Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What has come over me? I'm BAKING!

I don't know what's come over me. I seem to be channeling someone else - like Patricia over at Technicolor Kitchen, for instance, or Valentina at Sweet Temptations. I don't know who is inhabiting this woman's mind these days, but whoever she is, she sure likes to eat sweet things! Last time it was the towering chocolate cake. This time it's a mango-gingerbread with macadamia nut streusel. Whaaaaat?

It all began when Boaz, over at Folding Pain invited me to join a group he formed called the San Diego Bread Lovers. They formed out of another website called The Fresh Loaf, when a small group of them on that site discovered that they lived here in San Diego. They decided to get together once a month and share a bread they each baked. This month's theme was bread with nuts. Well, I missed the first 2 meetings, but I thought it might be fun to meet these people, just to touch base with people who are into baking bread. I pictured them as a jolly bunch, these people who play with flour and yeast and such. In my mind's eye I saw them with aprons on, hands a little dusty from flour, and an endless twinkle in their eyes. After all, isn't baking bread about participating in the most fundamental form of nutrition? In one of my first posts on this blog, I wrote "The food which has sustained humans since biblical times, the food which has always been thought of as synonamous with food itself is bread.
" So I figured I was about to meet a group of people who just..........well........liked bread!

Imagine my surprise when I encountered a group who not only enjoyed the taste of good bread, but who were all quite versed in the science of bread. These people were conversing on the relative merits of different acids used in making a bread which contained baking soda, as well as distinguishing between doughs which had their fermentation retarded in the fridge and those that didn't. Quite frankly, I felt like I had dropped into a PhD level class, and no one noticed I was really a freshman, crashing the course! One thing I know for sure: If I continue meeting with this group, I will most definitely learn a lot!!!

I'm grateful I didn't attempt anything more rigorous than this quick bread. I got this recipe off of epicurious - my go-to site when I grow tired of my cookbooks. The recipe was easy enough, and I was able to make it the morning of the meeting. I chose it in part because one of the patients at the clinic had given us a humungous box of raw, unshelled macadamia nuts. Have you ever seen a macadamia nut in it's shell? Well, I hadn't before, and they're all gone now, so I don't have a photo to share with you. But they look like malted milk balls. Truly! They're brown, and smooth, and round. Check out the Kitchen Notes below for instructions on how to deal with unshelled macadamia nuts, as well as the outcome of this meeteing for me.

As for ginger, it is a spice we use often in Chinese medicine. It is considered sweet and spicy, and it benefits both the lungs and the digestive system. The official name of this is Zingiberis Officinalis, and the edible part is commonly called the "root", although it is actually a rhizome. Historically, those who used the plant medically called it "Jamaican Ginger" in the western hemisphere. It actually will help increase the production of saliva and bile. It is contraindicated in people with gallstones for this reason. It has been used for nausea for many years, including the nausea of seasickness, chemotherapy and pregnancy. Ginger contains volatile oils which have antibiotic properties.

As you might have guessed by now, this will be my entry into the Weekend Herb Blogging event, hosted this week by Ramona over at The Houndstooth Gourmet Now, this recipe is decidedly NOT for the carbophobic, but for those who still want a little sweet taste in the morning, it makes for a delicious breakfast!


1/3 cup finely chopped lightly salted dry-roasted macadamia nuts
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs


For streusel:
Stir all ingredients in small bowl to blend.

For gingerbread:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Whisk first 6 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Coarsely puree mangoes in food processor. Transfer 1 cup mango puree to large bowl (reserve any remaining puree for another use). Add buttermilk, oil, and eggs to puree; whisk until blended. Add flour mixture; stir just until combined. Transfer half of batter (about 2 cups) to prepared pan. Sprinkle half of streusel over. Spoon remaining batter over, smooth evenly with spatula, then sprinkle with remaining streusel.

Bake bread until springy to touch and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.) Cut bread into 9 squares and serve.

Baker's wisdom: Buttermilk and baking soda help give the gingerbread a tender texture. Kitchen Notes: As it turns out, my instinct to roast the nuts first was correct. Someone in the group told me that they would have been much more difficult to shell if I hadn't. As it was, I wrapped the nuts in a kitchen towel and took a hammer to them. It was a slow process, but it worked.

As several of the reviewers on epicurious commented on the need to add more ginger, I did it in 2 ways: I added a half tablespoon more to the bread itself, and I was generous in the amount of crystallized ginger in the streusel. This recipe only works if you like ginger! For those who are shy about this particular spice, you may cut back on it. I also cut back on the amount of sugar - to slightly under a half cup. I decided that the mangoes and the ginger were sweet enough - which they were.

The other outcome of this gathering was a trip to Borders. Someone had given me a gift certificate, and I had forgotten about it. (Don't ask. I've been busy!) After the meeting, I wanted to buy the book that seems to be the seminal one on bread: Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice". I must say, it's a gorgeous book, with clear instructions. Will I find myself transforming water and flour into mouthwatering bread on a regular basis? I have no idea. But I'm certain I've just added a world-class book to my cookbook collection. And I'm equally certain that anything I make out of this book will be superb. Stay tuned.

And if you're interested in health news, visit my website Mission Valley Acupuncture

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chocolate overload and a friend's birthday

I don't bake. Really, I don't. I'm so much like my mom was on this one. She had a sister, my aunt Janno, who was a fabulous baker. I used to go over to her house on Saturdays, and she would teach me how to make rugelach, or do something with sugar - I don't remember what it's called - but I think it might involve water on the stove or something. Spinning it? (See? I told you I don't bake!). All I remember is that involved skill and timing. Anyway, I would come home from these sessions bearing a lopsided cake, which my family would cheerfully eat. But it never looked that good to my eyes. Never as good as what my aunt Janno could turn out.

She had a true knack. I'll never forget the time there was a knock at the front door, and when I answered it, there stood my aunt, holding a steaming apple pie. She had a big smile on her face (she always seemed to smile), as she whisked past me and into the kitchen, carefully placing the pie on the window sill and admonishing me not to eat any until it cooled. The scent of hot apples filled the room, and I found that I had to leave the kitchen in order to keep from cutting into that pie .

So I don't know what came over me last week, when a friend emailed me and told me that a group of us would be gathering to celebrate our friend Kathye's birthday. In her email, this friend asked me if I would take care of the cake. Now, I know she didn't mean that I should bake it. Most everyone I know goes out and buys a cake. I only know one woman - who was at the party, in fact - who is a real baker. I don't know if they asked her to do it and she couldn't do it. All I know is that the task fell to me, and for some reason I decided I wanted to bake it myself.

What was I thinking?!!!!!

Perhaps I was channeling my own sister, Leah, who is a phenomenal baker. In fact, she's taken classes on cake decorating. Or maybe I was having a flashback - I don't know. All I know is that after asking Kathye what flavor she wanted (Chocolate!), I spent an entire day, scouring all the blogs I could find with desserts posted, and finally wound up on epicurious. They had a recipe for a triple layer chocolate celebration cake. Chocolate cake, ganache and chocolate mousse. And then there's the bit of jam and the fruit. Could I resist? The photo of it made my mouth water, and the reviews were all raves. Almost every reviewer mentioned that it took a LOT of time, and that it could be started several days in advance. But the way my life has been going, I knew that I'd be baking the cake and assembling it the day of the party.

I did manage to make the mousse in advance, which was a good thing. It took me the entire day to make and assemble this cake, and when I was done I had blobs of ganache on the counter, chocolate footprints on the floor, and bits and crumbles of flour and sugar and fruit on the stove top, sink and counter tops. But I had a cake!! And it was sitting about 10" high on top of a cake stand! And it looked fairly good, if you didn't pay too close attention to the sides, where you could see the layers.

And then it struck me.

How on EARTH was I supposed to transport this thing over to the party???? OMG! But it was getting late, and I had no time to worry about that. I had to shower, get dressed, and get on the road! Check out the Kitchen Notes to learn how I transported this thing to the San Diego Yacht Club, where the party was held.

2 3/4 cups cake flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

3 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 pounds bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

4 1/3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Assembly and serving
2/3 cup seedless raspberry jam

1 15 3/4x11 3/4-inch transfer sheet with gold-thread design*

3/4 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

3 1/2-pint baskets raspberries
1/2 pound cherries
1 1-pint basket small strawberries
1 1/2-pint basket blueberries
1 1/2-pint basket blackberries

*Transfer sheets, or "transfers," are sturdy but flexible plastic sheets coated with a mixture of cocoa butter and food coloring and etched with repetitive designs, such as golden swirls.

Here's how they work in this recipe: First, melted chocolate is spread over the sheets. After the chocolate has been chilled until firm, the plastic sheets are peeled away, leaving an edible design on the chocolate's surface.

Transfer sheets are available at some cake- and candy-supply stores or by mail from Beryl's Cake Decorating; call 800-488-2749.


Make cake: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour two 10-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides; line each with round of parchment paper or waxed paper. Combine first 5 ingredients in medium bowl; whisk to blend well. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, eggs and egg yolks in large bowl until very thick and heavy ribbon falls when beaters are lifted, about 6 minutes. Add oil, sour cream and vanilla, then dry ingredients all at once to egg mixture. Beat at low speed until just blended, about 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl. Beat at high speed until well blended, about 3 minutes. Fold in chocolate chips; divide batter between prepared pans (about 3 3/4 cups batter in each).

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cakes completely in pans on racks. Cover; let cakes stand at room temperature overnight.

Make ganache: Bring cream to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Transfer ganache to glass bowl. Let stand until thick enough to spread, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

Make mousse: Using electric mixer, beat 3 1/3 cups cream in large bowl until peaks form; refrigerate. Combine remaining 1 cup cream and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan and bring to simmer. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until melted, smooth, and still warm to touch. Pour warm chocolate mixture directly onto whipped cream and fold in gently. Chill until mousse is set, at least 8 hours. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

Assemble and serve cake: Cut around pan sides; turn out cakes. Peel off paper. Cut each cake horizontally in half. Place 1 cake layer, cut side up, on 9-inch tart pan bottom or 9-inch cardboard round. Place another layer, cut side up, on clean baking sheet. Spread each with 1/3 cup raspberry jam. Chill until jam sets, about 15 minutes

If ganache is chilled, microwave on defrost setting in 15-second repetitions until just soft enough to spread, stirring occasionally. Drop 1 cup ganache by rounded teaspoonfuls over each jam layer. Using offset spatula, gently spread ganache to cover jam. Drop 3 cups mousse by heaping spoonfuls onto each ganache layer; gently spread to cover. Refrigerate cake layers 30 minutes. Using large metal spatula, place cake layer from baking sheet, mousse side up, atop cake layer on tart pan bottom. Place third cake layer, cut side down, on cake (reserve remaining cake layer for another use). Spread 1 cup mousse over top of assembled cake. Using long offset spatula, spread sides of assembled cake with enough ganache (about 1 1/2 cups) to fill gaps and make smooth surface. Transfer cake on tart pan bottom to platter.

Turn 1 large baking sheet upside down on work surface. Arrange two 20-inch-long pieces of foil on work surface. Cut two 4 1/2-inch-wide by 15 3/4-inch-long strips from transfer sheet. Lay 1 transfer sheet strip, rough-textured design facing up, onto each sheet of foil. Place chocolate in medium metal bowl; set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Stir until chocolate is smooth and very warm to touch (about 115°F). Remove bowl from over water.

Pour thick ribbon of melted chocolate (about 2/3 cup) onto 1 transfer sheet strip. Using long offset spatula, spread chocolate evenly over transfer strip, covering completely (chocolate will run over sides of strip). Lift edge of chocolate-coated strip with tip of knife. Slide hands between transfer strip and foil, lift entire transfer strip and place it, chocolate side up, on inverted baking sheet. Refrigerate until chocolate on strip is set and loses gloss but is still flexible (do not let chocolate become too firm), about 1 1/2 minutes. Using fingertips, lift chocolate-coated strip and attach, chocolate side in, to side of cake. Press strip to seal chocolate to side of cake (strip will stand about 1 inch above top edge of cake). Coat remaining transfer strip with chocolate, transfer to inverted baking sheet; chill until set but still flexible. Arrange 1 end of second strip against (but not overlapping) 1 end of first strip. Press second strip to seal chocolate to side of cake (both strips will just encircle cake). Refrigerate cake until chocolate strips are firm, about 30 minutes. Carefully peel transfer paper off chocolate strips. Chill cake at least 3 hours and up to 1 day. Mound fruit atop cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (Cake can be assembled up to 8 hours ahead.)

Kitchen Notes:

First of all, I ditched the whole transfer sheet process. That belongs in the hands of those who actually do bake, not this amateur. I decided to spread ganache on the outside instead. I did what one reviewer suggested, and put the mousse in a plastic bag, snipped off a corner and piped it around the edge.

Speaking of ganache, Whole Foods had jars of it on sale, so I bought 3 jars of it. Saved a bunch of time and tasted fantastic!

I could not find seedless raspberry jam, so I used cherry preserves instead. Is there a fruit (other than grapefruit) that doesn't go with chocolate???

Also, my cake pans are not 2" tall. They're more like 1 1/2" tall. I felt that if I cut those in half horizontally, I would have pancake sized layers. Feh! I bought a 3rd pan (which turned out to be slightly smaller!), and divided the batter into 3 pans and used each one as a layer. No wonder this thing made such a statement!

And lastly.....How did I transport this thing? Well, you know that rubber stuff you use in the bottom of drawers, or under carpets? I have a bunch of it. I put some down on the floor of the passenger seat of the car. Then I got a pyrex casserole dish, jammed some of that stuff into in and placed the cake stand in it. I placed it on the floor of the car and gently tested it. It seemed
fairly stable. But just to be on the safe side, I drove slowly, with the fingertips of my right hand on the edge of the cake stand. The only time I thought I would lose it was going down that steeeeep hill, when I thought maybe one of the top layers would just slide off the cake!

And by the way, when I got to the yacht club, I discovered that probably the BEST way to meet people is to walk into a crowded room bearing a 10" high chocolate cake with fruit on top!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Chicken Stew for the end of winter

To everything, there is a season. How true. But there are some things which seem to extend themselves from one season to the next. Stews are like that, I think. Mostly they are winter fare, best savored when the cold winds send you indoors. I remember those winters where I grew up on Long Island. My brother and I would play outside in the snow until our mother would drag us indoors. We'd tumble inside, pull off our boots and coats and walk into the living room. I can still feel the tingle on my cheeks as I entered a warm home, filled with the aromas of bubbling meats and vegetables. When you've been playing outside for over 2 hours, you have the feeling you could eat a horse. Fortunately, we didn't have to.

But then comes spring, and the time change. Suddenly it’s light at the end of the work day. With this lightness comes a new palette of flavors. Asparagus appears on the shelves of the grocers. Have you ever grown asparagus? We did in New Mexico. It’s amazing stuff. You need a forest of it in order to have enough to make a side dish. Each root would put out a couple of stalks. That’s it. Perhaps in other parts of the country you’d get more per root, but in New Mexico, we felt lucky if we got 3 stalks from one root. We’d walk out to the garden and head over to where the roots were buried, and there, poking up like a green telephone pole or two would be these asparagus stalks. So what do you do with 5 or 6 asparagus stalks? Well, you’d add them to a stew, of course!

I still have quite a bit of that berbere mixture I got at the Fancy Food Show. I love the color of it. Anything that fiery red must warm you from the inside. So even though I no longer need a snow suit to go out and play, and even though our rainy season seems to be at an end, I just needed to do something with the last of the asparagus I bought. And that berbere kept winking at me from the corner.

So this recipe isn’t really a recipe. It’s meant to be more of a description of how I pulled together this stew from what I had in the bins and the freezer, as well as a couple of things I bought to round it out.

To my mind, a stew begins with onions and garlic. For this dish, I had some regular yellow onions, plus I found these beauties at the Farmer’s Market. The woman told me what they were called, but I forgot. All I remember is that their Italian. (No wonder they’re so gorgeous!!) Does anyone know what they are?

Anyway, I used both kinds, thrown into a pot with some canola oil. Then came the chicken pieces, which I had rubbed generously with the berbere seasoning. When they were lightly seared on the outside, I added some chicken broth, covered the pot and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Button mushrooms, the remains of a tomato and the asparagus went in last, and as I looked at those last three ingredients, I realized I had the colors of the Italian flag bubbling away on my stove! So what was I supposed to do? Open a bottle of Chianti Classico, of course! Salute!
p.s. I have been out of the loop for a while due to an avalanche of new patients at our clinic. This plus the necessity of doing vast amounts of paper work - which I absolutely hate and put off as long as I can - meant that I was in no mood to be writing or doing much cooking. I lived on salad, in fact. But the good news is....... (drum roll, please......) Our website is now on page one of Google! For anyone who googles "acupuncture, San Diego", we will now come up on the first page! It has taken me a little over a year to achieve this, and frankly, it just blew my mind when I saw it last nite. It makes all those nites of staying up to INSANE hours of the morning worth it. For anyone curious about what I do when I'm not in the kitchen, you can go to Mission Valley Acupuncture. Or you can just google us. ;-)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Tag, I'm It!

Oh dear.......I've been tagged again. Actually, I was tagged a while ago by my friends up in Costa Mesa known as the White On Rice Couple. I'm finally giving in and posting this. Why do I find these thing so difficult to do? I don't know. I guess I'm not sure what to say about myself. I can talk for hours about Chinese Medicine. (I used to teach herbs and Oriental Medical Theory at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego.) But talk about me? Hmmm....That's different. Especially this time, because it's supposed to involve photos, and I think that the things about me I'd rather talk about don't photograph, because they aren't "things", per se. Like the fact that I love to travel.In fact, it's more than just "like to travel." It's more like genetically programmed to travel. I don't think they've found the gene for this one yet, but I'm sure it's there. My whole family is like this. We travel. And not just to another state to visit the family, though we do that too. It's more like getting a call from a brother asking "Wanna go to Vietnam?" "Actually, I hadn't thought of it, but now that you mention it.....why, yes, of course I'd love to go!" My parents were like this, and we've all grown into adults with the same necessity to see our world. My 2 brothers have been on all seven continents. I've only been to north, south and central America, Europe and Asia. I haven't yet made it to Africa or Australia, and missed a golden opportunity to go to Antarctica for cheap. Oh well....

Another thing I have a need to do is read. I've usually got 2 books going at once, as well as my subscription to The New Yorker. These are the last 2 books I read, and I keep dipping back into "Eat, Pray, Love", because I loved it so much. I also meditate twice a day. I sit for about 20-30 minutes in the morning, and then in the evenings I listen to these Holosync CDs. They're supposed to help your brain grow new neural pathways between the right and left hemispheres, as well as produce alpha, theta and delta brainwaves. I can't say that I understand that part, but it sounded appealing to me, so I went for it. Initially I got insomnia because I was just exploding with creative ideas. Now I can sleep at night. I have no idea what my brain waves are, but that's OK as long as I can sleep!Then, of course, there's journaling. I'm not consistent with it, but I'll write as often as I'm motivated to.....And last, but not least, there's the piano. When I was a kid, I had piano lessons. I'm not sure my mom planned the timing of them very well, because I took them for a while and then dropped them. Hormones kicked in, I guess, and the piano didn't seem particularly interesting anymore. But at this point in life, I've found a renewed interest in noodling around on this instrument. I'm positively autistic when it comes to reading music, but I have a good ear. So the trick for me is to memorize a piece. Once I've got it memorized, I can attempt to play it. Until then, it's a struggle finding each and every note. Funny how my fingers have their own memory. Re-learning Fur Elise, for instance, wasn't very difficult. My fingers remembered it fairly well. But learning something new? It takes months!Oh well. The only one who gets to suffer through that is my cat, Boo....Now do you see why I'm not much good at these memes? Anyway, here's the other part I hesitate to do, because I'm not sure how others view being tagged. But Since I'm obligated, I hereby tag the following 5 people:

1. Jaden over at Steamy Kitchen is beyond amazing. I don't know how she does it. She's a wife, a mom, a cooking teacher with a TV show and has a blog that makes me drool. Not only are her dishes to die for, but her writing makes me crack up!
2. Kevin, at Closet Cooking in Toronto posts on everything from sandwiches to kimchi, and makes my mouth water for each and every dish!
3. Coco over at Coco Cooks does everything from baking bread to dishing up tamales. And this on top of having a very busy work schedule!
4. One of my favorite people in the blogosphere, Mimi at French Kitchen in America, has a way of making you feel like you've been invited to sit down in her kitchen and share a meal, a glass of wine, and have a conversation with an old friend.
5. And lastly, but hardly least, I'm tagging Heather over at Gild the Voodoolily, because I just love her writing. She declares that she is zealously overcompensating for her white trash roots, but her sense of humor makes it obvious that there's nothing to compensate for!

Here are the rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment at their Blogs.