Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chocolate Cake! Oh yeah!

Alex writes from Austin, "Mom, do you know any particularly good chocolate cake recipes?" What better time to post this beauty: Texas Sheet Cake. It is easy and quick and tastes just plain yummy.

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter (so far it sounds pretty good, right?)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Grease a rectangular baking pan, set aside. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and sale. set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup butter, 1/3 cup cocoa, and 1 cup water. Bring to boil stirring constantly (yes, Alex, you can do this while talking on the phone). Remove from heat. Beat cholocate mixture into the dry mixture until thoroughly blended. Add eggs, buttermilk, an dvanilla. Stir or beat until batter is thin (about 1 minute.) Pour into prepared pan.

Bake at 350 about 25 - 35 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Err on the side of less time and keep checking it.

Chocolate Frosting
1/4 cup butter
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
3 tbsp buttermilk
2 1/4 powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Mix well, pour over warm cake, spreading evenly. Place cake in pan on wire rack, cool thoroughly before cutting. Or not.

I don't have a picture; I first tasted it at a neighborhood pot-luck and then looked up the recipe on the interweb. It comes out perfect every time. Bon appetit!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sherwa - Afghani Lamb Soup

This soup is simple and satisfying and turns out great in the crockpot or pressure cooker. It's essentially a flavorful lamb-based broth with large chunks of root vegetables floating in it. It's traditionally served with strips of flatbread immersed in it, which I think is even tastier when the bread is stale. You can use any kind of bone-in lamb, as long as the individual chunks aren't too big (i.e. don't use an entire lamb shoulder). Try your best to find turnips because these really give it the flavor it needs. Despite the simple seasonings and broth-iness, this soup is hearty and satisfying.

I normally leave the turnips in larger pieces, but some of mine had hollow centers I had to cut out. By keeping things in large chunks they don't fall apart and cloud the broth as much.

1.5-2 lbs. bone-in lamb chunks
1 large onion
1 tsp. ground coriander
2-3 tomatoes, peeled and sliced or chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into thick diagonal slices
3-4 potatoes, peeled and halved
4-5 turnips, peeled and halved
1 handful cilantro leaves, chopped
salt and pepper

In a medium frying pan*, cook the onions in a little oil until they begin to brown on the edges, adding the coriander and some salt. Increase the heat and place the lamb in the pan, searing it on all sides. Transfer the meat and onions to your crockpot.

Cover the meat with about 2" of water (this took ~3 qts. in my cooker). Add the tomatoes, some more salt, and some pepper. Cook on low 4 or more hours while you're at work.

When you get home, increase the temperature to high and add the carrots, potatoes, and turnips so that they cook for another hour or until tender (if your potatoes are very large you may want to put them in for 30 min. before adding the other veggies). While those are cooking, remove the lamb chunks and pull the meat off the bone and return it to the pot (optional). Before serving, adjust the salt level and stir in the cilantro. Serve in large bowls with strips of flatbread to dunk or immerse in the soup.

*If you're using a pressure cooker, you can do this all in the PC. Cook it on the highest pressure for 40 minutes before adding the vegetables. Release the pressure and cook for 7-8 minutes more with the veggies.

Fried Tofu with Indonesian Sauce

This recipe is great for when you want something really nice and simple, especially in hot weather. It's adapted from the "Sundays at the Moosewood" cookbook, where it's called Tauhu Goreng Kechap. The sauce is definitely more than the sum of its parts - I really like it.

2/3 light soy sauce
3-4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp minced onion/scallion/shallot(I usually use green onions)
1-2 small bird chilies
1/4 c fresh lime juice (I recommend more)
1/2-1 tsp. sugar

Fry up some tofu, make some rice. I recommend adding some vegis - they recommend steaming some mungbean sprouts, but I personally skinned and seeded a cucumber, and blanched some thinly cut carrots. Put the vegis and friend vegis on the rice, then pour sauce over to taste. Depending on the season, it might go well with some miso soup or something.

A picture of it made all fancy (served with a side of broccoli...and sake, even):

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Vesuvio Sandwich

This might be the first sandwich recipe on the blog. When Dan returned from a daytrip to New Jersey, he admitted that he'd had a sultry and unforgivable lunchtime affair with a Garden State native who "had more meat than I could get in my mouth". Some asshole named Vesuvio.

Turns out Vesuvio is a sandwich. Our family has never been big on sandwiches, and it's a bit odd to think of a 'recipe' for one, but this is a fantastic combination of ingredients that deserves posting
. The key is to use fresh, high quality bread. I recommend something like a mini ciabatta roll, which has a springy, airy texture, but without the mouth-shredding crust of some other European-style breads.


deli slices of smoked turkey
roasted red peppers from a jar
provolone cheese
a fresh ciabatta roll

Try to have a ratio of cheese:meat of about 1:5. No need to add any other kind of condiment, especially if your bread is fresh. Enjoy!

PS: When I posted this I checked to see if there's anything else known as a "Vesuvio sandwich". Turns out the signature sandwich of the Vesuvio restaurant in Philadelphia won accolades as the 'best sandwich in America', a cheese-steak BLT sandwich. Very different from Dan's version with the same name, but probably sinfully good.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Basic Corn Chowder

You know it's late summer when you've had sweet corn with 9/10 of your past meals. If you're anything like me, you wind up with leftover ears, either cooked or raw, that you weren't able to get to before you started on the next batch. This phenomenon coincides nicely with the arrival of cooler weather--all together this means it's the perfect time for corn chowder.

This recipe is pretty basic, but feel free to spice it up with curry or red pepper chunks or anything else you can imagine. I made it with 4 ears of corn, but anywhere from 3-6 would probably work. I don't like mine too creamy, but if you like it that way then just add more dairy.

3-6 ears of corn, raw or cooked
3 strips bacon or a hunk of salt pork, diced
1 onion, diced finely
2-3 ribs celery, diced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2-4 potatoes, cubed (~1.5 c.)
1-2 qts. chicken broth
1/4 c. vermouth or dry sherry
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. marjoram
lots of black pepper
Tabasco or chipotle sauce (optional)
1/2 - 1 c. half and half, cream, or evaporated milk
3 Tbsp. butter

Heat up a heavy dutch oven and cook the bacon or salt pork until the fat renders from it and it begins to crisp. Add the onions, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and cook over medium-high heat until it begins to brown. Add the celery and cook until it is tender and the onions are mostly caramelized.

Cut the kernels from the ears of corn into a bowl and then scrape the rest of the pulp into the bowl using the back of your knife. Break up the corn bits into individual kernels.

Pour the broth into the pot and add water so that you have 3 qts of liquid. Scrape any bits off the bottom of the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the corn, potatoes, herbs, some black pepper, and sherry and reduce the pot to a simmer. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.

Remove the soup from the heat and partially blend the soup so that it is mostly smooth, with some potato and corn chunks remaining. Slowly stir in the cream until it is how you like it. Add the butter to enrich it and then adjust the seasonings with more black pepper and tabasco sauce (if desired). Don't bring it back to a boil or the cream will curdle.

I served the soup with crusty bread, roasted chicken, and garden-fresh green beans--a winning combination!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pão de Queijo - Brazillian Cheese Puffs

I remember looking this recipe up on the internet in around 1998 and I had to do exhaustive searching to find a single recipe. Now there are tons, as well as several videos of how to make it. Pão de Queijo are just as easy to make as buttermilk biscuits, but are arguably more delicious. They are springy little puffs of tapioca starch and cheese and go well with virtually anything--what's more, they only take about 35 minutes to make from start to finish. The only hard part is keeping tapioca starch (aka tapioca flour, manioc flour, cassava flour) on hand, though this is easy to find at any Asian store and is usually cheap. You also need a hard, mild cheese that won't overwhelm the puffs. I used a combination of parmesan and white cheddar.

2 c. tapioca starch
1 c. milk
1 c. water
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
~1 c. grated hard, mild cheese

Preheat the oven to 450.

Place the tapioca starch in a large bowl. Bring the milk, water, vegetable oil, and salt to a boil. Pour it slowly over the starch while stirring with a wooden spoon, making sure to moisten completely. Keep stirring until it is just cool enough to handle. Crack the eggs into the bowl and squish them in as thoroughly as possible, using your hands. It will look like a mess at this point and the dough will remain very sticky. Still using your hands, mix in the grated cheese until it is evenly distributed.

Cover 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Oil your hands and lightly roll the dough into golf-ball sized rounds and place these on the sheets. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400 and cook 10 minutes more until puffed and browned. Serve piping hot.


This recipe can be increased or decreased. As-is, it will make about 3 dozen puffs.

Apparently these are best made with 'polviho azedo', sour manioc flour, or a combination of it and regular tapioca flour. If you can find this stuff, then your pães will be more puffy and have a slightly sour flavor, or so the internet tells me. Let me know if you find it and try it out.

The leftover pães heat up well in the microwave (~30 sec.) and are surprisingly good with jam.