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Things have been a little bit crazy around here.  Posting has been light due to my son having his Bar Mitzvah last weekend.  He came through and did a fantastic job.

As a part of the celebration we had an open house on Saturday night.  About 100 people came and feasted on a selection of bars, cookies, dips and spreads.  My wife thought an open house would be fun and I thought it would be a lot of work.  Since I did all the baking and prep work it was hard and fun at the same time.  I have about 11 cookies/bars/cakes to post as well as 7 dips.  I am also backlogged on my cookbook reviews with 8 books in various stages of recipe testing.  I was planning on getting all these recipes and photos posted within the next few weeks but then...

I have been playing online poker for about 9 years.  I have been playing poker since I was little and online poker means that I can always find a game to play.  For the past 5 years I have been playing at PokerStars.  This is the largest poker site that is open to Americans (at this point I promise that I won't go into my libertarian rant).  Next week PokerStars is having a series of tournaments exclusively for bloggers and I plan to play as many events as I can find the time for.  I will be posting regular updates on my performance in each tournament, so check back often.  I play under the screen name of "rorkesdrift" so come to PokerStars and cheer me on.

Two Bite Carrot Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I was really in the mood for carrot cake, but I am trying to stick with my diet.  With all the seasonal parties, open houses and work related dinners it is just too easy to gain weight during the holidays.  My solution, to being able to indulge in having the cake I crave yet keep the portion sizes small, is to bake the carrot cake in a mini-muffin pan.  This way I can have the cake that I want but I don’t eat a huge slice.

I pulled my copy of Joy of Cooking and adapted their (yes the cover may list the Rombauer family as the authors but we all know that the latest edition was put together by a huge team of accomplished cook book authors, just read the introduction for a complete list of names) recipe.

Printable recipe

Two Bite Carrot Cakes with Cream Cheese Icing

 Ingredients

 Cake

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground allspice

2 large eggs

¾ cup sugar

1 ½ cups finely shredded carrots

¼ cup orange juice

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ cup chopped pecans

½ cups golden raisins

 Frosting

8 ounces room temperature cream cheese

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 teaspoons vanilla

2 ½ cups sifted powdered sugar

 Method

 Cake

1        Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and all spices.  Set aside.

2        In mixer, on medium, combine eggs and sugar till smooth, about 2 minutes.

3        Stir in carrots

4        Mix in, till combined, orange juice and vegetable oil.

5        Fold in pecans and raisins.

6        On low, slowly add the flour mixture until just combined.  Do not overmix!

7        Using an ice cream scoop drop batter into spray coated mini-muffin pan.

8        Bake at 400 degrees about 15 to 18 minutes, until the muffins pass the toothpick test.

9        Remove to rack and let cool completely.

10    When fully cooled top with frosting.

 Frosting

In the bowl of a food processor combine, by using a few short pulses, the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar, till smooth.

Spanish Garbanzo Bean Salad

At the last minute we were invited to a friends house for dinner.  Since my wife is a vegetarian they asked if I could bring a vegetarian side dish that everyone would like to eat.  It seems that many people still have a 1960’s view of vegetarian food as being nothing but a mixture of brown rice, tofu and bean sprouts.

This is one of those times where a well stocked pantry comes in handy.  This recipe is very quick to put together and only used about 5 minutes of prep time and less than 15 minutes of actual cooking time.  Everyone enjoyed the dish and maybe now they don’t believe that vegetarian means boring.

Printable recipe

Spanish Garbanzo Bean Salad

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil

7 cloves garlic, minced

2 16 ounce cans Garbanzo Beans (aka chick peas), drained and rinsed

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon dried ancho chilies

4 Roma (plum) tomatoes, de-seeded and diced

1 10 ounce bag fresh spinach

 Method

  1. In a large sauté pan heat the olive oil on medium heat.
  2. Sauté garlic until soft, about 2 minutes
  3. Stir in Garbanzo Beans, paprika, chilies.  Cook till warmed through, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomatoes.  Cook till warm, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add spinach and cook until fully wilted.  Depending on your pan size you may need to do this step by adding one handful at a time.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste.

Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Cake

Printable recipe

Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Cake

 

Ingredients

½ cup (1 sick) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups (about 3 medium) mashed bananas

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup cocoa

1 cup Nestle’s Peanut Butter & Milk Chocolate chips

 

Method

In a mixing bowl, on medium, cream together the butte and sugar till smooth, about 3 minutes.

 

Mix in egg, vanilla, bananas and peanut butter.  It may look curdled but don’t panic.

 

In separate bowl mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

 

With the mixer on low, add the dry mixture to the wet in three batches.

 

Divide the batter in half.

 

Stir the cocoa into one half of the batter until well combined.

 

Spread the cocoa batter on the bottom of a greased 9×13 inch baking pan.

 

Spread the remaining plain batter over the top of the cocoa batter.

 

Sprinkle the cup of peanut butter chips over the top of the batter.

 

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the cake passes the toothpick test.

 

Let cool at least 15 minutes before removing from the pan to a cooling rack to finish the cooling process

Book Review – A Taste of Persia

A Taste of Persia by Najmieh K. Batmanglij

Mage Publishers

 The book shelves at my local Barnes & Noble are not overflowing with Persian cookbooks.  After reading A Taste of Persia I still don’t understand what makes Persian cooking unique in the category of Middle-Eastern cooking or why the world needed this particular book.

 The 176 page book contains over 75 recipes, many with nice color photos.  The book opens with a brief introduction to Persian history and includes a dictionary of Persian cooking.  The dictionary provides detailed explanations of the ingredients and is helpful to a reader that may be unfamiliar with some of the techniques, spices and methods used in Middle-Eastern coking.  The index is practically useless and is just an alphabetical listing of the recipes rather then a place where a reader can turn to locate dishes that use specific ingredients.

 In many of the recipe’s ingredients lists there are asterisks next to both unusual and some common ingredients but there is no explanation of what the asterisk means, what they refer to or anything at all, they are just hanging there.  The ingredient lists are very long and many cooks will be turned off by the length of the lists and overly complicated instructions.

 The recipe for Stuffed Grape Leaves calls for 19 different ingredients to all be combined and rolled into a grape leaf that produces an end result that is the size of your thumb.  That sure is a lot of thing to stuff into such a small volume.  The Stuffed Peppers, Eggplant and Tomatoes also calls for over 19 ingredients and there are so many competing flavors that the whole dish becomes muddled and a waste of one hour of prep time and over one hour of cooking time. 

 Some of the suggested ingredient substitutions seem odd and there is no explanation of what these changes will do to the flavor of the dish.  In the recipe for Noodle Soup Ms. Batmanglij suggests the following substitution: either 1 ½ cups of whey, sour cream or wine vinegar.  I can’t imagine sour cream and wine vinegar being used in the same sentence let alone being interchangeable in a recipe.

 Some of the recipes call for measurements of ingredients that are just plain wrong.  The Yogurt Soup, besides using lentils, split peas, ground beef, rice, turnips, spinach and yogurt calls for a full garden’s worth of fresh herbs.  For a recipe that makes six servings of soup the ingredient list calls for two cups of cilantro, one cup of parsley, one half cup of chives, one cup of fenugreek and one cup of dill.  This soup contains almost an entire cup of fresh herbs in each serving!

 Sometimes the review blurbs on the back cover of a book provides you with a good preview of what you will find inside.  When the reviews are all from actors who frequent a bakery or restaurant then I fear what I will find inside.  This book has just one quote and that is from a review in the Times Literary Supplement.  The quote the publisher chose, as an example to promote the book, discusses the “naturalistic and mouth watering pictures”, “stresses the pre-Islamic continuity of Iranian cuisine” and that the book is “infused with food-laden nostalgia”.  Notice there is no comment concerning the recipes, ease of use or flavor of the dishes, just a literary commentary.  A cook book should provide the buyer with well written recipes that can be prepared in their home kitchen.  This book contains overly long ingredient lists, ingredient volumes that will have a cook shaking their head and directions that leave a cook confused.  I cannot recommend A Taste of Persia and suggest you look elsewhere for Middle Eastern recipes.

Lentil Vegetable Soup

 

Printable recipe

Lentil Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

1 cup lentils

2 15 ounce cans pinto beans, rinsed

3 Tablespoons Olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped in ¼ inch pieces

1 pound (about 2 medium) zucchini, chopped into ½ inch pieces

1 pound green beans, stems removed and broken into 1 inch pieces

Juice of 1 lemon

½ cup cilantro, chopped

Method

1.  In a pot heat the oil on medium.  Add onion and garlic, stir till golden, about 8 minutes.

2   Stir in tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, carrots, zucchini and green beans.  Saute about 5 minutes.

3.  Add 4 cups of water, lentils and pinto beans.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils are soft, about 30 minutes.

4.  Stir in lemon juice and cilantro.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Italian Vegetable Stew – Ciambotta

It seems that winter is really on it’s way – they are calling for snow flurries tonight.  It is that time of the year when I pull out all those hot soup recipes.  Everyone just feels better knowing that a bowl of hearty, hot soup is just a few minutes away. 

I read this recipe in the October issue of Gourmet (RIP) and had to try it.  The results were delicious.  The mixture of different vegetables, when cooked al dente, is delicious, rustic and satisfying to cook.

Printable recipe

Italian Vegetable Stew – Ciambotta

 Ingredients

1/3 cup olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 celery ribs, cut into ¼ inch slices

3 carrots, diced into ¼ inch pieces

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 ¼ pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

½ cup water

28 ounce can diced tomatoes

2 red bell peppers, cut into ½ inch pieces

¾ pound of green beans, cut into 2 inch pieces

1 ¼ pounds zucchini, cut into ¼ inch pieces

¾ pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

 Method

  1. In large heavy pot heat olive oil. Saute, about 10 minutes, onion, celery, carrots, garlic.
  2. Add eggplant and water. Cook covered until eggplant is soft.  About 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in tomatoes and peppers. Cook on low for 15 minutes.
  4. In boiling water blanch green beans about 5 minutes.  Remove
  5. In boiling water blanch zucchini about 5 minutes. Remove.
  6. Cook potatoes in boiling water till tender, about 10 minutes. Remove.
  7. Add beans, zucchini and potatoes to stew and cook about 15 minutes.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.  Serve.