06 June


Bublanina

(Czech Fruit Bubble Sponge Cake)

June: National Fruit and Veggies Month

During the coronavirus quarantine, Islander and two of her foodie friends, Karen B. and Yukiko H., tried a Zoom session and baked a cake “together apart” (even though they live within 30 minutes of each other). Since Karen is a Czech-Texan, they decided to bake bublanina, a type of sponge cake with summer fruit “bubbling” on top (hence, the name). Not having all the same ingredients on hand at the time, they made do with what they each had in their pantry. From one recipe, they got three different yet interesting results! They are noted below. Bake a bublanina during National Fruit and Veggies Month—the fun is in seeing how your results might be different from theirs, too! Dobrou chuť!

Recipe

(Adapted from Tres Bohemes-Everything Czech)

Ingredients

  • 2-3 cups fruit (such as pitted cherries, strawberries, blueberries)
  • 2 cups flour (or 1 cup cake flour plus 1 cup all-purpose flour=pastry flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons plain kefir, sour cream or yogurt

Directions

Wash and dry fruit; if using cherries, pit them, and toss in a little bit of flour right before using in the recipe (optional). In a small bowl, combine the flour(s) with the baking powder. Set aside.

Melt and lightly cool the butter. Mix in vanilla. Combine the butter-vanilla mix into a large bowl of powdered sugar. Stir until smooth.

Add the eggs and kefir/sour cream/yogurt and stir until smooth. Gradually fold in the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until the batter is well combined and moist (there may be lumps but do not overmix or the dense cake will not bake up as light). Pour into a greased baking pan.

Sprinkle fruit on top of the pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes, testing for doneness (the cake bakes up pale and not really brown on top). Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Slice and sprinkle powdered sugar on top before serving.

Notes

  • On using and choosing the fruit for this recipe: Islander used canned tart cherries in water (dull colored, soft and mushy and too sour); Karen used frozen defrosted dark sweet cherries and tossed them in a little bit of powdered sugar and flour; and Yukiko used fresh whole strawberries. Verdict: fresh fruit is best to enjoy the natural sweetness and flavor. At the time we all made this bublanina in May, fresh cherries were just starting to be in season; they were overpriced and not as sweet. But Islander bought one small bag and used a few cherries for the final photograph above.
  • On using flour: Islander and Karen used equal parts cake and all-purpose flour and Yukiko used only all-purpose flour because she did not have cake flour. Verdict: Mix cake flour and all-purpose flour to make this dense cake lighter. But it is still fine to use all all-purpose flour.
  • On using eggs: Islander and Karen used regular large eggs while Yukiko used organic eggs. Verdict: Yukiko’s cake turned out more naturally yellow in color.
  • On using kefir, sour cream or yogurt: Islander used kefir, Karen used sour cream and liquefied ¾ cup of it with three tablespoons of milk and Yukiko used yogurt. Verdict: it was easier to stir the batter with kefir while sour cream and yogurt were thicker to mix.
  • On using different pans: Islander used a 10×10 inch square pan; Karen used a 10×10 inch round pan; and Yukiko used an 8×8 inch round pan. Verdict: use larger baking pans so the fruit is not so concentrated. A 9×13 inch pan also may be used.
  • Islander’s bublanina final food photo was shot on top of a 100% wool vintage Czechoslovakian scarf.
  • Here are what Karen and Yukiko’s cakes looked like after our Zoom baking session.

Cucumber-Cilantro Raita

June 14:National Cucumber Day

Our Indian friends, Govind and Vathsala S., cook hot and spicy vegetarian foods. While tasty and delicious, Islander cannot take the heat so they serve her raita to cool off her burning mouth (Highlander says she is a wimp)!

Raita is a creamy condiment that includes a mixture of yogurt or curd with fresh chopped vegetables (savory raita) and/or fruits (sweeter raita). We are more used to the savory version with cooling cucumbers to offset the fiery curries and dishes that our friends cook (even though they tone it down somewhat for Islander, she still thinks the food is too spicy for her).

As the weather heats up and the summer season approaches, keep cool as a cucumber with a raita recipe on National Cucumber Day.

Recipe

(Inspired by Govind and Vathsala S.)

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2-3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped

Directions

Wash, dry, peel and chop the cucumbers. Chop the tomatoes and onion. Place all in a large bowl.

Stir in the yogurt. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Mix in the cilantro. Cover and refrigerate for an hour to allow the flavors to blend. Serve as a side dish garnished with a sprig of fresh cilantro leaves.

Notes

  • There are different variations of raita. Some recipes call for scallions instead of round onions, mint instead of cilantro and cumin or coriander instead of garlic powder. A few raitaare sprinkled with red chili pepper, which Islander thinks would defeat the dish’s cooling properties.
  • Eastern Europeans have a similar recipe to raita. One Polish recipe, mizeria, uses cucumbers mixed in sour cream instead of yogurt.
  • Search our blog for other cucumber recipes.

Falafel

June 12: International Falafel Day

Falafels are one of our all-time favorite Middle Eastern foods! We eat them at ethnic festivals and Mediterranean restaurants around the United States. But when we visited Egypt and United Arab Emirates, we were able to taste a variety of this vegetable-based appetizer. They were served during breakfast buffets at the finest luxury hotels as well as on the roadside as street snacks and at fast food courts. We prefer them plain with a dipping sauce but falafels may be eaten as a filling in sandwiches. Either way, cooking and eating falafels are a fabulous way to observe International Falafel Day!

Recipe

(Adapted from Sol. S.)

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups dried chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • ½ sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼tsp. ground cardamom
  • ½teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 ½ tablespoons flour
  • ½ teaspoons sesame seeds for coating (optional)
  • 3 cups oil for frying (vegetable, sunflower or other light oil)

Directions

In a large bowl, place the dried chickpeas and immerse them in water about twice as much their volume. Soak overnight to soften. Drain and rub off any leftover skins.

Chop the onions, crush the garlic cloves and chop the parsley and cilantro leaves. Zest the lemon.

In a food processor, grind the chickpeas with onion, garlic, parsley and lemon zest until fine and grainy but not mushy and pasty.

Place the mixture back in a bowl and mix with cilantro, spices (salt, cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander and cardamom). Add the baking powder, water and flour. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour to allow the flavors to blend.

Use a scoop to form 2-inch balls. Press gently so the mixture holds together. Flatten slightly into patties.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds if using. Deep fry in hot oil for 3-5 minutes until golden brown (make sure the centers of the falafels are cooked through). Drain on paper towels. Serve while still warm.

Notes

  • We like to freeze the uncooked falafels to hold their shapes better. On a baking sheet lined with waxed paper, put the uncooked falafels in a single layer. Freeze until firm. Transfer frozen uncooked falafels in a container and seal well until ready to deep fry.
  • Some people make falafels in mini sausage shapes or balls. Keep the mixture small so they cook through better and are crisp on the outside instead of bread-like (larger and thicker falafels might not cook all the way in the center).
  • Serve falafels warm with tahini, hummus or spiced yogurt dipping sauces or in a pita pocket with vegetables as a sandwich.

 

Oven Roasted Okra

bakedokra

June: National Okra Month

The lazy days of summer are upon us and we also get lazy about cooking complicated meals around this time of the year. So we keep things simple by oven-roasting seasonal vegetables like okra. We normally don’t go out of our way to make it because of okra’s “slimy reputation”. But because our neighbors and friends give us an abundance of organic okra from their garden and farm, we do not want their hard work of picking the pods to go unappreciated (besides, we are lazy to pick them ourselves, unless we pick them up in packages at the grocery store). We also find the easiest way to cook okra—in the oven. Just trim and toss them with a little olive oil and spices and roast them. Roasted okra is our lazy “ladies’ fingers” recipe post for National Okra Month.  

Recipe

 Ingredients 

  • 1 pound of okra
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon seasoning blend (see Notes)

Directions

Wash the okra and dry with paper towels. Trim off the top and end of each okra pod. Cut into ½-inch slices.

bakedokrasteps1

In a large mixing bowl, mix the olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the okra in the olive oil mixture. Sprinkle with seasoning blend (optional).

bakedokrasteps2

Spread them out onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven. Serve hot.

 bakedokrasteps3

 Notes

Dry Martini

June 19: National Dry Martini Day

James Bond was very specific about how he wants a mixologist to make his martini. The fictitious but famous spy, 007, in Casino Royale (movie and book), instructed:

 “A dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”

What he described is a recipe for the Vesper martini, named in memory of Vesper Lynd, the woman he loved who was killed by the bad guys in the franchise. But for our blog, we are posting a recipe for a classic dry martini, which is stirred, not shaken. Also, unlike Bond’s beverage, the classic dry martini includes vermouth instead of vodka. As an ingredient he mentioned, Kina Lillet no longer exists but mixologists recommend Lillet Blanc while other bartenders add a splash of bitters.

Whether shaken or stirred, and whatever variation of ingredients are mixed for a dry martini, enjoy this classic cocktail on National Dry Martini Day. Cheers!

Recipe

 Ingredients

  • Ice
  • 3-4 ounces dry gin
  • ½ – 1 ounce dry vermouth OR vodka
  • splash of Lillet Blanc OR orange or Angostura bitters (optional)
  • lemon peel twist OR olive

Directions

Fill a shaker with ice. Add the gin and vermouth OR vodka. Stir briskly OR shake. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon peel twist OR olive.

 Notes

 

Cucumber-Lemon Cake

with Cucumber Vodka Icing

June 14: National Cucumber Day

With the summer season a few days away, we have been feeling the heat already in the Gulf Coast of Texas. To stay “Cool as a Cucumber,” this month’s theme of Islander’s local culinary book club, members were asked to share recipes using the vegetable as an ingredient. Some brought in cucumber tea sandwiches, many salads and even cucumber-infused drinks. Islander brought in a dessert—a cucumber-lemon cake with cucumber vodka icing (the original recipe used gin but she wanted to maximize the cucumber theme). The cake concept was a refreshing idea—a subtle taste of summer’s quintessential vegetable with a hint of sunny citrus iced with a sweet buttercream made with cucumber vodka to balance all the flavors. Cucumber-lemon cake with cucumber vodka icing is a delicate dessert that is perfect for National Cucumber Day.

Recipe

(Adapted from Veggie Desserts)

For the cucumber-lemon cake

  • Half a cucumber (about ¾ cups), pureed (see Notes)
  • Half a lemon, juiced and zested
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar, granulated white
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¾ cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Directions

Wash and dry the cucumber, leaving the clean skin on. Slice into thin cubes and puree in a blender.

Zest half a lemon and set aside the zest for the batter. Squeeze half the lemon juice into the pureed cucumber. In a mixing bowl, combine the zest with the butter and sugar.

Add the vanilla and the eggs. Beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, mix the flour with baking powder. Gradually add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternating with half of the pureed cucumbers, and blend all ingredients until the batter is smooth.

Place in a lightly greased 8-inch round pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees F for 35-40 minutes or until done. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Prepare the cucumber vodka icing.

For the cucumber vodka icing and decorations

  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cucumber vodka
  • 1 lemon
  • cucumber slices

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually add the powdered sugar. Thin to a spreadable consistency with cucumber vodka. Smear a little frosting on a cake board or plate to “glue” the cake on it.

Use a spatula to frost the top and sides of the cake. Use a star tip to add a shell border around the cake. Use a large round tip to pipe a dollop of icing in the middle of the cake.

Use a sharp paring knife to peel the rind of a lemon—start from one end of the fruit and, in a continuous but careful motion, pare in one direction until reaching the end of the fruit. Immediately roll up tightly the peel, fanning out the edges a little to form a rosette. Place the lemon rose on the center of the dollop of icing.

With the reserved cucumber from the cake recipe above, cut a portion of the vegetable in half lengthwise. Slice the first cut thinly but do not go all the way through the cucumber. The second slice should detach from the vegetable. Fan it out like a fishtail. Slice 8 of these cucumber decorations, dry with a paper towel and arrange on the cake, attaching the non-cut tip to the dollop of icing. Refrigerate the cake but bring it to room temperature before serving.

Notes

  • We used a seedless English cucumber for this recipe. If using regular cucumbers, cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.
  • For non-alcoholic icing, use cucumber water or lemon juice to thin out the buttercream frosting to a spreadable consistency.
  • Search our blog for other cucumber recipes.

Homemade Rocky Road

Candy Bars

June 2: National Rocky Road Day

We have made homemade candy bars before. So we tried another popular one, Rocky Road, with a different chocolate mold. In the United States, Rocky Road is a combination of marshmallows and crunchy nuts and chocolate. In the United Kingdom, it is a combination of marshmallows, crushed cookies/biscuits and chocolate with a light dusting of powdered sugar on top. In Australia, Rocky Road is a combination of marshmallows, glace cherries, crunch nuts, dessicated coconut and chocolate. Whatever combination of ingredients used, Rocky Road is easy to make for a delicious dessert. So indulge on homemade Rocky Road candy bars on National Rocky Road Day!

Recipe

Ingredients

  • Chocolate chips or wafers (we used Ghirardelli dark chocolate melting wafers)
  • Nuts, dry roasted and unsalted, chopped (we used cashews, following the original Annabelle Candy Company’s recipe)
  • Mini marshmallows (see Notes)

Directions

Melt the chocolate in a bowl (in a microwave or over a double boiler), according to the directions on the package. Chop the cashews, reserving the nut pieces and discarding the “dust”. Set aside.

Spoon melted chocolate halfway in the mold, making sure to coat the sides with a thin layer. Let cool slightly so the chocolate will not melt the marshmallows. Sprinkle the chopped cashews and mini marshmallows over the slightly cooled chocolate. Fill the mold with chocolate. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set and is firm. Unmold onto paper towels. Serve at room temperature but still slightly cooled.

Notes

  • If mini marshmallows are not available, cut jumbo marshmallows into small pieces.
  • This blog post is dedicated to Father Tim E. who loves anything “Rocky Road”.
  • Check out more chocolate recipes on our blog from the Theme Menus.

 

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