Friday, May 27, 2011

Prawn Summer Rolls

After all that coconut cake, it's time for a light, refreshing recipe. These summer rolls fit the bill.  They are crunchy, flavorful, and fun to make. Warning though, they do take a lot of prep work and ingredients to put together, and the rice paper wrappers are not the easiest things to work with.  Patience is a virtue with these things.

I was up for the challenge and I am glad I gave them a try.  Served as an appetizer before an Asian-inspired meal, or solo as a lunch, they are quite satisfying. 

Prawn Summer Rolls
4 ounces bean thread noodles (cellophane or transparent noodles)
12 8"-9" rice paper rounds
18 cooked medium prawns (about 10 ounces), peeled, deveined, halved lengthwise
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves or parsley plus 1 tablespoon chopped
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup English hothouse cucumber, cut into matchstick-size pieces
1 cup carrot, cut into matchstick-size pieces
12 small green or red lettuce leaves

Put noodles in a large bowl. Pour enough hot water over to cover; let stand until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water to cool; drain and set aside.

Fill a pie plate with warm water. Working with 1 rice paper round at a time, soak rice paper in water, turning occasionally, until just pliable but not limp, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a work surface. Arrange 3 shrimp halves across center of round. Top with some leaves of each herb, then daikon sprouts (if using), cucumber, and carrot. Arrange a small handful of noodles over. Place 1 lettuce leaf over, torn or folded to fit. Fold bottom of rice paper over filling, then fold in ends and roll like a burrito into a tight cylinder. Transfer roll, seam side down, to a platter. Repeat to make 11 more rolls.  Can be made 1 hour ahead. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and refrigerate.

To serve, cut rolls in half on diagonal with dipping sauce.

Peanut Dipping Sauce
Makes 1 cup
2 teaspoons cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed in garlic press
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2/3 cup water
3 tablespoons peanut butter, smooth or chunky

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When the oil is just starting to get hot, add the garlic and ginger and fry for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the sweet chili sauce, hoisin sauce, water and peanut butter and stir until smooth. Simmer until thickened. Let cool. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week. If the sauce is too thick after storing, whisk in a bit of water to thin it out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Coconut Cake

It has been so long since I made a cake from scratch and when I saw this recipe in Bon Appetite, I knew I had to give it a try.  I made some variations to the original recipe.  One was to add some coconut extract to both the cake and the frosting.  I read some reviews of this recipe and a common complaint was that there wasn't enough coconut flavor.  The other thing I did, just because, was to add a layer of lemon curd in the center of the cake.  You can't go wrong with a little lemon curd.

Another thing I read in the reviews was that this recipe is very similar to an Italian Cream Cake. I've heard my dear friend Warren exclaim about his Italian Cream Cake recipe, but have never tried it. I'll have to ask him if this is similar to his cake extraordinaire.

The cake was delightful and it was served to my lovely mother-in-law for a belated Mother's Day surprise.  

Coconut Cake

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups (loosely packed) sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 large egg yolks
4 large egg whites, room temperature

Coconut Frosting
3 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 cup (about) sweetened flaked coconut



Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 11/2-inch- high sides with nonstick spray; line bottom of pans with parchment paper rounds. Mix flour and coconut in medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, coconut extract, and baking soda in small bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks and beat to blend. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 2 additions, beating just to blend after each addition. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and 1/4 teaspoon salt in another large bowl until peaks form. Add 1/3 of egg white mixture to batter; fold into batter just to blend. Fold in remaining egg white mixture in 2 additions. Divide batter between pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 10 minutes. Run small sharp knife around sides of cake pans. Invert cakes onto racks. Carefully peel off parchment. Cool cakes completely.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in large bowl until blended. Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on plate. Spread with 1 cup frosting. Place second layer, flat side up, atop frosting. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle some of coconut over top of cake; pat more coconut on sides of cake. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Family, Fun, and Crabs

For 17 years now I have had the honor of attending The Husband's family crab feast in Astoria, Oregon.  Astoria holds a Crab Festival each year on the last weekend of April, which coincides with my father-in-law's birthday so the family celebrates both with a wonderful gathering.  Though the crowds have gotten somewhat smaller over the years, an air of festivity still abounds.
The main components of the day haven't changed much over the years.  Crabs are ordered through a local seafood shop and we pick them up, one per person, all cooked, cleaned, and ready for eating.  Food preparations start by boiling eggs, making dips, preparing the garlic breads, putting out relish trays, and making a big huge green salad with all the trimmings. The table is set including nut crackers and picks for all and we are ready for the big dinner.
Everyone has their own methods for how they eat their crabs.  There are the folks who like to pick and eat as they go and then there are the others (the patient ones) who prefer to pick all their crab meat into a nice tidy pile before eating.  I, if you hadn't picked up on it already, am of the latter category.  I learned after my first year to never leave your bowl of cracked crab unattended because there are those in the first category who have eaten all of their crab and will try to "borrow" some from their neighbors.
Some people come prepared for the meal with their own accessories, such as the wrist bands noted in the photo below which are used to soak up the crab juices that inevitably run down the arms.  It is a messy job with crab shells flying and more often then not, a sharp jab from a shell into a finger or two.  It's all worth it in the end though.

It is so comforting to have family traditions, no matter how big or small, to look forward to and participate in and I feel so lucky to be a part of this one every year.

A bonus photo taken on the following Sunday morning very early in Seaside, Oregon where the weather was absolutely perfect and the water was like a mirror.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Happy Third Anniversary Pie-O-My

Three years and 245 blogs later, I still look forward every week to trying a new recipe, taking photos, and writing a few words about my experiences in the kitchen.  What a fulfilling hobby this has turned out to be.  It has taught me how to be a much better cook, how to be more organized, the importance of how food looks as well as tastes, and developing a writing style that expresses my own voice.

Thank you to my loyal family and friends who have been, from the get go, so generous and kind in their words of support toward my little project.  A great big thanks to The Husband, who patiently waits for meals on the weekends as I style yet another plate, or take just one more photo, and who has been my guinea pig for more than a few failures!  You mean the world to me.

This blog has brought additional rewards in the form of a plug in a local newspaper, a mention in Bon Appetit Magazine for the chocolate-mint cookies pictured below, and many very generous food samples from outstanding companies throughout the country. These perks have been a totally unexpected bonus! I also receive a small monetary stipend each month for being a publisher with FoodBuzz. As The Husband likes to say regarding this extra income, "Don't quit your day job." 

Instead of cooking up something to celebrate the beginning of my fourth year of this blog, I thought I would go back in my photo archives and share a few of my favorite pictures with you. I look forward to continuing this blog for a long time to come.