Saturday, December 21, 2013

Armenian Rice Pilaf

Armenian Rice Pilaf

3 Tablespoons sweet butter
1/2 cup broken-up vermicelli (coil fideo or angel hair pasta)
1 cup long grain white rice (I like to use Basmati Rice)
2 cups chicken broth (measure can of low sodium broth then add water to the 2 cup mark)
1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add the vermicelli and continue stirring well until the pasta turns golden, about 2 minutes (carefully watch - it can get too brown). Add rice and continue stirring until well coated and translucent, about 2 more minutes.
Add broth and salt, and bring to boil. Decrease heat to low/simmer, cover, and simmer without lifting lid for 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked through.
Sprinkle black pepper over rice, mix in with fork. Cover again and set aside to steam dry for ten or fifteen minutes.
When ready to eat, gently reheat; use two forks to fluff up rice. Serve right away.
Yummy with any meat or just with salad. A classic Armenian pilaf!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Carrot Soup

Carrot Soup
Even the “I hate vegetables” five year old might enjoy this soup. It’s a favorite light dinner here, with some good bread and cheese, or a wonderful first course for a good dinner.
2 tablespoons olive oil (or butter)
1 onion – coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded, cored, and minced (optional)
1 ½ pounds (approximately 3 cups) peeled and sliced carrots (see note)
1 small sprig of fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
Salt to taste (I use ¾ teaspoon)
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 cups chicken broth (again, see note)
In a heavy bottomed pot, heat oil, or melt butter, and over medium-low heat sauté onions for about 5 minutes. Add jalapeno, thyme, salt, and pepper, and then the carrots. Saute the mixture for 2 to 3 minutes to bring out the flavors.
Add Chicken broth, and bring the soup to boil, then lower heat to simmer. Cover and cook until the carrots are tender – about 30 minutes. Let cool a bit and then purée, and adjust seasonings.
1. Jalapenos: you may have noticed that Papa and I frequently use jalapenos in our savory dishes. Perhaps this comes from our roots in California, where we grew up enjoying a little heat in our food. Today I was out of jalapenos, so I used a pinch of ground cayenne. Often I will use the crushed red peppers you find a pizzarias. This heat is of course optional.
2. Parsnips with carrots: I usually add a couple of parsips to take the place of some of the carrots; they add a wonderful depth of flavor and sweetness. Both Papa and I grew up parsnipless – it was just not among our Mediterranean vegetables. But when we lived in England, we had dinner at a friend’s and roast lamb was served with roasted potatoes, carrots, and parsnips – and we’ve been fans ever since.
3. Chicken broth: When my freezer is out of homemade chicken broth, I use one 14.5 oz can of chicken broth and add enough water to make 3 cups liquid (I use the fat-free, MSG-free variety of canned broth).
4. Carrots: When they are affordable, we buy carrots with the tops on them – they are usually sweeter and fresher.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Papa's Chili and Polenta

 It’s cold and snowing here in northern Ohio. Perfect chili weather. Last night Papa made a wonderful chili, and we froze half for another time. Instead of cornbread we ate polenta with it – a combination of cultures and a lighter meal. This microwave polenta recipe takes only seven minutes.


Papa’s Chile. Of course, optimally, for bean dishes dried beans soaked and cooked are best, even frozen and thawed out. But Papa used canned beans – it’s a question of time, and the chili was wonderful. Here are the ingredients:

3 tablespoons oil (canola or olive preferred)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 Jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (after being seeded and cored) – optional
1 pound ground beef, turkey, or chicken (he used ground turkey, 7% fat)
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dry oregano
¼ teaspoon each of ground cloves and cinnamon
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 cans pinto beans ( appx 15 oz each, drained)
2 cups chopped canned tomatoes (appx 15 oz)
2 cups water
In a large skillet over medium heat oil, add the onion, and sauté 5 minutes or until translucent. Add jalapeno and sauté a minute. Add ground meat, breaking it up with a spoon until cooked, and then add garlic and all the spices – mix about a minute or two. Then add water and tomatoes (we buy whole canned tomatoes and chop them ourselves, better quality than already chopped). Bring to boil, turn down to simmer, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. This chili should be slightly saucy and is very good on rice, couscous, spaghetti, or polenta.
For company, various condiments can be brought out: sour cream (or Greek yoghurt), grated cheddar cheese), pickled jalapenos, etc. But Papa and I just enjoy ours just plain over polenta, with a tossed salad on the side.

Polenta (made in a microwave oven): In a 2 quart microwave safe glass bowl, stir together these ingredients:

½ cup polenta (or yellow cornmeal or corn grits)
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons butter (optional, to taste)

After stirring ingredients, cook uncovered in microwave oven at full power for 3 minutes. Stir again, and then cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, until polenta is tender and ready to be spooned onto dinner plates.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Dreidel Cake and Easy Chocolate Cake

January 2013

Easy Chocolate Cake and a Dreidel Cake (a Vanilla Cake with chocolate icing, decorated as a dreidel cake, above with a very pleased little boy):
Once the newspaper’s food section printed their Thanksgiving recipes on Thanksgiving Day (I was annoyed). Well, I’m now topping that by writing about two of my holiday cakes – just when many of us are on the first day of our New Year’s resolution to eat healthier. Yet these cakes are easy, great for all seasons, and birthdays anytime.
This Vanilla Cake is very similar to the mace cake in a previous blog, this time with vanilla and no mace, though with the same lovely texture:
Ingredients: 4 large eggs (brought to room temperature); 2 cups all-purpose flour; 2 teaspoons baking powder; ½ teaspoon salt; 1 cup milk, preferably whole or 2%; 1 stick unsalted butter ( ½ cup); 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
One: Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and place the oven rack in the middle position. Butter and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan, and knock out excess flour. (Because I am a little apprehensive about cakes sticking, I lightly butter the pan, cut parchment to fit the bottom, and then butter and flour the parchment; this saves heartbreak and also is helpful when one is cutting apart and shaping the cake.)
Two: Beat eggs with sugar in a large bowl of electric mixer at high speed until tripled in volume and thick enough to form a ribbon when beater is lifted. (7 to 8 minutes in my Kitchen-Aid – can be longer with other mixers or handheld mixers.) Add vanilla.
Three: In another bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Four: Bring milk and butter to boil in small heavy saucepan, then remove from heat.
Five: Add flour mixture to egg mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in hot milk mixture. A thin batter will result.
Six: Pour batter into pan, and bake approximately 30 minutes until cake is pale golden color and a wooden pick comes out clean when inserted in center.
Seven: Cool cake in pan for 30 minutes. Then remove to wire rack, and let cool completely. You can cut it into desired shape when completely cool. Then frost.
For the Dreidel Cake shape: A wax paper pattern folded in half is helpful –using the pattern for the pointed end, cut triangular shape of the folded paper, leading to the point; for the “stem” spinner end, cut rectangular shapes away from the bottom corners, leaving the bottom stem. Face made by making a stencil out of pattern and using sprinkles for the eyes and mouth. Frosting: Chocolate ganache (or your icing of choice) – to make ganache, bring ¾ cup of heavy whipping cream to boil. Take off heat and add 8 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (if using chocolate chips, use best quality); stir, and let stand about ten minutes. Then 1 teaspoon of vanilla can be added, or 1 tablespoon Rum or brandy or other liquor. When the ganache seems spreadable, use a spatula and ice the cake  (if the ganache becomes too stiff, put pan in a larger pan of warm water, and re-melt it a bit).

Easy Chocolate Cake – moist and yummy:
Many cakes made with cocoa do not have the rich chocolate taste that cakes made with melted chocolate have – this one is very chocolaty; I use Hershey’s cocoa – nothing fancy.
Ingredients: 6 tablespoons unsalted butter; 1 1/3 superfine sugar (if out of this, just put regular sugar in your food processor with knife blade, and process for about 20 to 30 seconds – it’s great for iced tea too); 2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten; ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (plain, unsweetened); 1 cup water; 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour; 2 teaspoons baking powder; ½ teaspoon salt.
One: Preheat oven to 300 degrees (lower than usual for baking a cake); grease 2 eight-inch layer cake pans with parchment paper on bottom of pans.
Two: Cream butter and superfine sugar together until fluffy, either in mixer or by hand. Add eggs gradually, beating well each time.
Three: Mix cocoa powder with water in a bowl (I add the water a little at a time at first). In a separate bowl, mix together (with a whisk) the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Four: Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix gently and smoothly; then add all the water-cocoa mixture to the bowl, and then end by mixing in the rest of the flour mixture. When the batter is smooth (avoid over-mixing as you make sure everything is smooth), pour into prepared pans, dividing the mixture into two pans. Bake them in the center of the oven for 25 minutes (mine took 10 minutes more, seems I need a new oven thermometer), until the cake is firm and just coming away from the sides of the pans. Cool on rack completely before removing (careful, for these cakes are a bit on the delicate side).
You can frost these with your favorite frosting as a layer cake, but I usually use one layer and carefully wrap the other to freeze (for it does well in the freezer for a month or so).
This Christmas we took one layer that I baked in the shape of a Christmas tree (I found a Christmas tree pan that held the equivalent of an 8 inch round pan); I had frosted it with ganache (what else? – see previous recipe for ganache). It was a big hit, along with a pumpkin pie and lemon squares, that had been requested.

I froze the other half, baked in an 8 inch round, and we shared it with our dear friends after a New Year’s Eve lunch. I had even enough ganache left from Christmas to freeze, so I frosted it again with ganache, but this time Papa and I wanted a “Mound’s” Cake, so I sprinkled a generous amount of the lovely coconut I had over the ganache, but only over half  the cake, since one of our friends isn’t a coconut fan. “Does that mean I can eat half the cake?” he asked. That led to a discussion of the saying “you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” a saying I had never understood until learning that the original was “you can’t eat your cake and have it too;” now that makes more sense.