Thursday, August 31, 2017

One more recipe from Croatia: Fresh Tuna Salad with Arugula and Warm Potatoes

Towards the end of our recent travels in Croatia, David and I stopped in Opatija for lunch.  You can see the restaurant in the photo above: looking at the closed oval of water, you'll see a rectangular building at one end--that's the restaurant.  The oval was a kind of ocean swimming pool, shallow enough to walk around in, which I did a bit of.  But this post is about the food.  I had a delicious salad with fresh tuna, arugula, and warm potatoes.  Once I was home, I searched the web for a recipe that was close, and found one I could use--a recipe for "Warm Potato with Arugula Salad" to which I just had to add tuna.  Of course, making it at home is different from eating it right by the sea, but it was still lovely.  I used frozen tuna.  It might also be nice with salmon.

FRESH tuna salad with arugula and warm potatoes
adaptation of salad eaten in Opatija, Croatia, with help from

1-1/2 pounds white potatoes, scrubbed
3-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
2-1/4 teaspoons sherry or red wine vinegar
1/2 small sweet onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
2-1/2 oz. baby arugula (about 4 cups)
about 14 oz. fresh (frozen) tuna

Preheat the oven to 425°. Cut the potatoes into 3/4" cubes. Scatter the potato cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with 1-1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss until coated. Season with salt and pepper and roast for about 25-30 minutes, until browned and crisp.
Pan-fry or grill the fish, then cut into bite-size pieces.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the mustard and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with the onion and arugula; add the fish. Top with the dressing, toss again and serve right away.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Another great cake--Rosemary, Olive Oil and Orange Cake

I mistakenly posted this on my Studio Notes blog--sorry!  I took it down there and put it up here where it belongs.

I cut out a recipe for this cake from the New York Times several months ago, and was reminded of it when going through my files a couple of weeks ago. In the wake of enjoying a couple of rosemary gimlets, and my success with the somewhat complicated mocha chocolate chip cake, I decided to give this one a whirl. The cake garnered many compliments when served after Shabbat services last Friday, and I enjoyed making it.  The crystallized rosemary was a nice touch (double click on the photo for a close-up), not hard to do, and was even edible, which I didn't expect.  It happens that I always have rosemary in the garden in the summer, but this was good enough that I'd buy fresh rosemary in the store if I didn't have it on hand.  This is more of an "afternoon tea cake" rather than a dessert cake, but I think most people would enjoy it anytime.

slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe:
Yield: 18 small servings, 12 generous ones

Crystallized rosemary: Prepare this at least 6 hours before icing the cake.
10 small rosemary sprigs, no more than 1" each in size (Pick either the very tops of 10 sprigs or the smaller, bottommost clumps off large sprigs.)
1 egg white, lightly whisked
about 2 t. granulated or superfine sugar

Brush each rosemary sprig on all sides with a little of the egg white and then dip it in the sugar, lightly coating the needles on all sides. Place the coated sprigs on a wire rack to dry, and leave for at least six hours.

The cake:
about 2 T. unsalted butter, softened, for greasing the pan
2 cups all purpose flour, and a bit more to flour the pan
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup plus 1 t. sugar (original recipe called for "superfine" sugar, but I used regular granulated and it was fine)
1 T. finely grated orange zest (from about 1-1/2 oranges)
1-1/2 T. packed finely chopped rosemary leaves (going up to 2 T. would be fine)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (130 grams) sour cream (I put the gram measurement here because the batter was quite thick and one commenter noted that the gram measurement yielded more than 1/2 cup, which was helpful for the consistency.)
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Grease a 9-inch Bundt pan with 1 T. of the softened butter, refrigerate for 10 minutes, and then butter again, generously. Toss in a little flour to dust the greased pan, discarding the excess.
Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, mix together on medium speed until combined the olive oil, sugar, orange zest, and chopped rosemary leaves. Then add the eggs, one at a time.  Whisk for another minute or so, until thick.  Then add the sour cream and mix on low speed until combined.
Sift together into a small bowl the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and mix until combined.  Increase the speed to high and whisk for 1 minute.
Scrape the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and smooth the top with a spatula.  Bake for 30-35 minutes (mine needed 35), until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. (Since the cake is made with olive oil rather than butter, it won't look golden brown on top, but you should see a peek of brown around the edge from the buttered sides of the pan.)  Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack. Once the cake is completely cool, it can be iced.

The icing (make after the cake has cooled):
1-3/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
1-1/2 T. freshly squeezed orange juice (and a little more, as needed)
2-1/2 t. freshly squeezed lemon juice (and a little more, as needed)

In a small bowl, whisk together until smooth (or use a hand mixer) the confectioners' sugar, orange juice, and lemon juice.  I needed a little more than the measurements above to get a consistency thin enough to pour over the cake, so squeeze more and then use what you need to get the desired consistency.  Prepare a serving plate with 4 triangles of waxed paper, points towards the center.  Put the cake onto the paper and drizzle the icing on top, allowing it to drip down the sides of the cake.  Top immediately with the crystallized rosemary. For the beauty of the final product, do take a look at the NYTimes example as well as the photos here of my own cake.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Mocha Chocolate Chip Cake

I enjoy baking, but don't bake just to have cookies or whatever in the house--too tempting.  So I look forward to occasions to bake for others.  For a potluck earlier this week, I offered a cake, and the host was very enthusiastic.  I have a number of good recipes for cakes that don't need a frosting, and that's what I usually do, avoiding the extra steps of adding a final layer.  But this time I felt like doing something that was a bit more of production (a two-layer cake rather than a bundt pan or sheet cake, and frosting too), and it was definitely worth it.  I received many compliments on the final product! Baking the cake also provided an occasion to think about my mother, from whom I learned to bake.  I think most cooking can readily be learned from instructions in a cookbook, but in baking there are some little things that it helps to have demonstrated.  Like how to keep the frosting off the serving plate that you've got the cake on, which my mother showed me how to do by cutting four large triangles of waxed paper, laying them around on the plate (points all in the center), putting down the cake layers, frosting them, and then pulling out the opposite triangles.

I used a recipe for Mocha Chocolate Chip Cake that I saved from the New York Times a while back. Click here to see a nice photo of the cake and for the original recipe; recipe below slightly modified. I was tempted to substitute unsalted butter for salted, and light brown sugar for the turbinado sugar, but decided in the end to do as the recipe said.  I don't know how the alternatives would have been, but the cake was great as is.  I did lessen the espresso powder a bit, and didn't use all the liquid in the frosting.  And for sifting flour, I use a sifter just like the one my mother had.  For a while you couldn't find this kind (with a handle you turn to spin the sifter blades), but I see they're now readily available on Amazon.  So much easier than the squeeze mechanism that was dominant for a while:

For the cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
2-1/4 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/3 cups turbinado sugar
2 large eggs
1-1/2 t. vanilla extract
2-1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. kosher salt
1 cup milk (anything from skim to whole milk; I used skim)
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, roughly chopped; or mini-chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli Bittersweet chips)

For the frosting
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1/8 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 T. instant espresso
2 T. boiling water
3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, for decorating (I left the chips whole, but the Ghirardelli bittersweet chips are large, flat buttons and didn't look as nice as the smaller chocolate chips in the Times photo.  Next time I would either use the smaller chips on top, or I would chop up these chips somewhat finely and sprinkle on the top of the cake)

1) Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 8-inch cake pans with flour/oil mixture (or butter and flour the pans).  Then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper cut to fit.  (I was tempted not to use the parchment paper, but online comments on the Times recipe mentioned it was needed because of the melting chocolate chips in the batter.)

2) Using an electric mixer and a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar until evenly blended.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix again until smooth.

3) In a separate bowl, whisk or sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.  Add half the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, mix well, then add half the milk and mix again.  Repeat with remaining dry ingredients and milk.  (The batter may look a little curdled; this is fine.)  Add the chopped chocolate chips and mix well.

4) Pour the batter into the pans and bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes.  Let cool for 15 minutes before removing cakes from pans to a rack to cool further.

5) When the cake layers are completely cool, make the frosting.  Using an electric mixer, mix the confectioners' sugar with the butter, salt, and vanilla, until well blended.  In a small bowl, mix the espresso powder with the boiling water to dissolve.  Add it to the frosting, starting with a tablespoon of liquid and adding more as needed to get the consistency needed for a spreadable frosting.

6) Prepare a serving platter with 4 large triangles of waxed paper, points toward the center; this protects the plate from the frosting.  Place one cake layer on top of the paper, smooth rounded top down on the plate.  Spread about one-third of the frosting over the top in an even layer.  Place the second layer on top of the frosting, smooth rounded top on top.  Spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.  Decorate with chocolate chips. Remove the waxed paper by pulling out opposite sides at once. Here's a photo of my cake with the large chips.  They look a little clunky, but that didn't interfere with the taste!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Two Croatian recipes: Ajvar and Blitva

One of the pleasures of a recent trip to Croatia was the delicious food. (See this post for an account of the trip.) I can't recreate the just-caught-that-day fresh fish available at every restaurant, but a couple of side dishes were also great, and I have successfully made them at home.

Ajvar is a beautiful red spread, ubiquitous as a condiment at Croatian restaurants. It's delicious along with meat or fish. I also like to serve it before the meal as a dip or spread with crackers, bread, or small pretzel twists.

(red pepper and eggplant spread), adapted from
serves 12
6 large red bell peppers
1 large eggplant (about 1.5 lbs)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 ounce fresh chives
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespooon white or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Heat oven to 450°F and arrange racks in the upper third. Halve each pepper, discarding stems and seeds. Place peppers, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and drizzle it with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a little salt and place it, cut-side down, on the baking sheet. Roast the peppers and eggplant until they are blackened, blistered, and the eggplant collapses when you press on it, about 60 minutes.

Remove the eggplant and set it aside to cool slightly. Remove the peppers, place them in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap until the peppers have slightly cooled, at least 5 minutes. Use a spoon or ice-cream scoop to remove the pulp of the eggplant from the skin, and discard the skin. Chop garlic in food processor.  Add eggplant to the food processor with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the garlic. (Can also mash by hand.) Pulse the eggplant a few times so that it’s roughly chopped.

Once peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them (reserving any juices that collect), discard the peel, and add the peppers and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pepper liquid to the food processor. Add the chives and pulse 5 to 8 times to chop coarsely.

Stir in the lemon juice, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and sugar. Taste and add more sugar if it is a bit sour, then add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as desired. Serve warm or room temperature as a spread or condiment.

TIP: Ajvar can be made up to 4 days ahead of time; store refrigerated in an airtight container and bring to room temperature before serving. Taste and stir in more vinegar, sugar, salt, or olive oil as desired.  You can also grill the peppers and eggplant.  You can freeze any leftovers.

The second recipe is on the menu of every Croatian restaurant, and often served as a side dish on a plate when you order a meat or fish dish.  It is simple, but delicious!

BLITVA (Chard and Potatoes)
adapted from
serves 4 

3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in 1" pieces
3 T. olive oil
5 good-sized cloves of garlic, thinly sliced or chopped
1 large bunch of Swiss chard

Rinse the chard, remove the center stalk, and cut the greens into half-inch strips.

Boil the potato pieces in water until tender, about 6-8 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the drained potatoes and cook, stirring a couple of times, until the potatoes start to turn golden around the edges, about 6 minutes.

Add half of the chard, sprinkle with a little kosher salt, and then toss in the potatoes.  Add the remaining chard and toss.  Cook until the chard has wilted, about 4-6 minutes.  Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.  (It was convenient for me to cook this a couple of hours before serving dinner; it was very good at room temperature, and it saved me from having to be at the stove once the guests had arrived.)