Nina's Fresh Batch

Green is Good

There is still snow on the ground but just this weekend patches of green grass have begun appear. Thanks to some steady rain and warmer temperatures, the ice encrusted snow mountains are slowly melting, leaving me thinking heavily about greener days ahead.  Maybe it's that promise of green that prompted me to make this cake.

I first noticed this recipe about a year ago but had my reservations. Just like you are having now. I mean, parsley...a lot of parsley...in a cake? But wait. I put parsley in my morning green smoothie along with other herbs and greens and it tastes delicious! Why not in a cake? So, armed with bunches of dark green parsley, a handful of bright mint and a small bunch of basil I went about making my green confection. The results are amazing. Imagine a fluffy, aromatic, beautiful green cake. Herbal and not too sweet with a faint but pleasant grassy note. A virtuous green smoothie gone a little bad. 

I adjusted the recipe just slightly by adding a half cup of fresh basil leaves for flavor and sweetness and two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice to bring down the grassiness just a bit. 

 Adapted from Roberta's Cookbook  (Clarkson Potter, 2013)

Serves 12 to 14

4 cups parsley leaves, tightly packed (about 5 large bunches)
1 cup mint leaves, tightly packed (about 2 bunches)
1/2 cup basil leaves, tightly packed 
3/4 cup good olive oil, plus more for the pan
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 2/3 cups sugar

To make the herb-oil mixture, put a fourth of the parsley, mint  and basil in a strong blender or food processor, and blend it on low speed. Use a blender stick to help crush the herbs while the blade is spinning (or stop the machine from time to time to push the herbs back down toward the blade). Slowly increase the speed to medium (or a steady puree, in a food processor) and continue adding the rest of the herbs until you have added all of them. 

  1. In a steady stream, add half of the olive oil. Mix on medium-low speed (or pulsing, if using a food processor) until all is combined. Add the remaining olive oil and blend for no longer than 10 seconds. The mixture will look loose and stringy. Scrape out the blender to get all of the parsley mixture, transfer it to a bowl, and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder and set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the eggs for about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and mix on high speed until the mixture is very thick and turns a pale yellow color, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer speed down to low and add lemon juice and the herb-oil mixture.
  4. With the machine still running, add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Do not over mix. Pour the batter into a container and refrigerate it for at least 6 and up to 24 hours (the cake will turn out much greener than it would if you baked it right away).
  5. When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 340°F and lightly oil a sheet pan -- ideally a 13- x 18-inch for a thin cake but 11 3/4- x 16 1/2-inch will work with a slightly longer baking time (at Food52, we used a 10- x 15-inch jelly roll pan). Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and lightly oil the paper. Pour the batter into the sheet pan and smooth out the top with a spatula.
  6. Bake for 12 to 18 minutes, rotating the cake halfway through. If the top begins to brown before the inside of the cake is done, turn the heat down to 330° and let it cook a couple of minutes longer. When a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, it's done. Let it cool in the pan.
  7. To serve, tear serving-size squares of cake into a few larger pieces and divide them among individual plates. If desired, serve with vanilla ice cream, lemon sorbet or even strawberry sorbet. Alternately, eat warm with butter for breakfast.

Written by Nina Lombardo — March 15, 2015

10 Tips for a Stress Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Even the cook should enjoy a stress-free Thanksgiving. So, with the big day full of expectation only weeks away, I reached out to friends and followers and asked what challenges they faced. There were many concerns over keeping food warm and how to accommodate guests with various dietary restrictions.  Here are some suggestions and tips.

 

1. Decide on a menu, clean out the fridge, and go shopping now...today.

If family and friends are contributing, coordinate what they are bringing and be very specific. You want to avoid 7 pumpkin pies and only one side dish!

Once your menu is set, write out grocery lists. You should divide the list into perishables and nonperishables to make shopping and storing easier. Shop now for non-perishables and frozen items and about four to five days in advance for perishables.

 

2. Keep your gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan guests happy.

Consider a rice based stuffing instead of the traditional bread stuffing. 

Make a hearty vegan dish for both the vegetarians and the vegans. Kills two birds with one dish. :) Martha Stewart has a great recipe for stuffed acorn squash I plan to make for my vegan kids and everyone else. 

Make a gluten-free pumpkin pie substituting gluten free spice cookies in a cookie crust recipe.

Prepare baked apples and serve with sugar free ice cream for diabetic guests

Serve vegetables such as sting beans or broccoli dressed simply in olive oil and lemon. Acceptable on just about any diet.

 

3. Make your pies now...really!

You can assemble pies ahead of time and freeze them. They actually bake better this way. Because the bottom crust begins baking before the filling has thawed, it doesn't have a chance to soak up the excess juices that would normally make it soggy. I learned this trick from my sister Ellen. She baked a frozen blueberry pie this summer and it turned out great! Expect to bake the pies about 20-25 minitues longer. This method works well on fruit pies and nut based pies such as pecan. Pumpkin doesn't fare as well, but you can roll out the bottom crust and freeze it directly in the pie tin. I do not recommend putting a glass pan straight from the freezer into the oven, as it can shatter. Metal pans are a better choice.

 

4. Test drive a new recipe.

Read thru any new recipe you plan to try and familarize yourself with the directions. If you have the time, test the recipe to make sure it works and is worthy of a spot on your Thanksgiving table.

 

5. Write the menu down and post it in a prominent place.

It's easy to forget a side dish in the oven or the cranberry sauce in the fridge. 

 

6. Set the table ahead of time.

Taking care of this task in advance saves you a little bit of stress on the day-of. If you can, shoot for a few days ahead. 

Pull out the serving platters you plan to use along with the serving utensils and adhere post-it notes indicating what dish will be served on it. I know this sounds a bit over the top, but this way saves time and the stress of rummaging thru cabinets trying to find serving platters you haven't used since last year.

 

7. Set-up your coffee maker so it's set to go when it's time for dessert.

Do the same with the creamers and sugar bowls. 

 

8. Start your holiday with a clean kitchen.

Empty dishwashers and trashcans. Line your bins with more than one bag so that you have a fresh bag ready to go when one becomes full. 

 

9. One oven? Use one temperature to cook your side dishes.

Most Thanksgiving sides cook at 350º. Some, however, calling for 325º or 375º can still be cooked at 350º - so go ahead and toss in more than one dish at a time. Just be sure to program separate timers and add extra minutes to account for the oven door opening.

 

10. Get everything on the table still warm.

Use the microwave—it’s insulated, so it will keep dishes warm for up to half an hour—just don’t turn it on.

Pour gravy and soups into a thermos to keep them steaming hot. 

Use warming trays. My friend Lisa Harris from Morning Sunshine Breakfast Cookies swears by them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Nina Lombardo — November 05, 2014

Spicy Bourbon Bundt Cake

Growing up on Long Island in the 70's, Entenmanns bakery was king. Their factory outlet, a short drive from where I grew up, was a weekly visit for my mother and her three girls in tow. My sisters and I all piled into the back seat of my Mom's Chevy Impala strategizing on how to convince her to buy our favorites. Inevitably, we would leave with a stack of cakes, cookies and pastries ready for weekend company and late night snacks. My sister Lisa was partial to chocolate chip crumb and still enjoys their chocolate chip cookies with her daughters. My sister Ellen, liked the vanilla cake with the fudge icing. She would pull back the rich frosting and save it for last. Smart girl. I still remember their spiced chocolate cake. Fudgy chocolate frosting and cinnamon spiced dark chocolate cake with chewy raisins. The spicy, warm aroma as the box was opened, is one of my strongest food memories. Much to my dismay, the cake was discontinued a long time ago. I still check out the Entenmanns display whenever I'm at the market, wistful and hoping against all odds, they resurrect the cake...just for me. So  then, what is a nostalgic foodie to do? I recreated that memory and gave it an adult spin. I glazed it with a classic ganache and added bourbon because, well, why not? 

This is a rich cake...a small piece goes along way.

Serves 10-12

Ingredients for the cake:

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup bourbon

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus more for pan

9 tablespoons cake flour, plus more for pan

14 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

6 large eggs, separated

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 1/3 cups finely ground blanched almonds

1 1/4 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon sea salt

Ingredients for the ganache:

8 oz. best quality dark chocolate

1 cup heavy cream

To make the cake:

• Combine raisins and bourbon in a small bowl. Cover and let sit, at room temperature, for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

• Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 8 cup bundt pan and dust with flour, making sure to coat evenly. Tap out excess flour.

• In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, melt chocolate with 1/4 cup water. Add butter a little at a time, stirring until mixture is smooth.

• In a large bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar until thick and light. Stir in melted chocolate mixture. Add flour, almonds, raisins, and whisky. Stir to combine.

• Beat egg whites with salt until stiff, glossy peaks form. Stir one-third of egg whites into chocolate mixture. Gently but thoroughly fold in remaining egg whites. Pour into pan, and smooth top. Bake until just beginning to pull away from sides of pan (the center should remain moist), about 45-50 minutes. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

• Place cake on a baking sheet lined with a cooling rack. Gently pour ganache on top of the cake letting it drip down the sides as pictured. 

While the cake is baking make the ganache:

• Using a food processor, grind the chocolate into a fine powder. Remove and place chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat heavy cream in saucepan over medium heat until just about bubbling. Watch carefully as you do not want it to scorch or boil over. Imediatley pour hot cream over chocolate. Let sit undisturbed for 2-3 minutes. Carefully and slowly stir mixture until smooth. Let cool. You will have extra ganache. Store leftover in the fridge for a few days and re-heat to use over ice-cream. Or, chill, scoop into balls and roll in cocoa powder for truffles.

Tips for success:

• Make sure your bundt pan is generously greased. Use a baking spray for even coverage. Even a non-stick pan needs to be greased. Having your cake stick to the pan is painful and tear inducing. We don't want that!

• The un-iced cake can be made ahead of time. In fact, it improves with age. Keep it wrapped and refrigerated for up to four days. Bring to room temperature before icing.

• Do not over-beat or use a whisk to stir the ganache. This will form air bubbles and turn your smooth pourable ganache into a thick frosting. Good, but not right for this cake.

• Cut cake with a thin sharp knife that has been heated under hot running water and wiped dry.

 

Written by Nina Lombardo — October 28, 2014

Make Your Fluffernutter Jealous: Mini Peanut Butter Pavlovas.

Ok, so my guess is you are wondering what is a Pavlova and then thinking this looks way too hard to make. But, looks can be deceiving. Let's start with the Pavlova part. A pavlova, (named after the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova), is nothing more than sweetened egg whites whipped into a beautiful fluffy mass. Very similar to a meringue cookie except not as hard.

Most often, a Pavlova is served with fruit and whipped cream creating a study in textures and sweetness, all good things in a dessert. The Pavlova is baked at a low temperature until the outside is crisp and the inside is something similar to marshmallow. For this recipe I swirled creamy peanut butter into the whipped egg whites creating a grown-up version of a Fluffernutter (best sandwich ever invented).

I topped them with bananas, whipped cream and, to gild the lily, a smoky sea salt caramel sauce. You can easily make the meringues days in advance of when you plan to serve them. The caramel sauce can be homemade (and in advance) or you can substitute store bought. Don't be temped to use canned whipped cream though. Freshly made, unsweetened whipped cream, is essential for this recipe as the meringue is sweet, as well as the caramel, and the whipped cream provides a welcome counterpoint to all the sweetness.

For this recipe, I made individual meringues, but you can simply make one large Pavlova (the more traditional way).

Serves 8

Ingredients for the Pavlovas

1 cup sugar, preferably superfine

1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

4 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup natural (preferably salted) peanut butter, stirred well

1 cup heavy cream

1 large, ripe banana

1/3 cup roasted and salted peanuts, roughly chopped 

Ingredients for the salted caramel

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup heavy cream

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon smoked sea salt, crushed or kosher salt

To make the Pavlovas

Preheat the oven to 275° F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Trace 8  3-inch circles on parchment paper and flip it upside down on the baking sheet.

• Mix the sugar and cornstarch together thoroughly and set aside.

• Combine the egg whites and the cream of tartar in the mixer bowl. Using the whisk attachment, beat on medium high speed (in the stand mixer) or high speed (with a hand-held mixer) until the egg whites are creamy white and hold a soft shape when the beaters are lifted. Gradually add the sugar mixture, a heaping teaspoon at a time (do this slowly and steadily). You should have a very stiff, creamy-looking meringue.

•  Scatter small spoonfuls of the peanut butter over the meringue. With a large rubber spatula, fold the peanut butter partially into the meringue leaving lots of streaks and pockets of unmixed peanut butter visible.

• Spoon the meringue onto the traced circles and use a metal icing spatula or a rubber spatula to sculpt into a low domes. Bake the pavlovas for 1 hour or until it looks golden brown and feels crusty on the surface, though it will be marshmallow-y inside. It may be cracked on the surface-that’s ok.

• Set the baking sheets on a rack to cool completely. If you are not serving the Pavlovas the same day, cover loosely and leave them at room temperature; they keep for several days.

To make the caramel:

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and water over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, without stirring. If necessary, use a wet pastry brush  to wash down any crystals on the side of the pan. Boil until the syrup is a deep amber color, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Remove the sugar from the heat and carefully whisk in the heavy cream. The mixture will bubble. Stir in the unsalted butter, and salt. Transfer the caramel to a dish and cool. This recipe makes more caramel than you will need. Keep the extra covered and refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.

To assemble:

Right before serving:

Whip cream until stiff peaks form.

Thinly slice banana and arrange on top of pavlovas. Top with whipped cream. Drizzle with caramel as pictured and scatter peanuts on top. 

Tips for success:

• Make sure the bowl and beaters of your mixer are squeaky clean. Any residue of butter or grease will prevent the egg whites from whipping.

• Bring your eggs to room temperature before using (place them in a bowl of hot water to speed the process).

• When making the whipped cream, chill the beaters and the whisk. Cold equipment is whipped creams best friend.

• Use natural peanut butter and stir in the oil that seperates very well before using. 

Written by Nina Lombardo — October 14, 2014

Rosemary Plum Pizza

I love sweet desserts. Chocolate anything? Goes without saying. Gooey, creamy and sometimes way too sweet works too. But every now and then, a refreshing dessert low in sugar, that straddles sweet and savory, is a welcome change. Right now, late season Italian prune plums are at the market, but any variety of plums, stone fruit or even figs would work. The nutty whole wheat crust compliments the sweet fruit and the addition of hazelnuts and rosemary adds a fall-like note. I used store bought pizza dough, but feel free to make your own.

 

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:

1 pound ready made whole wheat pizza dough (found at specialty and natural food stores)

2 1/2 teaspoons roughly chopped fresh rosemary

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra for greasing baking sheet)

1/4 cup hazelnuts, skinned and halved (see note)

1 pound plums, pitted and sliced in wedges (any variety)

1 tablespoon cane sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees

Combine chopped rosemary and the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a small saucepan. Heat until rosemary begins to sizzle. Count to 30 and remove from heat. Pour into small bowl and let cool.

Grease a 12X17 inch baking sheet with olive oil. Turn dough onto baking sheet. Oil or moisten your clean hands and press out dough into circle approximately 11 inches in diameter. Use your fingertips to dimple the dough, pressing down hard to leave indentations. Place hazelnut halves in the indentations. Scatter plums evenly on dough and drizzle with the olive oil and the rosemary. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the fruit and dough.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until fruit is soft and crust is browned.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note:
To skin and halve hazelnuts, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer onto a clean dishtowel. Fold towel over and rub hazelnuts briskly against towel. The skins should rub off. Transfer skinned hazelnuts to a zipper bag and lay bag on your work surface so nuts are in a single layer. Gently roll a rolling pin over them, pressing down just hard enough so the hazelnuts crack in half but do not crumble.

 

 Photo: Alex Bodnar 

Written by Nina Lombardo — October 06, 2014

It's the season for pumpkin spice everything.

There seems to be a run on pumpkin spice these days and here I am contributing to the "Fall of 2014 Pumpkin Spice Everything Craze". Truth be told: I can't get enough and I am not ashamed to admit it. I'm not craving light and refreshing melons and fresh from my garden tomatoes. No, I'm officially in pumpkin mode and will be until November 28th or when the first sighting of "Egg Nog Everything" appears.

For this parfait, I dug up a trusty old recipe and lightened it up by eliminating the brown sugar and amping up the spice. Feel free to adjust the sweetness and spice to your liking. Before layering the parfait, I warmed up the pumpkin butter. Not too much. Just enough to contrast with the cool creamy yogurt.

Ingredients for the pumpkin butter:

1-29 oz. can pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)

2/3 cup pure apple juice or cider (preferably organic)

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. powdered ginger

1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg

Small pinch of ground cloves

 

Ingredients for the parfait

1 cup greek yogurt (I use Siggis Vanilla)

2 tsp. pure maple syrup

1/4 cup granola (I prefer Nina's Fresh Batch Three Nut Ginger Granola, but you probably knew that)

 

Combine all the pumpkin butter ingredients in a medium saucepan and cook covered over medium low heat for about 20-25 minutes. Stir occasionally, especially near the end. Lower heat if mixture starts to scorch. Stir carefully as mixture tends to splatter. Scrape butter into bowl. Cover and refrigerate. The pumpkin butter will last up to three weeks in the fridge.

When ready to make your parfait simply warm about 1/3 cup of the butter until slightly warm and layer with granola and yogurt as shown in the photo. Drizzle with maple syrup and a sprinkle of the granola

 

You will have leftover pumpkin butter to use for more parfaits or you can...

• Swirl into overnight oats of hot oatmeal

• Use in smoothies

• Spread on toast

• Use in pumpkin muffin recipes in place of pumpkin puree (adjust spices in recipe)

• Use as a dip for fresh sliced pears or apples

Photo: Alex Bodnar 

 

Written by Nina Lombardo — September 29, 2014

From My Kitchen...

Green is Good

There is still snow on the ground but just this weekend patches of green grass have begun appear. Thanks to some steady rain and warmer temperatures, the ice encrusted snow...

10 Tips for a Stress Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Even the cook should enjoy a stress-free Thanksgiving. So, with the big day full of expectation only weeks away, I reached out to friends and followers and asked what challenges they...

Spicy Bourbon Bundt Cake

Growing up on Long Island in the 70's, Entenmanns bakery was king. Their factory outlet, a short drive from where I grew up, was a weekly visit for my mother...

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