Life Getting Bland? Make An Indonesian Spice Cake

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James Oseland (new editor-in-chief of Saveur) has a spicy new cookbook called “Cradle of Flavor” that’s full of vibrant, exotic recipes from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. When it first arrived, I could’ve made Gado-Gado (a Javanese “potpourri” of raw and cooked vegetables) or The Soto King’s Chicken Soup (Soto Ayam Lamongan) but instead I made cake. I like cake very much, more than most things, and making an Indonesian Spice Cake (Spekkuk) was the thing I wanted to do.

To make this cake you need a tube pan. I bought one a few years ago when I was on a health kick–a health kick that involved Angel Food Cake. The health kick faded and so did the tube pan but it was great to drag it out for this dessert.

This dessert was a big success: the ingredients are simple and easy to find and the ratio of butter, egg, flour and sugar makes for a wonderful texture: crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. A famous Parisian food blogger came over for a bite and gave it a thumbs up. She wrote later, in an e-mail: “That is one buttery, flavorful cake!”

Lately I’ve been typing up recipes I love with the belief that this is good advertising for the cookbook author. As long as I don’t type up the whole cookbook, it creates an incentive–assuming you try this recipe and love it–for you to go out and buy it. If I hear from James Oseland’s people and they want me to take down this recipe, I will. But assuming they don’t write, you can find the recipe after the jump!

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Pot Party

This is the last party in our tour of five parties and you may think that after visiting so many parties, we want to kick back and do illegal drugs–but that’s not what this party’s about! This party is about a different type of pot: pot d’creme. Over the past two weeks I’ve made two different recipes for pot d’creme. The first was a chocolate pot d’creme from a cookbook that I’m blanking on now. But look how sexy it came out:

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It’s such a basic recipe that you can find a recipe like it anywhere. Butter, sugar, eggs, chocolate whisked together and then placed in ramekins or, in my case, coffee mugs. Placed in a water bath and baked at a low temperature they should set after 35 minutes. These, however, didn’t set until the next day after spending 24 hours in the fridge. But when they were set, they were absolutely divine. “Divine!” said everyone who tried them. But they weren’t as divine as the pots d’creme I made a few days later…

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The Recipe Tweaker (Apple Cider Cupcakes)

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Those cupcakes above are my invention. Well, they’re mostly the invention of Epicurious.com (specifically this recipe for Apple Cider Cupcakes With Cider Cream Cheese Icing) but they become mine because I tweaked the recipe. The recipe called for shortening instead of butter. Shortening instead of butter? Are they mad? There must be a reason for this. So I discussed the issue with Diana.

“I want to make these cupcakes,” I said, “but this recipe calls for shortening instead of butter.”

“So use butter,” said Diana.

“Can I do that?”

“Sure,” she said. “Just use a little more butter than shortening.”

So I suppose this recipe is Diana’s invention. Instead of the 3/4 cup of shortening I used 1 3/4 sticks of butter. And the cupcakes came out terrific: an exciting use for that ever present apple cider that overflows the farmer’s market in fall. So when you go home tomorrow and make these cupcakes and someone asks whose recipe is it, say, “It’s from the Tweaker. The Recipe Tweaker.” And write me a theme song and I’ll show up in a cape and eat one.

Choose Your Own APPLE Adventure

(1) You go to the farmer’s market and bring back a bag of apples.

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If you want to eat these apples out of the bag go to (2).

If you decide to make an apple pie go to (3).

(2) Oh no! You’re choking! No one’s there. You’re dead.

(3) You grab your Martha Stewart book and get to work.

Do you want to make Martha’s pate brisee? Go to 5.

Do you want to make Meg’s? Go to 4.

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The Best Cookies Of Your Life

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Diana and I are in love. No, not with each other, but with these chocolate chip cookies, our first apartment baking project that won raves from everyone who tried them. “These are seriously the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever made,” said Diana. “These cookies are so good,” said Craig. “Meow,” said Lolita.

Of course, these cookies come to us from Our Lady of All Things Perfection, Miss Martha Stewart and her latest (and seriously awesome, in the Biblical sense) baking book: “Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.” As she says in the recipe’s introduction, this recipe has a higher butter to sugar ratio which makes the cookies thin and crisper. When I was younger and more naive that description would’ve turned me off from a recipe: I like my cookies chewy. But the thing is, if you make them well, they come out chewy in the middle and crisp on the outside. These cookies resemble professional cookies more than any other I’ve made. And maybe, if you don’t tell anyone, I’ll post the recipe after the jump. JUST DON’T TELL ANYONE!

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Nectarine Pie & The Stone Fruit Blues

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This is a pie I made with fresh farmer’s market nectarines using the pie crust from this month’s Gourmet (the best pie crust I’ve ever known) and a recipe for nectarine pie I found by Googling “nectarine pie” and coming upon this, the first result. The pie itself was excellent even though I accidentally left it out of the refrigerator uncovered overnight and worried over it the next day. Which leads, somewhat abstractly, to our first Thursday Night Dinner Song in a long long time. Remember Thursday Night Dinner Songs? I used to write songs about food every Thursday night. Well here’s a new one based on this pie I’d like to call “The Stone Fruit Blues.” Thanks for listening, enjoy the weekend and please pray for my future as a blues musician.

The Stone Fruit Blues, by Bluesman Gourmet.

When Bread, Chocolate, Olive Oil and Salt Had A 4-Way

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Of all the recipes in Amanda Hesser’s “Cooking For Mr. Latte,” the one I most wanted to try but the one I never–for whatever reason–attempted was her toasts with chocolate, olive oil and salt. This peculiar mix of flavors baffled me on the page, how would it taste hot out of my oven?

The recipe is simple. Cut up a baguette into thin slices. Put the slices on a cookie sheet. Top with bite-size pieces of bittersweet chocolate and put in a 350 oven (I think it’s 350, you should double check that) until the chocolate melts but still holds its shape. At that point, take it out, drizzle each piece with olive oil and top with salt.

So how did it taste? The quick answer: HOT! I burned the roof of my mouth on the first bite I had and I was still feeling the pain a few days later. So definitely let it cool for a few minutes.

After it cooled, though, I really appreciated the strange alchemy at work here: four things that you wouldn’t expect to go together not only go together here, they create something entirely new and enjoyable. You have the crispness of the toast, the richness of the chocolate, the greenness of the olive oil and the brightness of the salt. These four powers come together to make a snack no one can defeat, like that gang of superheros I used to watch on TV after school.

So if you have bread, chocolate, olive oil and salt lying around, why not give this a try? Your palate will thank you as long as you don’t burn it.

As Easy As [Pie]

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Bad pie makers, have I got a tip for you. Buy this month’s Gourmet magazine and follow their technique for making the perfect pie crust. I am a terrible pie maker and I worked up the courage to follow their recipe after too many bad experiences and guess what? This crust was killer. Without any bidding, people who tried this pie commented: “Wow, the crust is awesome. It’s so flaky and buttery and great.”

Here’s a quick visual tour of what you do. You put flour, salt, shortening and butter into a bowl:

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You work it together with the tips of your fingers until it resembles coarse meal. Once it does you add 5 Tbs of water (if you’re making a double crust) and squeeze a bit in your hand. If it stays together then there’s enough water, if it falls apart you need more. This is what it looked like when it had enough water:

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Then there’s the cool novel part: you dump the dough out on to a board and you separate it into eight pieces. Then you take each piece with the heel of your hand and you shmush it out so you distribute the fat. You press it forward twice and then you scrape it all together and make a big ball. Then you divide that in half, flatten each half into a disc, wrap and refrigerate. Then you see to your pie filling.

On this particular day (it being Thursday) I had blueberries:

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I didn’t have the other components that the pie recipe called for (tapioca, lemon juice) but I didn’t care. Like Eric Cartman, I wanted some pah. So I mixed the blueberries with 1 1/2 cups brown sugar and let them rest and then when I rolled out the pie dough, I placed the pie dough in the glass pie plate and added the blueberries.

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Mmm, doesn’t that look so homey, homey?

Then I rolled out the other piece so badly that the pie top rejected the notion of pi, refusing to be a circle and deciding to become a clumpy, blumpy mess. I decided to spare you the horror of what it looked like when I plopped it on top. But no matter!

Into the oven it went:

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And out it came, a perfect pie:

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So the moral of the story is, go buy yourself a Gourmet magazine, read their pie recipe, get yourself some fruit and even if you mess up when you roll it out still bake it anyway and you will be glad. These are the profound directives of a formerly bad pie maker.