Let’s inaugurate the food part of this blog, shall we?
Last weekend, there were a lot of birthdays in my life, which made for some craziness. Considering I’m a broke college student, I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with presents for all these wonderful people. And then I hit upon a brilliant idea: cooking for them!
First, there was my dear friend Hazel’s birthday. She lives upstairs, and her roommates and I have a tradition of cooking dinner together a few times a week, but we’ve been a little remiss in this of late, so I opted to cook dinner for her, and whoever else was around, before her birthday party later that night. She’s also a vegetarian, which doesn’t pose a problem, since I mostly cook vegetarian anyway – it’s easier to not have to cook meat when you’re only cooking for yourself – but I wanted to cook something interesting and tasty. I’d tried the following Hazelnut & Chard Ravioli Salad – modified from a recipe from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks blog, probably my favorite food blog, and all vegetarian, too! – in a modified version when I cooked for my whole California extended family over winter break, and it was a hit, so I figured this time I’d try the real thing as a main dish.
Originally, the recipe calls for butternut squash instead of yams/sweet potatoes, but my sister doesn’t like squash, which was the original impetus for using the yams instead, but it turned out so well that I’m sticking with it for now. And, per my mother’s training, I roasted my yam cubes in the oven (after a few minutes on a plate in the microwave to get them cooking) for a full, soft flavor; you can also try Heidi’s version of making “potato croutons,” which you’ll find a link for on her original recipe. She also recommends swiss chard instead of red chard, but I confess I don’t really know what the difference is, and I like the color added by the red chard. Last time, I left out the ravioli – to make it more of a side dish – as well as the lemon zest and Parmesan (my cousin can’t eat dairy), and it turned out excellently, though, of course, I like it very much the full way as well. I’ve also never used chives, because I rarely do garnish, but I imagine it would add a nice spice to the flavor.
Hazelnut and Chard Ravioli Salad
I mixed two different raviolis – the most interesting I could get at Whole Foods that I thought would go well with the flavors – and though I can’t remember anymore what they were, anything you can get would be great, I’m sure. Heidi recommends sweet onion & red chard ravioli, or butternut squash; pretty much anything you can find that will match the winter flavors here.
3/4 lb. raviolis (see above)
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
fine grain sea salt
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 bunch red chard, de-veined and cut into 1/2-inch ribbons
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped (I’ve only used raw, and they work just fine)
1 cup yams or sweet potatoes, cubed and roasted
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup chives, minced
Boil the raviolis in an extra-large pot of well-salted water. When they are cooked through (just a few minutes), drain and toss with one tablespoon of the olive oil to prevent them from sticking together. Set aside.
Caramelize the onions by heating another tablespoon of the olive oil in a large thick-bottomed skillet with a pinch of salt (make sure it’s thick-bottomed, because otherwise you’ll have a week’s worth of pot-scrubbing ahead of you). Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions collapse and turn deep brown in color. You can either do this ahead of time or just before serving. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Just before serving heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, again in a big skillet over high heat. Add the raviolis. Stir in the onions, and then the chard. Wait until the chard begins to wilt, then stir in most of the cheese and most of the hazelnuts. Gently fold in the yams and lemon zest. Remove from heat.
Serve on a platter or in a large bowl, and if you want to garnish, add the chives, and remaining cheese and hazelnuts.
Serves 5-6 as a main, at least 10 as a side.
If you’d like Heidi’s original recipe, check it out here, along with so many other awesome recipes!
The next day, I had two birthdays to deal with, and decided it was the ideal time to try out my latest obsession: a honey cake obtained from Tessa Kiros’ amazing and beautiful Apples for Jam cookbook. I bought this cookbook for my aunt for Christmas, after learning about it from 101 Cookbooks, and then seeing it at the bookstore and falling madly in love with it. As any good foodie would do, I bought it for someone else, but picked over it first for myself. What can I say? I’m shameless. Now if someone would just buy it for me so I could really delve into it…
When I stumbled upon her magnificent Honey Cake, I was instantly drawn in by both the beautiful picture – who can resist a white-frosted cake adorned with little purple rosemary flowers? – and her reference to honey cakes and Winnie-the-Pooh. I was sold, and just needed an occasion to make it. Birthdays seemed like an excellent excuse.
Unfortunately, being a poor college student and having only what’s readily available to me to work with, I did not have a spring-form cake tin of the appropriate size – mine is much larger – and thus my cake turned out significantly thinner and drier (though I reduced the time by more than half – my oven is also psycho) than it ought to have. But now I know for next time to double the recipe or something, in order to compensate for the size.
Additionally, I didn’t have fresh rosemary – the problem with baking a summertime cake in January – so I missed out on that flavor combination, but I look forward to trying it out this spring or summer. I also didn’t have time to make a frosting or icing, but my roommates happened to have some of the fake stuff on hand, so they didn’t mind. The original recipe calls for a lemon butter cream frosting, which I’m sure would be excellent, but here’s a simpler lemon icing I managed to find online.
150 g butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup honey (place bottle in warm water for a bit before so the honey is easier to pour/measure)
1 2/3 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 eggs, beaten
Line and grease a 8.5 in/22 cm spring-form tin. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, sugar, honey, and 1 tbsp water, stirring one or twice until the sugar is dissolved and the butter melted. Leave to cool for 10-15 mins. Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.
Sift flour, baking powder, and cinnamon into a bowl. Add the eggs, and the butter mixture. Mix until smooth (you can do this by hand, don’t worry). Pour into cake tin and bake 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick/knife comes out clean. Leave in tin to cool.
2 cups confectioners sugar
100 g softened butter
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
Sift sugar into a bowl. Add butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1 tbsp water and beat until smooth.
According to the recipe, the cake will keep well for a week in a cake container. Enjoy!
Let me know if you guys try any of these things, and what modifications you make, and how they work out!