Sunday, September 30, 2012

Kicking Summer to the Curb with Apple Spice Cake

Mohonk Mountain House is an amazing place. Just outside of New Paltz, New York, hidden atop a gorgeous mountain and overlooking a lake on one side and a valley on the other, the estate used to be a Quaker retreat and now all kinds of people and groups retreat there for the beautiful and peaceful natural vistas. The restaurant, staffed mainly by graduates of the nearby Culinary Institute of America, complements the place well. The food is excellent. 

I sit on the Board of Directors of the New York State Perinatal Association, an organization that advocates for better maternal and infant health policies and outcomes, and I was fortunate that the Board organized a retreat a Mohonk in September. 

There are so many things that were inspiring about that place, not the least of which was a deep dish over sterno cups that contained a mess of apples in caramel sauce. I don't know what drew me to it, but it was my fortunate choice from the dessert table. I vowed to replicate it for this year's Kicking Summer to the Curb party. I was pleased with the results I got from this recipe, with a few alterations (no walnuts, and bumped up spices). I picked up apples from the Albany food co-op on the way back from a work trip, and made this cake the day before the party. I also tripled the recipe for 48 servings.

End of Summer Apple Spice Cake with Caramel Sauce

Apple Spice Cake 
1/4 cup butter or 1/4 cup margarine, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ginger1 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 apples, peeled and grated (I used a food processor)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Spray a 8-inch square cake pan with non-stick olive oil or grease pan and set aside. In a large bowl cream butter with sugar. Beat in egg. Stir in flour, spices, baking soda and salt. Fold in apples. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until cake is done and toothpick comes clean when inserted in cake. Cut in squares when cool.

Caramel Sauce
1/4 cup butter or 1/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

To make caramel sauce melt butter in saucepan over low heat and then add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue stirring for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens. Remove caramel sauce from heat and serve over apple cake squares.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Birthday Cupcakes

I love having the time to make cupcakes for a colleague I'm fond of. I was given a book of luscious cupcake recipes, titled simply cupcakes, as a wedding present, and I've worked my way through only about a half a dozen of them. This time, I wanted to try a chocolate with salted caramel. They were a hit with the small group we gathered to sing happy birthday, and the frosting was a big hit with my husband (though he thought the cupcakes themselves were a little too dense, which may have been because I left them in the oven just a little too long).

Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Basic Chocolate Cupcakes
2/3 cup flour
2 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees, prepare a 12-cup muffin tin. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Melt chocolate and butter in a large heavy pan, stirring frequently until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to let the chocolate burn at the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and let cool.

 Stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture once it is cooled to room temperature until the two are combined. Stir in the eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Gently fold the flouer mixture just until no traces of flour remain; do not overmix (this also could have made the cake stiff). Place about 2 tbsp into each muffin cup, filling each to about 3/4 full.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, about 22-24 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool on a wire rack in the pan, then remove each from the pan and let them cool completely.

Basic Buttercream

3 large egg whites at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, at room temp
1 tsp vanilla paste

In a large heatproof bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over simmering water in a saucepan and heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is very warm to the touch, about two minutes. Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg white mixture until it is fluffy, cooled to room temperature, and holds stiff peaks (the mixture should not look dry), about 6 minutes.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the salt and the butter, a few pieces at a time, beating well after each addition. If the frosting appears to separate or is very liquid after all the butter is added, continue to beat on high speed until it is smooth and creamy, 3-5 minutes more.

 Caramel Sauce

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
pinch of salt

(makes about 2 1/4 cups)

In a heavy-bottomed and high-sided saucepan, cook the dry sugar all by itself over medium-high heat until it begins to melt around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stirring with a clean spoon, continue to cook until the sugar is melted and has turned golden amber, about 3 minutes longer. Be careful not to burn--that's a different sauce!

Carefully pour the cream down the side of the pan in a slow, steady stream (it will bubble and spatter), stirring constantly until completely smooth. Stir in the salt. Pour the caramel into a small heatproof bowl and let cool completely before using. You can store the caramel for about a week. Bring it back to room temperature before using.

Swirl into the buttercream and frost each cupcake generously. Then drizzle caramel in designs over the cupcake top. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Block Party Cubano Tacos

I've lived in the same place for almost 15 years in Brooklyn. Almost every year, our block has a party, but in years' past, I've been too busy to go. Recently, I've attempted to get involved in our newly-formed block association. I attend meetings when I can, but infrequently because of work. This year when the date of the block party was announced, I put it on my calendar and committed to go. Today was the block party, and I have never had more invitations to do different things: my softball team's party, a friend in from out of town, a colleague's birthday party--but I was committed to this block party. And I'm glad I made that decision.

Our block is really unique. There are people who've lived there all their lives, their apartments or houses were passed down through generations. There are entrepreneurs, families, same-sex couples, hipsters. There are people in new apartment buildings (three of them on the block), and some in crumbling brownstones. There's a hot new pie shop on the corner at one end of the block, and a reliable Chinese take-out on the other side that has a ginger and scallion soup that I swear cures the common cold. We have musicians who drum and play guitar on the roof every Saturday night, a motorcycle dude who annoys the hell out of me when he revvs his engine really loud, and the owner and founder of a local brewery. And even though I pass most of them by every day, I don't know very many of them at all.

I decided that I wanted to share my pickles and D's hot sauce this year, and made pernil as the platform. D happened to be away at a concert this weekend, but he cooked up a new batch of sauce and helped me roast the pernil last night. I made some pickles a few weeks ago, and had some pickled onions keeping in the fridge. So I made cubano-tacos: little corn tortilla halves, shredded jack cheese, shredded roast pork, pickle slice, pickled onions, and hot sauce. Folks were grilling with their families in front of their homes, so I went around and introduced myself and asked everyone if they wanted a little taco with some hot sauce.

People were so kind with their compliments and I got to talk to so many of them. My voting rights work, the state of the block's construction, the robust nature of the block association, and what "fracking" means were all little conversations I was able to have all day (D and I have a "no fracking" sign in our third-story window).

If I when I ever launch my pickle business, I'll start my marketing on my own block first.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Don't Cry Over Spilled Hato Muji

I found this grain--Job's Tears, or hato muji, at the Albany food co-op several months ago. I'd never heard of it before, and it was supremely expensive, so I just had to try it. It is an ancient grain that looks and acts like barley, but isn't. It has all kinds of uses (medicinal, nutritional, artistic), but I planned to use it for a cold summer salad.

Ever since I stopped eating quinoa (here's why) I've been searching for an alternative grain. While hato muji is almost prohibitively expensive, it is really tasty.

I couldn't find a recipe for it anywhere, so I made one up based on a recipe I found for barley salad.

Apricot-Grain Summer Salad

1 1/2 cups hato muji
8 cups water
1 cube bouillion (veggie, mushroom)
[or you can use 2-4 cups of stock in place of the same proportion of water]
1/2 cup sliced dried apricot
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 cup diced yellow pepper
1 cup finely diced onion
4 cloves diced garlic
1 tbsp diced ginger
2 tbsp olive oil, or toasted sesame oil (or a combination)
1/2 cup sliced toasted almond

Combined water/broth with the hato muji and bring to a boil. Simmer for at least an hour (frequently checking toward the end) until the grain is firm but chewy. While the grain is cooking, sautee in a cast iron pan the onion, garlic, and ginger in olive oil until tender and just beginning to brown. When the grain is done cooking, toss in a large bowl with the sliced apricots, shredded carrot, and the sauteed onion mixture. Quickly sautee over high heat the diced yellow bell pepper until some of the pieces are singed. Toss into the grain. Garnis with toasted sliced or chopped almonds. It's a nice alternative to a potato-based dish for a main dish of pork loin or ribs, or just on it's own.