Archive for December, 2010

Banana Rum Cake

The base for this recipe is a simple, buttery Italian cake with the texture of a pound cake. The cake is very good all by itself or with dollops of jam, pastry filling or Nutella baked inside.

In this recipe I’ve used a store-bought banana pie filling (one of my top ten food finds for 2010) but any flavor of store bought pie or pastry filling works equally well (cherry pie filling is another one of my favorites for this).

This dense, sturdy, one-bowl cake is no-fail and does double duty as base for strawberry shortcake when fresh berries are in season in the spring. I’ve taken the basic recipe a step further to give it a holiday flare by soaking the top with rum while the cake is still hot from the oven, but this is optional. The cake is still very nice without the rum and can be omitted if a non-alcoholic cake is desired. If you’re looking for a good yellow cake that stands up well to soaking with a flavored syrup or alcohol, this one is perfect.

There’s no baking powder or soda in this recipe, it hasn’t been omitted in error.

Banana Rum Cake
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) room temperature butter
1 cup all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¾ cup granulated sugar (plain or vanilla)
3 eggs
1 cup banana pie filling (or any other pie filling or favorite jam)
½ cup rum (optional but very good)

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease & flour a 9 inch springform pan.

In a mxing bowl, beat the butter, sugar and salt together until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

Add the eggs one at a time and beat well.

Add the flour and with a spatula, mix just until the flour is incorporated. Don’t over mix.

Spoon batter into the prepared pan and drop spoonfuls of the pie filling randomly over the top of the batter, do not mix in.

Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the batter comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and while the cake is still hot drizzle the rum over the top of the cake. Let cool completely before cutting.

Broiled Crab Cakes

Simple and elegant, crab cakes are perfect for holiday entertaining. High quality fresh crabmeat is available in eight-ounce containers in many supermarkets these days and is often on sale around the holidays. The best crab cakes contain only enough of a binder (crushed saltine crackers are used here), to hold the crabmeat together. Gentle tossing with a fork will prevent breaking up the pieces of crabmeat.

It seems fussy to insist on fresh parsley, but when working with a pricey ingredient like fresh crabmeat, fresh parsley makes a world of difference. These delicate crab cakes are broiled. The touch of butter placed on top of the cakes before broiling gives them a lovely nutty flavor as it browns and keeps the cakes moist.

Serve two of these crab cakes as a main course per person or smaller ones as an appetizer.

Broiled Crab Cakes
1 lb fresh (not canned) crabmeat
10 saltine crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons finely minced peppedew or pimiento peppers
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ tsp Old Bay seasoning
2 tsp very soft butter

Place all of the ingredients, except the butter, in a large bowl. With a fork, very gently toss the ingredients together until just blended being careful to avoid breaking up the crabmeat too much.

Gently form into 6 slightly rounded cakes and place on a non-stick baking sheet (non-stick aluminum foil works great here). This can be done up to a day in advance and refrigerated, covered, until ready to cook.

Preheat broiler on it’s lowest setting. Gently spread softened butter on each cake and broil until golden brown and hot throughout. Let sit for 5-10 minutes minutes before carefully removing the cakes from the baking sheet with a spatula.

Serves 3 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer.

Zaytoon Market and Restaurant

A recent craving for falafel lead us to Zaytoon, an absolute gem of a family owned and operated neighborhood restaurant and grocery store specializing in Persian cuisine on the west side of town on South Durango across from Desert Breeze Park.

This beautiful market and casual restaurant, perfumed with the exotic aromas of Middle Eastern spices and freshly baked bread, is a total sensory browsing pleasure. Aisles of well-stocked shelves offer an amazing selection of oils, teas, spices, seasonings, canned goods, dried fruits and Middle Eastern pantry items.

The produce department featured gorgeous pomegranates, fresh herbs and enormous plump dates. A nice selection of olives and cheese was on display in the deli and dairy cases and irresistible fresh Middle Eastern breads and pastries were impossible to pass up.

The spotless café specializes in halal meat kabobs, Persian inspired sandwiches, salads and appetizers. We started with an outstanding version of hummus served with a sheet of freshly baked, crisp, flatbread. Our falafel was perhaps the best we’ve ever had. Our generous portions of moist, savory chickpea fritters were wrapped in fresh lavash flat bread and served with a traditional Persian salad of finely cubed cucumbers and tomatoes in a lively citrus & herb dressing.

We will be making a return visit very soon and if we’re lucky, lamb kabobs will be the daily special again. If they can work magic with the humble falafel, we can only imagine what they do with lamb. Zaytoon is now on our top ten list for outstanding ethnic dining and grocery shopping in Las Vegas, and with so much to choose from in Vegas, that’s saying quite a bit.

Zaytoon Market and Restaurant
3655 S. Durango Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89147
website and menu

Food Photography on the Las Vegas Strip

With a camera in nearly every cell phone and the availability of seriously good point-and-shoot digital cameras, anyone can be a food photographer these days. There’s no better place to snap great photos of world class cuisine prepared by top chefs than Las Vegas.

The main problem with shooting great photos in a restaurant is lighting and Caesars Entertainment is trying something new to solve that problem and accommodate the growing interest in food photography. Now anyone who wishes to photograph their Grand Seafood Tower, Beef Wellington or anything else on the menu at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris Las Vegas need only let their server know and they will gladly come to your table with a small, unobtrusive hand held photography light to make sure your photos look as fabulous as the dishes taste.

Right now, this is only a pilot program at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant but we’d be thrilled to see this available at the other Caesars properties on the Strip. More info is available at the official Caesars blog, The Pulse of Vegas. (photo courtesy of Scott Roeben)

Roast Pork

This may be one of my favorite Sunday dinners. I love the way the kitchen smells while a pork roast is cooking.

Boneless pork loin roasts may be easier to carve but I believe a bone-in roast cut from the sirloin is a juicier and more flavorful cut for roasting. The cooking method is simple, I like to tie the roast in two or three places so the roast holds it’s shape while roasting and help the roast cook evenly. I season the outside with a simple paste that includes a touch of sugar and soy sauce. This is done to help the roast brown nicely and to create the drippings that guarantee outstanding gravy.

A room temperature bone-in sirloin pork roast will take about 25 minutes per pound at 350 degrees. I always use a meat thermometer when roasting meat and cook a pork roast to an internal temperature of about 150 degrees. The temperature will continue to rise after the roast is removed from the oven about another 10 degrees for a final internal temperature of around160 degrees.

Buy a roast larger than you may need. The leftover roast pork is very versatile. The next day I often simmer the leftover roast, bone and all, in a good BBQ sauce for shredded pork sandwiches or in a jar of salsa for enchilada and burrito filling.

Roast Pork
1 3-4 lb bone-in sirloin roast
1 large clove garlic, mashed
1 tsp light brown sugar
1 tsp coarse salt
½ tsp soy sauce
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Pat the roast dry with paper towels. Tie the roast in 2 or 3 places with kitchen twine to help the roast hold it’s shape while cooking.

Make a paste of the remaining ingredients and rub it into the roast on all sides.

Place the meat in a roasting pan and roast in a 350 degree over about 25 minutes per pound until a meat thermometer registers 145-150 degrees.

Remove from the oven and tent loosely with aluminum foil to rest while making a gravy with the pan drippings. During this time (10-15 minutes) the temperature will rise about 10 more degrees and the internal juices will redistribute.

A 3-4 lb roast will serve 4-6 people generously with leftovers.

Bologna Cake

Stick with me on this one. This is a fun, cult appetizer. I’ve been making this for over 25 years because people won’t let me forget about it, even people who are suspicious of bologna (or any other processed food). Two vegetarians have actually fallen off the wagon with this slightly odd, but tasty recipe in the years I have been serving this.

This recipe requires no special skills or equipment. It goes together quickly. It’s fun to assemble and thanks to the culinary miracle of cheese in a spray can, it’s a snap to decorate. When sliced it looks very impressive…and darn it, people love it.

Buy a high quality pre-packaged bologna (I used Oscar Mayer here). Deli brands are fine if the bologna is perfectly round and if the meat slicing machine produces perfectly even slices. I never, ever use aerosol cheese for any other reason, but the decorator tip on the can is easy to use and makes this look as if you know how to decorate cakes. And, after a few glasses of wine, people don’t care that it came out a can.

A Bologna Cake can be made a day ahead, loosely covered with an upturned mixing bowl and refrigerated until ready to serve, or served right after assembly. It’s not fussy, it’s bologna. This is a unique appetizer your guests will have fun with. But be warned, your friends may insist you bring this to parties for the next 25 years. I make no apologies for this whimsical recipe. My friends on the other hand…..nah, they’re OK, too. (Hey Cissy and Sally, this is for you, you can make your own damn bologna cake now. Grin.) Thank you, Muriel Jones, wherever you are.

Bologna “Cake”

12 ounces good quality bologna, sliced
12 ounces room temperature cream cheese (one and one half blocks)
½ package dry ranch salad dressing mix
1 can aerosol cheese, sharp cheddar flavor
1 sliced pimiento stuffed olive, a few slivers of green onion tops or few parsley leaves
Buttery flavor crackers for serving

In a medium bowl and with a spatula combine the dry ranch dressing mix with cream cheese until well blended.

Place the first slice of bologna on a medium serving plate. Spread about a teaspoon of the cream cheese mixture evenly over the top of the bologna. Place another slice of bologna on top and repeat until all of the bologna slices have been used.

Spread the remaining cream cheese over the top and sides, as if icing a real cake. Squirt dollops of the aerosol cheese around the base of the “cake” and around the upper rim. Garnish as desired with olives, parsley or green onions.

To serve, place a very thin, sharp knife on the plate for guests to slice thin wedges. Place on top of a buttery-style cracker (Townhouse or Ritz).

Serves 10-12

Roasted Pineapple

Roasted Caramelized Pineapple
Pineapple often shows up on holiday hams as a garnish. We think it deserves a more important place on the table. Newer, ultra-sweet varieties of fresh pineapples are now common in most supermarkets and while perfect for eating raw, they make an interesting side dish when roasted along with the ham.

Don’t let the formidable appearance of a fresh pineapple put you off trying this. The only trick to making quick work of a fresh pineapple is a very sharp knife. For this task, I use my sharp carving knife or my ultra sharp chef’s knife to cut the fruit into quarters after lopping off the top and bottom. The innermost tougher part of the core slices right off leaving the brown, outer skin to deal with. That, too, slices off easily with a sharp knife and any of those tiny round “eyes” left behind can be scooped out with the tip of a vegetable peeler or a paring knife.

That leaves four large quarters of pineapple ready to just eat out of hand or for using in salads, fruit plates, upside down cake, or as in this easy recipe, a fantastic side dish for that holiday ham.

1 fresh pineapple
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar

Clean & remove the tough inner core of the pineapple. Cut into very large irregular chunks (about 2 inches in size).

Place the pineapple chunks in a baking dish, cover with the brown sugar and dot with the butter.

Roast for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove from the oven and flip the chunks over, basting with the juices.

Reduce the heat in the oven to whatever temperature your ham recipe uses and continue cooking alongside the ham until the juices have slightly reduced and the fruit has begun to caramelize on the edges. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Multiple pineapples can be prepared in this manner to feed more people by using a larger baking dish so the pineapple pieces aren’t crowded. This will allow the juices to reduce and caramelize easier.

The Butcher Block

The various Asian and Mexican markets in Vegas house some fine meat and seafood counters, but my on-going search for slab bacon lead me to the family owned Butcher Block on the southwest side of town.

I hit the jackpot. Not only did I find lovely applewood smoked slab bacon, I also found a source for dry aged prime beef, wagyu beef, Kurobuta heirloom breed pork and all manner of game (elk, venison, buffalo, gator, quail, partridge, rabbit, pheasant, turtle, rattlesnake, squab). Best of all, I found a source for one of my all time favorite ingredients, duck fat. Sold by the pound here, I’ll never have to worry about running out of the liquid gold I need to make duck fat roasted potatoes (if you haven’t cooked potatoes in duck fat, you are missing out on a little bit of heaven).

We spotted very fine looking crawfish and crabmeat in their seafood counter as well as a few specialty items we’ll be needing for our holiday entertaining in a well stocked freezer section. All of this is tucked in a bright, clean, easy to get to shop on South Rainbow.

Put the Butcher Block in your GPS…they also carry duck breast and foie gras!

The Butcher Block
7625 S Rainbow Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89139

Monday-Saturday 10AM – 7PM
Sunday 12PM – 5PM


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