Saturday, November 29, 2014

Almond Cake with Persimmon Compote

This very nice Italian-style cake is one of the easiest cakes to make. It can be prepared entirely in a stand-up mixer. In principle, it is a cheesecake, but it does not taste like one. True to its Italian roots, it is made with the ricotta cheese, which gives it a nice moist texture but it does not stand out in the taste. As a result, the cake is very delicate and tastes more like a sponge almond cake than a cheesecake.

I decided to garnish this cake with persimmons, which are now in season and are easily available in most of the stores, especially Asian and Middle Eastern. They have a beautiful color and wonderful honey-like sweetness. Because they are so sweet, to tone them down a little, I made a wine and lemon syrup in which I cooked them briefly. Then I poured it over the cake. This combination could not be better. Just try.

Almond Cake with Persimmon Compote
(For a 9-inch round baking form with removable walls)


For the cake:
1/2 cup all purpose flour,
1/2 cup ground almonds,
1/2 cup ricotta cheeses,
2/3 cup sugar,
1 and 1/2 stick unsalted butter,
1 tsp baking powder,
4 eggs.

For persimmon garnish:
4 firm persimmons,
1/2 cup sugar,
1 cup dry white wine,
juice from 1 lemon,
1/2 cup whipped cream or creme fresh to garnish.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a bottom of a baking form with wax paper, grease with butter, and dust with flour.
3. In a medium bowl mix flour, ground almonds, and baking powder.
4. Melt the butter and pour it in a bowl of a mixer. Add sugar and ricotta and beat on a high speed until the mixture becomes very smooth and white, for about 5 minutes.

5. Add to the mixture eggs, beating well between additions. Incorporate dry ingredients and beat again.
6. Transfer the batter to the form, smooth and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top becomes gold. Let it cool down.
7. To make the persimmon compote peel off persimmons cut in half and slice them into a 1/2-inch thick quarters.
8. Pour wine, sugar, and lemon juice into a medium pot. Bring it to boil and cook on a medium high heat for about 30 minutes, until it thickens to a consistency of a syrup. Add persimmon quarters and let it boil in the syrup for two-three minutes. Cool down completely.

9. Remove a cake from the form on a serving plate and finish with persimmons and cream.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lentil Chili with Fresh Garnish

Lentils usually come to my mind as a comfort food, some time in cold January. But winter weather has surprised us again this year so I decided to make a lentil dish to warm up.

This time, it is a chili style lentil dish coming from South American tradition. This basic recipe is quite similar to all lentil dishes. It is cooked rather long with vegetables and many spices, as often lentil is. But what makes it different and interesting is the garnish that it is served with. Tomatoes and fresh herbs make a nice contrast to well cooked and spicy lentils.

I used regular lentils for this recipe but if you have French, smaller and more green, the dish will be equally tasty but even nicer in presentation.

Lentil Chili

2 cups lentils, washed,
32 oz of chicken or vegetable broth,
1 onion, chopped,
3 garlic cloves, minced,
1 carrot peeled and cut into small cubes,
2 celery sticks sliced,
1 red bell pepper cut into small cubes,
2 jalapeno chili peppers, seeded and finely chopped,
4 tbsp olive oil,
1 tsp sea salt,
1/2 tsp black pepper,
1 tbsp light brown sugar,
1 tbsp paprika,
2 tsp ground cumin,
1 tsp. dried mustard,
2 tsp dried oregano,
1 tsp dried thyme,
1 bay leaf.

1 cup small tomatoes cut in quarters,
1/2 cup chopped cilantro,
1/2 cup sliced spring onions,
1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt.

1. In a large heavy duty pot heat the oil. Add chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrot, bell pepper, jalapeno and fry, stirring often for about 6 minutes, until soft.
2. In a small bowl mix together salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, cumin, mustard, oregano, and thyme.

Add them to the vegetables and fry together for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Add lentil, bay leaf and broth. Bring to boil, turn down the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about an hour, until lentil becomes soft. You may add extra broth or water if it evaporates too fast and lentil is still too hard.

4. When lentil is soft, turn off the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes. In the meantime cut tomatoes and fresh herbs.

Serve accompanied by tomatoes with herbs and sour cream.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Pear and Ginger Cake--Easy Fall Dessert

Pears are wonderful fall fruits. I like them particularly well in combination with different cheeses, and in salads. But somehow, besides using pears in savory dishes, I rarely make cakes with them. If any, I make a tart with pears, on a barely sweet base, since the fruits are quite sweet themselves, or mix them with cranberries.

So I was very happy to find a new recipe for a pear cake. It seemed even more attractive to me because of the fresh ginger that the recipe called for. I already made a fish dish which was served with pear ginger sauce and I like that combination a lot as ginger added a nice spiciness to the mild pear.

I was surprised how easy and fast the cake was, since the batter was entirely prepared in a standing mixer. When it was ready, the cake turned out very nice. Pears, plunged in a cake, were firm but delicate and the cake was nicely balanced in sweetness and spiciness thanks to ginger. So here are the details of this very easy and comforting fall dessert.

Pear ad Ginger Cake
(For a 9-inch bottom pan)

3 medium soft pears, peeled off, cored and cut into a thick slices,
2 tsp freshly grated ginger,
2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature,
3 medium eggs,
1 and 2/3 cup self rising flour,
1 cup sugar,
1 tbsp brown sugar,
1 tbsp plain breadcrumbs,
1/4 cup crème fraîche or whipped cream to serve.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease the form with a tbsp of butter taken out from two sticks. Dust with bread crumbs.
3. Cut out another tbsp of butter and save aside. Place the remaining butter and custard sugar in a bowl of standing mixer. Beat until pale and fluffy.
4. Add eggs, beating in between, then sift in flour and add grated ginger. Beat everything until smooth for about 3 minutes.
5. Transfer batter to the baking form. Place pear slices on top pushing them gently into batter. Sprinkle with brown sugar and thin slices of saved tbsp of butter.

6. Bake the cake for about 50 minutes until set and gold on top. Let it cool, remove from the pan, cut and serve with crème fraîche or whipped cream.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pumpkin Pancakes--Savory or Sweet

Again, as always this season, I am left with a gigantic pumpkin from my porch that I have no heart to keep just for decoration and throw away after the first frost. So yesterday, to use this wonderful vegetable, I made pumpkin risotto for dinner. It was delicious but this dish just took care of two slices of my pumpkin.

Today, I decided to make another pumpkin dish--pumpkin pancakes. I used my old Italian recipe for the zucchini pancakes, which I slightly changed, and the result came our very interesting. I threw to the batter a little bit of chopped rosemary, which is often paired with the pumpkin and adds extra flavor to its generally mildly sweet taste. I also seasoned the dough with salt and a bit of pepper.

But even then the pancakes were still so delicate that they could be served in a sweet version. So the first batch of them I served with a spicy yogurt sauce and the second batch I dusted with icing sugar and turned them into a wonderful sweet evening snack. Whatever version you prefer it is a very easy and nice dish to try and a great idea on how to utilize these huge fall pumpkins.

Pumpkin Pancakes
(Makes about 16 pancakes)

2 cups of pumpkins, peeled off and grated on a large-hole grater,
2 eggs,
1 cup self-rising flour,
1/4 cup whole milk,
a tsp of salt,
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves,
1/2 cup Greek yogurt,
1 tsp red chili pepper,
vegetable oil for frying,
icing sugar (optional).

1. Place eggs and milk in a medium bowl. Beat them together. Add flour and mix until smooth.
2. Add grated pumpkin and rosemary to the egg batter. Season with salt and mix.

3. Heat 2 tbsp of oil on a large, heavy duty frying pan. Pour a large tablespoon of the pumpkin batter in the oil (about 6 per batch) and fry on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes per side, until dark gold. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

5. To make sauce, place yogurt in a small bowl. Season with salt and mix with the chili flakes.
6. Serve the pancakes accompanied by the yogurt sauce or dusted with icing sugar.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Apple Pie with Olive-Oil Crust--Vegan Version

In recent years, more than ever before, people follow all kinds of fashion diets and submit themselves to different dietary restrictions. Unfortunately, because of that it becomes increasingly challenging to respect everyone's dietary preferences. For instance, it is surprisingly difficult to offer a really tasty and elegant dessert that would follow strictly vegan dietary rules. So today I would like to share an apple pie recipe that happened to be vegan and which seemed to me very simple and interesting, even if you are not a vegan.

I got this vegan pie recipe from my neighbor's mother who has been a vegan all her life. I find a traditional butter pie perfectly tasty but when I heard about this olive oil crust I thought that maybe it was healthier than the butter crust. Then I got surprised how delicate and sandy this crust was. A delicate taste of olive oil was also detectable in the pie's taste. I used golden delicious apples for this recipe and added just a little bit of sugar since they have natural sweetness. If you use sour cooking apples you need to add more sugar (about half a cup) to this, according to taste. A handful of walnuts enriched this pie in additional nutrients.

Apple Pie with Olive-Oil Crust

2 cups all purpose flour,
1/2–3/4 cup olive oil,
3–4 tbsp icy cold water,
a pinch of salt,
4 golden delicious apples,
1/4 cup sugar,
1/4 cup chopped walnuts.

1. Place flour and salt in a food processor. With the engine running slowly pour in half a cup of olive oil. If the dough is too dense add an extra 1/4 cup. When crumbles are formed add 3–4 tbsp cold of water and run the processor until a smooth dough forms. Turn it off quickly at that point.
2. Wrap the dough in a plastic foil and cool in a refrigerator for an hour.
3. Preheat oven to 375 F.
4. Divide the dough into 2 portion with one slightly bigger than the other. Roll each of them on a working surface dusted with flour.
5. Transfer the bigger disk into a 9-inch bottom pie dish and spread the edge of it on the walls.
6. Peel off the apples and grate them on a grater with big holes. Add sugar and mix well with apples. Fold in walnuts and transfer the filling into the baking dish.

7. Cover the pie with a smaller disk and using a fork or fingers seal the edges of both disks together. Using a fork make holes in the top of the pie so the moisture can evaporate during baking.
8. Bake for about 50 minutes, unit light gold.