Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Clementine Cake

I pride myself on being a good friend. If your car breaks down, I will come and get you. If you need a cup of sugar, I will give you one (note that I said “give,” not “lend” … you don’t even need to pay me back). And, if you confess your deepest, darkest secret to me, I promise to not post it as my Facebook status. See? Good friend. I will also peel almonds for you until my fingers bleed. I do this only because I have a recipe I know you’ll love and it requires this most tedious of tasks. But it makes me happy to see you happy, so I carry on ... (My fingers didn’t really bleed on the almonds, don’t worry. That would be gross.)

I found this fantastic and unique recipe for clementine cake on a great new blog I’ve been frequenting, “La Bella Cook.” Check it out sometime!
The cake is flourless and uses ground almonds or almond meal (which I highly recommend buying if you can find it in your grocery store) instead of flour. The texture is unlike anything I’ve had and put me off a bit at first with its subtle graininess, but I really enjoyed it the next day. I think the fine bits softened a little more and the citrus flavor came through increasingly well with time. It also seemed more moist after sitting for a day, if that's possible.

Making the Cake
  • I poured boiling water over my bowl of almonds and let them steep for about five minutes before attempting to peel. This wasn’t enough to loosen the skins as much as I wanted, so I threw them in the microwave, covered with hot water for three minutes longer. Perfect — the skins popped off easily. Once they were peeled, I threw them in a shallow, wide frying pan and toasted them for about a minute over low heat to make sure they were dry before grinding them in the food processor (about 30 to 45 seconds).

  • For the clementines, yes, you use the whole fruit; pith, peel and all. I weighed mine and used about a pound, which came out to five clementines (they were pretty small). After they're cooked, throwing them in a bowl to cut and pick out the seeds works well, too, so you can capture all the juice. They will be H-O-T when you take them out of the pot, though, so be careful and make sure to let them cool. If you combine them with the eggs too soon, you’ll end up with a scrambled mess.

  • Don't skip the parchment paper, even if your pan is nonstick. This is super-sticky batter and you'll need all the help you can get removing it from the pan.

This recipe is otherwise pretty straightforward. It's a delightful holiday dessert, especially if you have gluten-free guests at your table.

Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Clementime Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson and La Bella Cook

Cake Ingredients
4 to 5 clementines (about 1 pound total weight)
6 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/3 cups ground almonds, (remove the skins prior to grinding, or use store-bought almond meal)
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
2 tsp. real vanilla extract

Whipping cream (for serving)
Powdered sugar (to taste)
Triple Sec or Grand Marnier (to taste)

Put the clementines in a pot with cold water to cover, bring to the boil, and cook for 2 hours. Drain and place in a large bowl, when cool, cut each clementine in half and remove the seeds. Then process the skins, pith, and fruit in a food processor until a creamy, smooth texture is achieved. Remove puree from processor and set aside in a separate bowl.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter and line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

Add the eggs to the food processor and blend until scrambled-egg consistency is achieved.

One at a time, add the sugar, almonds, vanilla and baking powder. When this mixture is fully incorporated, add the Clementine puree and fully incorporate, as well.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean; cover the cake with foil after about 40 minutes to stop the top from burning.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool, in the pan on a rack. When the cake is cold, remove it from pan.

Whip cream with powdered sugar and spiked with triple-sec or Grand Marnier to taste. (Don’t use too much liquor, or your cream won’t whip. I use about 2 Tbsp. per pint.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Butternut Squash Bread Pudding

Emily and Curtis joined us for a comfort food-themed dinner on Saturday night and WOW!, did we feast. She made fantastic Sloppy Joe's, which I haven't had in years, and forgot what I was missing; salty, sweet and spicy, who could ask for anything more? Not me ... But more is exactly what I got ... Buttery-salty-creamy-OMG-delicious scalloped potatoes; oatmeal cream cheese butterscotch bars, and gluehwein (warm, German spiced wine). And, for our part, I made butternut squash bread pudding and clementine cake with triple sec-whipped cream. The cake recipe is forthcoming.

The original bread pudding recipe called for a 1 and 1/2-pound loaf of bread, but I weighed my loaf after coming home from the grocery store and it was only one pound, so I reduced the eggs and half-and-half by a third, as well. Everything else (the squash, leeks, spices, etc.), I left the same, since they weren't too extreme / potent in proportion. I actually think the original recipe would have been overflowing in the called-for dish size, so it really worked out perfectly.

Mmmm ... this was so yummy and definitely falls in the comfort food category. One of my favorite things I've made in awhile -- it's a perfect option for any vegetarian guests you may have during the holidays, too.


Butternut Squash Bread Pudding

1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
One 1-pound loaf of sourdough bread, ends trimmed, loaf cut into 1-inch cubes (do not remove crusts)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts only, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
10 large eggs
4 cups half-and-half
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Butter a 10-by-15-inch (four-quart oblong)baking dish. Peel and seed the squash, then cut the flesh in 1/2-inch dice. Season the squash liberally with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in a covered casserole dish. Bake the squash for 35 minutes, or until just tender, stirring / turning once halfway through roasing. Set aside and let cool.

On 2 large rimmed baking sheets, toast the bread until dry and just crisp, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the leeks and garlic and cook over moderately high heat for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderately low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Whisk in the milk, cream, thyme, nutmeg and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Add the bread cubes and let stand for 15 minutes.

Gently fold in the squash and leeks and transfer to the prepared baking dish.

Bake for 1 hour, or until browned on top and just set. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Make Ahead
The bread pudding can be prepared earlier in the day and reheated.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

O Tannenbaum

The holidays are in full swing at Team O headquarters!

Our Christmas decorations, including the tree, went up last weekend. I love the festivities and can even tolerate the dark and cold for the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, but after that, I would pay good money to teleport to mid-April (not a huge winter fan, here). For the past five years or so, we've taken a "Christmas tree hunting" day trip near Mount Rainier with a large group of friends. The trip, once we're deep into the woods and have safely parked the car, is so much fun. The drive up the un-guard railed, very narrow and slick logging road, however, leaves a bit to be desired. I was almost in tears a few years ago, convinced we would plummet to our deaths before day's end. Thankfully, everything has always ended safely.

We unfortunately missed out on the tradition this year, though, due to Nutcracker and Seahawks tickets purchased several months ago. Instead, we ventured to Point Valdimar Tree Farm in Stanwood, Wash., where Morgan's parents cut their tree every year. The trees are gorgeous and very fairly priced. And, also on the upside, we had become so accustomed to the Charlie Brown Christmas trees from the forest, that we were pleasantly reminded of the much stronger branches on farmed trees -- fantastic for those heavy ornaments.We did have a little bit of a hiccup, though ...

I pictured myself married to Clark Griswold when Morgan brought the tree in the house -- it is SO huge, i.e., fat. It sticks out more than a quarter of the way into our living room. Our mistake, since we only measured for height. It's one of the most beautiful trees we've ever had, but this year's lesson is to think about width, too!!

(You can't quite tell how rotund this tree is from the picture, so you'll have to take my word for it ...)Hope you're all enjoying the Christmas season and are able to spend quality time with your loved ones!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009