Monday, May 21, 2012

Cake on a Stick or Cake Pops by Any Other Name Could Not Taste Any Sweeter (Partly Because They are Already Very Sweet, but Mostly Because I Made Them with Chessy)

I’m a sucker for projects.  That’s why when Chessy, my very creative, very patient and very cute pre-teen co-conspirator, decided to take me  up on my idea of making cake pops I didn’t blink.  Projects like this don’t faze me, for I am the daughter of the Queen of Arts and Crafts.  I’m also a pantry pack rat so I had most of the necessary supplies on hand and only had to buy the cake mix and frosting.

Cake pops are popular.  Cake pops are cute.  You use a cake mix, prepared icing and commercial candy coating, how difficult could they be?  Well, the answer is a very tricky, even with using the always inventive Bakerella’s brilliant directions for basic cake pops.  We made our cake pops with white candy coating and planned on decorating them with my extensive collections of colored sugars, decorating candies, sprinkles, etc.
Chessy and Cake Pops to Go

There were a few hitches.  I had to improvise a stand when I discovered I had misplaced the styrofoam. I didn’t plan enough ahead and the cake wasn’t cool enough.  Make yours the day ahead.  I probably should have planned on getting more candy melts and working in batches.  Part of the process of successful cake pop process is to dip your stick in the hot candy, stick in the cake ball and let freeze for a bit so the cake ball and candy stick have a chance to bond.  Let’s just say we rushed that step, too, and had more than a few cake balls list or even fall off their sticks. Swirling the cake balls in the melted candy to cover them (somewhat evenly) is also an acquired skill.The whole process also took a LOT longer than I anticipated.

Chessy was in charge of decoration and had a grand time sprinkling, dusting and spraying our arsenal of cake decorating products on our somewhat lopsided and misshapen just-dipped cake pops.  Despite everything they came out looking grand.  We wrapped the best looking ones in colored cellophane for her to pass out proudly to friends and family and snacked on the fallen and lumpy.  We both enjoyed the experience, but I found the final product teeth-achingly sweet, an opinion she did not share. Since cake pops are about, well, the pop not the cake, the final taste didn’t bother me, but if I was making these for adults I might see about using a different mix/frosting or even make my own for a bit more subtle taste.  But really, I mostly wish I had the skill/practice/patience to make ones that looked half as nice as Bakerella’s. 

The best part of the recipe was making them with Chessy (we made these over winter break).  That’s always my favorite ingredient.

(For another resource, the Oakland Tribune, my local newspaper, recently featured info and directions for cake pop making, a recipe from Bakerella and  tips from Bakerella herself)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Teen Cooking Competiton Comes Up with Some Winning and Tasty Indian-Jewish Inspired Treats

Tomato-Mango Bruschetta

Here’s a recipe for some tasty learning about Jewish culture. To a roomful of teenagers add a lesson on Jewish food ways, a kitchen full of ingredients and a dash of competition. The result is Top (Jewish) Chef, where teens explore Jewish food. The class is part of Berkeley Midrasha’s curriculum for postbar and bat mitzvah youth.  The Midrasha program is one of several in northern California.

Teacher Anna Martin has the teens participating in competitions that have included an Ashkenazi/Sephardic Cholent/Dafina cook off as well as a challenge where they created a dish using at least three of the Biblical seven species.

Recently, I had a chance to be a guest judge at the Bene Israel Cook Off. The students had already learned about the Bene Israel Jews of India, so they came to the kitchen of Congregation Beth El, which hosts the Berkeley Midrasha program, prepared to cook. Students were divided into four teams and each had to make a chutney from a recipe provided by Martin and create their own version of malida, a Bene Israel spiced rice dish often served with fruits and nuts.

The teens (age 13-17) had the tough job -- creating and cooking the recipes in about an hour, but I was also impressed on how tough it was to judge a competition such as this.  I had developed a score sheet for originality, compliance to rules, appearance and taste but in the end things were moving so fast I only relied on two things -- fulfilling the assignment properly (making the assigned chutney and creating a dish using at least three of the traditional Bene Israel elements) and how the finished dishes tasted.

Honestly, everything tasted great, but there was a lot of deviation from the assignment. In the end, the winner was a hot, spiced pineapple-mango salad devised by Stefan Moskowitz, Michelle Schiff, Sydney Palmer and Becky Friedman. It inspired me to create the rice pudding below. The team of Jaime Falcone-Juengert, Adin Krebs-Oppenheimer and Leo Pollack combined their sweet and savory tomato chutney with mango and coconut into a bruschetta topping, which also inspired a recipe below.
Pineapple-Mango Rice Pudding
Serves 6
1 can (13.5-15 oz.) light coconut milk
1/2 cup white basmati rice
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 cup 1/2" cubes fresh mango
1 cup 1/2” cubes fresh pineapple
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1/4 cup chopped pistachios or slivered almonds
1/4 cup finely chopped mint
1 Tbs. minced, seeded jalapeño pepper or to taste (optional)

Pour coconut milk in a large measuring cup. Add water until there is 2 1/2 cups of liquid. Mix with rice in medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in sugar, cardamom and ginger. Return to simmer, cover and lower heat to keep simmering, stirring occasionally until mixture is very thick and creamy, about 25-30 minutes. Stir in mango and pineapple chunks. Serve warm or at room temperature in one large or six individual serving bowls garnished with strawberries, nuts, mint and jalapeño (if using).

Tomato-Mango Bruschetta
Makes 16 toasts

1/2 cup finely shredded or grated coconut (unsweetened)
2 lb. fresh plum tomatoes
2 Tbs. olive oil plus extra for brushing on bread
2 Tbs. minced fresh garlic
2 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
2 cups 1/4" cubes fresh mango
2 Tbs. tamarind concentrate or paste
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 baguette of French or similar bread, about 24” long

Toast the coconut until golden brown over low heat in a dry, heavy, large fry pan or skillet, stirring constantly. Set coconut aside and wipe out pan. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise, squeezing out seeds. Chop tomatoes into 1/4" pieces. Set aside. Place 2 Tbs. of oil in the pan, raise heat to medium. Add garlic and sauté until golden. Add ginger, sauté for a minute. Add tomato and mango pieces, tamarind, juice, salt, red pepper, sugar, cardamom and raisins, mix well and sauté for about 5-6 minutes, until the tomatoes are just cooked and the flavors have melded. Taste and correct seasonings. Mix in cilantro and remove from heat. Use warm or at room temperature. Just before serving, slice baguette into half lengthwise and then cut each half into 8 pieces, each about 3” long. Brush with oil and grill, broil or toast cut side until just golden. Spoon tomato-mango mixture on top of each slice. Sprinkle with the toasted coconut.
A version of this post first appeared as an article in the j. weekly.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Healthy Lentil, Potato Chowder Soups for Any Age, Nutrition Tips for Seniors Plus a Shout Out to Meals on Wheels

Lentil Soup

When I wanted to devise some recipes that would be healthful for seniors, I turned to the Alameda County Meals on Wheels program for some advice. The agency serves 3,862 seniors regular hot meals and is part of a network of Meals on Wheels organizations throughout the Bay area. Mary Louise Zernicke, a registered dietician, is an executive board member of the group and director of the Merritt College Dietary Manager Program in Oakland.

“Seniors differ in terms of physical function, behavior, cognition and emotional status, all of which may affect health,” Zernicke said. In planning meals for seniors, she said it is important to focus on physiological needs rather than physical age.

However, there are some common concerns. Zernicke said that many seniors don’t get enough fluids. Adding water, juices, non-fat milk, soup and other liquids helps.  Many seniors also don’t get enough fiber. Controlling caloric intake is important as is eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. Making dishes tasty is key.

“If you are thinking of food as medicine, make it medicine that tastes good,” Zernicke said.

Below are recipes for Zerncike’s lentil soup and my potato chowder. The lentil soup relies on balsamic vinegar for a flavor punch and the chowder has a combination of spices.  If salt consumption is a concern, be sure to use low-salt or homemade vegetable broth, no-salt added diced tomatoes and limit or skip adding salt to taste in the recipes.

For more information about Alameda County Meals on Wheels, please call (510) 777-9560 or go to . For information about other area Meals on Wheels programs, please go to the national website at
Potato Chowder

Potato Chowder
Serves 6 -8

2 Tbs. canola oil
2 cups chopped onions (1/4” pieces)
1 cup chopped carrots (1/4” pieces)
1 cup chopped celery (1/4” pieces)
1 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper (1/2” pieces)
1/4 tsp. to 1 tsp. minced, seeded jalapeño, or to taste (optional)
4 cups chopped russet or Idaho potato, peeled (1/2” pieces)
14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes with liquid
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried, ground oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups non-fat milk
Salt, to taste (optional)
Diced avocado, optional

In a large pot over medium heat, add oil and sauté onions until soft. Add carrots, celery, bell pepper and jalapeño (if using). Sauté for a minute. Add potatoes, tomatoes with liquid, black pepper, oregano, cumin and water. Stir well, bring to a simmer, cover and cook about 20 minutes until potatoes are just starting to get soft. Add milk, return to simmer, cover and cook about 20-25 minutes more being careful not to let the soup boil. Stir occasionally until vegetables are cooked through. Taste and correct seasoning, adding salt if desired. Ladle into bowls and top with diced avocado if using.
Mary Louise Zernicke’s Lentil Soup
Serves 4-6

1 cup dried, brown lentils
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 cups diced onion
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1 cup (about 2 stalks) chopped celery, including leaves
1 cup sliced carrots
4 cups vegetable broth or stock
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Put lentils in a bowl, cover with water and allow to sit overnight. Over medium heat, heat oil in a large soup pot and cook onions. Add garlic and celery. Once celery begins to soften, add carrots, vegetable broth, tomatoes with liquid and bay leaf. Drain lentils. Add lentils to soup. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes until vegetables are cooked through. Remove bay leaf. Stir in vinegar and add salt and pepper as desired.
A version of this article appeared in the j. weekly.