Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Snowy Day For Gingerbread Cake

I had already started on a post for today that was about food on your tropical vacations this winter, when we were hit with a snowstorm here in Chicago.  It's really the first significant snow we've had since I've been home from the Caribbean, and it put me immediately in the mood for something baking in the oven.  Just the forecast the night before made me stop at the market to get supplies to ensure I could bake today.

As it turns out, I settled on a Gingerbread cake.  I love the flavor of American Gingerbread and I use a recipe from Food Network that always comes out well.  I provide it for you below but the credit goes to the Food Network Kitchen Staff who no doubt tested it to perfection.  I use it as is and think you'll enjoy it too.

In the last paragraph I said "American gingerbread" and I don't say that to lay claim to Gingerbread for the Americas or create some food historian kerfuffle.   I say it this way simply to differentiate the flavor from Gingerbread of other countries, where different ingredients significantly change the taste, texture and shape.  When you order it abroad, you'll find it can be a bread, a cake or a cookie (crunchy or soft) that can range from light colored with just a touch of spice to dark colored and very spicy indeed.

In England and North America, we tend to make our Gingerbread with either treacle or molasses instead of the original honey and breadcrumbs, which is thought to have been used by the Greeks who have the first record of making this treat. The British favor treacle which has a much stronger taste and darker color than the milder tasting and lighter colored molasses we frequently use in America. Ground ginger is always present and in the US, ground cinnamon and ground cloves are regularly included.  You can see why it smells and tastes so good!

If you are only familiar with Gingerbread cookies or ginger snaps, then you haven't really enjoyed all this taste combination has to offer. This Gingerbread cake is moist and delicious as is, or served with a frosting, a light glaze (even a lemon glaze) or with whipped cream.   I like to make it all throughout the autumn and winter as it gives the house a lovely smell and tastes wonderful too.  If just the two of us are home, I cut the recipe in half (shown above) and it performs equally well.  I also use various pans including individual cake molds.  So as in all things on my blog, feel free to experiment.


Softened unsalted butter, as needed
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsulphured molasses (sometimes called light molasses)
1 to 2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger (great if you have it, but optional)
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten with a fork
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup water
1 tablespoon baking soda

Serving suggestions: Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Lightly butter a 9 by 13 by 2-inch cake pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment or wax paper. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, molasses, and crystallized ginger. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.

In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt, and cloves. Whisk the molasses mixture into the flour mixture until evenly combined.

In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Whisk the hot water into the batter until just combined. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake in the center of the oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes (30 if you make half the batch). Cool the cake in the pan on a rack. Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Langostinos with Fettucini

Last week when I took a snapshot of this dish it caused a bit of stir on Facebook, so today I'm writing up the recipe so you can enjoy it at home too.

To start with let's clarify what we are talking about regarding the shellfish.  "Langostino" is a Spanish word with different meanings in different areas. In the United States, it is commonly used in the restaurant trade to refer to the meat of the squat lobster, which is neither a true lobster nor a prawn. It is more closely related to porcelain crabs and hermit crabs. Crustaceans labeled as langostino are no more than 3 inches long, and weigh no more than 7 ounces.  Langostinos are not langoustes (spiny lobsters) despite a similar name (in Spanish, lobster is called langosta). Also, langostinos are sometimes confused with langoustines (Norway lobster), which is a true lobster common in European cuisine.  I got my langostinos in a bag pre-cooked and flash frozen at the local Costco.  So they just needed warming in the garlic butter sauce before tossing with the pasta.

I was making this dish at our home in St. Thomas and whenever I'm there I find myself using up whatever I have on hand.  This was the reason for the black olives, which I might not have otherwise included.

Click to
1-2 pounds of langostinos, precooked and thawed.
4 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup black olives, halved or sliced depending on size
2 tablespoons parsley flakes or fresh chopped parsley
1/3 cup tomato sauce, pasta sauce or other similar red sauce, slightly warmed
1 1/2 pounds linguine, or other wide flat noodle pasta
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
salt, pepper to taste

Set a large pot of water to boil, adding a tablespoon of olive oil and a two tablespoons of salt to the water.  When the water comes to a boil, all the pasta.  As the pasta cooks (12-14 minutes), in a large skillet prepare the langostino sauce.

Peel and finely mince the garlic.  Place the remaining olive oil (2 tablespoons) into the skillet over medium heat.  When warm, add the garlic and gently saute to bring out the flavor and aroma.  While the garlic cooks, slice or halve the olives, depending on their size.   Add the langostinos and gently turn in the garlic oil.  Salt and pepper them to your taste, just heating them through, 3-4 minutes.  Add the olives and continue to gently turn to heat through.

By now the pasta should be cooked and al dente.  Drain and return to the empty pot.  Add the butter, parsley and red pepper flakes and turn to ensure it does not stick together.  Stir in the warmed pasta sauce then toss with the langostinos and pan sauce.  Plate and sprinkle with more fresh parsley and serve.

This is a lovely dish to serve whenever you are seaside but of course is welcome anytime.  It's quick and easy to prepare and will become a favorite of your family and friends.  You can substitute the meat of most any precooked shellfish and still get great results!  Manga!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Mandarin Orange Salad ~ A Chinese New Year Favorite

The salad chef in the house is my partner Kevin, who always makes the dinner salad whether for us or when entertaining guests.  He has a large repertoire and today I'm sharing with you his recipe for Mandarin Orange Salad which is popular during Chinese New Year.

During Chinese New Year, Mandarin oranges and tangerines are considered traditional symbols of abundance and good fortune. During the two-week celebration, they are frequently displayed as decoration and presented as gifts to friends, relatives, and business associates.
The mandarin orange is a variety of the orange family. The mandarin has many names, some of which actually refer to crosses between the mandarin and another citrus fruit.  Satsuma, a seedless variety, of which there are over 200 cultivars, such as Owari and mikan; are the source of most canned mandarins, and popular as a fresh fruit due to its easy peeling.  Likewise, the Clementine, sometimes known as a "Christmas orange" as its peak season is December; and is perhaps the most important commercial Mandarin orange form.   Tangerines sometimes known as "Dancy Mandarin" are also popular as is the Tangor, also called the temple orange, a cross between the Mandarin orange and the common sweet orange; its thick rind is easy to peel and its bright orange pulp is sour-sweet and full-flavored.  I tell you all so you know you can substitute if need be, but preferably selecting one of the seedless varieties. 
Kevin making salads for guests.

 1/2 cup olive oil
 1/4 cup cider vinegar
 1/4 cup honey
 2 teaspoons dried parsley
 1 teaspoon salt
 1 pinch ground black pepper
 1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 head red leaf lettuce - rinsed, dried and torn
 1/2 red onion, chopped
 1/2 cup chopped celery
 2 (11 ounce) cans mandarin orange segments, drained
Fresh ground pepper

In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the oil, vinegar, honey, parsley, salt and pepper. Cover and shake well. Refrigerate until ready for use. 

In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, celery, onion oranges and almonds.  Re-shake dressing and coat salad evenly.   Apply fresh ground pepper.  Plate and serve.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Crab Stuffed Lemon Sole

A delicate flavor and simple preparation make this an ideal dish for an elegant dinner or weeknight family dining.  And as it is stuffed with crab and rolled, everyone seems to find it delightful.

If you haven't prepared it before, you will find it easy to work with and generally available in fillets in your local fish mongers case.  As in all things, fresh is better than frozen.  Lemon sole is a flatfish native to shallow seas around Northern Europe.  It's really not 'sole' and neither does it have a lemon taste and reasons for the name vary widely among authors.  But what's important to you is that it is not 'fishy' in taste or smell and is white and flaky when properly prepared.  Ask your fish monger for evenly sized pieces if possible and purchase one per person.

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon chopped (or dried) parsley
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

6 ounces (1 can) fancy lump crab meat
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt (or other favorite seafood seasoning)
6 pieces, fillet of lemon sole
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup white wine

Prepare a baking dish by brushing it with olive oil or food release.  Mix together the first six ingredients shown above.  Gently fold in the crab.

Rinse the sole and use a paper towel to dry each piece.  Lay several fillets of the sole on a work surface and sprinkle with seasoned salt or other favorite seafood seasoning.  Spread about a tablespoon of the crab stuffing on each piece.  Roll from end to end and place in the baking dish.  Repeat until all fillets are stuffed and rolled.  At this stage you may cover and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake.

Ready for the Oven
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Brush each roll with melted butter and sprinkle with paprika.  Poor white wine around, not over, the fish rolls.  Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes until cooked through and the internal temperature is approximately 140-145F.

The stuffed lemon sole can be served alone or with your favorite sauce.  The roasted red pepper sauce I made with crab cakes and posted here three weeks ago works particularly well.