apple graham coffee cake

Hey rhubarb! Where you at?

This is the pressing matter at the moment. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I swear there is usually rhubarb at the farmer’s market this time of the year. But I’ve been checking every week. And nada. No rhubarb is an indication to me that it’s not really spring yet. And this makes me yearn for springtime even more. Oh well. Hopefully I’ll have some rhurbarb deliciousness to share with you in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, I’m doing a bit of spring cleaning over here. I recently took an inventory of my pantry and have come to realize that I have a lot of flour. Like a lot. Some of it is leftover from past experiments. And then there is some that I’ve been hoarding for future projects. It’s a little bit out of control, so I’m making a point to use what I have before I buy anything else.

Enter Good to the Grain. This lovely book has been sitting on my shelf for quite some time, waiting patiently for a little attention. It’s full of recipes that call for flours other than your run of the mill all-purpose variety. Since there is a whole chapter devoted to whole wheat flour, I decided it was time to finally crack open the package of graham flour that I’ve been holding onto. And since I had apples on hand, it seemed the only thing to do was make this apple graham coffee cake.

I’m a sucker for apple cakes. There is something so simple, even humble about an apple cake. Apples, cinnamon, sugar, flour, you get the picture. I was pleasantly surprised by this particular apple cake; I have to admit that I get a bit nervous when whole wheat flour is involved. I live in fear of heavy masses of dry, flavorless dough. But this cake is exactly the opposite – it is incredibly moist with a light crumb and bit of a rustic feel from the coarse graham flour. And the caramelized apples baked into the surface of the cake are just perfect, tender and sticky with cinnamon and sugar. Not only will this cake satisfy your sweet tooth, but you might just join the whole-grain fan club.

apple graham coffee cake

adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

makes one 9-inch round cake

apple topping:

2 large tart apples (I used Granny Smiths), peeled and cored

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon sugar

dry mix:

3/4 cup all-purposr flour

3/4 cup graham flour

3/4 cup whole-grain pastry flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon kosher salt

wet mix:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup whole plain yogurt

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 350°F, with the rack positioned in the middle of the oven. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan with high sides (I used a 9×3-inch pan with a removable bottom). Set aside.

Quarter the apples, then cut each quarter into thirds. Slice the thirds into pieces as thick as your thumb.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon over medium-high heat until bubbly. Add the apples and toss to coat, then let sear for 1 minute without stirring. Cook for 6-10 minutes, until tender and caramelized, stirring once a minute or so. Remove the caramelized apples from the heat and scrape them onto a plate with the buttery sauce.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk together the wet ingredients until thoroughly combined. Using a spatula, scrape the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently mix until combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Spread the apple topping evenly over the batter.

Bake on the middle rack for 40-48 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The cake is ready when it is golden brown and springs back when lightly touched, or when a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

blueberry-filled doughnuts

Imagine warm blueberry pie, with that gorgeous, naturally sweet, just set, deep violet filling. Now imagine that filling inside of an airy, fried pillow of dough. This is what I daydream about these days. During a family dinner last month, my cousin’s husband requested jelly doughnuts. And they’ve been on my mind ever since.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been cleansing for the past three weeks. Every morning I drink a tall glass of cold water mixed with psyllium husks as fast as I can (which gives me brainfreeze), followed by a smoothie that consists of frozen blueberries, soy protein powder and flax oil, and then another dose of psyllium husks before bed. It’s really not so bad. But what makes this morning routine bearable are the blueberries. I’ve got mad love for blueberries.

Of course, when on any type of cleanse, I tend to obsess about the things I should be avoiding, such as beautiful, deep-fried, blueberry filled doughnuts. Something had to be done.

The first batch was nearly a disaster. I threw the dough together and refrigerated it overnight as instructed. When I woke the next morning, I discovered that the bowl I used was too small and the dough had runneth over. And it was runny, more of a batter than a dough. I took one look at it and knew that it couldn’t be rolled out. So I moved on to plan B, and tried another recipe. And did the whole thing by hand rather than use my stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. The initial results seemed much better. And I loved kneading the dough by hand. I loved kneading the dough so much that I was convinced that I could salvage that first batch of dough. So I added more flour. And then more flour. I kneaded until the dough came together into a huge, smooth, elastic mass.

I was actually quite happy with that batch of doughnuts, but since I used three different types of flour (all-purpose, bread, and pastry) and had no idea how much I actually added to the original recipe, I thought I should give it another go. And then I found another recipe that looked promising, so I made a few adjustments. And spent another Sunday making doughnuts.

Through all of this trial and error, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is this: the key to being a happy, successful doughnut maker is to be sure that there are people around to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Because raised doughnuts take time. And patience. But there is nothing quite like a doughnut, freshly fried, filled with warm fruit, and coated in powdered (or granulated) sugar. And they must be devoured immediately, preferably by loved ones.

blueberry filled doughnuts

adapted from FoodFest 365! and The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

makes 1 dozen doughnuts

5 tablespoons warm water

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dry active yeast

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted ,  plus more for dusting

6 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

3 large eggs, room temperature

1-1/2 cups whole milk, warm

5-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

canola oil for frying

blueberry filling or your choice of jam

In a medium bowl, combine the water with the yeast and stir until dissolved. Add 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar and 1/2 cup of flour and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for 10 minutes to rise.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, powdered sugar, nutmeg and salt. Add the milk, eggs,  and butter and mix until well combined.

Add the yeast mixture to the dough and thoroughly combine.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead. If the dough is sticky, add more flour until the dough hardly sticks to your hands. Continue to knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 7-10 minutes. Put the dough in a large buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, undisturbed.

Punch the dough and then turn onto a floured surface. Knead dough a few times and then roll out until it’s  1/2 inch thick. Cut the dough into rounds with a 3-1/2-inch cutter. Set on a baking sheet lined with a lightly floured kitchen towel. Cover with another towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

While the doughnuts are rising, fill a large heavy bottomed pot with oil about 2 inches deep. Heat oil over medium heat until it reaches 350°F on a candy thermometer.

Place a round of dough in the hot oil and fry until golden, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove the doughnut with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels. Repeat until all dough has been fried.

To fill the doughnuts:

Pour the blueberry filling into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip. Using a chopstick, poke a hole 3/4  of the way into each doughnut. Gently rotate the stick to make a well for the filling. Insert the tip of the pastry bag into the hole and fill until the doughnut feels heavy. Place the filled doughnut in a bowl of powdered or granulated sugar and coat evenly. Repeat with the rest of the doughnuts. Serve immediately.

for the blueberry filling:

makes about 3 cups

4 cups blueberries

2/3 cup sugar

2/3 cup water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Combine the ingredients in a large pot over medium heat. Stir often to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and let simmer until a thick syrup has formed, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat. The mixture will thicken as is cools. Set aside.

kale with seaweed and sesame

Over the last six months, I’ve been trying to grow dinosaur kale. I have not been successful. The kale in my garden look like miniature versions of what I buy at the market every week. It wont die, but it will not grow. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s because I grew them from seed. Maybe I waited too long to transplant. Maybe they need a bigger bed. Maybe they don’t like their neighbors Fava, Sage and Chard. Maybe, maybe, maybe. I’ve finally accepted the fact that they’re not going to get any bigger. I somehow stunted their growth. I’ve been a bad mama to my kale.

I couldn’t give up the fight that easily, so I bought new kale seedlings at the farmers market over the weekend. Keep your fingers crossed. I also picked up two bunches of red kale, one green kale and one dino kale. Sounds like a lot of kale, but I could eat this stuff every day (and sometimes I do). I love it. And it makes me feel healthy. Dinosaur kale has become my favorite over the years, but I have a new found appreciation for good ol’ curly kale.

That might have to do with the kale with seaweed that I buy in the deli section at Whole Foods. It’s one of my on-the-go favorites. I’ve always cooked my greens the same way: sauteed in olive oil with onion and garlic, red pepper flakes, and a squeeze of lemon or mixed in with my lentils. Which is great, but I’ve been ready to switch things up. I like this little number at Whole Foods because of its Japanese flare; it’s sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and seasoned with ginger and soy. It’s a nice change of pace from my usual.

I did a little search for the recipe a few weeks ago and luckily for me, Elise from Simply Recipes is also a fan of this kale goodness and posted a recipe. I’ve made it three weeks in a row and can’t get enough. It’s great straight out of the skillet, but I actually really enjoy it cold, the way Whole Foods does it, because it’s more like a salad. Eat your greens. Then go and have some dessert.

kale with seaweed and sesame

adapted from Simply Recipes

serves 2-4

1/2 cup dried arame sea vegetables (food-grade seaweed)

dark sesame oil, about 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon peeled and minced ginger

1 bunch kale, ribs removed and roughly chopped (I used a combination of red and green kale)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon soy sauce, diluted with 2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Rinse the seaweed in water and let soak for 5-7 minutes. Drain seaweed and place in a large bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of dark sesame oil and the minced ginger.

In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons sesame oil on medium heat. Add garlic and gently sauté for one minute (be careful not to burn the garlic). Add the seaweed and ginger and gently cook for 1 minute. Remove the mixture from the pan and pour back into the bowl. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil in the skillet. Add the chopped kale. Add the soy sauce mixture. Gently toss in the pan to coat the kale with the oil and soy. Continue to stir until kale is slightly wilted. Cook a minute more to evaporate any excess moisture. Remove from heat. Add the seaweed ginger mixture and toss to combine. Add more sesame oil and soy sauce to taste. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

shrimp and grits

Peeling shrimp is one of my earliest memories of being in the kitchen. Growing up, my parents would host a big party every year on New Years day. And every year, my sister and I were put to work in the kitchen, cutting carrots and peeling shrimp for tempura, while my mom steamed live Dungeness crabs in beer. I remember carefully removing the shells and trying to keep the tails intact. I also remember icy cold fingers and shrimp guts – not the most pleasant of childhood memories. But eating hot, juicy battered-and-fried shrimp later that day made it all worth it. It’s what I like to remember about those New Years past.

All of these memories came back to me while preparing lunch last weekend. Miss Kim had requested a macaron making lesson while she was in town. I hadn’t seen her since before the arrival of her new bundle of joy, so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and make the ladies some lunch while catching up and meeting the little one. And I was in the mood for some shrimp and grits.

I must say that new babies in town and my recollections of being in the kitchen as a child made me realize that having kids is like building a little team of sous chefs (I learned how to peel potatoes before I learned how to write in cursive). Which makes me look at baby-making in a totally new light. I could definitely use a few extra sets of hands in the kitchen down the road.

Back to shrimp and grits. Oh, shrimp and grits. Just the thought of shrimp and grits makes my mouth water.  I love the combination of creamy grits with savory, smothered shrimp. I also like that it’s hearty without being too heavy. Plus, it’s a good excuse to eat shrimp for breakfast. That might explain why it has become one of my brunch favorites over the last couple of years.

This is Momofuku’s take on shrimp and grits. It’s a hybrid of Southern shrimp and grits and traditional Japanese ramen. The grits are cooked in bacon dashi, a sort of Japanese-style bacon stock, and seasoned with light soy sauce. And the shrimp, when cooked in the same pan as the bacon garnish, take on this deep smoky flavor. The whole thing is topped with a poached egg and is to die for. I like to think of this as the dish otherwise known as bacon-bacon shrimp and grits. And I’ve decided I’d like to rent a space inside David Chang‘s brain. Actually, it would probably be more interesting to live inside his mouth. That sounds wrong, but don’t judge. At least not until you’ve tried his shrimp and grits.

shrimp and grits

adapted from Momofuku

serves 4

for the bacon dashi, which you can make a day or two in advance:

2 3×6-inch pieces of konbu

8 cups water

1/2 pound smoky bacon

Rinse the konbu under cold water, then add it to 8 cups of water in a medium pot. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat and turn off the stove. Steep for 10 minutes.

Remove the konbu from the water and add the bacon. Bring to a boil, the reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain the bacon from the dashi,  and chill the broth until the fat hardens at the surface. Remove and discard the fat. Dashi will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

for the shrimp and grits:

2 cups water

2 cups white or yellow quick-cooking grits, soaked overnight

2 cups bacon dashi

2 tablespoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 pound smokey slab bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch long batons

1 pound medium shrimp (16-20 shrimp), shelled and deveigned

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

4 poached eggs

1/2 cup chopped scallions (green and white parts)

Place grits in a medium bowl and add 2 cups water. Let grits soak at least 8 hours and up to overnight.

Drain grits and transfer to a medium saucepan. Add dashi and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes. Add usukuchi, a large pinch of salt, and season with pepper. Continue whisking constantly until thickened, bubbling, and no longer grainy, about 10 minutes. If the grits are too thick, add water or more dashi. Add the butter and stir until melted. Adjust seasoning if needed. Set aside and keep warm.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally until it shrinks to about half its original size and is crisp and browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove bacon from skillet and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain fat and wipe skillet with a paper towel; set aside.

Place shrimp in a large bowl and add grapeseed oil; season with salt and toss to coat. Heat cast-iron skillet over high heat and add shrimp, working in batches if necessary. Press down on shrimp using the back of a spatula. When shrimp look about halfway cooked, turn and press down on second side. Continue cooking until shrimp have just become opaque and have browned slightly. Remove from pan.

Divide grits evenly between 4 bowls.  Top each with a poached egg. Divide shrimp and scallions evenly between bowls and serve immediately.