Thursday, June 24, 2010

Plate of Love Part 1: Spicy Maple-Glazed Pecans

I made this as a snack for Jordan the other day.

I was jealous.

The cake is a Raspberry Yogurt Cake, inspired by Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini, has become one of my favorite summer afternoon tea-cakes. It is light, buttery, spotted with fresh, juicy raspberries, and topped with crunchy, caramelized coarse-grained demerera sugar. Because of the moisture and richness provided by the yogurt added to this cake, it requires a lot less butter than most cakes. And, if you use sweetened yogurt you can drop the sugar level down quite a bit, too.

The crackers are simple rosemary-garlic snack crackers, with a mild enough flavor to support toppings. They are topped with soft goat cheese and last summer's savory-jam-experiment, my Golden Cherry Tomato and Ginger jam.

The strawberries... oh! the strawberries! They were the first organic strawberries to arrive in the market this season, and they are sliced in half and stuffed with the same soft goat cheese. But the crowning piece to this amuse-bouche are the Spicy Maple-Glazed Pecans.

I must have had a particularly inspired afternoon, because these turned out amazingly (and surprisingly!) well in the first attempt. They are sweet, spicy, crunchy, buttery, with layers and layers of flavors that may make you ask... "Is that balsamic vinegar I taste?" I first made the pecans to provide some crunch to a spinach salad that included strawberries, that lovely goat cheese, and a herby vinaigrette. However, as soon as they came out of the oven, Jordan and I started snacking on them, and frankly... we couldn't stop! I trust you won't be able to either. Wasn't it that Pringles ad that challenged, I dare you to eat just one?

This is the recipe you're getting today. I will post my recipes for the tomato-ginger jam and the cake soon.

Spicy Maple-Glazed Pecans

Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush the parchment paper with melted butter. (Trust me on this one.) Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit... basically you will be broiling these.

In a bowl, mix together until smooth:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Fold in, tossing gently so as not to break the halves into smaller pieces:
2 - 2 1/2 cups pecan halves

Broil for four minutes. Stir or turn over the pecan pieces carefully; they will be very hot and bubbly! Broil for one more minute on the other side.

Let the pan cool completely before serving. They will get crunchier as they cool.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Maple Bacon Brussel Sprouts

I am in love with brussel sprouts.

I have never liked them before. In my childhood opinion, they were always noxious little versions of cabbage, which I definitely didn't like. And they always showed up dressed in faded army-green, smelling even worse than they looked. There was no way those brussel sprouts were going to get asked on a date. I didn't realize how poorly they had been treated.

And then I tried these. Steamed until just tender, tossed with crispy bacon pieces, gently caramelized, and then lightly dressed in pure, buttery maple syrup, these brussel sprouts are ready for a night on the town. Worthy of any black tie occasion. Or good enough to eat every day, for that matter.

Yes, a real love affair. Don't tell my husband.

Maple Bacon Brussel Sprouts
These brussel sprouts are best on the first day. If you have leftovers, they may come out dressed in that faded army-green color again, but they'll be just as tasty. The trick is not to overcook them so they keep a bit of bite and their vibrant green color.

Look for sprouts that are in season (late winter and early spring), with tight heads and unblemished leaves. It's even better if you can find them still on the stalk.

4 slices of good-quality bacon
2 lbs. brussel sprouts
3 Tbsp. butter
salt & pepper
3 Tbsp. good-quality maple syrup

Slice the bacon into small strips. Fry them on medium high heat in a frying pan until crisp and golden brown, draining and reserving the fat. Set the bacon pieces aside.

Wash and cut each brussel sprout in half. In the same pan you used for the bacon, melt the butter. Place the sprouts cut side down in the pan, taking care not to crowd them together; you want a single layer of sprouts. Season with salt and pepper, and add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover with a tight fitting lid, and simmer on medium high heat for 15 minutes, or until the water has evaporated and the sprouts are beginning to brown on the bottoms. Toss a couple times at this point and let the sprouts get some color on their rounded sides.

Test one with a fork to make sure it's tender. Add back the bacon pieces, and drizzle the maple syrup over. Toss it all together, and serve warm!

Should serve about 4 people as a side dish... or 2 people, if you're me and my husband.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

a "profound" Carrot Cake Hybrid

Yesterday afternoon we attended a garden party. The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, and we could hear the rides at the PNE as they motored uphill and the screams of gleeful riders as they hurtled, whirled, and dove.

It was Susan's birthday. And she had requested carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, please!

I had made a carrot cake for Jordan's birthday a number of weeks ago, and was pleased with how it turned out. However, as with most recipes, I love tinkering the second time around. I also tend to experiment on people I love, and this was for a dear friend. As usual, I wanted to turn down the sugar and turn up the flavor. Using Joy of Cooking as my basic guide, and More With Less for some inspiration, I came up with a Carrot-Applesauce-Nut Cake hybrid that was incredibly delicious. It was quite crumbly in the center, and didn't hold up terribly well to slicing. However, the tenderness of the crumb, the layered flavors, and the tangy-lemony cream cheese icing elicited "mmm"s from everyone. Kirsten said, "Tora, this is a profound cake."

Profound, indeed. The batter is light and bright, unlike many carrot cake batters that I've encountered, which are dark, oily, and taste syrupy-sweet. Adding extra baking powder and soda gives the cake loft. The applesauce combined with the spices gave the cake a lovely gingerbread-fruity undertones. And the lemon! I simply cannot have cream cheese frosting without lemon zest, forevermore. I trust that once you taste it, you won't go back, either.

Profound Carrot Cake
This recipe makes two 8-inch layers. I think it would also work well in bars, so you could easily pour the batter into one 9 by 13 inch pan. It is also extremely handy if you have an electric mixer and/or beaters to make the batter, and a food processor for the frosting.

Line your pans with parchment paper, or butter and flour them copiously, and especially in the corners. I traced the bottom of my pans onto parchment paper, and Jordan cut them out for me. I put these circles on the bottom of the pans, and buttered the flat sides of the pan. This worked beautifully! The cakes came out easily, and because I kept the paper on the bottom of each cake, they stacked well for transporting.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whisk together in a bowl and set aside:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground or grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt

Shred and set aside:
2 cups shredded carrots (this will take about 2 large carrots, peeled)

In the bowl of your stand mixer (if you have one), cream together:
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed

Add to the creamed mixture, and beat until just combined:
3 eggs
1 cup applesauce

Add the dry ingredients to this wet mixture, and beat on low speed until just combined.

Then, add in, stirring again until just combined:
your previously shredded carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup golden raisins

Pour the batter into your cake pan(s). Bake for 25 minutes, until the center of each cake is set (not batter-y), and the top is golden brown. Let cool for five minutes in the pan, then turn out the cakes and let them cool completely on racks. (If you're using a 9 by 13 pan, let the cake cool in the pan. Once it's completely cool, then you can frost it in the pan and cut into bars.)

When your cake is cool, and you are just about ready to frost the cakes, make the frosting.
Pulse in your food processor until smooth:
8 ounces of COLD cream cheese
Add and process until combined:
2 tsp vanilla
Add, and process until combined:
3 cups powdered sugar

Pour your frosting into a separate bowl, and STIR in:
the zest of two lemons

Frost your cake, and devour!