I had a revelation this week: pastry cream is basically pudding, with perhaps an egg yolk or two more. Both start off with a milk/sugar base, thickened over the stove top using some combination of cornstarch/flour/egg yolks then flavored with vanilla, chocolate or any other flavor of choice. This recipe, in my opinion, can pass for both.
Pistachio Layer Cake
I’ve been making pistachio cakes in various forms since my friend asked me to make one for her wedding last year. The truth is, it’s very difficult to make a strongly pistachio flavored cake. It’s not like ice cream where the nuttiness easily comes through the cream and sugar. In cakes, in its attempt to compete with all the flour, eggs and dairy, it struggles to maintain its flavor while maintaining a light, tender crumb we expect in a cake.
I changed this recipe from the original, to include pistachio paste (which you can get online). I looked at peanut butter cake recipes and saw they utilized peanut butter in lieu or in combination with butter, so I thought I’d apply the same principal here. It provides a rich, creamy pistachio flavor. The cake is then lightened with beaten egg whites to add lightness. The result is a light, nutty cake.
I’m not sharing an accompany frosting recipe, because in all honesty, I haven’t got one. I tried making the boiled milk icing from the original recipe, but oh my God did it die on me. It was a runny mess (perhaps my boiled milk/flour/sugar combo was too thin?). I spent all morning trying to salvage it – first by adding some confectioners sugar, then some more cream cheese, then butter, then more confectioners sugar. After removing a small amount to mix with pistachio paste (my last ditch effort to salvage at least some of it), I was able to make a concoction that held up JUST enough to fill the cake.
For the outside, I went with a tried and true (and quick) recipe: chocolate ganache. Which isn’t much of a recipe at all as it’s just some baking chocolate bars, broken up in chunks, then melted in the microwave at medium power with half its weight in heavy cream (so in this case, 24oz chocolate with 12oz heavy cream). Mixing every once in a while until completely melted and smooth. Not to say it’s straightforward to make ganache.
There are plenty of ways to muck it up. If you mix it before it is warm enough, it will start to get grainy. If you make it too hot, it will get grainy. Basically you need the Goldilocks temperature to get chocolate ganache just right (between 90 and 110 degrees). I recommend using an instant read thermometer to get your ganache just right, but if you don’t, just make sure it’s warm to the touch while you are stirring.
I then placed it over a bowl of ice water, whisking with an electric mixer until it was thick and glossy.
Finally, I decided to try decorating with pistachio sugar shards. I’m not sure if that’s what it’s called, but it’s not quite praline, not quite toffee, not quite caramel either. It’s just 1 cup sugar melted with 1/4 cup water until light golden in color. I then poured it over 1/4 cup shelled pistachios on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and let it cool. Once cool enough to handle, I broke it up into big chunks to decorate, then further crushed the remaining chunks with my rolling pin and a ziploc bag.
It was surprisingly tasty. Next time, I will definitely add some salt to make them even better!
Recipe adapted from Handle the Heat
- 1/4 cup pistachio paste
- 12 tbsp unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
- 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup shelled, raw, unsalted pistachios
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 3 egg whites
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 3 8in baking tins with non stick cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper (place the pans on top a large sheet of parchment, draw a circle around the circumference with a pencil, and cut out). Set aside.
- Pulse the pistachios in a food processor until finely ground. Careful not to let it go for too long, since it will turn into a paste. Pour ground pistachios into a large mixing bowl.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer or in a large bowl using an electric hand mixer, cream pistachio paste, butter and sugar for 2 minutes at medium speed.
- While that goes, combine the ground pistachios with flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cornstarch. Whisk until combined.
- Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, turn mixer back on. Add egg, then vanilla. Then alternately add the dry ingredients with the milk – 1/3 dry ingredients, 1/2 milk, ending in the dry ingredients. Periodically scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl. Stop mixing when dry ingredients are just incorporated in the batter.
- In a medium bowl, combine egg whites with cream of tartar. Whisk with an electric mixer at medium speed until stiff peaks form when you pull the beaters up and out of the egg whites. Add a little beat of the beaten egg whites to the batter to thin out the batter. Then add half of the remaining egg white, folding in carefully so as not to deflate them. Add the second half and fold just until you no longer see white streaks.
- Divide equally between the three prepared pans and bake for 28-30 minutes until browned on top and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool the cakes and level them before frosting.
Umami Vegetable Soup
If you follow my Snap or Instastories, you saw me make pull this soup together last night. I’ve been looking to finish up all the vegetables and herbs that I bought as a part of my Thanksgiving groceries, herbs that I don’t use very much apart from that day (sage, thyme, rosemary). In the version I made last night, I threw in the last of my turkey leftovers, but it didn’t add much to the soup, so the version here is without meat, and it’s delicious!
There is So. Much. Umami aka The 5th Flavor. From the rehydrated porcini mushroom stock, to the mushrooms, to the soy sauce. Hence the name. I didn’t want to just call it mushroom soup! There’s so much more! And then tang from the Ume Plum Vinegar – my FAVORITE ingredient these days to add flavor to pretty much anything. It just gives a nice fresh zip to foods, without overpowering like most vinegars.
My vegetables were on the smaller side: the carrots, celery, even the size of the mushroom package. So 8 cups liquid in total worked for me. Currently the soup can feed 4 adults. If you want to stretch the recipe to feed 6 comfortably, use larger carrots, celery and onion. Add another potato and 2 cups liquid – either stock or water.
Can easily be made vegan by using all oil, no butter, and water instead of chicken or turkey stock.
- 4 average dried porcini mushrooms
- 4 cups boiling water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 carrots, diced small
- 2 celery stalks, diced small
- 1 small onion, diced small
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 8 oz or 1 standard package cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- salt and pepper
- 3 tsp ume plum vinegar
- 1 large russet potato, cut into cubes
- 4 cups chicken/turkey stock or water
- 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
- In a large glass measuring glass or bowl, place dried porcini mushrooms. Add hot water and allow to hydrate until ready for use.
- In a large stock pot, melt butter and oil over medium high heat. Add onion, celery and carrot. Cook 4-5 minutes until soft. Add mushrooms and garlic. Cook together for another 2-3 minutes. Tie the thyme and bay leaf together with kitchen string. Add to the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste (I added about 1 tsp salt and half tsp pepper) and stir. Then place a wire mesh sieve over the pot and add the porcini stock, straining out the rehydrated porcinis (their flavor can be strong). Also add the vinegar and stock/water. Stir to combine.
- Cover, raise the heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat so it simmers for 15 minutes. When the potatoes have cooked through the soup is done. Add parsley, adjust seasoning, and serve.
Mushroom and Carrot Salad
My best friend Moury and I are total health nuts…NOT!
She has sworn off salad greens and fruit. I am a dessert fiend and thanks to my husband, no stranger to midnight snacks (though not nearly as bad as he is…ahem empty pint of green tea ice cream sitting in recycling bin). But now, as I’m trying to lose the remaining baby weight, I’m trying to take baby steps towards better health (pun!).
Step 1: cut back on dessert!
Step 2: reduce carbs
Step 3: make the move to whole grains (I’m at multigrain bread for now, but still haven’t hopped on the brown rice bandwagon)
SInce, like Moury, am not crazy about salad greens (arugula being an exception) I try to come up with salads that I can really enjoy. And trust me, this is GOOD!
Adapted from Giada’s Fresh Mushroom and Parsley Salad.
- 2 carrots
- 1/2 package mushrooms
- handfull of chopped parsley
- juice from 1 lemon
- 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste
Peel and thinly slice the carrots (at an angle for aesthetics). Thinly slice mushrooms. Combine with parsley in a bowl. Drizzle over the lemon juice and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for 10 minutes to let all the flavors infuse the mushroom and carrots (since they are raw).
For a long time, I hesitated on posting my take on the classic appetizer, guacamole. Mainly because it’s so far removed from a traditional guacamole, I hesitate to even call it that (avocado salsa is more like it). In fact, a Mexican former colleague of mine completely dismissed the notion that I could even make guac for lack of a Molcajete – a Mexican mortar and pestle made from a highly porous volcanic rock. Apparently, true guac can only be achieved in a Molcajete that has been pre-seasoned with a thin layer of ground poppy seed.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Americanized, sour cream filled Applebees version. Not that I don’t enjoy guac in just about all its forms, but given my husband’s affinity for it, I wanted a version that would be a healthy accompaniment to weeknight meals (why adulterate a perfectly good fat with the saturated fat in sour cream? save that room for dessert!). And thanks to Trader Joe’s ridiculously affordable avocados, this has become a staple in our house.
Some final thoughts on my guac/avocado salsa:
- Once again, a highly South Asian tinged recipe, as is evident by the green chilis (you can sub jalapenos or serrano peppers – whatever you have on hand).
- With the price of avocados at most places, tomatoes are a great way to stretch a buck if you’re making it for a party (just add more salt and lemon/lime juice accordingly). The creaminess of the avocados will still shine through!
- I leave mine cubed to minimize browning but feel free to mash it.
- 1 Haas avocado
- 1 Roma tomato (or half a large tomato)
- 1/4 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 green chili, finely choppedd
- 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice (about half of the fruit)
- 3/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
Score the avocado and dump the pieces into a bowl (here’s a tutorial if you’re not sure how: http://whatscookingamerica.net/avacado.htm). Cube the tomato and add it to the avocado. Add the rest of the ingredients and combine. Serve with tortilla chips, toasted baguette slices or on top of your favorite tacos.