Friday, September 30, 2011

"Austen" Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

8 comments:
Cuke sandwiches

I have not been able to get these sandwiches out of my head!  Rebecca from my Austen in Boston book club makes some awesome sandwiches, but these are my favorite, hands down.  Rebecca calls them "Austen in Boston" English Cucumber Tea Sandwiches.  We enjoyed them at our last picnic, and they are so good with a cup of tea -- with cream and sugar, of course.

This post also appears at Boston Tea Party.

Cucumber sandwiches
Cucumber sandwiches are simple, but these get some complexity from herbs and good-quality bread.  Rebecca uses Ezekiel Bran for Life bread, but my store didn't have any so I went with Nature's Pride Nutty Oat (strangely, the packaging says it has a nutty flavor but no nuts, and it's 100% natural).  Even Joe loved the nutty oat, and he isn't always keen on the 12-grain-type breads I bring home.  Plus I think ordinary white bread is too bland for something as mild as cucumber.

Slicing cucumber
Using a mandoline gives you uniform slices
Cucumber ribbons
The slices are paper-thin
Rebecca also uses organic cream cheese, nothing artificial.  I went with neufchatel cheese, which tastes just like cream cheese but has a third less fat.  Philadelphia makes one.  I went with the English seedless cucumber she recommended -- it has less water and seeds than regular cucumber -- as well as the dill.  Rebecca recommends dried chives as an alternative and says they're better than fresh.  I used both dill and fresh chives, since I have chives growing in my garden and personally love them fresh.

Bread slices
Slathering cream cheese on half of the bread
Layering cucumber
Slightly overlap layers of cucumber, then repeat once
These few ingredients make up a sandwich both delicate for tea and snacking, but hearty enough to fill you up, to my surprise.  Now, I once made cucumber sandwiches on this blog way back when, but in retrospect I didn't have a great formula.  You need the right ratio of cucumber slices to cream cheese to bread, and this recipe has it.  I foresee many chilly afternoons with these babies and a hot pot of tea.

Sandwich profile


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Afternoon Tea at the Boston Public Library

4 comments:
I had afternoon tea with my Austen in Boston book club at the Boston Public Library at Copley Square.  This review also appears at Boston Tea Party.

BPL16

The main branch of the Boston Public Library at Copley Square sure sounds like the perfect place for afternoon tea: historical architecture, a courtyard complete with fountain, murals by John Singer Sargent, scores of books for Austen lovers like us.  In general, it did not disappoint.

BPL1

The atmosphere was more casual and relaxing than the local hotels that serve tea.  You don't have to dress up much, or sit up very straight.  There is no maĆ®tre d' or harpist.  The room is beautifully and classically decorated.  But on a Friday afternoon few of the tables were occupied so most of them were not set, leaving the room feeling slightly empty.

BPL10

The polka dot china was cute, but the plain white teapots, sugar holder, and creamer were a disappointment.  The food was good, and the caterer is new-ish.  At $22.50 plus tax and tip (the 18% gratuity is included in the check), it's more affordable than tea at most hotels, though it seemed like less food.  But after more cups of tea, I felt positively full.

BPL11
BPL14

The watercress sandwich with lemon aioli was surprisingly and pleasantly fragrant.  The caper on the smoked salmon was a nice touch, the apricot chicken salad sandwich was all right, and the cucumber and herb cream cheese was traditional but always a favorite.  The crumbled bacon and tomato sandwich was an unusual addition to tea, but so good.

BPL15

The blackberry and peach tart had the perfect balance of sweet and tart in a crisp pastry shell.  The raspberry and lemon cream tart was simple but delicious.  I'd been wondering, "What the heck is a chocolate sinclair?"  It turned out to be an ultra-rich and dense chocolate cake, and the small size was just right for the intensity of the chocolate.

BPL13

The currant scones were served with Devonshire clotted cream and four fruit marmalade.  The only problem with them?  I wanted more.

BPL9

I had the Ceylon tea and was happy with it.  Kirk's peach and ginger tea smelled good.  Erica and Karen seemed to like their teas, but I forgot to ask for their verdicts.

BPL5

In my personal ranking of Boston-area tea venues, this one is around the top.  The food at the library wins over Hallowed Herbs in Quincy and the Four Seasons, is about the same as the Langham, and almost as good as the Taj.  The ambiance is better than the Four Seasons, Hallowed Herbs, and Langham, but not the Taj (if going by the room alone).  But for a more relaxed and unfussy feel (and Kirk was a fan of this), the library wins over the Taj.  The service was good.  The company is always excellent.  ;)  My verdict: Visit it!

I'm tacking on the additional thoughts of Kirk:
Wonderful review, Shirley! I agree! My tea (it was a black tea)  was more peach than ginger in taste, which was fine by me (lol, I'm more peach than ginger, err  more of a fan of Marianne (ok Maryanne is the common spelling, but as this is a Jane Austen bookclub..,) than Ginger). Yes, what a wonderful nose the tea had! Maybe that was the ginger. I thought I had the best seat in the room. To my right eye, the corridor and courtyard.To my left, the delightful company. :) Speaking of the corridor, it was amusing when two women stopped in the corridor to check out what we were eating and waved at us! That certainly added to the relaxed feeling I had (try that at the Taj). I don't normally like to be observed eating, but it was perfectly fine there. I was impressed that the manager was willing to do a Tea only option for one member of our party who wasn't sure about eating. I certainly enjoyed the food...did have a slight "reaction" to the cucumber (lol, Rebecca's was much better last
Sunday!). I agree about the bacon and tomato. Loved the salmon and caper as well. I would be delighted to go back in a couple months!


Monday, September 12, 2011

Nuo Mi Fan, or Chinese Sticky Rice

8 comments:
Nuo Mi Fan


Nuo Mi Fan, or Chinese Sticky Rice, is a Chinese household staple.  This is another recipe from Mom, who calls it Luo Mi Fan, but the pronunciation must differ by region because I can't find an "official" one in my searches.  I like mine extra sticky.  I recently discovered that lots of Chinese-Americans will use Nuo Mi Fan in place of a bread stuffing in their turkeys for Thanksgiving.  Mom always used Stovetop, and I've made my own bread stuffing from scratch for years.

Family Collage
Grandpa in the 1940s; Grandma, Dad, and my aunt

However, she said Grandpa, whom I called Ah-gong, used it to stuff his turkeys as well.  Grandpa was a native of Hainan, China, who immigrated to Singapore.  There he worked as a cook on ships, though we inherited no recipes from him.  He was on a ship during a Japanese invasion of Singapore (in the 1940s, I believe), and borders were closed and he ended up in New York City, parted from his family.  Only decades later did he locate my grandmother and Dad, and they rejoined him in New York.  But apparently during that time Grandpa engaged in practices like stuffing turkeys with sticky rice and developing a taste for Irish corned beef, which the Hainanese of Brooklyn called "salty beef."

Nuo Mi Fan Ingredients

One important thing of note is that Nuo Mi Fan usually includes dried mushrooms that are rehydrated.  But I hate mushrooms in any form.  So when Mom taught me this recipe earlier this summer, she omitted them.  That led Dad to ask, "Where are the mushrooms?"  For me the main attraction instead is the Chinese sausage, called la chang or lap cheong.  It's got a different flavor and texture from Western-style sausages, so don't substitute.  Some brands are better than others (I had an awful one once), but Mom got these straight from the butcher for me.  You can freeze them.

Regular long-grain rice won't work in this recipe.  You have to get glutinous rice, also known as sweet rice.  The grains are shorter and rounder and the result stickier, kind of like risotto.

Nuo Mi Fan
Nuo Mi Fan is traditionally plated as a dome

Dried shrimp are common in Chinese cooking, but the unfamiliarity can put some people off.  Give it a try, but if it's a deal breaker or you can't find any, omit them.

Mooncake

And on a side note, it's mooncake time!  The Mid-Autumn Festival starts on Sept. 12 this year, so I bought my mooncakes, or yuebing.  I've noticed some beautiful snowskin mooncakes in various colors on the blogosphere lately.  View a bunch here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Gluten Freedom: Kiss Me, (Chocolate) Cake!

3 comments:

I'd like to welcome WASB's newest contributor, Shannon, who will write Gluten FREEDOM! on Fridays.
Without further ado...

Hello, and Welcome to the first edition of Gluten FREEDOM!, a new feature on the fabulous "What About..." blog ^_^


Why gluten free? Well, to begin with, 1 out of every 133 people have a gluten allergy or Celiac disease (or so my box of Potato Buds tells me). An even more truly disturbing statistic is that 1 in every two gluten free product tastes like... well, lets just say they aren't very good. If you have ever eaten these so called 'baked goods' then you know what I'm talking about: chalky or gritty texture, dry, crumbly body, and often it tastes nothing like the yumminess we're craving.

Well, I aim to change that. I say: take command of our culinary destinies! Rise up, my afflicted brethren and say "NO!" Say "I'll Pass, Thank you Very Much!", to heathen dishes and lackluster confections! With my spatula held high, I vow to lead the way and share with you my secrets for gluten free baking and cooking so delicious that your friends will never suspect a thing!

To that end, let us begin with this decadent chocolate cake. Rich, fudgey and moist, it tastes exactly like a traditional cake made with flour. I made this for my Mom's birthday and even my Dad, who is normally very leery of gluten free foods, DEVOURED it! It's just that good, I promise. It's based off of a cake from a Hershey's cookbook that my mother used to make years ago, however since that book is lost the recipe has been adapted from memory.

First up, the ingredients:

3 cups of TIGHTLY PACKED dark brown sugar
2 sticks of softened sweet (unsalted) butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 eggs (lightly beaten)
2 3/4 cups of a good, finely milled gluten free flour mix
  • ( I prefer either "Gluten Free Pantry" or "Better Batter"'s blends, but you can always try something else or even make your own blend. Just make sure the flours you use are the finest texture you can possibly get -- this is crucial to the end texture of the cake.)
3/4 cup Dutch Processed Cocoa
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup sour cream (use the full fat kind - no one ever said this was gunna be dietetic guys)
1 cup boiling water

Okay now here's the part where I confess that I am an incredibly lazy baker. If there is a way for me to do less steps, I will take it. Fortunately, this turns out to be a blessing for gluten free baking, because if there is one thing you want to avoid it's over mixing. I think it has to do with the xanthan gum- that stuff can get reaaaaally gross.

Anyway, here's what you do. First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take all the dry ingredients and put them in a bowl (sugar remember, counts as a wet ingredient in baking). If your cocoa looks like this:




Don't stress it. And sure, you COULD sift it, but why? It just adds another step! Go ahead, save time ad just dump it all an a bowl and whisk away until your mixture is mostly combined. The big clumps will break up and a few small ones are not the end of the world.




In a separate large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar as if you were making cookies. (After getting the butter in the bowl, use the papers from the butter to grease your cake pans - standard 9 inches work fine and deep walled ones are ideal. After buttering the pans, toss some cocoa in them and move the pans in a circular motion while tapping away at the sides and bottom of the pan to evenly distribute the cocoa. This will ensure a clean release after baking.) Add the vanilla and then add your already beaten eggs. To this mixture, add about half of the dry mixture (or a third if it seems easier for you). Mix until it's just coming together and then add some of the sour cream. Again, mix until just together and then add more of the dry. Keep alternating until all of the mix and sour cream are just combined into the batter. DO NOT OVER MIX!


Finally, CAREFULLY measure out one cup of boiling water. If you're mixing by hand, add the water slowly in two installments. If you're using a stand or hand mixer, just add it nice and easy on low. You want minimal air bubbles here. Gently pour the mixture into your prepared pans, using a spatula laid across the top if the pans to help eyeball even distribution and to make sure you don't overfill the pans.



Carefully put your pans in the oven and bake for around 45-55 minutes, but DO NOT OVER BAKE! If you know your oven tends to bake things more quickly, than start checking for doneness at 35 minutes. Use the standard toothpick or skewer method (insert into the center of cake and remove from oven when you see no uncooked batter left on the tester but ideally when the cake is still moist enough to leave crumbs on the probe of your choice.)



Ah... the smell alone will drive lesser mind wild! Cool on a wire rack for about ten minutes, then upend out of their pans to cool the rest of the way. They should slide right out, but if not take a skinny spatula and gently run it along the edge where cake meets pan.


If your cake has baked up too high and has formed a "lip", wait until it is completely cooled and remove the extra with a sharp, serrated knife. Eat this bit as your reward for a job well done :)

Now, you can frost this cake any way you want to with any kind of frosting - even one from a can if you must, but for the love of all things yummy why would you frost it with anything other than chocolate?? And frosting can be really easy to make! Here's a very simple butter frosting recipe:

Take two sticks of softened butter and beat until fluffy. Add one box of confectioners sugar. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Add as much dutch processed cocoa as you want until you reach your desired level of chocolatey-ness. If you really want to add some serious chocolate taste, go ahead and melt yourself a square of bakers chocolate and add that to the frosting (be careful not to add it when it's still too hot!) You might want to double this recipe if you like a lot of frosting on your cake.

Decorate your cake or leave it plain. A simple Hershey's kiss on the top is a charming touch. Serve any way you like, or just eat it with your bare hands! Either way, I hope you and your loved ones will enjoy this recipe as the first of many that will give us "Celiacies" and gluten free eaters back our Yumm!





Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Banana Cream Pie

8 comments:
bananae
I have yet to meet someone who does not like banana cream pie.  Slices of banana are stirred into a pastry cream, spooned into a pie crust, and topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream ... what's not to like?  And this mini-pie is adorable.

Banana Cream Pie

If only its bigger brother were so successful. When I cut into the big one, the filling was not quite soupy, but not as firm as it should have been.  I initially thought the recipe was at fault and was going to direct readers to this earlier recipe, but the fault lay with me.  In the rush of Labor Day, I refrigerated the big one for only half the recommended time, thinking the filling had set enough, and tended to other things.  But later at home when I cut into the mini-pie, which had been refrigerated all day, the consistency was perfect.  So don't follow my example, but follow the recipe!

This post was linked to:
Sweet Treats Thursday
Sweet Tooth Friday
Tea Party Tuesday
Sweets for a Saturday

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Giving New Meaning to "Baby Food"

1 comment:
alien stew

It looks like this recipe from my sister goes something like, put a carrot, two onions, some soy sauce, sazon, and Audrey in a pot.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Chocolate Gelato, and Hold the Extras

7 comments:
Chocolate Gelato 2
I'm mostly an ice cream purist -- hold the nuts, chocolate chips, candy, and other bits.  Pure chocolate is my undisputed favorite, though maple ice cream is also up there.  With only four ingredients, this gelato has a deep and intense chocolate flavor.  That's owed in large part to the high quality of cocoa I used, Guittard.  I had my doubts because the unfrozen gelato tasted an awful lot like pudding, but once it was frozen and set up it was like rich chocolate ice cream.  Is it my favorite recipe?  No, that distinction still belongs to Ben & Jerry's, but this is still excellent and easier.

Chocolate Gelato
Like most gelato recipes, this one uses milk and not cream.  That's a plus in the health department, but it usually means a dessert that's icier and not satisfyingly rich, like the strawberry gelato I tried a couple months ago.  That wasn't a problem here.  Try this one when your next chocolate craving hits.