Sunday, January 19, 2014

January birthdays and lemon olive oil cake

As you might have read here, I've decided to dedicate this space to recipes that require a little more time and effort. And, to start it all off….. (drum roll, please)….

Lemon olive oil cake!

I know, it's a picture of a cake taken on a white chair. But it was raining and my kitchen was so dark!

I'll admit that lemon olive oil cake doesn't sound all that complicated, and it really isn't. I decided to include it here because, unlike those classic one-bowl mix-and-bake cakes, you actually have to use an electric mixer to beat the eggs (both whites and yolks separately) into fluffy oblivion, which

a) involves more dishes
b) takes more time and
c)  involves more dishes (3 bowls!!!)

But… since a good friend of mine was celebrating her birthday, in January no less and in one without the slightest inclination toward snow at that - nothing but rain, rain, rain -  I decided to make the extra effort and bust out my electric mixer. Lucky girl, right?

And we bought her a bottle of The Duke gin. Munich dry. Even though, when you look outside, it's not.

Lemon Olive Oil Cake
adapted from Epicurious

3/4 cup olive oil, plus a little extra to grease the pan

1 large lemon

1 cup flour

5 large eggs, separated - reserve one egg white for another use (i.e., 5 egg yolks and 4 egg whites)

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

9 inch spring form pan (mine was bigger, which reduced the baking time by 10 minutes)
parchment paper

Cut a circle out of the parchment paper about the same size as the bottom of your pan. The easiest way I've found is to set your pan on top of the parchment paper, use a pen to trace it (you know, like you used to do in kindergarten) and then cut out the circle. It should fit nicely into the bottom or your pan. It's ok if it goes up the sides a bit or ends up being a little small.

Now, grease the bottom and sides of the pan with olive oil. Lay the parchment circle in the bottom of the pan. It will stick to the oil. Grease the parchment and your ready to start.

Finely grate 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice and combine with the flour in a small bowl. Juice the lemon and set aside 1 1/2 tablespoons.

In a large bowl, beat together the yolks and 1/2 cup sugar at high speed until thick and light in color, about 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the olive oil and lemon juice (1 1/2 tablespoons). Mix until just combined. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour until just combined. Do not use your mixer for this part!

Rinse off the beaters.

In another large bowl (whew!) beat the egg whites together with just about 1/2 teaspoon of salt until just frothy. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time and keep beating at high speed until soft peaks just begin to form.

Add 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and fold in gently. This will lighten the mixture so that it doesn't squish all of the air out of the rest of the egg whites when you add them. Once the first 3rd have been incorporated, add the rest of the egg whites and carefully fold them into the batter, too. Keep folding gently until completely incorporated. The batter will do from a rich, golden yellow to a light, lemony one.

Pour the batter into the spring form and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (check at around 40 min). Cool on a rack for 10 min. and then run a thin knife around the edge of the pan and remove the sides. Continue to cool for at least another 1.5 hours before you remove the base. Top with lemon glaze or any light frosting of your choice. I used a lemon glaze and a sprinkle of homemade lavender sugar.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dry brining

This turkey technique will knock your socks off. It's called dry brining and will make your bird incredibly juicy and tender with only about 2 1/2 hours cooking time!

Our bird and, um, some slight problems with carving space...

Can it really be true?, you ask. Yes, it can. And if trust is not your forte, well, you might just have to make this turkey this week or for Christmas this year and see for yourself! Or even sometime in between. After all, turkey really is the bird that keeps on giving - turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey quesadillas, turkey pot pie... turkey is a very effective way to feed a small army without a ton of extra work - at least with this recipe... I discovered it in an issue of fine cooking magazine that I bought at the airport to keep me entertained on one of my 11 hour flights from LA to Munich. Truly incredible (the recipe, not the flight, although it wasn't bad either, as far as overseas flights go). Give it a shot and let me know how it turns out.

One word of caution however - this is a DO-AHEAD recipe! The turkey needs to soak up the dry brine for at least 24 hours, if you have 3 or 4 days, even better!

Dry brined roasted turkey with fresh herbs
(adapted somewhat from the Oct/Nov 2010 issue of fine cooking magazine)

DO NOT BE DAUNTED by the lengthy descriptions here. They are purely for the sake of explanation. The actual doing it part goes really fast.

This recipe is for a 16-lb. turkey. Our turkey weighed in at almost 18 lbs., which was fine because you can adjust the salt brine by using 1/8 oz. of salt per pound. Also, you can increase the amount of herbs you use, just be careful not to overdo it too much. If you decide to up the amount of herbs, add a little more olive oil to keep the mixture spreadable.

Serves 8 - 10 with PLENTY of leftovers

2 Tbs. fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tbs. fresh sage, chopped
2 1/2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 16-lb. turkey, as fresh as you can get it
2 oz. sea salt or kosher salt

(The recipe calls for kosher salt and if you have it, use it. I couldn't get my hands on any so I used sea salt instead, but I read that kosher salt is the perfect kind of salt to use in this kind of preparation, so if you can get it, it's worth the effort! If you do use kosher salt and do not have a scale, use 1/2 cups if using Diamond Crystal and 1/4 cups if using Morton)

STEP 1: The herbs

Rinse out your turkey and pat it dry. Mix the herbs and oil in a small bowl. Carefully slide your hand underneath the turkey's skin (between the meat and skin) and loosen it from the breast, thighs and drumsticks. Rub the herb mixture on the meat underneath the skin Make sure you get it in there! When you are done, pat the skin back into place. It will look lumpy and green is spots, but that is ok.

STEP 2: Dry brine the turkey

Rub the salt inside the cavity and on the skin. Make sure you use up ALL of the salt, even if it seems like a lot. Don't worry, your turkey will not be salty! Put the turkey in a large food-safe plastic bag (like a roasting bag) and then double-bag it. Refrigerate the turkey for 3 days, turning it over every day. If you don't have that much time you can shorten this last part, but try to leave your bird in the brine for at least 24 hours, turning it once after the first 12 hours.

STEP 3: Let the bird rest

On the evening of the 3rd day (sounds biblical, doesn't it?), remove the turkey from the bag and pat dry. If you are planning to stuff the bird, you might want to give the cavity a quick rinse at this point and then pat it dry as well. Put the turkey in your roasting pan and plop the whole thing back into the refrigerator, unwrapped, so that the turkey can air dry overnight.

STEP 4: Roast the turkey

Take the turkey out about 1 hour before you want to start roasting it so it can get rid of the chill. You can stuff it at this point, too, if you are planning to cook the stuffing in the bird. Heat the oven to 425° F. Place the turkey in the roasting pan on a rack in the bottom third of the oven. No need to cover with tinfoil. Roast at this temperature for 30 minutes and then reduce the heat to 325° F. Roast for about another 2 hours until an instant-read thermometer reads 170° F at the thickest part of a thigh. Baste the turkey with its juices or a little bit of melted butter for the last 30 minutes to get it nice and golden.

STEP 5: Let the bird rest, the sequel

Take the turkey out of the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes to let the juices settle (covering it in foil at this point helps keep it warm). Remove the stuffing, if using, and carve away!

Friday, September 30, 2011

A glimpse...

Croatia is beautiful!

Here are a few pictures to whet your appetite. I'll be back next week with more... and a recipe that is easy to whip up any time you happen to be in an exotic Mediterranean location and have an evening (or two, or three, or...) with absolutely nothing to do...

Monday, August 29, 2011

A few more days of summer

Now that fall is starting to creep in here in Munich and the first leaves are falling, it's time to escape for a few more days of summer. But I'll be sure to take lots of pictures and fill you in on what we ate (and saw) in Croatia when I get back. See you then!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Chris and I have a tendency to give our cat, Nico, nicknames. The latest is "Omelette," a) because he thinks he's French (and prefers his nicknames to have feminine endings) and b) because omelets have been our latest obsession. And not for breakfast. These omelets are filled with bright, fresh vegetables, lots of cheese and are huge. So big in fact that we've been splitting them and eating them for lunch.

This is a real American-style omelet, the kind you get at a good diner or at the Cottage in Laguna Beach (oh, how I miss those breakfasts and that fresh-squeezed orange juice!). The ingredients, though, are customized and, in this case, somewhat untypical, at least for Southern California.

Right now there is an abundance of swiss chard waving its wavy limbs like crazy in my garden, which means trying to somehow tuck it in wherever it will fit. And I have found that swiss chard was born to be used in omelets. It holds its structure better than spinach, never getting soggy or threatening to fall apart or melt like butter, and you can chop up the stem to add some colorful crunch.

Chop up some green onions and part of a monster zucchini (or a smaller one if you are like most people and don't cook with giant produce) and shred some mild gouda, jack or other cheese of your choice, crack a few eggs and there you have it - a meal that can stand on its own any time, day or night.

I'll be on vacation for a few weeks, but when I get back I'll be sure to post a few omelet-making tips!

Swiss chard omelet (for 2)

You need:

4 eggs
3 or 4 swiss chard leaves
1 small zucchini
1 spring onion
1 cup grated cheese of your choice (I used a mild gouda)
a dash of milk
1 tablespoon live oil
salt and pepper

Separate the stems from the leaves of the swiss chard. Chop the stems into slices (like celery) and the leaves into short strips. Dice the zucchini and spring onion. Heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Cook the stems until almost tender - about 3 minutes - add the zucchini and cook for another minute or two. Add the swiss chard leaves and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy, adding a dash of milk before you start at them (for even fluffier eggs) and salt and pepper to taste. Heat the rest of the olive oil in an omelet-sized pan. Cook the eggs first on one side, pulling the sides back to let more of the egg run to the edges of the pan. Cook until mostly firm and then flip. I use a plate for this (like making Spanish tortilla) since the omelet is so big. Wait about 30 seconds and then pile the vegetables on one side of the egg. Add half the cheese and then fold the egg in half over the veggies. Cover with the remaining cheese. Turn off the heat and plop a lid over the whole thing for a minute or two until the cheese on top starts to melt. Cut in half and serve.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lemon cardamom zucchini bread

Things have been exploding at my garden. I suppose that's what gardens typically do in the summer, but it never ceases to amaze me. Take the on-the-way-to-monster-but-it-could-be-worse zucchini that I harvested a few days ago. It's beautiful but also a handful when it comes to creative ways of dealing with it. I've seen worse, though, to be sure. Like that week in college when I was on a very tight budget and a friend of mine gave me a MEGA monster zucchini from her garden to help me make ends meet. It worked alright. It took me the entire week to consume that vegetable including two batches of zucchini bread and all the different ways to stuff a zucchini I could think of. Suffice it to say it left some scars, so when I saw the beast in the garden, I had to muster up some courage to pick it and take it home.

little monster! that's my hand in the picture to give some perspective.

It's been easier this time, eating the zucchini. For one thing, there are two of us. For another, it has become standard practice to give friends things like zucchini bread, and they inhale it. Still, I wanted to try something new beyond the traditional cinnamon-y flavor of the bread I grew up with. A friend recently brought back some lemons from her trip to the north of Spain and I love all things lemony, so the foundation was set.

And it somehow just seemed a natural progression to add some freshly-grated nutmeg and green cardamom powder to the mix.

The result?

Light, fluffy (and quickly disappearing) lemon and spice - a beautiful treat if you like your breakfast sweet and a sumptuous addition to your afternoon coffee ritual.

Lemon zucchini bread with nutmeg and cardamom

1 2/3 cups flour, unsifted
1 1/2 cup sugar (use 1/4 cup less sugar if you prefer your bread less sweet)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp green cardamom powder (you can pick this up at your local Indian or Asian food market)
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup cool water
1 cup grated zucchini (raw)
1 handful chopped hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans or other nut of your choice (optional)

Grease and flour a loaf pan and heat your oven to 160C or 350F. Combine the dry ingredients and in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest, eggs, oil, lemon juice, water and zucchini. Stir to combine. Pour batter into loaf pan. Sprinkle chopped nuts on top, if using. Bake 50- 60 minutes or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.

Herbs are all you need

Yesterday's lunch was simple and satisfying. All it took was a handful of herbs, some garlic, pasta, olive oil, a few pea pods and tiny turnips, salt, a dash of pepper and some parmesan cheese to transform those few minutes of my afternoon into an exquisite experience.

The peas pods and turnips are from my garden, hence the miniature size of the turnips. But I like them that way. Their small size gives a more delicate flavor and the purple/pink color is radiant. The herbs are from the patio - thyme, sage, basil, parsley and a little savory for good measure (I planted 4 small plants near the beans in my garden this year because I've heard they keep bean plants healthy - I now have 4 gigantic savory plants and some very healthy beans). The rest - the pasta, olive oil, garlic and parmesan - are things I always have on hand.

Try it yourself with whatever veggies you have in the fridge and whatever combination of fresh herbs you can dig up!

Pasta with turnips, peas, herbs and garlic (for one)

Pasta of your choice
1 tsp olive oil for the veggies and more to drizzle on the pasta
1 small or two very small turnips
6 or 7 young pea pods
1 small clove of garlic, sliced
a handful of various herbs, roughly chopped (e.g., basil, thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, etc...)
shaved parmesan
salt and pepper

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. While the pasta is cooking chop the herbs and heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a pan. Add the garlic, turnips and pea pods to the pan and until cooked but still slightly crunchy (3 to 4 minutes). (I like to add the garlic about a minute or so into the cooking process. It keeps it from burning and boosts the garlic flavor.) Remove from heat. When the pasta is done, drain it and combine with the herbs and a healthy drizzle of olive oil. Add enough salt to give the dish a flavor boost, keeping in mind that the parmesan will add a little bit of salt as well (start slow and taste as you go). Add the veggies and shave some parmesan on top. Grab a fork and munch your way to bliss!