Monday, November 24, 2008

Rum cake

One of the nice things about being Episcopalian is that, unlike the Baptists, we generally have rum in the cupboard...right next to the gin and the bourbon behind the sherry.

The other nice thing about being Episcopalian is that we have coffee and cake or cookies after church. I suppose if you have to sit through all of that prayer book stuff that we should feed you something other than a papery wafer and a sip of diluted wine.

Much to my delight the coffee hour on Sunday featured a delicious rum cake. The recipe is very easy although it employs...gasp...a cake mix and...more gasping...a box of pudding. Generally I prefer not to buy such things for political reasons because I don't approve of the industrial food economy, but I am certainly willing to make exceptions once in a while! This cake merits it.

Rum cake:

Preheat over to 35o degrees.

Mix together the following ingredients until combined:

1 box yellow cake mix
1 box vanilla pudding (small box)
4 eggs
1/2 c. oil (a flavorless one)
3/4 c. rum
1/4 c. water

Put 1/2c. pecans in the bottom of an oiled bundt pan. Pour batter.

Bake 45 minutes t0 an hour until cake is done. Remove cake from oven, but leave in pan.

Melt 1/4 c. rum, 1 c. sugar, and 1 stick of butter until boiling. Pour mixture over cake. Let stand for no more than 30 minutes. Turn cake out onto cake plate.

Cranberries: a sauce and a relish

Unable to choose between a cooked cranberry sauce and a raw cranberry relish, I think I will make both.

Here is the recipe to my favorite cranberry sauce made with caramelized onions. It's good with cheese if you have leftovers.

I want to try something new so I plan to make this recipe from Susan Stanberg on NPR. I like raw cranberry and I love horseradish. I can't quite imagine how it will turn out, so we'll see. I'm not entirely sure my guests will like it because horseradish is one of those things people either love or vehemently loathe.

I am fixing a roasted turkey that I'll cover in a cheese cloth soaked in garlic, orange juice, orange rind, bay and maybe some brandy. I'll remove the cheese cloth for the last hour so the skin will get crispy.

I'm hungry just thinking of it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Baked garlic appetizer

My friend, who is a fine cook, brought this delicious concoction of sun dried tomatoes, garlic and goat cheese to a party. The recipe will now be a regular feature at my cocktail parties and dinners. In fact, I may make some for Thanksgiving in order to keep the guests happy and in the living room while I'm finishing the gravy and getting the food ready for the table.

Baked garlic appetizer:

4 heads garlic (not cloves, but whole heads)
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups sundried tomatoes, or a little less (I use the no-oil, no-salt kind)
1-3 tbs. herbs
6 ozs. goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Cut top 1/4 inch off garlic heads, peel off loose outer skin. Place heads of garlic in casserole or baking dish just large enough to hold them. Nestle the sun dried tomatoes in around the garlic and pour chicken broth over and sprinkle with herbs. Bake for roughly an hour and fifteen minutes, basting every fifteen minutes or so. Slice goat cheese, place over top of garlic and tomatoes, bake until cheese is melted. Serve with slices of baguette or rice crackers for the gluten free crowd or a spoon if no one is looking!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Baked pears with nuts and maple syrup

For my dinner party on Saturday, I needed a dessert recipe with no dairy and no flour. The amazing sex on a plate dessert that I usually make was totally out of the question since it is loaded with cream, chocolate and flour. Then I remembered an easy baked pear recipe from the Epicurious Web site that I made years ago. In place of the butter I used margarine, which apparently has buttermilk in it....oops, and in place of flour I used almond meal. I also substituted the hazelnuts for toasted almonds. It turned out great! The original recipe is also wonderfully tasty. I suspect it would be equally delicious with apples too.

I served the pears hot out of the oven over soy ice cream which I have to confess is rather tasty.

Stuffed, baked pears:

1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked
1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur), amaretto or brandy

3 8-ounce Anjou or Bosc pears, peeled, halved
6 tablespoons apple juice
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 375°F. Place nuts in plastic bag; crush coarsely with rolling pin. Transfer to bowl. Mix in sugar, butter, flour and liqueur.

Using melon baller, core each pear half, creating cavity. Arrange pears, cut side up, in 11x7-inch glass baking dish. Mound nut mixture in cavities, dividing equally and pressing to compact. Pour apple juice into dish around pears. Drizzle pears with maple syrup.

Bake pears until tender when pierced with small sharp knife, basting occasionally with juices, about 45 minutes. Transfer pears to plates. Drizzle with juices.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Moroccan chicken with olives

Years ago friends invited me for dinner and made a wonderful chicken and olive dish from Mediterranean Cooking by Paula Wolfert. So when I invited some friends for dinner this recipe seemed like the perfect option since all of us love olives and one of us doesn't eat dairy. I served it with potatoes and a delicious carrot salad called houriya.

Asking me to cook without butter for a dinner party is a tall order indeed, but fortunately one misses neither butter nor cheese in this dish because of the richness of the olives. I am including the recipe as it was written, but I will make adjustments next time. For example, 2lbs of green olives is a bit excessive. Even after finishing the leftovers I have tons of olives left in the dish. One pound is probably needed at a minimum though. Imagine the funny looks I got at the supermarket as I was clearing the olive bar of picholines!

Chicken smothered in cracked green olives

Serves 6 to 8

4 lbs chicken legs and thighs

2 large onions

3T olive oil

1 T chopped garlic

1t. ground ginger

1t. black pepper

½ t. ground cumin

½ t. paprika

pinch of saffron

¼ t. chopped green coriander (cilantro)

3 c. water

2 lbs. Green cracked olives (greek or Moroccan cracked or French picholine)

1/3 c. fresh lemon juice or more to taste


whole wheat pita

Trim fat off of chicken. Cut up 1 ½ onions and chopped finely. Press through strainer to drain excess liquid. Measure ¾ c. and discard the rest. Thinly slice remaining half of onion.

In a 5 qt casserole blend oil, garlic, ginger, pepper, cumin, paprika, and saffron into a paste. Stir in chopped onions and cilantro. Stir while adding 3 cups of water. Add chicken and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 20 min.

Drop olives into boiling water, simmer 1 min, then drain.

Preheat oven to 450.

Remove chicken from casserole and place on a baking sheet. Bake on upper shelf of oven for 15 min. or until meat is fully cooked and skin is lightly crisp.

Add reserved onion slices and olives to casserole. Simmer 15 min. Add lemon juice to taste. Season w/ salt if needed.

Remove chicken to a serving platter and cover w/ olives and sauce and serve w/ warm triangles of pita bread.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ethiopian restaurant: Queen of Sheba

Saturday night my friend and I went to the newly re-opened Queen of Sheba in the Timberlyne strip mall on Weaver Dairy Road in Chapel Hill. It closed at its original location about 18 months ago and I was broken-hearted.

I am happy to say that the new location is an improvement over the old location which always seemed a bit rickety and gloomy to me. The new place has a warm, cheerful interior with tables packed in snuggly.

The food was as good as ever. Friesh, the owner, cooks great food. If you haven't tried Ethiopian, I recommend it although it might be an acquired taste. The dishes are heavy on curry and spices. They are served on a large piece of soft, flat bread called injera. Injera is made from teff, the grain of a tall grass. It's high in iron, fiber, and other good stuff.

To eat the dinner, you pull off a piece of injera, scoop up some food, and eat. No forks and knives required. Eating with the fingers is kind of sexy. I like it.

I ordered my usual: a garlicky chick pea starter called buticha and the vegetarian combo which is a sampling of several dishes. The meat and fish combos are good too. If you go, ask if you can have the collards side dish and the potatos side dish with your combo dinner. These two and the tomato salad are my favorite sides.

Be sure you order Ethiopian coffee after your meal. And yes, you want it with butter. It's pitch black, spicy coffee with a touch of butter melted in it. I know that sounds weird, but when was the last time you ate something with butter that wasn't tasty?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stone crab

A recent visit to Florida happened to coincide with the start to stone crab season which runs from October 15 to May 15. I first had stone crab claws several years ago in NYC while sitting at the bar at Balthazar. Then earlier this year I ate them in Tampa when I was there for my second cousin's wedding. When I discovered my October trip coincided with the new season, I was determined to have some.

I love stone crab because the only part we eat is the claw. These crabs have huge claws relative to their body size. Generally the bodies are not eaten or even killed during the harvesting of the claws. The claws are twisted off and the crabs are thrown back in the water where they grow new ones. How is that for sustainability?

Plus I grew up on steak and potatoes in the Midwest so dealing w/ crustaceans generally terrifies me: Which part am I supposed to eat and how do I get it out?? New Englanders have this figured out but I generally resort to garden tools.

Stone crabs therefore are perfect food for me: delicious, no one dies, and I don't have to pick pieces out of strange crustacean crevasses.

The most famous place in South Florida to get stone crabs is Joe's Stone Crab Shack in Miami Beach. Since I was staying in Ft. Lauderdale I decided to go to Billy's Stone Crab Restaurant in Hollywood, Florida. The meal was delightful. The stone crab claws were generous in size and full of succulent, sweet crab meat. I had a side dish of garlic creamed spinach which I could eat three times a day. I made a mental note to find a recipe for garlic creamed spinach. I washed it down with a lovely glass of sauvignon blanc. The service was pretty good for that part of Florida and my table was outside overlooking the intra-coastal waterway. Several huge yachts with happy partiers cruised by.

It would have been a great evening if it hadn't been for my date who turned out to be a cad. Fortunately I'm not the kind of woman who lets a lousy man ruin a perfectly fine meal.