Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Bunny

Nothing says Easter better than a bunny. When our friends asked us to prepare dessert for the dinner party we had this weekend, I knew this is what I wanted to make. I used the cupcake recipe from my birthday (see earlier post), used toasted coconut for the fur and jelly belly jelly beans for the eyes, and placed dyed green coconut underneath so it looked like the bunny was sitting on grass. I found instructions for how to make a bunny-shaped cake from good old Betty Crocker:


This treat surprised and delighted everyone. We had a more sophisticated dessert that D. made (a lovely, simple apple tart), but after a few glasses of wine post-dinner, people started to dig into the bunny.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Persephone's Ruin

Persephone is a mythological figure from ancient Greece who was seduced by her uncle, Hades, god of the underworld. Hades lured Persephone to him with a pomegranate. Zeus punished Persephone by banishing her to the underworld for six months a year--one month for each of the six seeds she ate. The remainder of the year she could spend with her mother, Demeter, the greek Mother Earth. For six months of every year, Demeter mourns the loss of her daughter; she celebrates during the other six. This is how the ancient Greeks explain the changing of the seasons, and this is how The Love Bite, my favorite recipe treasure trove, describes the origin of the dish Persephone's Ruin. (See http://thelovebite.com/recipes/the_main_event/persephones_ruin)

I've been dying to try this recipe, so when friends invited us up to their country place in Pennsylvania for Easter, I knew that this is what I wanted to make. I had to adapt the recipe a bit because I couldn't get the right kind of lamb, nor could I get pomegranates. While this recipe reads and tastes like a Spring recipe, it clearly isn't because pomegranates are not in season in April in this area.

For all of the many dishes I've served to all of my friends, I received the most--and the best--compliments for this one. One of our friends who is a chef himself said that this was the best dish he'd ever tasted, and that it reminded him of something his mother once said about another dish: "Every bite says I love you." Well worth the effort for that kind of praise.

Persephone's Ruin
Spring in New York version

1 package of phyllo dough
1 stick of butter
1 lb ground lamb
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
smidgen of cumin powder
8 oz goat cheese
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper
6 golden beets
pomegranite molasses
olive oil

The day before, place the beets in aluminum foil, drizzle them with olive oil, and season with a little bit of salt and pepper. Bake them at 350 until tender (about 1 hour). Dice the onion and garlic, and saute in olive oil until translucent. Add the ground lamb, season with a bit of salt and pepper and some ground cumin. Cook until just beginning to brown. Place in a bowl with 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses, cover, and put in the fridge.

When the beets are done roasting (you can tell when they are tender enough to poke through with a fork), take them out, let them cool down a bit until you can handle them, and then, running them under cold water, peel the skins off with your hands. Cut the beets into rounds and refrigerate.

The next day, brush a sheet of phyllo pastry with melted butter, place another sheet on top, and repeat until you have 8 sheets stacked. Place the phyllo stack in a buttered loaf pan and press the pastry to sides of pan. Brush the inside with butter. Pre-heat the oven to 400. Mix 8 ounces of goat cheese with 1 egg yolk and beat lightly. Reserve 1/4 of the goat cheese, and spread the rest onto the phyllo pastry. Line the goat cheese with the golden beet rounds, then place the ground lamb on top. Spoon the reserved goat cheese in small clumps on top of the lamb and fold the phyllo dough over the entire mixture. Brush with butter and pop it in the oven. It should cook for about an hour, maybe more, until the phyllo dough has turned a golden brown color.

I served this as a good-sized appetizer to 10 people; it could probably be a nice dinner for 4-6 people, depending on your sides and how much you eat. I also served it with a Cucumber Mint Yogurt Sauce on the side, as the original recipe called for chopped mint on top of an open phyllo dish.

Cucumber Mint Yogurt Sauce

1 cup lowfat plain yogurt (labne or Greek yogurt would be the best)
2 chopped scallions
2 finely minced garlic cloves
1 peeled and finely grated cucumber
salt & pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


My favorite local meat vendor at the green market in Prospect Park, the Flying Pig farm (http://www.flyingpigsfarm.com/) handed out a recipe for Cumin-Citrus Pork Cutlets a few weeks ago. I've made the dish twice and it was delicious, even better for leftovers the second day. The citrus part certainly isn't localvore, unfortunately, but I think exceptions always need to be made for lemon.

Yesterday when I defrosted the cutlets, I didn't realize until later that day that it was the beginning of Passover. I have to admit, it felt a bit like a heresy to have pork on the first evening of Passover, despite the fact that I'm not Jewish. Next year, I promise something more seder-like.

Here's the recipe, which the farm found in an August 2001 issue of Bon Appetit. I adapted it only slightly.

Cumin Dusted Pork Cutlets with Citrus Pan Sauce

4 tbsp flour
4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne or hot paprika
1 tsp salt

1 lb pork cutlets or pork strips
olive oil
4 minced garlic cloves
1/2 cup orange juice
6 tbsp fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons)

Orange wedges

Combine on a plate: 4 tablespoons flour, 4 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper. Dredge each piece of 1 pound of pork cutlets in the flour mixture. Heat olive oil in large cast iron pan over high heat. Add pork and sauté for about 3 minutes per side, until just barely cooked through. Don’t overcook! Transfer pork to serving plate, cover with foil to keep warm. Add a bit more olive oil to the pan. Add 3 or 4 minced garlic cloves and sauté until golden brown. Add ½ cup good quality orange juice, 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 2 or 3 lemons), some citrus flesh (chopped up oranges or lemons from the lemon you squeezed), and a pinch of salt. Boil until slightly thickened. Pour sauce over pork and serve.

I've served this dish with any combination of daal, black beans, quinoa, rice, and quinoa, but always garnished with the orange wedges. Dumping all of the leftovers on some greens makes an amazing lunch the next day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Healthy Easter Basket Treat

Any moment now, I expect a package from my mother--her famous peanut butter easter eggs. If they don't come today, I'm going to be really disappointed. Easter baskets have always been a critical part of my life--I remember one year I didn't get one from my mother I was devastated. My argument was that each year until she died, my grandmother (Nana) used to put together an Easter basket for my Aunt Dorry . . . long after Aunt Dorry had her own child and started making Easter baskets for him. I'm embarassed to say that I cried because I didn't get a stuffed bunny. How could my mother think that just because I was a busy lawyer in New York that I wouldn't want a stuffed bunny for Easter? The next Easter, she took me to a small shop in Pennsylvania and had me pick out my own bunny. Last year, I got two bunnies: one that I keep in my office (see below), and another that Sneak appropriated as her companion.

In anticipation of all sorts of Easter sweets this year, I googled "healthy easter basket" and got the idea of making popcorn balls to fill out the rest of the communal basket that I'll put out for friends on Sunday. This recipe turned out really well. I'm already imagining peanut butter ones . . .

Honey-Raisin Popcorn Balls

12 cups air-popped popcorn
3/4 cup butter, cut into chunks
1 cup honey
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325°. Put popcorn in a large bowl. Line a large baking sheet with waxed paper. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, use a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon to stir together the butter, honey, raisins, and salt until the butter is melted. Increase heat and boil honey mixture gently 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the vanilla. Carefully pour the honey mixture over the popcorn and stir gently to coat. Bake popcorn, stirring every 5 minutes, until deep golden all over, about 25 minutes. Let the popcorn stand for 5 minutes, or just until cool enough to handle. Working quickly with lightly oiled or buttered hands, press small handfuls of the mixture into small balls, occasionally loosening popcorn from bottom of pan with a spatula. If mixture cools too much to be malleable or if the popcorn starts to crack instead of press into ball shapes, return it to the oven for about 45 seconds to soften. Put the popcorn balls on prepared baking sheet and let cool completely. Place in an airtight container at room temperature, or wrap individually, and store for up to 2 weeks.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring Onions and Snap Peas

The green market in Prospect Park this Saturday was the prettiest yet this season. I didn't have any ideas about what I wanted to get when I went, but I was on the look-out for some snap peas. The Council on the Environment for New York City (CENYC) provides a calendar of what types of veggies are in season in the city's over 45 greenmarkets (http://www.cenyc.org), and April is the month for snap peas. None to be found, sadly, so I had to get them on a later trip to Fairway.

I did pick up some fresh green onions and spinach, and then found some inspiration from a recipe from the January 2004 edition of Bon Appétit. We're trying to eat a few meals every week without any meat, so this is the first one for this week.

Stir-Fried Tofu with Snap Peas, Green Onions, and Spinach

3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper
1 12-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon cornstarch

3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 cup fresh spinach
1 cup fresh snap peas
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup spring onion tops
2 scallions

Whisk the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl to blend. Add the tofu cubes and stir to coat; marinate for one hour, or overnight if you can. Drain, reserving the marinade in a small bowl. Whisk 1/4 cup water and cornstarch into the marinade and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat until the pan is smoking. Add the tofu and sauté until golden, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tofu to a plate. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and heat again. Add the ginger and garlic and stir continuously until browned. Add the snap peas and stir-fry for 2 minutes or until tender. Add the spinach and stir into the peas until it is wilted. Add the green onions, and return the tofu to the skillet. Drizzle the reserved marinade mixture over the whole thing and stir-fry until the sauce thickens slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with scallions and serve over quinoa or brown rice.

Postscript:  Wow.  I brought this dish to lunch today, and it was even better a day later.  I am just stunned at how tasty the sauce was.  The dish was not expensive either: $1.89 for the tofu, about $3 for the snap peas, about $3 for the spinach, and I guess about $4 for the rest of the ingredients, portions of which I have in my kitchen already.  So maybe all told, a generous estimate of about $12 for the entire meal, and it made four servings.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Stumbling Upon a Tagine

I spent some time in Morocco in 1995 and had a tagine for the first time. A tagine can either be the dish that you eat, or the pot that you cook it in: a shallow dish with a dome cover, most often made of clay. (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tajine) I had tagine with chicken and chick peas made in a super-huge tagine and baked in a clay oven that fed about 50 people in an extended family during a wake in Meknes, and I also had a small, dainty tagine of pigeon in an upscale French-style restaurant in Marrakech--both equally delicious.

I didn't buy a tagine when I was in Morocco because it would have been too difficult to carry home--I already had a set of ceramic tams with me that I carried wrapped in a blanket and fretted over constantly. And while I've thought about asking for one every Christmas since, I know that I just don't have the space in my apartment in Brooklyn. When I visited Kalustyan's a few weeks ago, I stood gape-mouthed at the selection of tagines on display. Surely I could squeeze one of the small ones into my kitchen? I didn't buy one then, promising myself that once we leave the city, I'll get myself a big one.

On a recent trip to Buffalo of all places, though, I stumbled upon a small silicone tagine at a Marshall's discount store. It was $10 and came with a little cookbook. I was traveling home by train, and already had quite a few bags, but I bought it anyway, figuring it could squeeze it into one of the bags because it was bendable and very light. And so I did.

I found this recipe for a lamb tagine on a blog called Five Spice Duck (http://fivespiceduck.blogspot.com/2008/02/moroccan-lamb-tagine-recipe.html) and headed to the green market at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Park on Saturday morning. I bought a pound of fresh lamb, some carrots, onions, and garlic. Later that day, I stopped at Fairway and picked up some Israeli couscous (ptitim), saffron, dates, and Turkish apricots. I adapted the recipes that I found online and made this dish for our Sunday evening meal.

Honey-Paprika Lamb Tagine

1 pounds lamb pieces, cut for stew
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Pinch of saffron threads
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste
Salt and pepper
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup diced apricot

Mix together the garlic, honey, olive oil, cilantro, saffron, paprika, cumin and tomato paste in a large bowl. Add the lamb and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight, or at least for a few hours.

When you're ready to cook, remove the lamb from the fridge and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Brown the meat in it's marinade in a smoking hot cast iron pan. Pour the stock into the base of the tagine and add the browned meat with it's marinade, the carrots, onions, and cinnamon and stir together. Place the tagine lid on and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Stir the chickpeas and apricots into the tagine and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the lid or foil and cook an additional 30 minutes to brown the vegetables.

Israeli Couscous with Dates

1/2 pound dry Israeli-style couscous

1 large onion chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup dried chopped dates

1/2 cup chopped almonds

In a sauce pot, saute the onion in the oil until tender and just beginning to brown. Toast the couscous by stirring in the couscous and cooking and stirring until pale golden. Cover with the broth and bring to a boil and cook and simmer about 10 minutes or until couscous has absorbed the liquid. Stir in the dates and nuts. Remove from heat and led stand covered 10 minutes. Fluff with fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the stew on top of, or to the side of, the couscous and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Postscript:  More stews to come, for sure.  This tagine is lovely; it cleans up like magic and I really think it makes a difference in how the ingredients steam in it.  I think I'll try chicken thighs or a vegetable stew next time.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cupcake Birthday

For my birthday this year, my mother sent me a cupcake decorating set: 50 metal icing tips in a case, a guidebook on how to make flowers and other decorations, frosting bags, and all sorts of other accoutrements in a handy plastic case. I took the day off on my birthday and practiced, producing about 5 dozen cupcakes. I brought them around with me all week, including to the bowling alley on Saturday night where my friends joined me for a few hours of bowling. I used the cupcake display rack that my mother got me for Christmas.

Lemon cupcakes are always surprising, so I made two dozen and decorated them with lemon frosting. I ran out of lemon extract, so they would have been more tart had I used it. As they were, they were just subtly lemon-ish. I wanted to make gerber daisies and pansies, but mostly, these turned out like huge, cartoonish flowers. My mother had warned me against using too much of the icing tint as the colors get darker the longer the icing sits. No one complained, though, and in fact, someone asked if I'd make cupcakes for her daughter's birthday in a few months.

When I was young, my mother used to decorate cakes for friends and friends of friends. She was in high demand, and I remember one year I learned how to do type-setting in a class in school and I made her a stack of business cards. I wish I had the entrepreneurial spirit that it takes to start up a home business with things like this. Maybe I just need a business partner.

Lovely Lemon Cupcakes

1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbsp ground lemon zest

3 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners and set aside. Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In medium bowl, beat the butter till light and fluffy. With the mixer on high speed, gradually beat in sugar, and continue beating till mixture is very light and fluffy. Lower speed to medium, beat in eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended, then beat in lemon juice and zest. Lower speed to low, and alternately beat in flour mixture and yogurt, beating just till blended. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting

2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups of confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp lemon juice

Beat the butter until it's creamy, and gradually add one cup of confectioner's sugar, along with the vanilla and lemon juice. Set aside about 1/3 of the icing for decorative flowers. With the remaining 2/3, add a tint if you like and frost the tops of the cupcakes, once they've cooled. Go back to your 1/3 reserved icing and add more confectioner's sugar until you have a nice, thick icing. Decide how many colors you want (leaves, flowers, etc.) and divide that frosting into small bowls for tinting. Remember not to use too much or the colors come out ridiculous (see below).

I brought these cupcakes to work to share with colleagues, for drinks with a group of old friends, and then to the bowling alley. Surprising that there were still some left.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Carrot Cupcakes

Cupcakes are so much fun to make. They're easy, and it almost doesn't matter how sophisticated the decorations are, they always seem to make people smile. The only drawback is that they are difficult to transport, but it's totally worth it when you set them out in front of people and see their eyes light up. A tiny, individual cake for everybody! I wanted to make "healthy" cupcakes for my birthday this year; carrot cupcakes at least give people a portion of their daily vegetable intake. I adapted this recipe and used a simple cream cheese frosting. I also tried out my new cake decorating implements to make the little carrots. I got carried away a bit at the end, some of the cupcakes have three carrots on them! I also made about two dozen mini cupcakes, which were perfect to bring to a bar for happy hour on Friday.

Moist Carrot Cupcakes

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 cups finely grated raw carrots

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place rack in center of oven. Place paper liners into muffin cups.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground cinnamon.

In another large bowl whisk the eggs, sugar, and oil until slightly thickened. Fold in the flour mixture until incorporated. With a large rubber spatula fold in the grated carrots. Evenly divide the batter between the muffin cups and bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let the cupcakes cool completely on a wire rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting

16 ounces cream cheese (2 bars), room temperature
1 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Whip together all three ingredients until the texture is smooth. Set aside about 1/3of the frosting to color for the decorations, separate that third into two small bowls. Using food coloring or an icing gel, tint the frosting in one bowl orange, the other green.

When your cupcakes are cooled, spread the frosting onto the tops and then decorate. I used the Wilton website to learn how to make my carrots:


I think they came out kinda nice.