Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cherry Pistachio Almond Coconut Cake

If you frequent my blog, you'll notice that I'm not much of a baker; I prefer savory to sweet.  But it's Patrick's birthday and I wanted to bake him a special birthday treat.

I thumbed through a few of my cookbooks, and this cake jumped out at me, instantly caught my eye --  Cherry Pistachio Almond Coconut Cake.  The intermingling flavors sounded intriguing and what better way to showcase fresh, summer cherries.

It turned out better than I could have imagined.  I don't usually get excited about cake, but WOWEE this is one delicious cake.  It's not your typical fluffy cake with sugary sweet icing.  It has layers of flavor, it's complex, it's a stunner.  A cake like this makes me want to do more baking.  This is my new go-to dessert for my next family event or social function.

The cake has a wonderful sweet-tart quality from the fresh cherries, but you could make this cake with other fruit, such as purple or yellow plums, raspberries, or, perhaps, a combination of the two.

This cake is easy to make.  It's base is comprised of ground almonds, pistachios, dried coconut, flour, eggs, butter.  Just mix all the ingredients and then layer on the toppings, first the cherries, then a little sugar, and finally some chopped pistachios.  And bake.  It's best when served warm out of the oven, so dig in.

Now I just need to decide -- with or without a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top?  I'm thinking, definitely ice cream.

Couldn't find any ground almonds, so I bought whole, raw almonds and ground them in a food processor. To get them a bit finer thereafter, I then gave them a whiz in a spice/coffee grinder.

An interesting tidbit about 'raw' almonds that I recently learned -- all almonds grown in the United States are heat sterilized/pasteurized.  However, almonds from other countries do not have to be pasteurized to be sold in the U.S. (a loophole of sorts).  I found some raw (unpasteurized) almonds [from Spain] at a nearby food co-op.

A cherry pitter makes pitting the cherries a snap...

Fruits and vegetables that naturally, the key word being naturally, stain your hands such a vibrant hue of red, have the added benefit of being good for your health.  Cherries contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins, which are responsible for the red color of cherries.  Anthocyanins are a nutritional powerhouse.  And of course, cherries taste great.

Layer the pitted cherries over the batter.  I just tore them in half by hand...

Sprinkle with a little extra sugar...

And pistachios...

Bake and enjoy while still warm...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pea and Fava Bean Salad with Miso Dressing

One more quick fava bean and pea recipe before their respective seasons sadly come to an end...then, on to something else.

I had a version of this salad way back, many years ago, at a [Slow Food] potluck when I was living in Chicago.  Love the concept of a potluck, particularly one hosted by Slow Food.  You're in for a treat, as the vast majority of Slow Food participants take great pride in their dishes, some going so far as to forage for ingredients.  

The version of this salad I fondly remember was comprised of nothing more than peas and fava beans, dressed with a miso vinaigrette.  I recall going back for seconds (maybe thirds).  At the time, I was just getting into the food[ie] scene, and using miso in dishes was a new concept for me.  Beyond enjoying miso soup at sushi restaurants, my exposure was limited.  Oh how I've come along way since then.

Have made many renditions of this salad over the years.  I vary it up with what's in season or incorporating whatever happens to sound good at the moment.  For today's version, purple potatoes, feta cheese, and pea shoots made an appearance.

A milder white or yellow miso works best for this dish.  

Simple, seasonal, and tasty.  

I've said it before, but I always feel like I must add this disclaimer: fava beans are demanding.
They need to be shelled, then peeled.  But once or twice a year, they're totally worth the effort.

Once the fava beans are shelled, quickly blanch them and then plunge them into a bowl of ice water to help maintain their green color...then they need to be peeled.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pearl Tapioca with Sheep's Cheese, Peas, Fava Beans, and Black Garlic

When it comes to tapioca, you've most likely encountered it as a dessert, tapioca pudding perhaps?  As for a savory preparation, now this is an entirely new concept for me.  Recently enjoyed a savory tapioca at a restaurant in Dublin and instantly thought, wow, this is ingenious.  Made a mental note to recreate this at home.

But before I proceed, I have to know, what exactly is tapioca?  Any idea?  Nope, me neither.

Tapioca is...the starch extracted from the Casava (aka Yuka, Manioc root), which is native to Brazil.

On its own, tapioca doesn't have much flavor, a blank canvas for whatever you pair it with.  Texturally, it's quite interesting.  When cooked, tapioca absorbs the moisture and becomes pleasantly soft and chewy.

For this preparation, finely grated sheep's milk cheese and mascarpone (along with stock or water) are added to the cooked tapioca, until it takes on the consistency of a creamy, luscious risotto.  It's paired with a pea puree and fresh fava (aka broad) beans, green peas, and pea shoots, and finished with a few slices of black garlic (read more about black garlic here).

I adore fresh peas and fava beans.  Unfortunately, they have a short growing season, so I always jump on the opportunity to scoop them up while I have the chance.

This dish makes for a lovely starter -- so vibrant and summery on your plate.

The little white tapioca pearls become gelatinous when soaked...

You can use fresh or frozen peas, which get blended along with onion, fresh tarragon, and fresh sage until silky smooth, for the pea puree.

You could play around with other purees in lieu of pea puree, perhaps a spinach or asparagus (although, asparagus season has just passed) puree.

A rather generous amount of cheese -- Pecorino/sheep's milk and mascarpone (or creme fraiche) -- goes into the tapioca...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sabih (A Middle Eastern-Inspired Vegetarian Sandwich)

Sabih = A fully loaded [vegetarian] sandwich of Middle Eastern origin.

First post back in my D.C. kitchen after three and a half months abroad...

I missed you Vitamix.  I missed you Kitchenaid.  I missed all my little gadgets.  I missed the familiarity of cooking in my own kitchen (even if I'm constantly complaining about the lack of counter and storage space).

But, I'm back and recharged, and ready to cook.  Not surprising, I have a burgeoning list of things I want to make.  The list grew longer still after a trip to several farmers' markets this past weekend.  Hello summer.
Oh yea, the summer growing season is now in full swing.

Today, decided to ease into things with a light and refreshing Middle Eastern-inspired sandwich known as Sabih.

Sabih is a fully-loaded sandwich.  It's chock full of vegetables and all sorts of good stuff, to include hummus; grilled eggplant; hard-boiled egg; a salad of cucumbers, onions, parsley, and beautiful summer tomatoes; tahini sauce; and my favorite, the green chile-herb condiment known as zhoug.  Sabih is often served with a pickled mango sauce called Amba.  

Zhoug is a traditional Middle Eastern condiment that often accompanies the likes of falafel and other pita-based sandwiches.  This version has parsley, cilantro, green chiles (jalapeno and/or serrano), garlic, and spices (cumin, caraway, and cardamom).  I've seeded the chiles such that the zhoug is only mildly hot.  The cardamom in particular adds a nice, subtle, unexpected note.  Zhoug is highly addictive...next time will make a larger batch.

Sabih is a bit like a salad wrapped in a pita.  A great way to incorporate summer vegetables -- eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, chiles...

   Zhoug = highly addictive chile-herb condiment.

Sabih + Zhoug = :-)

All on top of some grilled flatbread...

I used a Sicilian eggplant varietal that I'm particularly fond of.  As you can see, it has far fewer seeds than the typical Globe variety.

Love the purple fruit and vegetables this time of year...