Where's the book?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Join the club

I have not one, but two cooking groups. If something is fun once, it’s fun twice, right? The groups each have eight people, but other than that they function quite differently. 

In group A, the hosts choose a theme (usually a country, or region) and provide the space and the drinks while the guests bring all the food. In group B, the host picks the name of a country at random and makes a meal (usually quite an impressive feast) from the cuisine of that country.

In group A, we’ve done Scandinavia, India, fish (dessert was interesting), and favorite childhood foods. In group B, we’ve visited Belgium, Albania, Italy, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Bahamas, Nicaragua, and Djibouti. And we’re soon heading to Norway.

Both are a lot of fun, and even educational. I hosted Djibouti night and I think I can safely say that before I picked Djibouti out of the hat I didn't know one thing about it. I wasn't even sure what continent it's on. I'm not exactly an expert now, but at least I know it's in Africa. I can even pick it out on a map. And I can tell you what the capital is (Djibouti--yes, it's the city so nice they named it twice), and a bit about its history, culture, and cuisine.

Where Djibouti is. Who knew?
Group A recently had a Bulgarian evening, which was interesting and delicious. I made dessert: a phyllo pastry with a pumpkin walnut filling and this cake, made with rose water and pistachios. I was a bit hesitant about the cake, since rose water has always been one of my least favorite ingredients. It smells like the moisturizing cream my mother used to slather on—not something I’d ever want to eat. But the scent was barely noticeable, and the taste was a wonderful combination of salty nuts, tangy cardamom, and sweet pound cake. And I learned that Bulgaria is famous for its rose crop, grown for culinary and medicinal purposes as well as the fresh-flower and perfume industries. Who knew? The cake was easy to make, and, I’m told, keeps well. Since pretty much every bite was consumed that night, I didn’t get to test that theory.

Rose Water Pistachio Pound Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large room-temperature eggs
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole-milk plain yogurt
2 teaspoons rose water
1 cup shelled, chopped roasted, salted pistachios (divided)
Rose Water Icing
2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons unsalted melted butter
3/4 teaspoon rose water (reduce this amount if you have a rose water aversion)
1 drop red food coloring

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour one (9x5-inch) loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cardamom, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, butter, yogurt, and rose water. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat for 1 minute, until blended. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes (1 minute if using a stand mixer). Gently stir in 3/4 cup of the pistachios.
  3. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Turn right side up and place on rack to cool completely.

To make the icing: When cake has cooled, whisk together confectioners sugar, milk, butter, rose water, and food coloring until blended and smooth. Spread over top of cooled cake, letting it drip down sides. Sprinkle with the remaining pistachios. 

Storing/freezing: Store the iced cake at room temp, loosely wrapped in foil, for up to 1 week. To freeze, wrap the cooled, un-iced cake in plastic wrap, then foil, and freeze for up to 6 months. Let thaw at room temp for 4-6 hours before icing and serving.

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