May 31, 2012

My Romanian vacation Part 1 – Talking about Easter

After a long and enjoyable trip, an exhausting 24 hour travel back, a dreary and tasteless low fat airplane meal, a copious and overindulged airport Mexican snack, a painfully hot Memorial Day weekend, and a week-long jet lag recovery, I’m finally rested and ready to share with you my Romanian spring vacation.  You may be a bit confused since I’ve posted a couple of stories while I was still in Romania; I thought that I couldn’t leave you guys for eight weeks without anything to cook, bake or simply assemble.  Now, I’m back and, guess what, we’re talking about Easter again.  I know, I know, Easter has long passed, the eggs have been cracked, the ham has been eaten, but I just can’t overlook our most important holiday or share with you some of the exquisite traditional dishes on our Easter table back home in Transylvania. 

I have to admit that this year was my first time in eight years that I went home for Easter; so, it was pretty special and emotional.  I was afraid that I had forgotten the Romanian way of celebrating Easter.  But there was nothing to be afraid of.  Once home, it all came back to me.  In fact, all these traditions and feelings were still there, still strongly imbedded in my memory, behavior and faith.  Perhaps, they had only been dormant for several years.  I instantly recalled how relaxing and uplifting it had always been around Easter to vegetate on my grandmother’s terrace admiring the greenery and soaking up the crisp spring atmosphere.  This year was no exception.  On Easter day, the smell of lamb nicely roasting in the oven invaded the surroundings, the eggs were already painted and were patiently waiting to be knocked, the Pască was resting, so was the lamb haggis, while the never tiring beak of a nearby wood-pecker kept digging for food in the bark of an old walnut tree.  It seemed that even the wood-pecker knew it was time for a good feast.  In fact, it was time for a long awaited and beautiful holiday at home.   

As expected, the food at Easter is an essential element.  We didn’t put together a pretentious menu, but it was abundant, just as I remembered it, filled with all the dainties we all love for Easter.  The table was colorful, plenteous and ready for us to attack. 

There were red tinted eggs

Lamb Haggis


Lamb Ciorbă

Roasted lamb with green peas and creamy mashed potatoes

Fresh Bibb lettuce salad

Countless cakes and cookies

The most important part of Easter was to be there and prepare these dishes with my mom and grandma after all these years.  It’s endlessly fascinating to watch my grandma cook; roaming around the kitchen with her glasses halfway down her nose, being so quiet and absorbed that you don’t dare to move an inch so that you don’t disturb her and make her lose her focus.  And when you do move and make some noise, she looks up, her engrossed expression disappears for a second from her face and she sketches a smile only to regain her concentration in an instant.  This year, Grandma Vicki added a new cake to the Easter menu.  It was a glamorous, elegant and vibrant Vanilla and Raspberry Cake.  This cake was so buttery and light at the same time, while the bright raspberries gave it a pop of color and tanginess.  It was such a fantastic cake that we made it again for my grandma’s birthday a couple of weeks later.

Vanilla and Raspberry Cake
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Serves: About 20 servings

Ingredients for the Cake:

·         8 eggs
·         420 grams (1 ¾ cups) sugar
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         210 grams (1 ¼ cups) flour     
·         1 teaspoon baking powder
·         A pinch of salt
·         Butter and flour to coat the pan

Ingredients for the Almond syrup:

·         ¼ water
·         2 Tablespoons sugar
·         ½ teaspoon almond extract

Ingredients for the Vanilla Frosting:

·         5 egg yolks 
·         250 grams sugar
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         500 grams mascarpone cream
·         100 grams raspberries fresh or frozen (if using frozen raspberries, thaw them and drain them)
·         Chocolate for decoration

Instructions for the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Coat a 14 by 10-inch pan with butter and flour. 

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.  In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla extract with a hand mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the dry ingredients and beat until incorporated.  In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt on medium speed until they hold medium-firm peaks.  Carefully, fold the egg whites into the egg yolks, sugar, flour, and vanilla mixture. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and a tester comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes in the pan on a rack, then turn out onto the rack to cool completely.  When the cake has cooled completely, slice it in half using a large knife. 

Instructions for the Almond syrup:

In a small saucepan, bring the water, sugar and almond extract to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Turn off the heat and let cool completely.  Once it has cooled, carefully spoon the syrup over both sides of the cake.  Let the cake absorb the syrup for several minutes.  In the meantime, prepare the cream.

Instructions for the Vanilla Mascarpone Frosting

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla extract with a hand mixer until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the mascarpone cream.  Don’t worry if the mixture will be too runny at first; it will thicken up as you beat it. 

Spread half of the frosting over the bottom half of the cake.  Add the raspberries.  Place the other half of the cake on top, top side up.  Spread the remaining vanilla mascarpone frosting over the top and sides of the cake.  Sprinkle chocolate curls or pieces on top for decoration. 

It smelled, looked and felt like Easter and it felt good to be home!

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)    

May 15, 2012

Going bananas

When I think of bananas, I usually think of an exotic fruit that gives you energy and that it’s best eaten in the morning or thrown into a sort of cake.  Well, it turns out there are countless things you can do with bananas.  One of these is a Cranberry-Topped Pudding.  Now, I’m not really sure that this is actually a pudding, but we’ll let that slide by; it’s not that important anyway.  What’s important is that you can have this pudding for breakfast, brunch, dessert, snack, you name it.  And even more important is the fact that it’s featherlight, filling and fabulous! 

I came across this recipe a few weeks ago.  It was nicely delivered with our Thursday Pittsburgh Post-Gazette paper.  And out of the 10 easy things to do with bananas, this one stood out the most.  It was easy, fast and looked (at least in the picture) gorgeous.  I planned on trying this recipe for brunch over the weekend one of these days, but it turned out that brunch came sooner than expected.  Not long ago, both Adrian and I were in the mood for something sweet.  I’m not the only one in our family who has a sweet tooth; my husband is a major sweet lover.  Unfortunately, I was out of anything dessert like.  So, I had to improvise.  And this is how our pre-planned brunch turned into a late night dessert.  And it was well worth it!    

This pudding is a great way to start your morning or as it turned out for us to end your night.  The Greek yogurt and ricotta cheese make this pudding hearty, while the cranberries make it chewy and tart.  And you’ll also get an energy boost from the bananas.  Sprinkle some toasted sliced almonds on top for an extra layer of texture, crunchy bite and nutty flavor.  You will not be sorry.   

Cranberry-Topped Pudding
Adapted from Dash (March 2012)

Serves: 4 servings


·         2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
·         3 sliced bananas
·         1 cup plain Greek yogurt
·         ¼ cup ricotta cheese
·         2 Tablespoons honey
·         2 Tablespoons dried cranberries


Sprinkle lemon juice over the bananas.  In a large bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, ricotta cheese and honey.  Add bananas.  Spoon into 4 serving bowls.  Top each serving with dried cranberries. 

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)    

May 7, 2012

Something to nibble on

I have a sweet tooth.  So, I would say that any good meal has to end with a good dessert.  Having said that, chocolate chip cookies have never really been my thing and, for me at least, would be a stretch to call them dessert; I would rather call them a sweet snack.  I think that they remind me too much of the sadly pale cookies always present on the dessert table in the college cafeteria.  I have to say that they were beautifully displayed on cookie trays in an attempt to make them look appealing.  I’d peek; even try to make myself interested, but then walk away always ending by the ice-cream counter.  Truth be told, I did try them a couple of times.  I was just too curious; I can’t help it, it’s my nature.  Unfortunately, although they would look lush and glamorous and inviting in the stack on the cookie tray, once out of the pack, they would lose their charm and good looks.  Those cookies were just bland and sort of rubbery, and not even the chocolate bits inside would do them justice.   

Fortunately, I can’t say the same about these chocolate chip cookies that I found in the March issue of Bon Appétit.  These might have just converted me to a chocolate chip cookie lover for good.  They are so addictive!  These cookies are buttery, crunchy and sweet with golden tops and nicely toasted brownish edges.  Those utterly decadent soft centers just melt away in your mouth, while the subtle salty aftertaste lingers on your taste buds for a few moments only to balance out the sweetness and richness.  These are the perfect sugary goodness to nibble on or to enjoy with a glass of milk.  Oh, and they’re super easy peasy to make!   

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted slightly from Bon Appétit (March 2012)

Makes 30 cookies


·         1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
·         ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
·         ½ teaspoon baking powder
·         ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
·         ¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
·         ¼ cup granulated sugar
·         1 large egg, at room temperature
·         ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
·         1 cup semisweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 425°F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Whisk flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl.  Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and both sugars in a large bowl until well combined, about 2-3 minutes.  add egg and vanilla extract; beat on medium-high speed until mixture is light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add dry ingredients, reduce speed to low, and mix just to blend.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Using a mini ice cream scoop, spoon dough onto prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 ½” apart.  Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until edges are golden brown, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to wire racks and let cool.  Repeat with the remaining dough. 

Do ahead:  Can be made 1 day ahead.  Store airtight at room temperature, or freeze cookies for up to 2 months.   

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)