-placed piercings, and the squash were cut in half and de-seeded, and placed cut-side up on a baking sheet and drizzled with oil. After a little over an hour, everything was roasted and ready to keep. The sweet potato weighed in at a gob-smacking 1420g before roasting, and yielded over 7 cups of flesh scooped from shells! So not only did we have sweet potato pie this week, but we will also have mashed sweet potatoes as a side dish later this week, too!

This was a true sweet potato, as opposed to a yam — with firm, dense flesh even after roasting. Our favorite way to enjoy mashed sweet potatoes is with a kiss of liquor — whether it's bright purple Okinawan sweet potato mash with awamori or regular sweet potatoes with bourbon. So I couldn't resist slipping a little sour mash into the puree mix for this pie as well. The bourbon flavor was quite strong the first 24 hours after baking, but mellowed considerably after that. With fresh whipped cream, this was a scrumptious pie — perfect breakfast food! (Think about it... Pop Tarts are just toaster pies, aren't they?)

When looking up recipes for sweet potato pie, I was intrigued by ones that used buttermilk instead of evaporated or regular milk. We liked what buttermilk did for corn soup and thought this would be add a nice tang to this pie — it really didn't, or maybe the buttermilk tang was obscured by the bourbon. Either way, we could not taste the difference using buttermilk made, so I would say use evaporated milk, almond or soy milk, or whatever you have — but do try the bourbon! The crust, I confess, was not only commercial, it was pre-formed too! Pie crust and biscuits are 2 things which have largely eluded me — even after 9 months in a culinary institution. So I focus on the filling and leave the pie crust to the experts. (Yesterday, however, while handing out pies for the F&F fundraiser, a fellow volunteer shared her unusual pie crust recipe which she swears is fool proof. More on that soon, too.)

BOURBON-KISSED SWEET POTATO PIE
Serves 8-10 persons
While vaguely following the recipe on the back of a can of pumpkin puree, we were really trying for a pie that could not be confused with pumpkin in either texture or flavor. This is a dense pie whose sweet potato flavor really stands out — undertones of molasses and, of course, bourbon lightly sweeten and highlight the tuber's flavor.

1 prepared pie crust (use your favorite)
4 cups (about 700g) roasted sweet potato flesh, mashed well
2 eggs, beaten well
1 cup buttermilk, evaporated milk, almond milk, etc.
1/4 cup bourbon
3/4 cup raw sugar
2 TBL blackstrap molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp sea salt
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.
Combine all ingredients and blend well, about 2 minutes on the medium setting on your mixer. The mixture will be very thick and not really like a custard. Pour into prepared pie crust, and bake in middle oven for 45-55 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes back clean. Cool completely on wire rack.

Highly recommend large dollops (or two) of homemade whipped cream when serving.



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More desserts for the Holidays: Pumpkin Cheesecake



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Streusel Rhubarb Cake

Before 1997, if you asked me what rhubarb tasted like I would have said it was sour but tasted faintly like strawberry because I had only ever tried rhubarb in combination with strawberries. I had heard rumors of strawberry-less rhubarb recipes, but had never tried one.

In Germany, we were fortunate to sample many, many rhubarb cakes (Rhabarberkuchen), most of them at the Kuchentheken, or Counters-with-Yummy-Cakes (my own translation), at Volksmarches we attended around the country. (Volksmarches are organized walks through woods, fields and towns in 5K, 10K and 20K loops for walkers, and 42K loops for bikers and marathoners. But I digress… ) At the Kuchentheken, you can get a generous slice of cake and strong cup of coffee for about 2 Euros — an incredible deal, and a welcome one after a long walk. At this time of year, when rhubarb is in high season, you can find at the Kuchentheken (and in the bakeries in town, to a lesser degree) an astounding varieties of homemade cakes, tortes and pies (but all called Kuchen) starring rhubarb. Of course, I tried any new variation we came across — there are rhubarb cakes with meringue toppings and ones with glazes, cakes with streusel and ones coated with nuts, cakes with custard filling and ones filled with sponge cake. German cakes, like many Japanese cakes, would be considered under-sweetened by American standards, but T and I prefer less-sweet sweets so these were perfect. Most of the rhubarb cake variations had no fruit other than rhubarb.

I learned to love the distinct flavor of naked rhubarb. I experimented with recipes for stews and even a savory bread pudding with rhubarb, but making a cake was never a priority because there were so many to try from all these accomplished home bakers during the season! But it’s been 4 years since we moved from Germany, and now that we’re again seeing lots of beautiful fresh rhubarb in the markets (something we didn’t see as much on Oahu), it’s reminded me that I can’t just look up the nearest Volksmarch to get my fix of homemade rhubarb cake/pie. I’ll finally have to make one myself.

Searching through dozens of recipes on German websites, I’ve narrowed it down to 4 recipes with different styles of “rhubarb cake” to try. This is the first because it was always my favorite — it has a yeasted “batter,” streusel topping, and naked fruit. In truth, it’s more bread than cake, but with a very airy and moist crumb reminiscent of Panettone, the Italian fruited bread-cake. Had a piece (okay, I had 2) after dinner last night, and there’s a slice with my name on it for my morning coffee today... mmmmmm....

RHABARBERKUCHEN MIT STREUSELN (Streusel Rhubarb Cake)
Adapted from DasKochRezept.de
For 6-8 servings

For the Dough:
4½ tsp. active dry yeast (or 35g fresh yeast)
(about 2 packets of dry yeast)
⅔ cup/ 160 ml lukewarm milk
5 cups/ 500g unbleached flour (used unbleached white whole wheat from King Arthur, which is why the bread is so dark)
6½ TBL/ 60g butter, softened to room temperature
½ cup/80g raw sugar (or cup regular sugar)
⅓ cup/ 80ml milk
Grated peel from ½ lemon
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten together
1 tsp. sea salt

Dissolve yeast in warm milk with 1 TBL. of flour taken from the measured flour, and mix well. Set aside for 10 minutes to activate yeast.

Meanwhile, combine remaining flour, butter, sugar, milk, grated lemon peel, eggs, and salt. Once yeast is bubbling, add to dry ingredients with remaining milk and knead together to make a smooth dough. Cover and let rise until doubled — it took about an hour in my cool but humid kitchen. Meanwhile, prep the fruit and streusel.

For the Filling:
1lb./ 450g rhubarb
2 TBL. raw sugar
1 TBL. butter, cut into small dice

Wash, dry, and cut the rhubarb into 1” pieces. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle sugar over. Let rest until needed..

Preheat oven to 350F/ 180C.

Butter an 8” springform pan. Punch down the risen dough, and lay it out in the pan to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. (Confession: I could not locate my springform pan (although I know I’ve seen it since we moved in), so I used 2 non-traditional ceramic pans, one rectangular and one round. With exceedingly generous amounts of butter to coat the pans, the cake lifted out beautifully after cooling.)

For the Streusel:
½ cup/ 60g raw sugar (or cup regular sugar)
¾ cup/ 75g unbleached flour
½ cup/ 40g old-fashioned oatmeal (this is my own addition, to add some crunch; the original recipe uses another ¼ cup flour instead)
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
4 TBL/ 60g butter, melted

Combine all ingredients for Streusel, and mix well until large crumbs form.

Dot cake dough with diced butter, then put rhubarb and any accumulated juices in the bowl over the dough. Top with streusel and let rest for 10 minutes. Place in pre-heated oven and bake for 35 minutes. If streusel starts to brown too quickly, cover with foil.

Remove from oven and let cool. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired. A nice dollop of sweetened creme fraiche or drained yogurt would compliment this nicely.

And now for your musical entertainment while you enjoy your rhubarb delicacy...
(Nope, this isn’t John Cleese. You can find that song here.)





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Preserved Lemon & Almond Polenta Torta


They’re ready, at last. The lemons have transformed and are ready to play with. But how? We’ve seen them in a savory dish, Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives, but how do they fare in sweets?

I went on a search for a lemon almond polenta torta many years ago after reading about a production of the play, “Dinner with Friends,” in which this cake plays a starring role. The play (now also a movie) is about a food-writing couple, just returned from vacationing in Italy, who want to re-create some of the wonderful meals they enjoyed during their travels with their two closest friends, another couple. During the dessert course, trouble ensues. Anyway, the director in the review I was reading raves about the authentic lemon almond polenta cake he baked for his cast, but doesn’t actually offer a recipe, and so I searched.

I came across this dense Italian version in the Boston Globe, featured in a story that was actually about olive oil, and using olive oil in place of butter in baking sweets. It was a novel concept to me at the time, but one I’ve since adopted for much of our cake baking. But this was the recipe that started it all. It was intriguing in so many ways, it contained no flour, no butter, and used an entire lemon — pith, pulp and peel! The final result is bright, lemony, dense and decadent cake. The Globe article quotes American-born pastry chef, Faith Willinger saying, “People use olive oil because it is healthier [than the alternatives], and it lets the genuine flavors stand up for what they are. Butter coats the whole palate and makes everything sweeter. Olive oil complements, rather than hides, flavor." Chef Willinger has taught cooking classes and writes about food for over 25 years from her home base in Florence.

To celebrate the end of our five weeks of patience, it seemed appropriate to use these precious lemons for a cake. By the way, last week I found preserved lemons in a local supermarket: it was over $10 a bottle for 2 small lemons! It’s so easy to make at home, I hope more people try this themselves. (Learn how)

Since the lemons are preserved in salt, I simply elminated the salt in the original recipe. I also used some of the olive oil that was sealing the lemon brine to make up part of the olive oil used in the recipe (and topped off the lemon jar with additional oil), but that’s optional. I did use the almond extract this time, as I had done with the original raw lemon version, but I would not use it again if using preservd lemons. With the raw lemon, the extract blended well with the bright citrus in the lemon; but the preserved lemon gave the cake a rounder lemon flavor, still intense but without the acidity, and the extract is noticeably distinct and remains apart from the lemon. The biggest difference for me is this: I can enjoy the preserved lemon version with coffee, something I couldn’t do with the original. Again, it’s the acidity. I have to admit that I don’t like the combination of coffee and citrus — the citrus changes the taste of my lovely coffee (black, no sugar so other flavors really affect it). However, with the volatile oils softened after 5 weeks in brine, I can enjoy the lemon flavor in the cake and still savor my coffee. The two versions are different enough that I would consider serving them at different times, different occasions — the original for a Sunday brunch, served with iced or hot tea, and maybe a shot of Limoncello, or even a lemonade; the preserved version after dinner, with coffee and later a digestif.

That’s what food always comes back to, isn’t it — creating your best for family and friends. And with that thought, this cake goes with our love and prayers to Briana Brownlow at Figs with Bri, via Jugalbandi’s special CLICK event for June — a yellow culinary theme that doubles as a fundraiser to help Bri meet her costs for medical treatments. Normally Bri creates with and writes about organic foods on her site, but understandably is focusing her considerable energy on this second bout with breast cancer that has mestatasized into her lungs and lymph nodes. Jugalbandi’s bee and Jai have organized an account payable directly to Bri to allow her to explore medical options that her insurance company refuses to cover. They are asking for $25 donations from 500 people to help Bri cover these costs. If you would like to help, and to learn more about Bri’s fight, visit Jugalbandi or Figs with Bri.

Take care, dear Bri, and God Bless!

PRESERVED LEMON & ALMOND POLENTA TORTA
(adapted from the Boston Globe, Oct. 15, 2003)
4-6 pieces of preserved lemon, enough to equal one whole lemon
1/2 cup (85g) cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1-1/4 cups (250g) blanched almonds
1 + 1/4 (190g + 48g) cups raw sugar (coarse granulated or demerara)
1/2 cup (120ml) fruity olive oil (optional: use some from the top of the preserved lemons)
1/2 cup (120ml) evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Confectioners' sugar, for garnish
Drained full-fat yogurt, for garnish

Pre-heat oven tp 350F/180C.

Oil a 9-inch round cake pan, line with wax or parchment paper cut to fit, and oil the paper.

In a bowl mix together the cornmeal and baking powder.

In a food processor, pulse the almonds with 1 cup of sugar to make a slightly coarse mixture.

Cut each preserved lemon piece in half, and remove any remaining seeds. Add to the ground almond mixture. Pulse again until the mixture forms a heavy puree. Taste for sweetness and add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, if necessary. Add the oil, milk, eggs, and (if using) almond extract. Process for 1 to 2 minutes or until just combined. Add the cornmeal mixture and pulse just briefly to combine.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until golden brown and slightly moist in the center.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Run a knife around the cake, invert it onto a cake plate, then invert back onto another plate so the baked side is on top. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve with drained yogurt and fresh fruit, if desired. The original is served with ricotta cream, see Boston Globe article for recipe.

For a lighter version of lemon almond polenta cake, see Nic’s beautiful creation at Cherrapeno.

Other recipes with preserved lemons: Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives, Fig-Stuffed Roast Lamb with Mushroom & Port Gravy, and Lamb Shanks with Preserved Lemons and Gremolata

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Green Tea Shortbread


We do love green tea. Hot or iced, in cakes, ice cream, custard, cookies — it’s all good. We drink almost all teas — green or black — without sugar; more by habit than for health. With sweets, though, we both agree that the best part of the earthy, herbaceous flavor of green tea is that hint of bitterness that comes through just before the sweet awakens the taste buds. Lovely.

With the advent of medical studies touting the anti-oxidant benefits of green tea, it’s been wonderful to see the spread of green tea consumption and green tea flavored goodies on menus and supermarket shelves. I see that a wave of Matcha Cookies hit the blogosphere last year and went right around the world! I first came across an entry for a green tea flavored cookie in
Obachan’s Kitchen, one which she had made a few years earlier, but had noted that she was not satisfied with the recipe. I went back to the standard shortbread recipe we usually use (confession: I last made these in 2001) and decided to substitute part of the flour with ground green tea powder and see what happened. Besides, I got to use one of my favorite kitchen gadgets, too.

For this recipe I did not use matcha, I used ground green tea leaves. Matcha is a specific grade of green tea that has been ground to powder for use in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and is prized for its astringent quality. I used home-grade green tea leaves and ground them at home in a ceramic grater. A local Japanese department store (Shirokiya) sells this grater for home tea brewing, especially for cold brewing. I received one as a present a couple of years ago, and I love it. It’s nice to be able to add green tea powder as a condiment and flavoring agent to many different foods, like these cookies. Otherwise, you can purchase “matcha powder for cooking” (which I suspect is the same grade of green tea we used here), and actual matcha in gourmet shops, tea shops and on-line.

In adapting our shortbread recipe, I heeded Obachan’s note that more than 2 teaspoons of matcha per 100g of flour would be too bitter, and so only used 2 teaspoons in this batch. The resulting shortbread had the wonderful color and pleasing flavor of green tea, but was a tad too sweet for my taste, even without the extra sugar topping. One of the reasons I make shortbread so rarely is that you really can’t cut down on the ratio of sugar to butter without sacrificing shortbread’s melt-in-your-mouth quality; whereas with other cookies, I often cut down the amount of sugar in the recipe by 1/4 to 1/3. I think most people would find the balance between green tea and sugar in the recipe below just right, especially if served with a pot of
ocha (Japanese green tea). Since I’m using green tea powder instead of real matcha, next time I would risk replacing another teaspoon of flour with green tea. It’s not something I would advise other bakers to do unless they are looking for a bitter edge in their shortbread.

GREEN TEA SHORTBREAD
Makes about 24 cookies
**1/2 cup (or U.S. 1 stick) (110g) unsalted butter (no substitutes)
4-1/2 TBL. (55g) fine granulated sugar (aka caster, not powdered)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 cup (100g) all purpose flour
2 tsp. green tea powder
1/3 cup (55g) mochiko (glutinous rice four) or semolina

extra sugar for crunchy topping (optional)

**Update (01/06/09): With thanks to Nat for pointing out that the butter equivalencies originally were not correct -- the metric was correct, but the U.S. equivalent was off by half. My apologies to anyone who followed the U.S. measure and whose shortbread was too dry.

Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat together on low until the sugar is just incorporated (will still feel grainy).
Combine flour, green tea powder, salt and mochiko together. Add to butter mixture and stir well by hand to make a smooth paste, do not overwork the dough or your shortbread will come out like a brick.

Either roll into a log 1.5 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and chill (to make button cookies, as shown here); or flatten into a disc between two sheets of plastic wrap to a thickness of 1/2 inch and chill (to cut our shapes). Chill for 20 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 325F/170C.

To make buttons, slice log into 1/2-inch pieces.

Or use your favorite small cookie cutter to stamp out shapes. Gently re-roll, flatten and chill before stamping out more.

(Optional garnish) Place 2-3 TBL. of sugar on a small plate. Gently press one side of the cookie in sugar, and lay sugar side up on an ungreased baking sheet.

If cookies start to look shiny, place sheet in fridge for 5 minutes before baking. Bake in pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes. To check for doneness, look for opaqueness and a sandy quality in the cookies (see photo, right, for raw and cooked cookie comparison), and you will smell butter and green tea. They will still feel a little soft when hot, but will harden a bit on cooling. Do not over-bake or they will transform into miniature papaerweights. Because of the high ratio of sugar to butterfat, these cookies will keep their tender crumb.

Cool completely on wire rack. Store in air-tight container at room temperature for up to one week.


*************************************
More Cookies and Other Homemade Gift Ideas:
Nut Horns, Cocoa Cherry Biscotti, Sweet & Spicy Nuts

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One Perfect Chocolate Cupcake


I'm the first to admit that I'm not a prolific baker. When I do bake, I have to be assured that most of my creation will end up in other hands, so it doesn't end up on my hips! Two pre-schoolers and their chocolate-loving mom brought out this recipe for chocolate cupcakes. Cocoa powder alone will not do, in my book to deliver real chocolate flavor, there has to be melted chocolate. Only half the batter got the extra shot of dark chocolate chips, so the munchkins' parents had some control of how much caffeine they got after dinner!

This recipe produces a cake with a very tender crumb and a smooth, pleasing chocolate flavor that both kids and adults will enjoy.

CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
(Makes 2 dozen cupcakes or 2 9-in. round layer cakes)
6oz (170g) dark chocolate, roughly chopped
3/4 cup (180ml) almond milk
3 TBL. plain full-fat yogurt
(or use 1 cup buttermilk instead of almond milk/yogurt mixture)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups (200g) all-purpose flour
3 TBL. cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups (290g) raw sugar (demerara)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (180g) chocolate chips, Ghirardelli's extra dark (optional)

Place chocolate in double boiler over simmering water for approximately 5–10 minutes. Stir occasionally until completely smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool 5–10 minutes.

Combine almond milk, yogurt, and vanilla. Stir well and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers. Set
aside.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat on medium speed until
fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add chocolate, mixing until well incorporated. Add dry ingredients in three parts,
alternating with milk mixture. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are just
incorporated — do not over-beat. Scrape down the batter to ensure the
ingredients are well blended, and the batter smooth. If using chocolate chips, fold in
chips.

Fill the the pans about 3/4 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in
the center comes out clean.

Cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then on wire racks until completely cool.

For layer cakes, divide the batter between 2 9-in. round cake pans and bake 30–40 minutes.


CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM
5oz (140g) dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (115g) butter, softened
1-1/2 (195g)cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt chocolate over hot water; stir until smooth. Let cool 15 minutes. In large bowl, beat butter until light. Slowly add confectioners’ sugar, and beat until completely combined. Stir in melted chocolate and vanilla; beat until smooth.

Pour into a piping bag and chill for 20 minutes. Pipe onto cupcakes just before serving.

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Recap: Cakes, Nuts, Crab Cioppino

A quick summary of recipes that didn't get posted during the holiday sabbatical, but were too delicious to ignore.

First was a dried fruit and nutcake that just happened to also be vegan. I say it that way because there's a misconception that vegan desserts = "dry, crumbly and and uninteresting." I confess, I've thought that myself. But done right, and with recipes developed by people who love good food, vegan sweets are light, luscious and very ono. The vegan butterscotch quick bread by Hannah of Bittersweet that we made in October (see post) proved that point, and so did this brandy-soaked dried fruit and nut cake from bee and Jai at Jugalbandi. Their recipe provided enough batter for a gift cake (shown here, made with a Gugelhupf pan smaller than a Bundt) and a 8x8 cake for us. Bee recommended soaking the dried fruits in rum for a month before baking!
I only had 3 days to soak my cherries, apricots and raisins in brandy, but I would like to try the longer soaking method in future. I did save the soaking liquid, poured it over the square cake, wrapped it tightly in plastic and foil, and kept it in the fridge until after new year's. We had our first slices this past weekend over a beach-side breakfast I have to say, our spirits rose with the sun! It is so flavorful and moist, it's hard to believe it was made without eggs or oil. I'm not a fan of glaced fruit, so I don't like traditional fruitcakes. This, however, is a cake of a different order. Bee's Fruit and Nut Cake recipe.

We were invited to a wonderful Italian-American Christmas dinner with our friends Laurie and Brian and their family. Chef Brian prepared stromboli, veal parmesan, and spaghetti with meatballs, all from scratch he was prepping into the wee hours of Christmas morning, bless him! I offered to make Tiramisu for dessert, in keeping with their Italian menu. Laurie is expecting their third child in February so the raw eggs in my usual recipe were out of the question. Instead, I tried a creme anglaise base so the eggs were cooked before adding the other custard ingredients, and proceeded as usual. I was impressed how close this came to the original, without the worry of having to use raw eggs! This may be my recipe of choice in future because it does eliminate the concern about the eggs. Don't be tempted to substitute cocoa powder for the grated chocolate in this recipe. Chalky powder (no matter which brand) can't compete with the creamy texture and taste grated dark chocolate lends this recipe. Tiramisu, custard-based recipe. Our thanks and love to Brian and Laurie for sharing their family celebration this year Chef B, you're the best!

This was an alternative recipe for sweet spiced nuts (
see post) that does not use egg whites. It's actually more like the candied walnuts (minus the sugar coating) we had with the spicy prawns at our favorite Chinese restaurant, and they are certainly tasty. But (you knew there was a "but" coming) they're cooked first in a sugar syrup, cooled in syrup overnight, dried another night, deep-fried, and coated in sugar. It's pretty time-consuming, and very laden with fat and sugar. With that word to the wise, here's the recipe for Crispy Sweet Walnuts.


For our second consecutive Christmas Eve we had Dungeness crab cioppino. Little piece of heaven. Until we moved to Hawaii 3 years ago, I had not had Dungeness in 10 years, and T had never tried it. Having grown up in Maine and around lobster boats as a teen, dear hubby was of the opinion that no crab was worth the effort of all the work it took to eat it. He had never tried Dungeness. Let's just say, in the immortal words of "The Borg": he was assimilated. This is the first time we've included fresh clams
their extra sweetness was a delight, but not necessary if they're not available where you are. Dungeness crab cioppino recipe.
cioppino
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A Bit of Lost Sunshine: Pina Colada Trifle

UPDATE: Dear Zorra has posted the Round-up for SHF #38 just in time for all our New Year's celebrations. Come see all the wonderful recipes from around the world here:

SHF #38 - The proof is in the Pudding!



Sunshine in a cup: Pina Colada Trifle
It's a bit of a mess here in not-at-all-sunny Oahu today power lines and trees are on the roads, roofs have blown away, schools are closed, buses aren't running, many homes are without power. All this the result of a freak windstorm in the early morning hours. The weather reporter said the UV (ultra-violet) Index for today was 1 (it's usually 10-12), so that tells you how dark and dreary it is today, and will continue to be until the weekend. I always think of our poor visitors, some who are here on a vacation of a lifetime, some to escape the dreary weather in their cold hometowns. How awful to have come so far and then be told by the civil defense authorities that people should stay indoors, seas are too rough for boat travel or swimming.

So here's a little aloha to all of our wind-swept visitors (and to everyone in a colder clime): a ray of island sunshine in a cup, the Pina Colada Trifle. A fresh pineapple and rum cake is enveloped by a creamy, gently sweet coconut pudding. Easy to make, easy to serve. What could be better during this busy season? (The cake improves with one day's wait, so bake it early if time permits.)

PINA COLADA TRIFLE
Part I: Pineapple Rum Cake
12 TBL. (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups (250g) brown sugar
6 egg yolks

3 cups (270g) sifted cake flour
1 TBL. + 1 tsp. (20 grams) baking powder
3/4 tsp. (5g) salt
½ cup (112 ml) dark rum
½ cup (112ml) milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups (360g) chopped fresh pineapple

Preheat oven to 350F (177C).  Butter and flour 2 9-inch x 1-1/2 inch (23 x 3.75 cm) cake pans, or 1 13x9-inch pan. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.
Combine rum, vanilla and milk.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar on high until sugar dissolves and mixture is light. On medium speed, add egg yolks, one at a time, ensuring each yolk is incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down bowl.  Add dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with rum mix, and ending with dry. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are incorporated, then increase mixer speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl.  Add pineapple and fold in.

Pour batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, or when the cake springs back when pressed lightly in center.  Cool in pan on wire rack.

Part II: Haupia (Coconut Pudding)
(This recipe produces a looser pudding than haupia served by itself. If you want to make Haupia squares, increase cornstarch to 4 TBL.)
1-½ cup (350ml) coconut milk (12 oz. can)
1 ½ cup (350ml) water
3-4 TBL. sugar
3 TBL. cornstarch

Combine water, sugar, and cornstarch and cook over low heat until just below simmering. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves. Slowly add coconut milk, stirring constantly. Keep stirring, shifting directions, and stirring across the center so the mixture is in constant motion and doesn’t burn. After 10 to 15 minutes the color will change from chalky opaque to shiny bright white, and the mixture will thicken. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature.

To Assemble: Cut cooled cake into 1 in. (2.5cm) cubes. Place in individual wine glasses. Pour slightly cooled haupia over cake. When pudding has completely cooled, cover and chill until serving time. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh grated coconut.
Pina Colada Trifle


SHF #38 - The proof is in the Pudding!

Aloha also to all those participating in Sugar High Friday, hosted this month by the indefatigable zorra, aka kochtopf, at 1x umrühren bitte. This is my first entry to this long-standing blog event!

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One of the best cheesecakes ever ...

Thanksgiving seemed to sneak up on me this year. Not only did I lose most of the past week either tending to or being ill, but I got the designated day wrong — I thought it was on the 29th, but it's the 22d. That's this Thursday! (eek)

Well, I did know Thanksgiving was this
month, anyway, and coaxed our friend, Brandon, to share his recipe for the fabulous dessert he brought to our Thanksgiving table last year. The photo is actually of his cake before it was set upon after dinner. I'm not a huge dessert eater, and while I like cheesecake, they are generally very dense and I find it hard to eat more than a few nibbles. Not so with this cake. It is light and creamy, and the flavors are nuanced and layered: the pecans in the crust meet the candied pecan topping, the gingersnap crust echos the ginger and spices of the filling, the crunchy crumb crust and candied pecans sandwich the meltingly rich middle. Even after a full Thanksgiving meal, this cheesecake was a welcome touch of sweetness with our post-prandial coffee and digestifs.

Brandon will be literally a world away this Thanksgiving, probably working, but definitely missed in Hawaii. (And, yes, ladies, he not only bakes, he's single too!) Stay safe, Brandon, and Mahalo for letting me share this recipe.
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Candied Pecans

BRANDON'S PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE WITH CANDIED PECANS
Crust:
1-1/2 cups/135g gingersnap cookies (about 25 cookies), or Lebkuchen
1/3 /40g cup pecan halves
1/4 cup/50g light brown sugar
4 TBL/58g unsalted butter, melted

Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan.

In a food processor or blender, combine the gingersnaps and pecans, and blend to a fine crumb. Add sugar and butter, and pulse for a few seconds to combine. Transfer to prepared pan. Pat the mixture into the bottom and evenly all the way up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate for 20 minutes, or until firm.

Filling:
3/4 cup/150g light brown sugar
---------
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
(in the alternative, you can substitute 1-3/4 tsp "pumpkin pie spice" for all these separate spices, the ratio will still be about the same)
----------
1lb/454g cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 cup/180g pumpkin puree

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves. Using a large bowl and an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the brown sugar mixture, beating until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the pumpkin puree, beating until smooth. Pour into chilled crust and smooth top.

Bake until set or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Pecans:
1 cup pecan halves
2
TBL. unsalted butter
2
TBL. granulated sugar

Pre-slice cake before garnishing

Set aside 10 pecan halves and coarsely chop the rest. In a small pan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add all the nuts, sprinkle with sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and the nuts are toasted and coated. Transfer the mixture to a plate and cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Just before serving, slice the cake into 10-12 slices, then scatter the candied nuts over the cheesecake, and arrange the halves evenly around the perimeter. Serve with creme fraiche or lightly sweetened chantilly cream (perhaps laced with bourbon to bring out the pecan flavors).



We've entered this post in the Festive Food Fair event hosted by the lovely Anna at Morsels & Musings. This event highlights celebration foods from all traditions, East and West, and around the world. Look for the round-up starting the week of December 10-14th. I can't wait to see what wonderful stories and recipes are shared!

UPDATE: The Festive Food Fair Round-up has been posted
check it out HERE!

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