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Posts Tagged ‘ginger’

It came on as ferociously as promised and effectively shut down a large portion of the state. What a great metaphor, if you choose to see it that way. The Christmas crazies have taken hold and yet, no matter what your plan, be it a holiday party, a shopping trip, weekly youth group meetings or even dinner out, Mother Nature said ‘Not a chance, bud’ and forced us to stay in, stay warm and just sit, quiet and calmly, during what amounts to some of the nuttiest days of the year. The snow swirled around us, the wind howled and we took a small step away from the frantic pre-holiday race. Honestly, should we be forced to do this every year, I wouldn’t be one to complain.

After a few days of relative inactivity, I bundled myself up to take a chilly hike, ever aware of the need to move, to get the blood flowing and to whittle away not only the pesky excess on the body, but the loud and clamoring voices in my head that I often can’t shut off. I also wanted to see the winter landscape, to find the moments of clarity that come from a fresh snowfall when the hushed silence around us is marked only by the squeak of your boots. I needed the cold, and the cardio output. It helped immensely.

Christmas is having a hard time reaching me this year. Not particularly sure why, but given that the last 12 months have been challenging, it would suffice to say that getting festive may be the last thing on my mind. But a part of me wants to drench myself in the spirit, hauling out the decorations in an attempt to impress my mind with the full blown effects of the holiday. There is still plenty to be happy and excited about this season. We are in high anticipation of a new member imminently joining the already large clan on Mike’s side. This Christmas will be more beautiful when sharing it with someone so brand new and perfect, a simple reminder of the true reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Fresh promise. New hope. I should be eagerly awaiting the end of December, the turn of a new calendar page, a fresh start to another 12 month saga. I should, really. And I am. But every year is the same; I fight the despicable commercialism of Christmas, the vapid holiday music that is everywhere, and the rush, rush, rush of everyone thinking that somehow there is perfection wrapped in a package, tied up in a bow. One year when I was in college, my cousin took a trip to Europe over Christmas. I remember thinking she was crazy to go away that time of year, but now, looking back, I almost wish I could do just that. Part of me wants to just jump from here to the 31st.

My kitchen repertoire during this quick cold snap turned towards the warm and comfort angle- thick soups, pastas, a delicious meatloaf. It’s a return to the familiar, like the chill wind outside. I don’t complain about cold. It’s inevitable here in Minnesota. Dress warm, keep moving. You’ll be fine. Filling tummies with comfort and warmth is just another step in the process.

This golden and fragrant Spiced Quinoa made it’s way to our table on a dragging Friday, the end of another long week. With the warming spices of cumin and ginger- easily my favorite duo in the kitchen-  the quinoa was rich in flavor, soothing to look at and warm in the belly. It easily took us from busy day to quiet evening, where all I wanted was my couch, my PJ’s and a good movie to engage my mind. It smelled fabulous. And for those frantic days ahead, this could be the easiest and least demading thing you put your energy towards. I spent more time measuring out the spices than doing anything else.

Spiced Quinoa
from the Taste for Life test kitchens

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 t. each ground ginger, cumin, coriander and turmeric
1 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 c. boiling water
Fresh cilantro or mint, if desired

In a medium saucepan, warm the oil and brown the spices for several minutes, stirring frequently. Add the quinoa and stir to coat with the spices. Pour in the boiling water, make sure it’s simmering and then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and allow to simmer, undisturbed, until the water is fully absorbed and little holes appear on the top of the quinoa. Gently pull back the grain to check for any remaining liquid but do not stir. When all the liquid is absorbed, turn off the heat and allow the pan to sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Fluff grain with a fork before serving, and top with fresh cilantro or mint if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

KATE’S NOTES:
It’s imperative NOT to stir quinoa when it is cooking. Like rice, it will get mushy if disturbed in the cooking process. One cup of the grain cooks in about 15 minutes or so at a gentle simmer. Quinoa is a perfect alternative to a rice side dish. We topped this option with chopped pepitas (pumpkin seeds). Soy nuts are also good with it, as are chopped almonds or cashews.

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Let me tell you about my nephew Matt, or as he likes to refer to himself  ‘my second son’.

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Matt is nine, with light red hair and an adorable grin that’s going through its ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ phase, losing his baby teeth and replacing them with Chiklet chompers. He has a personality that just lights up a room. Last summer, he spent so much time at my house hanging out with Griffin, sleeping over and basically insinuating himself into our lives that it stopped surprising me to find him sprawled on the sofa with my own child, coming out of the bathroom in the early morning hours or pulling up a chair at mealtime. He became a permanent fixture, and when September rolled around, I missed him like crazy.

When Matt was about three, we were at our lake home for a perfect summer weekend and all the kids were outside playing Flashlight Tag as the sky darkened. On our screen porch, Matt’s mom Aimee pulled out a bundt cake, a stack of plates, forks and a big knife, and as she began cutting into the cake, the kids came racing inside to gather round the giant wooden picnic table that dominates the room. Matt climbed onto one of the benches, saw what his Mom was doing and loudly exclaimed “CAKE!?? What’s happening??”

cake_whats_happening

See, he always associated cake with celebration, and this was just another typical summer weekend for our extended family. But the sight of that cake was enough to send him into shivers, with the wonder of his age bringing forth a now most cherished family quote. Rarely does a real celebratory event pass where someone doesn’t exclaim “Cake! What’s happening!?” when dessert is being served.

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I’m not one to make a lot of cake. Special occasions aside, cake is just too tempting in this house, and should there be a plate of delicious moist cake hiding out under the domed cake holder, it slowly gets whittled away through furtive slips of a knife, while telltale crumbs are disposed of as sweet tooth cravings are duly satisfied. My family has no willpower. And neither do I. It’s best that we just leave cake to those special occasions where it can be appreciated in a quick burst of sugar joy and then forgotten. I think it leads to a better cake appreciation factor.

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On a whole other level, cakes that fall outside the ordinary of the flour, butter and sugar world have quite a different effect on me, hence the siren pull of this Nectarine Ginger Cake. With an unusual (at least for cake) recipe, lots of ripe fruit and a one-bowl and pan deal, this was a cake that I knew wouldn’t languish under the cake dome once we got our cake-ness fill,  especially given the fact that the recipe mentions this being a perfect breakfast, snack AND dessert option. Cake with multiple personalities should be on everyone’s To-Do list.

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Who am I to argue with lemon zest, olive oil, crystallized ginger- this is cake?- not to mention using one bowl, getting to cut into fragrant nectarines and all that finished off with an aroma of baking cake that rose from my oven like a treasure trove slowly displaying its riches. I’m so there. Even with a few fundamental flaws in the recipe (which are totally correctable and well worth a repeat- I’ll spare you the same issues) this cake was a hit.

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Now, admittedly, I’ve never made a cake with olive oil and whoa, tell me why I waited so long? That won’t be happening again. The subtle flavor of this moist and tender cake was only a part of it’s beauty; this cake sang like the Spring days outside my window. It was fresh and incredibly light with a nice browned crunchy top full of chewy nectarine slices and tiny dots of candied ginger. And about that breakfast option? I might just have to pour another cup of coffee and check that out. I mean, you need all the exquisite details, don’t you? I would be a bad blogger to leave them out.

So what did go wrong with this, as I hinted to? For one thing, again I didn’t trust my culinary instinct and when I read some things in the directions that just didn’t sound right, I went with them anyway and had some issues. The temperature called for was 375°, which to me seemed a bit hot for a cake. Most cake recipes I’ve used require 350°. The cake pan called for was way too small, and I knew it but didn’t scrape out the batter into a bigger one. At least I put the pan on a foil lined cookie sheet. First instinct ignored, and I fumed as I watched it bubble over. Secondly, it called for 5 large nectarines, four of them diced. Folks, that’s a lot of fruit, and this cake needed a 9″ pan. I used barely four and got a super fruit-filled result which is fine; the snack of the leftover fruit held off my cake-hunger, but if you’re making cake- that fluffy concoction of flour and sugar- it’s good to actually have something cake-like in the finished results.

Other than that, the recipe is indeed very simple. While it calls for ground ginger in the batter, I think that fresh grated would taste better. I detected little ginger taste in the end result. The lemon zest is amazing, people, and do yourself a favor; slip a few tablespoons of juice into the batter. Your taste buds will high-five you in joy.

Nectarine Ginger Cake
(with modifications already made)

Preheat oven to 350°.  For your cake pan options, the original recipe called for a 9-inch round cake pan with a removable bottom. This is entirely too small so don’t do it, unless your pan is higher than normal. I started to use an angel food cake pan and decided against it. Then I kicked myself as the cake poured out while baking. A 9 x 13 would work well too, with a slightly shorter end result. Whatever pan you use, spray it and sprinkle a little sugar in to coat.

Cake:

2 eggs
1/3 c. milk
1/3 c. good quality olive oil
1 lemon, zested completely and half of it squeezed
2/3 c. sugar
1  T. fresh ginger, grated
1 1/2 c. AP or cake flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
4 large nectarines, three diced small and one for slicing
1/4 c. crystallized ginger, minced or sliced

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk and oil until emulsified. Add in all the lemon zest and juice and blend well. Stir in the sugar and fresh ginger. Seperately, blend flour, baking powder and salt then stir into wet ingredients until just barely incorporated. Fold in diced fruit gently.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Arrange nectarine slices on top and scatter crystallized ginger over that. Sprinkle with about two tablespoons of sugar, either white or something fancier. I think raw sugar would be awesome. I’ve been gifted with a divine pistachio sugar, and I’m almost inventing excuses to use it.

Bake until cake top is nicely golden brown and cake springs back when touched- about 45-60 minutes (See Notes). Be careful if you touch the cake top- the candied ginger gets really  hot! The toothpick method will work as well.  Allow to cool, or serve warm.

CAKE NOTES:
Depending on the freshness and juice level of your nectarines, this cake’s cooking time could vary. Be sure to check starting around the 45 minute mark. If the top is browning too much, place some foil over it.

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Ginger Panko Salmon from Food and Wine magazine, October 2006

3 T. unsalted butter
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 T. finely minced fresh ginger
1/2 c. panko crumbs

4 6-oz salmon fillets, with skin
2 T. fresh lime juice
1 T. dijon mustard

In a small skillet, melt butter. Add shallot, garlic and ginger, saute until shallot is clear, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in panko to coat with butter, then heat gently, stirring often until panko is lightly browned and fragrant. Remove from heat and spread on plate to cool. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Mix mustard and lime juice together until smooth. Brush thickly onto salmon fillets, then press crumb mixture evenly over top. Broil, grill or roast until cooked through.

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