Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pound cake

I have so many wonderful memories involving my family and food. One that always comes to mind is being in the kitchen with my mother as she cooked. A very skilled cook, my mom was strong with a range of dishes -- from savory ones to desserts. A favorite in our household was pound cake. Mommy always had homemade pound cake on the sideboard. I remember her inviting her colleagues over after work for a slice of rich, moist pound cake and tea-- both served on proper bone china, of course. Often, the pound cake was accompanied by our homemade vanilla ice cream, or maybe peaches that we canned ourselves during the summer. What a delightful after-work treat!

The name of this classic dessert derives from the quantities of key ingredients used to make it-- flour, butter, and sugar. And let's not forget all the eggs that go into it. My mother taught me that true pound cake does not use milk at all. The eggs and butter do the work. Of course, there are many recipes that use the name "pound cake" and list milk as an ingredient.

I admit to being a purist -- I tend to stay away from those. I've made them plenty of times in the past and they were perfectly fine. But I want the real McCoy. And there is something really special about all those eggs and butter combining to produce a pale yellow, nicely textured piece of cake, with a sweet outer layer that almost forms a crust.

The leavening agent for this cake is the beaten egg whites. Make sure that you use a metal bowl that is clean and dry for beating them. Also, a pinch of cream of tartar helps the egg whites form stiff peaks. I recommend folding half the egg whites in and then gently mixing the rest in. You want to maintain the volume.

Some bakers prefer to use vanilla extract, or -- if you're in the South -- bourbon or brandy as flavoring. I've made pound cakes with vanilla extract, bourbon or brandy and have enjoyed all those variations. If you choose to add liquor, add about 2 tablespoons. If you decide on vanilla extract, use 2 teaspoons. You need that much because of the quantity of the other ingredients. Of course, this cake is so flavorful that you can forego the bourbon (or brandy) and vanilla extract and still come out with a dessert that could be served as the end of any meal.


Pound Cake

1 lb butter
1 lb sugar
1 lb flour
10 whole eggs (separated)
2 tablespoons brandy (or 2tsp. of vanilla extract)


Prep Time: 15 mins

Total Time: 1 1/2 hrs

1. Cream butter and sugar.
2. Add egg yolks, beat until thick and lemon colored.
3. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
4. Add egg whites, flour, and bourbon/brandy/vanilla extract to egg yolk/sugar mixture.
5. Beat vigorously for 5 minutes.
6. Bake in deep, buttered and floured cak pan at 350 degrees for 75 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I spent a few minutes reviewing past blog entries and I was struck by the fact that I don't have any that feature "the other white meat," (aka pork) as the main ingredient. Now don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against pork. I put it in pasta sauces (sausage), soups (ham and sausage) and risottos (bacon). But I think it would be nice to feature pork in its unadulterated form.

There is one recipe that I have made several times and really, really enjoy. It's a Chinese dish - a clear soup with pork balls with egg noodles. It's flavorful, but not spicy. The pork balls are very soft and loose. They go well with the broth and the noodles.

People sometimes assume that making stock from scratch is a big deal. It actually isn't. Does it take more time than opening a can of Swanson's and pouring it out? Obviously. But the result achieved in making the stock from chicken is really worth the effort. And you can always freeze any remaining stock, so it doesn't go to waste.

I did not my own egg noodles; my local pan-Asian supermarket had them. They worked just fine.

Because I wanted more vegetables, I added additional cabbage to the soup. I had extra and couldn't think of anything else that I wanted to use it for, so I just shredded more and added it to the broth.


Chinese Clear Soup with Pork Balls and Egg Noodles

3lb. 5 oz chicken bones (chicken necks, backs wings), washed
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 slices ginger 1/2 inch thick
4 scallions, white part only

5 1/2 oz Chinese cabbage, shredded
1 tbs peanut oil
2 tsps sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbs grated ginger
10 1/2 oz minced (ground) pork
1 egg white
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
2 tbs light soy sauce
1 tbs Chinese rice wine
1 1/2 tbs cornstarch
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
5 scallions, finely sliced
7 oz fresh fine egg noodle

1. To make the stock, put the bones and 14 cup water in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer- do not boil. Cook for 30 minutes, removing any scum that rises to the surface. Add the garlic, ginger and scallion and cook, partially covered, at a low simmer for 3 hours. Strain through a fine sieve. Cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove the layer of fat from the surface once it has solidified.
2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and cook the cabbage for 2 minutes, or until soft. Drain, cool and squeeze out the excess water.
3. Heat the peanut oil and 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil in a small frying pan and cook the garlic and ginger for 1 minute, or until the garlic just starts to brown. Allow to cool.
4. Combine the pork, cabbage, garlic mixture, egg white, white pepper, soy sauce, rice wine, cornstarch, half the cilantro and half the scallion. Cover and refrigerate for an hour. Shape into 22 balls using 1 tablespoon of mixture per ball.
5. Bring 6 cups of stock to a boil in a wok. Simmer for 1-2 minutes on medium heat. Add the pork balls and cook, covered, for 8-10 minutes, or until they rise to the top and are cooked through.
6. Cook the noodles in a large pan of boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and rinse. Divide among bowls and ladle the soup and balls on top. Garnish with the remaining scallion, cilantro and sesame oil.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A fragrant Thai dinner

Two days ago I went to my local pan-Asian supermarket. The original purpose was to buy frozen pandan leaves, which I have not been able to find anywhere. (Many thanks to Chef Bosco Pereira for hunting them down for me!) I had already made dinner-- a delicious sausage-lentil stew. But before leaving for the market, I had looked at a recipe for Thai chicken lemongrass. I could not resist; I had to make it! So I purchased fresh ginger, several limes, fresh garlic, lemongrass and a few cans of thick coconut milk.

I was excited about the lemongrass chicken recipe because the chicken is marinated in a highly aromatic mixture for 3 hours before roasting in the oven. After it's done, it's served with a lovely sauce. My imagination conjured up images of chicken seasoned by lemongrass, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, rice vinegar and coconut milk-- crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside -- topped by an aromatic sauce. The chicken did not disappoints. I would certainly make it again.

I'll post the recipe as is, but point out that I did make several modifications. I don't think that the directions were very clear in terms of moving from marinating to roasting the chicken. I would suggest transferring the chicken from the pan with the marinade to a new roasting pan. Don't add all that marinade; otherwise you won't get crispy skin. It should be the chicken pieces with a little topping of marinade as it goes into the oven. Baste with additional marinade every 30 minutes or so to keep the chicken from drying out. I would also increase the oven temperature to the standard one for roasting chicken: 375 degrees Farenheit.

The chicken is accompanied by a very nice sauce. I found that I needed to add about another 2 tsp. of cornstarch for it to thicken properly. And, because I like the flavor so much, I added a stalk of lemongrass.

The only thing needed was rice and some kind of vegetable. I looked in the crisper and found celery, carrots and broccoli - perfect for a stir fry. I wanted to stay with the Thai theme, so I found an easy, tasty recipe for stir-fried vegetables. You could pretty much use any veggies you have on hand. The only change I made was adding more fresh lime juice to counteract the saltiness of the fish sauce. You may want to add a little less fish sauce than the recipe calls for.



* 1/2 or 1 whole roasting chicken (the marinade is enough for 1 medium-size chicken)
* 1 stalk fresh lemongrass, OR subsitute juice of 1 lemon
* 4 cloves garlic
* 1 thumb-size piece galangal OR ginger, grated or thinly sliced
* 1/2 can thick coconut milk
* 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
* 3 tsp. dark soy sauce
* optional: 1 kaffir lime leaf (use scissors to cut leaf into thin pieces, discard stem)
* lime wedges and a handful of fresh coriander as a garnish
* SAUCE INGREDIENTS (enough for 1/2 chicken; double the recipe if you're making a whole chicken):
* 1 cup water
* juice of 1/2 a lime
* 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
* 1 thumb-size piece galangal or ginger, minced or grated
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
* 1/3 cup honey
* 1 heaping tsp. arrowroot powder or cornstarch powder, dissolved in 3 Tbsp. water


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Rinse and pat dry the chicken. Place lemongrass (or lemon juice), garlic, galangal or ginger, fish sauce, soy sauce, lime leaf, and coconut milk in a food processor (or blender). Process well - this is your marinade.
2. Place chicken in your roasting pan, and pour marinade over top. Using your hands, smother the chicken in the marinade. Leave in the refrigerator for up to 3 hours (or at least 30 min).
3. Now add about 1/2 cup water to the bottom of the roasting pan (it can mix in with any marinade that has dripped down).
4. Cover and roast the chicken slowly at 325 degrees for a long period in order for it to be tender: 1 to 1.5 hours for half a chicken, or 2.5 to 3 hours for a whole chicken.
5. Check the roast pan every hour to make sure there is enough moisture in the bottom (add a little more water if it is becoming dry). While you have the chicken out, use a soup ladle to scoop up the juices from the bottom of the pan and pour over the chicken. Put back in the oven.
6. While chicken is roasting, make the side sauce. In a saucepan, add all sauce ingredients except arrowroot powder (or cornstarch). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.
7. Taste test for sweetness and saltiness, adding more honey if not sweet enough, or more fish sauce (instead of salt) as desired. If you prefer a spicy sauce, add some fresh chili or chili sauce.
8. Add the arrowroot or cornstarch powder (dissolved in water). Stir until sauce thickens. (If it becomes too thick to your liking, add more lime juice and water.)
9. Serve the roasted chicken on a platter, either whole or chopped into pieces. Drizzle some of the sauce overtop, then pour the rest around the outside of chicken, or serve it on the side. Garnish with lime slices or wedges, and fresh coriander. Serve with plenty of Thai jasmine-scented rice.

Stir-Fried Vegetables

* 1 medium-size carrot, sliced
* 1-2 cups baby bok choy, or other Chinese cabbage (leaves left whole if not too large, otherwise cut in half or thirds)
* 1 red pepper, cut into bite-size pieces
* 5-6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced, or left in halves or quarters
* 3 spring onions, cut in thirds
* 1 small head broccoli, cut into florets
* 1 thumb-size piece of galangal (or ginger), sliced thinly (matchstick-like pieces)
* 3 Tbsp. white wine or sherry (or cooking wine or sherry)
* optional: handful dry-roasted unsalted cashews
* 1/3 cup good-tasting stock (vegetarian or chicken stock)
* 2 Tbsp. fish sauce (or substitute 2.5 Tbsp. soy sauce)
* 1 Tbsp. lime juice
* 5-7 cloves of garlic, minced
* 1 tsp. liquid honey (or substitute brown sugar), plus more to taste
* 2 tsp. corn starch dissolved in 4 Tbsp. water
* 1 red chili, minced, OR 1 tsp. chili sauce, OR 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper


1. Start by making the stir-fry sauce. Place all ingredients - except garlic and cornstarch - in a sauce pan over medium-high heat.
2. When sauce begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low. Now add the minced garlic and cornstarch (dissolved in water). Stir until the sauce thickens slightly - about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
3. Do a taste test. You're looking for a balance of salty (fish sauce), spicy (garlic and chili), sour (lime), and sweet (sugar). Adjust these flavors to suit your taste.
4. Place a little oil in a wok/frying pan over medium to high heat. Add the carrots, galangal (or ginger), and shiitake mushrooms. When the wok/pan becomes dry, add a little of the wine or sherry, 1 Tbsp. at a time, to keep ingredients frying nicely. Stir-fry in this way, adding more wine or sherry as needed, for 2-3 minutes, or until carrots start to soften.
5. Add the rest of the vegetables plus 1/3 of the stir-fry sauce and continue stir-frying another 2 minutes, or until the broccoli has softened but still retains some of its crispness.
6. Add remaining stir-fry sauce (plus cashews, if using) and mix in until everything is hot. Remove from heat.
7. Do one last taste-test. If not salty enough, add up to 1 Tbsp. more fish or soy sauce. If too salty, add another squeeze of lime juice. Add a little more sugar or honey if desired. Serve immediately with plenty of Thai jasmine-scented rice

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Apples during the winter

I bought a bag of baking apples (Macintoshes) at the supermarket a few days ago. My intention was to make an apple pie. With the two snowstorms that hit Boston this week, I thought that baking would be a nice, cozy activity.

It occurred to me that there are lots of interesting, tasty desserts beyond apple pies. Apple fritters and turnovers came to mind, but I was not in the mood to fry anything.

I thought about apples and the kinds of flavor/spices that go well with them. Apples go very well with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. So I searched online until I found a recipe that fit in with my image of a good winter dessert made with apples. I came across a terrific recipe for apple-walnut cake on the website.

I made a few changes in the recipe to suit my own tastes. The recipe calls for 2 tsp. of cinnamon. I cut that down to 1 tsp. and added 1/2 tsp. of ginger, 1/2 tsp. of cloves and a dash of nutmeg. You could easy change the amounts and types of spices to suit your own taste. The topping that is poured over the batter calls for chopped walnuts. I didn't have any, so I used pecans.

This cake is absolutely delicious. It's very, very moist and flavorful, probably because of both the oil and apples.

I enjoyed a piece with a cup of hot tea. What a treat! It is definitely on my list to make again.


Apple Walnut Supreme Cake (from
4 c. coarsely diced, peeled apples
1 3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c. cooking oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. sifted flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine apples and sugar; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix eggs, oil and vanilla. Beat for one minute at medium speed. Combine dry ingredients and add to egg mixture, alternating with apple mixture. Mix until apples are thoroughly covered. Stir in walnuts. Spread into a greased and floured 9"x13"x3" pan. Sprinkle with topping recipe (below). Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until cake tests done with a toothpick. Do not underbake.

1/2 c. light brown sugar
2 tbsp. regular flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. cooking oil
1/2 c. finely chopped nuts

Combine all ingredients with a fork. Sprinkle on batter.