Baking · Dessert

Orange Almond Ricotta Cake

This is a lovely pound cake – you can use sour cream or yogurt in place of ricotta, as cheaper alternatives, or if you prefer a bit of tang in your sweets.

For the cake:

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup ricotta, at room temperature
  • 2½ cups cake flour OR 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tbs orange zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (1-2) oranges
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly roasted
  • For the glaze:
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tbs orange zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Step one:

Heat the oven to 200 degrees and arrange slivered almonds on a baking sheet. Cook for 5 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool. Turn up the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Step two:

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla, ricotta, and orange juice. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, orange zest, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is well mixed.

Step three:

Spoon the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, milk, vanilla and orange zest together, adding a few drops of water, if necessary, to make the glaze thick but runny. Drizzle the glaze over the cake with a small spoon. Top with roasted almonds and powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature.

Notes: If you don’t have cake flour, you can substitute 2¼ cups all-purpose flour plus ¼ cup cornstarch.

If the eggs are cold, place the whole eggs in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes before cracking them.

Side dish

Cucumber Limeade

This is a refreshing batido or agua fresca that is absolutely delicious when it is hot and humid outside. The cucumber pairs well with the lime, and the drink is very hyrdrating and restorative. Of course, there are some people out there who might want to add a little alcohol to this, as well. I think it would pair well with a light rum.

You will need:

  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, deseeded & chopped
  • 6 cups water, divided
  • 2/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup sugar

Steps:

  1. Peel the cucumbers and remove the seeds using a spoon. Chop cucumbers into chunks and place into the blender.
  2. add 3 cups water and blend until smooth.
  3. Strain the liquid into a pitcher and discard the pulp.
  4. Add the lime juice, remaining water and sugar. Mix well.
  5. Serve chilled over ice and garnish with mint, if desired.
Baking · Dessert · Mediterranean

Pistachio Cardamom Cake

This recipe is recipe based off one from Martha Stewart, although I strongly doubt she was intrinsically versed in Middle-Eastern baking. Pistachio is ever-present in Southern Italian baking, and rosewater to a certain degree, but most likely those are due to the influence of the Moors and Middle-Eastern traders.

The more I learn and read about baking and cooking, the more I believe it is important to be aware of ingredients and their origins and give credit where it is due. i.e. I can’t pretend I just “discovered” cardamom or these flavor combinations. Rather, I am already a pistachio lover and come by it honestly, but have really been enjoying baking new recipes and exploring cardamom in my desserts.

You will need:

  • 1 cup unsalted pistachios
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • Topping
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 tsp rose water

Steps:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a bundt pan. In a food processor, grind pistachios until finely ground.
  • Prepare dry ingredients: Whisk pistachos, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cardamom in a bowl and set aside.
  • Prepare wet ingredients: Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well.
  • Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour in two batches, alternating with buttermilk. Pour batter into pan and bake for 45-50 minutes.
  • Cool cake pan on a a wire rack set over parchment paper. After 30 minutes, turn cake out onto rack and cool completely. While the cake is cooling, whisk confectioner’s sugar,milk and and rose water until smooth. Use milk to adjust desired consistency. Pour over the top of the cake.

Dessert · Mediterranean · Spanish

Almond Cake (Tarta de Santiago)

This is a flourless almond cake that we love with coffee or tea, or in the evening after a rich meal. The appeal is how very easy it is to make, and how it is so simple and yet so decadent at the same time. The recipe was given to us by a dear friend of the family, and we have been enjoying it ever since.

Tarta de Santiago has origins in the middle ages in Spain, where it was often topped with a cross in powdered sugar for St. James.

You will need:

  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 eggs, separated.
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 small orange
  • For the topping:
  • dusting of confectioners sugar
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, slivered or sliced.
  1. Roast slivered almonds for 4-6 minutes at 200 degrees in a pan, and then set aside.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. You can use either a greased springform pan or a greased 9 inch cake pan. Dust with flour.
  3. Whisk vigorously or use a mixer to blend sugar and eggs yolks until creamy. Beat in zest and extracts. Add almond flour and salt and mix well. With a clean whisk or mixer, beat egg whites until stiff. Gently fold egg white mixture into the almond flour mixture until well-combined. Pour batter into the pan and bake.
  4. Bake until deeply brown (40-45 minutes). Let it cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes on a rack. After, turn the cake out and let it cool completely on the plate before serving. Top with confectioner’s sugar and roasted almonds.

Baking · Dessert

Chocolate Coffee Cake

According to my mother, chocolate cake recipes are always better with coffee as an enhancing ingredient.  I think the coffee in this cake is perfect, as the flavors enhance each other and make it somehow even more chocolatey. This recipe is adapted from Barefoot Contessa, and I’ve yet to find a better recipe for rich, intense, chocolate cake than this one. If I have ever made chocolate cake for you – this is the recipe. We have used it for years, without fail.

Because it so rich, you may want to consider using minimal icing. I usually bake this in a bundt, and either top with powdered sugar or simple chocolate ganache. This is also a great chocolate layer cake, in which you may want to consider a chocolate buttercream frosting.

You will need:

  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cups cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  • Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)*

Steps:

  1. Preheat – preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease & Flour two 8-inch round cake pans or one bundt pan.
  2. Prepare dry Ingredients-  Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
  3. Prepare wet Ingredients – In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ones.  With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Bake – Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. If using 8 inch cake pans, bake for 26-28 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. If using a bundt pan, bake for 42-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  5. Decorate – After the cake is completely cooled, you can decorate in a variety of ways:
    1. Simply dust with confectioner’s sugar
    2. Chocolate ganache – whisk 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate and 3 tbs of cream over low-medium heat. This is good for a bundt cake.
    3. Chocolate buttercream frosting – see instructions below. This is ideal for layers.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

  1. 6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
  2. 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
  3. 1 egg yolk, room temp
  4. 1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
  5. 1 Tbs instant coffee

Steps:

  1. Melt chocolate in a double broiler or in a pyrex bowl over simmering water.
  2. Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes.
  3. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy.
  4. Dissolve the coffee in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t overwhip. Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
Italian

Spaghetti Carbonara

Full disclosure. I did not grow up eating this – that said, once I went to Italy and had it, I understood why people love it so. This has become a favorite of our children. While using pancetta or other Italian meats is preferable, bacon is absolutely fine. Of course in Italy or NYC, you can get your hands on those ingredients and fresh pasta, but for most of us here we have to make do. One thing I think makes a big difference is the use of fresh grated, quality cheese.

I think another element that many American cooks miss is the importance of reserve pasta water. I’ve seen many non-Italians cook the sauce and pasta separate. The ideal is to add the noodles al dente to the pan, and finish cooking them off use a little reserve pasta water. This makes a big difference.

On a side note, I much prefer this with bucatini (my favorite long noodle); however, it is not always available at the grocery store – spaghetti, however, is universal:)

You will need:

  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 packed cup grated pecorino Romano
  • 1/3 packed cup, grated Parmesan
  • 3 ½ ounces of pancetta or bacon, sliced into pieces about 1/4 inch thick by 1/3 inch square
  • 1 box bucatini, spaghetti or linguine
  • Salt & Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Steps:

  1. Place a large pot of lightly salted water over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, and pecorino and Parmesan. Season with a pinch of salt and generous black pepper.
  3. Add pasta to the water and boil until al dente.
  4. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the pancetta/bacon, and sauté until the meat just begins to crisp. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Just before pasta is ready, reheat pancetta/bacon in skillet, if needed. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain pasta and add to the skillet over low heat. Stir for a minute or so, working the olive oil and meat through the pasta. Add in some reserved pasta water and work through the noodles until creamy.
  6. Stir in cheese mixture. Serve immediately, dressing it with a bit of additional grated cheese and pepper.

Asian · Central American · Side dish

Stewed Plantains in Coconut Milk

This is riff off a recipe from the cookbook: My Two Souths by Asha Gomez. This cookbook is a delightful and interesting approach as it fuses southern cooking with south Indian cuisine. We tested this recipe out as great appreciators of plantains and coconut milk, and it quickly became a favorite because of flavor and how easy it is to make.

One thing about food that never ceases to amaze me is how so many cuisines are connected; for example, plantains and coconut milk feature in a multitude of cultures: Central America, India, Africa and south Asia. It is fascinating to investigate how other cultures interpret the same ingredients. In the end, we are all winners:)

This is a simple recipe, but it is incredibly flavorful. It is also very easy to make even during a busy work week for a satisfying, comforting treat. It can be a side dish, but frankly, I have eaten it as a sweet comfort when it is cold outside, after a meal.

You will need:

  • 3-4 very ripe plantains (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) well-shaken and stirred unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3/4 sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom or 8-10 crushed green cardamom pods

Steps:

  1. In a 4-quart saucepan, bring 3 cups of water, the cardamom, the salt, vanilla and the sugar to a boil. Add the plantains and cook over medium heat until the plantains are fork tender, about 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk and bring just to a simmer to prevent curdling. The stewed plantains will have the consistency of a chowder. Remove from heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Italian · Mediterranean

Chicken stuffed with Feta & Sundried Tomatoes

I have been seeing various versions of this pop on my feed and thought it looked rather comforting and easy to make. I tried it out (putting my own spin on it) and was delighted with how easy it was to make and how delicious it was. If you are a feta or sundried tomato lover like myself you will love this. Also, it is a very healthy dish if you are conscientious about diet.

Level: easy. Time: 45 minutes total (15 prep)

You will need:

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • 6-8 Sundried tomatoes, drained
  • Feta, 4-6 oz.
  • Fresh spinach, 1-2 cups
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil
  • toothpicks

Step one:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop spinach and sundried tomatoes loosely into bite size pieces. Blend spinach, sundried tomatoes, and feta in a small bowl and set aside.

Step two:

Clean and pat dry chicken breasts. Slice a small pocket in each breast, to hold stuffing. Season chicken with salt, pepper, garlic, and basil. Stuff each chicken breast with the feta mix and hold together with 1-2 toothpicks.

Step three:

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and when ready add the chicken. Brown on each side for 6-7 minutes. Finish the chicken off in the oven for 15 minutes until fully cooked. Serve.

Mediterranean · Side dish

Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash

A classic for the grill.

  • 4 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 4 medium summer squash, sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup good quality basalmic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

Heat grill to medium. Toss zucchini, squahs, oil, vinegar and oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Grill covered, until tender around 6-8 minutes. Reserve remaining marinade to drizzle over the vegetables.

Baking · Dessert · Italian

Classic Almond Biscotti

There are many different versions of biscotti floating around on the internet, some traditional and some experimental. Some are geared more towards the American palette (think lots of chocolate and sugar) and other towards the simpler, traditional fare for coffee dunking. I tend to prefer my biscotti for drinking with my coffee and prefer to ease up on the sugar, but then again there are times a dark chocolate biscotti with orange call me like a siren. Fun fact: my all time favorite biscotti flavor is pistachio. But in the end, I truly love a classic almond, as well. I think, in the end, there is a great versatility with this recipe: they can be standalone or you can add chocolate or other elements fairly easily.

This recipe can be modified as you see fit. The alcohol provides a depth to the flavor of the cookie. Be sure to add almond extract to achieve the almond flavor.

Time: 3 hours (including chilling & cooling). Actual assembly time is around 30 minutes.

Yield: 3 dozen

You will need:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, unsalted & lightly toasted
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional combinations:
  • Dark or milk chocolate – you can add as chips or melt to dunk one side of the cookie when finished.
  • Roasted pistachio (1 cup) & dried cranberries (1/2 cup). Use orange zest rather than lemon.
  • Anise – use 1/2 tsp anise extract rather than almond extract.

Step one:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer almonds on a sheet pan and toast for 3-5 minutes. Check the almonds every minute to ensure they do not become overcooked. Color should be very light brown. Cool.

Step two:

Blend melted butter, sugar, amaretto, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Add eggs. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt until just combined. Add almonds.

Step three:

Chill the dough for 30 minutes to ensure that it is easier to work with.

Step four:

Wet your hands (this makes shaping easier) and halve the chilled dough and form 2  loaves on an ungreased large baking sheet. I recommend getting a bowl of water and dipping your hands and rubbing them together; then immediately shape the loaves with your wet hands.

Bake until pale golden, about 30 minutes. Allow the loaves to cool for five minutes on the baking sheet. Remove the loaves (I use a pizza spatula) and cool on a wire rack for and additional 15 minutes.

Cut the loaves with a serrated bread knife.

Step five:

Place biscotti (cut-side down) on a clean baking sheet and bake another 15-20 minutes. The color should be light golden.

Cool the biscotti on a wire rack.