Saturday, September 29, 2012

A delicious and simple almond cake

Bring this to your next potluck: My cousin, Jen, brought this delicious almond cake to a little gathering we had not long ago and it was the hit of the party. It's super dense and sweet and almond-y and vanilla-y and you'd swear it has marzipan in it, but it doesn't. You could dress it up with a little chocolate sauce or whipped cream, or eat it with coffee for breakfast, which I did, happily.  Next time I'll throw some raspberries in. But just as written, it's a simple and delicious cake and there's a good chance you have all the ingredients on hand.

I underbaked mine a little--I took it out after 25 minutes and it really could have used another few. So, do as I say and not as I do--follow the recipe.

Almond Cake
1 1/2 c + 2 T sugar
3/4 c melted butter
2 eggs
1 t almond extract
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 c flour
2-3 T sliced or slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9" round cake pan or springform pan.

Blend 1 1/2 c sugar with melted butter. Whisk in eggs. Add extracts, then salt and flour. Spread batter (it will be thick) in pan. Sprinkle with remaining sugar and almonds. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Test after 30--cake should be just done, still gooey but no raw batter.


Ciao! We leave for Italy this week.  The husband and I are desperate for a vacation, it's been a year since we--or at least I--had a week off. And now, two! I intend to spend them eating, drinking wine, looking at art and ancient ruins, admiring the people, and practicing some pretty terrible Italian.

I hope to have some good photos and stories to share with you when I return, because goodness knows everyone wants to hear about someone else's vacation.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The one where I discover tonkatsu

I've been in a major cooking rut the last few weeks. Months, really. There's no excuse for it, not with all the wonderful summer produce around. For some reason, I've been making the same things over and over again. The short list includes Chicky Teri, Spaghetti with Shrimp and Arugula, various pureed soups, and the assorted quickie dinners that are the best friend of the home cook: pan-roasted salmon with steamed green beans, grilled flank steak with romesco.

I did make one new, great roast chicken--a Spanish roast chicken, with chorizo and little potatoes--of which I neglected to take a single photo. That post will have to wait for the encore presentation. But overall, I've been relying on old recipes, whose grocery lists and directions are etched in my mind.

Finally, though, I felt like doing something new: tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu is the Japanese idea of Western food, according to this article. The Japanese enjoy these little breaded cutlets, dipped in tonkatsu sauce (reminiscent of BBQ sauce) in their Denny's restaurants and are often surprised when visiting the States to not see tonkatsu on the menu.

My friend Stacie posted about this awhile ago, and I often order it as part of bento boxes at Japanese restaurants. But somehow, I'd never made it on my own. Part of it was a faint resistance to breading and frying pork. Now, writing this, it seems like an absurd claim. But, also, tonkatsu ("ton" is pork, "katsu" is cutlet) is often pounded thin. I have no meat pounder. This always seemed an obstacle.

I overcame this so-called barrier to my tonkatsu enjoyment by placing each cutlet between two pieces of plastic wrap, then giving them some good whacks with my cast iron skillet. I wasn't able to get them too thin, but it helped. I think in the end, they were about 1/2" thick.

The recipe is simple. I actually combined, sort of, the directions in the links above and it all worked out just fine. I made four cutlets; we ate two four dinner and the next day, we had them for lunch. The husband's was packed tidily in a tupperware, snuggled between a scoop of rice and mound of bright green broccoli. I started to feel the need to buy some real bento boxes.

I think I can safely say the rut is over.

4 boneless pork chops, about 1/2"-3/4" thick
1 cup (more or less) panko
1/4 c. flour
1 egg, beaten
vegetable oil for frying
sliced green onions, optional

Tonkatsu sauce
1 T. soy sauce
2 T worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1 t. brown sugar
1 t. dijon mustard

Directions: Make tonkatsu sauce by whisking all ingredients together. Set aside.

Pound pork cutlets to desired thickness. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

Set up your assembly line: place flour on one plate, beaten egg in a shallow dish wide enough for dipping, and panko on a third plate. Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a skillet (I used my non-stick) over medium heat.

While the oil is heating, prep cutlets: coat in flour, shaking off the excess; dip in egg (letting excess drip off); and roll in panko, pressing crumbs in. Place chops in pan. You should hear a sizzle, but be careful that the oil is not so hot that it will burn the panko before the pork is cooked. For my cutlets, which were medium-thick, they cooked a total of 8-9 minutes, flipping once, and were perfectly done. The thinner the cutlet, the quicker they'll cook.

When the cutlets are golden brown and crispy, remove to a plate lined with paper towels and let sit for a minute. Sprinkle with green onions and serve, with tonkatsu sauce on the side for dipping.