Black Walnut Cake

Black Walnut Cake

Martha was my next door neighbor when I was growing up in rural Lancaster County Pennsylvania. I didn’t know much about cooking back then, but we kids always enjoyed having lunches together in Martha’s kitchen. The radio was always on and supper preparations were usually already well under way with wonderful aromas wafting over the kitchen table. The whole idea of cooking and the pleasures of those long gone lunches have lingered and helped shape in their own way my own passion for food and cooking.

Every fall, October-November, we kids would help Martha collect the walnuts that fell from the black walnut trees in front of our houses. To us they looked like leathery decomposing green balls with an intense acrid odor that were begging to be thrown at one another. Black walnut trees are native to North America as apposed to the milder English walnut trees that produce larger nuts that are commonly found in the shops. Shelled black walnuts are smaller and have a more intense walnut flavor. I urge you to seek them out. If you don’t have a source where you live they are available on line. If that is not an option, toasted English walnuts will do in a pinch, though there really is no comparison.

Once the walnuts were gathered they were put in an oblong rectangular wooden tray with a wire mesh screen bottom. The walnuts were then put up to cure until the green skin blackened and was soft enough to pull away revealing the hard black walnut inside. This was a very messy business and wearing rubber gloves was a must to avoid badly stained hands.

The hulled nuts were then set out to dry for several days before cracking the shells with a hammer and meticulously removing the walnut’s meat. Very tedious work that we kids usually quickly lost interest in, leaving Martha to finish the harvesting on her own.

However all of the laborious preparations paid off when digging into a slice of Martha’s gloriously delicious black walnut cake!

I make Martha’s black walnut cake every fall and revisit those fond memories from my childhood in Martha’s kitchen.

For this recipe all I have is a penciled list of Martha’s ingredients and my own recollections.


Martha’s Black Walnut Cake:

  • 4 ½ ounces / 128 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup chopped black walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c

Prepare two well buttered 9 or 10 inch round layer cake pans, or buttered and lined with a circular parchment paper.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium high speed until fluffy. This may take 4 or 5 minutes.

With the mixer running add one egg at a time and mixing until fully incorporated. Add the second and third egg, again mixing each until fully incorporated.

In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and stir until combined.

With the mixer set on low speed begin adding a third of the flour mixture alternately with an equal part of the milk and mixing until combined before adding the second and third additions of flour mixture and milk. Try not to over mix the batter so it retains its airiness.

Stop the mixer and add the walnuts. Stir the walnuts in in by hand until evenly distributed.

Spoon the cake batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. Giggle the pans slightly to even out the batter.

Transfer the pans to the oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Test by sticking a skewer into the center of the cake. If the skewer comes out clean the cake is done. Keep an eye on the timing so the cake is not over baked which will dry it out.

Transfer the cake pans to a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature while you make the frosting.

 

Fluffy White Mountain Frosting:

Don’t be skeptical about making a cooked frosting. This is a tried and true Fannie Farmer recipe that never fails. I like the light fresh taste of this frosting that compliments the flavor of the black walnuts perfectly.

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tarter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup chopped black walnuts

Combine the sugar, water, cream of tartar and salt in a stainless saucepan set over medium high heat. As the mixture heats up swirl the pan to mix the ingredients. Let the mixture come to a boil, swirling the pan now and again, until the mixture is completely clear- about 4 or 5 minutes. Put the lid on the pan and let cook another minute.

Uncover and attache a candy thermometer to the pan being sure the tip does not touch the bottom of the pan. Let the syrup continue to boil uncovered until the temperature reaches 240 f /115 c .

Meanwhile, using a stand mixer, beat the egg whites in the chilled bowl until stiff moist white peaks form. When the syrup is ready, continue beating at medium high speed and pouring the syrup into the egg whites in a slow steady stream. Continue beating for a couple more minutes until the frosting has cooled a little and stiff enough to stand in peaks. Beat in the vanilla.
At this point the frosting is ready for spreading.

For this cake you can frost the cake and then garnish with chopped black walnuts or simply stir the chopped walnuts into the frosting as I have done.

You will have some frosting left which you can cover and refrigerate for a week or so.

Ideally use a cake storage container for storage so the frosting is undisturbed.

Serve at room temperature!

Miso Wasabi Salad Dressing

Miso Wasabi Salad Dressing

 

The Japanese ingredients say a lot about this zesty salad  dressing, but it is surprisingly compatible when served with non-Japanese dishes as well.

As always, shop for the very freshest organic ingredients you can find. What I do love about this dressing is how the wasabi note heightens  the crisp garden fresh flavor of the assorted salad components. Perfect for late summer and fall salads!

 

Miso Wasabi Salad Dressing     Makes 3/4 cup

  • 3 tablespoons light miso
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated garlic
  • ¼ cup Japanese rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Tamari soy sauce, or regular soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted  sesame oil
  • ¼ cup light vegetable oil, or light olive  oil
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons wasabi paste
  • 3 tablespoons cold water

Combine all the ingredients except the water in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously until the dressing is completely emulsified. Add the cold water and shake once again until combined. Refrigerate the dressing until well chilled for serving.

 

Suggestions For the Salad

  • romaine lettuce, leaves cut into thirds
  • baby cos leaves, halved
  • radicchio leaves, torn lengthwise
  • iceberg, torn
  • arugula (rocket) leaves
  • celery leaves
  • mizuna sprigs
  • julienned carrots
  • julienned radishs
  • snap peas, blanched and chilled
  • radish sprouts
  • small vine ripe tomatoes, halved
  • toasted sesame seeds  (see recipe here)

Place the romaine, baby cos, radicchio, iceberg, arugula, and celery leaves in a large bowl and toss. Add a couple of teaspoons of dressing and toss to coat the leaves evenly.

Plating and Serving the Salad

Fan the mizuna leaves on chilled individual salad plates and mound a handful of tossed lightly dressed salad leaves onto each plate. Scatter the top of each salad with the julienned carrots and then the julienned radishes. Tuck the snap peas and halved tomatoes into the salads and lightly drizzle a little more dressing over each salad. Garnish with a flourish of toasted sesame seeds and serve.

 

Mexican Sopa dde Elote

Mexican Sopa dde Elote

 

Sopa de Elote is a Mexican corn soup that has many faces ranging from a modest broth based soup to a thick rich creamy soup gilded with molten cheeses and assorted garnishes. keeping in mind it is the corn that is the star ingredient here, shop for the freshest locally grown organic sweet corn you can find and let that be your guide. The remaining ingredients needed are more or less rudimentary and easily found in most local markets.

While you are cooking this soup a  heady combination of flavors and aromas will reaffirm the enduring appeal of truly traditional Mexican cookery.

 

Mexican Sopa de Elote         makes 3 quarts

Mexican Sopa de Elote

Mexican Sopa de Elote

 

Ideally, cooking the chicken and making a stock the day before you plan to make the soup lightens the time spent in the kitchen the following day.

Before you even begin to cook, remove the husks and corn silk from 4 ears of fresh sweetcorn corn and discard them. Then cut the kernels off the cob into a deep bowl. Scrape each cob with the back of a knife to extract the sweet milk from the cobs. Reserve the cobs that you will be using later, and cover the bowl with the kernels and scrapings and refrigerate as they will be added to the soup the following day.

Ingredients for chicken and stock

  • 1 whole chicken
  • water to generously cover the chicken
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, skin removed
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into three pieces each
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 cilantro ( coriander) roots, crushed
  • 4 reserved corn cobs

Rinse the chicken and place it in a large stock pot. Add enough water to generously cover the chicken. Place the pot on the stove top over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce the heat to a low simmer.

Add the salt, vinegar, peppercorns, diced onions, carrots, bay leaves, cilantro roots, and the reserved scraped corn cobs. Give the pot a good stir and cook the chicken at a simmer for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken. Skim off any foam and fat that forms on the surface and discard.

Remove the chicken from the pot and set the chicken and the stock aside to cool.

Fish out the carrot pieces in the stock pot, place them in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.

Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones in generous chunks and place them in a bowl. Leaving the chicken in larger pieces will give the soup a more substantial profile and tenderer meat when reheated. Cover the pulled chicken with cling film and refrigerate.

Put all the chicken bones back into the pot of stock and return the pot to the heat. Bring the contents to a low boil and cook until the stock is reduced by a third. Once again, skim off any foam and fat that forms on the surface and discard.

Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool for 20 minutes or so. Then strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large container and set aside to cool to room temperature. Discard the bones and solids after straining the stock.

Once the stock is cooled, cover the container and refrigerate overnight.

The following morning skim off the fat that has solidified on the surface of the stock and save for another use or discard it.

Ingredients for the soup

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 celery rib, finely diced
  • 4 garlic, cloves, minced
  • 2 large gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 quarts prepared chicken stock
  • 5 jalapeno chiles, seeded, quartered, and flash fried
  • 2 cups home cooked pinto beans (or canned), drained
  • reserved cooked diced carrots
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram  or oregano leaves
  • sea salt to taste
    fresh lime wedges
  • 1 pint crema (sour cream thinned slightly with whole milk)
  • sprigs fresh coriander leaves
  • corn tortilla chips (pictured, blue corn chips)
  • ground red chile as a final seasoning (optional)

Place 3 tablespoons olive oil in a stock pot set over medium heat.When the oil is nearly smoking until the oil dd the onions and celery and lower the heat to medium low and saute, stirring now and again, until the onions and celery are very soft and translucent, about, 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook another 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small fry pan. When smoking hot add the quartered jalapeno chiles, skin side down in the pan and flash fry until the skin is blistered. Flip the chiles and fry another minute or so. Remove the chiles from the pan and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle pull off the blistered skin and discard. Then dice the chiles and set aside.

Add 3 quarts of reheated stock to the sauteed onion, celery, garlic mixture. Once the stock begins to boil, add the diced potatoes and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat. Using an immersion blender (or blender) puree the contents of the pot until smooth and creamy.

Return the pot to the heat and add he beans, reserved diced carrots, marjoram or oregano, diced flash fried jalapenos, and the reserved fresh corn kernels. Cook for another 15 minutes. Be sure to stir frequently so soup does not scorch on the bottom of the pot. Taste and add salt as needed.

When you are nearly ready to serve, add the pulled chicken to the soup. Allow the soup to come to a very low simmer and cook for about 10 minutes before serving.

Serving

Ladle the soup into individual bowls, mounding the chicken in the center. Garnished with fresh cilantro sprigs and serve.

Place a bowl of crema on the table along with a bowl of corn tortilla chips which can be added to the soup. Include a plate of fresh lime wedges, and a  small container of ground red chile for those who want to crank up the heat  bit. 

Guacamole is always a nice accompaniment along with the corn tortilla chips as well. 

This soup freezes beautifully and always nice to have on hand for a last minute meal on demand.

Buen provecho!

Moo Shu Pork

Moo Shu Pork

 

Moo shu Pork originates from the north eastern province of Shandong in China. A n old traditional stir fried dish consisting of sliced pork, black mushrooms, ginger, cucumber, scallions, and day lilly buds. Seasoned with a dash of Chinese rice wine and soy sauce,then  tossed with scrambled eggs (Moo Shu), and served with rice. No Mandarin pancakes nor Hoisin sauce. That was to come later. Moo Shu Pork as most of the modern world knows it today is the American version that came along in the late 60’s.

 

But the story of Chinese food in America really began with the arrival of Chinese immigrants in California seeking their fortune during the California gold rush of 1848. The novelty of Chinese food quickly gained popularity with the locals in the Bay area and eventually caught on throughout the rest of the country. But it wasn’t until several enterprising Chinese women restaurateurs gave Chinese Cuisine a certain cache. Ruby Foo opened Ruby Foo’s Den in Boston in 1929. Cecilia Chiang opened The Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco in 1960. Pearl Wong opened Pearl’s Chinese restaurant in midtown Manhattan in 1973, and Joyce Chen popularized northern Chinese cuisine in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The rest is history. Chinese cuisine had arrived and went on to become America’s favorite ethnic cuisine.

The American version of Moo Shu Pork evolved in the late 60’s. Green cabbage replaced the unfamiliar day lilly buds. Shiitake mushrooms replaced the dried black fungus mushrooms, but most importantly Mandarin pancakes were introduced that were seasoned with Hoisin sauce, and used as wrappers stuffed with the stir fried Moo Shu Pork. A brilliant innovation that made Moo Shu Pork a favorite Chinese dish worldwide.

The recipe that follows diverges from the American stir fried version. I’ve opted for a slow cooked method that renders a soft tender“pulled” pork that has absorbed the flavors of the seasoned cabbage mixture. Rather than making Mandarin pancakes, which can be a tedious affair, I’ve opted for using store bought flour tortillas and the Hoisin sauce, both of which can be found in most grocery stores these days.

Overall this is an easy dish to prepare and perfect for a family meal or larger gatherings as it can be prepared ahead and rewarmed for serving.

 

Moo Shu Pork            serves 6

Moo Shu Pork

Moo Shu Pork

  • 1 ½ lbs / 700 g pork tenderloin (or loin)
  • 1 large head green cabbage, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • bunch of kale leaves, center rib removed, and chopped (optional)
  • 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
  • 2 inch knob fresh ginger root, peeled, and sliced into thin batons
  • 1 tablespoon 5 spice powder (see note below)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 quart stock + more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
  • 6 oz/ 225 g fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup white part of scallions, sliced
  • 1 cup thinly slice green scallion leaves, divided
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing cooking wine (or medium dry sherry)
  • light soy sauce to taste
  • 12 flour tortillas, warmed
  • Hoisin sauce

Needed, a large Dutch oven or deep roasting pan with lid.

Preheat oven to 350 f /180 c

Combine the sliced cabbage, kale (if using), onions, ginger, 5 spice powder, salt, and pepper in the Dutch oven or roasting pan and toss to combine.

Divide the pork tenderloins in half (or quarter if using loin) and push the meat down into the tossed cabbage mixture until nearly covered. Add stock to the pot until just visible around the edges.

Place the pot, uncovered, in the oven and roast for 25 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 220 f / 104 c

 Cover the pot and roast for about 2 1/2 hours. Check after 1 ½ hours and add a little more stock if needed to keep the cabbage moist and avoid scorching on the bottom of the pot and test the pork for tenderness. It should pull apart very easily. If not, return the pot to the oven and continue roasting until the pork is very tender. Three hours cooking time is usually sufficient. 

Once the pork is tender remove from the oven, uncover, and set aside to cool until you can remove the pork and pull it apart into bite size pieces. Place the pulled pork in a bowl and set aside.

To finish the Moo Shu Pork place a very large skillet over medium heat on the stove top and add the oil. When hot add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to color. Then add the garlic and the white part of the scallions and saute until softened. Then add the Chinese cooking wine (or sherry) and saute until the wine has nearly evaporated.

Add the pulled pork to the skillet and toss to combine. Then, using a slotted spoon, transfer the cabbage mixture to the pan and add half of the sliced green scallions and toss to combine. Add just enough of the remaining broth in the roasting pot to keep the pork and cabbage mixture moist. Taste and stir in soy sauce sparingly to round out the flavor.

Warm the tortillas individually in a dry skillet just briefly to soften them and make them very pliable. If you find the tortillas to be quite dry a quick misting with water before heating them works wonders. Wrap the tortillas in a kitchen towel to keep them warm.

Once the tortillas are warmed, working with one tortilla at a time, spread a thin layer of Hoisin sauce over the inner surface the tortilla and then fill with the pork and cabbage mixture as you would filling a soft taco. Scatter some green scallions over the pork filling and wrap the tortilla around the filling, closing one end as you roll as you would a taco. Place the rolled Moo Shu Pork wraps aside on a baking tray covered with a kitchen towel. You can place the tray of wraps in a very low heat oven to keep them warm until you are ready to serve.

 

Alternately, you can let everyone at the table assemble their own the Moo Shu Pork wraps which is part of the real fun of this dish.

In either case serve with additional Hoisin sauce on the table.

Note: If 5 spice powder is not available you can make your own.

  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon toasted whole Sichuan peeper, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise

Stir to combine and store in an airtight jar.

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