sweets

Steven’s co-worker owns a rental property in the Central Valley. The small apartment building sits on a big chunk of land which her husband planted with fruit trees. A few months ago she gave us bags and bags of citrus. Now that we’re nearly in summer, we’ve entered the stone fruit season. Thus far, she’s given us some cherries, plums, apricots. I don’t even know if cherries qualify as stone fruit. Are they berries? Anyway over the past week we got two bags of sour plums from her garden. The first batch I devoured in no time after dinner. Yum! The second one Steven wanted me to bake into something. So, ta-da: sour plum upside-down cake.

sour plum upside-down cake

sour plum upside-down cake

Sour plums tend to be a little sweet in the middle but sour near the skin and close to the pit. I love taking a bite of a plum and tasting all these flavors. Well with this cake, despite the sugar caramel coating the bottom of the pan, the sour flavor came out in FULL! We loved it: perfect with some tea or a cuppa coffee. We ate this entire cake in a couple of days for breakfast.

sour plum upside-down cake

~2 lbs sour plums, skin on, pitted
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt
2 eggs
1 cup soy or almond milk
½ cup canola oil
2 tbsp butter
Cast iron pan (12 inches diameter, 2 inches deep)

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Add one cup of sugar along with one tablespoon of water to cast iron pan over medium heat on your stovetop. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar melts and acquires a nice caramel color. If some sugar sticks to the wooden spoon scrape it off and let it melt until all lumps are gone. Spread the caramel all over the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat to cool down if caramel starts to burn. You just want a caramel color, not a smoking ruin. Cooking to long will make the flavor bitter. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

In a bowl, put remainder of the sugar, then eggs, salt and vanilla. Whisk it to combine. Add oil, soy milk, flour and whisk it again to combine. Lastly incorporate baking powder into the batter.

At this point, although still warm your caramel may be hardened and stuck to the bottom of the cast iron pan. Worry not! Spread the butter until all melted over caramel and sides of the pan. Add sour plum, along with juices if any and spread the fruit evenly over the bottom of the pan. Gently top with the batter. Bake about 35 minutes. Check for doneness via inserting a tooth pick in the center. If it comes out clean then baking is done, if not then you know what you have to do.

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cashew and cardamom fudge

by Stevie on August 31, 2012

This tofu dessert… yes, you read correctly, tofu dessert, is another super recipe from Nguyen’s Asian Tofu. She touts it as a higher protein version of the Indian kaju barfi, typically made with milk, sugar and cashew nuts.

cashew and cardamom fudge

cashew and cardamom fudge

Mine was delicious but didn’t quite have the consistency of what I consider to be fudge. This was soft. Perhaps I should have simmered the sweetened condensed milk longer to have less liquid? In any event, the flavor was wonderful and unlike most tofu-bearing recipes, you’ll never even know it is there.

cashew and cardamom fudge

8 oz super-firm tofu, grated with your finest grater
3½ oz raw cashews
1 can sweetened condensed milk
¾ tsp cardamom—I used whole pods which I ground and removed some of the fibrous shells
2 tbsp chopped pistachios

Line a small pan (she recommends 8”x8” but I didn’t have one so improvised) with parchment paper.

Grind cashews in food processor to a coarse texture. Add to shredded tofu (shredding the tofu was the hardest part of this recipe.) Toss to combine.

In a medium pan on medium heat, add the sweetened condensed milk and the tofu cashew mixture. Cook, stirring periodically, about 15 minutes. Don’t let it boil. Remove from heat and add ground cardamom.

Press into prepared pan. Press chopped pistachios on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

When ready, cut into squares, bars or diamonds. Enjoy.

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This is my first time ever cooking rhubarb. I have eaten it before of course. Steven made a beautiful rhubarb streusel cake last year. His recipe used rhubarb with very red stalks. At the time I didn’t think much of it. The stalks are always red, no?

rhubarb and buttermilk quick bread

rhubarb and buttermilk quick bread

We inherited a rhubarb plant in our new garden plot. The leaves are enormous and so are the stalks. We waited and waited for them to turn red but they never did. They only sort of reddened at the base of the stalk. I thought that they looked ready but what’s up with that color?

Last week I decided to harvest some of the stalks still ‘green’ just to give them a try. Since everyone knows that rhubarb can be poisonous, I read up on it. Turns out that there are several types and that the green ones with red at the base of the stalks is a traditional variety and are fully mature and ready for harvest. Hooray!

my picked over rhubarb plant

my picked over rhubarb plant

rhubarb from my community garden plot

rhubarb from my community garden plot

Sadly, that same informative site recommends refraining from harvesting after the end of Spring to give the plant time to recover. So this is it for this year. Those jams and chutneys will have to wait till 2013.

This recipe comes from rhubarb-info. It is a very informative site. Some more interesting facts about Rhubarb can be read here. I’ve changed the flour types, oil, nuts and the amount of rhubarb.

I love the combo sweet and sour rhubarb flavor. It goes perfectly with a good cup of coffee.

rhubarb and buttermilk quick bread

~ 2-3 cups ripe rhubarb stalks, cut into chunks
1½ cups brown sugar
2/3 cup almond oil (or other neutral oil such as canola)
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1½ cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup of mixed broken almonds and walnuts
1½ tbsp butter at room temperature
¼ cup coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 13”x9” Pyrex glass dish.

Whisk together brown sugar, egg and oil. Add salt, buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla and flours. Continue mixing to incorporate. Fold rhubarb and nuts into batter. Transfer batter to baking dish and spread evenly.

Mix sugar and semi-soft butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over batter.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until bread passes the toothpick test.

Cool and serve.

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We’ve been blessed with lemons recently. Earlier in the month Kristen harvested her Meyer lemon trees and surprised us with a huge bag of fruit. We’ve been using them essentially every day but I still have a good amount in the fridge. A couple of weeks ago we went for a BBQ at a friend-of-a-friend, Maja’s house in the Oakland Hills. She had a stunning Eureka lemon tree laden with aromatic goodness. She let I harvest a large bagful. Thank you, darling! Then last week, our neighbor, Ann, left us another bag of lemons. It was hanging on our front door knob. She lives in a condo in town but has what sounds like a marvelous house on the California Central Coast. These lovelies were Lisbon.

lemon coconut triple layer cake

lemon coconut triple layer cake

In this cake I used lemons with the Oakland terroir from Maja’s backyard. I like to improv with food, but when it comes to baking I just try to follow instructions as much as I can. This recipe comes from the 1997 Joy. Cheers to the Joy, which to me remains the best, no frills cook book ever!

This recipe is a pain in the b*** to make. It takes forever. Plus the kitchen gets very, very messy. One thing I wanted to do differently was to use freshly grated coconut in the frosting, just like we do in Brazil. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it so I stuck to the dried unsweetened.

I was impressed with the lemon curd. I had no idea how easy it was to make and how delicious it turned out to be. I also didn’t know that it was made with eggs: a lot of them. Living and learning.

lemon coconut triple layer cake

for the cake:

3½ cups of cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
½ lb butter room temperature
1 & 2/3 cups sugar
8 egg whites from large eggs
3/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/3 cup additional sugar

Pre-heat oven to 375F.

You need 3 round non-stick cake pans lined with parchment paper at the bottom

Using a large stainless steel bowl beat butter until creamy. Add 1 & 2/3 cups of sugar, mixing it gradually. Continue beating for about 5 minutes. Mix will turn light in color and texture.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, mix milk and vanilla together. Add sifted flour alternating with milk mix in 2-3 phases to beaten butter. The dough will be thick. Set aside

Add egg whites and cream of tartar to another stainless steel bowl. Beat on medium speed until it turns to a snow white color and gets relatively thick. Increase speed to high and gradually add 1/3 cup sugar. Fold about 1/3 of the mixture onto cake batter. After it is mixed in, fold in the rest.

Divide batter equally among pans. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Test for doneness via inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake. Remove from oven and let rest for about 10 minutes. Invert cakes, peel parchment paper off. Turn them back up and let cool completely.

for the lemon curd:

3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter cut into small pieces
Pinch salt
½ cup strained lemon juice
grated zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp vanilla

Prepare a double boiler so that the water’s simmering when you begin this part.

Put eggs, sugar and zest in a stainless steel bowl and whisk until it turns into a light yellow color. Add lemon juice, butter and place bowl on top of double boiler. Whisk non-stop until butter has melted and mixture thickens. Allow it to cook for few seconds more after thickened. Remove from heat and strain to remove zest. Mix with vanilla. Refrigerate.

for the “7 minute” frosting:

5 tbsp water
¼ tsp cream of tartar
1½ cups sugar
2 whites from large eggs at room temperature
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
¾ cup grated dried unsweetened coconut

You need the double boiler for this.

Place water, cream of tartar, sugar, egg whites and corn syrup on double boiler and beat non-stop on medium speed until temperature reaches about 140F. Once it reached that temperature increase speed to high and beat for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, fold in vanilla and grated coconut. Let cool a little.

to assemble the cake:

I used a cake stand for a more impressive presentation. Whatever dish you use, start by placing a dollop of lemon curd in the center of it to help cake remain in place. Place the first layer of cake on top. Ice the top of the layer with lemon curd. Repeat with the next layer. I added a bit too much curd to mine and the cake started sliding! To “fix” the sliding I added a bamboo skewer to increase stability. Add final layer of cake then frost it entirely.

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Who says pies have to be round?

squaring the circle  with vegan pumpkin pie

squaring the circle with vegan pumpkin pie

I was trying to make a pumpkin pie for a dinner party at Stevie’ and Hegui’s and discovered that I don’t actually own a round pie dish. So I used of a square pan instead! I knew it might look kind of odd but a pie is made in a pan so I reasoned it would be okay. And since this one is vegan, it seems perfectly natural to present it in a distinctive way. Suddenly necessity becomes meaningful and “just right,” which is so often the case with cooking, don’t you think?

Now you’re probably thinking, why in the world are you making pumpkin pie in May? Well, I bought some extra cans of pumpkin during the holiday season so I could enjoy pie out of “pie season.” Stores stop selling canned pumpkin this time of year, which can totally crimp your style.

The pie is unbelievably festive too with the addition of this vegan Cool Whip type stuff from Trader Joes. So, cheers to a non conventional themed square shaped pie not in pumpkin pie season!

My vegan crust is based on this recipe.

square pumpkin pie all around

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold water
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 tbsp vegan butter
¼ tbsp salt
3 tbsp agave nectar or honey
1 can pure pumpkin
½ cup coconut or soy milk
1 tsp Trader Joes pumpkin pie seasoning or similar
More agave nectar for pumpkin mix

Pre heat oven to 450F.

Mix flour, cold water, vegan butter, salt and honey together until smooth and it forms a ball. Oil a square pan with veggie butter (oh, okay, round is fine too). Press out the dough to cover the bottom and sides of your pan. Bake crust for ten minutes until crispy on edges. Take it out and let it sit for a few minutes.

Mix pumpkin, coconut milk and the pumpkin pie seasoning together. Add agave nectar to sweeten to taste. Pour pumpkin mix onto pie crust and put back in oven for 35 minutes. Let cool for about a half hour or so.

When ready to serve whip out the Trader Joes vegan dessert whip and voila pumpkin pie right before summer!

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one mouth-watering slice of star fruit

one mouth-watering slice of starfruit

I never gave too much thought to starfruit, or carambola, as it is called elsewhere outside English speaking countries in the western world. I only got drawn to it after a trip Steven and I took to Brazil together several years ago. On a visit to the State of Espirito Santo our friend and host surprised us every morning with delicious freshly made unusual tropical fruit juices. Some unusual even to me because though I am from Brazil, food culture varies widely from region to region, just like in the U. S. Some fruits produced in the northern states never reach the south where I grew up. One of these our friend, Luiz, used to make the morning juice: carambola!

Steven was ecstatic when he saw the huge bag of starfruit being triturated in the blender that first morning. At the time we were living in NYC. A single piece of “exotic” carambola at our favorite gourmet shop, Balducci’s, probably cost 5 bucks. And there was our friend with at least two dozen, happily and somewhat mundanely making them all into juice! It was fun thinking we were drinking a pitcher of fruit juice that would probably cost over a hundred dollars back home. What a glamorous life!

my whole star fruit from 99 Ranch Market standing on end

my whole star fruit from 99 Ranch Market standing on end

I think that for a fruit to be delicious, it doesn’t necessarily have to come in bold flavors. And this is certainly the case with starfruit. It has a waxy skin with a crunchy texture. Steven believes it has an apple-like texture with a totally different flavor. That flavor is mild: faintly light, juicy, sweet and tart, subtly redolent of watermelon, passion fruit, apple, grape, pineapple and pear, individually or all combined. It’s great to eat just as-is, but you can also add it to salads, use it to creatively garnish desserts (think Independence Day), and of course, if you’re in Brazil and/or have a carambola tree in your backyard, or better yet, have a lot of money to burn, juice it!

Carambola originally comes from Southwest Asia and was brought to the Americas over 100 years ago. It has very few calories, and is a good source of potassium. Learn more about it here.

carambola side view

carambola side view

The other day after watching hang-gliders in Fort Funston we went shopping at an Asian supermarket in Daly City, 99 Ranch Market. I found the biggest starfruit I’ve ever seen there. It probably weighed a whole pound! It looked so gorgeous I had to get it. We ate this carambola as a snack while cooking dinner. It tasted exactly like Brazil. I can’t wait to go back for more. Carambola, you truly are a star.

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The white corn cake that Fer from the Brazilian blog chucrute com salsicha made the other day caught my eye because she uses an ingredient of which I have plenty in my pantry: harina de maiz nixtamalizada, or Mexican corn flour. It’s been sitting around since Steven prepared delicious vegetarian tamales awaiting the next tamale cook-off because we didn’t know what else to make with it.

Brazilian style corn cake with Mexican nixtamalized corn flour

Brazilian style corn cake with Mexican nixtamalized corn flour

Fer is based here in Northern California. She shares the same trouble I do when it comes to buying corn flour for Brazilian dishes. In the US it is ground too coarsely. So she resorted to the Mexican corn flour which has a similar texture to the Brazilian. I think that’s wonderfully creative in-and-of-itself and has given me loads of new ideas already.

I’ve wanted to test this flour for some time but never got around to doing it. I guess was afraid that the way the corn was processed, nixtamalization, would impart a different flavor to the cake. Well, that was completely wrong. Thanks for debunking that myth, Fernanda!

I basically followed her recipe except that I used pastry flour in the combo corn-wheat flour. This made the cake extra fluffy. It came out deliciously corny, not too sweet and super moist.

Brazilian style corn cake with Mexican nixtamalized corn flour

key ingredients for Brazilian style corn cake with Mexican nixtamalized corn flour

key ingredients for Brazilian style corn cake with Mexican nixtamalized corn flour

1½ cups harina de maiz nixtamalizada (Mexican corn flour)
2½ cups whole milk
2 cups pastry flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup canola oil
¾ tsp fennel seeds

Pre heat oven to 400F.

Grease a large baking pan with canola oil and set aside.

Put corn flour in a large bowl, add milk and whisk together to combine. Let this mix sit for about 5-10 minutes. Add eggs and mix it again to combine. Blend in pastry flour, salt, sugar, fennel seeds and baking powder.

Transfer mixture to prepared baking pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Serve with a nice cup of black coffee.

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Anna’s almost secret family recipe:  chocolate cake with cooked frosting

Anna’s almost secret family recipe: chocolate cake with cooked frosting

I’ve been a fan of Anna’s blog, Keep It Luce, since shortly after she started publishing. Her Great Aunt Sue’s recipe for chocolate cake with cooked frosting really resonated with me. I’d neither had the cake before nor heard of “cooked frosting,” both of which made this intriguing. But it was the story of her grandfather on his 92nd birthday, weakened by chronic illness, and the intimate portrait of her family life that was so beautiful and memorable. It stuck with me, perhaps because in certain ways it reminded me of my own grandfather. And one day, finally, it was time to make the cake myself.

I served this at the end of a veggie dinner party for eight. I wasn’t sure what to expect as this is my first-ever chocolate cake from scratch. I knew that the cooked frosting was the bomb, as I’d tasted it while icing this ultra moist cake. It was a giant success. One guest asked for some to take home. I gave him a big slice in a doggie bag. I brought the rest to an afternoon barbecue party the following day, much to the delight of the hostess. (I couldn’t let it stay at my house as I’d have gobbled the whole thing up myself in a day or two, then felt guilty about it.)

Basically I followed Anna’s recipe exactly though I did add some rum to the frosting. Also my cake required a bit longer to set than is suggested in the Keep It Luce recipe: about an hour to 70 minutes.

Anna’s almost secret family recipe: chocolate cake with cooked frosting

for the cake:

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
¾ cups unsweetened cocoa
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 cup hot coffee (I made the cake right after breakfast)
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

for the frosting:

1 cup whole milk
5 tbsp flour
½ cup butter (1 stick) at room temp
½ cup veggie shortening
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp rum

to make the cake:

Pre-heat oven to 325F. Grease and flour a 9”x13” baking dish.

Sift the dry ingredients together.

Mix coffee, oil and milk. Gradually mix dry ingredients into the liquid. Once incorporated, beat for about 2 minutes. Add eggs and 1 tsp vanilla. Beat another 2 minutes.

Pour into prepared dish and bake until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Carefully invert from dish onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.

to make frosting:

In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup milk. Beat in flour and whisk vigorously. Mine reminded me of a roux.
Cover and let cool completely.

Combine flour/milk mix with remaining ingredients and beat until combined. Mmm!

Once the cake has cooled, place on serving dish and frost. Dust with more cocoa powder (optional).

This cake is unbelievably good. Thank you for the delish family recipe, Anna!

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decadent French toast

January 20, 2012

Things with custardy fillings, textures and flavors taste like heaven to me. I love Portuguese custard pies, crème brûlée, flan, English bread pudding and of course, any decant cream-soaked French toast. A toast to French toast, I say! Last Friday I went to the new La Boulange bakery that has just opened nearby my office […]

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return of the PPO: cream cheese pumpkin pie

January 10, 2012

My friend, Stevie, a WC bigwig, just had a birthday. I couldn’t make it to see him physically that day, as I’m so glamorous that I was travelling abroad or something equally fabulous. But I missed him, so the next time we met for dinner, I brought over a pumpkin pie with a message, “Happy […]

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