Homemade Pizza and Pasta Party

Last Friday we gathered at Chow’s place to cook dinner. The menu: homemade pizzas and pasta. The pizzas were a variety of gourmet types based on the menu of Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn, which Chow had tried on a recent visit. The pasta was a homemade chorizo and butternut squash ravioli. And to top it off, I made kaffir lime cheesecake.

Friends gather around the large island in the kitchen, helping to prepare ingredients and eat appetizers. The ravioli are already prepared and drying and we were waiting for the oven to preheat for the pizzas.

Every time I cook at a friend’s house, it is a bit of a logistics ordeal. In this case, I needed my KitchenAid mixer so I could roll out the pasta. I was also bringing a case of Oregon beer.

The beer in question is from Rogue, an independent brewer. The most interest beer of the evening: Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale. Had a distinct smokiness with a subtle sweetness on the tail end of the flavor.

For the pasta, I made homemade fresh (not dried) chorizo. I bought pork belly and ground it, adding paprika, garlic, and chili powder.

Browned the sausage in a pan, drained it on paper towels to remove the considerable grease, and then blended it with a butternut squash puree made from locally produced organic squash.

Make the pasta from scratch using Thomas Keller’s “Seven Yolk Pasta” with semolina flour. This is the best way to mix pasta dough, using your hands.

Using a creative technique I picked up watching Season 10 of Top Chef, I layered sage leaves between two sheets of pasta dough and then pressed them several more times. Then flattens the leaves, making the pasta pretty and adding some sage flavor.

Completed ravioli. I cut them relatively small so they didn’t have a lot of filling. In hindsight, I would have added more butternut squash and less chorizo as the sausage overpowered the squash flavor. A few more sage leaves would have been nice, too.

After boiling the ravioli, we fried them in a pan with browned butter and sage leaves. Became a bit more crispy than intended but were tasty all the same.

While I made the pizza dough (with Type 00 flour, a finer texture than regular all-purpose flour), I let Chow coordinate the toppings for each pie.

Half mushroom and pepperoni and half Jerusalem artichoke and pesto.

Salame!

Sliced Brussels sprouts, Boursin cheese, and locally produced pastrami.

Tomato, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and rocket.

For dessert, I once again made the kaffir lime cheesecake that was such a hit on New Year’s Day. It begins by steeping the lime leaves in heavy cream.

The crust is made of graham crackers, toasted pecans, sugar, and butter.

The main ingredients are cream cheese, eggs, the infused cream, kaffir lime zest, and a little lime juice. The juice comes from a regular lime as the kaffir lime juice is much to acidic.

The ingredients are blended together until smooth and light. Truth be told, I add two or three drops of green food coloring just to augment the color. The leaves alone give it only the most pale of greens.

Tap several times to release air bubbles and then cook in a water bath for 40-45 minutes. The key to a cheesecake with a smooth top (no cracks) is to turn the oven off when the edges are set but the center is still very shaky. Then let it complete cooking in the closed (but turned off) oven for another hour. This lets it cool down gradually and prevents the cracks.

The finished product has a mixture of sour cream, kaffir lime zest, and sugar poured over the top. I garnished with a chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves. This worked okay the first time but this time the leaves were a bit tough. I need to choose the smaller, more tender leaves and cut them more finely. The taste of the cake was good, though, and won rave reviews.

Most importantly, we had friends gathered together and shared good food, good wine, and good company. After all, that’s what makes the best meals, right? The company with which they are shared.

Kaffir Lime Cheesecake

As dessert for a barbecue with friends last weekend, I baked a kaffir lime cheesecake. Kaffir lime, a member of the citrus family whose fruit and leaves are an essential part of Thai, Indonesian, Laotian, and Malaysian cuisines, is an unusual flavoring for cheesecake. It is very aromatic but also astringent, a quality that I thought would go well with the richness of cheesecake.

To impart the flavor, you boil cream with whole kaffir lime leaves and then let it simmer for about twenty minutes as the cream reduces. The sweet, almost lemony scent is distinctive and you cannot successfully substitute regular limes for kaffir limes. Most Asian markets sell kaffir lime leaves, which freeze well.

The end result was fantastic. The recipe, which I based on this one (but used two eggs instead of one as I think the author wrote the incorrect number), produced a substantial but not overly-heavy cake, rich enough to be a dessert while not leaving you feeling like you ate a brick. Deviating from the recipe, I made a sour cream glaze with kaffir lime zest and sugar. I will definitely make this one again.

The Ultimate Little Boy Cake

I don’t mean for the title to sound sexist, as this cake could be enjoyed just as well by a little girl, but when I saw it sitting on the counter at the Mandarin Oriental Shoppe at Emporium Mall, I thought immediately of a certain nearly four-year-old boy with whom I recently had a long conversation about the names of the different Marvel superheroes in The Avengers.

The conversation went in circles around the character Hawkeye, who is his favorite superhero. I was telling him that Hawkeye’s alter-ego name is Clint Barton in the same way that Spiderman is also known as Peter Parker and Batman as Bruce Wayne. For some reason, even though he knew of Spiderman and Batman’s alter-ego names, he couldn’t grasp my explanation of Hawkeye and Clint Barton. I tried both Thai and English, but for some reason he just wasn’t buying it. His mother also tried to explain it, to no avail.

Sadly, Hawkeye isn’t represented on the cake.

 

Baking: Chocolate Raspberry Bundt Cake Soaked in Raspberry Syrup

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Chocolate Raspberry
Bundt Cake
Soaked in Raspberry Sauce

Recipe Source:
Week of Menus

Time: About 2 hours
Taste: 4/5
Fancy Factor: 4/5

One of my favorite cooking-related websites is Week of Menus.  Written by Joanne Choi, a mother of young children who tries to provide, as she puts it, good cooking for people with too much on their plate.  I’m sure we can all relate to that feeling.  Recently, she’s done a series of recipes about bundt cakes and the chocolate raspberry bundt soaked in raspberry syrup caught my eye.

Something nice about bundt cakes is that they have a high degree of fancy with a relative minimum of work.  The pans themselves are very grandly designed, some with arches and vaults worthy of a cathedral, others with giant ridges, and still others with rose patterns.  With such a beautiful cake, there’s no need to frost or ice them, although a nice glaze moistens the cake and makes the architecture even more beautiful.

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The ingredients are pretty simple (you can go to Joanne’s website for the exact recipe): All-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, unsalted butter, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, sour cream, a chocolate bar broken into pieces, and raspberries.

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First you combine the flour with the salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  The recipe does not call for sifting the flour, but the organic Australian flour I buy here in Thailand is a little coarse, so sifting helps combine the ingredients while also lightening the flour.  Next step, cream the butter in a mixer until it is light and fluffy, then beat in the sugar.

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After the sugar and butter are combined, add the eggs one at a time, beating for about thirty seconds between each addition.  Of course, you need scrape down the sides of the bowl every so often along the way (or buy a BeaterBlade, which combines the paddle attachment with silicon edging that scrapes down the bowl as it mixes) so that the ingredients are well-combined. 

Then start adding the flour mixture and the sour cream (to which I had to add a little bit of yogurt as I didn’t have quite enough sour cream) in alternating parts.

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The final step is to fold in the broken chocolate pieces and about half the raspberries.  Now, the recipe calls for fresh raspberries but I found that frozen works just fine.  Manually incorporate the chocolate and berries instead of using the mixer, so that you are sure they are evenly distributed.

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Put the batter into a bundt cake mold and bake.  I didn’t have a bundt cake mold but had been thinking about buying one.  This recipe gave me the incentive to make the purchase.  While comparing models, I decided to buy my first silicone baking mold.  It is less expensive and supposedly easier to use (no need to butter and flour the mold – it just peels right off) than metal baking pans. 

Overall, I was impressed by the ease of use, but for some reason the batter shifted in the pan, causing one side of the cake to be larger than the other.  Maybe I need to place the pan on a tray before putting it in the oven?

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While the cake baked, I made the glaze.  This is a combination of the remaining berries, some sugar, and a little bit of orange juice.  The berries are pureed and strained so you get a rich raspberry juice.  The juice is then combined with the sugar and orange juice and cooked for a few minutes until the sugar dissolves.  You can easily imagine how other fruits could be used instead of raspberries to produce tasty alternatives to the raspberry cake.

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After the cake was done and had cooled a bit (although not completely), you begin brushing on the glaze.  Notice how lopsided the cake is!  I also think it is a little overcooked.  When I checked the cake initially, the toothpick was coming out dirty, so I gave it a few more minutes.  By the time the inside was done, the outside was a little too brown.  Perhaps I need to lover the oven temperature a little?

I added the glaze in two layers, allowing about ten minutes for the first layer to absorb.  There was a point where the cake seemed adequately glazed and I had used only about two-thirds of the raspberry glaze.  In hindsight, I would go ahead and apply a third layer as there is not much risk of the cake being too moist.

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The final product, served with some white chocolate and raspberry ice cream from New Zealand Ice Cream.  You can se this slice came from the thin side of the cake!  Overall, the flavor was nice, although I think the cake was slightly overcooked and just a little dry.  I would like to play around with this recipe again, maybe adding more berries to the batter or else maybe a little more sour cream.  In any case, thanks to Joanne for this nice recipe!

The Main Event – Kari and Nathan’s Wedding

The main reason we were in Kaua’i was to attend the wedding of my cousin Kari to her fiancee Nathan.  They exchanged vows on Sunday in the late afternoon along a beautiful stretch of Shipwreck Beach near Poipu, which is on the south shore of the island.  There were about two dozen family members who had made it for the ceremony, probably a few more than Kari and Nathan had originally anticipated.  Needless to say, it was a beautiful ceremony.

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Tawn comes prepared for the occasion with a nice hat.

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My cousin Brad and his wife Silvia.  Brad is Kari’s younger brother.  The cliff in the background served as a focal point for the ceremony.

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Tawn and I pose for a self-portrait.

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My uncle Dick and aunt Sandy and their first grandchild Tommy.  Dick is the older brother of Kari’s mother.

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Orchids are strewn along the beach, marking the path along which the bride walked.

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As is probably increasingly the case these days, it seemed everyone (myself included) was trying to get pictures of the ceremony rather than just witnessing it!

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We needn’t have worried, though, as the official photographer did a marvelous job and made these photos available on his website.  I will say that if you are ever looking for a great wedding photographer, for the Hawaiian islands or elsewhere, I would recommend Gelston Dwight.

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The lighting of these photos was really spectacular.  They have a “Hollywood-esque” quality to them and capture the couple’s glamor as it looks in everyday life!

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This is about half the group – just Kari’s side of the family.  From left to right, cousin Bill, his son Tommy, his wife Alex (also my cousin), Tawn, Me, my mother, my cousin Kelly (Kari’s sister), my father, Nathan, Kari, Kari’s mother Pat, father Carl, brother Brad, his wife Silvia, and my uncle Dick and aunt Sandy.  Probably more than you needed to know, right?

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My cousin Alex designed the invitations, menus, and all the other printed materials.  She’s quite a talented designer and you can see more of her work at her website.  Fresh local pineapples made the perfect centerpieces.  The reception was held at the nearby Plantation Gardens Restaurant.

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My contingent – father, mother, husband, and me.  That shirt my father is making?  My mother made that in 1980 for a trip to Hawai’i the family took.  In fact, she used matching fabric to make shirts for both my father and me and mumus for her and my sister.  Of the four of us, only my father still fits in his outfit!

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Some concoction my cousin Silvia was drinking.

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Appetizers – called “pupus”

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Kailani farms arugula salad with local mango, papaya, cherry tomatoes, onion, avocado, and a lilikoi cider vinaigrette

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Lobster bisque with garlic croutons

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Grilled beef tenderloin with gorgonzola mashed potatoes, local green beans, sauteed mushrooms, and merlot reduction sauce.

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Fresh local fish with mango and avocado salsa, pan fried green beans and black bean sauce.  Can’t remember what type of fish it was.

There was also a seafood lau lau – fish, shrimp, scallops, and vegetables steamed in taro and ti leaves.  The picture didn’t turn out, though.

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When it came to the cutting of the cake, there was such an explosion of flashes that I ended up with several of these “ultra-exposed” shots.

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A picture of the beautifully garnished cake.  This was a lilikoi wedding cake (lilikoi = passionfruit), a white vanilla cake brushed with passion fruit syrup and filled with passion fruit butter cream.  One of the tastiest wedding cakes I’ve had.

Baking Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes

The red velvet cake’s entry into popular culture can probably be traced to the 1989 film Steel Magnolias, in which the groom’s cake was a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo.  There’s something seductive about the color of a red velvet cake, especially a cupcake, at least at first.  But at some point, the red seems just a little too red, and it starts to seem a bit unnatural.  That’s no surprise considering that a recipe will use up to several tablespoons of red food coloring.

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Doing some research, I gathered that red velvet cake was originally not so red and the color came about naturally.  Cocao powder, a key ingredient, didn’t used to be “Dutch process” and was less alkaline in years gone by.  When combined with the buttermilk and vinegar in the recipe, the chemical reaction caused the batter to take on a muddy red hue.  Unable to find cocao powder that isn’t Dutch process here in Thailand, I stumbled upon a recipe for Natural Red Velvet Cake that, supposedly based on a traditional southern recipe, uses cooked beets for the color.

Intrigued, I had to try.

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The ingredients: brown and granulated sugars, eggs, flour, cocoa powder, chocolate, buttermilk, butter, vanilla, salt, baking soda, cider vinegar, and roasted beets.

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The mystery ingredient.  Instead of using canned beets, which the recipe called for, I roasted my own beets and then pureed them with a little bit of olive oil and water.

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First step: Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water.  Chocolate doesn’t figure in most red velvet cake recipes, only cocoa powder, so I was surprised by this addition.

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Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda.  One of these days I’ll have to seek out natural cocoa powder (i.e. not Dutch process) and see how that affects the outcome of the recipe.

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Cream together the eggs, butter, and two types of sugars.  Most cake recipes are specific about the process – for example, whip the butter and sugars before adding the eggs.  No specificity here so I just dumped them all into the bowl and turned the mixer on.

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The end result (after combining the dry ingredients and adding the melted chocolate and beets) had a vaguely reddish tinge to it, although that could just be a color correction issue from the light.

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Cupcake liners filled and ready to bake.  Lesson I’ve learned: don’t fill your cupcake liners so high because cake batter expands as it bakes.

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See?  I told you that cake batter expands.  Now I have these muffin top cupcakes that would have been interesting if the crumb had held together better, but the structure was kind of weak.

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The cupcakes pretty much crumbled when unwrapped.  I’m very curious why this is.  Maybe cake flour didn’t have enough protein and regular flour would have been better?  Maybe just a little too much liquid in the beets?  Baking is a science and something didn’t work out right here.

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To frost the cupcakes, I prepared a butter-cream cheese frosting but perhaps didn’t whip it enough.  That, or the opening in the frosting tip was too small.  The frosting bag actually burst on me so I had to instead spread the frosting instead of piping it.

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The end results looked a bit rag-tag.  I really need to take a class to learn how to frost a cupcake properly.  As for the taste, the cupcakes were very moist and the beet flavor wasn’t noticeable at all.  As for the color, though, there really was nothing red about the red velvet cupcakes.  Not in the least bit.

I guess if I want a really red, red velvet cupcake, I may need to reach for the food coloring after all.

 

Saturday Cooking Part 2

Whereas Saturday morning was spent at the Seagull Cooking Cafe helping break in their new cooking school, Saturday evening was spent at the house of Khun Nat, co-editor of the website catandnat.com where some of my entries are cross-posted.  After he started editing my pieces and discovered our common interest of food, he suggested we cook together.  Our first venture: Hearty Italian Sunday Gravy based on a recipe from Cooks Illustrated.

This over-the-top tomato sauce usually calls for six cuts of meat and half a day by the stove.  Thankfully, the CI recipe cuts that down to just three cuts (ribs, sausages, and meatballs) and just a few hours, most of which is in the oven.  In addition to preparing the sauce, spaghetti and a salad, Nat prepared an angel food cake.  Not wanting to waste the egg yolks, we also prepared two batches of ice cream: one banana and the other raspberry.

I did not go to the trouble of shooting everything, simply because I was being put to work.  But here is a video showing the highlights of the afternoon and evening.  If you cannot view the video embedded in this entry, the link for it is here.

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Raised in New York City, Nat moved here in his mid-twenties and has been here ever since.  He is one of those fortunate souls who got to design his kitchen from scratch and it is perfectly laid out to have lots of people involved in the cooking.  Off to the left is a seating area where guests can relax and talk with the chef.  Very useful arrangement, if only I had another few dozen square meters in my condo!

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Iron Chef New York prepares the tomato sauce after browning in the meats in a skillet.  The secret behind the rich flavor is that you sautee the onions until they start to brown and then add tomato paste and cook it until nearly burned.  While this may seem too far at first, it concentrates the flavors and nicely caramelizes the sugars in the paste, and it ends up adding an incredible richness to the sauce.

After adding crushed canned tomatoes and cooking for a while, you add the ribs and sausages to the sauce and let them bake, covered, in the oven for two hours.

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Starting ingredients for the meatballs: Italian parsley, egg yolk, bread crumbs, buttermilk, chili flakes, salt, and spices.

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Nicely shaped (golf ball sized) meatballs.

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Nat has a half-dozen or more beagles, all of which are very cute.  They must have been tortured by the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen!

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Fry the meatballs until browned.

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Busy kitchen as Tawn and Cha handle the wine, Nat keeps an eye on the meatballs, and the angel food cake rests upside down on the concrete countertop.

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The finished meatballs with nice browned bits on the outside, ready to add succulent flavor to the Sunday Gravy.

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After the first round of cooking the ribs and sausages in the sauce, we agreed that it needed more liquid so added some water.  Then added the meatballs and let them finish cooking.

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Beautiful angel food cake.  I really should make these more often.  They are fat-free and very showy and satisfying desserts, especially with some fresh berries spooned on top.  We went for homemade ice cream, but berries would have been nice, too.

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Keeping with the Italian theme, a nice mixed salad with cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, salami, feta cheese, and olives.

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The meat piled on a platter, ready to serve.  Too bad Xanga doesn’t have a smell-o-blog feature.

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The final product: whole wheat spaghetti served with rich sauce and three types of meat.  Oh, this was good.  I hate to rub it in, but you really missed out!

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A slice of heaven.  Didn’t photograph the two types of ice cream, but you can trust me that they were tasty, too.  Is there room in my kitchen for an ice cream machine?