Culture + Food
In honor of Germany’s recent World Cup win we made Black Forest Cupcakes.
Black Forest cake is the quintessential dessert of the southwest Germany home to Schwarzwald (yes, Black Forest in German). It’s known as the setting for many of the Brothers Grimm’s collected fairy tales with its rolling hills that dip into valley towns and farmland along with crystal-clear lakes. To sample some of the areas culinary sweets we visited the Alemannen Hof along the banks of Lake Titisee.
The traditional Black Forest cake has a slim, spongy chocolate cake that’s enveloped by fresh, whipped cream that’s dotted with cherries that have been soaked in liquor. Since I don’t drink alcohol opted for a slice of thick, creamy fruit torte while my teen had the apple crumb cake and my youngest the apple strudel. Still, the flavors of dark cherries, chocolate, and whipped cream was one I wanted to play around with once I was back stateside. And with the German soccer team’s win it was the perfect excuse.
German cakes tend to be drier than American confections so I made my cake batter moister but tried to pump up the cherry flavor by using both chopped dark Morello cherries and the juice from the cherry jar (available at Trader Joe’s) in both the cake and the frosting. I also made another addition – fruit vinegar. The combination of cherry juice and a dash of sourness from the vinegar in the frosting cuts the sweetness and gives the cupcakes a more complex, rich flavor.
Servings: Make 24 regular-sized cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsps. baking soda
2 tsp. black cocoa powder (opt.)
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup unsweetened red grape juice, dark cherry juice (like Trader Joe’s Dark Morello Cherries), or hot coffee
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup dark morello cherries
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 stick (1/2 cup) real butter, at room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup dark morello cherry juice
1/2 tsp. fruit vinegar (opt. like raspberry)
2 tbsp. finely chopped dark morello cherries
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line your muffin tins with paper muffin wrappers.
- Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, black cocoa (if using), and sugar in a large bowl.
- In another bowl, use a blender to combine the vegetable oil, morello dark cherry juice, milk, eggs and extracts. Once combined add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients.
- Add the cherries and chocolate to the mixing bowl and blend until fully combined.
- Lightly coat the muffin papers with cooking spray before adding 2-3 tablespoons of batter to each one.
- Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.
- Cool in the refrigerator.
- In a mixing bowl whip the butter until smooth.
- Alternate adding 2 cups powdered sugar and a little bit of milk and the extracts until the frosting starts to become thick.
- Then, add the dark cherry juice gradually. Once the frosting is almost to the right consistency add the fruit vinegar to give the frosting a hint of tartness (opt.).
- Whip in the finely chopped cherries if you’re using them.
- Place the frosting in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm and then frost the cupcakes.
I use a french tip attachment to my pastry bag to swirl the frosting on top of each cupcake (using a knife is fine, too). Dust with cocoa powder and a chocolate chunk.
We made two types of taquitos last night – shredded beef and mashed potato. Guess which ones got gobbled up first?
The crisp outside of corn tortilla pairs perfectly with the smooth filling of the mashed potato. Plus, you can pump up the potatoes with whatever flavors your family likes – chopped green chiles, corn, loads of cheese, fresh cilantro… Yes, if you have leftovers in the fridge this is the time to dig through and add in a few to your mashed potatoes before you roll them into the corn tortillas.
A few taquito-making tips:
- Don’t overdo it on the filling or else your taquitos will explode (yes, hot oil and filling all over!) when you fry them
- Use a cast iron pan, if you have one, to heat the oil and then fry your taquitos – cast iron pans hold in the heat better than other types
- Frying isn’t the only way to get your taquitos crisp you can also bake them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit on baking sheet coated with cooking spray (they won’t get quite as crisp)
- Try flour tortillas (called flautas when they’re rolled and fried like this) instead of corn
- Get your kids involved – they’re usually great at rolling taquitos
Servings: 15 taquitos
3 medium-sized potatoes
1 1/2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro, opt.
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp. cumin, opt.
15 corn tortillas
Oil for frying
- Peel potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces and add to a pot of salted water.
- Place the pot on the oven and bring the water to a boil. Cook potatoes until soft.
- Using a hand-held blender, whip together the potatoes, butter, and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste (and cumin, cilantro if you’re using them). Blend until smooth.
- Over medium-high heat either on a gas grill top or a skillet, toast the corn tortillas and then immediately put them into a tortilla warmer or wrap them in a clean kitchen towel. This steams the tortillas and softens them so they’re more pliable.
- Spread 2 tbsp. potato mixture onto the steamed corn tortillas. Roll up the tortillas starting with one end and working to the other.
- Place the rolled tortillas on a plate while you finish preparing the rest. Finish rolling all of the tortillas.
- In a heavy-bottomed pan bring about 1/4″ oil to medium-high heat. Place the taquitos 5 at a time in the hot oil with the seam side faced down.
- Fry the taquitos until crisp and then flip to the other side – about 3 minutes. Cook on the other side for 3 minutes.
- Remove the first set of tortillas and cook the other two batches.
- Serve covered with cheese, shredded lettuce, salsa, and chopped tomatoes.
One of my favorite Lebanese restaurants churns out smooth, creamy hummus that’s unlike anything I’ve been able to make at home. Until now. The secret I’ve found is foregoing the canned chickpeas – you know, the ones that smell like cat food when you open them?
In playing around with making hummus from scratch I discovered that I was usually adding extra ingredients – more and more garlic, olive oil, and seasoning to cover up the tin taste of the canned chickpeas. When you make hummus from dried beans there’s no off taste to cover up, the beans are flavorful all by themselves. Making hummus with dried chickpeas doesn’t involve many more steps, just a little more planning. Plus, a bag of dried chickpeas costs a lot less than buying cans!
Tips for hummus success:
- Don’t use flavored olive oil – I tried with with garlic oil and the flavor overpowers the chickpeas
- Do blend in extra ingredients, like roasted red pepper, once you’ve made your hummus (although the plain variety is the best when you make it from dried beans)
- Hummus becomes fluffier in texture on day #2
- Chickpeas cook more evenly in a smaller crockpot but go ahead and use what you have on hand
- Do double or triple this recipe!
Yield: 1 1/4 cups
1 cup dried chickpeas (usually available at the grocers either by the canned beans or in the Mexican food section)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. tahini (in a pinch you can substitute 1 tbsp. peanut butter plus 1/2 tbsp. each more olive oil and more reserved liquid)
1/2 clove garlic or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1-4 tbsp. reserved liquid from the beans
1/2 juice from a fresh lemon
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1-2 tsp. salt (sea salt, preferred)
- Place the dried chickpeas in a crockpot and cover with water – about 1″ above the beans. Soak overnight.
- Rinse the chickpeas and empty the water from the crockpot. Place the rinsed chickpeas back into the crockpot and cover again with water – about 1″ above the beans. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or until the beans are tender (it’s okay to overcook the beans a bit). *Add in 1/2 tsp. salt halfway through cooking.
- Ready the food processor! Drain the cooked chickpeas, reserving the extra liquid.
- Put the lid onto the food processor and place the oil into the dispensing funnel (if you have one; alternatively place the olive oil in with the beans before processing) and pulse the beans until they become mushy.
- Remove the lid and add the tahini and seasonings; blend again. Add salt to taste.
- Adjust the consistency of the hummus with the reserved liquid. If you like a smoother consistency by all means add more – if chunky is your style, you’re done.
- To serve place the hummus, in a bowl and drizzle with extra olive oil and roasted pumpkin seeds or sprinkle with smoked paprika or cayenne pepper. Last night I just put a big pile of hummus on each kid’s plate.
Tres Leches translates into three milks cake. With nearly the consistency of a pudding cake, the dense cake batter is designed to soak up a sweetened milk glaze that you pour over it before after baking and before adding the frosting.
I first sampled the traditional vanilla tres leches not in Mexico, but La Crosse, Wisconsin of all places. In a tiny Mexican restaurant frequented by college students and foodies our server brightened when we ordered the tres leches. The owner of Iguana’s Mexican Street Cafe made it from scratch and took great pride in serving us a huge slice. I’ve been thinking about making it ever since. That was July.
I wanted to amp up the flavor of the cake so of course I thought it needed chocolate. I found a version of Chocolate Rum Cake from Chow that lead me through how to add chocolate to both the cake batter and the tres leches glaze. But I also wanted to temper some of the tres leches glaze, which can become too sweet for my taste, with another ingredient. I found it in coconut milk – a great stand-in for much of the heavy cream and some of the sweetened condensed milk. I just couldn’t stop there. I also added dark cocoa powder into the whipped frosting for a rich dessert that really is more like Cinco Leches – sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, heavy cream, and milk chocolate chips. I usually opt for semi-sweet but this creamy dessert works better with a milky chocolate.
Both of the recipes I combined made the tres leches cake as a layer cake. I like it better in a casserole dish – it’s easier to make that way and serves more people. If you want a layered cake go ahead but your cake may not soak up all the tres leches glaze, which was another reason I went with the dish – I didn’t want to lose any of the sauce!
For the cake
¾ cup water
2 tsp. dark cocoa powder (opt. I used black onyx)
½ cup cocoa powder
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ¼ cups sugar
5 large egg yolks
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)
8 large egg whites
¾ tsp. cream of tartar
For the tres leches
4 ounces chocolate (milk chocolate chips work well)
1 cup coconut milk
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)
For the frosting
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp. dark cocoa powder
1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)
For the garnish
Shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
Mini chocolate chips
For the cake
- Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously coat the inside of a 9” x 13” casserole dish with cooking spray.
- Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, ½ tsp. salt, and ½ cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar in a large mixing bowl.
- In another bowl whisk the egg yolks, oil, and extracts until combined. Whisk dark cocoa powder into the water right in the measuring cup and then whisk into the egg mixture.
- Whisk the egg yolk mixture into the flour until combined. (Lots of whisking!)
- In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites, ½ tsp. salt, and the cream of tartar in a bowl until the egg whites become frothy, about 2 minutes. (Yes, you’re essentially making a meringue.) Gradually add the rest of the sugar, ¾ cup, into the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.
- Working in three batches, add 1/3 of the egg whites to the flour-egg yolk mixture and fold together until there are no white streaks. Follow the same procedure with the rest of the egg whites.
- Pour the batter into the casserole dish and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Test to see if the cake is done by putting a toothpick into the center – if it comes out clean take the cake out of the oven. Cool the cake for 10 minutes.
For the tres leches glaze
- In a large, glass measuring bowl, melt together the chocolate and ¼ cup heavy cream in the microwave on medium-high heat for 90 seconds. Stir until smooth.
- Allow to cool slightly.
- Whisk in coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, extracts.
- Pour 1/3 of the tres leches glaze onto the cake. Wait 10 minutes and then pour the next 1/3. Follow the same process with the rest of the glaze.
- Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or, if possible, overnight.
For the whipped topping
- With a hand-held mixer beat the whipping cream until frothy. Add the coconut milk and powdered sugar to the whipping cream until stiff, about 3 minutes.
- Add in the extracts and cocoa powder and whip 30 more seconds.
- Spread the whipped topping onto the cake using a spatula.
- Optional toppings – shredded coconut and mini chocolate chips.
- Refrigerate 1 more hour.
- On a large plate use chocolate sauce (such as Hershey’s syrup – it’s for the design not the flavor) and make a swirl shape on the plate.
- Use the extra tres leches sauce in the pan to do another swirl of sauce.
- Cut the cake into square pieces.
*Not a coconut fan? The coconut flavor in this recipe is subtle. Nix the coconut extract and the coconut milk in the whipped topping if you don’t like coconut. Keep it in the tres leches and you probably won’t notice it. Or, just go ahead and use all heavy cream instead of any coconut milk.
Every year my mom would have each of my brothers and sisters eat at least one black-eyed pea on New Year’s Day. She said it was supposed to bring you good luck for the coming year. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s is a tradition I’m now passing along to my kids.
I’m not sure exactly where my mom picked up this tradition, but many different cultures hail this humble bean (quizically called a “pea”) as a bringer of prosperity. During Rosh Hashanah, black-eyed peas are thought to bear good fortune, the idea dating back to mentions in ancient text.
In the South, the story goes that black-eyed peas became a symbol of survival and good luck because of their Civil War connection. Union troops took everything they could from the land as they left the South, leaving behind what they thought was a somewhat inedible field green, black-eyed peas.
Today a favorite Southern dish, especially for New Year’s, is Hoppin’ John, which includes pork, rice, and of course, black-eyed peas. I like to think that the unusual appearance of black-eyed peas–with one black “eye” nestled in the middle of each one–may also be a reason it’s become associated with good fortune. Eyes equal wisdom, something like that…
We infused flavor into the mild beans by using a Mexican cooking style for frijoles rancheros, then used French seasonings. I wasn’t quite sure what to call our concoction that blended a world of cuisines into one cast iron, the best I could come up with was French Ranchero Black-Eyed Peas.
1 large shallot, diced (about 1/2 cup)
4 cups cooked, drained black-eyed peas (I used dried ones that I’d cooked in the crockpot during the day)
1/2 cup chicken broth
5 slices bacon, cut into small slivers (the kitchen scissors are perfect for this!)
Handful of parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. white pepper
Salt to taste
- Bring 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
- Cook the bacon in the olive oil until just barely beginning to crisp. Add in the shallots and the garlic and cook until the shallots become translucent and the bacon crisped.
- Add the beans to the pan all at once along with the chicken broth.
- Cook for 10-15 minutes. Stir in thyme, white pepper, and parsley. Season with salt. (If you’re feeling crazy add in a little smoked paprika and rosemary, too.)
Happy St. Andrew’s Day! November 30th is a national holiday in Scotland, St. Andrew’s Day. I wasn’t quite ready to tackle haggis so we went for a traditional Fruit and Nut Bread instead.
Servings: 2 mini loaves or 1 regular loaf
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup oil
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped (like apricots or apples)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil two 5.5″ x 3″ mini-bread loaf pans.
- In a large bowl mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add in pecans, raisins, dried fruit, and chocolate chips.
- In another bowl whisk together egg, oil, and buttermilk.
- Mix wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until moistened.
- Pour batter into bread pans and bake for 30-40 minutes or until cooked through.
*Tweaked from a recipe for Fruit & Nut Bread from Seamus McInnes
Maybe it’s the dip in temperatures but this year we decided on a Caribbean theme for Thanksgiving. Each year we try a new spin on Thanksgiving, last year it was all Mexican fare but today it was plantain time!
Here’s what we had on the menu…
Grilled turkey breast marinated with jerk seasoning.
Ropa vieja, a Cuban style shredded beef dish
Mofongo, a traditional Caribbean dish made with fried plantains, bacon, and heaps of garlic
Jerk-spiked rice with anise, cinnamon, cumin, and red beans
Dinner rolls with pineapple juice in the mix
And yes, I’m headed to the gym tomorrow.
Pumpkin loves garbanzo beans–the proof is in the hummus. Add pureed pumpkin into your hummus for a subtle, earthy underlying flavor.
The basic recipe is fast and easy to put together:
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans
4 tbsp. tahini
4 tbsp. pureed pumpkin
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. sea salt
- Drain beans (reserving liquid) and place them into a food processor along with the pumpkin.
- With the blade running add in the olive oil and half of the reserved bean liquid.
- Remove the top of the food processor, scrap down the sides and add salt and tahini.
- Adjust the texture and flavor of the hummus using seasoning and more pumpkin, bean liquid, and/or spices.
For pumpkin pie hummus:
Add 1/2-1 tsp. pumpkin pie seasoning (or a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves) and more pureed pumpkin
For Lebanese pumpkin hummus:
Add 1/2 tsp. cumin, 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika, and the juice from one lemon
For the finishing touch on tostadas, I like to add a little bit of sour cream swirls. They’re easy to make and the perfect job for kids.
Here’s how to make sour cream swirls for Mexican dishes:
- Place 1/3 cup sour cream into the corner part of a plastic baggy.
- Use kitchen scissors to cut a small hole in the corner of the bag with the sour cream. You’ve just created a DIY sour cream pastry bag!
- Make designs on your tostados, tacos, nachos, or flautas with the sour cream.
“Holidays” are a great excuse to introduce your kids to new foods. Yes, I’m using air quotes as I type. Cinco de Mayo–literally, the 5th of May–is an American invention (granted, there was a battle in Puebla, Mexico, in 1862 where the much smaller Mexican army defeated a large French force). But you won’t find any big celebrations in Mexico, outside of Puebla, to honor Cinco de Mayo. Nope, as a couple of writers recently put it: “Cinco is as American as apple pie. So is the U.S. Hispanic melting pot.”
Whew, with that out of the way, it’s time to move on to the good stuff–getting your would-be picky eaters to sample something new.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Swap the cheese
Queso fresco, a fresh Mexican cheese (I know, that’s pretty much a direct translation, but it’s true), tastes like a cross between feta and mozzarella with a hint of ricotta thrown in. The cheese usually comes in a solid circle that you crumble up to put on enchiladas, nachos, tacos, tostadas…you get the idea.
Picky eater tip: We call this ‘crumble cheese’ at our house for good reason–you have to crumble it before you use it. Perfect. Kid. Job. Ask your child to be the official crumbler and when she wants to sample what’s all over her fingers, say, Yes!
Bag the regular tortilla chips
My all-time favorite tortilla chips are El Milagro tortilla chips. No Tostitos. No Santitas. Not even Xochitl come close. Ahem, yes, I get a bit particular about my tortilla chips. Get this, there are all of four ingredients in El Milagro tortilla chips–stone ground corn, corn oil, sea salt, calcium hydroxide (it helps glue the corn together according to the all-knowing folks at Wikipedia). And the chips are thicker, heartier than your standard “restaurant-style” chip. Admittedly, El Milagro can be hard to find–I see them most often in Mexican grocers, but they’re starting to pop up in larger grocery chains too. Look for them!
Picky eater tip: Dip it! Give your kids some salsa for their chips and let them dip away.
Use corn tortillas
Toast them! Please. Corn tortillas are bland and caulk-like until you toast them and then something magical happens–they become entirely different in flavor, texture, aroma. It only takes a few minutes to toast up a stack of corn tortillas. Then try out your favorite taco fixins’ in the toasted corn tortillas instead of the stale, hard-shelled kind.
Picky eater tip: Break out the cookie cutters. You can make small shapes in the corn tortillas (before or after toasting). Granted, your filling may fall out of the tortillas with too many openings, so you might want to keep the cookie cutting to a few conveniently placed shapes. I use my linzer cookie cutters from King Arthur Flour.
Make your salsa
Homemade salsa is simple to make, really. You can keep it basic and just chop up tomatoes, onions, fresh jalapeno chiles, and cilantro for a pico de gallo. If you want more of a authentic salsa consistency, put all of the pico de gallo fixins’ into a blender with a little lime juice for a thinner salsa.
Picky eater tip: Have your kids help you make the salsa. When my kids have friends over, we often whip up salsa together. I let them cut up the ingredients and adjust the seasonings.
Bring on the cumin
Add something new to your standard Tex-Mex recipes–ground cumin. You can find cumin in pretty much any grocery store. Sprinkle in cumin with your taco fillings, guacamole, salsa.
Picky eater tip: Your kids aren’t likely to notice this subtle seasoning added in. But it will give your Mexican dishes and added depth and more authentic flavor.
Your turn: Are you planning a special meal for Cinco de Mayo?