Sunday, December 20, 2020

Welcome Winter Coffee Cake



Tomorrow, December 21, brings the winter solstice. To be clear, I am not a fan of winter (too cold, too dark, too long), but I am a fan of baking up something to warm your house and heart. And this coffee cake is just the ticket. 


I’ve been making this for years and cannot believe I never wrote about it! A man named Jack gave my husband this recipe years ago - hence the recipe’s real name: Jack’s Jewish Coffee Cake. It makes a large cake (9x13) but if you’re thinking that in quarantine it’s too big and you’d have no one to share it with, not to worry - it freezes like a dream. So do as I do - bake it up, enjoy one (or two - we don’t judge) squares with a warm cup of coffee or tea, then cut it up into portions, wrap well (in plastic wrap and a Zip-lock bag), and store in the freezer. Then when you’re in need of some deliciousness, just reach into your freezer, pull out a portion, and in an hour or so, it will be ready to enjoy.


This cake has all the feels - a cinnamon-nutty streusel (both on top and in the middle), a moist sour cream base (resulting in a very tender crumb), and fills your house with an incredible aroma while baking. Just what the doctor ordered to lift our spirits through the winter.


Wishing you a healthy winter season! 



Jack’s Jewish Coffee Cake


Ingredients:


Cake:

1/2 lb butter

2 C sugar (can reduce to 1-1/4 C if needed)

2 t vanilla

4 large eggs

4 C flour

3 t baking powder

2 t baking soda

1 pint sour cream


Streusel:

1 C chopped walnuts

1 C sugar

1 TB cinnamon


Directions:

  1. Grease and flour 9x13x2” pan
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. With electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar and vanilla.
  4. Add the eggs and beat for 2 minutes.
  5. In a separa

  6. te bowl, sif
  7. t together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
  8. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.
  9. Add sour cream and beat for approximately 2 minutes.
  10. In a small bowl, stir together the chopped walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar for the streusel.
  11. Put half of the batter into the prepared pan, then sprinkle with half of the streusel. Pour the rest of the batter on top, smooth out, then sprinkle the remaining streusel on top.
  12. Bake for approximately 50-60 minutes (if your oven runs hot, check it at 45 minutes*). A cake tester should come out clean (or if using a thermometer, cake should register approximately 190-200F).

* In our previous home, my Wolf oven was very accurate and I almost never worried about over-baking cakes. But in this oven, I’ve found things over-bake quite easily. So I just bought a fabulous instant-read thermometer after the one we had for years died. The Thermapen MK4 is incredible - why did I wait so long to buy a “real” instant-read?! It’s a bit pricey, but we’ve now used it for everything from cake to steak to chicken and it’s hands-down the best instant-read we’ve ever had. They have other less expensive models, but this one gives you super-fast 2-3 second reads, is waterproof, has a backlight, an auto-rotating display, and a motion-sensing sleep/wake mode. And if you needed anymore evidence, it was rated #1 by America's Test Kitchen. 


And, no, I’m not getting any compensation for my glowing review; I just wanted you to share in my joy! 






Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Armchair Vacationing

Greetings, Dear Readers.


Hope you are all doing OK. 


There was good news today that an FDA independent review board found that the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine appears to meet the standard for emergency use authorization. So we are one step closer to the FDA clearing it for immediate use (the FDA will meet on December 10 for a full-day public meeting to discuss the data). We’re still months away for enough vaccine supply for the general public, but at this point I’ll take whatever good news I can get.


Along those lines, as I was cleaning out my inbox, I came across several blog posts about some of the beautiful trips taken in 2018 and 2019. As I read, I found myself transported back to Paris and the dreamy French countryside, the awesome northern Italian alps, the zen-inducing British Virgin Islands, the inspiring vastness of Tanzania, the hustle-bustle of Lisbon, and a few others. If you, like me, need a diversion from the approaching winter season/second COVID-19 lockdown, grab a coffee (or a glass of wine), find a comfy chair, and take an armchair vacation. 


Stay well!


Gorgeous figs at the Paris market.

France:

http://www.cookstour.net/2018/11/flavors-of-france.html


A hearty first course for lunch in northern Italy.

Northern Italy Photo Tour:

http://www.cookstour.net/2019/12/northern-italy-photo-tour.html



Beautiful serene lake, northern Italy

Northern Italy:

http://www.cookstour.net/2019/11/a-gelato-day.html



Accompaniments for wine tasting, Portugal


Portugal:

http://www.cookstour.net/2019/01/portugal.html



Adorable baby elephant, Tanzania


Tanzania:

http://www.cookstour.net/2018/08/update-serengeti-sunrise.html


Sunrise, British Virgin Islands


British Virgin Islands:

http://www.cookstour.net/2020/03/chia-fruit-breakfast-parfait.html



Rodney Scott BBQ, Charleston

Charleston:

http://www.cookstour.net/2018/04/till-we-eat-again-charleston-edition.html


Fabulous whiskey sour, Charleston


Charleston, Part II

http://www.cookstour.net/2018/05/till-we-eat-again-charleston-edition.html


Up close & personal with a curious monkey, Costa Rica

Costa Rica/Panama:

http://www.cookstour.net/2018/02/a-winter-escape-to-costa-rica-and-panama.html



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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Pumpkin Spice Cake


Greetings, Dear Readers.

For most, this holiday was not like any other. Many of us celebrated with a smaller circle of family or friends; some celebrated alone. However your holiday looked, I hope it was peaceful.


Here at my home, we made a much smaller feast - a turkey breast roast instead of a whole turkey. As we are not fans of white meat, we were quite surprised that it was very moist and flavorful. Of course, I'm sure that was mostly due to the butter/garlic mixture Mr B slathered all over it! I made a cranberry chutney from David Lebovitz's recent column that was probably the best cranberry side dish I've ever had. As David mentions, this chutney would be great alongside pork, roasted veggies, or even cheese. Also on the menu, a terrific sautéed greens with smoked paprika from The NY Times. And, because in my mind no meal is complete without bread, homemade dinner rolls from The Spruce Eats.

Cranberry Chutney with next-day turkey sammy


At the last minute I decided to make a dessert, but I really didn't feel like going through the whole pie routine. However I still wanted something pumpkin-y and Thanksgiving-ish. King Arthur Flour to the rescue. Their Pumpkin Spice Cake hit all my wants and desires: pumpkin ('natch), the essential fall spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger; some dried fruit (raisins), and walnuts. No eggs, no sour cream, no yogurt - so chances are you've got everything you need in your cupboard right now (you probably even have a cup of pumpkin in your fridge that you didn't use in your T-Day desserts and were wondering what to do with it). Make. This. Cake. It is tender, SO moist, easy (doesn't require a mixer), quick, and absolutely delicious! All it needs is a sprinkle of confectioners' sugar and you're ready to enjoy. A dollop of whipped cream wouldn't hurt either, would it? 
It's snowing confectioners' sugar!


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Cinnamon Crunch Banana Bread

 

Just the name alone of this bread makes me happy.  Cinnamon. Crunch. Banana. Hmmmm. Happiness.

The other day I discovered a container of mashed bananas in the freezer and while there are probably thousands of banana bread recipes on the "Google machine," I felt the need for something a little more interesting. This recipe from the ever-reliable NYT Cooking site fit the bill; the only thing I changed was to add chopped walnuts to the batter and the topping (I felt it needed more crunch). 

I'm sure you have your own library of ready-to-go banana bread recipes, but I must enthusiastically recommend this one. The ratio of bananas/cinnamon/crunch is perfect. The bread is super-moist and packed with deliciousness. It is a little on the sweet side due to the double sugars in the topping (I don't mind that, but you can probably reduce the sugar a bit if it's a concern for you). A bonus is that you don't need an electric mixer - just two mixing bowls, a whisk, a couple of spatulas, and a 9x5 loaf pan. My cake sank a bit on the top after baking, but other than that, it is fabulous.

So go forth and bake this bread! Or, as they say on the Great British Baking Show: Ready, Set, BAKE!

Cinnamon Crunch Banana Bread (NYT)

Ingredients for the batter:

Unsalted butter, for greasing

1-1/2 C all-purpose flour

1 C granulated sugar

1 t ground cinnamon

1 t baking soda

1/2 t kosher salt

1/2 C vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1/4 C honey

1 C mashed ripe bananas (2-3 medium bananas)

1/2 C chopped walnuts (my addition)

1/4 C warm water

Ingredients for the topping:

1/4 C brown sugar, preferably light brown or Demerara (I used light brown)

2 TB granulated sugar

1 t ground cinnamon

1/4 C chopped walnuts

Preparation:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5" loaf pan and line it with parchment or wax paper, leaving enough paper hanging over the sides to lift the cake out after baking. (This will prevent the topping from breaking when removing the bread from the pan.)

2. Prepare batter: in a medium bowl, combine flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, using a sturdy whisk, beat together oil, eggs, and honey until smooth. Stir in bananas and warm water. Add dry ingredients to egg-oil mixture and stir to blend; stir in nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan.

3. Make topping: in small bowl, mix brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nuts, using your fingers to break up any lumps. Sprinkle evenly over batter.

4. Bake until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour, checking after 50 minutes. If topping shows signs of burning, reduce heat to 325 degrees.

5. Remove to a rack and let cool in pan for 30 minutes. Use edges of paper to lift cake up and out. Place on a rack (leave the paper on) and let cool before slicing and serving.



Sunday, October 18, 2020

Island Life

Happy Fall, CT Readers!


I hope you are doing well.


Recently, a friend suggested that since we’ve been in Puerto Rico for 15 months now, I should do an update of life here. So, here goes - both the good & not-so-good.


The Good:

  1. I continue to be mesmerized by the gorgeous, HUGE, puffy cotton ball clouds. They are nothing like what I was used to in New Jersey. They seem to fill up the entire sky.

  2. The landscape is beautifully lush and green (conversely, see #11 on the not-so-good list).
  3. The almost-constant year-round 82 degrees.
  4. The relaxed lifestyle — if the ability to spend almost every day and night in shorts, t-shirts, & flip-flops, or possibly a bathing suit, or tennis/golf togs, speaks to you, then PR is the place for you.
  5. The drop-dead beautiful ocean views around practically every corner.
  6. Inexpensive (compared to NJ), but very good (in my experience) health care.
  7. Inexpensive (compared to NJ), but very good veterinarian care.
  8. The once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing baby turtles making their way to the ocean for the first time.
    Baby Turtles

  9. The adorable Puerto Rican parrots.
    Puerto Rican Parrots

  10. Being lulled to sleep by the ocean waves and a chorus of teeny-tiny Coqui (Puerto Rican frogs).
  11. Fabulous sunrises and sunsets.
  12. Proximity to the USVI & BVI.
    Morning in the BVIs, Feb 2020

  13. Great fresh pineapples, mangoes, and passionfruit!
    Fresh Passionfruit

  14. PR is very compact. If you wanted to, you could drive around the circumference of the island in three hours.
  15. The warmth & friendliness of locals.
  16. People regularly say “buenos dias” (good morning) or “buen dia” (good day) just in passing. 
  17. People sing and dance in the supermarket aisles! By themselves!

The Not-so-Good:

  1. Living with the threat of hurricanes between June & November. 
  2. Very high humidity - some days, the temperature & humidity are the same!
  3. The “Sahara Sands” from Africa that blow through here every year, and deposit micro-sand everywhere in your house. 
    Sahara Sands

  4. Although PR is a US territory, English is not widely spoken, which sometimes makes it difficult to complete certain tasks (such as renewing your car registration, or dealing with medical professionals, electricians, or hair stylists, etc). Thank heavens for Google translate!
  5. The lack of really good supermarkets (oh, how I miss Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s Whole Foods, & even Shop-Rite!).
  6. Forget ordering anything from Wayfair or Overstock or Food52 - they do not ship to PR.
  7. I’ve come to realize that living on an island is not all it’s cracked up to be (forget those deserted island fantasies!), especially during a pandemic. 
  8. The reason healthcare is so inexpensive here is because, on average, the population is very poor, and it’s evident almost everywhere.
  9. Almost weekly power outages. The power grid here was fragile before the double hurricanes of 2017, which pretty much destroyed the electrical system. They are still rebuilding it.
  10. Driving! I’ve come to describe driving here as the “wild west.” People regularly go through red lights, cut you off or go around you if they don’t think you’re turning quickly enough, and drive 30 mph in the left lane (and will not move over). You must drive defensively here.
  11. Really bad roads - I thought potholes in NJ were bad - not even close! 
  12. The lack of ethnic food. Being from the northeast, we were used to getting pretty much any type of cuisine or products in restaurants and stores. We were definitely spoiled.
  13. It rains alot here. Of course, that could be because El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest Service, is on this side of the island (see #2 on the “good” list).

So if you’ve ever fantasized about living the island lifestyle or going “off the grid,” think twice. Depending where you’re relocating from, it might not be as easy as you think.  All in all, I’m glad we’re trying it, but it might not be the long term game plan.


Have a good week & don’t forget to make a plan to VOTE! 


Thursday, September 24, 2020

Brown Sugar Plum Cake


Before diving into this wonderful recipe, I must apologize for being AWOL the last month or so. I broke my wrist at the end of August & am still recovering. This accident definitely impeded my writing/typing ability. Even now, I am typing using the old "hunt and peck" method, which takes FOREVER and is a bit painful so this will be short post. 


But one must soldier on so here I am with a fabulous fall recipe for you. Regular Cook's Tour readers will recall that at this time of year, I almost always make my late mother-in-law's plum cake but Italian prune plums are not always available so I thought I'd give you another equally-good option. This recipe uses regular plums, which you can get anywhere. I baked this before breaking my wrist because baking is definitely out of the question for awhile!

Wishing you a healthy and delicious fall season!


Brown Sugar Plum Cake with Sour Cream (adapted from Honest Cooking)

Ingredients:

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter - room temp

1-1/2 C + 2 TB AP flour

1/2 t baking soda

1/4 t salt

1/2 C packed light brown sugar

1/2 C granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 t vanilla extract

1/4 C sour cream

4 plums, halved, pitted, and cut into eighths

Confectioner's sugar for dusting

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Grease 9" round cake pan lined with parchment (note: I skipped the parchment and sprinkled a bit of granulated sugar after greasing the pan to add a bit more sweetness and a little crunch.)

3. Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy

4. In separate large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt

5. With mixer on low, beat in eggs one at a time until incorporated

6. Beat in vanilla

7. Add in half of flour mixture, then sour cream, followed by rest of the flour. Mix until just combined.

8. Spread batter in pan and smooth top with knife or spatula.

9. Arrange plums on top.

10. Bake 35-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.

11. Dust with Confectioner's sugar before serving.





Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Sheet-Pan Baked Feta with Broccolini, Tomatoes, and Lemon

Ready for roasting!


This recipe caught my eye while scrolling thru the NYT Cooking app because, you know, first you eat with your eyes. And the picture at the top of the post was gorgeous.

Ready for eating!
We just happened to have all the ingredients in-house, with a couple of minor modifications to the original recipe. I swapped in broccoli for the broccolini (have never seen that here in Puerto Rico), and crumbled feta for the block feta (another no-show here). I don’t think those two swaps adversely affected the recipe, because it came out great. Besides looking definitely picture-worthy, the melange of flavors was fabulous. I served it over orzo, but you could easily use rice or farro. I would leave out the lemon slices as they were a little bitter after roasting. Otherwise, highly recommend this dish!

Sheet-Pan Baked Feta with Broccolini, Tomatoes, and Lemon (NYT Cooking)

Ingredients:
  • 1 bunch broccolini, ends trimmed, thick stalks split lengthwise, or broccoli, stalks trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved (about 2 cups)
  • 1 small red onion, peeled, quartered and cut into 2-inch wedges
  • 1 lemon, 1/2 cut into thin rounds and the remaining 1/2 left intact, for serving
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 (6- to 8-ounce) blocks feta, cut into 1-inch slices
  • Cooked orzo or farro, for serving
  • ½ cup fresh basil or cilantro leaves and fine stems, roughly chopped (optional) 

Directions:
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack set in the lower third. On a sheet pan, combine the broccolini, tomatoes, onion and lemon slices with the olive oil and toss. Add cumin and red-pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper, and toss again until evenly coated. Nestle the feta slices into the vegetables. (It’s OK if they break apart a little.)
  2. Roast 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through but leaving the feta in place, until the broccolini is charred at the tips, the stems are easily pierced with a fork and the tomato skins start to blister and break down.
  3. Serve over orzo or farro. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with the remaining lemon half for squeezing. Top with fresh herbs, if using.