Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The BEST Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Anything poppy seed is a huge hit in my family.  My great-grandma would make poppy seed kuchen every year for family picnics and celebrations.  A few year's ago my mother and I learned the time-honored technique with my Grandma Jean. Now in the 4th generation!  This year for Mother's Day I though I would make them a lemon poppy seed cake I had been eying on one of my favorite blogs, Cake! 

I kid you not, this is the best lemon poppy seed cake recipe ever!  No one left a crumb on their plate. 

I need to take a few more Wilton decorating classes.  The problem is, the best frosting for designs are too sweet; they are are pure powdered sugar. 

And, if you don't believe me, listen to grandma!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Big Island

 Last year, I had the pleasure of being the matron-of-honor at my best friend Amanda's wedding in Hilo, Hawaii.  I miss her terribly, as that is her new home, so far far away.  However, she is a rock star teacher, winning Charter School Teacher of the Year in Hawaii!  I am so grateful the kids have her.  Last week, Amanda and Jack had their first child, which brought back a flood of wonderful memories from that trip.  Here are a few favorites, and a copycat menu.

On my way from Kona to Hilo the day of the rehersal I stopped by the only vanilla farm in the US, the Hawaiian Vanilla Company.  It was amazing!  I now understand why vanilla is second to saffron, as the most expensive spice.  Everything is done by hand.  The blossom blooms for only a few hours and they have to pollinate the orchid by hand.  I had a wonderful lunch at the farm, with some wonderful people from Washington that welcomed me to their table.
We had citrus-vanilla bourbon marinated chicken breast and vanilla caramelized onions atop foccaccia, with our Vanilla-Mango Chutney aioli or Vanilla Barbecue sauce, Vanilla South West rub roasted russet &  Molokai Sweet potatoes, farm fresh organic greens with our best selling Vanilla-Raspberry Vinaigrette, crumbled feta and Vanilla-Honey-Peppered Pecans. I washed it down with the best lemondae I have ever drank, vanilla of course!

The owner gave a short presentation and demonstration on how to carmalize the nuts for our salad.  I had to leave early for Amanda's rehearsal, so I got my velvety rich vanilla ice cream to go.  To remember Hawaii, I bought two vanilla beans and their vanilla-scented lotion.

Seeing my best friend for the first time in a few years and a sunset from my trip.

Beautiful bride and groom, Amanda and Jack! Amanda and I pose with a hug!


Silly Amanda!  The rain held off to just after her ceremony! 
A wedding reception is judged by the quality of the cake, for me.  Amanda's was delicious!  I have never had passion fruit before, and I fell in love and sneaked a second piece. 

Hey, I think someone copied my ring?  :)  Good taste!

Amanda told me on my way from Volcanoes National Park I had to stop at the southern most bakery in the US, Punalu'u.  Again, a delicious passion fruit pastry or two!
One of my favorite photos from the trip.

Of course I had macadamia nut crusted mahi-mahi, while in Hawaii.  I had a wonderful meal of vegetables, coconut pineapple risotto, and fish from Lava Java. It was a perfect fusion of Asian Pacific. 

I tried my best to recreate this meal.  I made  Grilled Asian Ratatouille from the NYT.  I also, made Pineapple Coconut Risotto.  I have never made a sweet savory risotto before, but the flavors really work with a hint of parm.

Lastly, I adapted several recipes for the Macademia Nut Crusted Mahi-Mahi.  Here is what I came up with:

  • 1 cup coarsely ground, roasted macadamia nuts
  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs) 
  • 2 tablespoons toasted coconut
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for brushing foil
  • 4 (6 to 8-ounce) mahi mahi fillets
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • lime slices
 Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place two slices of lime on the top and bottom of each fillet to marinade for at least 15 minutes.  In a bowl, mix together macadamia nuts, panko, coconut, flour and melted butter.  Set aside.  Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat with a few tablespoons of oil.   Remove lime wedges and spoon the coconut milk over the fish. Dredge one side of the fish in the nut mixture.  Place each fillet in the pan crust-side down, cook 3 minutes.    Add fish to a greased baking dish, crust-side up, and bake approx. 7-10 minutes until flaky.

Next time I may serve this with a pineapple salsa. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Week in Review: March 20, 2012

Almost every week we try a few new recipes; here is a recap of a few favorites from this past week. 

Over the past few week the Saint Paul - Nagasaki Sister City Committee collected oral histories around the Como Ordway Memorial Japanese Garden.  As a thank you for everyone's efforts I created little gift boxes with some treats.  One of which was Maple Walnut Cupcakes.  These were based off of Martha Stewart's recipe.  I had some lemon buttercream frosting leftover from the the Mother's Day cake, so I jazzed it up using the melted maple sugar candies from the USAIN 2014 sponsors.  What resulted was a light, sweet frosting.  I also made Martha's frosting, which makes a ton, but is super runny.  I had to put it in the fridge for an hour to set, then rewhip. 

The past two weeks I have been gluten and dairy-free, which at times is challenging, but not when it comes to packing my lunches.    I made Singapore noodles to take for lunches during the week.  I just added some extra chili garlic sauce, as we like things spicy.  It was a good recipe, but I prefer Pad Woon Sen instead (yes, a different cuisine, but I use rice noodles in both).

My new favorite lunch also is gluten-free, Blueberry Mango Quinoa Salad.  This recipe is refreshing on a summer day and so healthy.  I could eat it every day.  

My Favorite Twin Cities Chocolates

When you think of great chocolate, you probably think of Swiss chocolate, or maybe Ghirardelli from San Fransisco.  Don't get me wrong, SF knows their chocolate!  The Ghirardelli Square hot fudge sundae is to die for, along with amazing variety of truffles from XOX Truffles.  These are two of the reasons I can't wait for my copy of the premier issue of Sated Magazine to arrive, on the topic of chocolate! 
green angel mint, salty dog candy bar

However, the Twin Cities has some fabulous places for a chocoholic, such as myself.  Here are a few of my favorites:
Abdallah Candies, Green Angel Mint: I remember my mom introducing this to me when I was younger as a special treat or a surprise.  Fortunately, the factory is just 5 miles away from my house, so I can run down when I have a craving for the melt-in-your-mouth candy bar, to see if they have any seconds that are just as tasty but cheaper.

My family is a huge peppermint and chocolate fan.  Our freezer was always had a Kemps Peppermint BonBon gallon bucket growing up.  So, much that I craved anything else.  Now my favorite is vanilla, as you can add anything to jazz it up.

During the latest USAIN Conference in Minneapolis we gave speakers a thank you treat of B.T. McElrath Salty Dog Chocolate Bars.   OMG, these are my latest addiction!  Salty, sweet, crunchy all in one. 

The best truffles in town, without a doubt for me, are from Chocolat CelesteReserved for special occasions, since they cost $4+ each, but are some of the largest truffles you will find. Patrick's Cafe is a close second. 

Sure you can get a special mini cake at Byerlys, but why when there is Truffles and Tortes tucked away in a little strip mall in Plymouth.  I love all of their items, but my favorite is the Chocolate Chili Torte.  If you aren't a fan of heat, then skip this as they mix cayenne and other chilies into the batter and crust. 

For a towering cake, look no further than the St. Paul Grill's Chocolate Lust Cake.  I think it had 8 layers, big enough to serve four, but I finished mine off between dinner and breakfast :) complete with a little glass of milk. 

Please list your favorite chocolate desserts in the comments, so I can try other local favorites!  In the photo above is the chocolate bar from our trip to Joel Robuchon's restaurant in Vegas.  More on that once-in-a-lifetime experience and the edible gold candy bar later.