Fondant

February 7, 2010

Well, this is a quick note on fondant’s and cakes and kids birthday parties. I had a rather intense order last weekend for a series of cakes for a 1 year old birthday party. The project was to have four cakes roughly 6″ x 6″ x 6″ decorated to look like building blocks, each topped with an adorable fondant figure. The enterprise was ambitious given my very full week but turned out rather well, all things told. My friend H did all the fondant rolling and making– he’s a wizard is all I’ll say– each of these figures is made so that their heads turn. I’m not sure what I think about fondant: it rolls beautifully but its not very tasty.


The bear is definitely my favourite. We decorated the sides of the cakes with bubble gum balls, chocolate graham crackers, tractor gummies and goldfish. For the flavourings,  I made a chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling, a vanilla cake with lemon creme filling, an espresso cake with cappuccino creme filling and my favourite, a vanilla cake with chocolate apricot swirls and an apricot jam filling. Each cake was about four layers tall and frosted with swiss meringue buttercream. (These pictures were taken in the garage at the home where we delivered the cakes– we did last minute touch ups after the harrowing ride from Brooklyn to New Jersey. )


Overall a success, but my goodness, quite a project!

Eating Fish

January 18, 2010

Since I’ve been back from Cape Town, I have been craving chips (french fries or potato wedges) which I had quite a lot of when I was visiting South Africa. The South Africans love their fried potatoes so much they even have a sandwich composed of white bread, a very thick layer of chips and ketchup. I had a portion of one of these sandwiches at Maryam’s Kitchen, downtown Capetown, and delicious as it was, I didn’t need to eat for hours since it sat very solidly in the bottom of my tummy the rest of the afternoon. Thankfully, I’ve returned to Brooklyn to brimming sackfuls of potatoes from my CSA share, and have thus far made myself fried chips and eggs for breakfast two times in four days…

I ate a lot of very tasty fish while I was in Cape Town, including the prerequisite trip to Kaulky’s in Kaulk Bay for freshly caught fried fish and chips at the water front. While in Kaulk Bay, I had this lovely plate of preserved sardines and lemons at the Klipkantein for breakfast one morning with a good cup of rooibus tea. I’d say we all need to eat more fish for breakfast in general.

I resisted cooking too much in Cape Town (after the cooking extravaganza in London over Christmas), but we bought a fabulous bit of yellowtail tuna which I broiled with leeks for our dinner one night. My sister in law made a delicious salad to go with the fish (black sesame seeds, salad greens, red peppers, strawberries, chick pea sprouts, wasabi… I have to beg her for the recipe) and a steaming potful of sticky rice.

Broiled Tuna with Ginger and Leeks
4 large fillets, cut into two or three so you have about 8 to 10 pieces. Rinse and pat dry. Season very lightly with salt and pepper.

Marinate in the following for at least 15 minutes:
1/4 – 1/3 c soy sauce
1-2 Teaspoons hot chilli sauce
4 garlic cloves minced (we used roasted garlic)
1-2 Teaspoons white sesame seeds
2-3 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1-2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 heaping Tsp grated fresh ginger
Generous pinch of sugar

(Quantities are approximate, this is very much a pinch of this and a dash of that sort of recipe)

While fish marinates, slice up one large leek (wash and drain sliced leeks in at least 2 changes of water so you don’t end up with sand) and saute this on low heat in about 1-2 tsp of oil or butter. When the leeks have started to soften, add a heaping tsp of fresh grated ginger to the pan and keep sauteing until leeks are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat broil to high setting. Arrange fish skin down on a baking pan (line with parchment paper or foil). Pour any marinade from the bowl over the fish and drizzle with another tablespoon or so of sesame oil.
Broil in top part of oven about 10-15 minutes until fish is brown and cooked inside (test with a fork, if fish just starts to flake, take it out of the oven. You don’t want to over cook.)

Arrange broiled fish on a platter and spoon sauteed leeks over the fish. Serve with salad and sticky rice. You could probably use any other nice white fish such as tilapia, or mahi mahi.

Scaling Fish

January 12, 2010

(I won’t even explain where I’ve been. There’s no point, I am officially useless at keeping up this blog…)

I spent Christmas in London with my Uncle and Aunt y and cousins. Christmas in London is always a fabulous mix of Nigeria meeting British culture: I revel in endless cups of tea and English shortbread while we cook up pots of jollof rice, egusi soup and other homey favourites.

This year a good friend of the family, Uncle Olu, decided to cook the bulk of our Christmas dinner. Uncle Olu is a seasoned cook. Even better, he can cook endlessly, with seemingly no end of energy. I am in awe.

Our Christmas menu involved jollof rice (a pilaf cooked in tomato sauce), moi moi (steamed bean cakes– in this case Uncle Olu filled them with boiled eggs and fresh stewed tuna), yam potage (white yam stewed in tomatoes), fried plantains (my aunty sprinkled in cinnamon– very new thing for me), lemon and herb roasted turkey (I always end up doing the turkey… ),fruit salad, green salad, roast potatoes, piles and piles of Uncle Olu’s fried tilapia and  my Christmas butter cookies (Gourmet, December 2005, may she rest in peace).

Two days before Christmas, my uncle and aunty, Uncle Olu and myself piled into the car at half past six to drive out to the Billingsgate Fish Market on the eastern end of London to buy fish whole sale for the holiday meals. We bought a case of whole tillapia, another of sea bream, more of  prawns, and a small whole tuna. This of course meant that we ate fish non stop for practically the rest of the week, but it was all delicious and I learned some good tips from Uncle Olu about how to scale fish.
First you fill the sink with cold water and submerge the fish. Then you scale the fish by working from the tail towards the gills with a table knife, going against the grain of the fish to fleck off the scales. This is surprisingly easy and very satisfying to feel the smooth skin once the scales are off. Its a little trickier around the gills and the eyes on the head. We saved all the heads either for stewing or seasoned and fried them up with the rest of the fish. After scaling, we cut the fish at the neck and squeeze the gills out. For the larger fish, you slice a third of the way down the belly and squeeze out the innards. Not the most pleasant but it goes quickly. Next Uncle Olu gives the fish another good rinse in cold water then soaks them in lemon juice and water. After which we seasoned with salt, pepper and bouillon cubes from home (okay fine, Knorr cubes for those of you who are in the know…)


And thats it! We stewed some in a lovely thin red tomato sauce which resulted in sweet, tender pieces of fish which we ate with white rice. The rest we pan fried or grilled for Christmas dinner. (I convinced Uncle Olu to let me season some with ginger, scallions, and soy sauce… when it was cooked he admitted with surprise that it was delicious. Whew!)
It was a feast.

Meanwhile, I’m in Capetown visiting my brother and sister in law. I’ve had some interesting adventures with vegan cupcakes…

Chocolate Curls

November 26, 2009

Don’t ask me where I have been the past month. I have been here in Brooklyn and I have been cooking and baking a lot but I have not been posting. I have been busy at my day job making architecture, and prepping for my licensing exams, and helping plan flowers for a wedding, and volunteering at church, and seeing old friends,  and yes, filling the odd cake and cupcake orders. But not blogging.

So accept this bit of eye candy as a peace offering.

My best friend Carmen was visiting for two weeks earlier this month and we had a lovely time eating and gallivanting around the city and filling cake orders. I made a chocolate stout cake for a 50th birthday party that turned out quite well.

The cake is a wonderful recipe that involves cocoa, melted chocolate, Guiness stout, and very strong coffee. It has a full bodied, almost yeasty flavour, and gets oh so much better the day after it has been baked. I layered in a rich bittersweet chocolate ganache (essentially butter, chocolate, and heavy cream melted scrumptiously together).

I then did the crumb coat in chocolate ganache before I spread on the chocolate swiss meringue buttercream, which is a glorious creamy invention that I am one hundred percent in love with. And it forgives all flaws of the cake and in this case, of the decorator.

Decorating ended up being a bit of debacle– I tried a variety of decorating ideas including drizzled chocolate glaze and piped white buttercream dots, none of which came to anything. Thankfully I’d made a double batch of the chocolate buttercream so mistakes were quickly rectified. We settled on a simple design with gauzy ribbon and chocolate curls, which I discovered were extremely easy to make. I had to borrow my neighbour’s microwave to soften the chocolate but what a lifesaver it was.

The final result was quite satisfactory.

p.s. All photos were taken by Carmen with her smashing new camera. Brilliant, yes?

White Foods

October 31, 2009

“If you want your cabbage chopped, washed, dried, sprinkled with salt or vinegar, there is nothing healthier. To enjoy it more, sprinkle with honey vinegar. Washed and dried, with chopped rue and coriander and sprinkled with salt. It does you good, permits no disease to remain in the body, and does the bowels good. If there was any disease present internally, cabbage will cure all, remove all sicknesses from the head and the eyes and cure them. Take it in the morning before eating.”

Cato (234 BC to 149 BC) from On Farming

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I love a good food quote, although I just read some rather asinine things Cato had to say on keeping slaves—he was notorious for his brutal views (ah the Romans)—but I’ll give it to him that his recipe sounds intriguing.

We’re coming to the end of our wonderful CSA (community supported agriculture) deliveries and the lettuce has given way to copious quantities of cabbage, turnips and cauliflower. Did I mention copious quantities of cabbage? I mean… lots of it. And cauliflower. I’ve been thinking out loud about these pale vegetables and the kind of nutrition that they give us, so I did a bit of research into cabbage. Cabbage, apparently is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in dietary fibre, vitamins C,K,A, B6, calcium, iron (who knew?) magnesium, manganese, folate, potassium, and thiamin. Cabbage also has a varied history and appears in raw, cooked, and pickled form on virtually every continent—from Chinese versions of bok and napa cabbages, to Korean kim chee, to Russian stuffed cabbage and borscht soups, to Irish corned beef and cabbage, not to mention Indian poriyals and uppama and of course the ubiquitous sloppy coleslaw found all across American diners.
Here is a terrific link to history and lore on cabbages that I found—it made me rethink my current ennui with cabbage. http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch33.html.

A quick and delicious dish I’ve come up with to eat through my cabbages before the next CSA delivery arrives is as follows:

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Sautéed Cabbage

½- 1 head of cabbage (any kind), shredded into long thin bits
1-2 ears of corn cut fresh off the cob.
1 garlic clove grated or minced
1 shallot or small onion sliced in thin rings
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 curry leaves if you have them
A handful of unsweetened dry coconut or a handful of chopped cashews.
2-3 tablespoons oil

Sauté the shallot and garlic in 1 tablespoon oil till onions start to soften and garlic is starting to brown. Add the shredded cabbage and sauté till beginning to soften, then add in the corn. Sauté till cabbage is cooked, though not soggy. In a separate pan heat 1 to 2 tsp oil and add the mustard and fennel seeds and curry leaves. Heat till the mustard seeds start to sputter, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut or cashews and sauté just until coconut starts to brown. Pour the spice and coconut mixture over the cabbage and corn. Mix well. Season with salt and black pepper and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.

This is tasty as a side dish or as a light supper served with rice.

Pear and Pecan Bread

October 10, 2009

Here is my dilemma: I cook an awful lot and I take scads of pictures, but I don’t post them on the blog. Its a lack of discipline or time on my part. So my computer is fast filling up with folder upon folder of delectable food photos, but only one out of every five recipes gets posted. What to do…

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Regardless, here is a quick and delicious dessert (or breakfast item) that I have become quite addicted to the past couple years. Its from the Joy of Cooking, my all time favourite cookbook. I’ve often said that if I had to leave my home suddenly and had the choice of only one cookbook to take along, this would be the one. It has EVERYTHING.
Pear bread is in the lovely family of loaf cakes, like banana bread, that whip together quickly since they use oil as shortening and often include some sort of mashed or grated fruit and chopped nuts.

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They are ideal for the fall when fruit and vegetables are abundant and a fragrant slice of cake is all you need to compliment a steaming hot cup of tea or coffee. The juicy pears in this recipe are set off by the lemon zest and juice, pleasant surprises in every mouthful. And of course the bread tastes even better the next day.

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Pear and Pecan Bread (from the Joy of Cooking, p 775)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×5 inch pan.
Whisk together:
1 1/2 c flour
1 c sugar (I usually cut back to about 2/3 or 3/4 c sugar)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

In a separate large bowl, whisk together:
1 large egg
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp grate lemon zest
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 c grated ripe pears with juice (no need to peel)

Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and fold just till about 3/4 of dry ingredients are moistened. Add:
1 c coarsely chopped pecans.
Fold just till dry ingredients are moistened.
Scrape batter into pan, spread evenly, and bake in center of oven 1 hr and 15 min till toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Let cool in pan 10 minutes then unmold onto a rack and let cool completely.

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I was channeling a little bit of Julie and Julia the other day, and Whole Foods had a sale on boneless chuck, so I bought one and half pounds of beef and made myself a mini pot roast for the week. I am generally not a huge beef eater (although I seem to be eating more of it recently, stay tuned for the beef eaters quarterly news letter featuring beef bourguignon…) Beef has always felt like a luxury to me since I like to get good quality meat that is grass fed and humanely raised—the price is generally out of range for my weekly food budget. The scarcity of it in my diet, however, does make me appreciate it all the more when I have the occasion to cook it. A tasty pot roast or stew will go a long way in my household of one and means lunch for an entire week.

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This particular roast is one of my favourite pot roast recipes, discovered a couple years ago when looking for a recipe for a Seder supper. I’ve only added garlic and substituted canned diced tomatoes for tomato paste in an otherwise perfect recipe from epicurious.com. What I love about the recipe is the tangy tomato sauce that cooks down with the dates into an unctuous sweet-savoury pudding. The recipe is nice served with rice and some cooked veg like ratatouille (a zucchini, a small eggplant, a couple of tomatoes, some fresh rosemary-thyme-oregano, garlic, and sliced onions, cooked just till the vegetables start to fall apart.) I also like the meat sliced cold in a sandwich, with a little bit of mayonnaise and the thick tomato sauce used in place of a condiment.

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Pot Roast with Oranges and Dates

1 ½- 2 lbs boneless beef chuck roast,
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, grated
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cups chicken broth or white wine
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup pitted dates
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sprinkle roast on each side with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Heat 1 tablespoons oil in heavy wide ovenproof pot or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add roast. Cook until brown, about 8 minutes per side; transfer to plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil and onions and garlic to pot. Sauté until dark brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Mix in vinegar and allspice; boil until reduced to glaze, scraping up browned bits. Add broth, orange juice, and tomato sauce; bring to boil. Return roast and accumulated juices to pot. Scatter dates around roast; sprinkle with parsley.
Cover pot; place in oven. Braise roast 1 hour. Turn roast over, cover, and braise until tender, about 1 hour. Tilt pot; spoon off fat from top of sauce. Cool uncovered 1 hour or just let rest in pan for 15 minutes before slicing and serving with sauce.

The Conservatory Gardens

September 26, 2009

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On Thursday afternoons I get off from work at 1.30 and I have designated the afternoon as a “Sabbath Day” where I don’t schedule any events or friends, but spend some good quality time alone, in meditation and study, and in prayer. I often go to a park and enjoy the nature, with a cup of tea and a cookie, my diary and some good reading material.

I recently rediscovered the Conservatory Gardens, up on 5th Avenue and 105th Street. They have become my new favourite garden in the City. Located at the north end of Central Park, you pass through an ornate set of gates into a heavenly world of slate stone paths and English country garden loveliness. Flowers spill over borders in waves of texture and colour, breezy statues of children playing drip with the laughter of the fountains, and for a moment the buses rolling by on the avenue are drowned out by the chatter of insects and birds. A tremendous trellis of vines arcs across the western side of the garden, beckoning you to come find solace beneath it. The first time I came to the gardens, four years ago, was with a now very distant boyfriend, to attend a wedding ceremony. I will never forget that evening, the beginnings of a rain storm trickling down through the leaves of the trellis, the sky grey yet bright, and the bride and groom glowing at each other as we all stood around cheering. What a wonderful place to start a marriage.
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My current Thursday ritual is to stop in a the Museum of the City of New York, which is across the street, tease the guards to let me down into the café where I then buy a fruit tea and a giant black and white cookie to take with me to the garden. After a leisurely stroll around the grounds, with frequent stops to sigh into the welcoming faces of upturned flowers, I settle myself into a bench for some blissful quiet.

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I love black and white cookies. The cookie is light and cakey, and the white glaze on the back is crisp and smooth and just a bit too sweet. The chocolate has a bitter bite to it, with a faint flavour of licorice in each bite. I take much comfort in eating this cookie slowly, bit by bit, letting the glaze melt in my mouth, not taking any one morsel for granted, washing down the sweetness with sips of tea. It is a large cookie so if you eat it too fast, you will ruin the experience with a sugar rush. I think because my favourite desserts tend to involve cake of some sort, that the black and white is one of the most perfect cookies imagined. And it is so New York.

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Ajiaco

September 14, 2009

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The best word to describe this wonderful Colombian chicken stew is silky. From the way the grated potatoes disintegrate into the broth to make a rich, thick sauce, to the fresh avocados that melt in your mouth at each bite, silky seems to capture it all. I’ve been dreaming of this recipe since it first appeared in Gourmet’s September 2007 issue (which was a glorious issue on South and Central American cuisine if I may add), intrigued with the idea of avocado and whole slices of corn being part of a soup. The soup is easy to make, and a great way to use a small bony little chicken. It warms up well, and the flavours are fresh and surprising (pops of cilantro and salty capers) at the same time as being homey and soothing (it IS chicken soup after all…) The one difficulty in eating this soup is that you do have to fish the corn out of your soup bowl with your fingers which makes for a messy eating experience. But then there is the delight of slurping the broth from the corn cobs as you eat the kernels.
I’ve modified the recipe a bit, but otherwise it is very much straight from the recipe book.

Ajiaco (Columbian Chicken Stew)– Gourmet Sept 2007, p.74

1 whole chicken

2 qt water

2 cups chicken stock (or 2 cups hot water and one bouillon cube)

1 large white onion, chopped

1 tablespoon oregano

1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes

1 lb red skinned potatoes

3 ears of corner, cut into 1 inch rounds (careful, I broke my knife chopping these up. Use a bread knife and saw instead of hack)

¾ cup chopped cilantro (divided)

½ cup heavy cream (optional)

¼ cup drained capers

2 -3 larger firm rip avocados, cut into cubes (I like the big pale green ones you find in the West Indian markets)

Put chicken in a 6-8 quart pot with water, broth or bouillon, onion, oregano and 1 ½ tsps salt. Bring to a boil, skim off foam, then reduce heat and simmer covered until chicken is cooked through (about 40 minutes.) Transfer chicken to a plate to cool, reserving broth in the pot. Grate the red skinned potatoes (no need to peel) and add to the broth. Simmer uncovered about 20 minutes until potatoes are falling apart and soup is becoming thick. Meanwhile chop up the Yukon Gold potatoes into 1 inch pieces and add to pot. Let simmer another 15 minutes till just tender. Add corn, ¼ cup cilantro and 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper and simmer covered until corn is tender, about 5-10 minutes.

While corn cooks, coarsely shred chicken, discarding skin (I save the bones and wings in the freezer for future stock). Add chicken to stew and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Season with salt.

Serve stew with a drizzle of heavy cream, capers, chopped avocados and remaining ½ cup of cilantro. Add these fresh to each bowl just before serving.

So yum!

On Gardening

September 7, 2009

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“I have given myself to this new garden that I may receive from it the gift of summer tomatoes and sweet potatoes, of scarlet peppers and the purple robed eggplant, of honey-sweet corn and buttery beans. But I do not forget that I alone cannot restore Paradise, not even in my own backyard. ‘Retreat to the garden,’ writes William Cowper, ‘cannot indeed to guilty man restore/ Lost innocence, or cancel follies past/ But it has peace, and much secured the mind/ From all assaults of evil’ (The Task)”
Excerpt from The Fragrance of God by Vigen Guorian, p. 68

I recently finished this wonderful book and have found much joy and peace in the author’s reflections on gardening. Here is some of the summer’s bounty…

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I made a quick fried rice with the fresh vegetables in my garden. Lovely Crown Heights, Brooklyn: despite the fact that I must regularly fish out broken glass bottles and chicken bones tossed over the fence into my garden plot, the plants have managed to thrive and given me reward for my pains. It is a blessing to be able to get my hands dirty, to weed and replant, to discover new buds and flowers– promises of good things for the future.

Not much to say in terms of this recipe: purple onions, diced zucchini, corn from the cob, sliced green eggplant, a fried egg, some chinese sausage  all fried up with some leftover rice. I threw in a handful of pine nuts and cilantro and a drizzle of sesame oil and tamari sauce to finish. Simplicity becomes divine.

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