Sunday, November 18, 2012

Apple and Olive Oil Cake #Bundt a Month

   I read that November 15 is National Bundt Day. It's like the birthday for the bundt cake! I am a few days late for the bundt day but hey, better late than never! Life has been a little crazy around here but I had to find the time to bake this bundt cake. It's getting close to Thanksgiving, less than a week to go, so might as well think of it as a make-ahead Thanksgiving dessert. The seemingly energetic bakers Lora of Cake Duchess and Anuradha of Baker Street are hosting Bundt-a-Month. I am always happy to be able to use my beautiful bundt pan and this month's Bundt a Month theme is spice.  I like spices because I grew up with spices in all kinds of dishes, from savory to sweet. 

   When I saw that the theme is spices, I knew that I wanted to have cardamon in the cake. Not only do I have ground cardamon left from a canning project a couple months back, but I also that cardamon gives everything a clean taste.  I also wanted to use apples or pears because it is that time of year! I searched and found the Molly O'Neill recipe on the New York Times website for Olive Oil and Apple Cider Cake. It has the right proportions for my pan. I get lazy and don't want to re-calculate measurement so that it'll be right for my big bundt pan. This one sounded right for my needs but I made my own modifications. 

   I stopped by the farmer's market and got some fujis and suncrisps. I may have added in an empire as well. I added in cardamon and cinnamon while cooking down the apples. I also left many pieces of apples in the apple sauce. 

As the batter baked into a beautiful bundt, my house smelled of baked apples with a touch of cinnamon and cardamon.

   The original recipe can be found on the New York Times website: Olive Oil and Apple Cider Cake.  It's a wonderful recipe - easy with few ingredients. I wanted the apple to shine so I am calling mine Apple and Olive Oil cake.  I added in a teaspoon and half of ground cardamon and a teaspoon of cinnamon while the apples were cooking down into applesauce. I sprinkled it with confectioner sugar after it cooled a bit. This cake would be great with some whipped cream or more of the applesauce over a slice of bundt. The beauty of the bundt pan is that it makes simple delicious cakes look so pretty.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Maple and Chipotle Shrimp Chili

 The past month has been a rough one for my family and I but now that everyone is safe at home, I can relax a bit. Hoping for no more hospital visits. Since the recent emergency calls I had received, I now jump a little every time my cell phone rings and it's from my parent's doctor or one of them calling me at an odd hour.  Workload at job has also added to stress although everyone has been kind about my family emergency.  It's now dark before 5 PM and the past couple of weeks has required cooking comfort food.  Comfort food for me comes in many forms but I like to cook from tried and tested recipes when I just need to chop, stir and relax.  

   Recently I was talking to my friend Hima at All Four Burners about chilis and telling her about one of my favorite chilis - Maple and Chipotle Shrimp chili. Hima has a wonderful Slow-cooker Pumpkin Chili, which I made for a potluck that was later canceled. I ended up with a big pot of this deliciousness, which has some sweetness to it from the pumpkin but the spices definitely wakes you up. I had it for lunch, dinner and shared some with neighbors. I told Hima that I think I lost my  shrimp chili recipe but after a bit of decluttering and searching, I found it! You may think shrimp chili? Odd. Well, I was intrigued. I was at the Whole Foods Market when they had a chili cook-off. They had probably over ten kinds of chilis from different teams in the store. I tried all of them and loved a couple. Later, they posted some of the recipes online and this is an adaptation of that one. 

You can adjust the amount of chili powders to your taste. Add a bit more if you like more heat or less if you don't that much heat to your chili. I would increase or decrease by a half teaspoon at a time. I added in the cocoa powder because (1) I love chocolate and welcome the addition of cocoa to anything, and (2) it somehow gives the chili a certain nutty smoothness.

Maple and Chipotle Shrimp Chili

4 oz. oil 
2 tbs butter
1/2 c. flour
28 oz. can of tomatoes (I'd like to use whole plum tomatoes and then squish them by hand to pieces)
1 1/2 to 2 lbs shrimp (peeled and deveined)
4 oz. maple syrup
2 chipotles from chipotle in adobo sauce, chopped
2 (12oz) cans of black beans or black and kidney beans
10 oz. water 
2 onions, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cocoa powder

Cut shrimp into about 1/2 inch pieces. Put oil into a bit pot over high heat. Let it heat up a little then put shrimp in to sear. Add butter and cook a couple minutes.  Remove shrimp and put aside.  Add diced onions and peppers to pot. Sprinkle in salt. Lower heat. Stir a little and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.  Add flour and mix until it is absorbed into the oil.  Add chopped chipotle peppers, all spices, maple syrup, beans, water and tomatoes.  (Squish the tomatoes into pieces or chop them). Simmer on low heat until thickened. Add shrimp back into pot. Stir then cook a few more minutes to allow shrimp to absorb flavors and sauce. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

CanItUp: Quince and Cranberry Chutney

   It's been a weird ten days. First the destructive Super-Storm Sandy blew through our region, leaving many without power and heat, or even homeless. The photos of all the damage (boats washed onto the land, houses half blown off) are mind-boggling.  Then we had another storm, a nor'easter! More high wind, snow/slush, more power problems.  Mother Nature has been WILD. Yet I've been fortunate to have lost only cable and internet connection.  So I must give the plug again to donate to the many wonderful organizations that are helping the people and animals in need:
    For those in the NY/NJ area, this is a useful list Where to Help Hurricane Sandy victims
    Text PREVENT to 25383 to donate just $10 to ASPCA's animal rescue and food drive operations OR
     Text ANIMALS to 20222 to donate $10 to  Disaster Relief Fund OR
     Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate$10 to the Red Cross disaster relief efforts

   As if the two storms did not cause enough destruction, a truck hit a pole in my neighborhood, bringing down power lines. I feel for all those utility workers who had just repaired the lines from Sandy! So I have been very grateful to have my smartphone so that I can try to keep connected to the world beyond work and my neighborhood. Just as I finally recovered internet connection, I got more bad news. A close family member needed to go into the emergency room and will be in the hospital for a few days. When life gets tough, I get cooking.  In this instance, I found comfort in peeling, chopping, stirring, cooking and canning quince and cranberries for Can It Up. 

   Hima at All Four Burners is hosting Can It Up. Every month, she picks a theme and you can join for one month or every month. This month the theme is cranberries.  I love cranberries - tart, bright, brilliant red.  Cranberries are native to North America and a major crop in Massachusetts and New Jersey, both places I am connected to in many ways. When I went to school in Massachusetts, I remember visiting my friend and she told me that she lived in the area of cranberry bogs and Ocean Spray. That was the first time I saw a cranberry bogs.  Since then, I've seen more in New Jersey. They are brilliant little red jewels.

   Another memory I have about cranberries is my aunt telling me that drinking cranberry juice is good for preventing urinary tract infections.  And cranberry has lots of vitamin C. With all that going for it, I thankfully love cranberry apple juice. So what should I make for this month's Can It Up? Cranberries are great but very tart on its own and can be almost bitter.  I searched my many cook books but was inspired by something I read in Saveur, one of my favorite food magazines. It was Laena McCarthy's cranberry and quince recipe. I was intrigued because I had made quince paste (membrillo) before and loved it. 

   Quince, a fragrant fruit that looks like a gnarly apple.  It has a fuzz on the surface and you definitely do not want to eat it raw.  It's very hard and astringent but it's very high in pectin, which is great for jams and jellies.  I've cooked quince in syrup and eaten it as a dessert.  It's delicious. I find quince so interesting and want to share more information with you about it so try this: wikipedia

   I also like this recipe because it's perfect for Thanksgiving. One less thing to do for Thanksgiving Day. And it will go well with leftover turkey to make a sandwich.  

The quince can be hard to peel and chop. I found that a vegetable peeler worked great for peeling the quince. Then quarter it with a sharp knife and cut out the seeded part. 

Lastly, I love this beautiful color - quintessential Fall.

If you are unfamiliar with canning/preserving, please read more about it at Food In Jars.  In fact, read before you start canning in order to familiarize yourself with it. It's not hard but there are some essential steps that should not be missed. Marisa of Food In Jars has a wonderful list of resources and I find her blog to be very informative.  

Quince and Cranberry Chutney
   adapted from Jam On by Laena McCarthy

1 lb. quince (two medium-big ones, about 3 cups diced)
1 lb. cranberry
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 oz. bourbon
2 tbsp raisins
about 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated or more to taste
1/2 cup water

Cover the raisins with the bourbon in a bowl. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes so that the raisins can get nice and plump with the bourbon. Rinse and peel the quince. Remove any blemished flesh. Core and dice the quince to get three cups.  Rinse cranberries and drain; set aside.  Place the quince, sugar, raisins (including the bourbon), vinegar, and water into a 6- to 8-quart nonreactive pot; stir well.

Wash and rinse your jars; put them into a big stockpot; cover the jars with water and bring to a boil, lower heat. You can also wash your jars in the dishwasher as you do the preparation work in order to make sure you have clean and warm jars.  Get lids and rings ready. Put lids into a bowl.

Bring the fruit mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Reduce the heat and cook uncovered at a steady simmer for about 30 minutes.
Add cranberries and cook for 30 more minutes. Gradually reduce the heat if the jam starts to stick and scorch.  Add ginger toward last ten minutes.  Keep a watchful eye and stir vigilantly for the last 5 to 10 minutes. When the chutney has thickened and big bubbles are popping all over the surface, test for consistency. You can place a teaspoon of the hot chutney onto a frozen spoon. Place it back in the freezer, with chutney on it, for 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove the spoon and test the gel by tilting the spoon vertically. If it's thick then it's ready.

Once it is done, give it a quick stir and turn off heat.
Fill jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yield: 4 (8 ounce) jars plus another half jar.

Note: Keep in mind that your fruit might have more juice and may take longer to cook down. Your yield may be different from mine depending on your fruit. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A meal to fight the storm: Chocolate and Port Beef Stew

First, I must give some resources to donate for those affected by Super-Storm Sandy. There are many more organizations that are helping those in need, including Meals on Wheels in NYC so these are just a select few of the relatively reliable organizations that have made it very easy to donate : 

Text PREVENT to 25383 to donate just $10 to ASPCA's animal rescue and food drive operations OR
Text ANIMALS to 20222 to donate $10 to Disaster Relief Fund OR
Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate$10 to the Red Cross disaster relief efforts

And if you need assistance, you can call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at 800-621-FEMA (3362) and TTY is 800-462-7585.  

Now back to regular blogging:
   Comfort food is different for each person.  For some, it's mac and cheese; for others, it's dumplings. Recently, we've had to live through the scary Super-Storm Sandy.  Wind was high, rain sideways, transformers exploding. I found listening to the Antiques Roadshow (until the cable went out) to be soothing. I also wanted to cook food that will last for days if a power outage happened. I am oh so grateful that I did not lose power while many I know lost power and heat for days. During uncertain times and stormy weather, one of the most comforting foods for me is a good stew. And if chocolate is part of it, even better. 

   Initially, I wanted a chili in my slow cooker but as I searched for my favorite chili recipe in my folder, I came across a recipe for Chocolate and Port Beef Stew. I had made it last winter and had gotten rave reviews from friends so I decided to go with it. I first read about it at NPR, Chocolate Savories for Your Sweet.  I love chocolate but most recipes are for desserts. I am fine with that but it's even better when I find recipes for savory dishes. I love expanding the use of cocao! This dish is lush - creamy, chocolatey, filling, spicy but not too much heat.  My kitchen smelled like a rich dark chocolate bar with a touch of spice. You might think that I am exaggerating but the smell of the port beef and chocolate gently simmering reminded me of those HGTV shows when they stage a house for sale and put cookies in the oven to entice prospective buyers. 

   If you think chocolate for a stew is strange but have had Mexican food, this dish reminds me of mole (haven't learned how to get the accent over words yet on this Blogger). It has a slight sweetness from the carrots, enriched by the port and chocolate. I added extra cinnamon but you can just taste it.

Chuck roast that I cut into cubes.

Beef cubes, dredged in flour with salt and pepper and in pot to be browned.
Beef browned and put aside in plate while the carrots, onions, etc. cook.  This will be added back to the pot later.  My Mom used to tell me to brown my meat and of course, she's right. Browning the beef first (but not cooking it through) gives a nice aroma to the pan and adds extra rich flavors for your stew.   
The other essentials for this stew.

After adding chocolate - 71% Valhrona.

Chocolate and Port Beef Stew 
I put my own changes in parentheses ( ).
Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 1 1/4 pounds chuck roast or top round, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used about 3 tablespoons), seasoned with salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 medium yellow onion, cut into big dice
4 celery stalks, sliced (I skipped this because I didn't have celery)
3 carrots, peeled and diced (I cut four carrots into big chunks since it was going to cook on the stove for some time)
1 cup port
1 cup beef broth ( I used water since I did not have beef broth)
1 (14-ounce) can stewed tomatoes with juices
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I put in closer to 1/2 teaspoon)
2 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate (I used 71 %)
1 1/2 tablespoons pepitas or sunflower seeds (I skipped it because I didn't have it)


In a large, deep pot over medium-high heat, warm olive oil.  Dredge meat in seasoned flour.  Cook until browned all over, 5 to 7 minutes.  (Don't overcrowd meat or it'll steam.)  Transfer browned meat to a bowl.  In the same pot, add garlic, onion, celery and carrots and brown for 3 to 5 minutes.  Deglaze the pot by adding the port and using a wooden spoon to scrape the brown bits from the bottom.  Return browned meat to the pot.  Add broth, tomatoes, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and salt.

Cover and cook on low for 50 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally until meat is very tender.  Stir in the chocolate until just melted.  The stew should be thick and richly colored.  If you'd like it soupier, add a little more heated beef broth until desired consistency is reached.  Serve plain or atop cooked rice or polenta, and sprinkle each serving with 1/4 of the pepitas.