Monday, August 26, 2013

Noodle Salad with Sweet Asian Dressing

When I posted the recipe for this sweet Asian salad dressing last summer, I called it “versatile,” since, hey, it’s salad dressing. You can put it on just about anything you like. Recently I poured it over a noodle salad with thinly sliced vegetables. It was delicious.

I kind of just used whatever long noodles and whatever vegetables I had on hand to make this salad. I’ve made it with linguine, which was quite nice, but when I took the photos for this post, I had used a spaghetti rigate (spaghetti with grooves or lines on it). Not exactly Asian, but still just fine. You could use Asian rice noodles as well, of course. I just tend to have Italian-style noodles on hand so I use those most of the time.

As far as the vegetables go, you can use whatever can be sliced into long, thin pieces. I used cabbage, scallions and green bell peppers here (and probably something else I’ve forgotten). You could also use carrots, celery, bok choy, red or yellow or white onions, radishes, or any vegetable you like to eat raw and can cut appropriately to lay nicely alongside long noodles. You could also season the salad further by adding chopped cilantro, thinly sliced Thai basil, or some fresh chile pepper.


I also added chopped peanuts to this salad, but you could entirely skip those if you want. You could also replace them with sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds (how about some of those Tamari or wasabi-flavored almonds?!), or even pumpkin seeds.

There’s no reason to get too fussy about this one. Just toss together a few things on a hot day and enjoy.



Noodle Salad with Vegetables and Sweet Asian Dressing
This recipe is as adaptable as it is simple. Use just about any seasonal vegetable that can be thinly sliced. I particularly like cabbage, carrots, and bell peppers, but add whatever you like and have on hand.

1 recipe Sweet Asian Salad Dressing, prepared and chilled
8 ounces long noodles or pasta (such as fettuccine, linguine or long rice noodles)
3-4 cups thinly sliced vegetables and/or herbs of your choice
¼ cup chopped salted peanuts (optional)

1. Cook the noodles in salted water according to package directions until they are just a little more firm in texture than you would normally like to eat them. (They should soften a little more when they soak up some of the dressing later.) Drain and allow to cool slightly.

2. In a very large bowl, toss the noodles and sliced vegetables. (The noodles should still be slightly warm.) Add about ¾ of the prepared Sweet Asian Dressing and toss to coat. Allow to stand for 30 minutes or so. If the dressing seems to have been soaked up by the noodles (some of it should be), add more and toss to coat, or add more dressing to taste as desired. Cover and chill.

Makes about 6 servings. Keep refrigerated for a few days.

Other recipes like this one: Sesame Noodle Salad, Noodles with Cilantro, Green Onions and Peanuts (warm), Warm Noodles with Cilantro and Coconut Lime Dressing

One year ago: Chicken Wraps with Spicy Citrus-Mint Slaw

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hazelnut Cake

It was my birthday earlier this month. We don’t have to talk about how many I’ve had. For a variety of reasons, I rarely make myself a birthday cake, but this year I had the opportunity to do it. I’m afraid I almost caved in under the pressure of deciding what to bake before I even got out the mixer or turned on the oven. 

One of the best things about being an adult, however, is the capacity to know that you can have something another time if you choose something else today. It wasn’t quite a blindfolded dart-board kind of thing, but I made a quick decision, knowing I can make any other cake any time I want to. I decided on a dense single-layer cake loaded with ground hazelnuts and topped with a chocolate ganache glaze from The Complete Book of Baking published by Pillsbury.

I didn’t change anything from the original recipe except to add the step of toasting and skinning the hazelnuts (as I described here). Those hazelnuts are ground in a food processor and mixed in with the flour and leavening. They add a rich, toasty sweetness and their delicious, unique flavor to the cake. The batter is moistened only with eggs and butter with no additional liquid (except for a splash of vanilla extract.) The cake is therefore dense and rich enough (and quite caloric), but it also gets a generous layer of chocolate glaze over the top.


This is truly lovely, decadent - and I might add much deserved by the birthday girl – hazelnut heaven. Only true seekers of a hazelnut Nirvana may enter here. That being said, I think this cake could be good with pecans, pistachios or almonds in place of the hazelnuts. You could then play with spices and extracts to make a truly unique and delicious cake.

Sure, this may not be the fluffily-frosted, double-layer or colorfully decorated cake we tend to expect for a celebrating birthdays. I for one am willing to challenge convention. This cake is easier to make anyway and who needs all those pink candles? And if you want one of those birthday cakes, make one, or get someone to make one for you. You can always make this Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Glaze another day.


Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Glaze
Adapted from Pillsbury: The Complete Book of Baking

Since I find hazelnuts to be a fabulous partner with coffee, I served this with a scoop of coffee flavored ice cream.

Hazelnuts are also known as filberts and may be labeled that way at a store near you.

5 ounces hazelnuts, plus a handful more for garnish if desired
½ cup (1 stick) room temperature butter, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
½ cup heavy whipping cream
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 cup)

1. Toast and skin the hazelnuts as described in this post. Set aside to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Set aside the allotted handful of nuts for garnish if using. Trace the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan onto parchment paper. Cut out the traced circle. Grease the pan or spray with cooking spray. Coat the grease or spray evenly with flour by sprinkling some in the pan and gently shuffling it around until all is coated. Place the parchment circle in the bottom of the pan. Grease or spray that as well.

3. Melt the ½ cup butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Set aside to cool somewhat.

4. Place the hazelnuts in a food processor bowl fitted with the steel blade. Process until finely ground.

5. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, ground nuts, baking powder and salt. Stir together until well combined. Set aside.

6. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you are using a hand-held mixer) beat the eggs, sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla over medium speed. Continue beating until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. This should take 2-3 minutes.

7. Add the flour mixture and mix well. Continue beating while gradually pouring in the melted butter. Beat until well blended.

8. Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared cake pan. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

9. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife along the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate. Cover with a clean towel and cool 30 minutes.

10. When the cake has cooled, prepare the glaze. In a medium-size saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat just until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate chips. Stir until the chips melt completely and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Continue stirring until the butter has melted and the mixture is shiny.

11. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, allowing some to run down the sides. Chop the reserved toasted hazelnuts (coarsely or finely as desired, or leave them whole). Sprinkle the chopped nuts around the edges of the cake for garnish. Allow the glaze to cool before cutting into the cake.

Makes about 16 servings. This cake freezes well if wrapped in wax paper and stored in a zip-top freezer bag.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Toasting and Skinning Hazelnuts

I love hazelnuts. Heck, I even love the artificial hazelnut flavor in coffee syrups and non-dairy creamers. And it’s a good thing I do love them because getting hazelnuts ready for use in baked goods requires a bit of extra work. They need to be at least lightly toasted so those brown, papery skins can be removed.

I made a delicious cake recently, and it was heavily laced with the flavor of hazelnuts. Well, it was laced with the flavor with hazelnuts because it was laced with ground hazelnuts. Before I tell you about that luscious cake, I’ll review the process I use to toast and skin the hazelnuts required for the recipe. It’s not difficult, really. It just requires a little bit of extra time and attention.

I place the hazelnuts I want to toast on a large heavy sheet pan with a rim. I roast them in a preheated oven until they begin to get a little brown and fragrant, and the skin begins to visibly loosen on some of the nuts, usually less than 10 minutes. I then let the nuts cool on the pan for a few minutes.

While they’re still warm, I pour the nuts right onto a clean, lint-free dish towel. I like to use the “flour sack” style of towels for this rather than a terry cloth. Next, I rub the nuts with the towel and the skins come off. That’s it.  Some of the skins need a little more work and some won’t come off completely at all. That’s okay.

If I’m on my toes, I’ll toast a bunch of hazelnuts ahead of time to have on hand for recipes or for adding to oatmeal or just for eating. Hazelnuts should be held in the freezer for long-term storage, since the oils can spoil relatively quickly. If you’ve done that, you’ll always have a stash ready for baking or sprinkling on salads or just eating as a snack. Of course that cake I mentioned above is reason enough to toast up some hazelnuts. I hope to tell you all about that soon.


Toasted and Skinned Hazelnuts
1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake at 375 F until the nuts are just beginning to brown and some of the dark brown skins are beginning to pull away, about 8 minutes. (Watch the nuts carefully, as you want to avoid burning them.) Remove from oven and cool slightly.

3. While still warm, transfer the nuts into a clean dish towel. Rub them vigorously with the towel to remove the skins. Remove the skinned nuts from the pile and continue rubbing the remaining nuts. Some nuts can be rubbed with your fingers to remove more stubborn skins. I find that it is pretty much impossible to get all the skin off of all the nuts. A little of the remaining skin is okay and will not negatively affect your recipe.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Blueberry Recipe Fantasies

I do not have what it takes to work full time and bake my way through a 5-pound box of fresh blueberries. Oh, the shame!

What I did manage to produce in the time I had was a nice little blueberry sauce (somewhat like this one, but without the rhubarb and with less sugar) to serve over waffles and an attempt at a smallish pot of freezer jam that I haven't properly taste-tested yet.

Of course, I wanted to make this fabulous pie again this year, but couldn't quite squeeze it into my time and calorie budget.

Most of the blueberries, which are totally delicious, were saved from corruption and are nestled into the freezer right now, awaiting the opportunity to enhance cakes or muffins or pancakes or whatever else I suits my fancy that doesn't absolutely require the blueberries to be fresh (not frozen). I'd love to make these cupcakes, for instance, from the charming blog Annie's Eats. This Blueberry Muffin Cake from Fine Cooking also looks delicious and not too complicated (although I'm thinking a crumb topping somewhat like the one I used on these muffins might not be an unwelcome addition.) And these Blueberry Oat Scones from Molly Wizenberg for Bon Appetit magazine have been on my to-do list since the article in which they were presented first appeared.

And then, of course, there's the blueberries and cream angle. I'm thinking some kind of cheesecake or blueberry cheesecake flavored ice cream or perhaps this slightly simpler idea from Food Network Magazine: Blueberry Cheesecake Galette.

Ah, well, with any luck I'll get around to a few of these delicious-looking recipes. (Actually I could have already but for a certain hazelnut cake I'll have to tell you about soon.) Until I have a blueberry weekend or even a blueberry afternoon available they'll just have to remain part of my kitchen fantasy. Well, these recipes and any of the hundreds of others I'm sure to find in the meantime!