Saturday, March 26, 2011

Risotto and Polenta

I went home for a vacation in 2003 and was very excited to see my family again. One thing that I really enjoyed doing for my family was to cook for them. It was almost required of me to provide them with a snack every afternoon which I happily accepted as my sole responsibility. It was April and my nephews and nieces were on their summer break so it was always a busy time at the house with kids coming and going. They enjoyed the plethora of cakes and cookies that I baked for them but one of my outright failures was cooking spaghetti that ironically would make an Italian proud of me. Spaghetti is a dish that is very common as a snack, not a main dish and is considered an essential on birthdays and special occasions. It has to do with the noodles being long just like any rice or bean thread noodle that it is considered a symbol of long life. It even goes as far as spaghetti being eaten as a viand with rice and yeah, I’m guilty of this as well. To take it even further, they sell spaghetti in a packet just like you would instant noodles. So what was it that put me in a bad light to my nephews and nieces? To them, my Italian version was too sour. The local version of spaghetti sauce uses condensed milk to sweeten the tomato cum ketchup based sauce that is littered  with slices of hotdogs and very generously topped with grated American cheese. This is very common in fast food places and in small stalls that sell spaghetti or in reality, spaghetti colored red with ketchup. It has a certain appeal to it and is definitely an acquired taste but this was the type of spaghetti they have come to know. My cousin Estela is one who can make this dish so well even I will fight my nephews off the table for it. Well, after my spaghetti fiasco (officially the second fiasco as the first involved food poisoning and visits to the hospital), I delegated spaghetti making to my cousin, who incidentally is another great cook in the family. 

Polenta and risotto are two recent discoveries of mine and I wish now that I had tried them a long time ago had I bothered to actually read through Sophia Loren’s cookbook which I've had for 10 years. My Mom would have loved them but sadly, she is no longer with us. It would also be interesting to introduce risotto to my nephews as growing up in the 70s, my Aunt would sit us cousins for Saturday morning breakfast and plate us a bowl of rice dredged with freshly brewed coffee. Yup, you read it right, rice and coffee folks. It was so good we always asked for seconds. Well, I did anyway. No wonder we were running around all day. It must have been the caffeine in the coffee amped risotto-like breakfast that powered us. On Sunday afternoons, my Mom would also make us rice porridge cooked in coconut milk with bits of coconut, yams and bananas and sweetened with our local raw brown sugar. We had a fresh supply of coconut courtesy of the coconut trees dotting our backyard. Oh, the good old days. Another favorite of mine was a yellow corn porridge that my Mom used to make. Sweetened with brown sugar and also dotted with strings of young coconut, it was really a treat for the whole family. It would take my Mom most of the Sunday afternoon to make this giant batch of porridge over a wood-fed stove but at the end of the day, the whole family gathered to eat and everything was at peace. 

In loving tribute to both my Mom and my Aunt, I’m presenting one of my favorite risotto recipe and a polenta dish I concocted recently. Both recipes relied heavily on Sophia Loren’s recipe from her cookbook Sophia Loren's Recipes and Memories. Coincidentally, her cookbook was a testament to the cooks in her family mainly her sister and her mother. In my case, it is my Mom Lagrimas, my Aunt Puri and my cousin Estela.

*Risotto Basics - adapted

Heat the oil or butter in a medium sized heavy pan. Add the flavorings such as garlic, onion, or herbs as stated in the recipe. Sauté briefly. Add the rice and cook until it is opaque. This will take about 30 seconds. At this point, you may add the white wine if called for until it gets absorbed and the mixtures is almost dry.
For the liquid, a good broth is needed and added gradually to the rice. Keep the broth in a separate pot on a low simmer and with a ladle, add to the rice ½ to 1 cup at a time. Stir the liquid into the rice and let it simmer while stirring. Continue this process until the rice is cooked but not mushy (al dente as with pasta).
Depending on the recipe used, cheese or other seasonings are added and then served at once. 

*Risotto ai Asparagi e Formaggio/Risotto with Asparagus and Cheese – adapted

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2 lbs asparagus
4 to 5 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 ½ cup Arborio rice
Freshly ground pepper
¼ lb cheese grated (I prefer Grana Padano, Pecorino Romano or Asiago)

1. Trim away the tough
    ends of the asparagus.
    If you are not sure how to do this, hold the cut end of the asparagus
    with one hand and grasping the tip end with the other, bend until it  
    snaps at its natural weak point. Do the same for the rest of the 
    spears. Cut the stalks into 1 ½ inch pieces.
2. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add a tsp of salt and drop in 
    the asparagus. Cook for 30 seconds and with a slotted ladle, fish  
    them out into a bowl with ice water. This will shock the asparagus  
    and stop them from cooking and will also help keep their green color.
    Drain and set aside. Keep the cooking water used to cook the
3. Warm the oil in a pan and add the onion. Sauté until it is softened but
    not browned. Add the rice and cook until opaque and the oil has been 
    absorbed. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Gradually add the reserved asparagus cooking water as described 
    above. Stir until rice is tender. I suggest adding a bit of chicken stock 
    as the asparagus cooking water has a very mild flavor. Stir in the  
    asparagus and half the cheese. Serve immediately and top with the  
    remaining cheese.
*Polenta Basics - adapted

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9 cups water
2 tbsp salt (use less)
3 cups medium-grind Italian polenta or cornmeal

Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the salt and lower the heat to medium, and gradually add the polenta by sprinkling it into the water from your hand, stirring the mixture constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon. Be patient as you add the polenta or it will be lumpy.
Continue to cook and stir the mixture constantly; if a lump does appear, try to crush it against the side of the pot. After about 30 minutes the polenta will be quite thick and will form large bubbles. The mixture is done when it begins to pull away from the side of the pot as you stir.

*Polenta Pasticiatta/Polenta with Butter and Cheese – adapted

1 recipe polenta
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 lb thinly sliced semi-soft cheese (mozzarella or fontina)

1. Prepare the polenta according to Polenta basics. Pour the polenta 
    into a wooden board or a large baking sheet to a thickness of ½ inch.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Liberally butter a 9x12 inch baking dish.  
    Melt the remaining butter.
3. When the polenta is completely cool and firm, cut it into slices ½ 
    inch wide. Arrange a layer of polenta slices on the bottom of the 
    baking dish. Cover the polenta with the cheese and pour some of the
    melted butter over. Continue to layer the polenta, cheese, and  
    butter, until the ingredients are used up, finishing with a very lightly
    buttered layer of polenta.
3. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the top is  
    browned. At the table, cut the polenta into square servings.

You can create numerous variations by adding or substituting ingredients such as tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, cooked ground meat, ham or prosciutto, and so on to the cheese layer. I used a combination of Italian sausages, roasted sweet peppers and pesto sauce.

*Loren, Sophia. Sophia Loren's Recipes and Memories. GT Publishing Corp. New York:1998

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ma Liaison Asiatique (My Asian Affair)

Lent started two weeks ago yet my resolve to abstain from meat is still as strong as ever. I’ve gotten over the first week of torment where a whiff of meat made me drool and my tummy would emit sounds you would think a monster lived inside me. I can also open my freezer and not flinch at the fact that I have over 15 lbs of meat (pork chops, roasting chickens and Italian sausages) in my freezer. To counter that, I do have an equal amount of frozen seafood (tilapia, catfish and salmon) that I allow myself to eat.

I’m not one to usually give up meat for lent or anything else for that matter. I grew up abstaining from meat on Fridays for Lent since my Mom bought and cooked the food for us so she made sure we had fish every Fridays. We usually had fish anyways because my Dad has certain allergies tied up with meat so it was not such a big change for us. However, this year is probably the first time I’m doing this consciously and I’m now considering this change on a more permanent basis. Don’t get me wrong, if I see a big chunk of steak meat further down the road and I get the craving, I won’t even hesitate to go for it. It will be more of a treat for me though than a daily dietary regimen.

To complicate things even more, one of my friends has recently become gluten free and sugar free. There were additional restrictions because of lent that also included dairy, eggs and fish (being Russian Orthodox) so to create something with so much restriction really requires a new level of imagination or insanity where you are tempted to just serve them with raw carrots to gnaw on.  But what kind of friend would I be if I did that? Hmm, let’s just leave that one for me to fantasize about.

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
I finally managed to group together a number of dishes inspired by Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines making use of shrimp for my two Orthodox friends and fish for the non-orthodox ones for appetizers, starters and the main courses. When it came to dessert, I gave up on the idea of making a sugar, dairy and egg free dessert. Fresh fruits will have to do. For those who had no restriction, Dave Lebovitz’s Devil’s Food Cake was the dessert of choice.  

Sushi Rolls

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I’ve made a lot of sushi rolls since I moved to the US back in 1997. I have had it before back home when we go to this Japanese fast food joint Tokyo Tokyo. My favorite item to order then was Pork Tonkatsu which loosely translated means Japanese fried pork. Every now and then, we will order a Japanese roll but being on a tight budget, we usually opted for our favorite saver meals. During one of the Friends of the Library summer sale at Gainesville, FL as a graduate student, I was able to purchase a book for the shocking price of 50c on how to make traditional Japanese sushi. Since then, I’ve made my own sushi rolls. We made the very American California and Philadelphia roll this weekend along with a vegetarian option which is a beefed up version of the traditional cucumber roll (Kappamaki) with the addition of steeped carrots and shitake mushrooms. We also made shrimp and white fin tuna nigiri-zushi. Man, the white fin tuna cost an arm and a leg here in Bozeman. Anyways, I’ll post the recipe on how to make sushi rice and the rest, you can figure out by going through the internet or you can ask me if you have the patience to wait for a response from me. 

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Japanese Sushi Rice (adapted)*

3 1/3 cups sushi rice (short grained)
4 cups water
5 tbsp rice vinegar
5 tbsp white sugar
4 tsp salt

1. Wash the rice in cold 
    water until the wash 
    drains out clear. This  
    takes about 4 to 5 washings. Do not soak the rice. 
2. Decant the final wash and add the 4 cups of water. At this point, 
    I veer away from the traditional way of cooking the rice. I just 
    make it how I usually cook my rice. If you have a rice cooker, use it. 
    The rice has to come out perfectly steamed and not al dente. It has to
    be fully cooked without any trace of crunch.
3. Transfer the rice to a glass bowl and with a wooden spoon add the  
    vinegar, sugar and salt. Mix well. Traditionally, they fan the rice 
    while continuously mixing it to cool it off. This is too much work
    for me so I do it occasionally but if I’m in a hurry, I do this step in
    front of an electric fan or my A/C fan.    
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4. Now is the time to 
    have fun. Make your 
    own sushi roll. To 
    make nigiri-zushi take 
    about a tablespoon of
    rice and with damp 
    hands, shape the rice 
    into elongated domed 
    shaped rice balls. Dab 
    a smidge of wasabi 
    and top with your 
    choice of topping. Do 
    warn your guests that  
    wasabi is present in the nigiri unless you take delight in watching
    their nostrils emit smoke. 

*Ōmae, Kinjirō; Tachibana, Yuzuru. The Book of Sushi, Kodansha International Ltd., Tokyo: 1988

Vietnamese Rolls

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I’ve had this in Asian restaurants before in various incarnations and I barely remember ordering this in a Vetnamese restaurant we went too while staying at a friend’s house in Maryland in 2004. I do know we ordered Pho which is easily a favorite communal dish best ordered when eating out with good friends. Not really sure why I keep making this though other than it being a healthy version to fried spring rolls.

4 oz rice noodles
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
Basil leaves (Thai Basil if you can find them)
Shrimp (peeled, deveined, and cooked in salted water until pink and cooled)
Spring onions
Rice wrapper

1. In a pot of boiling water, add the rice noodles and cook until the
    noodles are al dente. Do not overcook the noodles or they will turn
    into mush. Drain into a colander and shock with cold water to
    stop the cooking process.
2. To prep the rest of the ingredients, peel the cucumber and slice into 
    thin strips about 4 inches long. If you can get hold of an English  
    cucumber, all the better since you don’t have to deseed them.
    Cut the green onions the same length of the cucumber. Use the 
    green stalks, not the stems. Fillet the shrimps into halves.
3. Mix the vinegar, soy and fish sauces and toss into the noodles. Toss  
    well to ensure that the noodles are well seasoned.
4. To assemble, soak a rice wrapper in hot water until soft. Lay it flat on 
    a cutting board and layer the filling about two inches away from the  
    end closest to you starting with two to three basil leaves, then 
    a handful of the flavored noodles, a handful of the cucumber, a strip
    of green onion and two pieces of shrimp.
5. To make the roll, take the end closest to you and fold over the filling. 
    Take the sides and fold them in and roll forward towards the other 
    end away from you. Make sure that you keep it tight. It should self  
    seal itself. Do the same for the rest until you are satisfied with
    the amount of rolls on hand. Most of the ingredients have no set
    amount as it all depends on how much you want of each filling in your 
    roll. Stick with the noodle and sauce ratio though. Also, soak the rice 
    wrapper as you need it. They tend to fall apart when soaked for too
6. Keep in the fridge covered with a wet cloth or cling wrap them 
    tight. This keeps the rolls from drying out. Let it rest for about 
    5 minutes before serving. Serve with the peanut sauce.

Peanut Sauce Dip

1 tbsp sugar
1 cup + 2 tbsp water
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp peanut butter
¼ cup peanuts, chopped finely

1. Mix the water, sugar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce and salt in a small pot
    and simmer over low heat.
2. Dissolve the corn starch in the 2 tbsp water and add to the simmering
    sauce. Stir well to avoid clumps.
3. When the mixture has thickened, remove from heat and add the 
    peanut butter. Check for taste and adjust accordingly. It should be
    salty sweet.
4. Serve warm topped with the chopped peanuts.

Pan-fried Salmon Cooked Vietnamese Style

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This recipe was shared to me by a friend who now refuses to speak to me. Let’s just leave it at that. I hope she does not disapprove of my posting this recipe. The recipe is very simple and very tasty. You must have a tolerance for fish sauce though as this pretty much makes the dish very distinct in a very good way. As in almost every Asian recipe, the measurements are always to taste. I’ll try to give an approximation of the amounts that I used to make the dish. You can adjust accordingly to suit your taste.

4 Salmon steaks or 6 – 2 oz salmon fillet
2 onions, sliced in half then sliced finely
6 tomatoes, chopped coarsely
2 cloves of garlic
¼ cup fish sauce (Phuk Quoc)
¼ cup water (add more water to thin out the sauce if too salty)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Sea salt
Black pepper

1. Sauté the garlic in the oil until fragrant. Add the onions and ¼ tsp of 
    salt. Cover the pan and caramelize the onions over medium high  
    heat for about 10 minutes. Check every now and then to make sure 
    that the onions are not burning but turning into a golden brown color.
2. Once the onions are caramelized, layer the salmon on top of the  
    onions and season it with a small amount of salt and a couple turns of 
    black pepper. Add the water, sugar and the fish sauce and layer the 
    tomatoes on top of the salmon and cover. Cook until the salmon has 
    turned opaque without being overcooked. Check for flavor and
    add water to adjust for saltiness. Fish sauces vary in salt content 
    so you need to check for saltiness. You can also pre-mix the water
    and the fish sauce before adding to the pan to make sureyou are not
    oversalting the dish.
3. Serve over steamed white rice and top with a fresh sprig of cilantro. 
    The cilantro is not just a garnish, it adds a certain complexity to the 
    the flavor when eaten together with the dish so be generous with  
    your cilantro topping 

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
I made another dish based on Chinese stir fry dishes common in Chinese restaurants back home. I tried to give this version a Vietnamese touch but I’m not really sure whether this can be considered authentic or not (my guess is not!). Authentic or not, it came out great but being an experimental dish, the things I added are usually lost not in translation but in the moment. I get into a frenzy where my mind whirs with spices and sauces I could possibly add and forget about it once the craziness has subsided. Only then do I regret not writing down what I did. Sorry folks, this will be for show only. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Savory Crepes

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We had crepes for dessert last year when we had the pumpkin carving party at a co-workers house. I should say it was tres magnifique since they were made by a French guy. The crepes were filled with Nutella (this oh so good chocolate hazelnut spread) and it was really good. Cedric Pienton, the creator of this wonderful dessert gave us his recipe and I've adapted it to something more savory. 

My inspiration for the savory treat was a crepe dish that I used to order in a small restaurant across the pond from the University that I attended which if I remember correctly was called Annie's. It was almost like a trailer type of structure yet they served wonderful crepes and kick-ass desserts, in particular their cheesecakes. My particular favorite was the creamy chicken and mushroom crepe and it was oh so yummy. I've tried to make this concoction before to no avail and was not even close to being good. I figured I'll try again given it has been over 10 years since my last experiment and that I have this new recipe to try out. I had to switch out some of the ingredients as I was told that the recipe for a sweet crepe is different from a savory crepe. I'm glad I held back on the sugar since the crepe came out great. Granted also that I'm on the no meat diet for now, I had to switch to my favorite meat substitutes, spinach and mushrooms. 

Crepes Francais à la Cedric Pienton (adapted) 


500g flour (4 cups)
5 eggs
500 mL Belgian beer (2 cups)
500 mL buttermilk  (2 cups)
1 tsp salt

1. Mix all the ingredients with a wire whisk and let stand for 20 minutes. 
2. Butter and ladle in about 1/2 cup of batter and tilt the pan to spread the  
    batter into the desired size and thickness. 
3. Wait until the edges start to lift off the pan and flip. Cook for another   
    minute or two.   
4. Transfer to a plate and let cool. I just piled them up while cooking the 
    rest of the batter and I had no problem with them sticking to each other. I
    ended up with about 16 crepes

Béchamel Sauce:

½ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup flour
3 cups half and half
1 cup water  
salt and nutmeg to taste

1. Melt the butter in a metal skillet over low heat. 
2. Add the flour and mix very well with a wooden spoon to make a roux. 
3. Slowly add in the half and half and with a wire whisk, mix very well to
    break up the lumps. Add the water. 
4. Simmer and keep stirring for about 5 minutes. Add the salt and a pinch of
    nutmeg and check for taste. Make sure the sauce does not taste of
    raw flour. Let cool.
Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
Spinach and Mushroom Filling:

1 lb frozen spinach (defrosted and drained)
1 lb chopped mushroom
1 medium onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic
3-4 cups of grated cheese (I used a mix of Monterey Jack, parmesan, mozzarella and cheddar)
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup white wine
½ cup chopped parsley + extra for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a skillet, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil. It has become my
    habit to sweat out the onion with salt every time I saute them. Another 
    habit is to add a few turns of black pepper with my pepper mill. Cook for
    about 5 minutes until the onions are transluscent. 
2. Add the mushrooms and the wine. Let the mushroom soften and cook until
    most of the liquid is dry. 
3. Add the spinach and mix well. Adjust the seasoning. 
4. Let the mixture cool for about 15 minutes and add about half of the     béchamel sauce. Mix very well.
5. Add in two cups of the grated cheese and the chopped parsley.  

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1. Thin out the remaining
    béchamel sauce with 
    ½ cup warm water.
    Ladle half of the sauce
    into a 9x13 baking dish.
2. Fill the crepes with
    ½ cup of the creamy
    filling and wrap into a
    square. Lay it flat on
    the baking dish. Do the
    same for the rest of the
    crepes. You may need
    two baking dishes so just portion out the béchamel sauce. 
3. Pour remaining béchamel sauce and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese
    and the parsley.
4. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes until the cheese has melted and the
    béchamel sauce is bubbly

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chocolate Cake

Copyright 2011 LtDansKitchen blogs
I've had my share of chocolate cakes but my favorite growing up was a D'Bakers chocolate cake. It was a dark chocolate cake with a caramel frosting and was really good but I never figured out how to make a version of it. Last time I was home, they didn't have it in their shop anymore. There was another pastry shop however that carried a chocolate cake that reminded me of a chocolate cake that we used to gorge on when we were working in the lab on our last semester before graduating from college. I've made a version of this cake a number of times but finding the right cake base was the tricky part. After a lot of cake searching, I finally settled on Dave Lieberman's Best Chocolate Cake Ever from his book, “Dave's Dinners: A Fresh Approach to Home-Cooked Meals”.

With a little bit of tweaking, I've made this cake a number of times with great results. I'm showing two versions that take this cake from great to awesome.

*Dave Lieberman's Best Chocolate Cake Ever (Adapted)


3 large eggs
1 cup full fat yogurt
1 stick melted unsalted butter (4 oz)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cup sugar
1 ¼ cup flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 cup hot coffee + 1 tsp espresso powder

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large glass bowl, combine the eggs, yogurt, melted butter and   
    vanilla and beat with a wire whisk. Gradually add the sugar and beat  
    the mixture until smooth.
3. In a separate mixing bowl, sift the dry ingredients together.
4. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in two steps  
    alternating with the hot coffee using a spatula.
5. Divide the batter between two greased and floured 9-inch round cake
6. Bake for 25 minutes and allow cake to cool fully. 


1 ½ cup heavy whipping cream
16 oz semisweet chocolate
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp coffee liqueur

1. To make the ganache, bring the cream to a boil and pour on top of 
   the chocolate in a glass bowl. Whisk until you form a smooth and 
   glossy chocolate sauce. Allow to cool at  room temperature. 
2. Add the vanilla and the liqueur when the ganache has cooled for a 
    little bit.

The ganache takes time to reach the right consistency for frosting. You  
can start making this early on. You can also speed up the cooling process by chilling in the fridge. 
Just make sure you don't let it set too much. You want it to reach a 
spreadable consistency and not a thick mass of chocolate goo.


For the caramel filled version:

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You will need 2 cans of condensed milk that have been caramelized by boiling in water for 2 to 3 hours. An alternative is to cook it in a pressure cooker for 20 to 25 minutes. Make sure you don't dry out the water and that the cans are always submerged or you will have a caramel bomb exploding in your kitchen.

Let the cans cool overnight at room temperature. Spread them as filling to sandwich the two chocolate cake layers and frost with the ganache.

For the raspberry filled version:

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You will need 1/2 cup of raspberry jam and 1/4 cup water and cook on low heat to soften the jam. Once syrupy, strain to remove the seeds and cool to room temperature. Add a pint of fresh raspberries and 1 tsp of vanilla and mix carefully.

To assemble, spread a layer of ganache and top with the raspberry filling. Top with the second layer of cake and frost with the remaining ganache.

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
For both cakes, let them rest for at least 4 hours to allow the flavors to blend.

*Lieberman, Dave. Dave's Dinners: A Fresh Approach to Home-Cooked Meals. Hyperion, New York: 2006.

Rice and Lentils

Copyright 2011 LtDansKitchen blogs
Lidia Bastianich's Lidia's Italy has become one of my favorite cooking shows. I've seen this show way back when I used to watch Julia Child on PBS every Saturday afternoon. Lidia's show has really taken off the last couple of years and is on heavy rotation on the PBS networks and I for one am very glad. She really made me appreciate the simplicity and variety of the Italian cuisine without the fuss and muss of overly prepped so-called Italian dishes. Another reason that I love her show is how his son, Joseph Bastianich pops in every now and then as their wine expert and helps out in the kitchen as well as her assistant. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't have a man crush on the guy but he is cool. Just like me, he was put on a diet as advised by his doctor. He lost a lot of weight by running everyday while maintaining his normal diet by just eating less. He still eats steaks and drinks champagne (Cin-cin!) while keeping the weight off. Daughter Tania is also on the show showcasing the travel aspect of the show. She is their resident historian. 

Lidia's recipes are very simple and based on how the locals prepare them with local ingredients which makes it very accessible. This, I think is why her show is very successful right now. Who has the time to slave all day in the kitchen when you can prepare a meal for half the time and still wow your guests. Her recipes remind me of Sophia Lorens' cookbook that I bought in the Florida Keys (of all places) for a whopping $5. Between these two goddesses (duh, I'm not winning!), I'm set. 

As requested, here is Lidia's Rice and Lentils recipe from her website. As Lidia often says at the end of her show, "Tutia tavola aman giare!

Black Forest Cake

My version of Black Forest cake
Copyright 2011 LtDan’sKitchen blogs
Back when I weighed 140 lbs, I could eat a horse and not gain an ounce. Sadly those days were gone! In the early 90s, I was staying at Quezon City (my Alma mater, the University of the Philippines, Diliman was located in Quezon City) and was renting a room along with three other guys all of us attending the same University. The room had four cabinets, two bunk beds and a table for all of us to share. I had this roommate, Lemuel, who shared my passion for sweet things. Every now and then, we would test ourselves on how much sweets we can consume in one sitting and one of our favorite jaunts was Dunkin' Donuts. We will buy a dozen assorted donuts plus two more extra ones (cake donuts) from Mister Donuts, a competitor of Dunkin. We then head home and eat the donuts until everything were consumed or until we feel like we can no longer eat without throwing up. We eventually outgrew Dunkin' Donuts and set our sights to a much more upscale treat, the Black Forest cake of Red Ribbon. Laced with rum, it was a challenge to not only consume the cake but to ward off the intoxication after eating the whole cake meant to serve sixteen people and not two. I loved this cake so much I had to figure out how to make it since the Red Ribbon bake shop had not opened a branch in my hometown. They did eventually in 2004 which was really pointless as I was already in graduate school here. 

Using a combination of trial and error and a large dose of tenacity, I finally managed to synthesize my version of the cake that was as close  as possible to the inspiration. Sadly, the last time I went home and bought a box of cake for the family to eat, their Black Forest cake was no longer as good 20 years ago. My version surpassed the original and that made me sad. Well, only for a bit since I can make my own cake anyways, what's the point of crying over spilled milk? 

Making it's online debut, an original recipe from me. Incidentally, my Indian friend claims this as his favorite cake while a German friend who hates Black Forest cakes, not my Black Forest, just the cake in general never tried my version.

Dan’s Black Forest Cake

Copyright 2011 LtDansKitchen blogs

1 ½ cups flour
10 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ cup sugar
4 eggs separated
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
½ tsp vanilla

1.  Sift all solid ingredients and add the sugar. Mix well and make a well in the center.
2.  Combine egg yolks, oil, milk and vanilla. Mix well with wire a whisk. Add into the flour mixture.
3.  Beat the egg whites until stiff peak forms. Fold into the batter.
4.  Divide the batter into two 9” greased round pans lined with wax paper.
5.  Bake at 350oF in a preheated oven for about 30-45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
6.  Cool in wire racks and cut cakes into two to make a four-layer cake.

Cherry Filling:

1 bottle (24-30 oz) of maraschino cherries (or fresh cherries if in season)
½ cup syrup from the maraschino bottle
¼ cup rum, brandy or coffee liqueur + 4 tbsp extra for drizzling
¼ cup sugar (if using fresh cherries)
1 tbsp. corn starch

1.  Reserve about 16 cherries for garnishing and slice the rest into halves.
2.  Simmer the sliced cherries and ½ cup cherry syrup from the bottle (or 1:1 ratio of liqueur and water if using fresh cherries) over low heat. Add the sugar (if using) and the liqueur.
3.  Dissolve the corn starch in about 2 tbsp of water and add into the cherry filling. Let the syrup thicken. Make sure that the syrup coats the back of the spoon when lifted.
4.  Remove from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

Cream frosting:

4 cups of chilled heavy whipping cream
1 packet unflavored gelatin (dissolved in ¼ cup hot water)
¼ cup of confectioner’s sugar
½ tsp vanilla

1.  Chill the cream in the fridge for at least a day.
2.  In a cold metal bowl (freeze metal bowl and beaters for about 10 minutes before using it), beat the cream at medium speed and slowly drizzle in gelatin. Increase the speed to medium high and gradually add in the sugar. Continue beating until the stiff peak stage. Add the vanilla and combine to mix. 
3.  Keep the frosting in the fridge unless you are ready to use it. It is best to make the cream prior to frosting the cake.


1.  In a large cake dish, lay one cake layer and sprinkle with 1 tbsp of liqueur. Spread a third of the cherry filling and top with about a fifth of the cream frosting.
2.  Lay the second layer of cake and do the same as above.
3.  Drizzle the top layer with 1 tbsp of liqueur. If the layers start to slide, cool the cake in the fridge until it firms up a bit. It is best to do the assembly and frosting of the cake on the coolest part of the day.
4.  Cover the cake with a crumb coat and let it rest in the fridge for about an hour. Add the final frosting and pipe rosettes of the cream filling on top of the cake and garnish with chocolate curls* (semisweet or bittersweet). Top rosettes with the reserved cherries. Let the cake rest in the fridge in a cake box for about 6 hours before serving.

*You can get a block of chocolate and use a vegetable peeler to make the curls. Or you can melt about 8 oz semisweet chocolate on a double boiler and cool in a plastic container lined with Saran wrap until it sets.