Friday, January 29, 2010

Braised BBQ Beef

We aren't beef eaters. When I met my friend gail ten summers ago (really? jeepers!), she was a vegetarian, and I remember telling her I couldn't imagine giving up steak. She didn't try to persuade me, but magically I haven't eaten steak since that summer (possibly one or two exceptions). Eating less and less meat over the years has meant we find it harder to digest, so I don't really cook meat much anymore at all. So, why I am making beef? I do not know. All I do know is that I read this recipe three days ago and would have happily chucked my well-planned menu out the window if I'd had the ability to get to the butchers' that day. Go figure. It is about 30 minutes into the 3 hour cooking time, and so far, it is smelling fantastic! I haven't had good BBQ in ages, so I've got high hopes!

Verdict: DELICIOUS! Ocean Springs people, it's SHED GOOD! This recipe is definitely going in my bag of tricks for easy entertaining. As Elise wrote on her page, it can easily be doubled (tripled, quadrupled...) for larger numbers, and it's so simple! It requires a lot of time but hardly any work, and the results are fabulous! Assuming you eat beef...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

(The BEST EVER) Almond Cake

Almost every birthday for the past 10 years, Markus has requested almond cake . He enjoys cake more than he cares to admit, but he also finds most cakes too sweet and sugary. This almond cake recipe is the perfect texture and sweetness without being over the top. My problem as a cook abroad is I often cannot find particular ingredients. The almond paste required for this recipe is nowhere to be found here in Perth. I have looked high and low, and I have argued (gently) with specialty food shop owners about the difference between almond paste and marzipan (marzipan is sweeter, not what we want in this cake). One year when I couldn't find almond paste in The Hague, I tried making my own from a recipe I found online, and it was awful, horrible, never-try-this-again-it's-not-worth-it terrible. And it took a long time to make to boot. Markus had different birthday cakes for a few years, but this year he again requested this one, willing to accept the substituted marzipan if necessary. He had to have it!

Before buying the marzipan, I decided to try my hand at homemade almond paste one more time. In my experience, it's all about finding the right recipe. Theoretically, homemade should always taste better than store-bought, and I was determined. Most almond paste recipes I found called for copious amounts of sugar (3 cups powdered sugar, on average!) and egg whites as a binder (I'm always wary of this). Then, I found this one. It looked different from the others and the peeling of the almonds to reduce bitterness made it seem more professional somehow. It requires a food processor, which is known in our house as "The Precious" (and will be until it is one day upstaged by the purchase of a KitchenAid mixer, but I digress... What I meant to say is, "Don't try this in a blender." You will have a big mess instead of good paste.) Anyhoo, I gave it a go, whipped up the cake and crossed my fingers I'd have a happy birthday boy that evening. Verdict: He took one bite, melted into a puddle and pronounced it "the best birthday cake EVER!" Before I forget how to achieve this heaven, I'd better write it down:

Almond Paste in the food processor
Makes approximately 1 pound/2 cups

2 cups whole almonds (recipe stated "preferably Mission" but I just bought the unidentified ones at the bulk store)
1 cup sugar (I used caster sugar)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
a few drops of almond extract

Cover the almonds with boiling water and let them stand for at least a minute. Slip off the skins with your fingers. If they are very stubborn, cover them again with boiling water or let them soak and remove them just a few at a time to work on. Note: Although this is not difficult, it does take quite a long time (40 minutes for me with two monkeys running mad all the while). In the future, I'd make the almond paste at a more convenient time (not the same day I needed the cake), since it keeps in the fridge for up to 6 months.

Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a pan and cook, without stirring, until the temperature is 235 degrees F. Then stir in the almond extract.

While the syrup is heating, preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Put the peeled almonds on a cookie sheet and leave them just long enough to dry out and warm up, about 8 to 10 minutes. Then, while they're still warm, grind them in a food processor until the texture is fine and smooth. If necessary, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water to loosen the mixture and make it easier to process.

With the food processor going, gradually pour in the syrup in a slow, steady stream. Process until the paste is uniform. Remove it from the work bowl, wrap it well in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it until needed. To make it soft and easy to work with, put it in a warm place, such as on top of the stove while the oven is on, or heat it in a double boiler or a steamer set over simmering water.

Almond Cake from the "Longaberger Fresh from the Pantry: Recipes for Everyday" cookbook

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
8 oz almond paste**
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon Triple Sec (can substitute 1/4 teaspoon orange extract and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for this)
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup flour
1/3 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F (160C in a convection oven). Line 9-inch round cake pan with waxed paper. Butter and flour the waxed paper. (I use a springform pan and just put wax paper on the bottom). Cream the butter, sugar and almond paste in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, liqueur and almond extract and mix well. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until blended. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 40-45 (or 30-35) minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan.

**the recipe calls for 8oz, but I didn't have a kitchen scale. I looked online and found that 8oz of almond paste is roughly 1 3/4 cups, so that's what I used (almost all of what I made). Of course, the almond paste recipe says it makes roughly one pound, which means I might have only needed half. Oh well. It worked quite well!