Hazelnut oil and lemon cake

So I’ve been in a super cake mood since the other day when Mom told me it was National Chocolate Cake Day. I haven’t checked to see if that’s a real thing, but it did prompt me to make this cake and it was bitchin’ sweet, so last night we made another. Last night’s was totally different though–it was lemon and hazelnut and very fluffy instead of chocolate.

Last night’s cake was super good. Normally when I make cake, I end up giving all but three bites of it away because it’s huge and I’m done with it. But I’m totally hoarding this one. None for you! So now you have to make one and here’s the recipe.

3/4 cup hazelnut oil
1 lemon (for zest and juice)
1 cup cake flour (it totally makes a difference–I used to be a nonbeliever, so believe me now)
5 eggs, separated into 5 yolks and 4 whites
3/4 cup sugar, divided1/2 tsp salt

I baked this in a 9 x 13 pan but I bet it would work in a 9 or 10 inch circular one if you prefer.

The oven needs to preheat to 350, do this when you like.

Hazelnut oil is really cool. It’s got this smoky flavor that probably came from roasting the nuts and is really nice. We’ve used it in salad dressings a couple of times, but this is the first thing we’ve done which requires a lot of it.

Whisk together the 1 cup flour and 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest in a bowl you can easily pour from, then set aside.

In another bowl, beat together the 5 yolks and 1/2 cup sugar on high for about three minutes, until the texture is totally different–thick and pale.

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After that, lower the speed to medium and add the hazlenut oil. Mmm hazlenut oil. As well as 1 1/2 tbs lemon juice. Mix enough to combine. Then add in the flour/lemon zest and mix in gently (ie, not with the mixer, use a wooden spoon or spatula).

In an entirely new bowl, combine the 4 egg whites and 1/2 tsp salt then beat at med or med-high until foamy. Once you’ve achieved this, start adding 1/4 cup sugar a little bit at a time, while still mixing. Once all the sugar is in, continue until you are able to form soft peaks.

Now comes the delicate part. The foamy egg whites will help lighten the cake. Sounds awesome, yeah?! Well the yolks and flour are going to do their best to eff you over, so what you’ve got to do is fold them together. First, take about 1/3 of the egg whites and put them in the same bowl as the yolks and, using a spatula, fold them together. This is different from normal mixing in that you’re trying to maintain the airiness of the whites so you literally fold layers of pre-cake on top of each other until the batter seems homogenous. After the first third is combined, go ahead and fold the rest in.

Once this has been completed, pour the batter into your baking pan of choice and tap it against the counter to remove obstinate, excessive bubbles. This will ensure a uniformly delicious cake, with no dissapointing holey pieces.

Then bake this glory for 30-45 minutes, depending on your pan, until the poke test is successful.

Once this cools, I’m sure you will find yourself in a paradise of refreshing smokey, nutty, lemon and fluff, just like I did. It was quite disorienting. So much so, in fact, that I found myself unable to take a picture of the completed cake without at least a few pieces missing.

Marshmallow and Cashew Popcorn

A while back I said I’d be experimenting more with popcorn and candy, and I that wasn’t a lie. This is the result of that epic essai.

First of all, to make something this tasty you have to pop your own popcorn. It’s not very hard and it’s really easy to turn it into something you really want instead of a buttery, artery-clogging pile of puffed corn.

I started with:
A tall stock pot (nothing out of the ordinary)
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Enough veggie oil to cover the bottom of the pan

Then cover the pan and heat on medium. As it’s cooking, shake occasionally and when the loud, scary popping noises become less frequent (when only one *pop* happens every 3-5 seconds) take it off the burner. I like to give it another good shake before talking off the lid. And then, wha-bam:

Isn’t it amazing?

Yes.

So what makes this special: before enjoying this wondrous bounty, I put it on a baking sheet mixed with marshmallows and cashews with a sprinkle of salt.

After the request of my roommate, I decided to put nutella on half before baking.

With the oven preheated to 275, make for 10 minutes, check, then 10 minutes again. The marshmallows on top get hard and dry, kind of crisp like the kind in cereal while the marshmallow under some popcorn becomes gooey and wonderful.

I ate all of it almost immediately.

Berry Salad

Some might call this a summer salad because the fruit in it are summer fruit. But I feel silly doing that because there are so many summer fruit. But anywhoo.

My mom made a salad similar to this the other day and I felt the need to replicate it last night because it was so good.

What you need is:

Strawberries
Raspberries
(Mom made it with blueberries too, but when I went to the store they were all ugly and unappealing, so no blubes for me)
Equal amounts of walnuts and blue cheese
Spinach
Oil and vinegar

I also cooked some chicken to mix in with it. Nothing special, just skillet-ed, seasoned, and sliced.

Start by washing your fruit and slicing the strawberries.

And be sure to set some aside to make the dressing. I’d say one good-sized strawberry and 3 or 4 raspberries.

I used a food processor because I like my little Philbert, but we didn’t use one at Mom’s. A knife and whisk will do the job just fine.

Mince the berries and scoop them into a cup, then add oil and vinegar and whisk. So easy! Then do the obligatory taste test to make sure everything’s good and tweak if necessary.

Now for the walnuts and blue cheese. Pile them together on your cutting board.

Then chop to combine. That may sound weird, but trust me, it makes sense. As you cut the walnuts, the blue cheese kind of starts to coat them and they become one. Which I like a whole lot better than just lone blue cheese floating dejectedly around in my salad.

Then toss everything together!

Pesto without a recipe

For a long time, watching my mom cook, I was always baffled. Any time I’d ask her something about measurements, she’d say something enigmatic like “do what looks right,” or just simply “enough.” And that was pretty frustrating, until I started playing with food the grown-up way. I am not a baker at heart; I am much too imprecise. But that doesn’t mean I can’t show people how to make something. Last night I made pesto for the first time and it was very simple. You only need a few ingredients and either a food processor or a blender.

Basil
Olive Oil
Parmesan
Nuts

I used walnuts, but I think tradition says to use pine nuts. I’ve also had it with pecans and it was super tasty. So basically, feel free to use what you have in the pantry. And as far as the parmesan goes, I wouldn’t recommend buying shredded cheese (because in all shredded cheeses they have to add chemical stuff to prevent caking, and that’s just not my style), but you don’t have to shred it; I just cubed mine.

Basically, put in half your basil and a little bit of each of the ingredients, then blend and taste. That way you know that nothing will be too over powering and you have ingredients enough to perfect it. If you like the way it tastes, add the rest of the basil and the same amount of the other ingredients. It’s not hard to figure out, despite it’s intimidating nature. You want it to end up smooth and completely blended, so it might take a while before it’s perfect.

And pesto is super great; there are tons of delicious things you can do with it. If you want to stay simple, just throw it on some pasta instead of the more used alfredo or tomato sauce. It’s great as a dip with chips or pita bread, or a spread on sandwiches. It’s also pretty dang healthy. I made mine into a creamy pesto that’s going to be paired with some mushrooms sauteed in white wine in a fillo dough pocket. But that’s yet to be made and therefore yet to be photographed, but expect it soon!

Berry cheese ball

Cheese balls are pretty easy to make, despite the fact that my family only has them around Christmas and my local cheese shop requires a “specialist” to make them. And what’s super neat about them is that you can do whatever you want with them.

For this cheese ball all you need is:
1 package cream cheese
~1 cup white cheddar
~1 cup emmenthaler
~1 cup fresh or frozen berries (I used frozen)
1/4 cup pecans or walnuts (I had both in my pantry, and it works well with either)

And this ends up being pretty huge, so don’t expect to eat this all by yourself.

It helps if your nuts are already chopped, but if not, do this now. At the time, I didn’t feel like getting anything dirty–not even my food processor–so I put the nuts in a plastic bag and broke them apart with my pestle. It was very clean, but not as fast as using the food processor.

Next I taped some wax paper to the counter for when it came time to shape the cheese ball. (If you can’t already tell, I don’t like messy clean-ups.)

I used my stand mixer to combine everything (except the nuts), but if you have patience and good arms, you can use those too.

Just wait for everything to be combined, and then get to shaping. Pretty much just take everything out of bowl and start making it round with your hands.

And when it’s the shape you want, start coating it with the crushed nuts. Now garnish with crackers and voila! Berry cheese ball!

What’s neat about this cheese ball’s flavor is that it’s not sweet. You could make it that way by adding some jam or even just some straight-up sugar. But without that, you get the tartness from the berries combined with the soft flavors of the cheese and it works really well.

But if you’re feeling less adventurous about your cheese balls, there are less risqué things you can do. Cheddar and swiss with some herbs is nice, so would be bleu, cheddar, and hot sauce if you’re in to wings. Like I said earlier, there are lots of different ways you can take this, the only ingredient that carries over is the cream cheese. (And even then, it could even be replaced with a different soft cheese.)

Nougat

Though I don’t think this is quite the same traditional nougat that’s been around forever, this is a tasty substitute.

What you need is:

2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water
2 egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 stick softened butter
3/4cup whole hazlenuts
3/4 cup whole almonds
3/4 cup whole pistashios

You also need
A stand mixer
A 9 x 13 pan
A candy thermometer

A recipe I found recommends using edible rice paper later on, and if you have it I think it would be a great idea. We used wax paper, but it still stuck really bad. With the rice paper, the paper sticks, but you can eat it, so it’s ok.

Combine the sugar, water, corn syrup, and honey in a large sauce pan. (I used a 2 quart sauce pan and it wasn’t quite large enough–so if you have a bigger one, use it. I was technically able to do it, but it was kind of hard and there were spills which were very hard to clean up.)

Now put in the candy thermometer and heat until it reaches 252 degrees F. Stir it constantly in the beginning to make sure the sugar dissolves and once it is, stop stirring. (It will foam up, and if it gets too close to spilling over the top, take it off the heat for a second until it goes down. I had to do this a lot because of the size of my pan, but it didn’t ruin anything.)

While that’s going, put the egg whites in the stand mixer. When the syrup is getting close, beat the egg whites until the form stiff peaks. When both elements are ready (the egg whites are properly beaten and the syrup is the right temperature) take out a 1/4 cup of the syrup. With the mixer running, pour in the syrup in a sow steady stream. Then beat it together for about 5 more minutes, until they have stiff peaks.

The way I transferred the syrup was a little messy, but it worked with the tools I have. Basically I dipped in one of my heavy-duty glassware measuring cups and scooped out a 1/4 cup. Syrup got all over the cup and hardened. Some of it was wasted and it was hard to clean, but it was easy to do.

After this, let the syrup heat up to 315 degrees F. It will be darker, but don’t worry, it’s not burnt.

When it reaches 315 degrees F, take it off the heat and pour it into the mixer. To facilitate that, I poured it into a 3 cup heavy duty glass measuring cup. It almost wasn’t big enough, so if you have a bigger one, I’d recommend using it.

Beat on high for another five minutes until the mixture is glossy and a thick ribbon forms when you pull out the whisk.

Now stop the mixer and add the flavorings–the vanilla and almond extract–and the butter. Then mix it some more for another 5 minutes.

When that’s done, stir in then nuts by hand. We went through a couple of tools for this job. A rubber spatula wasn’t strong enough.

And the wooden spoon broke.

But the wooden spoon nub turned out to do the job the best. (And all of this breaking is a testament to how fast you have to do this. Once it sets it’s hard to manipulate.)

As soon as it’s mixed, pour it in your prepared 9 x 13 pan (prepared = covered with wax paper and covered with a lot of butter). Ours didn’t pour very well, it was kind of lumpy, but as it set, it spread out.

Then let it sit for a while. We left it and made more candy, so I don’t know exactly how long it sat before we cut it.

One of the cool things we could do with the dishes was play with it and make candy strings. As the warm syrup cooled down and we were able to touch it, we pulled some out of the containers and it stretched.

A lot of this process is very similar to making hard candy, that’s why we were able to do this.

English Toffee

This is something new and festive my sister, mom and I tried over the holidays and it came out great. Plus it was a lot easier than it seemed.

We got the recipe from Martha Stewart’s website.

You start by buttering a baking pan. We didn’t have the same size that the site recommends, so we divided it up into three smaller pans.

The point of putting it into a big pan is so that it’s not thick, so multiple smaller pans work too. And also, don’t worry about the parchment paper–wax paper works just fine.

You will need a candy thermometer for this, but they don’t run too expensive. And considering how easy it is to make this stuff, you’ll probably use it often, so don’t worry about wasting your money.

Next, you need to melt the butter in a nonstick sauce pan. Simple enough. Then once it’s melted, remove from heat and add sugar, corn syrup, and water.

That’s how it looks at first, but as you cook it, it’s texture and color will change.

Soon it will become bubbly/foamy. You’ll need to make sure to stir it here because the bottom will be a lot denser than the top.

And at around 250 degrees, it will suddenly get darker. That part scared us because we weren’t expecting it, but it was fine.

We cooked it on a medium heat but turned it up part way through because it seemed to stop getting warmer during the last bit.

Once it’s reached 300 degrees, stir in the almonds and pour it into the prepared pans and let it sit. Once it’s cool enough to touch and still slightly malleable, put it onto the wax or parchment paper. While it’s finishing it’s cool-off, melt the chocolate.

Before you pour on the chocolate, make sure to wipe off the excess butter. The leftover butter on top will stop the chocolate from sticking.

Once the chocolate’s on, top with almonds. Martha Stewart’s recipe doesn’t say this, but we melted half the chocolate at a time. That way we could coat one side, let it dry while melting the rest of the chocolate, then flip and coat the other side with chocolate.

But to let it set all the way, leave it in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Once it’s hard, break it into pieces and enjoy!

Seared Lemon Walnut Tuna

I don’t cook with fish much, so it may be very possible that I did something wrong or may give bad advice, so please let me know.

Basically, walking around the grocery store, we decided to cook tuna. Next that lead to a lemon and goat cheese marinade and a walnut and pepper crust.

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So first thing I did was get the fish marinating. I juiced a lemon and a half and added about a 1/4 cup of feta cheese (which I microwaved and whisked together so that it would melt). I found an interesting article the other day about interesting uses for the microwave, and they had a tip about juicing citrus fruit. Basically, microwave for 20 seconds before juicing and it’ll be easier and you will yield more. It seemed to work for me, so feel free to try it out.

Next I added the fish and enough water to cover them.

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I let them sit in the fridge for 20 minutes and that was plenty of time for the lemony flavor to penetrate them.

While that was sitting, I chopped up some walnuts. Though I did buy walnut chips, they were too big for what I had in mind, so I threw them into my ultra handy food processor.

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Until they were almost powder-like or at least half size.

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I mixed those with very small bits of feta, fresh ground pepper and garlic power, all to taste, and put it in a soup plate that was flat enough to hold a fillet without spreading out the materials too much.

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Next I set up everything in the kitchen so that it would be easy to move from one place to another. The tuna is in the Tupperware on the left, the plate of walnut bits in the middle, and the pre-heated skillet on the left.

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One thing I didn’t do but I think would have been a good idea would have been to pat dry the fish instead of immediately putting it in the walnuts. The excess moisture seemed to make the pre-crust hard to work with, but it was manageable. Another problem I has was that I Just Enough pre-crust to work with, and it’s definitely something where you want a little extra.

But here’s what it looked like anyway.

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Tongs seemed like the best tool for the job, although they did get a little hot–mine are all metal. But they would be better than a spatula or something because you’d be in much more danger of messing up the crust. With the tongs you only tough the sides, not the top or bottom–where the crust is.

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The tuna I got was sashimi grade, so I didn’t feel any qualms about just searing it for about 2 minutes on each side. If your grocery store doesn’t have that, you many want to ask your seafood guy if that would be a safe method of preparation. The crust browned slightly and got a little crunch.

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And if you happen to be tag teaming this dish, or if you’re good at multitasking, you can start working on the sauce as soon as all the tuna has left the marinade. Basically, pour it into a shallow pan and reduce on high, stirring constantly. It will come out very lemony, so don’t put it directly on the fish–put it on the side of the plate. To this feel free to add some honey. Not only will it cut the tartness of the goat cheese and lemon juice, but it will also add another depth of flavor.

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Next add some unmincified walnuts and feta as garnish and voila

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And because it was seared, the inside was such a pretty red.

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That last picture was taken from my lap while eating, upon witnessing the glory of the melty and beautiful tuna.