Monday, June 28, 2010

PotW: Cardamom Pancakes with Rhubarb Cream + Raspberries

[last Pancakes of the Week: Chocolate Pancakes with Mango and Chocolate Sauce]

The Pancakes of the Week feature is back!  I know, it's been such a long hiatus--my last pancake post was in   March! March!, can you believe it?!, but I swear that I have a very good reason.  You see, ever since I started working with rhubarb, I've been sort of obsessed over getting rhubarb into a pancake recipe.  And I've been over and over it in my mind, trying out different combinations, either in my head or actually making them, but nothing ever came out quite right.  Hence this long drought of pancake recipes, because I just couldn't let myself go on until I had conquered the rhubarb-inspired breakfast.  Until now.

Finally! At last I have achieved it: a pancake recipe with rhubarb.  One day, while thumbing through old issues of Sunset Magazine that I always "steal" (;-P) from my parents' house when I visit, I ran across a page all about raspberries.  At the bottom corner of the story were a couple of serving suggestions for raspberries, one of which involved rhubarb puree folded into cream and topped with fresh raspberries.  Aha!  That sounds perfect for a pancake topping!  And so they were born: cardamom pancakes with rhubarb cream and fresh raspberries.

The cardamom pancakes--with just a hint of orange--are a great base for the rhubarb-flavored cream.  Altogether, you get a mouthful of fresh raspberries, airy tart cream, and fluffy, spiced pancakes, ending up in what I'd finally and at last, after several months, deem a worthy rhubarb addition to my pancake library.

And don't fret--expect to see several more pancake recipes coming your way soon.  A few weeks ago, when I visited one of my best friends in Los Angeles, she insisted that I make her pancakes.  But, since she was quite indecisive about what *kind* of pancakes she wanted, I ended up making a "pancake tasting menu," with four different varieties of pancakes, ranging from fruity and sweet to cheesy and savory.  So, a big welcome back pancakes to the blog!  :-)

Read on for recipe...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

White Peach+Olallieberry Walnut Galettes with Maple Nut Ice Cream, and Happy Father's Day

^White peach and olallieberry walnut galettes: we'll get back to these.  But first, I wanted to talk about my dad.  From a young, young age, my dad instilled in me a love of the finer things in life.  Like eating ice cream.  From the carton.  My mom still *facepalm*s when she sees this photo.

My dad's favorite ice cream, as I learned from a very early age, is maple nut.  He acquired a taste for the stuff when doing his graduate work in Rhode Island long ago, but maple nut is not the most common flavor on the West Coast, so he'd always pine away to me about how wonderful the distance flavor of his favorite ice cream was.  We'd make pilgrimages every time we visited Rhode Island to ice cream shops just for a scoop of maple nut ice cream, and I knew it was always a special treat for not only me but also my dad when we visited Fenton's in Oakland because they were one of the only ice cream shops around making the special flavor.

(Me in my dad's slippers)

Thus, maple nut was one of the first flavors I ever made when I learned to make my own ice cream at home, just because it's so difficult to find the good stuff (and flying out to Rhode Island for a scoop of ice cream is just not economically feasible!).  After that, every year for Father's Day and my dad's birthday, he gets a maple nut ice cream-inspired dessert.  Because that's just what daughters do.  :-)

This year, the accompanying dessert for my dad's maple nut ice cream comes in the form of white peach and olallieberry walnut galettes, which are an amazing amalgamation of the fruits that define summertime: stone fruit and berries.  If I remember correctly, white peaches are my dad's favorite kind of stone fruit, and we'd gobble down so many of them, standing in the orchard with the sweet juice dripping down our faces and arms, whenever we'd go peach-picking every June when I was young.

Olallieberries, on the other hand, are the front-running contenders for my favorite berries.  After just one taste of olallieberry jam this past November while driving down the California coast, I fell in love.  They don't have the same tartness as raspberries, and they just sort of burst with sweet flavor in your mouth.  When I saw these at the market this past weekend, I literally jumped up and down in sheer joy.

Put white peaches and olallieberries all together, layer them with ground walnuts, and what you end up with is a perfectly rustic, summertime pastry that filled my kitchen with some of the most amazing aroma I've ever been witness to while they were baking in the oven.  I am not kidding you.  The crust is perfectly flaky with just the hint of sweetness from a sprinkling of turbinado sugar and apricot jam.  The filling is, as I said before, summertime encapsulated in a single bite, with the lightness of the white peach and the seedy juices of the olallieberries atop a thin layer of walnut paste, which absorbs all of the fruit liquid during baking.

Finally, top the still-warm galettes with scoop of sweet, syrupy maple nut ice cream, and the creaminess of the ice cream complements the fruitiness of the galettes excellently, slowly melting into all of the cracks in the pastry and between the berries and peaches until it reaches and melds with the layer of walnuts at the bottom.  mmm..... this one's for you, Daddy!  Happy Father's Day!

Read on for recipe...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chocolate Ricotta and Lemon Poppyseed Pound Cakes

I am, by nature, a very indecisive person.  The moment that I have to choose between two or more things, I become a very unhappy person.  Sometimes, my indecisiveness is a good thing.  For instance, when I could't make up my mind about what kind of pancakes to make when my best friend requested pancakes during my recent Los Angeles visit, I made a tasting menu of four different pancakes.  That was fun, and it worked out for the best of all of us.  But, despite having positive outcomes every now and then, being as indecisive as I am really just causes me more trouble than it's worth.  Case in point: pound cake.

Between chocolate pound cake and lemon poppyseed pound cake--two of my favorite pound cake flavors--how am I supposed to decide?  So, naturally, I made both.  Naturally.

The lemon poppyseed pound cake is the same cake base as the one I use in my lemon-lavender pound cake recipe, except when I'm craving something with no fuss to the lemon, I just add poppyseed instead of lavender.  Dense yet moist, with a powerful kick of lemony goodness and the tiny little crunches of poppyseed embedded inside, all topped off with a deliciously tart and sweet lemon icing.  Mmmmm.

As for the chocolate ricotta pound cake, the ricotta cheese lends the cake an incredibly light fluffiness and slight tang that you just don't normally get in a chocolate pound cake, and I like that unexpected soft texture with the deep, dark chocolate inside.  You could opt to top this pound cake with dark chocolate ganache, but that's perhaps a little too heavy with the ricotta.  I find that a quick sprinkle of powdered sugar makes for a perfectly simple finishing touch.

This post is light on words and heavy on visuals, because I've been so tied up in writing for my day job that I find myself incredibly at a loss of words at all other times.  I'll sit down at the computer to type out posts or emails and just not have anything to say at all.  Even my twitter has been unusually quieter for the past few weeks.  Is this normal?

So, since my words are still struggling to come out, I leave you with just one simple question:  which will you choose?  Lemon poppyseed pound cake or Chocolate ricotta pound cake?

or, both?

Read on for recipe...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thyme for Watermelon + Strawberries

If there's anything that is quintessentially "summer" for me, it's watermelon.  Once I have my first watermelon, I know that summer is finally here.  (Similarly, the disappearance of watermelons from the markets marks the end of summer for me, too--but that's sad and months away, so why worry about it now? ;-))

My family used to end all of our summer dinners with a big bowl of chopped watermelon, ice cold from the refrigerator.  Usually we would eat it plain, but sometimes, as a treat for me, my mom would give me a bowlful of Chinese sour plum powder in which to dip my watermelon chunks, and I absolutely loved that!  Though Chinese sour plums are a bit of an acquired taste for most, I just loved the juxtaposition between sweet and sour and salty between the mouth-puckering powder and the juicy watermelon.  So, as I started cooking, I started looking for the sweet and savory interplay that I loved from the watermelon + sour plums in other forms, of which one of my favorite is the watermelon, strawberry, and thyme salad with balsamic vinegar and ricotta salata.

Alright, so before everyone thinks I've gone bonkers to mix strawberries and watermelon into a savory dish, let me try to first convince you that I'm not crazy.  After all, salty+sweet has always been a great combo in savory dishes (and especially Asian ones): case in point, sweet and salty pork, or sweet walnut prawns, or the beloved orange-flavored chicken.  I even believe that the whole current let's-put-bacon-on-our-desserts craze is merely a manifestation of our desire to have a full flavor profile ranging from the sweet to the savory in one bite.  And this salad, if I might say so myself, delivers just that.  Between the fragrant earthiness of the fresh thyme leaves, the sour-sweetness of the balsamic vinegar, and the salty creaminess of the ricotta salata shavings, the traditionally saved-for-dessert strawberries and watermelon really come into their own, with everything else helping to bring out the sweet juiciness of the fruit itself.

This dish is also an insanely easy one to make and a perfect appetizer salad for a summer BBQ or picnic.  The longer the watermelon and strawberry chunks marinate in their light dressing of balsamic vinegar and thyme, the more the flavors really meld and combine, so preparing this the morning of a party or BBQ and then sticking it in the refrigerator until service really helps to make this dish even better.  All you have to do at the last minute is top the salad with some fresh shavings of ricotta salata, and voila! an easy yet super-unexpected way to start your meal.

Of course, this is a dessert blog, so I couldn't very well leave you without a way to end your meal, too, right?  To take a cue from my family's post-dinner watermelon-eating, nothing is better than watermelon except ice cold watermelon.  So, it's sort of no wonder that, ever since making watermelon sorbetto last summer, I've loved the idea of watermelon in ice form.  I also really liked the pairing of fresh thyme with watermelon and strawberries in savory form, so I translated it into a dessert: watermelon and strawberry granita with thyme-infused whipped cream.

Granita is one of my favorite things to make around the beginning of summer, which coincides (quite unfortunately), at my school, with finals week.  Since I'm stuck indoors furiously writing final papers when the weather is just starting to hit 80 degrees with no clouds outside, I always hanker for a bit of summer indoors as well.  Enter the granita, the perfect dessert to make when you're stuck inside, because, though it's ridiculously easy to make, you do have to baby-sit it for about six hours at a time, stopping every thirty minutes to scrape up the ice crystals forming around the edges of the pan until you reach a lighter-than-air and ultra-fluffy ice.  (Thirty minutes being about my attention span anyways, so it works out to have forced breaks from work to stir--and sneak tastes of--the in-progress granita.)

As much time as it takes to make granita, this one is well worth it.  The strawberries and watermelon make a refreshingly delicious ice--especially to eat on those hot summer nights sitting outside on the porch, and the hint of rosewater that I mixed in adds a slight and sweet mysterious aroma to the whole thing.  The thyme whipped cream on top makes the whole thing turn out like a sophisticated, grown-up version of my favorite orange creamsicles, with the herbal creaminess melting lusciously into a spoonful of flaky ice.  Try also freezing the cream right on top of the granita, which makes for an excellently creamy and cold summer treat.

So, with this watermelon, I now officially declare summer here!

Read on for recipes...