Orange Cardamom Cornmeal Cake

I must admit that just a couple of months ago, I’d never even heard of a cornmeal cake. That’s what I derisively call sweet cornbread, actually. But my friend, Amanda of loveandnachos.com mentioned that she’d enjoyed an orange cornmeal cake made by Karl Worley of Biscuit Love Truck (and that I really needed to have it). I didn’t get to have any of Karl’s cake, but I decided to try making my own. I looked through all my cookbooks and didn’t find a recipe, so I turned to the Google and discovered a very popular Martha Stewart recipe.

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This recipe is also easy, which is not the case for many MS recipes and certainly not for most cakes. The most difficult part is zesting your orange. This recipe doesn’t even require using an electric mixer. All you need is a whisk. If you don’t have that, you can just use a fork. This is a great recipe to make with kids. Just make sure they don’t overstir (just like with cornbread or pancakes).

Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to alter a cake recipe too much. Baking is an exact science. But I made a few adjustments to that recipe and got a really nice, pleasant cake. It’s moist but not dense and not too sweet. That is partly due to using white cornmeal instead of yellow, but this is just not an overly sweet cake anyway.

The other adjustments I made included using a blood orange-infused olive oil (though I don’t think it added much overall), adding a bit of vanilla extract and, most importantly, finely ground green cardamom. I also baked it in a 9-inch springform pan instead of an 8-inch round cake pan because that’s what I have. If you use a cake pan, make sure it’s got the contraption on the bottom to loosen the cake or line the very bottom with parchment so that this little guy will pop out nicely. If you leave it in the pan too long, it will sweat and stick. Keep that in mind. I’ve included some other notes as well following the recipe.

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Orange Cardamom Cornmeal Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine’s Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground green cardamom
1 cup sugar + 1/4 cup for dusting
zest of one orange
1/2 cup mild olive oil or canola oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and cardamom. Rub orange zest into sugar in a large bowl and whisk in the oil eggs, juice and vanilla until smooth. Add in flour mixture and whisk just to combine.

Brush an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan (or springform pan) lightly with oil (or oil sides and line bottom with parchment). Pour batter into the pan and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake at 375F in a pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes, until the cake begins to pull away from the sides and a toothpick tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Then invert to a cake plate and back to the wire rack to cool completely.

Notes:
- I used a tangelo for a really mild orange flavor. Two tangerines or several clementines would also work well. I may try two lemons next time, though.

- I added the cardamom because I really like it, but it’s not necessary. And it’s just a hint. Even folks who don’t like cardamom usually liked the subtle flavor combined with the orange. To get one teaspoon of green cardamom, I put six whole green pods in a coffee grinder set to “fine.”

- If you want a completely white cake, you can skip the vanilla, use only orange emulsion (instead of zest and juice) and 3 egg whites with the white cornmeal. Though I think the zest would make a completely white cake really pretty.

- No mixer and just two bowls (one of which was dry) made this cake so easy to clean up, which is a huge bonus to me.

Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 3 Comments

Chocolate Straws (aka Chocolate Twists)

The inspiration for these chocolate straws (or chocolate twists?) was a recipe from the Canal House ladies. I mentioned them a few weeks ago when they were in town for the Antiques and Garden show. I tell ya what, for ladies from New Jersey, they sure know how to make really fantastic pimento cheese. The deviled eggs were also fantastic, though their biscuits were a little more dense than I prefer.

Anyhoo, they have a recipe for cheese straws (published here on the New York Times website) that uses puff pastry instead of just flour, cheese and butter like my cheese straws. Though I very much intend to try this with cheese, I decided I wanted to make a sweet version. I just bought a jar of the Hershey’s version of Nutella (forgive me, Nutella, but I had a coupon), which I thought would be a nice little treat. And they were! These chocolate straws are delicious (and so easy!).

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I had to experiment quite a bit to get the chocolate straws just the way I wanted them, though. Different types of twists, different temperatures, lengths, and amount of chocolate, but I finally got to the perfect recipe. We preferred the ones that were a deep golden brown and very crispy to the ones that were a little lighter and softer, so adjust the directions accordingly if you prefer something not so crisp. The reason why I used one sheet and pressed it out was to ensure that it was thin enough to be as crisp as I’d like. You can take the shortcut of putting all the chocolate on a single sheet and then putting the other sheet on top of that, but you’ll have a thicker pastry that would be softer in the middle.

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Chocolate Straws (or Chocolate Twists)
yield 4-5 dozen

1 box (2 sheets) of puff pastry, thawed but chilled (I used Pepperidge Farms)
4 tablespoons chocolate spread, divided (Nutella, Hershey’s, or another brand; I used Hershey’s hazelnut)
1/3 cup turbinado or raw sugar

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Remove one sheet of puff pastry from the box and return the other sheet to the refrigerator. Unfold the pastry and then fold it in half, lengthways (opposite of how it was folded in thirds). Spread 2 tablespoons of chocolate on one half of the pastry (ensuring that it’s thinner at the edges) and fold it over so that the spread is between two layers.

Sprinkle about a quarter of the sugar out on a clean work surface and place the folded pastry on top. Sprinkle more sugar on top and roll out the pastry with a rolling pin until it is about 8 inches by 14 inches and about 1/8 inch thick. Then, using a pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut the pastry into 1/2 inch thick strips. Pick up each strip and twist from both ends 4-5 times. Transfer each twist to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the parchment paper before removing so that they retain their shape. Repeat with second sheet of puff pastry dough.

Notes:
1. The twists move around on the baking sheet a bit when they’re cooking and even untwist a little. Check on them about half-way through baking to make sure they’re still on the sheet and to straighten them up.

2. I really tight twists yields a straw that’s not as crispy because the dough doesn’t open up as well and puff as much. The inside is softer and a little more doughy. Try a couple with a tight twist just to see how you prefer them.

3. I baked mine for the full 12 minutes (and just a bit longer, actually since I had to take them out and straighten them) because we liked them extra crispy.

4. As you can see in the photos, I sprinkled the sugar on the work surface before unfolding the dough, but it doesn’t matter when you do it because the dough is cold and doesn’t stick too well until it’s rolled.

Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 6 Comments

Slurp For a Cause: Otaku South Extra Large 2 (+ a giveaway)

Otaku South, “the occasional ramen shop” here in Nashville is holding Extra Large 2 on Saturday, February 15 at Marathon Music Works. For the event, Otaku South chef Sarah Gavigan will welcome visiting ramen chefs from all over the south and New York City for a huge party and benefit.

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Guest chefs cooking along side Chef Gavigan are Edward Lee (610 Magnolia and Milkwood in Louisville and a former “cheftestant” on Top Chef as well as a visitor during last year’s Music City Eats festival), Shigetoshi Nakamura (Ramen Lab and Sun Noodle in NYC), Yuji Haraguchi (YUJI Ramen in NYC), Mihoko Obuni (Mibo Love Ramen in Atlanta), Akiko Moorman (The Gohan Society in NYC, returning for a second Extra Large event) and Jess Benefield and Jason McConnell of Two Ten Jack here in Nashville. UPDATE: Just added to the list of ramen chefs is Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen in NYC.

Each chef will be serving their very own special ramen for the event. Menus haven’t been finalized, but Otaku South will be serving its popular “Tennessee Tonkotsu” and there will be at least one vegetarian option.

Advanced tickets are not required, but are strongly encouraged because along with the ramen service, there will be a show performed by Guilty Pleasures. For those who wish to imbibe, there will be a cash bar for drinks. The event is open to all ages from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.; after 7 p.m., it’s 18 and up only. Music starts at 8 p.m.

The best deal is to buy a ramen + show ticket for a 10% overall discount. Group discounts are available, too. But you can attend (and buy) tickets for the food and the show separately. And additional food tickets (for more bowls of ramen) will be for sale at the event, but buying online helps you avoid ticket lines. Buy your tickets on the Extra Large website.

All proceeds from the event benefit the Pablove Foundation, to fund the Teddy Berger-Greer Grant for Neuroblastoma, the most common type of infant cancer. Why Pablove? Sarah Gavigan explains.

Otaku South has generously given me a pair of combo tickets (for one bowl of ramen and admission to the show) to give away to a commenter. If you already have tickets, you can still enter; you’ll just get an extra bowl of ramen!

Entry #1 (mandatory to win): leave a comment with your favorite comfort food, the slurpier, the better.

For up to 2 additional, optional entries (total of 3 possible):

Entry #2: Follow @lesleyeats on Twitter AND @OtakuSouth on Twitter and tweet:

Slurp for a cause: win 2 tix to @OtakuSouth’s Extra Large 2 benefiting @pablove from @lesleyeats http://ow.ly/tnOZz

and leave a comment with a link to your tweet or your twitter handle.

Entry #3: Like Otaku South on Facebook and leave a comment indicating you have (if you like OtakuSouth already, just mention that!).

The contest will be open from now until Wednesday, February 12  at 1 p.m. CST. The winner will be chosen at random and be notified by email that afternoon and will have until Friday, February 14 at 1 p.m. to respond. If there’s no response, I will choose another winner.

This contest is now CLOSED. Congraulations to commenter #7!

Posted in Events, Giveaway | 38 Comments