Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Butter Almond Cake

I haven't been cooking lately as I have been teaching in Amsterdam and there's no kitchen in my hotel room - unfortunately. But I have to say that there's no shortage of good restaurants and I've already been to the grocery store to pick up some food to bring home. I bought some curry ketchup and some of my favorite Dutch waffle cookies - Stroopwafels. I was given another Dutch cookie to try by my organizer - Boterkoek. The exact translation is Butter Cake, but these were little cookie squares of dense, sweet, buttery goodness. They were really very sweet, but I was craving sugar as it seems to help my jetlag. Needless to say, they are not going to make it home as I ate them all while drinking lots of tea. She was kind enough to supply me with the recipe from her mother. It was remarkably similar to an Almond Butter Cake that I make in a round cake pan and cut into wedges. It surprised me how different they taste and it appears that it is simply a matter of changing the extract that you use. That helped me adapt the recipe to American measuring standards and oven temperature. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. They are going to become a standard in my cookie list!


1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 stick butter - 3/4 cup melted
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
Optional - 1 teaspoon sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter a 9 inch square pan or for thinner and less moist cookies use a 9 x 11 inch pan.

In mixing bowl, cream melted butter with sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add in flour and salt and stir until thorougly combined. Spread into pan - batter will be very thick - and sprinkle with additional sugar if desired. Bake for about 30 - 35 minutes or until just barely golden on top unless using larger pan - then check after 20 minutes. Cool and cut into squares to seve.

To make this into Butter Almond Cake - simply use 1 teaspoon of almond extract instead (but I usually add a 1/2 tsp vanilla too), put into an 8" or 9" cake pan and sprinkle with a handful of sliced almonds on top. This is a wonderful cake that I serve in wedges with strawberries or raspberries on the side for a lovely summer dessert.

Five Element Analysis

These cookies are very sweet so they naturally belong to the Earth Element more than any other element and the dense texture contributes too. But, the wheat flour adds the Wood Element and the eggs contribute the Water Element. Butter as a derivative of milk belongs to the Metal Element. The Fire Element is only represented by the bit of vanilla extract so serve with some tea and coffee. If making the almond cake, the almond adds even more Earth and serving fruit like strawberries or raspberries amps the Fire Element. Surprisingly, this sweet little snack ends up being more balanced than expected!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Samosas and Boulani

My older son loves ethnic food as much as I do and recently requested that I make Boulani. We used to have these at our Afghani friend's house when he was a child in California and has never forgotten how much he liked them. I liked them too and also appreciated them because it was one of the only ways I got my son to eat spinach! These are usually either made from potato or spinach and use coriander (cilantro) and green onions as flavorings. So, I pulled out the recipe I was once given and decided to make them. However, I put the potatoes and spinach together and liked them even better. I've always thought that they were an interesting variation on Chinese dumplings and Indian Samosas.

Actually, almost every culture wraps things in dough and makes some kind of turnover with the fillings varying depending on the local ingredients. I've always loved eating things with my hands and appreciate small bites of things - "taste treats" as one of my friends calls them. As I had extra potoatos and spinach left over, I decided to use some Indian spices and made a batch of spicy Samosas too. I used Wonton wrappers and made them all small although my friend traditionally used Eggroll wrappers for the Boulani and made bigger ones. Of course, using Wonton wrappers isn't very authentic to Indian cuisine and if you are a purist, you may want to make your own wheat dough. But, I really like the convenience of the premade wrappers and the way they crisp up so well. Both the Boulani and the Samosas would be great appetizers for a party. We couldn't decide which ones we liked better. My son likes to dip things into sauce and he used an Indian chutney as I didn't have any yogurt to make a yogurt sauce (yogurt, garlic, mint and salt). But I like them plain as I so appreciate the taste of the spices. Let me know what you think.

Spinach and Potato Boulani

1 bunch green onions
1 bunch fresh spinach
1 bunch of cilantro
2 medium potatoes - preboiled in their skin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 package of Egg Roll Wrappers or 2 packages of Wonton Wrappers
Vegetable Oil
Small bowl of water

Wash green onions, trim ends and slice into small rounds. Wash and drain spinach. Pick off large stems and chop into small pieces. Wash cilantro and pull of leaves and chop finely. Mix together in a small bowl with spices. Peel potatoes and dice and mix into vegetable mixture.

In frying pan, heat 1 Tablespoon of oil and add vegetable mixture and cook only until spinach wilts slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let cool.
When filling is cool, lay out a piece of wax paper and place wonton wrapper down like a diamond . Put in about 1heaping teaspoon of filling in one half at the point closest to you. Wet the wrapper all along the edges and fold over to make a triangle. When you have enough for one panful start cooking or wrappers will start to stick to the paper. Repeat.
Heat 1 Tablespoon of oil in frying pan over medium heat and place Boulani in pan and brown on each side. This only takes a few minutes. Remove to Plate covered with a paper towel. Cook the next batch. Serve with dipping sauces of your choice.


2 medium potatoes - boiled in their skin
1 bunch spinach
1 small onion chopped
1 serrano chili, deseeded and minced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves minced
1 Tablespoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
2 Tablespoons of Butter
Salt and Pepper to taste
Small bowl of water
Vegetable Oil for cooking

Wash spinach and remove stems, chop into smaller pieces. Peel potatoes and cut into small pieces about 1/4 inch. Heat frying pan and add cumin and turmeric and cook stirring until you smell their frangrance and they darken slightly. Add the 2 Tablespoons of butter, onions, chili, ginger and garlic and cook until the onion is soft. Add potatoes and spinach and cook until spinach wilts. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool.
When filling is cool, lay out a piece of wax paper and place wonton wrapper down like a diamond . Put in about 1heaping teaspoon of filling in one half at the point closest to you. Wet the wrapper all along the edges and fold over to make a triangle. When you have enough for one panful start cooking or wrappers will start to stick to the paper.
Heat 1 Tablespoon of oil in frying pan. Add enough Samosas to fill pan leaving space to turn them. Brown them a few minutes on each side until they are golden brown. Remove them to a plate covered with a paper towel. Serve with dipping sauces of your choice.

Five Element Analysis

These are snacks or appetizers and not meant to be a full meal, so other dishes should be added to create a Five Element balance. In the Boulani and the Samosas, the potatoes bring in the Earth Element, the spinach adds the Wood Element as does the wheat flour of the wrappers. The Fire Element is represented by the spicy Seranno Chilies and the Metal Element is represented well by all of the spices and the onion and garlic. The only element that is deficient is the Water Element so serving these snacks with some kind of bean dip or eggplant dip would be a wonderful way to create a balanced Five Element spread. And don't forget to serve with tea for more Fire.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Vietnamese Crepe

I primarily cook at home. So, when I do dine out, it is usually to an expensive restaurant for a special occassion or the kinds of restaurants that serve food that I don't normally cook. That leads me to seek out the best little ethnic restaurants and I try to order something different every time. Of course, I have my favorite dishes in every cuisine, but I so love the adventure of tasting something new. I am occassionally disappointed, but I think that experimenting is just so fun! From these ethnic eateries, I often come home with a desire to make a certain dish that I really enjoyed. I then look through my huge cookbook collection or Google the dish and look for recipes from places like Epicurious, the Food Network, Food & Wine, etc. Sometimes I get sent to other wonderful food blogs. I usually gather several recipes that I think I will like and then start experimenting. I think it is important to imagine tasting the dish while you are reading the recipe and that can help eliminate many of the recipes from consideration. I've never really been able to make anything exactly from a recipe anyway except when I am baking - because that is chemistry.

One of my current favorite dishes is the Vietnamese Crepe called Banh Xeo or Happy Crepes. I've had a wonderful version at Silk in Portland and good versions at many other Vietnamese restaurants. It is a crepe made with mung beans, rice flour and coconut milk and usually involves pork and shrimp. It is served with lettuce, mint, cilantro and/or Thai Basil and Nuoc Cham sauce. This dish has wonderful contrasting textures - the crepe is warm and soft with crisp edges, the lettuce and herbs are cold and crunchy and the salty, savory, tangy and sweet flavors of the sauce together make my taste buds very happy! I'm allergice to shrimp so I'm leaving it out of the recipe. If you want to add it back in, just substitute shrimp for half of the pork. And of course, it can be made vegetarian and it is gluten free too. Here's the version I finally came up with that my sons and I liked best. The crepe recipe is adapted from Charles Phan of Slanted Door (recipe from Food & Wine Magazine) and Epricurious. The Nuoc Cham recipe was created from trial and error.

Vietnamese Crepes


1/2 cup dried mung beans
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk from a can - stirred first
2 cups white rice flour
1 cup cornstarch
4 cups water
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon salt

Soak the dried mung beans in warm water for about 30 minutes. Drain and put them in a food processor. Add coconut mil, rice flour, cornstarch, water, scallions and turmeric. Let the crepe batter rest for about 20 minutes or even overnight to loosen the starches.


1 to 1 1/2 pounds of boneless pork, cut into 1/4 inch pieces sprinkled with fish sauce and a little sugar
1 small onion sliced very thin
1 cup thinly sliced button mushrooms
3 cups beansprouts


1 head of Red Leaf Lettuce - leaves separated, washed and dried
Handful of Mint leaves, Clantro and Thai Basil (usually served on the stem)

Nuoc Cham Sauce

1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup or more light brown sugar (you can also use white sugar and I usually add more)
1 Thai or Serrano Chili sliced into little rings (use 1/2 if you don't like it to too hot)
1 large or 2 small cloves of minced garlic

Mix sugar into hot water and stir to dissolve. Add in lime juice, fish sauce, chili and garlic. Taste for desired sweetness and let cool. Pour into separate small serving bowls

To Cook:

Heat oven to 200 degrees and put a large baking sheet in to warm

Using a nonstick 8" skillet, add one teaspoon of oil and heat. Add a few pieces of pork, mushrooms and a few slivers of onion and saute until pork loses its' pinkness. Pour in 1/2 cup of crepe batter, tilting and swirling the pan until crepe coats the bottom of the pan thinly and rises up the side of the pan. Let it cook for a moment until the edges become drier, then add the beansprouts. Cover and let steam cook for about 2 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown. Fold in half and put onto baking sheet to keep warm while making remaining crepes.

To Serve:

Place crepe onto plate and garnich with several lettuce leaves, a small amount of Mint leaves, Cilantro and Thai basil. Give each person a small bowl of Nuoc Cham to dip. To eat, tear crepe into pieces along with herbs and wrap in lettuce leaves. Dip into Nuoc Cham sauce and enjoy!

Five Element Analysis

The Mung Beans, mushrooms and sugar are from the Earth Element. The coconut milk and rice flour are from the Metal Element along with the lightly cooked onion, scallions, mint, cilantro, Thai basil, garlic and turmeric. The pork is from the Water Element as is the fish sauce. The Fire Element is represented by the Thai or Serrano Chili and the lettuce. The Wood Element is represented by the sour Lime Juice. All in all, it is a very balanced little dish!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Vegetable Beef Soup with Barley

I just returned from visiting my mother as it was her birthday on April Fool's Day. But, don't ask me how old she is as she won't tell you and I'm not supposed to either. It was actually quite a busy trip as I saw lots of relatives and I came back quite worn out. It was surprisingly cold and rainy when I left LA and I came back to the cold and rain back here in Seattle too. That means it is soup time. Nothing is cozier or more nurturing to me than a big bowl of soup. You are probably starting to notice a trend and you would be right - I make a lot of soup! When I am tired, it needs to come together all in one cooking session and shouldn't take very long to cook. That brings me back to one of my childhood favorites: Vegetable Beef Soup with Barley.

My mother didn't make what we called American soups and my sister developed quite a fondness for Campbell's Vegetable Beef Soup. So when I was about twelve, I set out to make her a homemade version. We all loved it so much that I've been making it ever since. I love cutting up all the vegetables into really small pieces so that everything is around the same size as the barley. That's a Chinese thing, but it also makes sense as you get a little bit of everything in each spoonful that way. Be sure to add that little bit of sugar as it really helps improve the taste of canned tomatoes. You can add more of less broth depending on how thick you like your soup. My father always liked his soups with a lot of broth so the bread or crackers would have something to soak up. This soup is hearty and filling and soothing at the same time. And it's fast and easy and delicious! I make this soup a lot for my apprenticeship students and is another frequently requested recipe. Serve with saltine crackers or my favorite - garlic bread.

Vegetable Beef Soup with Barley

1 pound extra lean ground beef (you can also use ground turkey)
1 large onion chopped
2 carrots chopped
2 celery stalks chopped
7 - 8 cups beef broth (Substitute with chicken broth if using turkey)
One 14.5 oz can finely diced tomatoes
½ cup pearl barley
1 cup green beans cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Brown hamburger with onions, carrots and celery in large soup pot, breaking up the meat into small pieces. Add broth, tomatoes and barley. Bring to a boil. Add bay leaf, basil and sugar. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Five Element Analysis

As colorful as this soup is, you can guess that it is pretty balanced and here's why: Soup by its very nature is a Water Element food. But, the beef broth and hamburger bring in the Earth Element as does the barley, cooked onion and carrots. The tomatoes add the Fire Element and the herbs bring in a touch of the Metal Element. The green beans bring in a little of the Wood Element. Adding crackers would add more of the Wood Element from the wheat and if you choose garlic bread, you bring in the Wood Element plus more Metal from the garlic. That little addition makes it a very balanced meal!