Monday, October 19, 2009

A Very Culinary Weekend

Whew! I am exhausted. What a busy weekend it was, culinarily-speaking. I've got two restaurants for you AND two recipes! What more could you ask for? And how about that photo above of the gorgeous maple tree that lives down the street from me? Every year when it starts to turn that deep, beautiful orange, and the ground around it is blanketed with the fallen leaves, I think, "I should really snap a photo of that tree." Of course I never do. Until today. And I'm so glad I did because it epitomizes the fall season for me, and now I've captured it for posterity.

On to the food! The weekend began with dinner at LuNello in Cedar Grove, NJ. Some of you may recognize this restaurant from an episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey. Those of you who don't, count yourselves lucky to have missed it (the show, that is). But don't let LuNello's association with this show deter you from enjoying a fine meal.

LuNello's is more formal in nature, in both decor and food. Waiters in tuxedos are very gracious, and service was very good. They recite a list of about 30 specials and all except one of our meals came from the regular menu. I loved my meal - Short Ribs over Fresh Pappardelle, in a delicious brown sauce that reminded me so much of my husband's outstanding brisket. The minute I spotted Pappardelle with Porcini and Oyster Mushrooms, I knew it would be Barry's choice. Ever since we were in Italy October 2006, Barry has been craving fresh porcini and pasta, which you don't find on many menus in the US. It did not disappoint - tender porcini mushrooms scattered among the fresh pasta.

If there is any area that LuNello's falls short, it's dessert. We ordered the Ricotta Cheesecake and Tiramisu. Both very average. But a nice touch presented during dessert, was the offering of house-made miniature ice cream cones. If you go, skip the dessert menu, wait for the cones.

Saturday night brought me to Fiorino's in Summit. This was the polar opposite of LuNello's in atmosphere, decor, and clientele. A warm, inviting space in downtown Summit, Fiorino's offers outstanding cuisine. My meal began with a Baby Arugula Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts and Goat Cheese - sublime. Everything on the menu sounded wonderful but for my main course I went with the recommendation of my friend and dining companion. Every time she visits Fiorino's she must have the Rigatoni Bolognese (it's not even on the regular menu). Now this may sound plebian to you, but a well made Bolognese sauce is not to be missed. This version lived up to my expectations. Husky chunks of a veal, pork, beef ragu strewn over fat rigatoni, accompanied by a quartino of a deep, delicious Rosso di Montalcino. We shared a dessert that perfectly suited my fall state of mind:

Warm Apple Strudel with Caramel Wild Berry Compote and Butter Pecan Gelato - crisp, firm apples swirled with a very delicate caramel sauce and outstanding gelato. Meals don't get much better than this, my friends.

So after all that dining about on Friday and Saturday, Sunday was definitely a stay at home kind of day. It was rainy and cold in NJ - perfect baking weather. But since I totally indulged at the aforementioned meals, I felt the need to slim down my baked goods. But these certainly didn't taste like "slimmed-down" foods! Cho-nana Bread (from the Chobani Yogurt web site) and Pumpkin Crunch (from Canyon Ranch) were flavorful and easy. The Pumpkin Crunch is a very versatile little treat with only 125 calories in 1/4 cup - it folds very nicely into yogurt, as a crunchy topping to your morning cereal, or just as a mid-afternoon snack. And the banana bread is super moist, thanks to the yogurt and applesauce base; only 210 calories per serving.

You won't go wrong with these two recipes - plenty of taste, no guilt!
Pumpkin Crunch

1 C pumpkin seeds
1-1/2 t canola oil
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 t allspice
1/2 t sea salt
2 TB maple syrup
1-1/4 C dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly spray a baking sheet with canola oil. In a small bowl, toss pumpkin seeds with canola oil and evenly spread coated seeds on baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes or until almost dry.

Place pumpkin seeds in a medium bowl and mix in maple syrup until coated. Combine spices in a large bowl and add pumpkin seeds. Place back on baking sheet and return to oven. Roast for 15 minutes or until dry. Be sure not to burn. Set seeds aside until completely cool, for about 30 minutes. In a large bowl, combine seeds with dried cranberries.
Cho-nana Bread

3/4 C all-purpose flour
3/4 C whole-wheat flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 TB butter
1/2 C natural applesauce (no sugar added)
3/4 C sugar
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract
3 large overripe bananas
1/2 C Chobani plain 0% Greek Yogurt
1/2 C walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)
1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Grease large loaf pan. Preheat oven to 350F. In a small bowl, stir together flours, baking soda, and salt.

Peel bananas. Cut each in half lengthwise and then cut each half into halves. Chop quartered bananas into 2-inch pieces. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar into a smooth paste. Add applesauce and vanilla, and mix until combined. Add eggs one at a time, and beat until incorporated.

Add flour mixture to wet ingredients, and mix well. Add chopped bananas, nuts and/or chocolate chips and yogurt.

Fold ingredients in, being careful not to bread up banana chunks. Bake at 350F for 1 hour or until inserted knife comes out clean when removed from loaf.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Zucchini-Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze

Greetings! I know it may seem like I've been neglecting my baking duties (which I take very seriously!) because I haven't posted for a couple of weeks, but I have been busily baking away. I was on this cornbread kick trying to fulfill a special request from a work colleague. And, of course, I was hoping to post about my fabulous cornbread results.

Alas, not such good results. Even using a recipe from the grand Dame of Southern food, Edna Lewis. Her recipe produced a bread with incredible texture, but really, severely, lacking in taste. This was so bad it went directly into the trash. My next attempt was with a recipe from Dean Fearing (formerly of the Mansion on Turtle Creek, now at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas). Again, nice texture, not so good on flavor. My husband re-purposed this as a stuffing mixture for delicious pork chops he made the next night. At least not a total waste.

So while I'm not giving up on finding a great cornbread recipe, I needed a little deviation this week. I went to one of my favorite bakers, Gina DePalma, for inspiration. Her "Zucchini Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze" proved to be the ticket (from her wonderful book, Dolce Italiano - see Amazon link under "Books I Love"). The trio of spices in the recipe (cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg) provide that all-important autumnal aroma, and the cake has a wonderful moist, light crumb. But let me tell you about the taste. It's got this unusual sweetness to it, not your typical harvest-y type flavor, but almost like a healthy, good for you, type sweetness. Probably from the zucchini, or at least that's what I'm attributing it to. Either way, this is one terrific cake. The lemon glaze is not too sweet either, in case you were worried about that. Although it feels like an autumn cake to me, obviously you could leverage this recipe when your zucchini harvest is at full throttle in the summer and you don't know what to do with your zucchini overload. Seems like a perfect excuse to me to bake a cake! But don't wait until next summer to try this -- it's too good. Mangia bene!

Zucchini-Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze

Makes one 10" cake, approximately 12 servings


1 C walnut pieces
2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 t kosher salt
2 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground nutmeg
3 large eggs
1-3/4 C granulated sugar
1 C extra-virgin olive oil
2 t pure vanilla extract
2-1/2 C grated zucchini (about 2 small zucchini)
Confectioners' su
gar, for dusting (optional)


1/4 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 C granulated sugar
1 C confectioners' sugar

To make the cake: preheat oven to 350 F and position rack in center. Grease a 10 cup Bundt pan using nonstick cooking spray or butter, then dust with flour to coat completely, tapping out excess flour.

Place walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them until they are golden brown and aromatic, 12-14 minutes. Cool walnuts completely, then finely chop them in food processor and set aside (CT note: I opted for not-so-fine a chop as I really like the texture and crunch of walnuts).

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in medium bowl and set aside. In electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and olive oil together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then beat in vanilla extract. Scrape down sides of bowl with spatula after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients all at once on low speed until they are thoroughly combined, then switch mixer to medium speed and mix for 30 seconds. Beat in the zucchini and walnuts on low speed until they are completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top with spatula. Bake cake for 45-50 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when a tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake has begun to pull away from sides of pan.

While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze: in medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and granulated sugar, then whisk in the confectioners' sugar until the glaze is completely smooth.

Allow cake to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then carefully invert onto a wire rack. Using a pastry brush, immediately brush the glaze over the entire surface of the warm cake, using all of the glaze; it will adhere to the cake and set as the cake cools. Allow cake to cool completely and the glaze to dry completely.

Transfer cake to a stand or serving plate and, if desired, lightly dust it with confectioners' sugar. Any leftover cake may be wrapped in plastic and served the following day.

See photo below - I wouldn't normally post a photo like this, but I wanted you to be able to see the beautiful texture and the flecks of zucchini throughout the cake.