Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pumpkin Potato Kugel

Just in time for Thanksgiving! Still looking for that unique side dish that will make your guests go "Hm! Mm!"? You're in luck! This autumn take on a Shabbat classic will definitely bring a host of interesting flavors to the party.

Now, I'll admit, I did not use fresh pumpkin - and I should have since it's pumpkin season. Shame on me. But, I've had a lonely can of pumpkin puree sitting around for a long time and it's been begging me to use it in a fall-themed dish. If you have the time to cut open a pumpkin and scoop out its flesh (use the rest of it for other goodies - e.g. stuff it with fruits and nuts and bake it!), you should do that. If not, the canned stuff works just fine.

If you don't have a food processor, the classic way of grating by hand is the old standby (that's how I used to do it before I got my food processor). I like using the grating disk to fool people into thinking that I slaved over grating it by hand, therefore they must all enjoy. Also, I like the texture of grated potatoes over shredded.

This is actually a modification of my standard potato kugel recipe - which I will probably post at some later point when I have a picture to show for it. In the meantime though you can probably reverse engineer it. If you're into that sort of thing. I know I am.

A fall variation on a classic courtesy of your favorite gourd - pumpkin!

Pumpkin Potato Kugel

6 potatoes
1 large onion
1 can pureed pumpkin (fresh is good too)
4 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup oil
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
1/4 tsp allspice
A few sprigs fresh thyme, optional
2 tbsp brown sugar, optional
Heavy pinch of salt
Ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Grate the potatoes and onion together, by hand or in a food processor. Squeeze out as much moisture as possible.

3. Dump potato and onion into a boil along with remaining ingredients (except 1 tbsp. brown sugar, if using). Mix very well until you can no longer see flour and everything is well-incorporated.

4. Spray a 9x13 baking pan with cooking spray. Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth out the top. If using, sprinkle remaining brown sugar all over the top to add a deeper molasses color to the top.

5. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (normally I would say bake until brown but color is hard to tell with the pumpkin orange).

Serves 12-16, depending how big you cut it.

Asian Tuna Steak

Ever since I was young I've loved tuna steak. Something about it just tastes so unique - it doesn't quite taste like fish, it's not exactly a steak, and it's definitely worlds apart from the canned stuff. So, as I've been settling in to my "fish renaissance" in which I actually bother going out and buying good fish to cook with naturally I have reclaimed the tuna steak as my own.

The problem, I find, is finding the perfect recipe for tuna steak. It's got such a wonderfully complex flavor. Often it's grilled, since it can take the heat of the grill. I once read in Cook's Illustrated (though I can't seem to find the issue right now) an article with a guide to how certain fish can/should be cooked. Tuna was definitely up at the top with the more heat-intense applications.

Anyways, I often find that one of the most common things involving tuna steak you'll see on a menu is some sort of Asian-style tuna. Makes sense - Asian flavors blend a whole lot of savory and umami, which is exactly what tuna needs. So, building on that, I saw an Asian-style preparation as the entry point into my quest for tuna perfection.

This recipe reuses the marinade as a sauce - but you need to make sure to cook it to avoid cross-contamination! I only had one tuna steak on hand but I think the marinade can be enough for two.

Though I don't think this recipe has brought me to tuna nirvana yet, I think it's a good way there - and so you'll see me continue experimenting in the future, trying to find the ideal tuna steak recipe.

One step closer to tuna nirvana...

Asian Tuna Steak
1 or 2 tuna steaks
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp mustard
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp honey 1
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
1/4 tsp dried basil
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp lemon juice

1. Combine all the ingredients (except tuna) in a bowl and mix together very well.

2. Place tuna steaks in a ziploc bag and pour in the marinade. Let sit in the refrigerator for 30 min to 2 hours.

3. Heat your broiler to high. Remove tuna steaks from marinade and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle extra sesame seeds on top of tuna and broil - 2 minutes each side for medium rare.

4. Pour leftover marinade into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat down to a simmer and cook until the sauce has thickened to the consistency you desire.

5. Serve sauce on top of the tuna steak.

Serves 1-2.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vanilla-Pineapple or Blueberry Pudding Cake

This is part 2 of the suite of dessert recipes I created recently. As I mentioned in my previous post, I originally sought out to create a sugar-free, diabetic-friendly dessert without artificial sweetener. But I didn't think stopping at pudding was enough - I needed to go all out for this to prove that it's possible for a home cook to make a good dessert under those kinds of constraints.

I racked my brain trying to think of what I could do with pudding. And then I remembered I had seen some recipes for cakes using yogurt. So I figured, why not replace yogurt with pudding!

The problem was I couldn't really find anyone with a decent pudding cake recipe. So, I bravely decided to try my own - which was a big deal for me. I had never created my own cake recipe before, always sticking to the lore that baking must be precise, you must always stick to the recipe.

However, I entered my endeavor adequately prepared - I cross-referenced Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food with Michael Ruhlman's Ratio and decided to use the muffin mixing method - my cake would essentially be an oversized muffin. Borrowing a little from the basic ratios/recipes in those books, as well as the technique I was able to come up with a recipe that turned out to be quite a hit.

The cake does in fact look like an overgrown muffin (it's even a little poofy in the center) and the crumb texture has uneven air pockets, also classic muffin texture. I reserved half the pudding mixture to create a delicious creamy topping for the cake as well. The cake is incredibly moist and addicting. Beware.

Also, note that if for some reason there are any leftovers of the blueberry cake for some odd reason, if you keep in in the fridge (you should do so) it seems like the color of the cake turns from a grayish-blue to a greenish color (I'm guessing because of the blueberries oxidizing or something). Fear not the color change - it still tastes just as good!

Vanilla Pineapple pudding cake, made with no sugar or splenda

Vanilla Pineapple Pudding Cake (sugar-free, no artificial sweetener)

1 batch sugar-free vanilla pudding
1/2 cup applesauce, divided
2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1 20-oz can crushed pineapple, unsweetened
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp honey
pinch salt

1. Mix dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt

2. Mix wet ingredients: 1/2 of pudding (=1 cup), 1/4 c applesauce, oil, 1/4 c honey, eggs, 1/2 can of pineapple

3. Add wet to dry & mix. Do not overmix.

4. Pour into a 9x13 baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 min or until a toothpick/knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

5. Combine remaining pineapple, pudding, applesauce & 1 tbsp honey in a bowl and mix - this will be the topping for the cake.

6. Let cake cool for 20 minutes. Prick cake with holes using a fork and spread topping. Let cake continue cooling. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Serves 12-16.

Blueberry pudding cake variation with blueberry topping

Blueberry Pudding Cake

Make cake as before, except use 1 batch of blueberry pudding. Leave out one egg and pineapple, and add an extra 3/4 cup applesauce to the cake batter.

This is what the cake actually looks like before the topping

Sugar-Free Variation, using Splenda

Make cake as directed except swap 8 packets Splenda for honey.

Pareve Vanilla or Blueberry Pudding (with Sugar-Free and Diabetic variants)

Okay. Here it comes. So I have this set of 4 recipes that kind of all belong grouped together and I've been meaning to post them for a while but haven't had time. Now I finally have the chance, so get excited!

So, the first recipe was for vanilla pudding. Let me give you some background on the genesis of this recipe first. I was going somewhere for Shabbat and I wanted to bring a dessert. The problem was, one of the people there was diabetic, so I couldn't bring anything with sugar. Another person was allergic to artificial sweeteners - so using splenda or such was out. So, I had to sweeten everything with honey (apparently some diabetics can have honey? who knew?). That's what led to the diabetic-friendly version of this recipe.

I later made this recipe again a few weeks later, but did not have the artificial sweeteners constraint, so I chose to use splenda since I wanted to minimize the sugar content anyway for calorific reasons. That's when the blueberry variation came about - I had a box of frozen blueberries I had been saving for a tasty dessert, and this seemed like the time to use it.

One big difference though was (kinda obviously) the flavor profile - the honey-sweetened one had a much more rich, full, even a little cloying (but not bad) taste than the splenda version. I kind of preferred it to the version with artificial sweetener.

I should note that these are actually just variations on the basic Joy of Cooking recipe for cornstarch pudding. I was surprised how easy it was - it's basically just a really simple custard. I hope that people will start realizing how simple it is to make a good pareve pudding and bring it more often to Shabbat meals! You can, of course, swap out the soymilk for regular milk for a dairy version.

Basic pareve vanilla pudding - can be made sugar-free or diabetic-friendly!

Regular Pareve Vanilla Pudding (not sugar-free)

1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
2 cups soymilk (divided into 1/4 cup and 1 3/4 cup)
1 large egg, well beaten
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt

1. Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt in a pot or saucepan.

2. Gradually mix in 1/4 cup soymilk into pot, whisking well so the mixture becomes a slurry (this will avoid lumps of cornstarch).

3. Whisk in remaining soymilk.

4. Turn on heat to medium and heat through until mixture comes to a simmer.

5. Extract about 1/2 cup of the mixture from the pot. Gradually stir this into the egg slowly, so you temper the egg (you want to raise the temperature of the egg without curdling it by sudden application of heat).

6. When egg mixture is sufficiently tempered, pour it back into the pot and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute beyond the boil.

7. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

8. Pour pudding into a glass bowl, serving cups or ramekins and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly touching the surface (actually, I'm not sure this is 100% necessary since this is meant to avoid forming the 'skin' on top, but that's formed by the casein proteins in regular milk, which aren't present in soymilk). Chill for at least 1-2 hours before serving.

Serves 2-4.

Blueberry pudding variation!

Pareve Blueberry Pudding

Follow recipe as above.

Combine 1 pint fresh or frozen blueberries with 1 tsp. lemon juice in a pot, along with a little bit of sugar/splenda/honey (maybe 1 tbsp - that's like 2 splenda packets I think) and a splash of water.

Cook over medium heat until blueberries are mostly dissolved (some can be intact - it adds texture to the pudding).

Mix blueberries with pudding well and chill as directed.

Cook the blueberries till they are about this texture

Sugar-Free Pudding Variation

Replace 1/4 cup sugar with 10 packets splenda. Follow directions as above.

Diabetic-Friendly Pudding Variation

Replace 1/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup honey.