Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cinnamon-Sugar Plum Cake

Welcome to my first blog posting ever, and a big thank-you to Kristen for the invitation to guest post. Or guest blog, or whatever it's called. I hope I get this right — she told me to write the way I talk, but I'm afraid she'll be expecting a degree of brevity that I'm not sure I can deliver... there's a chance I'll ramble a bit, digress now and then. I hope you'll bear with me, and that Kristen will edit (please be gentle — it's my first time!). Kristen I are colleagues and neighbours, and have bonded a bit over bat infestations (mostly at home, but there sure are some crazies in the office too...).

I only learned about Sunday Best recently, and I've enjoyed nearly every post — except the two about a weird Rachel Ray cornbread-hotdog-and-beans casserole. Thanks to Kristen, I even have half-a-box of instant mashed potatoes in my cupboard, leftover from making some pretty fabulous basil gnocchi.

Did I mention I might digress? I'd better start talking about my own recipe pretty soon, or she'll really have to get the pruning shears out. So here we go — Cinnamon-Sugar Plum Cake.

It's a simple-to-make, unpretentious little coffee cake, and I promise you that everyone who tries it will love it. I got the recipe from the June 2002 issue of Bon Appétit and have made it at least once a year since then. The recipe says you can make it with pretty much any stone fruit (plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines) or even pears, but I've always used plums.

Today, I'm making not one, but three cakes for the bake sale table at my church's Fall Rummage Sale tomorrow. A lot of people who know things about baking would tell you it's important to mix up three separate batches of batter when you're making three separate cakes, but I'm a little pressed for time tonight so I'm throwing caution to the wind (come on, I throw like a girl — it's not like it's going to go anywhere) and just tripling the recipe. Here's what one cake's worth of ingredients looks like:

The cake base has a very thick batter, almost like cookie dough, because the sliced plums you put on top of the batter will let out all kinds of juice while they bake, and if your batter was thinner it'd never cook through.

The recipe says to use a 9" springform pan for each cake. I don't have one 9" springform let alone three, (I had one, but lent it out years ago and never saw it again) so I used my trusty 8" round cake pans, lined with parchment on the bottom. The cakes flip out pretty easily about 20 minutes after they come out of the oven — you just have to be a little gentle with them to avoid wrecking the cinnamony-sugary crust on top. One other thing: the recipe also calls for five large plums per cake, but I've never been able to fit more than 2 or 3 plums on top of a cake.

I also think that more plums would release more juice, requiring more time to bake.

It couldn't be simpler: you mix the batter, spread it out in the pan, top it with sliced plums and then a generous sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar, wait 45-50 minutes and voila! Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, Cinnamon-Sugar Plum Cake.

Lovely on its own or with a little lightly-sweetened whipped cream on the side.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Under African Skies Pt 1 — Mtuzi Wa Samaki

I did not expect to find a fresh, light curry in my search for a traditional Kenyan recipe. So, not only is this foray into international cuisine fun, it's helping to rid me of some cultural food ignorance.

I chose to use sable fish in the dish, which I know is all kinds of wrong, as northern British Columbia is about as far from Kenya as you can get, but its mild taste was a great compliment to the other flavours.

Also, the original recipe called for 3 lbs of fish, but since I buy all my fish at a sustainable seafood wholesaler, a 1.5-pound fillet cost about $30, and so I figured that would suffice. After all, that extra $30 could go a very long way in Kenya, and in the end the dish still had a good fish-to-curry ratio.

Here's the recipe: 



1 1/2 lb fish fillets
3 tbsp oil
6 cloves garlic
1 bell pepper
1 onion
1 can coconut milk
3 tomatoes
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tsp curry powder
salt and pepper to taste 


Cut the fish in serving portions and chop the onion, bell pepper, garlic and tomatoes in small pieces.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Sear the fish fillets shortly and put them on a separate plate.

Do not cook through. Reduce the heat to minimum and add the pepper and onion. Sauté until the onion is semitransparent. Add the garlic, and sauté for 2 more min. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the fish fillets. Cover the pot and simmer until the fish is cooked through, which should take up to 10 min.

Serve with rice, boiled potatoes, chapatti, or boiled cassava.*

Click here to read about what the UN World Food Programme is doing to fight hunger Kenya in the wake of severe drought. I would also encourage you read this to give you an idea of how complex the problem of hunger is in Kenya (and incidently in many other regions). (More on that topic in a future post.)



*I have no idea what those last two are — see what I mean about ignorance?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Continuing on the journey...

Clearly, I was not ready to leave the Phillipines last week.

I was extremely busy tackling the problem of unregulated antibiotic use in livestock... for my biotech class. Also, I'm having camera problems; with the autofocus function in particular (as if you couldn't tell).

I did, however, make a good faith effort to find avocado ice cream, another Filipino delicacy, this week. That was the excuse I used to visit T&T, the popular Asian food superstore that just opened its first Ottawa location. I was busy (we had to line up to get in), and sadly there was no avocado ice cream, but there was a whole wall of shrimp chips. (More about my obsession with shrimp chips in a future post.)

If you would like to try making avocado ice cream for yourself, I suggest giving this recipe a try from the blog Velveeta Ain't Food. (It's been on my list of recipes to try for a while now.)

All that to say that we are definitely traveling to Kenya this week. Will post about the regional dish that we enjoyed this evening early in the week.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

From the Philippines: Sweet potato (kamote) pudding

Because the flood-hit Philippines still need our help, I chose a traditional Filipino dessert as the first dish in this series. A quick glance at the ingredients and you could theorize that I felt I needed a little more sugar in my diet, but it being the day after Halloween, I assure you, that's not the case. Here is my take on the recipe:

SWEET POTATO (KAMOTE) PUDDING (Adapted from this site)


3 medium sweet potatoes
4 cups whole milk
1 can condensed milk
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
blanched almonds and raisins (about a handful of each)


Peel sweet potatoes and wash sweet potatoes and cut into small cubes.

Boil the whole milk in a heavy bottomed skillet on medium heat; Add sweet potatoes and reduce heat. Continue to cook until sweet potatoes are well done, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and mash potatoes until smooth. (I pureed with a hand mixer, and strongly recommend it.)

In a separate skillet, heat the butter. Add almonds and raisins and fry on very low heat until they turn light brown. Remove from skillet to a plate and set aside. In the same hot skillet, carefully add sweet potatoes along with condensed milk and sugar.

Adjust heat to medium, cook, stirring constantly until desirably thick. (I cooked it for 10 mins and that gave a nice consistency to the finished product.)

Remove from heat. Immediately transfer the dessert to a serving bowl and let set to cool. Garnish with almonds and raisins. Chill in refrigerator. Serves many.

I'm finding it hard to describe the subtle flavor of this dish. I think I'm having trouble focusing because of all the sugar (maybe I should run around the block and come back to this later). For now I'll say that it was a big hit around here, and I really enjoyed cooking outside of my comfort zone. If you liked being introduced to this recipe, please donate to the UN World Food Programme.

Not sufficiently entertained? Here's a hilarious sketch on celebrity humanitarianism with a cameo by none other than Jamie Oliver! It might not be your kind of humour, but I couldn't resist posting it. (Language warning.)