Pathiri - A Layered Savory Indian Cake

The April Daring Cooks Challenge was brought to us by Joanna from What’s On The List. She taught us all about Pathiri and challenged us to create our own version of this inspirational Indian dish!

Really, Pathiri could be considered for Passover, or Easter even, as it looks like a largish egg.  And, crepes are a form of unleavened bread, right?   So, greetings, whatever your celebration!

This traditional savory cake is supposed to be composed of a filling layered between crepes spread with coconut cream, and the whole topped with more coconut cream before being baked.  I baked mine in a small spring form pan, but you can use a small oven-proof frying pan if you have one.

I decided to make the layers complementary, but vary them.  Two of a curried ground beef mixture, two layers of ricotta, and a layer of chopped steamed baby kale.  But it's got all the spices, and plenty of coconut milk, spread on all the crepes, so we aren't diverging completely here. 

You start with getting the crepes made.  I just did my regular recipe, as they are something we love, and I make them frequently. 

1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk  (or enough to make a not too thin consistency)
2 or 3 eggs (I usually use 3)
2 - 3 tablespoons melted butter or mild cooking oil

The easiest way is to put your eggs and about half the milk in a blender, then while it's whizzing, add the flour and enough extra milk to get a good crepe batter, (should coat a wooden spoon) adding also the oil or butter.  Swirl about 1/4 cup in a hot crepe pan, coated with a bit of butter if needed, and cook on both sides very briefly.  Just enough to color.

Next make your spicy Indian filling.  You can use chicken, (recipe given at the Daring Cooks site) ground beef or lamb, or make it vegetarian.  I had plenty to save for another meal, which will be beef cannelloni in the remaining crepes.

Put your layers together by first brushing  coconut cream onto both sides of a crepe.  Put it down into your pan, add filling over the top, and continue until you have about 5 or 6 layers. 

And, just as a side note, coconut milk has been found to contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as well as "According to "Ceylon Medical Journal, coconut fats do not contain trans-fatty acids. The fats that are present in coconuts are less likely to clog arteries."  So, be healthy and slather it on!

If you use ricotta as part or all of the filling, you might sprinkle it with garam masala or cardamom powder.

Now brush more coconut cream onto the top and sides of your cake, and bake at 350F until the cake is dry.  Mine took about 25 minutes.

Let cool slightly and cut into wedges.  Serve with a chutney and perhaps a fresh cucumber raita, and you have a delicious meal. 


Manapua for Mark Twain's Visit to Hawaii

For our bimonthly Cook the Books Club, the current selection was Twain's Feast by Andrew Beahrs, a meandering digression on the travels and favorite American foods of Samuel Clemens, then, and what has become of them now.

Really, a meandering lament (say Jeremiah was a contemporary cook) for the lost, or nearly extinct native species, both plant and animal.  Those beloved by Twain, from the now protected prairie hens of Illinois to oysters and mussels once fabulously prolific
on the California coast.  The damming of the muddy Mississippi and etc. etc.  Possibly preaching to the saved here, but lots of fascinating information.  I especially enjoyed all the material on possum and raccoon preparation.

Though tempted to do something from the New Orleans section, as I do love Creole and Cajun dishes,  I thought it would be fun to take a digression, way westward instead, and celebrate Mark Twain's time in Hawaii, since Beahrs did not cover that influential, yet relatively brief period in the author's life.  I found the following story interesting enough to quote most of it, thinking you might enjoy the background information as I did. From a 2010 article for Huff Post Books, by Kate Kelly, entitled Mark Twain and Hawaii: Long Before it was the 50th State:

"Since last spring the literary world has been abuzz about the November 2010 release of the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography. Twain had left the manuscript with specifications that it not be published until one hundred years after his death, by which time he would be "dead, unaware, and indifferent."

 In the 1860s, a young Samuel Clemens, who had only recently adopted the pen name of Mark Twain, was one of the first reporters to be sent from the mainland of the United States to the Hawaiian islands. He was on assignment for the Sacramento Union to provide their readers with information about what these fabled islands were really like. 

Twain spent almost four months in Hawaii, eventually producing for the Sacramento Union 25 letters about the Sandwich Islands, as he called them. His letters were a huge hit at the time, and the merit of his work lives on. One Hawaiian native, Lawrence Downes, writing recently about Hawaii for the New York Times (5-14-06) notes that Twain provides the "best travel writing about Hawaii...that I have ever read."

During his visit, Twain traveled to the summit of Kilauea, hiked Diamond Head, and made his way through the valleys of the islands. He also surfed, testing out the sport that locals loved even then. 
Samuel Clemens longed to return to the Sandwich Islands and spent many years wondering how and if he could go back. In a later work, Twain writes of Hawaii:

"For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surf is in my ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud-rack; I can feel the spirit of its woody solitudes, I hear the plashing of the brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago."
But that first trip became a pivotal point for Samuel Clemens, and he was never able to return for a stay. His stories were so popular that his fame began to grow, and he found himself in great demand.
Writes Twain: "I returned to California to find myself about the best-known honest man on the Pacific coast. Thomas McGuire [Maguire], proprietor of several theaters, said that now was the time to make my fortune -- strike while the iron was hot -- break into the lecture field!"

Around 1860 a number of the Chinese who had left the plantations began to open small businesses in an area of Honolulu known as Chinatown. These businesses were mostly small shops specializing in specific trades such as grocers, jewelers, bakers and tailors, as well as the restaurant trade.

Which brings me to my point - that Sam Clemens would most likely have visited Chinatown during his stay in Honolulu, as he was there in 1866.  Chinese food had became wildly popular by that time, with both foreigners and the local Hawaiians, especially dim sum, the varied and delicious appetizers. One variety of which remains a local favorite - Manapua, the Hawaiian word for Char Sui Bao, tasty little buns with a filling of pork char sui. 

Several years ago I made them for the first time, stating then that I didn't know of anywhere on the Big Island to get any (wanting organic, sustainably raised pork made it a bit difficult of course).  For the recipe see my earlier post.   However, this time I wanted to use my sourdough starter, more likely what the early manapua makers of Chinatown would have used.

A delicious treat, and surprisingly easy to put together.  If you slow roast some pork, you might add  Chinese seasonings to your left-overs, and have the filling without any trouble.  The dough is a cinch to work with, and they can be baked or steamed in a bamboo steamer over a wok, as I did.

Visit the Cook the Books Club page to check out what everyone came up with later in the week, and to see what books are lined up for the coming months if you would like to participate.


Macadamia Nut and Basil Oil Salad Dressings

For March’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge, Ruth, Shelley and Sawsan asked us to totally veg out! We made salads and dressings, letting the sky be the limit as we created new flavors and combinations that reflect our own unique tastes.

Of course, for those of us who usually make our own dressings this was not really a challenge.  So, in order to make it one, I decided to do something that was.  Make my own oil for the vinaigrette! 

Or have someone else do it.  The project and the coconuts have been waiting, but then a friend interfered with that idea and gave us a big jar of his own macadamia nut oil.  He has an oil expeller, and also has a large grove of coconut palms, and makes coconut oil.  An amazing dude, who actually runs his car on that oil.  I thought the mac nut oil would be lovely in dressings and an aioli, which I made immediately.


Super Duper Spanakopita

The February Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Audax of Audax Artifex. The challenge brought us to Greece with a delicious, flaky spanakopita - a spinach pie in a phyllo pastry shell.

I do believe I've made Spanakopita, sometime in the distant past.  But, this recipe is probably new for most of us, even though actually the more traditional version.  Audax got it from his neighbor, Mrs. Maria, and it combines dill and four kinds of onion with the spinach.  Also, instead of cooking the ingredients before filling, they are massaged.  I liked that a lot.  Nothing like a nice massage. Besides which it saves a pan and time.

My camera did not pick up the vivid green of the spinach/dill filling, so I am disappointed with the photos, but the dish was delish, super duper in other words.  The various onions meld with the spinach (chard in my case) and feta cheese.  Also, this recipe uses less cheese than most modern versions, and I much prefer it.

I have had a terrible time on the few occasions I've used phyllo pastry in the past, with it clumping, pulling apart, and generally making a mess.  This time I thawed it (the chilled type recommended was not available here) in the fridge for two days before using, and had no problems. 

I am transmitting the recipe as given, but just so you know, I took a shortcut, in not squeezing the liquid out and adding the breadcrumbs separately.  I just added them until the moisture was taken up sufficiently, and it worked fine.  One step less is good in my book.  Oh yes, I also skipped step 15, by mistake, but as things turn out, the extra sheets of phyllo on top were superfluous (in my humble opinion), unless your pastry does not meet and completely cover the top.  I used an 8 inch square pan, so it all got covered.


6- 8 Servings
 2-3 very large bunches (1 kg) (about 2 pounds) fresh (or thawed frozen) spinach
 1 packet (375 gm) (13 oz) chilled phyllo (phillo) pastry sheets, (or thawed frozen phyllo sheets), I used half the packet for this recipe, about 12 “thicker-style” sheets or about 20 “thin-style” sheets
 2 cups (300 gm) (about 10 oz) good quality feta cheese, crumbled
 1 bunch (30 gm) (1 oz) dill, soft stems and fronds finely chopped
 1 red (Spanish) onion, chopped
 2-3 shallot onions, chopped
 1 bunch spring (green) (eshallots) onions, white and pale green parts chopped
 1 large leek, well washed, white part chopped
 Optional crushed garlic clove (only use one)
 One half nutmeg, freshly grated (optional but highly recommended)
 1 to 2 large eggs
 4 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil
 large handful breadcrumbs (or cous cous, cracked wheat) to absorb excess liquid
 ½ cup (120 ml) softened butter or olive oil (or a combination) for the phyllo sheets
 Salt and pepper
Spring (green) (shallots) onions, red (Spanish) onion, shallots, garlic and leek

 1. Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5
 2. Wash the spinach and dry thoroughly, discard the tough stems, chop or tear the leaves into pieces, place into a large bowl. (If using thawed chopped frozen spinach just place into a large bowl).
3. Add the chopped onions, chopped leek, finely chopped dill, four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the crumbled feta cheese and the optional garlic and nutmeg.

4. Using your hands vigorously massage the filling ingredients until the mixture loses about half to three-quarters its original volume.
5. Over a bowl or a large plate squeeze large handfuls of the mixture till they feel dry, continue until you have done all of the filling mixture, and you have collected all the excess liquid.
 6. Cover the excess liquid with enough breadcrumbs, cous cous or cracked wheat (or similar) to absorb the liquid. The breadcrumbs should be moist. I used ¾ cup of cous cous and it took about 5 min.s to absorb nearly all of the liquid.
7. Return the moisture-laden breadcrumbs back into the filling mixture.
 8. Add an egg (or two depending on how dry the mixture is) and mix well using your hands. Taste, season with some salt (careful feta contains lots of salt) and plenty of pepper. Set aside. The filling can be stored in the fridge for a day or two if well covered.
 9. Butter (or oil spray) the baking dish.
 10. Cover the phyllo sheets with a damp tea towel.
 11. Cut (with a knife or with scissors) the phyllo sheets to the correct shape for your baking dish. Cover the cut sheets with the damp tea towel until needed.

 12. Butter (or oil) every second sheet, cover the base and sides of your baking dish making sure that the sheets overhang the edges of the baking dish. Use about ten “thin-style” phyllo sheets or about six “thicker-stye” phyllo sheets for the base and sides.
13. Spoon the filling into the phyllo pastry case.
14. Fold the overhanging sheets over the filling.
15. Use four to six more “thicker-style” phyllo sheets or about eight “thin-style” phyllo sheets to cover the top, butter each layer. Use a spoon or similar to neaten the edges of the pastry case.
16. Cut into slices before baking. (At this stage you can freeze the unbaked spanakopita to be baked for later, add 30 mins extra to baking time.)
17. Bake in a preheated moderately hot oven for 30 mins up to one hour (depending on the depth of your baking dish). Cover with foil if over-browning. Mine took one hour and my dish was almost 6-inch (15 cm) high. Check for doneness by using a thin knife, insert it into the spanakopita for 30 secs, the filling should feel set and the knife should feel hot to the touch.
18. Cool for 30 minutes. Can be eaten hot or cold.

Oh dear, we were too impatient to wait 30 minutes for it to cool.  Didn't seem to suffer for it.  Sooooo good.  Love this method, and it was surprisingly quite easy to make.  Of course I had dreaded working with phyllo again.  Last time I swore never more.  But, thawing first in the fridge really seemed to help, unless this was just a better brand.

You might want to see the other versions at the Daring Cooks site.


Arancine al Ragu', the Italian Rice Ball with Savory Fillings

January’s Daring Cooks’ challenge was a ball! The lovely Manu from Manu’s Menu brought our taste buds to the streets of Sicily and taught us her family tradition of making arancine – filled and fried balls of risotto. Delizioso!

I made half the amount of risotto in the given recipe, and there was plenty for the two of us to have it with dinner the first night.  I made sautéed Ono, otherwise known as Wahoo, with pesto sauce, and served with the risotto, it was excellent.  Even after making the Arancine next day, there is still enough to make more tonight.

Having made extra when I slow cooked some pork tenderloin Sunday, the filling was a given for these little delicacies.  In that pork braise there were also fennel, tomatillos, some lime juice, tomatoes and wine.  So I minced all that up good, adding sautéed onion and toasted, ground fennel seed.  But, you can follow the directions and make it from ground beef as Manu directs.  But, to me this dish is a classic for left-overs.  Left-over risotto and stew of any sort for stuffing.  However, she also provided recipes for vegetarian versions.  So, left-over spinach maybe, but I am transmitting the recipe for meat Arancine as given.  You can get the alternate recipes at the above link.


Blackberry Mochi Cake and Sticky Lemon Cake

Our current Cook the Books Club selection, Baking Cakes in Kigali, by Gaile Parkin, was a wonderful glimpse of life in a distant land and culture, modern-day Rwanda, albeit in a place (University housing) heavily influenced by Western thinking, customs, food, etc., with a resultant struggle by some of the local people to hang on to African traditions. 

In spite of all the horrific experiences endured by many of the characters in Parkin's book, an upbeat and hopeful mood was maintained.  There was humor and flavorful individuals aplenty, encountered by the heroine, Angel Tungaraza, through her home business of catering special occasion cakes.

I thought all the negative references to "white cake" as opposed to the brightly colored frostings on Angel's cakes was particularly funny.  Cake itself is not "African", and the bits of recipe we were given certainly had no claim to outstanding taste.  Similar to The Cake Boss, TV series.  It's all in the design and decoration, rather than any wonderful or distinctive flavor.  But that is quite aside from the chef's artistic outlet and entrepreneurial creativity.

 In case you don't know what's going on here, we read a book selection bimonthly, and then cook something inspired by the work.  For my submission, I was tempted to bake three white cakes, with differing flavors.  About this time last year I made Black Cake, a West Indian specialty, so why not?  One of my very favorites is coconut cake, made with coconut cream and topped with shredded coconut on a fluffy white frosting.  Then the Sticky Lemon Cake, which I'd been wanting to make since reading a Nancy Atherton book which included that recipe, Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea.  Perhaps to be followed by a Butter Mochi Cake.   However, what I ended up with was the Sticky Lemon Cake and a Blackberry Mochi Cake.


Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

November’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge had us on a roll! Olga from http://www.effortnesslessly.blogspot.com/ challenged us to make stuffed cabbage rolls using her Ukrainian heritage to inspire us. Filled with meat, fish or vegetables, flexibility and creativity were the name of the game to get us rolling!

I haven't made these very often (can count the number of times on one hand) and really don't remember having them at home, growing up.  However, much of my childhood being in a repressed state of hardly any memory, that's not really a clue.  Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are quite delicious though, and should make a more regular appearance on our table.

 Since I have collards growing in my garden, a first attempt with the challenge was made with a few leaves from those fairly puny, smallish plants.  They're not getting enough sun right now.  Using a filling mixture of ground beef and bulger wheat, instead of rice.  Mainly just because I had a smidgen left to be used up.  I especially liked the very simple sauce I made, from Claudia Roden's, The Book of Jewish Food, which was easily made by blending up a can of tomatoes with sugar, lemon, salt and pepper.

Since it was just the two of us, I split a red bell pepper half for the extra stuffing.   They baked for 2 hours, and I served them over egg noodles, with a small salad.

It's good to have another recipe for using collards, which when they're going strong produce lots of greens.  For my next trial I used regular cabbage, and a stuffing of half ground pork and half ground beef, with the partially cooked rice, recommended in our given recipe.

We were given very clear and easy to follow directions for each step, which I will include here:


Castilian Bread Soup for Daring Cooks

Our November Daring Cooks’ hostess was Begoña, who writes the beautiful blog, Las recetas de Marichu y las mías. Begoña is from Spain and didn’t want to go with the more common challenges of paella or gazpacho, she wanted to share with us another very popular recipe from Spain that we don’t see as often called Sopa Castellana which is a delicious bread soup!

I am so bad.  Bad, bad, bad.  Took every shortcut in the book on this one, still managing to scrape in only at the last minute.  There are just too many projects going on in my life right now.  On top of which, dealing with a plumbing leak - so no water to the kitchen.  But, still yet, this soup was delicious.  Probably would be even more so if the stock was made from scratch, as in the given recipe.  I used a fine organic brand of mushroom broth instead, and coppa in place of the Serrano ham.  This has besides the bread, lots of garlic.  Yum.

Castilian Bread Soup
Servings: 6
 1 kg (2½ lbs) of veal meat
 1 chicken drumstick
 1 small piece (5 cm cube) (2 inch cube) of Serrano ham
 1 veal bone
 3 leeks
 2 carrots
 1 bunch celery
 1 onion
 handful of chickpeas (1/2 cup)
 2 whole cloves
 1 sweet dry red pepper
 Salt to taste
 10 garlic cloves150 gm (5½ oz) Serrano ham
 2 sweet dry red peppers
 12 slices of day-old bread
 2 tablespoons (30 ml) (15 gms) (½ oz) sweet paprika
 50 ml (3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) of extra virgin olive oil
 2.5 liters (10 cups) vegetable, meat or chicken stock
 6 large eggs

Directions for the stock:

Soak the chickpeas in water, the night before making the soup. Fill a big stew pot with water, and add the meat, chicken, ham and bone. Gentle simmer for one hour and a half skimming occasionally.

Clean and cut all the vegetables and the dry pepper, except the onion. Stud the onion with the two cloves add to the pot with the drained chickpeas and the cut vegetables and dry pepper. Add salt to taste.  Simmer for another one and a half to two hours, if needed add water.

After this time, take out the veal, chicken and ham, which can be reserved for another recipe. Strain the stock. Discard the bones.
If you wish you can use the cooked vegetables to make a great soup by adding cream with some potatoes and more water.

Peel the garlic cloves and slice them. Cut the Serrano ham into small cubes. Clean the dry peppers by removing the ribs and membranes and cutting into small pieces. Cut the bread into fine slices.
In a stew pot warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and fry gently. Make sure that garlic doesn't burn; it should be brown but not burned. Add the ham cubes and the cut and cleaned peppers and stir all the ingredients.

 Add half the bread and continue stirring. Take pan off the heat and add the paprika. Stir till everything is well integrated and return the pan onto a low heat. Add the stock and let it cook about 20 minutes, it must not boil, or otherwise bread will fall apart.

After this, add the rest of bread, taste for salt (remember that the stock is already salted) and wait until the bread softens. Then add the eggs, one for each person, poach the eggs about 3-4 minutes.
For another option, add only the white of eggs to the soup, stir till they make fine threads. Place the yolks into individual serving bowls and ladle the hot soup into the bowls.

A very nice dinner with just salad and a glass of Spanish rose.  Viva!


Cheesy Bacon Scones, Oh Yes!

Truthfully, I don't know what put it into my mind to combine cheese and crispy, crumbled bacon in scones.  The idea just showed up, and rather than fight it, we followed through.  Very glad for the impulse, whatever its origin, a stunning combination in a breakfast scone.  Also, they are very quick and easy to put together.