Wednesday, April 14, 2010

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake - Yum!

I am not from St. Louis, although I have been there a number of times, especially in my teens and 20s as we often took weekend road trips there. There isn't a whole lot there that I find interesting aside from seeing the arch; but seeing it once is enough, right?

There is a yummy breakfast cake/dessert though, from there called the "St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake" and many of the area local church cookbooks and newspapers have printed one version or another of this local treat. Like most local time-honored, family cherished recipes; the variations on the recipe are endless. Many use cake mixes as a base but I really like the yeast dough version of the base since I love the taste of a yeasted sweet dough. It also isn't as sweet as the cake mix versions, and believe me - it is the perfect level of sweetness to have with a cup of coffee or tea.

Here is the recipe:

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

(Cake can be refrigerated for 2 days

Serves 18

Base Cake Dough
1/2 cup evaporated milk , heated to 100 degrees
1 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
4 large eggs , room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon salt 
3 cups all-purpose flour 
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Gooey Butter Topping
1 cup granulated sugar 
1 stick unsalted butter , softened
4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese , softened
4 tablespoons light corn syrup 
2 large egg , room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2/3 cup all-purpose flour 
6 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix 

confectioners' sugar for dusting on top

1. For the dough: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. When oven reaches 200 degrees, shut oven off. Grease a 9 x13-inch baking pan (or line it with a with a greased foil sling). Also grease a medium bowl.

2. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix milk and yeast on low speed until yeast dissolves. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and flour and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-low and add butter, one piece at a time, until incorporated, then continue mixing for 5 minutes. Transfer batter to prepared bowl, cover with plastic, and place in warm oven. Let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Spread batter in prepared pan.

3.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.

4. For the topping: In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat granulated sugar, butter, and cream cheese on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add corn syrup, egg, and vanilla until combined. Add flour and pudding mix and mix until just incorporated. Portion dollops of topping evenly over batter, then spread into even layer.

5. Once oven is fully heated, bake until exterior is golden and center of topping is just beginning to color (center should jiggle slightly when pan is shaken), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan at least 3 hours. Use foil sling (if used) to lift cake from pan.

Dust cake with confectioners’ sugar.

Serve. (Cake can be refrigerated for 2 days.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Happy New Year!!

2:50 AM JST
Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! My brother Jun and his wife Akemi just left with their sleepy dog Hina dressed in a hat and sweater for the 2 minute drive home from my mother’s house. 

Mama, Papa and I went to the local shrine together just after 12:00 AM to say our prayers.  It was not too cold but there were intermittent gusts of strong wind as we waited in the queue from the street and up the stone steps carved into the side of the mountain up to the shrine.  The shrine is a 2 minute walk from my mother’s front door so we were pretty much there and back home within a half hour.
I love going to the shrine on New Year’s – there was a beautiful full moon shining over us with a few dark rolling clouds and a sprinkling of stars.  Crisp, cold and really just the perfect setting for the New Year to begin.  After climbing the steps and getting to our turn in line, we offer a 100 yen coin in the coin box and then ring the bell before bowing and clapping our hands twice to say our prayers with bowed head. 
After that we move on to get either (or both) cold, clear, oaky daru (cask) sake and sweet, hot amazake as well as a sweet miso glazed skewer of konnyaku.  Across from the food and drink there is a raging bonfire that crackles and sends out beautiful fiery sparks dancing up through the air.  The small plaza is bustling with the local citizens, talking, laughing, drinking, eating and wishing each other blessings for the New Year as the  children play – and yes, text each other incessantly – while the adults socialize.
Mama and I chose to have the hot amazake and papa the daru sake.  Papa decided to go in sweatpants, a light jacket and no hat against Mama’s protests and as the one who is always catching a cold; he was already sniffling by the time we got home – the Gods clearly chiding his pride. 
Jun and Akemi decided not to go – Jun was fast asleep as much from our four hour eating and drinking binge as his hectic work schedule of the past week.  Kawaisou – poor devil just doesn’t get enough sleep!!  Akemi is Buddhist and generally only goes to the Oteara to say her prayers.  Mama’s family has always been Shinto and heavily involved in the religion so going to the shrines has always been paramount.
I love being in Japan for New Years and this is the first time Mama has had Jun and I together with her to share New Years Eve and New Years ever in her life so she is just delirious and beaming with happiness.
I love to see her smiling and happy – a priceless and indescribable feeling to put into words. 
We usually eat toshi-koshi soba or Year Ending noodles after returning from the shrine but everyone is so full tonight that we decided to have them in the morning at our leisure.
It is almost 2:00 AM JST so I am off to bed and am looking forward to writing out my nengajou – New Year’s cards – out over some hot green tea and undoubtedly another round of New Year food and sweets…

Cuban-esque Spicy Pork Stew with Arroz con Gandules

(The finished dish)

It is yet another rainy, cold, dreary day in New Jersey today – the northeast is getting battered with yet more rainstorms.  I was craving some serious comfort food but something different, tasty and yet not full of the typical culinary badness that most serious comfort food has to make it comforting.
I did some research and found a few recipes for a Cuban style pork stew.  A typical "Guiso de Carne de Puerco"/ "Fricasse de Puerco" has as many variations as does any culture’s basic meat stew so I took a few elements from a number of recipes and came up with my own variation.
I like to serve it with Arroz con Gandules (which I know is a traditional Puerto Rican dish)
Time-saving tips:  I cook the dish in my electric skillet and make the rice in my rice cooker.
Cuban-esque Spicy Pork Stew with Arroz con Gandules
2 large pork tenderloins, cubed (about 3 lbs)
2 onions, sliced
3 bell peppers (I used red and yellow) chopped roughly
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cans (14.5 oz) of diced tomatoes with zesty jalapenos
1 jar of Goya Alcaparrado (a mixture of olives, capers and pimentos) drained
1 tablespoon of dried cumin
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of hot paprika
1 tablespoon or red pepper flakes
1 cup of red vermouth (or sherry)
1 cup of chicken stock, low sodium, fat-free
1 cup of beef stock, low sodium, fat-free
Zest of 1 cara orange (any orange is fine – cara is a type of navel orange)
Juice of 2 cara oranges (any orange is fine – cara is a type of navel orange)
Juice of 1 lime
1 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup marsala or sherry
1.       Season pork liberally with salt and pepper.
2.      Brown quickly in a bit of olive oil until no longer pink – but not cooked through.  It should be quite raw.  Remove from pan and set aside.
3.       Add onions, peppers, garlic, sweet potatoes and sauté for a few minutes until fragrant.
4.      Add tomatoes, Alcaparrado, spices, vermouth and stock and bring to a simmer.
5.      Add the zest of one orange and the juice of one orange to the pan and cover.  Cook until sweet potatoes are almost cooked through about 10 minutes.
6.      Meanwhile, squeeze the juice of one lime and the juice of one orange over the pork and set aside.
7.      Once sweet potatoes are almost done, add pork to the pan and top with chopped cilantro.
8.      Simmer for about 20 minutes until the pork is cooked through.
9.      Serve as is over rice or thicken the sauce slightly if desired.
To thicken sauce, bring stew to a boil and add in 3 tablespoons of cornstarch mixed in some marsala or sherry.  Cook a few minutes until thickened and then serve with rice.

GOYA Arroz con Gandules
I use my rice cooker for this and it works fine – but traditionally it is done on the stovetop.
If using a rice cooker – just put everything in the pot and turn it on – done!
1 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
¼ lb. country ham, cubed (I omitted the ham when I made it with this dish)
½ red bell pepper, chopped (about ½ cup)
½ yellow onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
2 packets Sazón GOYA with Coriander and Annatto
1 tbsp. Minced Garlic
2 cups rice (I prefer and used Japanese short grain but medium grain is traditional)
1 can (15 oz.) GOYA Green Pigeon Peas
4 oz. GOYA Tomato Sauce
Heat oil in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add ham to pan; cook until brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in peppers and onions; cook, stirring occasionally, scraping up brown bits from bottom, until vegetables are soft and translucent, 10 minutes. Add sazón, garlic, cilantro and oregano. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add rice to pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until coated in oil and toasted, about
1 minute. Stir in pigeon peas, tomato sauce and 1½ cups water; using a wooden spoon, stir once and bring rice mixture to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until water is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Gently stir rice from bottom up.
Lower heat to medium low and cook, covered, until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat. Gently fluff rice with fork. Cover pan and let stand 10 minutes.
Cooking Tip:
The crust of rice that forms on the bottom of the pot is a delicacy referred to in Puerto Rico as pegao. Once the rice is served, the pegao is scraped out and distributed as a treat.
To achieve the perfect crust – caramelized and crunchy, but not burnt –once the water has evaporated, scrape the bottom of pan with the wooden spoon, making sure to dislodge any stuck bits [Step 2]. This will prevent the rice from burning. Then, allow the rice to cook over medium-low heat, and refrain from shaking the pot or lifting the lid. This will ensure an even distribution of heat on the bottom of the pot, which, in turn, allows the perfect pegao to form.

Day 1 in Japan

                                 (Mama's front door)                                      (Tanuki-san)

Japan 5:15 PM JST
I have been in Japan for about 24 hours and it is always amazing to me how no matter how much time passes between visits; that nothing seems to change in terms of how I feel when I am here.  It always feels as if I have always lived here and my life in the US is but a dream…and when I am in New Jersey, the reverse seems true.
In any case, I am happy to be home and with no work or homework to do – I am truly ‘anshin shiteimasu’ - which means at peace…
The trip here was fine and while I was worried about the heightened security imposed just the day before due to the crazy guy in Detroit, I really wasn’t affected by it in the US or in Japan.  I had to arrive at the airport an hour earlier – 3 hours instead of the usual 2 – but with my iPhone kindle app loaded up with 6 books; the time passed quickly as I sipped my Starbucks green tea latte and read through “His Majesty’s Dragon” by Naomi Novik.  I started the second book in the series at the end of my flight so I think I will get through the other two in the series during my time here and on the flight back.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 11:10 AM EST and all was going smoothly until we were just ready to take off.  Suddenly the captain informed us that there was a person who “decided that that they wanted off the plane”, and so we had to wait about 20 minutes for their luggage to be removed from the plane. 
We then were ready to take off again when the captain got back on the intercom and asked the entire plane for a doctor, nurse or EMT. When none identified themselves as such, the paramedics were called and so we waited some more.
We were then cleared a third time after the sick passenger was taken off the plane and the third time was the charm so we were off.
The flight was uneventful, very smooth and though I was pretty much stuck in my seat for the entire 13.5 hour flight, save for one trip to the bathroom; it was fine.  My seat mates were Chinese and very quiet but they ended up sleeping for the majority of the flight, rousing only to eat and then going back into hibernation.  I may switch to an aisle seat for the return flight...
The airplane seat backs were all fitted with a touch screen entertainment system with movies, television shows, music and flight status.  There was a huge selection of global international entertainment so I was able to watch “Departures” (okuribito in Japanese) a Japanese movie that won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film.  It was a beautiful movie and yes, I bawled my eyes out in parts LOL.
I then watched the Bollywood film “Fashion” by Madhur Bhandarkar and starring Priyanka Chopra who is just stunningly gorgeous.
The flight landed about 40 minutes late and then I pretty much zipped through debarkation – once I had my luggage, I just showed the customs official my passport and told him I was visiting my mother and family and he just waved me through immediately without checking a single bag.  John gave me a Cuban cigar for Papa and I wasn’t sure if it would be an issue (Cuban cigars aren’t illegal in Japan) and luckily it wasn’t.
Mama and Papa were waiting for me at the gate and I had been texting my brother (at work) on his cell as soon as I landed – the iPhone is indeed global and found the local carrier DoCoMo & SoftBank as soon as I switched off the airplane mode after we landed. The fact that I can text in both Japanese and English at will is awesome – I love, love,love the iPhone!

We grabbed a bite at a Soba Noodle shop on the 4th floor at Narita Airport and I had delicious tsukimi soba (moon viewing soba) noodles served cold and warm hijiki seaweed rice with hot mugs of mugi-cha (barley tea).  Truly delicious!

 (Tsukimi soba - Moon viewing soba)
There was a African-American Navy guy who came in after us and sat next to us with his wife (or girlfriend) who had just arrived for a visit – her first to Japan, and she didn’t seem too happy about it.
She ordered blindly and was served soba noodles with a dipping sauce and a mug of soup broth to sip – my mother ended up showing her how to eat the noodles since she had no idea what to do with the fresh knob of wasabi next to her noodles nor the dipping sauce or sipping soup.  She seemed happier to be eating the noodles once they had some flavor.
After dinner, I changed my currency over to yen and we were off to the house.  I slept the entire way and when I woke up we were home.
Ake-chan (my brother’s wife) and her mother (who I call Ake-Mama) stopped for a visit about an hour after my arrival and I was able to give them the gifts I brought which seemed to go over very well. 
My brother called after they left and apologized for not stopping but he had just gotten home from work and it was about 11:00 PM JST so I told him I would see him whenever he was able to stop by – he has such a difficult schedule, I really feel for him and would rather he got a good night’s sleep.  He is off for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day so we will have plenty of time to catch up and spend time together.  Besides – he and Ake-chan are taking me to Kyoto for three days next week.
I slept well and spent today just being home and going for a couple short walks.  Mama made a great breakfast as usual – hot rice, hot clear broth with seaweed and sesame, ginger chicken, mentaiko (cod roe), sautéed lotus root, mapo tofu with pork, spicy sautéed perilla leaves, umeboshi and her delicious nukazuke pickles of fresh turnip and cucumber. 
Ake-chan and Ake-Mama stopped by for coffee shortly after breakfast and during their visit I showed them Skype – we called Ed and also Ed’s mother, Mom H.; which my mother was over the moon about.  She and Papa were so, so happy to see and talk to Mom H. that their faces were just beaming.  They both adore Mom H. and the feeling is certainly returned in kind.  Mom often says they lived closer together and I have no doubt that if they lived close, that the moms would be fast friends – they seem to share so many similar thoughts about life and family.  I am truly very blessed and happy to have both wonderful women in my life.
After we called Mom H., Ake and Ake-Mama left and then we called Darline and Peet in Anguilla.  Danny and Aubry were there as well so Mama was able to see and talk to her oldest grandson and then meet his girlfriend Aubry for the first time.  She was (and still is) beaming with happiness.  It is so good to see her laughing and smiling all day.  Skype is as magical a thing to her as the iPhone.

I remembered this area with no problems and went to the book store where I bought two great cookbooks on wagashi or Japanese sweets. I stopped by the liquor store and bought my brother a nice bottle of Kageshima Imo Shochu (similar to potato vodka), then the tea shop where I picked up some roasted mugi-cha (barley tea) and then finally went to my favorite wagashi-ya or Japanese Sweet store called Sakakura-ya and bought some yummy daifuku mame and kuri yokan.
(daifuku mame)

My brother is stopping by in a couple of hours so I will get to see him today – for now, KBS is broadcasting a Korean Epic movie set in the same timeframe as Japan’s Samurai feudal era.
Papa  and Mama both love these movies – as do I – so off to watch the show!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easter Cheese Paskha (Pashka, Pascha) Dessert

It is almost Good Friday and with Easter almost here, it's worth considering a dessert that isn't a cake or cupcakes tricked out with pastel jelly beans.  Making this dish is one of my traditions for the holiday and I always love making it.

Paskha (also spelled Pashka, Pascha) is a traditional European Easter dessert rather like unbaked cheesecake - but even richer tasting!

It consists of little more than farmer’s cheese with a few added ingredients that is placed in a special mold called a pasotchnitza.

If you don’t have a pasotchnitza, then a clean flowerpot is often used; but if it isn’t for Easter; you can also use a large coeur a la crème mold or anything that allows for some drainage of the whey as it sits.

Historically, Paskha or Pascha (Russian: "Easter") is a festal dish made in Eastern Orthodox countries of those foods which are forbidden during the fast of Great Lent. It is made during Holy Week and then brought to church on Great Saturday to be blessed after the Paschal Vigil.

The name of the dish comes from Pascha, the Eastern Orthodox celebration of Easter.

Paskha is a traditional Easter dish made from tvorog, a European farmer’s cheese which is white, symbolizing the purity of Christ, the Paschal Lamb, and the joy of the Resurrection.

In the European Orthodox tradition, pashka is usually molded in the form of a truncated pyramid (a symbol of the Church; also said to represent the Tomb of Christ).

It is traditionally made in a wooden mold assembly called pasotchnitza that can be taken apart for cleaning; but more modern materials, such as plastics, are used nowadays.  I have one wooden mold that I bought years ago from a company no longer available.  However, you can get both the wooden and plastic versions here: (Easter Christian Supply)

The pascha is decorated with traditional religious symbols, such as the "Chi Ro" motif, a three-bar cross, the letters X and B (Cyrillic letters standing for XB which is the Slavonic form of the traditional Paschal greeting: "Christ is Risen!"), eggs, and a lance, all symbolizing Christ's Passion and Resurrection.

No matter what your religious affiliation – this uncooked cheesecake is delicious!

Easter Cheese Pashka

3 pounds farmer’s cheese, (Friendship brand if you can get it)
1 pound whole milk cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
1 pound butter, softened
1/2 pint heavy cream
1 cup ground almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
6 cooked egg yolks, sieved
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 vanilla beans scraped

Sliced or chopped fresh or candied fruit, for garnish

1. Put farmers' cheese, cream cheese, sugar, butter and egg yolks into the
bowl of a food processor; pulse to combine.

2. Add cream; process until smooth.

3. Transfer cheese mixture to a large bowl.

4. Add almonds, lemon zest, orange zest, vanilla extract, and vanilla seeds;

5. Stir vigorously to combine.

6. Line three 1-qt. pashka molds or three clean 1-qt. flowerpots with a
double layer of cheesecloth.

7. Set mold in a bowl, transfer cheese mixture into lined mold, and fold ends
of cheesecloth neatly over the top.

8. Put a plate over wide end of mold and weigh down with a soup can.

9. Refrigerate allowing liquid to drain, for at least 12 hours to 3 days.

To serve, invert mold onto a serving plate and remove mold; remove the cheesecloth.

Decorate with candied fruit, if you like.