Thursday, February 25, 2010

Upside-down apple cake

For the most part, I'm not a cake person. With the possible exception of chocolate idiot cake, I'll choose pie over cake any day. (That kind of makes it sound like this is a dilemma that I face frequently. I wish.)

But my mom's birthday was last week and I thought I should probably make her a birthday cake rather than a birthday pie. I'd seen some recipes for apple cakes, like this one, which looks like a distant cousin of tarte tatin (an upside-down apple tart). Since tarte tatin is one of the best things in the world, it follows that a cake tatin should be pretty tasty too, right? And my apples say they were grown in the USA, so it's even somewhat seasonal.

I ended up using a How to Cook Everything Vegetarian recipe, "Plum-Rosemary Upside-Down Cake," with several modifications. 1) Obviously, apples instead of plums, and no rosemary. 2) Caramel instead of a layer of brown sugar on the bottom of the pan. 3) I added some spices. 4) Yogurt instead of buttermilk. 5) I just realized that I doubled the amount of butter in the recipe, since you're supposed to use half of it to grease the pan. Oops.

Upside-down apple cake
adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
makes one 9-inch cake; takes about 1.5 hours, mostly baking time

1 cup sugar (divided use)
1/3 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 apples, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick (I used two Granny Smiths and one Pink Lady)
1 cup plain yogurt (I used nonfat)
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter (skip this if you're using a nonstick pan). In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, mix 1/2 cup of the sugar with the water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it is amber-colored, then pour it into the cake pan as evenly as possible. It will harden fairly quickly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Arrange the apple pieces in a single layer in the cake pan. This will end up being the top of the cake, so try for a nice-looking pattern. Mine looked like this:

Whisk the melted butter, yogurt, eggs, and remaining sugar together until foamy. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. The batter will be thick. Spoon the batter evenly onto the apples and spread it into an even layer.

Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes, then invert it onto a serving plate. (Place the serving plate on top of the pan, then flip the whole thing over and remove the pan slowly. The cake should fall right out, but if it doesn't, run a knife around the edge of the pan and try again.)

Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

(Please excuse my poor photography. It was really pretty in real life.)

This cake was pretty good, and it was actually better the next day; I'm not sure why. It was even sort of healthy, for cake. My problem was that I wanted it to be more apple-y: I only used one layer of apple slices because I was worried that raw apples wouldn't cook properly if there were too many of them, but that wasn't enough for me. I can think of a few ways to fix this: 1) Use more apple slices. There are a lot of apple pie and apple crisp recipes that use raw apples, and they turn out fine, so it should work here too. 2) Cook the apples briefly, as in the tarte tatin recipe. 3) Grate or finely chop the raw apples and add them to the batter.

Or I could just make pie next time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Experimentation fail

Tonight I made maacouda, a Tunisian dish with eggs and potatoes. Basically, you mash potatoes, then mix them with a whole lot of eggs and some flavorings, then bake the whole thing. It pretty much tasted like fritatta, which is not my favorite thing ever because it's like eating a sponge dipped in egg. (This may have been my fault for using leftover baked potatoes instead of freshly boiled potatoes.) But the flavor combination really seemed like it should work: potatoes, egg, caramelized onions, olives, and mint. So, I think I'll try making potato salad with those ingredients.

I also made a chickpea...thing. I was determined to cook the beans from scratch, because that's what I did last week and it was awesome. This was not awesome.

We didn't have any dried garbanzo beans, but there was this bag of garbanzo beans labeled "Dalia" in the cupboard. It came from an Indian grocery store that has been gone for so long that its former site is now an empty lot with plants growing on it. That probably should have been my clue that it was time to throw away the bag, but I forged ahead. It turns out that dalia is roasted chickpeas, and The Google said that there are basically two things to do with them: chutney or a dessert called channa dal ladoo.

But I wanted to make soup, so I ignored the recipes and made soup. I've never met a combination of garbanzos, tomatoes, and spices that I didn't like, but it turns out that stale beans will push it pretty far in that direction. sigh.

Anyway, moral of the story: canned beans >>> stale beans.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Darn good imperfect split pea soup

I wasn't going to post until I found an awesome recipe or took an amazing picture or something, but then I realized that strategy would probably result in an average of one post per year. If that. So, I'm going to try a different approach. I'm going to post about the things that I cook, even if they're neither perfect nor photogenic. Because cooking isn't really about perfection, in my opinion, it's about good food.

So. Last week, I made some darn good split pea soup by adopting the ideas that I liked from three different recipes:

1. Veganomicon has a recipe called "double pea soup with roasted red peppers," which calls for both split peas and frozen peas. I think this is a stroke of genius. Normal split pea soup is dull green and not all that appetizing in appearance, whereas the addition of frozen peas makes the color much brighter and also adds some texture.

2. I wanted to use Indian spices, so I found a pea recipe ("carrots and peas with ginger and Chinese parsley") in a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook and approximated its mixture of spices. (I didn't have fenugreek or mustard seeds. I'm not sure I even know what fenugreek is.) Then I looked at the Veganomicon recipe more carefully and realized that it did call for cumin and coriander...oh well.

3. The Veganomicon recipe makes "6 to 8 servings," which sounded like overkill, so I used the proportions from the split pea soup recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

I liked the flavor of this soup a lot. I liked split pea soup before I was a vegetarian, when my mom made it with ham or bacon, and it turns out that you can also make something really good without any animal products or Bac-O-Bits. (Did you know that Bac-O-Bits are vegan? Kind of freaky, isn't it?) Which I guess is hardly surprising, considering that a significant part of Indian cuisine is about making legumes taste good to vegetarians.

Besides adding the frozen peas, I changed the cooking process a bit by caramelizing the onions on their own and adding them at the end, rather than cooking them along with the soup. I think this gave them a better texture, and it was definitely more time-efficient because I didn't have to wait for the onions to finish cooking before I could start the soup. I used roasted garlic because I had some left over from a different recipe, but if I'd used fresh garlic, I would have cooked it along with the onions.

The next time I make this, I'll use more spices, and I'll add something hot-spicy. And maybe a little more lime.

Anyway, here's how I did it.

Darn good split pea soup, version 1
(with help from Veganomicon, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and An Invitation to Indian Cooking)
(took somewhat more than 1 hour, made about 5 servings of soup)

4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups dried green split peas, picked over and washed well
6 cups of water
the cloves from 1/2 head of roasted garlic, squeezed out of their skins
1 onion
1 cup frozen green peas

I heated 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. When it was hot, I added the spices and let them cook until they were fragrant (about a minute), stirring constantly. I added the split peas, water, roasted garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. I stirred it to make sure the spices weren't stuck to the bottom of the pot, then turned the heat to high so that it came to a boil. Then I turned down the heat to low and covered the pot. I let it simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I accidentally left a lot of water in the peas after washing them, so there was a lot of liquid in the pot. This meant that the peas didn't stick at all. It might be different if you drain your peas better, but you don't have to worry about it a lot.)

While the split peas were cooking, I chopped the onion. I heated the rest of the olive oil in a skillet, over medium low heat, and cooked the onion with a pinch of salt until it was medium brown. This took about as long as it took to cook the peas.

When the split peas had cooked for 45 minutes, I tested them to make sure they were soft (they were) and added 1/2 cup of the frozen peas. I stirred the pot and let it simmer, covered, for five minutes. Then I blended it thoroughly with an immersion blender and tasted for salt. I believe I added about 3/4 of a teaspoon more, a little at a time. (I go through a lot of tasting spoons when I cook.) Since there was too much water in my soup, I boiled it down for about 5 minutes, but this step would not usually be necessary.

I added the onion and the rest of the frozen peas and simmered for five more minutes, until the frozen peas were warmed through and bright green.

I served this with bread (and butter, because I'm not really vegan, I just steal their soup recipes) and salad.