Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My 31st Birthday & Carrot and Pineapple Cake

Some time last year, before I was turning 30, I decided that I would take an honest look at my life and get real about the business of making change. I saw the dawn of a new decade as the perfect opportunity to do the things necessary to move forward. To all. Hitherto my life had been plagued, ravaged, imprisoned, 13 years of it, by all the things I never faced. In the year ahead, when I was turning 31, I wanted to look back on the year prior and be able to say that I had indeed achieved my pursuit of happiness and true freedom. The kind of happiness that is in spite of everything else and the kind of freedom that has wings.

"To fly as fast as thought," he said, "to anywhere that is, you must begin by knowing you have already arrived." -- "Jonathan Livingston Seagull"

In my My Mother's Day Post I included a picture of my Mum holding me on my very first birthday. I think every first birthday is a celebration of the life that could be and a hope for the best from all the people who love you. But no one ever knows if or how long that will take to happen. It's taken me 30 years to learn that it's only the 'if' and not the 'how long' that matters.

Yesterday, I arrived at my 31st birthday and I was greeted by the best gift anyone could receive: I am alive! I am alive and from there the possibilities are endless.

"I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive."--Joseph Campbell

I had a fantastic birthday. All of the wishes from friends and family meant the world to me. My grandmother surprised me with a new Cuisinart ice cream maker to replace the one I over-filled and also a soft serve ice cream maker.

And she gave me these really cool sunglasses.

My fiancé, Daph got me a ticket to Cirque Du Soleil's: "Ovo" and surprised me with the. best. news. ever. He's planning to come back to Boston in two months!!!

I was really tempted to make the Chocolate-Walnut Cake I made a few months back as it was the best chocolate cake I've ever had, but instead I went with something else from Ina, and wow, I'm glad I did!

Carrot and Pineapple Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe courtesy and Adapted from The Goddess Herself, Ina Garten

Ingredients (for the cake):

2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup raisins (I omitted the raisins)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 pound carrots, grated
1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple
1/3 cup crushed pineapple (The original recipe DID NOT call for this, and it's optional whether or not you use it. I added it in with the wet ingredients.)

Ingredients (for the frosting):

3/4 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 & 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
Half of 1 Vanilla Bean, scraped (Optional)

For the decoration:

1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple and/or 1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans (this will act as the "glue" for the parchment). Line the bottom and sides of each pan with parchment paper, then butter and flour each pan.

Directions (for the cake):

In large bowl, mix sugar, oil, and eggs on medium speed until completely blended. Add in vanilla. In a separate large bowl, sift 2 and 1/2 cups flour, plus cinnamon, baking soda and salt together. Slowly incorporate dry ingredients into wet ingredients until completely blended. In small bowl, mix raisins and walnuts in 1 tablespoon of flour. Add carrots and pineapple and fold into batter. Add nuts and mix until incorporated.
Split the batter equally among two pans. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until inserted cake tester (or toothpick) comes out clean. Cool cakes completely in pan on wire rack.

Directions (for the frosting):

In bowl of electric mixer or large bowl, blend together cream cheese, butter and vanilla just until combined. Add vanilla bean pearls and mix. Carefully add in sifted confectioners' sugar and mix until incorporated.
On large flat plate or cake pedestal, turn 1 of the cakes flat-side up. Using knife or offset spatula, frost the flat-side of the bottom layer of cake. Place the second layer on top of the frosted first layer, this time, rounded (or dome) side up, and evenly spread frosting over top and around sides of cake.

The 92 degree temperature didn't help my first attempt at rosette making, but I was happy with them.

Decorate: Use remaining half cup of diced pineapple to decorate cake. For the nuts, I placed the prepared cake on wire rack and used my hand to apply nuts around sides of the cake.

♪Happy Birthday to you, I mean me, but you too if it's your birthday. ♫

Thursday, July 22, 2010

If Yan can, Yes I can! & Thai Basil Chicken

Several weeks back in my Growing Things Post I talked about looking for recipes that featured Thai Basil, one of the herbs I'm growing this year in my "pot garden". I mentioned stumbling across a Martin Yan recipe I found on Jaden Hair's great blog entitled Steamy Kitchen.Well, the day has arrived! After more than a month of eagerly anticipating, (both fellow blogger Jhonny Walker and I were looking forward to this one), I gathered all the ingredients I needed and got cooking. As this dish was mostly about prep, the cook time went by fairly quickly.

Normally, I find it difficult cooking, adapting, re-wording recipes, editing and ultimately posting something on my blog the same day I've made it, but this garnered an exception. This dish, not only as it was delicious, but also for changing my mind about something that, hitherto, remained elusive and altogether intimidating, Asian cooking. Which I now understand is all about flavor. A lot of flavors, that balance and compliment each other, coming together to form a confluence of delicious.

First, Chicken Boston
Followed By, Caribbean Chicken Salad

Without further ado, I present:

Thai Basil Chicken with Broccoli and Cashews

serves 4


2 tablespoons lager-style beer, like Tsingtao
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper (or black pepper)
12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced 1/4-inch crosswise or cut into 1/2-inch cubes (Or Tofu)


1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (low-sodium)
1 tablespoon lager-style beer, like Tsingtao
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce (or add an additional 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce)
1/4 teaspoon sugar


2 tablespoons vegetable, canola or peanut oil
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
4 ounces asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces OR 1 bunch of broccoli, stems removed and cut small
1/2 Red Bell Pepper, sliced
1 ear fresh corn on the cob, husked or 1/2 cup frozen corn
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 teaspoons water
1 fresh jalapeno chili, thinly sliced into rings (optional)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 cup lightly packed Thai basil or sweet basil leaves.
1/2 cup roasted cashews (Roast cashews in 350 degree oven until lightly browned and cool)


1. In medium bowl or ziploc-type bag, add the liquid marinade ingredients. Add chicken to same bowl or bag, coat by stirring or closing bag securely and gently massaging chicken until coated. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.

2. In small bowl, add ingredients for sauce and set aside.

3. Heat large wok or saute over medium-high heat until hot. To pan, add oil and carefully turn pan to coat sides with oil. To oil pan, add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook just until fragrant, approximately 10 seconds. Add marinated chicken and asparagus OR broccoli, red bell pepper, and corn. Stir continuously until chicken has cooked through (is no longer pink), approximately 2 minutes. To pan, add scallions and the sauce you prepared and allow to come to a boil. Add in cornstarch and continue to cook and stir while sauce thickens, approximately 1 minute.

Move pan to cool burner on stovetop and stir in sliced jalapeno, basil and roasted cashews.

4. Serve and Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I'm a klutz & Lime Squares (with Pistachio Graham-Cracker Crust

I'm a klutz! I often joke that I could trip over my own shadow. I have tripped over my own shadow. Last week, wheeling, what I affectionately refer to as my "Granny cart" home, filled to the brim with groceries, the two front wheels give out and break off causing me to fly nearly over the thing in an attempt to break my fall and save the goods. Stunned, I sat on the curb and began to cry, and then, realizing the sheer comic nature of it all, started laughing hysterically. This event resulted in bumps and bruises from the top of my thighs to my ankles. In the days to follow I would sprain a toe, and my most recent injury, a bruised heel incurred while wheeling my brand spankin' new "Granny cart" home from the fruit and vegetable store. Although the last (and most painful) injury kept me light on my feet for a few days, the trip itself was pretty successful; It garnered me a ginormous bag of baby spinach for 3 bucks, 2 beautiful watermelons for the same price and 20 limes at 10 for a dollar. What to do with all those limes?!

Keeping things in perspective, I tend to recover pretty quickly; Time away from the kitchen allowed me to finish the book I was telling you about last week, Markus Zusak's 'I am the messenger' and begin a new one, Chris Cleave's 'Little Bee'; Florence + The Machine's album 'Lungs' has been damn good medicine; I'm vertical again; My 31st birthday is in exactly one week (the 27th); And I found a purpose for some of the limes!

First, Citrus Sables
Followed By, Lime Ricotta Cake

Lime Squares with Pistachio Graham-Cracker Crust

Recipe courtesy and Adapted from


For the crust

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for pan
2/3 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup (4 ounces) graham-cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoons grated lime zest

For the filling

2 large egg yolks
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

*Serve with gently whipped cream.

To Make Crust:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With melted butter, brush bottom and sides of 8-inch square baking dish. Measure a piece of parchment paper over baking dish to allow for 2 inches of overhang on two sides, either each of the long or each of the short.
Add broken graham-crackers to bowl of food processor and pulse until it becomes crumbs. Add in pistachios, sugar and zest, mix until finely ground. Add in butter and blend until incorporated. Transfer graham-cracker crumb mixture into parchment lined baking dish and press mixture into bottom and 1 inch up sides of pan. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow crust to cool for 30 minutes. Turn oven off.

To Make Filling:

Again, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
In medium bowl, add 2 egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk. Add in lime juice and whisk until incorporated. Carefully pour mixture into cooled crust; Spread to edges if necessary.
Bake until mixture is no longer liquid, about 15 minutes. Transfer pan to cooling rack. Once it has cooled down, cover and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. Lift out of baking pan using parchment paper overhang and transfer to cutting board. Use serrated knife to cut into squares, clean knife with dampened kitchen towel before each cut for cleaner cuts. Cover uneaten squares with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Breathing Again & Hummus

After six days of what felt like interminably suffocating heat, the sky relented, took pity on the Northeast and released a happily welcomed, albeit brief, torrential downpour this past Saturday. Finally, Sweet Zeus! I can breathe. There was so much rain I could have gone for a swim if I wanted. I resisted the urge to pull out my tankini. Instead I celebrated my newfound full lung capacity by doing two things I couldn't bare in the heat, attended a Personal Training session with Jackie, my bedroom. Her Power Circuit Training DVD is one of my favorites. Just the restoration my body needed. And I read most of Markus Zusak's 'I am the Messenger'. This is my second of his, first being 'The Book Thief'. He's a great writer! I also caught up on seasons 1 & 2 of, what I believe to be, the. best. show. ever. on television,'Breaking Bad'. The show and both of the lead actors, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul were just nominated for Emmy's. *Fingers crossed*

I summed up a productive weekend by eating something rewarding. Is there a better way?!

In my Espinacas con Garbanzos (Spinach and Garbanzos) Post
I talked about recently discovering Hummus. To start with, I only tried the prepackaged variety and have to say, I wasn't impressed. While looking for garbanzo bean (chickpeas) recipes I came across several for Hummus. I was surprised at how easy it was to make and encouraged by many reviews which said homemade Hummus is delicious and tastes 'nothing like store bought.' They were right, I'm hooked. I make it often to snack on, and in many cases, to have as a meal.

Fresh Hummus

Recipe courtesy and Adapted From


2 Cups prepared dry garbanzo beans, reserve cooking liquid (or one 16 oz can of low sodium garbanzo beans, reserve can liquid)-Chickpeas

1/4 cup liquid from cooked beans or can of garbanzo beans (or 1/4 cup water)

3-5 tablespoons lemon juice (depending on taste)

1 -2 tablespoons tahini

2 cloves garlic, completely smashed

1/2-1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon cumin

Dry bean method:

Soak beans for four hours submerged in lag re pot of cold water. After four hours, strain liquid from beans and cover with fresh cold water. As beans absorb A LOT of water, cover with several inches of water. Don't worry about adding too much, You won't. If you notice the beans absorbing too much water, just add more water. Place pot over medium-high heat, boil beans for 1 hour and fifteen minutes, or until tender.
Strain liquid into bowl and reserve for later. Allow beans to cool mostly through. It's fine if they're a little warm.

*I love warm hummus, it's creamy and delicious!

In food processor, add 2 cups garbanzo beans, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt, olive oil and cumin. Pulse until fairly smooth, Add in 1/4 cup reserved liquid, process until completely blended and smooth.

Serve in bowl. Garnish with Paprika and Parsley (Optional). Serve immediately and cover and refrigerate. Lasts in refrigerator up to three days.

Canned bean method:

Drain canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas) into bowl, reserving liquid. Combine beans and lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt, olive oil and cumin. Pulse until fairly smooth, Add in 1/4 cup reserved liquid, process until completely blended and smooth.

Serve in bowl. Garnish with Paprika and Parsley (Optional). Serve immediately with sliced carrots, bell peppers, English cumcumber and/or toasted Pita bread, Or cover and refrigerate. Lasts in refrigerator up to three days.

Feeling adventurous? Make Pita Bread!

My first attempt at making pita was the basic white variety. As I rolled the pita too thin and baked the bread too long it was a failure. Well, failure in that, the hard and crunchy disk-like results weren't technically "pita." But broken in half, and sauteed in olive oil they were delicious. My second attempt was Rosemary & Olive Oil whole wheat pita. With a few changes learned from my prior mistakes, it was a success!

I figured that, rather than post the recipe here, which would make this entry overwhelmingly loquacious, I would post a link to the recipe on one of my favorite sites, The Fresh Loaf, HERE,
with a few notes of my own below.

*Bloggers Notes:

1. To make the whole wheat variety, I used 2 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup white bread flour.

2. I NEVER add salt in with the yeast and water. Instead, I mix the salt in with the flour. Salt kills yeast. Even when you're encouraged to add salt in with yeast and water, DON'T. Always mix it into your flour.

3. In almost everything I make with yeast, soft pretzels, bread, et alii, I up the sugar to two tablespoons, usually dark brown, sugar feeds the yeast and gives the dough more flavor. Anything less would be bland.

4. I added two tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary to the flour.

5. I threw a handful of water into the bottom of the oven before I baked each of the pitas to create steam. Steam helps the pita to puff.

6. I placed an inverted cookie sheet in the oven while pre-heating the oven so the pita would immediately be introduced to heat, giving it a better opportunity to rise.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Heat Wave & Strawberry-Mango Ginger Sorbet

You know it's been scorching hot when 90 degrees feels relatively cool in comparison to the days prior. Yesterday, considering the heat index, our temperature surpassed 100 degrees here in Boston. I've lived through 126 degree summer's in Phoenix, Arizona, but even that was more pleasant than the kind of oppressive heat that swelters over a Northeastern city during a heat wave in July.
Fortunately, the streak is showing signs of breaking. As I sit here now, I'm nearly overcome by an 80 degree breeze and the intoxicating smell of the beach. Never has dusk seemed a more exciting occasion to me. At least, not in recent memory.

We are officially in the throes of summer; Straw fedora's, clear blue skies, cool sunglasses, bright pink converse, and my 31st birthday just weeks away. Cel-e-brate good times, come on!

Over the 4th of July weekend I made Strawberry-Mango Ginger Sorbet, which was just about the most perfect celebration of summer in a bowl I've ever had. I use the word 'was' because it didn't take very long for me to gobble it all up. The pictures don't do it nearly the justice it deserves and I apologize for that. As the sorbet was melting so quickly, I rushed. Please don't let that deter you from making the only way I'll ever eat a mango again if I truly want to enjoy it!


Strawberry-Mango Ginger Sorbet

5 Ounces Fresh Ginger, peeled and sliced
2 large Mangoes, peeled and removed from seed
1 cup fresh strawberries, roughly chopped
3/4 cup sugar
1 and 1/4 Cup Water Plus Just Under 1/4 cup Water for crystallized ginger
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
*Crystallized ginger for garnish. Reserve the syrup from the crystallized ginger to sweeten sorbet.

Note: To give your ice cream a smoother texture reduce sugar from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup and replace with 1/4 cup light corn syrup. Add corn syrup when adding lemon juice.

To Make Crystallized Ginger:

1. Peel ginger. Using Mandolin or sharp knife, carefully slice pieces of ginger 1/8 of an inch thick until you have 5 ounces.

2. Toss ginger in a small bowl with 3/4 cup granulated sugar, using your hands if necessary to make sure ginger is completely coated.

3. In large heavy bottom sauce pan, heat just under 1/4 cup water and sugared ginger slices, reserving remaining sugar in bowl. Bring water in pan and ginger slices to very slow simmer.

4. Over low heat, stir ginger occasionally for 1 and 1/2 hours, until ginger becomes translucent and sugar crystallizes around edges of pan.

5. Transfer ginger slices to wire rack to cool. About ten minutes.

6. Once ginger slices have cooled, over parchment paper, toss slices of ginger in 1/8cup sugar until completely coated.

7. Cover ginger in air-tight container and refrigerate.

To Make Sorbet:

To warm ginger syrup, add in remaining granulated sugar plus 1 cup of water, stir until dissolved. Turn off and remove pan from heat.

In blender, blend together strawberries and mangoes. If desired, strain liquefied strawberries and mangoes to remove any pieces that might be remaining. I did not. Pour liquefied strawberry-mango mixture into pan with sugar and water mixture, stir until dissolved. Add in lemon juice, stir. Taste for sweetness. If too sweet, add another 1/4 cup water.

If using ice cream maker, transer liquid to bowl, cover with plastic and refrigerate mixture until cold. When mixture is cold pour in ice cream maker and process as machine directs. If not using ice cream maker, transfer liquid to freezer safe bowl, cover and freeze. Break ice crystals by stirring freezing mixture every hour until frozen.
Serve with candied ginger.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The 4th of July & Red, White & Blueberry Pie

One of the best things about living in an historic city, such as Boston, over the 4th of July weekend, is taking part in all the festivities going on; free concerts, food & drink and, of course, a huge fire works display.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother would pack us a blanket and cooler and take me to The Esplanade early in the morning to wait for hours and hours in anticipation for the sky to light up in booming glory.
I'm not really one for standing around in big crowds for hours on-end in 90 plus degree temperature these days, but I still love a good sky show. Fortunately, I have neighbors who, drive to New Hampshire to "allegedly" purchase fireworks where buying them is legal; driving them back to Massachusetts, not so much. Nonetheless, I still get to enjoy a pretty spectacular show from the comfort of my own backyard.
Also, I made my very first pie. It was delicious! And I don't even like blueberries.
I hope everyone had an awesome 4th!

Recipes courtesy and Adapted from Joy of Baking And
What's Cooking America

Shortening-Butter Crust:

2 1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour, plus extra for rolling
2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

Berry Filling:

2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons Plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch (corn flour)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Egg Wash:

1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon cream

To Sprinkle over bottom of crust before adding fruit:

Mix together 1 tablespoon each, flour and granulated sugar

*Serve pie with softly whipped cream or Vanilla Ice Cream.

To Make Crust:

In standard sized food processor, or large bowl, process, or mix with hand mixer, flour, salt and sugar until combined. Add in shortening and process or mix until mixture resembles coarse sand, approximately 10 seconds. Add pieces of butter over flour mixture and process in 1 second pulses, or mix, turning hand mixer on then off, until pieces of butter are no bigger than small peas. Add 6 tablespoons ice water to mixture and, using a rubber spatula or hand mixer on low, fold in, or mix until just combined. Pinch dough with fingertips to be sure it sticks together, If not, add an additional 2 tablespoons ice water. Do not process or mix more than 30 seconds.
Turn dough onto work surface and gather into ball. Divide dough in half and flatten each into a round disk-like shape. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour before using.

After an hour, remove one round of dough from refrigerator. Lightly flour work surface and rolling pin. Flatten out round with rolling pin, rolling from the center of the dough away from you. To keep dough from sticking to counter, gently lift and give dough a quarter turn after each roll. Roll dough two inches larger than inverted pie plate. (Place pie plate, upside down, over dough to make sure it's big enough.) Fold dough in half and gently transfer to pie plate. Brush off excess flour. Roll hanging dough under itself to crimp or cut off excess. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove second dough round from refrigerator and repeat process of rolling. Using a cookie cutter, cut 12 large or 20 small stars, or the shape you desire using for top of crust. Place stars on lined cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

My food processor was too small so I finished mixing butter into dough in bowl using a hand mixer. Surely a 'what not to do', but I stand by it!

To Make Berry Filling:

Mix together sugar, corn starch, lemon juice and zest in small bowl. In large bowl, add blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Pour sugar mixture over berries and toss or use spoon to gently combine.
After bottom half of dough has been refrigerated in pie plate for 30 minutes, sprinkle bottom crust with mixed tablespoon each, flour and sugar mixture. Now add berries to prepared pie shell.
Whisk together egg yolk and cream in small bowl. Brush rim of bottom crust lightly with egg and cream mixture. Remove pastry stars from refrigerator. Beginning from the outer edges of filled pie crust, place pastry stars, (or whatever shape top you're using accordingly), in this case, place stars in circular pattern around pie until covered. If covering top with a whole top crust, cut three or more decorative slits to allow air to escape while pie bakes.
After the top of the pie is entirely covered in pastry stars (small spaces between stars not included), brush pastry stars or top crust completely with egg wash, making sure it hasn't collected in small pools on top crust. Place fully constructed pie into refrigerator and allow to chill for 30 minutes.

To Bake Pie:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Line a cookie sheet, or larger baking pan with shallow sides, with parchment paper. Remove pie from refrigerator and place pie on middle of cookie sheet. Bake pie for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F. At 20 minutes, reduce oven to 350 degrees F and continue to bake pie for 35-45 minutes, or until crust is deep golden brown in color and the bubbling juices have thickened. If pie is browning too much, cover with foil.
Once pie is baked, place is cooling rack and allow to sit for several hours. Once completely cooled, serve with lightly whipped cream or ice cream or refrigerate overnight. Serve pie at room temperature.
*I made this pie one day in advance and allowed it to refrigerate overnight then served the following day at room temperature. Pie stays fresh, covered, for 2-3 days. I always keep my pie refrigerated and take out to come to room temperature a few hours before serving.

To Eat Pie:

I served the pie with homemade vanilla bean ice cream.

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