KING CAKE: Pistachio Sweet Bread Works For This Mardi Gras Favorite!

king-cake1-textMardi Gras is filled with a number of traditions. A yummy one is King Cake – a rolled cake decorated with purple, gold, and green. Often a plastic Baby Jesus or treat is hidden in the cake for some lucky person to be served.

This particular cake (actually, it’s technically a bread), Pistachio Sweet Bread, is a favorite of our family throughout the year. My husband loves it with a cup of coffee.

NOTE: Because I was decorating the cake for Mardi Gras, I used colored sugar. And because I’m a wee bit obsessive, I made my own homemade colored sugar with natural ingredients. Of course, this takes longer. I’ve put directions at the end of the post for those of you who choose to be chemical-free.

PISTACHIO SWEET BREAD

  • 2¼ tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 cup milk (I use nonfat)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 T  +1/2 cup  + 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3½ – 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup salted pistachio nuts, chopped & toasted
  • egg wash: 1 T egg + 1 T water, beaten together

At least an hour before starting the bread, cut up 1/4 cup butter and leave out to soften. (You’ll be using another 1/4 cup butter later.)

In a small saucepan over low flame, heat the milk, 1 T sugar, and water to 100º – 104º Fahrenheit. Remove from heat and stir in yeast. Let proof for about 5 minutes.

Into the work bowl of your food processor, put 3½ cups flour, salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and the softened 1/4 cup butter. Turn on machine then slowly pour in the proofed milk mixture. Let run about 30 seconds before deciding if more flour is needed – the dough should begin to pull away from the sides but not form a clump. (I usually need to add about 2 T-ish.) Empty dough into a greased bowl, flip dough so both sides are greased, cover, and let rise 1½ hours.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board. Pat into a rectangle, then let rest about 5 minutes before rolling dough to finished size. (Letting the dough briefly rest decreases its elasticity.) Roll dough to 18″ x 12″. Brush on the 1/4 cup melted butter all the way to edge. Sprinkle on 1/3 cup sugar and pistachio nuts, patting them gently into dough. Roll up dough from long side, leaving seam on bottom of log. (Try not to let the ends taper, so the ring is uniform in size.) Bring ends together to form a ring. Using a little water on your fingers, pinch dough together.

Carefully transfer dough to a greased cookie sheet. (Don’t use a dark sheet – it browns the loaf too much.) Cover and let rise 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375º F. When oven is hot and dough has risen, slice about halfway through dough in 1½” increments (I use kitchen shears). Brush with egg wash and bake 30 minutes, rotating cookie sheet after 15 minutes for even browning. Top should be lightly browned. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Let cool completely if you plan on frosting. If not, let cool about 20 minutes and serve warm.

WHITE FROSTING – makes 1 cup

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-4 T milk

Beat together the butter, salt, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Add in milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. If frosting becomes too loose, add more powdered sugar.

COLORED SUGAR

Orange

  • 1/2 cup mango cubes
  • about 2 inches of carrot sliced very thinly

Boil carrots in water, covered, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Purée mango and drained carrots in blender.

Purple

  • 1/2 cup blackberries or blueberries

Purée berries with a little water, until paste-like.

Green

  • 1/2 cup spinach (don’t worry – you won’t taste spinach in the frosting)

Boil spinach with a little water for 15 minutes. Drain and purée.

To Make The Colored Sugar:

Place about 1/4 cup sugar in 3 bowls. Add about 1 tsp (depending on preference) of colored pastes to each bowl. Mix with backside of spoon until color is well distributed. It will be very thick. To dry, spread each color on a plate and let air dry. After a couple of hours or so, mix to break up clumps. Keep doing this until it’s pretty dry. Then smash out crystals with a flat bottomed glass or measuring cup. Spread out on plate and let dry some more. Repeat until you get dried colored sugar. Drying time will be dependent on weather and how much coloring you use. But, it will eventually dry.

GIAMBOTTA – Low Cal Doesn’t Have To Mean Low Flavor!

giabotta2-textIt’s that time of year again when spring is just beyond the horizon. Soon we’ll be able to leave the house without bulky sweaters and coats. This means, of course, we won’t be able to hide those holiday pounds anymore.

Soooo, let’s do something about it NOW!

Just because I’m slimming down doesn’t mean I’m about to sacrifice taste. There are plenty of delicious meals one can prepare to keep the calories at bay. Giambotta is one such recipe. It’s a delicious stew that’s quick to put together and makes enough to last for several days.

GIAMBOTTA – makes about 9 cups (I forgot to measure)

  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 lb russet potatoes, chopped into 1/2″ cubes (don’t peel)
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 zucchinis
  • 6 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1  1/3 cup fresh basil, divided (USE FRESH!)
  • 1 T dried oregano (or 1/3 cup fresh)
  • 6 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • optional:  hard cheese such as Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan, grated

TIP: Don’t leave out the tomato paste – it adds flavor.  You may be reluctant to open a can for just 1 tablespoon.  As Queen Of Freeze, my advice is to spoon out 1 tablespoon mounds of the remaining tomato paste onto a piece of waxed paper and freeze.  Once frozen, roll the waxed paper around the paste blobs and place in a freezer bag.  That way you’ll have tomato paste for future recipes.

Cut unpeeled eggplant into 1/2″ cubes. Place in a sieve and sprinkle on 1½ tsp of the salt. Toss cubes and salt together with your hands. The salt will draw out some of the water from the eggplant. Let drain for about 1/2 hour.

While eggplant is draining, chop the tomatoes, discarding the stem ends and any peels or imperfections. Also, chop the onion and potato.

Into a Dutch oven, heat 2 T of the olive oil over medium/high heat. Add in the drained eggplant, onion, and potatoes. Sauté until potatoes just start to brown – about 7 minutes. Lower flame to medium and shove the veggies to the sides of the pot, leaving the center empty. Place the tomato paste in empty center and pour 1 T olive oil over it. Cook this mixture 2 minutes in the center, stirring often. This will bring out the flavor the tomato.

After cooking the paste, stir it into the veggies. Pour in 2 cups of water, scraping up the fond (the burnt bits stuck to the bottom of the pot). Add in the tomatoes (including the juice) and bring to boil. Cover pot and lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cook 20-25 minutes, just until potatoes are done (test by poking with fork).

While this is cooking, chop the zucchinis and bell peppers. Set aside.

Chop the basil and make a paste by mixing 1/3 cup basil (save the remaining 1 cup for later) with the oregano, 2 T olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes.

In a skillet, heat 1 T olive oil over medium/high flame. Add in the zucchini, bell peppers, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook 10-12 minutes, until browned. Shove the zucchini and peppers to sides (like with the eggplant), leaving the center clear. Place the basil paste in center and cook 1 minute. Mix the paste and zucchini/pepper mix together. Pour into a bowl until ready to use.

Add 1/4 cup water into the now empty skillet and, over high heat, scrap fond off bottom. Save.

When eggplant mixture is done, add in the zucchini/red peppers and fond water from skillet. Cover pot and let sit off-heat for 20 minutes to combine flavors.

When ready to serve, stir in remaining 1 cup chopped basil. Top servings with grated cheese, if desired.

KALAMATA OLIVE BREAD – Pretty As A Picture!

olive-bread1-textCompany was coming and I needed a bread – fast! I flipped through my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook and found this Kalamata Olive Bread recipe made in a cast iron skillet. (To those under 35, cookbooks are how people used to get recipes!)

I’m always looking for ways to use my cast iron skillet, so I tried it. The results? It was fast, it was beautiful, and, best of all, it was delicious.

NOTE: A cast iron skillet is imperative to producing the crisp top, side, and bottom.

IDEA FOR NEXT TIME:  Include crumbled Feta cheese in the dough.

KALAMATA OLIVE BREAD

  • 5 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 12.5 oz (2½ cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4.5 oz (1½ cup), divided, Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 cup milk (I used whole milk)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (or yogurt – I’ve used both)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 450º Fahrenheit.

In a 10″ cast iron skillet, heat olive oil over medium/high. Add in the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, just until fragrant. You want to flavor the oil but not burn the garlic. Remove pan from heat and let cool down while preparing the rest of the recipe.

In medium bowl, mix together the flour, basil, baking powder, salt, and 3.5 oz (1 cup) Parmesan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg to break it up. Whisk in the milk and sour cream.

Remove garlic from skillet and mince (I use a garlic press). Add the garlic to the egg mixture. Stir in all but 1 T olive oil. Pour in the dry ingredients and blend until nearly all the flour is incorporated. Add in the Kalamata olives and gently finish blending. DON’T OVERMIX OR THE BREAD WILL BE TOUGH.

Heat remaining 1 T oil in skillet. Turn off heat but leave pan on burner. Pour in batter (it will be thick), smoothing top. Sprinkle on remaining 1 oz (1/2 cup) Parmesan.

Bake at 450º F for 20 minutes, until top is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes in skillet. Remove to wire rack. I like to serve it as soon as it’s cool enough to eat.

CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA BREAD

banana-bread-choc-chip-textOn its own, banana bread is delicious. Add in chocolate chips and you really up your game.

So often banana breads are mushy, especially along the top. This recipe, adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, is moist, but not mushy – even days later (if it lasts that long).

CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA BREAD

  • 6 T butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips (I use Nestle’s)
  • 3 bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Melt butter, then set aside to cool a bit while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Into a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips.

Slice bananas, then mash them well using a fork.

Into a large bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. Stir in the bananas, vanilla, yogurt, and melted butter. Fold in the flour mixture just until incorporated – you don’t want to overmix or it will become tough.

Grease and flour a loaf pan (I use Pyrex). Pour in batter, smoothing top. Bake at 350º F for 55 minutes. Let rest in pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.

JICAMA-MANGO SALAD: A Winter Fruit Salad!

jicama-salad-textOne generally associates fruit salads with summer. But sometimes a heavy winter meal needs the fresh sweetness that fruit provides.

What to do? JICAMA-MANGO SALAD, that’s what. Not only is it simple to make, but it’s brightly colored with a bit of a kick to it (thanks to red pepper flakes).

JICAMA-MANGO SALAD – makes 4 cups

  • 3 T lime juice
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1/4 tsp lime zest
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 jicama, peeled
  • 2 mangoes, peeled
  • 1 orange, peeled

NOTE: Cube the jicama one layer at a time. Slicing through a stack can cause the top layer to slip, possibly yielding a nasty cut.

Cut jicama into 1/4″ pieces. Cut mangoes and orange into 1/2″ pieces.

Into a saucepan combine lime juice, sugar, lime zest, pepper flakes, and salt. Over medium flame, bring to simmer, stirring just until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add in the jicama. Cover (off heat) and set aside for 20 minutes to soften a little.

After 20 minutes, combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate, at least, half an hour.