Thursday, May 28, 2009

Now That's a Spicy Cucumber!

When it gets hot and muggy, which is exactly what it's been lately, I like to make foods that require no heat. Enter this spicy Asian cucumber salad. It's delicious. It's pretty. It's healthy. What's not to love?

You thought that was rhetorical, but I have an answer for you: the sogginess is what's not to love. If you don't eat this right after it's finished chilling, you'll find the cucumbers wilted and swimming in watery dressing. So if you're not planning on serving (and finishing) right away, I'd think about salting and squeezing out the cucumbers before you put together the salad.

Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad
(from Cook's Country)
  • 1/2 c. rice vinegar
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 T fresh lime juice
  • 2 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 1/2 T red chile, minced (about one large chile)
  • 1 T toasted sesame oil
  • 3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut crosswise into 1/4-in. pieces
  • 4 scallions, white and light green parts, sliced thin
  • 1/4 c. loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper.
Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, then simmer until mixture is reduced by half (the recipe says this takes about 5 or 6 minutes, but I find it takes longer than that). Transfer to a medium box and allow to cool.

Whisk into the mixture the lime juice, ginger, chile and sesame oil. Toss in the cucumbers, scallions and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Chill for 10 minutes or up to 1 hour. Serve.

The food: Spicy Asian cucumber salad
The verdict: Mouth-puckering veggie goodness

Friday, May 8, 2009

Every Cake Needs a Little Cream Cheese

I've yet to meet a recipe that I don't think could be improved with a little cream cheese. Nature's perfect food. And that's especially true for pound cake. Cream cheese in the batter is a must.

This is my no-fail pound cake go-to recipe. It's great plain, or with fruit or whipped cream. It's also good with extracts other than vanilla (orange, rum and lemon are three favorites). It only calls for three-fourths of a pound of butter, so I've renamed it in case anyone out there in readerland is a real stickler for details.

Three-Fourths of a Pound of Butter Cake
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups butter
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar gradually and beat until fluffy. Add eggs two at a time, beating well with each addition. Add the flour all at once and mix in. Add vanilla.

Pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour and 20 minutes, checking for doneness at 1 hour. A toothpick inserted into center of cake will come out clean.

The food: Three-Fourths of a Pound of Butter Cake
The verdict: You don't even miss that extra quarter-pound

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Paula Deen is Nutty. So is Her Coffeecake.

For our anniversary, Ben bought me a copy of Nancy Baggett's Kneadlessly Simple. I can't wait to bake my way through it. And my friend Kim set me up with some of her excellent sweet white bread starter. Between the two, we're looking at some carb-filled weeks ahead. Recipes to come soon.

In the meantime, let me give you another carb-filled delight: Paula Deen's own nutty, nutty coffeecake (pictured above). I don't make a lot of recipes with purchased dough (mostly because they don't give me a chance to cover my kitchen in flour -- my favorite part of baking, for sure) but refrigerated biscuits make this recipe easy and fast to make, and I've never had a coffeecake I like better.

Nutty Orange Coffeecake (from Paula Deen)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 t. orange zest
  • 2 (12-ounce) cans refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (10 each)
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
  • 1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 2 T. fresh orange juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar, pecans, and zest; set aside. Separate the biscuits. Divide the cream cheese into 20 pieces. Place one piece of cream cheese in the center of each biscuit. Fold each biscuit in half over the cheese, pressing the edges to seal.

Dip the biscuits in melted butter, then dredge in the granulated sugar mixture. Place the biscuits, curved-side down, in a single layer in the hollows of a lightly greased 12-cup bundt pan, spacing them evenly (do not stack). Drizzle any remaining butter over the biscuits, and sprinkle with any remaining sugar mixture. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Immediately invert the cake onto a serving platter.

Combine the confectioners' sugar and orange juice, stirring well; drizzle the glaze over the warm cake. Serve warm.

The food: Nutty orange coffeecake
The verdict: It's cream-cheese-filled genius