Here’s a zingy, zesty, candy-like, and totally unique gingerbread with an interesting history. It dates back to the mid 1800’s and a country baker named Sarah Nelson who sold her famous gingerbread out of a quaint stone cottage to Victorian tourists visiting England’s Lake District . If you’re lucky enough to be roaming the English countryside in those parts, you’ll find the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop still going strong after more than 150 years and offering up freshly made confections made from Sarah’s original recipes.
One of my faves, Jamie Oliver, loves Grasmere gingerbread and since he was not able to get ahold of the top secret recipe (it’s locked in the National Westminster Bank in Ambleside), he created his own version which he says is almost as good and “some of the best gingerbread you’ll ever eat”…. if that’s not enough of a recommendation to try this recipe yourself, I don’t know what is! Continue reading
Searching around on the Internet for a nut-free Middle Eastern dessert to make at A Little Yumminess Around the World Summer Camp, I lucked into this wonderful recipe for Moroccan Basbusa cake. The recipe comes via a great Jerusalem-based food blog called Ari cooks (via a personal recipe from a Moroccan pastry chef who Ari works with). It brings together the irresistible flavors of orange juice, orange blossom water and coconut and has a wonderful texture from semolina and a fantastic lightness from beaten egg whites. This is the kind of cake that could be spongy and dense, but instead manages to be incredibly moist and light at the same time….. Did I mention the warm cake is also drizzled with simple syrup and sprinkled with more coconut? Are you salivating yet?
This kids made sure to ask every 5 minutes if it was cake time yet, and when it was finally time we all enjoyed our super yummy, hard earned dessert with fragrant cups of mint tea. This one’s a winner!
Mali’s Moroccan Basbusa Cake
(adapted from Ari Cooks, makes 1 cake in a 10″ diameter round cake pan)
- 3 eggs, separated
- 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup vegetable oil (you can substitute the full amount of oil with the oil of your choice)
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
- 3/4 cups sugar (1/2 for step 2, 1/4 cup for step 3)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (and more for sprinkling on top if you like)
- 1/2 cup semolina
- 1/2 cup flour
- pinch of salt
for the syrup:
Simmer 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 water until sugar is dissolved. You could flavor the syrup with orange zest or orange blossom water if you like.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 10″ round cake pan with a piece of parchment paper on the bottom.
- Mix the egg yolks with oil, juice, 1/2 cup sugar and whisk. Add flour, semolina, coconut and pinch of salt until just combined.
- In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar while continuing to whip the whites until they have reached soft peaks.
- Carefully fold the whites into the batter (don’t over mix!) and pour the batter into your prepared pan.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until the cake springs back when you press it in the center.
- While the cake is warm, drizzle the syrup over the top, then let the cake cool and fully absorb the syrup before serving. Sprinkle the top with more shredded coconut.
This dessert would be a perfect end to a Moroccan dinner featuring another tasty favorite: Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives (“Djej M’Chermel).
I certainly wouldn’t call a shave ice maker a kitchen essential, but it sure is fun…. and it’s loads cheaper than a trip to Hawaii. We recently purchased this cheapie Hawaiian Shave Ice brand shave ice maker and finally got to to trying it out this week. I’m sure the more deluxe models out there have their advantages, but we were quite happy with the results this one produced. The ice was fluffy and machine was quick and easy to use — even my 5 year old was able to operate it (but there are sharp bits inside the machine, so supervision is key). I will admit to enjoying the intensely hued, artificial syrup versions from the shave ice shops in Hawaii, but for our own experiment we tried using more healthful pureed fruit, sweetened up with simple syrup and a little lilikoi jam we brought back from Hawaii. Our combination of raspberry and pineapple/lilikoi was spot on — fantastically bright and sweet enough to pass for the “real” thing. With our maiden voyage of DIY shave ice under our belts, our minds are going wild with visions of “shave ice innovations” in our future.
DIY, All-Natural Shave Ice (not so much a recipe as some ideas to get you started)
- Freeze your ice using the mold included with the shave ice machine using plain old water (this is what we did)……or infuse flavor into your ice by adding juice or condensed milk to your water. The condensed milk will give your shave ice a more Taiwanese Sno Ice twist.
- In a blender puree fresh or frozen fruit (bright, vibrant ones will give you that real shave ice feel). Try raspberries, pineapple, mangoes, blackberries, peach, watermelon, pink grapefruit….. Sweeten your puree as needed with a simple syrup (see below) or a dallop of jelly or jam. The final consistency should be pourable and syrupy. You could thin your puree with either juice or water, but be careful of watering your puree down too much flavor-wise. As the shave ice melts into your syrup the flavor will become more muted. [We sweetened our raspberry puree with simple syrup and gave our pineapple puree a little extra yum with a glug of lilikoi jam. We fitted some Pellegrino bottles with cheap bottle pourers to dispense our purees, but you could certainly spoon your puree right over your shave ice too]
- Optional – trick out your shave ice, Hawaiian style, with a scoop of ice cream at the bottom, a scoop of azuki beas or a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk or sweetened coconut milk.
Using a ratio of 1 part water to 1 part granulated sugar, add the water and sugar to a sauce pan and heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Your simple syrup will keep in the refrigerator in a sealed bottle or jar for several months. You can infuse your simple syrup with ginger, lemon, mint, spices or other flavors you like. Just add a generous amount of your flavoring (roughly chopped mint leaves, thick slices of ginger, curls of lemon zest, whole spices or etc) and let them steep in the warm syrup for about a half hour, then strain out the solids. An infused simple syrup is great for sweetening your iced tea too!
You may like these other frozen delights: Pink Grapefruit Granita, Pomegranate Ice, Kulfi: Indian Ice Milk Pops, Taiwanese Sno Ice, Fluffy Sno (more Taiwanese Sno Ice)
Lately we’ve been all about the simple food — comforting flavors and recipes that don’t challenge us too much or make us work too hard. Case in point… for the past month, we’ve been diving into our old favorites: pancakes, old fashioned chicken soup, my dad’s fried rice, grilled cheese sandwiches, and one of our new favorites the easiest Irish soda bread. I guess that doesn’t make for the most exciting fodder for a food blog, but that’s just where my family’s tastebuds have been wandering lately.
Truly the best part of this blog has been finding a kindred spirit in Simran, a foodie friend who loves to eat and tinker in the kitchen as much as I do. I have a lot of friends who appreciate a great meal, who love to cook, but never a friendship so firmly rooted in all things culinary. Our adventures have led us to recreate beloved childhood flavors (Hainanese Chicken Rice), excursions to out of the way farmstands with our kids in tow, Indian pickle making sessions and treks to far flung corners to sample everything from Shanghai dumplings to southern fried chicken, artisan donuts and taiyaki.
I’m very confident that without Simran, I would never have found myself digging through my pantry to find that forgotten nugget of palm sugar to try my hand at making Kolak, a simple Indonesian dessert of bananas or other tropical fruits gently poached in mixture of coconut milk, pandan leaves, palm sugar, sea salt and vanilla. Simran had given me and a friend a lesson in Indonesian curry pastes and the next thing you know I was knotting pandan leaves and chopping palm sugar and getting over my lifelong dislike of soupy, sweet Asian desserts.
And so another culinary detour begins….
If you are new or not a big fan of Asian desserts, Kolak is a good place to start given that it tastes sort of like bananas foster with an exotic edge (and is a little less guilt inducing because it contains no butter). It’s also quick to make and easy enough for the kids to help with. You can substitute brown sugar for the palm sugar if needed, but don’t skip the pandan leaves. You should be able to find both palm sugar and pandan leaves at a well stocked Asian market. There’s a good overview on pandan leaves on the Burnt Lumpia blog and a write up on palm sugar on Chez Pim.
- 4 ounces of palm sugar roughly chopped
- 1.5 cups water
- 2 pandan leaves, tied in a knot
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 bananas, peeled, halved and sliced into 1″ pieces
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 Tablespoon tapioca flour or cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoons water to form a slurry
- Combine palm sugar, water, vanilla extract, pandan leaves and sea salt in a pot large enough to hold all of the bananas. Simmer for 20 minutes until sugar is dissolved and ingredients are reduced to a syrup.
- Add bananas and poach until soft but not mushy (2-3 minutes). Remove the bananas with a slotted spoon while you finish the sauce.
- Add the coconut milk and simmer for 5 minutes, then drizzle in half of the tapioca or cornstarch slurry whisking while it thickens. Add remainder of slurry until you reach the thickness of your preference. Remove the pandan leaves and discard.
- To serve warm, return bananas to the sauce to just heat through. Bananas and sauce can also be made ahead and served room temperature or cold. Serve alongside vanilla or coconut ice cream.
The rain has lifted (at least temporarily) and the glorious sunshine this week has got us thinking about cool, refreshing desserts.
Granita(or Italian ice) fits the bill perfectly. It’s incredibly light and refreshing and doesn’t require any special equipment like an ice cream maker or popsicle molds. Once you make it, it can hang around in your freezer indefinitely, and requires no cooking or particular skill to make. We’ve tried countless varieties from espresso to meyer lemon to cardamon-plum. While pink grapefruit is still my personal reigning favorite, pomegranate (or “purple ice cream” as Luca calls it) might just be the current runner up. The color is absolutely gorgeous and the flavor is super delish — like a grape snow cone, but way, WAY better — and not an artificial color or flavor in sight. This is so easy that even a preschooler like Luca can do most of the work and making it gives him the chance to get his hands on the citrus squeezer and the whisk, his two very favorite kitchen tools.
Give it a try and experiment with you favorite flavors!
- 2 cups pomegranate juice (fresh if you’re ambitious or bottled. If juicing the fruit yourself, you will need to let it settle so you can strain off the sediment that accumulates)
- Juice of 1 large orange
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
- Mix all of these ingredients well in a plastic container that has a lid (wide and shallow is better, but you can get by with a 32 oz. yogurt container). Taste and adjust the flavorings to suit your taste.
- Put the lid on and pop it in the freezer.
- Mix the granita with a spoon every half hour until it is slushy and semi-frozen (3-4 times). Keep covered until ready to serve.
- To serve, scrape the fully frozen granita with the tines of a fork and serve in pretty little glasses or espresso cups.
I’m not sure why we have missed out on quince all these years. I had a vague notion that they they were like a pithier apple — something that needed to be preserved or cooked for long periods of time. Something about quince seemed old-fashioned and fussy and therefore not on my radar. Funny thing is, we almost always buy boughs of quince blossoms this time of year to decorate our home for the Lunar New Year, but so far we have totally ignored the actual fruit.
So the other day were doing a little produce shopping and Luca saw a great pile of sunny, yellow quince and asked “what’s that, mom?”. I mistook them for papaya at first, but then soon realized these were the elusive quince. I’m not sure I had a notion of what they looked like, and so was surprised at both their color and shape. We took a smell and I was completely taken by how beautiful the aroma is. You could/should make perfume from the stuff. It’s heavenly. We snapped some up and then scoured our cookbooks to find a recipe.
Deborah Madison to the rescue! Simran, Ria and I attended a fabulous potluck last year with Deborah, hosted by 18 Reasons and Onmivore Books (a book tour stop to support her new “Seasonal Fruit Desserts” cookbook). I was lucky enough to sit next to Deborah that night – and nervous that she would be tasting my rendition of her chard and saffron tart! Both Simran and I of course immediately added this dessert book to our respective collections. It’s a great one for anyone who wants to showcase fruit throughout the year and for anyone living with sweet-tooths like my son. The recipes range from simple to elaborate. She gives ideas for fruit and cheese pairings, fruit-based sauces, and condiments as well as cakes, tarts and other deliciousness. The book includes two wonderful quince recipes including “nearly candied quince” that you roast and enjoy on it’s own or in concert with your favorite apples and pear desserts.
I opted for her braised quince with honey, cinnamon and wine. The Atlantic published the recipe, and you can find it here (but do yourself a favor and check out the book, too). The recipe is ridiculously simple and utterly delicious — so simple that you can make this on even the busiest of nights when you want a little something special to end your meal. Case in point: I was able to pull this one off on a hectic Monday night amidst the distractions of a 2-week old infant and preschooler (while cooking dinner)! You don’t even need to peel or core the quince, just wash and slice the fruit and chuck it in a baking dish with the other ingredients and throw at all in the oven. Even though the fruit is braised with wine, it will appeal to young dessert fans too — anyone who likes the middle of an apple pie.
I’m a believer now. Quince rules!
If you ever come over for a dinner party at our place, you are likely to be served flan for dessert. I am not an enthusiastic maker of desserts primarily because I end up eating most of what I make…so I just don’t go there. The flan recipe below is great for a small dinner party or even the end of a special meal at home. Dessert leftovers are not a good thing.
Interestingly enough, my mother who is also not much of a dessert-maker (massive dessert-eater though) would always make creme caramel to finish off her lavish and abundant Indian buffet dinner parties. I do not know how anyone even ate dessert after all the food she forced them to eat. With my mother, if you are lucky enough to score an invite to one of her dinner parties, the best strategy to survive is to say you are full when you are just halfway full. I used to “die” of embarrassment when she would insist in a very pushy manner that each guest eat more. No amount of protesting would stop her from just dumping more food on your plate, which if you did not finish would end up causing offense. Indian hospitality at it’s best (or worst). I know one day I am going to be exactly like her and Ria is going to be in the corner rolling her eyes. Life is strange like that. We are all like our parents when they aren’t in the room.
Mom’s creme caramel recipe is complicated – it somehow requires a pressure cooker. I have pressure cooker phobia (visions of it exploding), so I satisfy myself with the recipe below. I can make this dessert in my sleep and I suspect Ria can as well since she has assisted me on many an occasion. Only catch is that you have to make it the day before or at least six hours before you serve it. If you could make it and serve it right away it would be the perfect, quick dessert.
Caramel Flan (adapted from Martha Stewart Living)
Makes 1 eight-inch flan and serves 8. I make mine in a loaf tin which means a unique rectangular flan.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 1/3 cups whole milk
- 3 large eggs
- Fill a roasting pan with 2 inches of water. Transfer to oven; preheat to 325F (Be careful transferring in and out of oven)
- Cook sugar in a small heavy bottomed saucepan. Stirring until sugar melts. Continue cooking and stirring until sugar turns a dark caramel color. Careful with this – sugar burns terribly and will get to the terribly stage in a hurry
- Pour caramel in baking dish you are using (8 inch cake pan or loaf tin)
- Blend condensed milk, milk and eggs in a blender. (I just use a med sized bowl and a whisk). Pour into baking dish. Transfer to roasting pan, placing it in the water
- Bake flan until just set – about 50 min to an hour
- Transfer to wire rack and cool
- Chill at least 6 hours or preferably overnight