Archive for the ‘Seasonal Cooking’ Category
The problem is that in order to get a really good black cake, you have to begin the process at least several weeks in advance, and who’s thinking about Christmas in September? (Okay, well, many of you probably start your Christmas shopping in July, but the way my life has been going the past several years, my thoughts about Christmas have had me on the brink of nervous breakdowns trying to find gifts on Christmas Eve.)
But this year, I was determined to make a black cake, so I marked my calendar for September. That’s when I was going to initiate the process. And so I did.
Black cake/Christmas cake is also sometimes called plum pudding because it is derived from the traditional British Christmas cake of the same name. Plum pudding is basically fruit cake and the addition of brandy was to keep it fresh on long voyages across the seas (plus it tastes good). (Plum pudding is traditionally lit aflame at presentation time. I suspect that this was done the first time by accident as a result of someone getting a little too close to it with a candle or something.) When the British began trading through the Caribbean, the plum pudding went with them. But rum, rather than brandy, was the liquor available on the islands, and sugar and molasses became the sweeteners. The addition of allspice and nutmeg are more Island touches on the old recipe.
It is said that the original recipe for plum pudding dates to Medieval times, when it called for 13 ingredients—1 for Jesus Christ and 12 for his apostles—and was to be made on Christmas Eve. Since then, it’s become a more elaborate affair. As other fruit cakes, a black cake contains various dried fruits that are macerated in rum and, sometimes, port wine for weeks. The ideal time to bake it is a couple of weeks before Christmas, and as the days go by, it is occasionally basted with more booze.
So, in September, I put my fruit—raisins, golden raisins, plums, figs, dates, and cranberries—in a large container with a cover and poured in a wee bit of rum and port wine and let that sit until December. About a week before Christmas (I couldn’t get around to it before then), I baked the cake, basted it a few times, and brought it for Christmas Eve dinner. It came out fabulous. It was moist and incredibly flavorful, and even though it was loaded with alcohol, the rum and wine had mellowed into a fruity liqueur-like flavor. It’s not like any fruit cake you’ve ever had, I guarantee it. Normally, black cake is served as is, but I wanted it to look a little more festive so I iced it with a basic powdered sugar icing (which eventually melted). The only thing was that my cake was not as dark as it should be (it is called black cake, after all). So, I increased the browning in the recipe. Browning is also known as burnt sugar and can be found in West Indian markets.
I share this with you now so that you can prepare ahead of time for next Christmas. Enjoy!
|Jamaican Black Cake (aka Christmas Cake)|
- 4 cups mixed dried fruit (raisins, currents, prunes, citron, cherries, dates, figs, etc.)
- 1 cup white rum
- 1 pint port wine
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 cup butter
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 6 eggs
- 3 tablespoons browning*
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 cup nuts
- Rinse the fruit under running water and drain well. Place in a sealable bowl and mix in the rum and port wine. Seal bowl and refrigerate and let sit for about 2 months. If the liquid gets completely soaked up, add more rum as needed.
- On the day of baking, drain the fruit over a bowl and reserve the liquid. Using a food processor or blender, grind half the fruit until it’s in small pieces (but not a paste).
- Grease a 10-inch cake pan; line it with parchment paper. (You can also use aluminum foil, but make sure to grease the foil.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder; set aside.
- Using a mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until batter is smooth.
- Add half the flour and mix in; add remaining flour and mix in.
- Add the browning, vanilla, almond, molasses, lemon juice, spices, and zest. Add 1 cup of the reserved liquid and beat until well blended.
- By hand, blend in all the fruit and nuts.
- Bake for one 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Begin checking it at 1 hour.
- When done, place pan on a cooking rack and let it sit for about an hour. Invert it and remove the paper. Let cool completely. Baste every now and then with leftover liquor until ready to serve.
Makes 1 10-inch cake.
* Browning, also known as burnt sugar, is available in Jamaican/West Indian markets and sometimes in markets that have a wide variety of ethnic products. It’s used mostly for coloring. If you can’t find it, double up on the molasses.
Every year, I make fresh cranberry sauce. Some people prefer the canned variety to freshly made, but when I see that gelled log with can rings around it, I can’t help but feel that I can do better. In fact, anyone can. Fresh cranberry sauce is extremely simple, and the end product is so much better than the canned log. (Although, I know some of you feel like it’s truly not a traditional Thanksgiving without that log with the rings around it, so I say, whatever floats your boat.)
Cranberries are a tart fruit and cranberry sauce requires plenty of sugar to make it palatable enough for most people. But I always cringe a little when I start dumping the amount of sugar that most recipes call for into my pot of cranberries. So, this year, I decided to try some of the sorghum molasses that I brought up from a trip to the South.
The recipe I’ve always used calls for 2 cups granulated sugar. That’s a lot of sugar. So, I started with 1 cup brown sugar. Brown sugar is a nicer product to use than granulated sugar because it lend the sauce a mellow molasses flavor and I think it thickens up the sauce better. My sauce was still a little too tart, but I really didn’t want to add any more sugar, so I reached for the sorghum molasses. I started with 2 tablespoons and I liked the results. However, I knew that most people would want it sweeter (I don’t have a big sweet tooth), so I added 2 more tablespoons. It worked wonderfully.
Sorghum molasses is a Southern staple, but it can be found in specialty stores elsewhere in the U.S. If you can’t find it, substitute brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, or honey (the honey will be sweeter than the other products).
If you’re looking for that cloying candy-sweet taste of canned cranberry sauce, this isn’t it. But if you want something that is fresh tasting, texturally pleasing (from all those bits of beautiful cranberries), and not as loaded with refined sugar as typical cranberry sauce, give this a try.
|Cranberry Sauce with a Sorghum Twist|
- 1 16-oz. package fresh cranberries
- 1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
- ¼ cup sorghum molasses
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg or ground cloves
- 1 whole star anise
- Tiny pinch sea salt
- Combine all ingredients with 1 ½ cups water in a 2-quart pot. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to low and simmer until cranberries start to pop. Continue simmering and stirring for about 5 minutes, smashing the cranberries along the sides of the pot (you can leave some whole). Taste and adjust sweetener level to your taste.
- Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer to a jar or bowl and refrigerate until needed. Remove the cinnamon stick and star anise before serving or use them for garnish.
Variation: Add a tablespoon of raspberry or cherry liqueur or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract.
Makes 3 cups.
Parsley roots look very similar to parsnip, but they are completely different. Parsley root’s color is usually a much starker white than parsnip and is usually squatter and fatter. Both the parsley root and its leaves have a celery-like flavor and make a flavorful addition to any dish that would call for celery. The leaves of the parsley root look the same as “regular” parsley but the two are different types of parsley and are grown slightly differently (the root variety are planted further apart to allow for the growth of the root). And although their flavors are slightly different, the leaves of the root can certainly substitute for standard parsley.
Not as widely used in the U.S., parsley root is a common ingredient in Eastern European and Scandinavian cuisines. As Americans are expanding their palates and embracing unknown “ethnic” ingredients, I’m seeing more and more diverse produce in the markets, which heavenly for cooks everywhere.
I was curious as to how parsley root is most commonly used, so I did a search and downloaded a couple of recipes. In the end, though, I kept it simple. I cut up the parsley root, along with some carrots and onions, tossed it all in olive oil and seasonings, and roasted them.
Roasted vegetables is one of my favorite things in the world to eat, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a roasted vegetable I didn’t like. Parsley roots were no exception. They were sweet and delicious. The interesting thing is that the entire batch of cooked vegetables had a pronounced celery flavor. At first, I thought it was from the little bit of celery that I’d thrown in (I had a piece of celery left over from a different dish, so I thickly sliced it and threw it in the roasting pan). But then I realized that it wasn’t the celery, it was the parsley root. Very interesting. Anyway, here’s my recipe. It’s easy, simple and just in time for the fall. I chose not to include another other white root vegetables (such as potatoes or parsnips) so that I could easily distinguish the parsley root. If you can’t get parsley root, just use any root vegetables you like.
|Roasted Autumn Vegetables|
- 2 large parsley roots, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 1/2 medium onion, sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ chopped herbs (such as rosemary, parsley, thyme, etc.)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Combine the vegetables in a bowl. Add the salt, pepper, and herbs; add the oil and mix. Make sure all the vegetables are coated. Spread them out in a roasting pan and roast about 30 to 30 minutes, or until tender. Stir them occasionally.
Fall is in the air, and with summer goes summer harvests. Food lovers will mourn the loss of fresh tomatoes, corn, zucchini, berries, and herbs. But they’re going to be around just a bit longer, so we should hurry up and make those recipes that make summers special.
If you’ve still got all that beautiful mint growing, a great way to use it up is with a refreshing Cucumber Mango Mint Shooter.
Cucumber Mango Mint Shooter
This shooter can be served as a cocktail or as an hors d’oeuvre at a cocktail party. It’s on the border between sweet and savory, so it can even be enjoyed as an after-dinner cocktail.
1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 mango, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon mint leaves
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon lime juice
¼ cup melon liqueur
4 mint sprigs (optional)
1. Place the cucumber, mango, mint, maple syrup, and lime juice in a food processor or blender. Process until fully pureed.
2. Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Pour the mixture into the strainer and let it drip through. Press down on the pulp with a rubber spatula to strain as much liquid out as possible. Whisk in the liqueur.
3. Pour into shot glasses, top with mint sprig, and serve.
Hi, all. We’re entering autumn (a hell of a lot sooner than anyone anticipated), and for food lovers, that means so many wonderful, delicious things: root vegetable gratins, hearty soups, pumpkin and other squashes, and apples.
Apples are a culinary treasure because they can be consumed raw, cooked in both sweet and savory dishes, and as beverages. They’re so versatile that almost any kind of dish can be prepared with them. They give butternut squash soup a slightly sweet edge, provide cakes with moisture while making them lower in fat, and give meat dishes more complexity.
Although apples are not native to the New World, they have become a staple of American farms across the United States and are ranked in the top 20 crops in the U.S. Although there are more than 7500 varieties of apples worldwide, most of them are not available commercially. Many are wild varieties or varieties that grow on people’s private properties.
So, to usher in autumn and glory in the abundance of apples, here are some recipe links for apple dishes.
Here’s my apple galette that I made in school: Apple Galette with Vegan Crust
Apple Strudel from the Food Network: Apple Strudel
Apple Pie and Apple Pecan Pie: Apples!
And some more great recipes from:
Hi, gang. January is National Soup Month. And why wouldn’t it be? In the summer, we may scream for ice cream, but in winter, soup is what really hits the spot. It’s warming, comforting, and re-energizing.
Frankly, I like soup any time of the year. Some look at me oddly when I eat it in the summer, but the fact is that eating hot soup (or any hot food) in summer actually adjusts your internal body temperature, making external heat more bearable. Then again, a lovely chilled soup can be quite refreshing in the sweltering summer heat.
Hi, fellow foodies. We are in full pumpkin swing and candy is popping up all over the place! If you haven’t already, start stocking up because those trick-or-treaters will be knocking on your door in about a week. And you don’t want your house toilet papered, do you?
For any of you having ghoulish gatherings and sinister soirees, there are lots of horrific recipes out there that will make your guests scream…or at least look twice at what they’re eating and drinking. Some good places to check out are…
If you stopped by last week, you’ll know that I promised you a recipe for pumpkin ravioli. So, if classic cooking is more your thing, go with that, rather than the demonic creations suggested by these sites. You can use canned pumpkin for the ravioli but nothing beats the flavor of fresh pumpkin.
Here’s a tip: If you and/or your kids do any pumpkin carving, use the pumpkin that’s being removed from the jack-o’-lanterns.
I say this knowing full well that processing fresh pumpkin is a bit of a job. But if you’re up for it, here’s the step-by-step process. (P.S. Make sure everyone’s hands are clean when scooping out pumpkins. Also, wash the outside of the pumpkins and make sure the utensils being used are clean, too.)
1. If you’re starting with a whole pumpkin and it’s small enough to fit in your oven, bake it. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and use a knife to poke holes all around the pumpkin (you don’t want that sucker exploding in your oven). Place it on a baking sheet and bake until you can pierce the pumpkin easily with a knife. The pumpkin may collapse and that’s okay. Remove it from the oven and let it cool. If the pumpkin is too big for your oven, cut it up and steam as instructed below.
If you’re starting with large pieces (cut from a jack-o’-lantern), cut them into chunks. Cut away the skins and fibers and put in a bowl; set aside. Place the chunks in a steamer rack and steam until soft.
2. Scoop or cut the flesh away from the skin. If it was baked, cut away the seeds and fibers and place in a bowl. Place some of the pumpkin flesh in a food processor and puree. You may need to nudge it with a rubber spatula now and then. If you need to add liquid, add as little as possible to get it going. Transfer to a bowl. Add the next batch, and so on, until all the pumpkin is pureed. Combing all the batches in the bowl.
3. Transfer the puree to a strainer set over a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least a few hours). If possible, give it a stir and let it sit in the refrigerator another day or two. It’s now ready to use in a recipe.
To Toast the Seeds:
Separate the seeds from the fibers. Discard the fibers and rinse the seeds in a strainer under cool running water. Drain well. Spread them out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle salt over them and stir. If you want, you can add seasonings to them, such as chili powder or cinnamon. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned.
Now, without further ado, here is Pumpkin Ravioli, courtesy of Recipeland.com. Note that I’ve changed the sauce from the original Pumpkin Seed Sauce to the more traditional Butter-Sage Sauce. Also, the recipe says to use canned pumpkin, but you can substitute your own freshly made pumpkin puree. Have a great weekend, everybody.
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup pumpkin canned
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups flour, unbleached all-purpose
½ teaspoon salt
1/4cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large eggs
Mix the flour, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour. Beat the tomato paste, oil and eggs until well blended and pour into the well in the flour. Stir with a fork gradually bring the flour mixture to the center of the bowl. Do this until the dough makes a ball. If the dough is too dry, mix in up to 2 tbls of water.
Knead lightly on a floured cloth-covered surface, adding flour if dough is sticky, until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Cover and let rest for another 5 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Roll the dough, one part at a time, into a rectangle about 12 x 10 inches.
Drop the pumpkin mixture by 2 level tsp onto half of the rectangle, about 1 1/2-inches apart in 2 rows of 4 mounds each. Moisten the edges of the dough and the dough between the rows of pumpkin mixture with water. Fold the other half of the dough up over the pumpkin mixture, pressing the dough down around the pumpkin. Trim the edges with a pastry wheel or knife.
Cut between the rows of filling to make ravioli; press the edges together with a fork or cut with a pastry wheel sealing the edges well. Repeat with the remaining dough and pumpkin filling.
Place ravioli on towel, let stand turning once, until dry, about 30 minutes.
Cook ravioli in 4 quarts of boiling salted water (2 tsp of salt) until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes; drain carefully.
Serve the ravioli with the Butter-Sage Sauce spooned over.
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
6 to 8 fresh sage leaves, minced
¼ tsp nutmeg
Melt the butter in a small pan. Over medium-low heat, let it sizzle until it turns brown. Add the sage and nutmeg and cook about 1 minute. Turn off the heat; keep warm until pasta is ready.
Hi, all. Well, this is a holy week for a lot of people, so I’d like to wish those of you who celebrate, a Happy Easter and (a belated) Happy Passover. Both of these holidays are based on religious beliefs, but they are celebrated in grand culinary style.
My family celebrates Easter and I always remember that day as being filled with the sights and smells of incredible food. Two of the traditional Easter main dishes for Italian families are lamb and goat. (I could never bring myself to eat either, but I’ve been told that goat has a milder flavor and aroma than lamb.) Along with that, we would have an array of antipasti (appetizers), pasta (of course), and side dishes.
Hi, gang. It’s the second day of the 2010 and I’ve been thinking about what to write for this week’s blog. The last couple of days, I’ve been breathing a sigh of relief that 2009 is over. It’s been an extremely difficult year for me, as well as for many other people. I’ve had turmoil and disarray in just about every area of my life. Although some really awesome things happened, too, they happened amidst craziness. So, it was kind of like finding pearls on a beach and having to brush away the sand to really see it.
Hi, gang. Well, the holidays are upon us. This past week was Hanukkah and this coming week is Christmas. Then, on December 26, begins the 7 days of Kwanzaa. Whether you celebrate one of these holidays or the winter solstice or nothing at all, we’re all confronted with the same thing: lots and lots of food. We have those family dinners to attend and/or have our own gatherings. And even if you avoid both those events like the plague, chances are that you have to attend your company soiree. So, very few of us escape the trap of delicious, tempting food.