Orange Sponge Cake

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This is a grand summertime cake!  Bursting with orange flavor, simply dust this cake with powdered sugar and decorate with candied orange peel – you’ll never notice the absence of traditional frosting (which typically adds around 200 calories per piece of cake!).  This recipe gives you a great excuse to dust off the tube pan lurking in the back of one of your kitchen cabinets, and the resulting cake is pretty enough to stand out at your next outdoor party.  Enjoy a slice for me!

picture599Ingredients (serves 12)

6 eggs, whites and yolks divided

1 tablespoon grated orange zest (use an organic orange for this!)

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier liquor or orange picture600extract

1 1/2 cup sugar, divided into 1 cup and 1/2 cup portions

1 1/4 cups white flour

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions

picture602Step 1) Using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks for 5 minutes on high speed.  Add orange zest, orange juice, and Grand Marnier.  Slowly add 1 cup sugar, blending at low speed.  Gradually increase speed to medium, and blend mixture for 3 more minutes.  The mixture should be thick, and should double in volume.

Step 2) “Sprinkle and fold” flour into egg picture603yolk mixture, 1/4 cup at a time.  In other words, sprinkle 1/4 cup of flour over the egg yolk mixture, and gently fold the egg yolk mixture over the flour using a rubber scraper.  Repeat until all flour has been added.  Do NOT over mix.

Step 3) Using a scrupulously clean mixing bowl and beaters, beat egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until soft picture604peaks form (see photo).  This will probably take 2 or 3 minutes.  Then, slowly add 1/2 cup of sugar, adding 1 tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form.  (see photo).

Step 4) Now we need to combine the yolk mixture and the white mixture without losing all of the “poof” we just created with the electric mixer!  To do this, gently fold 1 cup of the white mixture into the yolk picture605mixture.  Then, fold all of the yolk mixture into the white mixture.  Don’t overthink it… just combine the two mixtures as gently as possible.

Step 5) Transfer the batter into an ungreased tube pan, approximately 10 inches in diameter (“standard” size).  Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for approximately 55 minutes.  The top of the picture606cake should feel springy when touched.  If you press gently with your finger and the imprint doesn’t bounce back, give the cake a few more minutes.

Step 6) Remove from oven and tip the pan over to cool.  I find that balancing the pan on a bottle (a beer bottle or a wine bottle, don’t judge) works well.  After cake has cooled completely, slowly loosen cake from picture608the sides of the pan with a butter knife and gently shake onto a serving plate.  If your cake doesn’t come out of the pan perfectly, don’t panic.  Powdered sugar and candied orange peel will hide “cake owies” very well!

Step 7) Dust, decorate, and enjoy!

About that candied orange peel… simply peel an orange using a potato peeler, to get picture607thin slices of peel without the white pith.  Add the peel to a small pan with 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of sugar.  Simmer for 10 minutes, remove peel, and place peel on a baking sheet.  Dry peel in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes, while your cake is cooling!

For Love Of Pomegranates

picture267 Crowded Earth Kitchen has featured pomegranates in several recipes this month, and with good reason.  Pomegranates are essentially the perfect winter fruit.  Pomegranates are high in fiber, contain a wealth of vitamins including Vitamins C and K, and are widely considered a “superfood” due to their abundance of antioxidants.  Pomegranates contain a particularly amazing compound called “ellagitannin,” which breaks down to form another amazing compound, “ellagic acid,” in the human body.  Also found in foods such as raspberries, strawberries, and walnuts, ellagic acid has been shown in medical studies to have powerful anti-cancer properties.

Oh, and pomegranates are delicious.  Why wouldn’t they feature prominently in winter recipes?

It occurs to me that I never actually demonstrated what I believe is the easiest, least messy way to open a pomegranate and capture all of those juicy, jewel toned, nutrition packed arils.  My apologies.  Let’s open a pomegranate together and enjoy a simple winter fruit salad, shall we?

Ingredients (makes 1 quart of fruit salad)

1 pomegranate

6 – 8 clementines, tangerines, or oranges

1 peppermint tea bag

picture240Directions

Step 1)  Use a paring knife to score a pomegranate all the way around in a circle, about 1/2 inch from each end.  Use the tip of the paring knife or a finger to gently pull up the leathery skin.  After the ends are loosened, simply pull them off.

picture241Step 2) After the ends are removed, you will be able to see the pattern of the white, pithy membranes inside the pomegranate.  These membranes resemble the white pith found on the insides of oranges.  Use your paring knife to score through the pomegranate skin, end to end, along each section of white membrane.

picture242Step 3) Over a protected work surface, pull your pomegranate apart along the lines you’ve scored.  Notice how there is NO JUICE in this picture.  That’s not a camera trick… careful scoring really will keep all of the juice where it belongs, inside of the arils!

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picture244Step 4) Separate the pomegranate arils.  This is very easy.  Simply lift away the papery white membranes inside of the pomegranate, and the arils will come right off in your hand.  As shown in the photo to the left, one pomegranate contains about 2 cups of tightly packed arils.  That’s a lot of fruit!

picture268Step 5) Combine your pomegranate arils with sectioned clementines, tangerines, or oranges in a pretty bowl.  For maximum flavor, serve your winter fruit salad only slightly chilled.  Ice cold fruit is less flavorful than fruit which has been allowed to warm up a bit!  Garnish your winter fruit salad with a few flecks of peppermint from a tea bag.  Enjoy!

Crowded Earth Kitchen hopes pomegranates become a winter staple in your pantry!

Wild Salmon in Parchment Hearts

Shown served with Whole Wheat Molasses Bread and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc!

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In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, there is a lot to love about this meal.  First, wild salmon is a heart healthy delicacy with which Crowded Earth Kitchen recommends indulging as often as your budget allows.  Baked on a bed of fresh baby spinach, dressed with a bit of citrus, and served with a delicious whole wheat bread (see 2/11/14 post), this meal is a nutritional superstar.  Second, baking with parchment is the perfect combination of “really easy but looks complicated,” which makes it a perfect technique for impressing your guests without inducing a pre-dinner, kitchen meltdown.

You need exactly five items to prepare this fabulous entrée.  That’s right, five.  It’s that easy.    Have fun, and let me know how your dinner turns out!

Ingredients (serves 2)

2 Wild Salmon fillets, skinned, 6 ounces each

4 cups fresh baby spinach

1 organic orange

Coarse ground black pepper

Parchment paper

Procedure

picture176Step 1) Tear two rectangles from your roll of parchment paper, approximately 14 inches long.  Fold them in half, and trace a half heart shape on the paper, as shown.  Cut out your parchment hearts.

If you’ve never worked with parchment before, it’s sold right next to plastic wrap and aluminum foil.

picture181Step 2) Open your parchment hearts and anchor them onto your work surface, so they don’t curl up (annoying!) as you are layering your ingredients.  I find that salt and pepper shakers are just the right size for this.

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picture182Step 3) Place two cups of fresh baby spinach on one half of each parchment heart.  It’s OK if the spinach overlaps the center of the heart a bit, but leave 2 inches of empty space around the edge.  You’ll need that space later!

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picture183Step 4) Place a Wild Salmon fillet over the center of each spinach bed.   Sprinkle with coarse ground pepper, and top with two slices of orange.  Now comes the fun part!

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picture184Step 5) Fold your empty heart half over the “stuffed” half, and begin sealing the edges by folding them tightly two or three times.  If you’d like, you may staple the fold, but count the staples (hint:  use the same number for each serving) and either remove or warn your dinner partner before serving!

picture190Step 6) Place filled parchment hearts on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated, 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  After baking, carefully cut an X shape in the top of each parchment to allow steam to escape.  The steam will curl the edges back, making a lovely presentation!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Whole Wheat Molasses Bread with Orange Walnut Spread

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My Grandpa loves this bread.  I should explain, Grandpa is as German as the day is long, and has sampled his fair share of homemade breads in his eighty-one years.  If Grandpa says this is good bread, you had best roll up your sleeves and get ready to play with flour!

This recipe offers just the right combination of whole wheat flour for nutritional wholesomeness, and white flour for fluffing things up a bit.  Also, the yeast is fed and the bread is sweetened entirely naturally, using blackstrap molasses and honey.  The end result is a bread that tastes rich, slightly sweet, and a little bit nutty (due to the addition of flax).  Bite into a slice and you’ll find its just firm enough to remind you that you aren’t eating something preservative-laden that came out of a plastic bag.  It pairs perfectly with a simple Orange Walnut Spread, below.

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)

2 1/4 teaspoons (or one envelope) yeast

2 cups lukewarm (not boiling hot) water

1/4 cup soft (not melted) butter

3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses

3 tablespoons organic honey

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups white flour

2 tablespoons flax seed

Cornmeal (for dusting the baking pan, optional)

Directions

picture169Step 1)  In a large bowl, combine yeast and lukewarm water.  Stir, then let sit for a minute or so to allow the yeast to “bloom.”  The surface of the water will look a bit frothy.

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picture170Step 2) While the yeast is blooming, combine butter, molasses, honey, and salt in a separate bowl.  Hint:  If you grease the measuring tablespoon with just a drop or two of cooking oil, the molasses and honey will slide right off the spoon into the bowl!

Step 3) Add butter mixture to yeast and water.  Stir gently until well blended.

picture172Step 4) Add flours and flax seed.  Stir together and dump out the contents of the bowl onto a floured table or countertop.  Your dough will look like a mess at this point, and that’s OK!

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picture173Step 5) This is the fun part… knead your bread dough for five minutes.  Don’t just use your fingers, but really put some muscle into it by using the heels of your palms.  Turn the dough over a few times, sprinkling the table and the dough with flour if it becomes sticky.  After five minutes, your dough should look like this:

Step 6) Grease a large mixing bowl – rubbing the paper wrapper from a stick of butter along the inside of the bowl works well.  Place your kneaded dough in the bowl, and set aside in a warm place for 60 to 90 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.  Hint:  If you turn on your oven for one or two minutes (no longer), then turn it OFF, your oven will be just warm enough to provide a cozy place for your bowl of dough to rise.

Step 7) Need to work out an annoyance or two?  Once your bread dough has doubled in size, give it a few punches to smush it back down.  Then, divide your dough in half and shape it into loaves.

Step 8)  Prepare your baking pan(s).  You can use greased and floured bread pans if you’d like, but I prefer the rustic feel of round loaves baked on a flat pan.  I recommend greasing the largest flat pan that will fit in your oven, and sprinkling it with cornmeal.*  Then, place your rounded loaves on the pan, several inches apart.

*Cornmeal is optional, but it helps keep the bread from sticking to the pan and also helps create a hearty bottom crust.

picture175Step 9)  This step is optional, but will make your loaves look all fancy schmancy.  You’ll need a cookie cutter, a beaten egg, and one of the following: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, or quinoa.  With Valentine’s Day approaching, I’m using a heart shaped cookie cutter.  Simply place your cookie cutter on your loaf of bread and brush a bit of beaten egg on the bread dough that’s inside.  Holding the cookie cutter in place, sprinkle a bit of seeds or quinoa inside.  Carefully lift the cookie cutter away.  Look at that!

Step 10) Let your shaped loaves rise again, this time for one hour.

Step 11) Bake your loaves at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.  Let cool, and enjoy with Orange Walnut Spread.

Orange Walnut Spread

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This recipe takes all of two minutes to prepare, and is wonderful paired with a hearty bread such as the Whole Wheat Molasses Bread, above.  Children love this spread served with carrot sticks.

Ingredients (makes 1 generous cup)

8 ounces of low-fat cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 tablespoons orange marmalade

2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts.

Directions

Step 1) Beat together cream cheese and powdered sugar really well.  I prefer using an electric mixer for this.

Step 2) Blend in orange marmalade and chopped walnuts.

Step 3) Serve in a pretty bowl!

Orange Marmalade and Spinach-Pomegranate Citrus Salad

picture138Orange Marmalade

(makes 10 half pint jars)

Orange marmalade is a winter delight.  When my garden plot freezes and wears a blanket of snow, I begin looking forward to the brightly colored displays of citrus fruits at my local market.

When I first started making my own jams and jellies, I shied away from marmalade.  Many of the recipes I found were pretty, well, precious.  I wasn’t interested in the many, many steps and copious amounts of time required.  Eventually, I came up with this.  Four ingredients, ten simple steps, and maybe two hours of time.  The end result?  Ten half pint jars of tangy, citrusy goodness – perfect for spreading on toast or muffins, drizzling over a winter salad (see below), or eating right out of the jar with a spoon.  I won’t tell.

Ingredients

picture1344 pounds of organic oranges (about 8 organic oranges)*

1 1/2 cups water

6 cups white sugar

1 pouch (3 ounces) liquid pectin

*Yes, your oranges really, really do need to be organic.  Why?  Because marmalade uses the peel.  Do you want to eat orange peel that has been treated or sprayed?  Neither do I.

Directions

Step 1) Wash your oranges.  No really, WASH your oranges.  Scrub them in hot water for a few minutes.  You’re eating the peel, remember?

picture135Step 2)  Peel your oranges with a vegetable peeler.  This is surprisingly fast, and works well to separate the thin layer of bright orange zest (which you want) from the thick layer of bitter white pith (which you do NOT want).

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Step 3)  Slice your orange peels into thin strips using a paring knife.  My strips ended up being about 1/4 inch wide and 2 to 3 inches long.  The dimensions aren’t terribly important.

Step 4)  Add your sliced orange peel to a large pot.  Add 1 1/2 cups of water and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Step 5) While the peels are simmering, remove the white pith from your oranges.  Pull the oranges apart into halves and remove the spongy white center.  Remove the seeds, if needed.  [It is possible to purchase organic, seedless oranges.  Just sayin’.]  The idea here is to have as much “orange” and as little “white” as possible.  As you are working with your oranges, save all the juice.  Working over a baking pan with shallow sides helps.  Chop up your oranges into little bite size pieces.

Step 6) After the peels have simmered for 20 minutes, add the chopped oranges and any juice you’ve collected.  Simmer, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.

picture136Step 7)  Add 6 cups of white sugar to the pot, keep stirring, and bring that pot to a Mad Boil… the kind of boil that is too fierce to calm down, even with stirring!

Step 8)  Once you have achieved a Mad Boil, add your pectin.  Continue stirring and boiling for one more minute.  Remove from heat.  Your kitchen will smell fantastic right about now.

Step 9)  Review Crowded Earth Kitchen’s canning guidelines, and fill your sterilized, half pint canning jars.  Be sure to leave 1/4 inch of headspace.  Place lids and bands on your jars, and process in a boiling water bath for 1o minutes.

Step 10)  Grab a big spoon and your cooking pot, which probably has a few tastes of marmalade left at the bottom.  It would be a shame to let those tastes go to waste, right?  Don’t burn yourself.

That’s it!  Now, let’s do something more respectable with our marmalade than lick the pot…

Spinach-Pomegranate Citrus Salad

(makes 4 generous servings)

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This might be the world’s easiest winter salad.  It’s also a nutritional powerhouse, containing iron in addition to Vitamin C and other antioxidants.  During cold and flu season, we need all the help we can get!

Simply fill a serving bowl with 8 cups of a 50/50 mixture of baby spinach and mixed salad greens.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of fresh pomegranate arils.  Peel 2 oranges or clementines, slice, and tuck into salad.  Serve with a drizzle of orange marmalade.

Delicious!