Monday, November 17, 2014

Sweet Potato Spelt Rum Bundt Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Ganache

I had several sweet potatoes in my pantry that were yearning to be cooked, and I went back and forth in my head as to whether to bake a pie, or a cheesecake. I eventually settled on a bundt-cake, since it was more amenable to vegan alternatives, and also baking a cake would require  less effort than a cheesecake, as with the latter I would have had to prepare the cookie crust in addition to the batter.  

First, a few notes:

Most recipes with sweet potatoes, as with most fall ingredients, have added cinnamon, or a combination of cinnamon and nutmeg as default spices. But you will not see any cinnamon in most of my dessert recipes,  because in my opinion it is so overpowering, that you mostly taste the cinnamon and not the main flavor after which the recipe is named, whether pumpkin,  sweet potato, or apples.

In the US, cinnamon is so widely used as a default ingredient to accompany certain fillings, that people are probably so used to it that they don’t realize that it actually covers, rather than enhance, the main flavor. Many may disagree with me on this, and perhaps, in part because cinnamon evokes childhood memories, from the first gingerbread, to s’mores around a campfire, to grandma’s homemade apple pie. But to me, it is so pervasive, that I like to escape from it, and I do so in my kitchen.  

So this sweet potato recipe is sans powdered spices, but it has freshly grated ginger instead,  although you can substitute or add the other spices as dictated by your taste buds.    

If you cannot do without cinnamon or nutmeg, I would recommend at least  using real cinnamon sticks and pulverize them in a mortar and pestle, and use real nutmeg and grate it on the spot. I would stay away from store-bought powdered spices, as most of them have a stale undertone.  

For this recipe, I used mostly spelt flour, since I was low on all-purpose flour and I wanted to bake my cake right then, without needing another grocery trip.  Using spelt flour  increases the nutritional value of this dessert, as it is rich in minerals, such as copper, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus, and also dietary fiber. But by all means, you can opt for an all white all-purpose flour cake.

I am also listing vegan alternatives in the ingredients, for an equally amazing vegan cake option.

Here I used the creaming method of mixing the mashed potatoes and oil with the sugar, and then adding the eggs.  I am certain that the egg foaming method, in which the eggs are beaten with the sugar first, will yield an equally awesome cake.  I just went with what I felt most comfortable with, but I may try the foaming method next time, just to see which one I prefer.

Lastly, I use about half the sugar of most recipes, which call for 2 cups, whereas I use 1 cup. You can probably go somewhere in between, but 2 cups is way too much sugar in my opinion.


1 ½ cup of sifted spelt flour
½ cup of sifted all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of wheat germ
1 tablespoon baking powder (or 1 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda)
1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups of mashed, sweet potatoes
3 eggs
⅔  cup of dark rum
½  room temperature water (for a vegan option) or milk
¾  cups of brown sugar
¼ cup of granulated sugar
¾  cup vegetable oil (for a vegan option) or melted unsalted butter, or ½ oil ½ butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup dried cherries or dried cranberries

For the chocolate ganache:

About 4.4  ounces of dark chocolate (I used 10 squares of Trader Joes’ "Pound Plus Imported from Belgium dark chocolate")
1 tablespoon of corn syrup or agave nectar
about 4 tablespoons of sour cream
water or milk as needed, to dilute the ganache

Special equipment: bundt pan


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Lightly grease a 10-cup bundt pan with melted butter or oil spray. I recommend brushing the oil or butter in every nook and cranny of the bundt pan with a kitchen brush.  Covering every area of the bundt pan will ensure that parts of your cake will not stick to the pan when you flip it over after baking. Also, before flouring the pan, make sure that all the extra grease has dripped off of it, otherwise you will end up with little puddles of grease at the bottom of the pan, which will result in flattened peaks. Once the pan is evenly coated with the oil or butter, then add some flour and ensure it coats the whole pan. Remove excess flour by flipping the pan over the sink and tapping it gently. Now the pan is ready for the batter.

In a bowl, whisk together the flours, wheat germ, baking powder, and salt. Set the mixture aside. In a separate large mixing bowl, beat the the sweet potatoes, the oil (or melted butter) and sugar using an electric mixer, until smooth. Mix in the  rum, grated ginger,  and water (or milk). Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Do not overmix. Beat in the vanilla. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Again, do not overmix. Fold in the dried fruit.  Transfer batter to the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Let the cake cool in the tin for 15 minutes and invert onto a serving platter or cake stand.

While the cake is cooling, make the ganache:
Melt the chocolate and milk, or water,  in a saucepan on low heat directly on the stove  or double boiler. While whisking constantly, add the syrup and the sour cream and continue whisking until well incorporated. If it’s very runny, let it sit for a minute or so to thicken, if it’s too dense, add more milk or water and whisk again until incorporated. Drizzle over the cake.

For a vegan alternative, omit the sour cream and use vegan chocolate. I do not have experience with vegan sour cream so I am not sure how it would fare being heated.

Lastly, instead of chocolate ganache, one can drizzle with a rum glaze, which can be made with vegan butter.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (or vegan butter)
2 to 3 tablespoons dark rum
2 cups confectioners' sugar

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan with the rum. Remove from the heat and whisk in the confectioners' sugar until smooth. Drizzle over the cooled cake.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Free-form Butternut Squash and Sautéed Onion Tart

I prepared  this tart on the fly, since I had some butternut squash and onions which were already sautéed.  I was actually in between chauffeuring my son to soccer practice, so I had very little time to put this together. Thankfully, I  usually have puff pastry sheets in my freezer (for these types of food emergencies) which, at the drop of a hat, can be thawed, unfolded and topped it with some kind of filling, whether be sautéed onions and cheese, or various combinations of pureed vegetables in a cream and egg mixture.  This time I made a simple free form tart with thin slices of the squash, topped with the onions, and then the cheese.


1 sheet of frozen puff pastry (I used Trader Joe’s)
½ butternut squash, peeled  
1 small red onion and 1 small sweet onion
about 1 cup of freshly shredded fontina cheese and fresh mozzarella cheese,  or another melting cheese, or combination of your choice
olive oil-enough to coat the bottom of a pan
sea salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 350F.

Peel the onions, and cut into thin slices. Add  the olive oil to a medium pan, heat on medium, then add the sliced onion.  Cook until translucent, stirring occasionally (about 10-15 minutes), covered about ⅔ of the cooking time. If necessary, add about ⅓ cup of water and allow to evaporate. Once cooked, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

If using the bulb section of the squash, then you must seed it before slicing. In this recipe, I used the solid neck section, because that is what I had handy.  So I cut the squash neck into
⅕  inch-thick round slices with slicer (you can also use a very sharp knife).

Unfold the thawed pastry gently, and if you see any tears or holes, use your fingers—and a little water if necessary—to gently squeeze the pastry back together.  If the dough appears to stick together, put it back in the refrigerator to cool, before attempting to roll it out again.

Lay the unfolded pastry square on a floured surface, and rub some flour on a rolling pin, which you will use to roll out the square to the desired thinness (but not too thin).  Roll the dough out with gentle outward motions.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and carefully lay the thinned pastry dough on it, and with a fork  prick the surface of the dough (like you would a regular pie crust).
Cover the pastry sheet with  overlapping  squash slices, leaving about 1 to 1 ½ inch of area on each side and sprinkle with sea salt.
Spoon the sauteed onions (after draining off any of sautéeing liquid) evenly over the squash
Sprinkle with the shredded cheese, and fold the edges of the dough over to cover about 1 inch of the filling. You may also drizzle your filling with a tiny amount of extra virgin olive oil.

Bake at 350F until golden brown (about 30 minutes).

Slightly cool and serve.

May be refrigerated for up to 3 days,  and reheated.

For a vegan option, use vegan puff pastry and omit the cheese, or use a vegan cheese of your choice.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ancho Chile-blackened Grilled Shrimp homemade Wraps with Mango Salsa

I have always been a fan of Mexican (or Mexican-American) and Tex-Mex cuisine, and even though, being Italian, I do not have a family tradition of making South of the border-inspired dishes, over the years I have encountered a number of recipes that have prompted me to offer a taco-bar themed dinner at home, with everything fresh and made from scratch. 

Here is one favorite recipe, with great complementing flavors and succulent textures.

The dose is for 6

The shrimp:

12 medium size wild shrimp, peeled and deveined
ancho chile powder (about 2 teaspoons)
paprika (about 2 teaspoons)
cumin powder (1-2 teaspoons)
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
juice of 1 lemon or lime
1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro 
salt to taste

Coat the shrimp with the three spices, then place in a bowl and mix with the olive oil, garlic and cilantro. Cover and refrigerate while preparing the salsa and tortillas.

Before grilling, add the lemon/lime juice. The reason the lemon juice is not added in the beginning is that it will "cook" the shrimp and compromise its texture.

Grill on a hot griddle, ribbed pan, or grill, about two minutes on each side,  while brushing the remaining spiced marinade, until they turn pink. Do not over-cook, as the shrimp will lose its succulence and will turn rubbery. 

Taste a piece of shrimp, and if needed, add salt to taste (some shrimp are inherently salty, so I recommend not adding the salt right away). 

Mango salsa :

1 ripe mango, chopped
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, chopped
juice of one orange
juice of 1 lemon or lime 
1-2 tbsp chopped cilantro 
1 small red onion, chopped
1 chopped jalapeno pepper (optional)
salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and set aside (may refrigerate, covered, and use within a day or two)


The idea of making homemade flour tortillas came to me after watching a show with chef Rick Bayless. So I based my recipe off of his, except that I use a food processor instead of mixing by hands. Also, instead of lard or vegetable shortening, which I never have in my kitchen, I substituted with butter, which perhaps takes away some of the authenticity of the tortillas, but works just fine. I have also seen recipes with vegetable oil, but I have never tried it before. Lastly, even though I didn't on this occasion, I often add a few teaspoons of flax seeds to the flour mixture, for extra crunch and health benefits.

Here is the recipe (adapted from Rick Bayless)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for rolling the tortillas
2.5 tablespoonslard or vegetable shortening, or a mixture of the two
a pinch of salt
About 6 tablespoons of warm water

Combine the flour and fat in a food processor and pulse a few times until incorporated.   Dissolve the salt in the water, and pour about 2/3  of it to the mixture while cup of it over the mixture and turn the food processor to the ON setting, and blend while adding a stream of the remaining water (or more if necessary). The dough should be of medium-stiff consistency, but not firm, and not as soft as most bread dough. 

Divide the dough into 6 portions and roll each into a ball. Set them on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and let rest at least 30 minutes (to make the dough less springy, easier to roll).

Heat an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium to medium-high heat.On a lightly floured surface, roll out a portion of the dough into an even 7-inch circle: Flatten a ball of dough, flour it, then roll forward and back across it; rotate a sixth of a turn and roll forward and back again; continue rotating and rolling until you reach a 7-inch circle, lightly flouring the tortilla and work surface from time to time.

Lay the tortilla on the hot griddle (you should hear a faint sizzle and see an almost immediate bubbling across the surface). After 30 to 45 seconds, when there are browned splotches underneath, flip it over. Bake 30 to 45 seconds more, until the other side is browned; don't overbake the tortilla or it will become crisp. Remove and wrap in a cloth napkin placed in a tortilla warmer. Roll and griddle-bake the remaining tortillas in the same manner and stacking them one on top of the other.

Assemble the wraps: 

Place the grilled shrimp and mango salsa in the middle of the tortilla, and if desired, top with a dollop of sour cream, Cholula or other hot sauce, a few piece of lettuce (romaine or baby greens), and a few pieces of finely shredded red cabbage. 

Fold and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

South Indian Carrot Sautee’ (Poriyal)

This flavorful South Indian dish that I learned from my mother-in-law is a simple use of carrots that I often resort to whenever I need to prepare a side or snack without too much thought.

Given that I have been cooking Tamil inspired dishes for years, my pantry is always stocked up with South Indian staple ingredients, including urad dahl, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafoetidia, curry leaves, and green chilies.

You can find my recipe in this article I wrote for Now It's Dark Magazine. Whether you are one who likes to indulge a little, or a health nut,  you will enjoy and benefit from this tasty carrot poriyal.