Friday, October 22, 2010
I want to have this cake at my wedding. God, doesn't that sound pretentious. "Hey guys, check out this great cake I made. It's so delicious that I want to eat it at the most important celebration of my life." I promise I don't mean it that way. I've been thinking about weddings and coconut cakes ever since I first saw When Harry Met Sally. In the last scene when Harry and Sally are sitting on the couch together telling the camera about their love story, Sally explains that they ate coconut cake at their wedding (with a very rich chocolate sauce, on the side). I hadn't ever given coconut cake a second thought before that moment, but if Sally loves coconut cake, then by-golly I should too.
Coconut cake has a moist richness unlike any other cake. I actually have made cake with coconut milk before (and for a wedding, incidentally). This time I used a recipe that called for more coconut milk, making the flavor more apparent in the cake itself, and then I echoed the flavor by adding coconut milk in the frosting and by adding toasted coconut shavings on top. The result was an elegant cake with sweet, rich coconut flavor. I couldn't help going back for a second slice, and then proceeding to run my fingers around the cake pan collecting crumbs and frosting from the sides.
I followed different recipes for the frosting and the cake. Apparently, there's some pretty big and important distinctions between coconut milk, coconut cream, and coconut water, so rather than substitute anything, I went with a simple recipe that called for just coconut milk. A lot of recipes ask for coconut extract which I'm sure would taste wonderful, but I was not about to go out and buy a $10 vial of something for one recipe. For the frosting, I whipped cream cheese and butter into oblivion until it was fluffy, glossy, and the perfect creamy topping for a too-good-to-be-true cake and sprinkled it with toasted coconut shavings (most recipes don't toast the coconut toppings, but I happen to adore the nutty taste of toasted coconut and think it adds beautiful color). I've posted the recipes I used and the adaptations I made below so feel free to use them or tweak them as you like (I tripled the cake from its original recipe to feed my house, but have scaled it back down here for much more practical purposes). But whatever you do, give this cake a try. I love it completely, and I think that Sally would too.
Adapted from Paula Deen
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Flaked, sweetened coconut, toasted
Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, 6-8 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating with each addition until well combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking, powder and salt. Add flour and milk to egg mixture alternately, starting and ending with flour. Stir in vanilla extract. Divide batter into three 9 inch round pans (to make a layer cake like Paula did) or pour all of the batter into a large sheet cake pan (like I did). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a fork inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool completely and frost with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows).
Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
This should be enough to frost the amount of cake I made and then some. When I made this, I tripled the cake recipe and doubled this frosting recipe and I still had some frosting left over. However, if you're making a layer cake you may need a bit more to compensate for that extra surface area.
1/2 pound cream cheese
2 sticks butter
3-4 cups powdered sugar (to taste)
2-3 tablespoons coconut milk
In an electric mixer (or with electric hand beaters) cream together butter and cream cheese. Add sugar, one cup at a time, until light and fluffy. Add coconut milk and beat until smooth, glossy, and light. Frost cake.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I don't know about the rest of America, but the Bay Area has been basking in a glorious heat wave over the past few days. Today was right at the cusp of being miserably hot, but there was this nice cool, dry breeze keeping everything reasonably comfortable. I got to enjoy what's surely one of my last few days wearing a sun dress and sandals, in the middle of October. I love Indian summers.
Yet the nights aren't as warm as the days would lead you to believe. Berkeley evenings cool off slowly as the sun dips behind the Golden Gate Bridge, painting the sky a rich amber hue. A night like this isn't quite summer, but it's not quite fall either. I want something a little heartier than a bowl of ice cream for dinner (which, in fact, is all that I feel like eating in hot summer months) but cozying up with a big plate of meat and potatoes don't feel quite right either.
Sweet corn risotto is perfect for the occasion. You still have the chance to celebrate the lingering summer vegetables, but it's sure to be warm and comforting on a barely cold night. I'll be honest, I didn't eat this on the night that I'm writing to you, but if I had any say in what was served on my plate six nights a week, this risotto is what I would have eaten on a night like this. It's rich, it's creamy, and the flavor or the corn is just brilliant. I served it along side a delicious leafy salad with late summer tomatoes, balsamic, and a drizzle of walnut oil (YUM). Like all risottos, it's certainly not hard to make, but it requires a lot of love (just keep telling yourself that as you stand stirring over a steaming pot for 30 minutes, I promise the end result is worth it). It also doesn't look like much so don't judge this recipe by the shabby picture I posted. This sweet corn risotto is begging for you to give it a try, and after all, there may only be a week or two left that you can. So go ahead. Summer is still calling.
Sweet Corn Risotto
Adapted from Cooking Light
This recipe includes a couple of tricks to make the risotto taste creamier but still appeal to the "Cooking Light" crowd. For those of you who've looked at my blog for longer than three seconds, you know I have absolutely no such cooking light agenda. I just nixed the part about pureeing some of the corn to get a creamier taste and texture and added more cheese and butter instead.
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon of salt
1 can (14 ounce) can of chicken broth
3 ears (or 1 1/2 cups) fresh corn kernels*
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil (or as needed)
1 cup sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/2-3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh basil, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
In a medium saucepan, bring water, salt, and chicken broth to a simmer. Keep warm over low heat.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and corn kernels and salt to taste. Saute 5-7 minutes until soft and fragrant. Add garlic, saute 1 minute. Remove mushroom-corn mixture from pan and set aside.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in the same pot over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add rice and saute 3 minutes or until rice has a nutty aroma and is very lightly browned. Add wine, cook 1-2 minutes until liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently until each 1/2 cup is absorbed before adding the next (about 25-30 minutes total). If it seems like it's going too quickly, turn the heat down, if it's cooking to slowly, increase heat.
When all of the broth is absorbed and the rice is tender, add mushroom-corn mixture. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, basil, and pepper.
*Use fresh corn! I've never tried this recipe with frozen corn but I can't imagine it being very good. This dish is about bringing out the simple flavors of summer. If fresh corn isn't in season, save this recipe for a time when it is!
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The number one thing I missed when I was in Europe was hands-down, without a doubt, pulled pork sandwiches. Barbecue is America (although I'm pretty sure I already expressed my feelings about that) and when I was gone I missed it more than anything. Spain offered nothing remotely similar to the sweet, spicy, smoky goodness of American barbecue (Spaniards hardly use pepper!). To me, the pinnacle of this iconic American cooking style is pulled pork.
Pulled pork supersedes other barbecue varieties because I firmly believe that you can tell so much about a person through the way they prepare it. What cut of meat do they use? What kind of marinade? Is it a dry rub or a brine? Do they add sauce? If so what kind? And when do they apply it? These are all questions that make a huge difference in the way the meat turns out. Pulled pork is also easy enough that most everyone can prepare it (a rack of ribs, to me at least, is not so simple), and so pulled pork has an element of universality to it that other barbecue types lack because of their technical complexity. Lastly, every step that is traditionally involved in preparing pulled pork is meant to make the meat itself taste better. The meat should certainly be elevated by the sauce or the marinade or the cooking process, but when you finally bite into it, the true flavor of the pork should shine through.
Here's the recipe I use. It's good. Everyone I've served this to (my house members can attest) loves it, praise undeserving of myself and much more appropriately directed to Tyler Florence from the Food Network (or whatever genius developed this recipe). The recipe calls for a Carolina style barbecue sauce that's primarily vinegar and mustard based, but I adapt the sauce a bit to my taste by adding more ketchup and some molasses as a nod to this sauce's sweeter, more tomato based Texas-style cousin. I also would dial down the spice a bit. It's a good idea to make this (and any barbecue sauce) a while in advance to let the flavors develop. I made it in the morning when I popped the pork into the oven, but you could easily do it the day before. This pork is practically effortless (yes, it takes a while what with the marinade and the slow cooking, but you don't actually have to do anything while all of that magic is happening) and frankly pretty fun to make. I'm serious about this one, guys. Try. This. Pork.
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Adapted slightly from Tyler Florence
3 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
3 tablespoons coarse salt
1 (5 to 7 pound) pork shoulder
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup yellow mustard
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Hamburger buns or rolls
Whisk together dry rub ingredients. Rub mixture all over pork shoulder. Let stand overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Put the pork in a roasting pan and cover with foil. Bake for about 6 hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the pork reads 170 degrees. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
Make barbecue sauce. Combine sauce ingredients in a large sauce pan over medium heat and cook for 10 minutes until sauce is slightly reduced and sugar is dissolved. Allow to stand off heat for several hours.
When pork is slightly cool, pour out most of the fat at the bottom of the roasting pan. Pull the meat apart with the tongs of two forks. Pour 2/3 of the barbecue sauce (or to taste) over pork and allow the pork to rest another 30 minutes (the pork will absorb some of the sauce).
Serve on hamburger buns with remaining sauce.