asian pear bundt cake with five-spice swirl

asian pear bundt cake with five-spice swirl

For the uninitiated, Five-Spice powder (available from Asian supermarkets) contains fennel, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and star anise. In traditional Chinese cooking it is used to season roast chicken and duck. Used as a spice for baking, Five-Spice powder crosses the boundary between East and West, and with delicious results! If you are wondering how this cake tastes, well, using the Five Spice powder to create a swirl in the center of the cake gives it a licorice scent and flavor. Asian pears or pear-apple as they are sometimes called, are almost overpowered by the Five-Spice powder but manage to hold their own, although entirely self-effacing. Baked, the pears hold their shape and retain their moisture but lose that light crisp slightly sweet flavor they had when eaten raw.

Asian Pear Bundt Cake with Five-Spice Swirl (from Baking a Moment)

Prep time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 1 hour
Servings: 16

For the Swirl:
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon five-spice powder

For the Cake:
2 sticks (1 cup or 8 oz) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 cup Greek style nonfat plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 Asian pears, peeled and diced

Preheat oven 350˚F. Melt a tablespoon butter. Add about 1/2 tablespoon flour to the butter and combine. Brush butter mixture on the inside of a bundt pan, coating thoroughly. Be sure to get some of the butter mixture inside the crevices. Set aside.

Combine the swirl ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl, add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar. Stop the mixer to turn over the butter mixture. Add the eggs, yogurt, and vanilla. On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, scraping it with your fingers into the mixing bowl,  until just streaks of flour remain. Fold in the pears by hand, turning several times to distribute the fruit. Be careful not to over mix the batter.

Scrape half the batter in the prepared bundt pan. Be sure to smooth the batter right up to the edges and into the crevices of the bundt pan. Sprinkle the swirl mixture thickly on top. Use it all! Top with the remaining batter. Smooth the top and push the batter into the crevices. Bake one hour. Test at 55 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in the pan on a wire cooling rack. Then invert the pan. The cake will easily fall out of the pan and onto the wire rack. Finish cooling on the rack.  If desired, sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar.

lemonade jelly with basil

lemonade jelly with basil

This dessert/snack from is delightfully refreshing. It has a mild herbal flavor from the basil and a tart tangy taste from the lemons.

Prep time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Servings: 6


juice of 4 lemons (3/4 cup juice), strained
3/4 cup white superfine sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup orange juice, strained

In a small bowl, roughly tear the basil leaves and set aside.

In a small saucepan, put the lemon juice and sugar. Warm it over a low flame until it begins to boil, about 10-15 minutes. Pour the lemon juice mixture over the basil leaves and let it steep for at least 15 minutes.

In the saucepan, add the orange juice and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let the gelatin bloom for 5 minutes. It will clump but don’t worry about that. Warm the pan over medium heat and stir constantly to dissolve the clumps. Remove from heat. Strain the lemon juice-basil mixture into the orange-gelatin mixture, and discard the basil leaves. Whisk vigorously to combine.

Pour lemonade jelly mixture into 6 individual cups or into one 8 inch square pan. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. When the pan jelly is firm, cut it into 16 squares. If desired, serve jelly with sweetened whipped cream topping. Appetizer Serving Suggestion:

  • Double the amount of gelatin (think: Knox Blox) then cut the jelly  into circles or squares. Thread 2 jellies on a toothpick or skewer along with basil leaf.

no-fuss risotto with chicken and herbs

no fuss risotto with chicken and herbs

Since the Fourth, I have been prepping for the oral defense of my dissertation, and on Friday, I passed! So that’s why I’ve been absent from blogging, but I’m ready to come back now. In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about cooking so I bought The Science of Good Cooking by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. Usually I try out a cookbook by borrowing it at the library first, but I was sure this would be a good one so I splurged on a copy from In ATK’s inimical style, there’s a lot of text and sidebars explaining the cooking process for the recipes which have been grouped by “concepts” or cooking methods. Though the Test Kitchen recommends rinsing for some  varieties of rice, arborio rice, which is used in risottos,  is actually better without rinsing. The one thing that is daunting about making a really creamy risotto is standing at the stove and patiently stirring the pot. This recipe eliminates that step and still comes out creamy and flavorful. I adapted this recipe slightly by using boneless skinless chicken breasts.

5 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped fine
salt and pepper
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup (2 oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced (I used scallions)
1 teaspoon lemon juice (I used lime juice)


I saved time by using 2 teaspoons chicken broth paste to make the broth. Boil paste and 7 cups water in a large pot over high heat. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, sear the chicken breasts on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken breasts and put them in the pot with the simmering broth and cook until the chicken registers 160˚F on an instant read thermometer, about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board. Don’t discard the oil.

Add 2 tablespoons butter to the oil remaining in the pot. Over medium heat, cook the onions with a teaspoon salt until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds longer. Add the rice and cook until the grains turn translucent around the edges. In the Dutch pot, this took about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in 5 cups hot broth into the rice. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is just al dente, 16-19 minutes. I stirred the rice after 8 minutes, then 16 minutes. It needed an extra 3 minutes for all the water to be absorbed.

I added 3/4 cup of the remaining broth to the rice to make it creamy, turning the rice gently until the rice became cream and soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand, covered, 5 minutes.

Slice the chicken breast into thin slices. Add the chicken to the pot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, parsley, chives or scallions, and lemon or lime juice. Stir gently. If desired, add more broth mixture to loosen the texture of the risotto. Taste. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. I added a third cup more of the Parmesan cheese for flavor. Serve at once.

the fourth of july paella

fourth of july paella

The Fourth of July Paella (really, The Minimalist’s Paella)
Everybody is blogging red white and blue today but not me. I’m so oppositional. It’s also hot and muggy, temperatures in the upper eighties in NY, and what do I decide to cook but The Minimalist’s Paella from The Essential NY Times Cook Book, that requires nothing less than a 500˚F oven. The temperature in the kitchen rose to ninety-six! It was worth it. Called The Minimalist’s Paella, this dish is so simple, with just four main ingredients: rice, broth, shrimp and chorizo. I added the peeled shrimp shells to the broth to flavor it. The slight shrimp flavor it added to the broth was delicate. As the rice absorbed the water in the hot oven, it became crusty without being burnt at the edges, and the chorizo was toasted without being charred.

Prep time: 30 minutes (those shrimp take time to peel and devein!)
Cook time: 20 minutes
Resting: 10 minutes
Servings: 4

1 pound shrimp-in-the-shell (I used medium shrimp but I think jumbo shrimp would be outstanding!)
4 cups chicken broth
pinch of saffron
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups Arborio rice (no substitutions!)
12 oz chorizo, mild or hot
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Chopped scallion and cilantro, for garnish

Preheat oven 500˚F. While it is heating, peel the shrimp and save the shells. Devein the shrimp and set aside. Slice the chorizo on the bias and set aside.

In a small pot add the chicken broth. I used chicken stock paste because it’s more convenient. It tends to be salty so I only used half the recommended amount. Add the shrimp shells and saffron to the chicken broth. Let it come to a simmer. Strain the broth and discard the shells. Set aside the broth. The broth will be a pale yellow color from the saffron.

In a large oven-proof Dutch oven, heat the oil and when it is hot, add the onions. Cook until nearly transparent, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir occasionally. Cook the rice until it looks shiny, about 1-2 minutes. Add the broth, shrimp, and chorizo. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook’s Note: Arborio rice’s unique property is the ability to quickly absorb liquid whether it is cooked on the stove top for a risotto or in the oven for The Minimalist’s Paella. Because of this,  I do not recommend any other rice substitutions for this dish.

Bake 20-25 minutes, uncovered. The liquid should be absorbed and the paella will be dry on top. Stir, and let rest 10 minutes before serving. Garnish each plate with scallion and cilantro. I served the paella with a minimalist’s accompaniment, quartered avocado pear.