Caroline Cooks

A modest documentation of my culinary exploits.

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Location: Alexandria, Virginia, United States

Monday, January 30, 2006

Lemon Curd

It was another Monday morning at work. Beside me on my desk was breakfast, a hunk of baguette (generously slathered with European butter), and a bag of lemon slices for my tea. The lemon and butter scents mingled and merged, arriving at my nose in a combined state that brought to mind luscious lemon curd. After work I could be found in my kitchen, whisking eggs and lemon zest in a saucepan to satisfy the resulting craving.

Though you can find jars of lemon curd at any supermarket, it is, like anything else, so much better when it's homemade. The silken creamy texture is an ideal counterpoint to the tart lemon, and the color is gorgeous.

Lemon curd is versatile enough that you should have no trouble finding uses for it. You can serve it on scones, or with fresh fruit, or use it as a base filling for a tart. Sandwich cake layers with it, or use it in a trifle. I like to use it as a filling for crepes. It's also remarkably simple to whip up, requiring just a few ingredients you probably already have.

Some tips and tricks for making lemon curd can be found here, including some helpful hints for preventing the dreaded cooked egg pieces from forming. Even if you see no lumps or bits of egg in your lemon curd, I would still recommend straining it. Straining yields the flawless, velvety texture characteristic of a good lemon curd.


3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp lemon zest
2 eggs
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter

Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and eggs in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring continuously. Cook until the sugar dissolves and mixture is light in color (about 3 minutes). Stir in lemon juice and butter; cook, stirring continuously, for 5 minutes or until the mixture thinly coats the back of a spoon. Cool. Cover and chill (the mixture will thicken as it cools).

Friday, January 27, 2006

Tajine 2 : Eggplant Tajine

This tajine is even better than the first, if you prefer Mediterranean flavors like I do. It's made with eggplant, tomatoes, and chickpeas. In truth, the crockpot is not necessary here and may even make things more complicated. The eggplant is roasted in the oven beforehand, and the tomato and chickpeas need not be cooked long. You could easily do this in a large saucepan instead.

One note on the eggplant... I didn't peel mine, and ended up with tough skins. Accordingly, I've specified skinned eggplant in the recipe. A Silpat liner makes the job of roasting it much simpler!

Have some couscous going while you prepare the tajine, and you'll be rewarded with a hearty meal when you're done.


olive oil
1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed
4 tomatoes, cubed (canned works too)
1 can of chickpeas, drained
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the eggplant cubes in olive oil and bake for about 25 minutes.

Toast the spices in a dry frying pan on low heat for a couple minutes, then add the onions, garlic, and a bit of olive oil. Cook until the onions become soft and translucent.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, lemon juice, and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Transfer the contents of the pan to a slow cooker and add the eggplant. Cook on low for about 20 minutes, then serve over couscous.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Gâteau Improvisé


It's happened to us all. It's 9:30 on a weekday night, and the urge strikes you to bake something. Something with chocolate would be nice. How about a simple chocolate gâteau? Yes. Perfect. A dense, rich little thing is exactly what you're in the mood for.

In the kitchen, you traipse about pulling out ingredients-- chocolate, flour, butter, vanilla. You realize you're low on some crucial item, like eggs. Of course, since it's one of those nights, you've already had several glasses of wine, and shrug off the egg shortage as a minor inconvenience. You consider concocting a substitution involving baking soda and cream of tartar, but wisely decide against it. Well, you think to yourself, I'll just scale the recipe down. No worries.

You settle down with a well-worn cookbook and a pencil and begin to methodically perform fractional arithmetic in the margins. Hmm. Looks like you'll have to measure out 3/10ths of a cup of flour and 1/5th a cup of sugar. Screw that. Taking another sip of wine, you scribble down measurements that look about right, criticizing the author of the recipe along the way. That's way too much sugar, you think. I'll just use a pinch and add extra flour to balance it out. Of course, your scaled-down version won't produce enough batter to fill a standard 8-inch round, so you rummage through the cabinets and eventually produce a cupcake pan.

Back in the kitchen, you preheat the oven and get to work. Flour is flying. Chunks of butter are hacked off a block of Plugra. Somehow the floor becomes veiled in a thin layer of sugar. Taking vague measurements along the way (just in case you end up with a cure for cancer and need to recreate it later), you pour in generous quantities of vanilla extract and some brandy you happen to have lying around. Another glass of wine later, you have something resembling batter. You pour it into the cupcake pan and pop it in the oven, making a wild guess at what to set the timer for. You lick the spoon thoughtfully, and wait.

When the timer goes off half an hour later, you peek into the oven and pull out the cakes. So far so good. They look done, at any rate. You eagerly unmold one before it has a chance to cool, and, for dramatic effect, plate it with a dusting of confectioner's sugar (and pour yourself another glass of wine while you're at it).

Now is the moment of truth. Your fork breaks a thin, crisp surface and proceeds to glide though a moist and dense, yet slightly spongy, interior. The flavor is exactly what you'd hoped for, a rich, unadulterated chocolate. Tampering with the recipe, as it turned out, allowed you to create exactly what you'd wanted. Polishing off the final crumb, you return to the cookbook to transcribe your frantic scrawlings into a respectable recipe.


1/8 cup powdered sugar
4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp brandy
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup flour
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 325, and butter 6 cupcake molds.

Place the sugar, butter, and chocolate in a heavy saucepan and heat oven low heat until the chocolate and butter have melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and brandy.

Beat the egg yolks into the chocolate mixture, and then stir in the flour. In a separate bowl, beat the egg white with the salt until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture and pour the batter into the prepared molds.

Bake for 30 minutes, let cool slightly, and invert onto a wire rack. Dust the cakes with confectioner's sugar and serve with a flourish!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tajine 1: Root Vegetable Tajine

Though I don't chase after food trends, the recent resurgence in slow cooking just happened to coincide with my own desire to get a crock pot. Embracing the crock pot required the dismissal of some deep-set notions, namely, that slow cookers must be relegated to the dominion of chilis and beef stews. Contrary to popular belief, you can make lovely crock pot meals that demand neither the abandonment of fresh vegetables nor the adoption of artery-clogging meats.

I chose to baptize my new crock pot with an all-vegetable tajine. I've never been certain of what encompasses a tajine, exactly. If it requires the specialized pot, then mine is not truly a tajine but a shoddy adaptation. Nevertheless, I think I can get away with throwing together some vegetables and Moroccan spices and calling it a tajine, don't you?

The time you save by not tending to the actual cooking process is replaced with time spent peeling, chopping, and dicing, but the results are worth it. Since it was the dead of winter, I selected a medley of seasonal root vegetables-- parsnips, turnips, and carrots-- and a craving for okra compelled me to add some of that as well. I'm leaving the okra out of the recipe, though, because it shouldn't stew as long as the other vegetables and that interferes with the simplicity of crock pot cookery. If you want to include it, throw it in at the last minute or else you'll end up with okra mush.


1 pound parsnips, peeled and diced
1 pound turnips, peeled and diced
1 pound carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, chopped
10 dried apricots, chopped
10 dried dates, chopped
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp dried cilantro
32 oz vegetable broth

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and toss until evenly mixed. Cover and cook on low about 6 hours, or until the vegetables are tender but not overcooked (mine were cooked a little too long).

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Basboosa


I have a penchant for little cakes, and with a massive bag of semolina sitting in my cupboard (purchased from the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. during a recent Pittsburgh visit), they seemed like the perfect treat to make for teatime.

Basboosa is a popular dessert throughout the Middle East, and would pair nicely with the Pilau Rice for a simple thematic meal. The cakes keep well in a closed container-- the semolina and yogurt ensure a tender, moist texture weeks later (I know this from personal experience). If you do not like an overly sweet dessert, skip the syrup and drizzle with a bit of honey instead.

If you have unblanched almonds, you can blanch them yourself. Cover the almonds with boiling water and let them sit for about 5 minutes. This will loosen that skins, allowing you to slip them off. Some (well, most) of the skins will be stubborn and not come off easily, so I wouldn't recommend blanching more than 30 almonds at a time unless you have servants or a lot of friends that owe you favors.



(for the syrup)
1 cup confectioner's sugar
4 tbsp lemon juice
a few drops of rosewater

Dissolve the sugar in 1 1/2 cups of water and the lemon juice and then bring the mixture to a boil. Allow it to continue boiling until it has been reduced to a thick, golden syrup. Let the syrup cool a little before pouring it on the cake.

(for the cake)
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 cup semolina
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups Greek-style yogurt
4 tbsp melted butter
18-24 whole blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 350. Mix together the dry sugar, semolina, and baking soda, then beat in the yogurt and butter. Pour the batter into a well-greased pan and bake for 15 minutes. Arrange the almonds in rows on top of the cake, and bake for another 30 minutes or until golden.

Once the cake has cooled a little, cut it into squares and slowly pour on the syrup. It should be allowed to seep into the surface evenly, but not saturate the cake.

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Pilau Rice

Middle Easterners have a knack for using few ingredients and simple preparation to produce luxurious dishes suitable for a grand feast. For who does not feel like a king when dining on skewers of roasted lamb, plump dates stuffed with almonds, and desserts dripping with golden honey?

In this Lebanese dish, pine nuts and currants peek out between grains of saffron-scented rice.



olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp currants
1/2 tsp saffron threads
2 cups long-grain rice
salt and freshly ground pepper

Saute the onions in the olive oil until soft. Add the pine nuts and saute for a few minutes longer, until the nuts are nicely toasted. Then add the currants, saffron, and rice (you may need more oil at this point), and continue to cook, stirring often, until the rice becomes transparent.

Add salt and pepper to taste and pour in enough water to cover the rice. Cover and cook on high until the rice begins to absorb the water. Then remove from the heat and allow the rice to absorb all the water (this should take about 20 minutes). You may need to add more water if the rice is still crunchy.

To mold the rice as I've done-- this always gives it a festive look-- pack the rice firmly into a bowl and invert it onto a serving plate.

Monday, January 16, 2006

About me

Hello, and welcome to my morsel of the web. This food blog is the consummation of something I've been planning in my head for years, but hadn't executed until January of 2006. Why the wait? I had the desire, the time, and, of course the food, but I was missing one crucial element-- pictures! While I could pen eloquent verses on the voluptuous beauty of a simple poached pear, a stunning photograph is what really draws the reader in. So, having received a digital camera as a Christmas present in 2005, the missing piece was in place and I was ready to begin!

As for the girl behind the words and pictures, my name is Caroline and I'm an electrical engineer who wants to become a patent lawyer someday. Currently I'm living and working right outside of Washington, DC.

The link for the RSS feed is http://extravirg.blogspot.com/atom.xml. Please offer your comments and criticisms of the site, as your feedback is instrumental in helping me improve it. I hope you enjoy your time here!