Thursday, February 28, 2008


When I was a kid, my favorite books were of the Harriet the Spy series. I devoured those books and I adored how Harriet had a live-in cook, aptly named "Cook." Well, as the story goes, Harriet would finish up a busy day of school with a little detective work sprinkled in throughout her day and arrive at home to enjoy a fresh slice of homemade cake accompanied by a big, tall glass of milk. My fictional hero, Harriet, had the life, didn't she?! Anyhow, back to the matter at hand. It's time for a recipe. I've posted about a cake, one which I think Harriet would have rather enjoyed. I found this recipe here. It's called dulce de leche cake. I certainly don't mean to quibble, but it seems to me that this is more of a tres leche cake with dulce de leche frosting. I followed the recipe as is for the cake, but decided to change it up for the frosting. I cooked a can of sweetened condensed milk in the manner described by David Lebovitz here, then, blended the dulce de leche with butter to make a faux buttercream frosting. But back to the cake. I had serious doubts about this cake because it seemed like a soggy mess after I drenched it with the three milk concoction. But, after the requisite 4 hour chill time, the cake had a texture unlike any I'd tasted before. It was dense, yet delicate (I think the whipped egg whites are responsible for the lightness). It was very moist with a tender crumb. I think it was a success, except for one part: the frosting. I must have undercooked my sweetened condensed milk for the frosting. The websites's beautiful picture shows a deep, dark caramel frosting, and mine turned out more the color of very lightly toasted bread. So next time, I'll cook the sweetened condensed milk longer and perhaps I'll be rewarded with that gorgeous caramel colored frosting. You should try this cake, too; it's fairly easy to make and it tastes even better the next day.

Dulce de Leche Cake
Saveur Magazine, Issue #108

Makes one 9x13 cake


2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 1⁄2 tsp. fine salt6 eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 1⁄4 cups sugar

1⁄2 cup whole milk

1 1⁄2 tbsp. dark rum

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1 12-oz. can evaporated milk

1 cup heavy cream


1. Put the oven rack in the center of the oven. Heat the oven to 350°. Generously butter and flour a 9" × 13" baking pan. Set dish aside.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside. Put the egg whites into the bowl of a standing mixer and beat with the wire whisk on medium speed until soft peaks form. While the mixer is still running, add the sugar in a gradual stream and continue beating again to soft peaks. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately add the reserved flour mixture and the whole milk in 3 parts, beating until smooth after each addition. Add the rum and vanilla and beat again briefly until smooth.
3. Pour batter into reserved baking pan and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Set the cake aside and let cool slightly for 30 minutes.
4. Whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a bowl. Using a knife, poke the cake with holes all over, penetrating to the bottom of the pan. Pour the milk mixture over the warm cake and set aside to let cool completely.
5. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled and liquid is absorbed, at least 4 hours.

For Frosting:

I made dulce de leche following the method described by David Lebovitz. After the dulce de leche cooled, I mixed approximately 1/2 of it with 2 sticks of butter in a standing mixer using the paddle attachment. It took a very long time to come together, but it eventually did and I used this to frost my cake. The original recipe calls for spreading jarred dulce de leche on top of your finished cake.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008


I finally did it! That’s right, I finally took the time to write down my hummus recipe.
This is probably the most requested recipe I get from friends and family. It is so quick and easy that I make it for almost every get-together I host or go to. If you have only eaten hummus that was bought at the grocery store then you have never really experienced how truly delicious hummus can be. I have converted many hummus haters into lovers with this recipe.

Hummus is a dip made by grinding up chickpeas with a few additional ingredients. It is great served with pita bread, crackers, or veggies. I usually have hummus in the refrigerator at all times in case I need a quick healthy snack.

A lot of hummus recipes have olive oil as the only liquid ingredient to thin out the dip. I found that this not only made the dip extremely high in calories, but the olive oil flavor was overwhelming. So, I substitute water or the liquid from the chickpea can for most of the oil. This significantly reduces the total calories and, in my humble opinion, makes for a better tasting hummus.

A food processor is a necessity here. If you don’t have one, I would advocate buying one. They can be rather expensive, but what a time saver. Mine gets used a least 2-3 times a week. With the food processor you can make this dip in less than 5 minutes.


1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup tahini
1 garlic clove
¾ teas. cumin
1/8 cup water
2 tbs. salt
3 tbs. olive oil

1. Place chickpeas, tahini, garlic, cumin, water and salt in food processor.
2. Blend for 30 – 45 seconds.
3. With processor running, stream in olive oil.
4. Let processor blend for another minute.
5. If the dip seems little think, add another tablespoon of water and processes for

15 additional seconds.
6. Enjoy with pita bread, carrots, crackers, or whatever you have on hand.

1. Tahini is a sesame seed paste. It can be found in the kosher section of your grocery store. Usually it comes in either a small metal can or a glass screw top container. Glass containers can be stored in the fridge for a long time. Tahini that comes in a metal can needs to be put in a plastic container before being stored in the fridge.
2. Make sure you let the dip blend for awhile in the food processor. Even when you think you have blended long enough, blend for another 30 seconds. This is the only way to ensure a wonderfully luscious creamy dip.
3. You may like more or less lemon juice, cumin, salt, whatever. Play with the recipe and come up with you preferred version.
4. Hummus will keep in the fridge for at least a week. I prefer to eat mine room temperature, my husband likes his cold, straight out of the fridge. Try both and see which way you prefer.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Eddie's Weekly Wine Column

When Erin and Shirlie first approached my agent with the idea of having me submit a weekly wine column for their website, I was excited. Wine is certainly one of the literally thousands of topics that I have so much knowledge to share. This column will finally provide the world an opportunity to read about the vast and virtually boundless insights my palate has to offer.

So while I was eager to jump at the idea, my agent informed me of one catch: no pay. “What?” I simply did not understand. I would bless this website and the world with my whimsical musings and creative observations on wine, and receive no payment. No seven-figure salary. No stock options. Why should I agree to this, I wondered? So I went on strike. With the Hollywood Writers’ Strike over, surely talk of a Bloggers’ Strike would garner loads of media attention.

But after a few weeks of picketing out in front of SmelltheBasil’s headquarters, it hit me. By refusing to contribute my columns, I was not just destroying SmelltheBasil, I was also harming the world by withholding this gift. Thus, I struck an interim agreement with SmelltheBasil’s owners, reserving the right to revisit my compensation package at a later date.

So what exactly will my column be about? Holding on. Because each week my column will rock your senses, poke holes in your world-view, and possibly cause sleepless leg syndrome if consumed with certain over-the-counter medicines. Yes ladies and gentlemen, I’d consult a physician before making a habit of reading this column each week because side affects will vary.

My column next week will discuss the wines I taste at the February 23, 2008 Culinary Expo in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. I just hope that I’ll be able to enjoy the food and wine without being constantly hounded by my fans for autographs and pictures. Next week I hope to share with you some new bargain wines I discover at the expo. What do I consider a bargain wine? Basically any bottle under $16. How did I come up with $16 being the threshold? Basically, I pulled that number straight out of my ass. (And you will notice in future columns, that’s a resource I’ll have to tap from time to time.)

So what should you drink to tide you over until next week’s column? Try a bottle of the 2005 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot, widely available around $11. This selection combines the no-nonsense signature of the merlot grape with a smooth finish so fine it will leave you longing for the days when wearing silk underwear wasn’t just for women. This wine will go well with all meats, but I’d keep it away from spicy foods. And at $11, it’s one of the best widely available bargain wines out there. Thank me later.

Cheers, Eddie

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Kitchen Sink Banana Muffin

What does one do with three past-their-prime, flaccid, and mealy bananas? These poor bananas came home from the grocery with youth and vigor and how did I reward them? By neglect! I shunned the bananas in favor of the peaches and apricots which are just starting to populate the stores in south Texas. I am, however, plagued with guilt. I scoured the internet for a recipe for a banana nut type of muffin. One which smacks of healthy, given how much chocolate I indulged in last week. I found something promising on and then, promptly added the kitchen sink to the recipe. This recipe is enormously forgiving. Don't have flax seed? No problem; leave it out. Want chocolate chips? Yum, these will only taste better. No sour cream? That's ok, maybe add an extra splash of milk to keep the muffins moist.

Banana Nut & Oat Muffins

Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 1991

makes 18 large muffins

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 tablespoon ground flax seed

3/4 cup oats

1/3 cup light brown sugar (packed)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup milk

1 & (1/2) tablespoons sour cream

2 whole eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 stick butter (melted)

3 ripe bananas, peeled, mashed

1 cup of nuts (any combination should work. I used hazlenuts and pecans)

To make:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin cups. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl: flours, flax, oats, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon. Whisk milk, sour cream, butter, eggs, and vanilla to blend in medium bowl. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Stir in bananas and nuts. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted into centers of muffins comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Lamb Biriyani

Growing up in an Indian household, I hated Indian food. All I wanted to eat was mac & cheese (out of a box, with loads of the powdered, flourescent orange "cheese") and hotdogs; you know, the kind of food I envisioned my American counterparts eating at every meal. I guess eating boxed, processed foods was my idea of assimilation. It took going away to college where I ate 3 bland, flavorless meals a day at the cafeteria for me to develop an appreciation for the complexities of spices and taste involved in Indian cooking. This dish I'm sharing with you is a traditional Indian meal that both my parents continue to make on special occasions. Biriyani is a layered casserole-style dish of rice, meat, (I've used lamb, but chicken is also very popular), and vegetables. I've tweaked this recipe over the years, and I hope that I took the best from both my parent's recipes. Indian food, initially, is time consuming, with the chopping of garlic, onions, ginger, serrano peppers, etc, but once it goes in the cooking pot, you can forget about it while it simmers itself into a cohesive bounty of deliciousness. Please don't let my lack of photography skills deter you from making this great dish!

Lamb Biriyani

serves 6

Step 1: Make marinade for lamb

2 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into chunks, excess fat cut away

Marinade (directions follow):

1 cup plain yogurt

2 tsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground tumeric

In a large bowl, combine lamb with marinade ingredients. Stir well to coat lamb with marinade. Refrigerate anywhere from 3 to 24 hours.

Step 2: Make Biriyani

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 medium onions, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 inch ginger knob, minced

2 serrano chili peppers, sliced very thin (optional)

Salt to taste

8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced

1 cup frozen peas

1 tsp garam masala * see note below

1/2 cup whole milk

pinch saffron

2 cups rice, preferably basmati rice, nearly cooked (see step 2 for clarification)

Garnish: cilantro, cashews or sliced almonds

To prepare Biriyani:

1. In a large, heavy pan, over low heat, melt butter and olive oil. Add onion and fry until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, and serrano peppers and fry an additional 5 minutes. Add lamb and marinade to onion-garlic-ginger mixture. Add salt (I used approx 2 tsp). Reduce heat to low and simmer until lamb is tender, approx 45 minutes. If liquid level gets too low during cooking, add water to pot in 1/2 cup amounts.

2. Prepare rice, using whatever method you favor. I use the microwave for fool-proof rice: 2 cups of basmati rice(rinsed), 3 cups of water, a large pinch of salt, a splash of olive oil into a covered dish x 12 minutes. For the biriyani, aim for nearly cooked rice because the rice will finish off in the pot with the lamb mixture.

3. Add 1/2 cup of water to lamb mix, add mushrooms, mostly cooked rice, and frozen peas.

4. In a coffee mug, heat up 1/2 cup whole milk to boiling in microwave. Add pinch saffron. Steep x 15 minutes. Add this hot milk mixture to lamb (I poured it through a sieve because of the "skin" which formed after heating the milk). Add garam masala.

5. Stir everything together, and simmer for approx 15 additional minutes. Make sure the rice, peas, and mushrooms are soft. Garnish with nuts, cilantro.

**store bought garam masala is fine to use. However, if you are feeling adventurous, you can make your own mixture. The garam masala I've used is made from The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl.

In a spice grinder, grind into a powder:

1 tablespoon Cardamom seeds (I use less, approx 1.5 tsp)

1 (2 inch) piece cimmamon stick, broken into pieces

1 tsp whole cumin seeds

1 tsp whole cloves

3/4 tsp black peppercorns

1/4 nutmeg

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Spinach and Cauliflower Gratin

My husband doesn’t eat meat. Seafood, but no meat. Since most one pot meals are then off the table, I am always looking for new ways of getting veggies to the table. A friend at work came into my office recently and told me about a fabulous gratin she had the night before at a dinner party. As far as I’m concerned, anything with cream on top gets an extra 5 points in my book. So, did some investigating and found this Spinach and Cauliflower Gratin in Julia Childs The Way to Cook. The steps in the recipe spanned at least three pages, so I was thinking this would take forever to prepare. But really, there are four simple steps and by tweaking the recipe you can have it put together and into the oven in less than 20 minutes. That’s my type of cooking. When the gratin came out of the oven bubbling with creamy goodness, I knew this was a winner. It was absolutly delicious. Even my husband said he would like to see this come across the dinner table again. It was so good that I ate it for breakfast and lunch the next day.
The recipe feeds 4-6. Can definitely be made ahead of time, even the day before, just adjust the cooking time if the gratin goes into the oven straight from the fridge.

Spinach and Cauliflower Gratin
1 head cauliflower

2 tbs. olive oil
5 cups chopped spinach.
½ c. chopped shallots (or white onion)
Ground nutmeg

2 ½ tbs. unsalted butter
3 ½ tbs. flour
2 cups hot milk
Salt and pepper
¾ cup grated swiss or gruyere cheese

1. Cut cauliflower head into smallish florets. Steam in a bamboo basket or steamer for 3-5 minutes. Do not overcook! Remember the cauliflower will continue to cook in the oven. Set aside
2. Melt olive oil in medium skillet. Sauté onion till translucent (7-9 minutes). Toss in spinach and cook till spinach has wilted. Remove from heat. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Set Aside.
3. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Cook for 2-3 minutes while continuously stirring. Pour in ½ c. hot milk. Whisk vigorously to make get rid of any lumps. Pour in remaining milk and bring mixture to a simmer. Let simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat, stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
4. In a 6 x 8 baking pan, combine spinach mixture and 3 tbs. of cheese sauce. Stir together and smooth into an even layer on bottom on pan. Arrange cauliflower on top of spinach. Pour remaining cheese sauce on top.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes in a 425 degree oven. Remove when cheese sauce is bubbly and top has lightly browned.

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