Friday, May 25, 2012

Chocolate-Orange Bread Pudding: An Epic Tale of Leftovers and Redemption

This may look like an ordinary square of bread pudding, but I am inordinately proud of it. The story behind it is one of redemption and rebirth (cue the swelling instrumental chorus…)

It began in January, when I made this cake topped with candied oranges.  Because candied fruit is impossible to find here in my town in rural Florida after Christmas is over, I had to candy the oranges myself. This was a surprisingly easy task that left me with a boatload of leftovers, since only a handful of slices were needed for the cake.

So I did what most mortal cooking enthusiasts do – I shoved them into the back of the refrigerator and forgot about them. (Since candying was originally developed as a preservation technique, I figured they’d be good for a few months – or more.)

The next turning point in the epic took place about a week ago. Some dear old friends (and I mean old – he saw combat in Okinawa, she programmed IBM computers using punch cards and magnetic tape reels; both are formidable storytellers) asked me to bake them a cake for their 48th anniversary.  Their only request was that it be “decadent” with “rich, rich chocolate icing.” Of course, I was delighted to oblige.

I decided to make them a dressy variation of a Boston cream pie, with a rum-flavored custard filling, a full covering of poured bittersweet chocolate ganache, and a decoration of gilded chocolate wedges arranged in a pinwheel formation atop the ganache. (Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of the cake before I gave it to them.)

The base of the cake itself had a pretty standard recipe – eggs beaten to a fluffy mousse with sugar and folded together with melted butter, flour, and leavening. In principle, it would take only minutes to mix together before baking.

Then the family curse paid a visit.

Every member of my immediate family has suffered from this curse: a gluttonous disposition combined with a genetic proclivity for high cholesterol. Because of this familial burden, I generally keep egg substitute in the house rather than regular eggs, and whenever a recipe calls for whole, unseparated eggs, I reach for that yellow carton. It usually works fine for baking.

But not this time. In recipes like this, the texture of the cake depends on the eggs being beaten into a thick foam, which will in turn form the airy bubbles that give volume to the cake. For this, only the oh-so-rich-and-stretchy texture of real eggs will do. I realized this even as I poured a cup of sugar into the ersatz eggs and turned on the mixer: Oops. This probably won’t work. 

My suspicions were correct. After half an hour of being whipped at high speed, the eggs still sloshed sullenly around the mixer bowl in their original liquid form.

This was, no doubt, my karmic punishment for trying to pass fake eggs onto good friends who deserved better. A quick trip to the supermarket for real eggs solved the problem, but I still had a mixer full of fake egg-sugar mix. Throwing it out seemed wasteful – surely, there was some palatable way to recycle the stuff: Custard pie? Some kind of mousse? Besides, those fake eggs were stabilized, pasteurized, and probably loaded to the hilt with preservatives, so they’d no doubt last a while.

Into the refrigerator they went, right behind the oranges.

Next, it was time to make the chocolate decorations for the top of the cake. My friends had seen my cooking-school portfolio and wanted and expected a showstopper cake, but my piping skills had gotten seriously rusty since I stopped baking professionally. (I’ve had precious few occasions to make buttercream roses in my subsequent teaching and writing gigs.) So I chose to top the cake with thin chocolate wedges flecked with edible gold powder instead. It would be eye-catching, elegant, and most importantly, relatively hard to screw up.

Knowing the many ways I could screw up, however, I deliberately made more chocolate wedges than I needed – some would no doubt look funny or break when installed on the cake.  Besides, the chocolate needed to be tempered before I could cut it into those wedges, and I’ve found it’s easier to temper large quantities of chocolate than small ones. My cautionary measure paid off: I had plenty of good-looking, evenly shaped wedges to use for my cake. But I also had a huge plate of leftover tempered chocolate shards.

There is no doubt a special circle in hell for people who throw out perfectly good chocolate – so these went into the back of the fridge, too. Right alongside the oranges and sweetened eggs.

The final chapter of the tale unfolded a few days ago. As a household of two, we generally find ourselves with a good quantity of leftovers after meals, which conveniently stretch into meals on subsequent days. But the other day, I noticed something ominous – our Tupperware supply had dwindled to nothing. Every container in the house was already in the refrigerator or in the freezer.

Something had to be done. It was time to make use of the stuff that was filling those containers and starting to outstay its welcome. I focused on those oranges, the oldest things in the fridge; the chocolate, which occupied a favored container; and those sugared eggs, whose presence in the fridge was just plain awkward.  Since I love the combination of chocolate and oranges, I figured that they’d make a good dessert together. But whatever it was, it would have to have a sweet, eggy base.

Glenn suggested that the eggs would be a good base for French toast – but to use them up, we’d need to make French toast for ten. And the sugar in the eggs, combined with whatever toppings we’d use, would make the finished dish way too sweet.

Then it occurred to me: bread pudding is essentially sweetened French toast in casserole form. It would be a perfect vehicle for finishing off those sweetened eggs, and the chocolate and candied orange would be a refreshing change from the predictable raisin-and-cinnamon treatment bread pudding usually gets.

I chopped up some of the candied orange and chocolate, layered them in a casserole with slices from a supermarket baguette, and topped the whole with the sugared eggs, which I had thinned with milk and flavored with vanilla. (Bread pudding was developed, according to popular myth, as a means for using up leftover bread –but ironically, in this instantiation, the bread was the only major component that wasn’t a leftover.) I let the pudding sit so the bread would absorb the liquid, then topped it a few dots of soft butter and put it in the oven.

The end product? Wonderful – rich, eggy, and luxurious in a way that regular bread pudding isn’t. After all, adding chocolate to almost anything will make it better. I thought it was fine eaten on its own, but Glenn suggested an additional topping of bourbon-flavored hard sauce, which made it even more luxurious.

Recycling had never been so glamorous.


For the pudding:
1 baguette, cut into ½-inch slices
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
¾ cup milk
1/3 vanilla bean
¾ cup semisweet chocolate, chopped into fine pieces
¾ cup candied orange, chopped into fine pieces
1-1/2 tablespoons softened butter
Powdered sugar for garnish (optional)

1. Beat together the eggs, sugar, and milk in a medium bowl. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and with the blunt side of a knife, scrape out as much of the inside material as you can. Stir the vanilla-bean innards into the eggs mixture, ensuring that they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.

2. Cover the bottom of an 8” square pan with a layer of baguette slices (this should use up half the slices). Sprinkle on half the chocolate and half the candied orange pieces. Layer the remaining baguette slices, chocolate, and orange pieces on top of the first layer of bread.

3. Slowly pour the egg mixture over the assembled pudding. Shake the pan gently to distribute the batter evenly. Allow the pudding to sit for about 20 minutes so the bread will absorb the egg mixture.

4. While the pudding is resting, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Top the pudding evenly with small pats of the softened butter.

5. Put the pudding into a larger pan (such as a roaster)  and add about ½” of water to the larger pan.  Cover the pudding with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, or until almost set.

6. Remove the foil, raise the temperature to 400, and continue baking until the pudding is lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

For the bourbon sauce:
6 tablespoons unsweetened butter, softened
¾ cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons bourbon (adjust amount to your taste)

Combine all ingredients until evenly mixed. At room temperature, the sauce will be thick and fluffy. If you wish to thin it down, heat it gently over a water bath at low heat. Serve with the pudding.

Friday, May 4, 2012

#Lets Lunch: A Life Lesson from Hummus

This is part of the monthly Twitter-based #LetsLunch series.  Every month, Lets Lunchers blog about a recipe of their choice on a common topic. This month's topic: Biculttural food! A list-in-progress of other Lets Lunch posts follows the recipe.

I dreaded every day of graduate school. I felt awkward and insecure around my brilliant and worldly classmates, and was terrified of my even more brilliant (and all incredibly famous) professors.

I shouldn’t have been. And now, after a decade of teaching in other programs, I realize my years in the doctoral program in linguistics at UCLA should have been the best in my life (okay, maybe second-best after my two years of living on wine, cheese, and pain au chocolat while teaching English in Paris). UCLA’s linguistics department, to put it in polite academic terms, kicked major ass – but I was too dim to realize it at the time.

Some of the things I dreaded about it back then were the very things that made it such a great place to learn. One of these was the Copy Room Ambush. The Copy Room Ambush worked like this: I’d be minding my own business, photocopying a journal article, when some Famous Faculty Member would suddenly pounce from behind the recycling bins:

FFM: You! You have to give a talk in the Syntax/Semantics Seminar!

ME: But what am I going to talk about?? I don’t have anything ready to present!

FFM: That’s your problem. You’re going to give a talk!

And I almost always did. And all my presentations got ripped to shreds. The discussions invariably veered off onto long digressions, and these digressions led to arguments, and these arguments occasionally led back to my presentation. Or what was left of it, after everyone had taken their shots at it.

It wasn’t just me, either. Everyone’s work got ripped to shreds. The department had a golden reputation and sufficient funding to invite prominent linguists from all over the world to come and present their latest work. We ripped that to shreds too, but not before taking the authors out to dinner.

And yet, all these famous linguists kept coming back when invited. And I kept on working on new papers that I knew would be soundly trashed.

Then, after presenting a paper, I’d rework it and rework it until the protests died down. What didn’t kill my projects – and those of my classmates, professors, and our visitors – made them stronger. And we all knew it.

The department was an insanely busy place, with people presenting research (and getting trashed) just about every day, and a constant stream of interesting visitors from around the world coming through to teach, to collaborate, or just to share their ideas.

These visitors brought non-academic benefits, too. Visitors meant receptions and receptions meant free food – an important consideration for an impecunious grad student. Fridays were a big deal in the department, for that’s when we had our weekly colloquium, usually presented by a visiting big shot. And after the colloquium was a lunch reception.

For me, these receptions were yet another vexing feature of life in the department. First, there was the sheer terror of standing around with a paper plate smeared with hummus or Boursin while trying to make small talk with people who scared the crap out of me. Second was the puzzling contents of those paper plates.

There was invariably something wonky about the food selection. A typical spread consisted of several kinds of cold salads, a fat wedge of Gorgonzola – and several bags of potato chips. Or the assortment would include hummus – served with slices of baguette. When wedges of pita did appear, so would several tubs of salsa or onion dip – but no hummus.

Student members of the Colloquium Committee were responsible for hunting down lunch, and most of my cohorts were scary smart – except, apparently, when it came to food. Perhaps this was because many of them were international students unfamiliar with how the foods they chose were meant to be eaten. Or maybe they were too absorbed in their research on optimality theory or quantifier scope to notice what they were serving us. I really didn't care why our lunches were so weird. All I knew was that it was driving me nuts.

One day, I finally had enough. We grad students were having a meeting to discuss ways to improve various things in the department, among these, the Friday reception. “You know what we need at the reception?” I said, “Matching carbohydrates. What’s the deal with the salsa and bread, and tortilla chips and Brie?”

I saw a few light bulbs go off over my classmates’ heads. “Oh God, we’ve totally been doing that,” someone said.

“Yeah, the chips and butter have got to go," someone else chimed in.

I was too stressed out worrying about my dissertation to remember if we actually did anything about the matching carb situation. But in retrospect, that meeting should have been an “aha!” moment for me: my classmates didn’t think I was an idiot. They actually thought my ideas (about food, at least) had merit and were worthy of serious consideration.

And having seen what the rest of the academic world looks like, I now find myself missing that place I spent years hating and dreading. I miss the caffeinated buzz of our seminar discussions. I miss the thrill of being among the first to hear of new research by bigwigs in the field. I miss my grubby little grad student office and the distant echo of the UCLA marching band practicing on fall afternoons.

And now that I think of it, hummus on tortilla chips wasn’t half bad.


The connection between hummus and tortilla chips isn’t as farfetched as it may seem. Lebanese immigrants have a long history in Mexico, especially in the states of Puebla and Yucatán. I ate at a Yucatecan restaurant in Los Angeles once and was surprised to find kibbe (a Middle Eastern meatball made with ground lamb and bulgur) listed among the appetizers. A regional specialty of Puebla is tacos arabes – tacos served on pita bread rather than tortillas. And the Mexican standard tacos al pastor – tacos filled with spice-rubbed meat sliced off a vertical spit – was, by some accounts, inspired by Middle Eastern shawarma.

Hummus ma lahma is a hearty Lebanese treatment of hummus that tops the already rich chickpea puree with spiced ground beef. Here’s what I imagine a second- or third-generation Lebanese-Mexican in Yucatán might do with this dish: give the beef a local flavor with hot peppers, olives, raisins, and capers. The beef topping is inspired by the filling in a Yucatecan specialty, queso relleno (hollowed-out balls of Gouda filled with seasoned ground meat), and is inspired by Rick Bayless’ pork-based queso relleno filling.



1 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained

3 tablespoons tahini

1 small clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/3 cup water (or as needed)

salt to taste

1. Puree all ingredients except water and salt in a food processor until smooth. With the motor running, gradually add water as needed to obtain a soft but spreadable consistency.

2. Add salt to taste.


1 cup chopped onion

1 large hot banana chile, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons neutral cooking oil, such as canola

1 pound ground beef

1/3 teaspoon ground allspice

2/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup raisins

1/8 cup capers

1/3 cup chopped green olives

1 large pinch dried (or chopped fresh) epazote (optional)

2 teaspoons vinegar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1. Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, chile, and garlic and cook until tender.

2. Add spices and stir several seconds until fragrant.

3. Add the ground beef and cook until no longer pink.

4. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer 20 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.


Put the room-temperature hummus in a serving bowl (preferably a wide, shallow one, but any kind will do). Top with some of the hot beef mixture (you’ll have some left over; it makes a great filling for tacos, empanadas, or a ball of molten Gouda cheese). Garnish with sliced hot chiles and/or chopped cilantro. Serve with pita wedges and/or tortilla chips.

Check out how the rest of the Lets Lunch bunch created their multicultural dishes!

Cheryl‘s Goan Pork Curry Tacos at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Eleanor‘s Wok Picadillo at Wok Star
Ellise‘s Margarita Cookies at Cowgirl Chef
Emma‘s Kimchi Bulgogi Nachos at Dreaming of Pots And Pans
Grace‘s Taiwanese Fried Chicken at HapaMama
Jill‘s Southern Pimento-Stuffed Knishes at Eating My Words
Joe‘s Grilled KimCheese Sandwich at Joe Yonan
Lisa‘s Sunday Night Jewish-Chinese Brisket at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Lucy‘s Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango at A Cook And Her Books
Nancie‘s Chili-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter at Nancie McDermott
Rashda‘s Mango Cobbler at Hot Curries & Cold Beer
Renee‘s Asian-Spiced Quick Pickles at My Kitchen And I
Steff‘s Chicken Fried Steak at The Kitchen Trials
Vivian‘s Funky Fusion Linguini at Vivian Pei

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Sandwich, (Nearly) Perfected

This is part of the monthly #LetsLunch series, a Twitter-based festival of food based on a different them every month. This month's theme is eggs! For more great posts in the series, check out the hashtag #LetsLunch on Twitter, or Karen Morley's list here or Lucy Mercer's Pinterest compilation here.

Sandwiches are deeply personal things, and one’s taste in sandwiches reveals much about a person’s personality and character.  Thus, opinions about what constitutes an ideal sandwich will be as varied as humanity itself, and any debate on the subject is bound to grow long and heated: For one, what qualities make a perfect sandwich? For that matter, how exactly should the term be defined – do open-faced sandwiches count? Do wraps? And if wraps count, why not burritos, pasties, and other edible material enclosed in bready stuff?
My taste in sandwiches, which my husband, Glenn, shares, tends to run to the big, brash, and exuberant, which is puzzling since neither of us are big, brash, or exuberant by any stretch of the imagination. Being mature adults, we’ll eat crust-less tea sandwiches to be polite and boring gas-station industrial-turkey-on-industrial-sliced-bread things when we’re on the road and nothing else is available. But our favorites are hot, on substantial, crusty bread, and loaded generously with boldly flavored fillings: crusty, gooey Cubans, juicy hot French dips with lots of horseradish on the side, spicy, meat-and-vegetable filled Mexican tortas.
Because we have rather strong opinions about what the platonic ideal of a sandwich can be (these can vary slightly according to our mood), we can always think of ways to make a good sandwich even better.
“This is really good,” Glenn said at a local Cuban place one day, tucking into a garlicky roast-pork sandwich on a crusty pressed Cuban roll, “but it needs to be spicier.”
Of course, authentic Cuban food is not hot and spicy, and never has been – but he had a point worth considering.
At another Cuban place, we discovered another excellent sandwich, the prosaically named pan con bistec (“bread with steak”).  It was, as its name promised, a steak sandwich on that crusty Cuban bread crisped in a sandwich press – but what made it special was its additional toppings: tangy grilled onions and a generous strewing of crispy shoestring potatoes. The combination of contrasting flavors and textures was spectacular.
“You know what would make this even better?” Glenn said. “A fried egg on top!”
 “You think fried eggs make everything better,” I said.
“Well, they do!”
And after further reflection, I realized this wasn’t a half-bad idea.
Since it’s always constructive to act on good ideas, I devised a sandwich that incorporates everything we love –the crispy, pressed bread of a good Cuban, the flavorful grilled meat and spice of a Mexican torta, and those lovely, crunchy shoestring potatoes to add a refined look and textural interest. And, of course, the whole thing is topped with a fried egg. Because fried eggs really do make a lot of good things even better.
Like all my favorite sandwiches, it’s a shamelessly  messy thing to eat,   more suitable to being devoured in big sloppy bites with beer and friends than nibbled at over a business lunch. It’s built to make a statement: “Here I am in all my shameless glory, wouldn’t the world suck without my presence?” It’s big, brash, and exuberant, and unafraid of making a grand impression -- or thoroughly annoying the timid and squeamish.
Totally unlike quiet, boring, cautious old me. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I was so happy when I put this sandwich together: It’s not an exact reflection of my character – far from it: It’s a reflection of the person I’d love to be.


Serves 2

2 long French rolls or 6-inch lengths of Cuban bread, split
2 small steaks, such as breakfast steaks
2 eggs
Hot sauce (such as habanero or Tabasco) (optional)
½ cup shoestring potatoes (the snack variety found in the chip section)
For the marinade:
Juice of 1 lime
1 large clove of garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes (or more to taste)
For the sautéed onions:
¾ medium onion, sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, cut into slivers

1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a shallow, non-reactive pan and add the steaks in a single layer. Allow to marinate for about 30 minutes.

2. Remove the steaks from the marinade and pat dry when you’re ready to cook them. Reserve the remaining marinade.

3. Spoon off a couple of tablespoons of the oil from the marinade and heat in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the steaks and cook until lightly browned and both sides and cooked through.

4. Remove the steaks and set aside, covered. Add the onions and jalapenos to the pan and sauté until the onions are tender. Add a few spoonsful of the remaining marinade along with the steaks, and cook about two minutes more, until the steaks are heated through and the marinade is slightly reduced. Remove the pan from the heat.

5. Assemble the sandwiches:  Spread about a teaspoon of hot sauce on the inside surfaces of each roll or bread length, then divide the steak and the onion mixture evenly between the two sandwiches. (You may need to slice the steaks to get them to fit into the rolls.)

6. Cook the sandwiches in a sandwich press until warmed through and crisp on the outside.

7. When the sandwiches are nearly done, heat  1 tablespoon canola oil in a nonstick pan and fry the eggs to your taste.

8. Gently open the pressed sandwiches and top each with a fried egg and half the shoestring potatoes. Close the sandwiches and enjoy immediately with lots of napkins.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Let's Lunch: Even Greener Green Chorizo

Sometimes I envy normal people with normal careers. When such normal people travel to Mexico, they get to enjoy margaritas and sunny days at the beach. Or maybe sunny days strolling through picturesque bazaars or scenic historic ruins.  And when they come back, the splash of lime juice over a salt-rimmed glass  or the happy blare of a mariachi band is all it takes to bring them back.

Lucky them. My trips to Mexico were never truly fun – unless your idea of fun involves enduring six-day work weeks filled with frantic note-taking while being snickered at by locals, stalked by bribe-exacting police officers, and practically choked to death by antimalarial prophylactics the size of marbles.

So let it be stated for the record that if you’re looking for a carefree good time south of the border, researching indigenous languages in rural Mexico is not the way to go.

There were some good things about these trips, of course. First and most importantly, they were the only opportunity of the year for me to get the data I needed for my research back when I was still in academia. Second, they were (practically) free – grants covered most of my costs. (Normal people who kvetch about how hard it is to redeem frequent flyer miles have never had to write a 20-page grant proposal every time they wanted to save themselves some money when traveling.) Third, there was the Indiana-Jones-like cachet of traveling to places so remote they have neither paved roads nor dependable running water. Fourth was the food – locally grown and made from recipes and techniques dating to a time when everyone was a locovore by necessity. The food was incredible enough to keep me going back.

But on my third work trip to Mexico, I almost didn’t get to eat anything interesting. This was because my mealtimes were obstructed by a force that never caused  any trouble on my previous trips:  my travel companions.

Both of them – a colleague I’ll call Joel and a graduate student I’ll call Deirdre – were as gringo-y as gringos get – fair-skinned, cold-weather-loving Midwesterners.  Since this would be their first trip to Mexico and we’d be traveling to a hot region in the middle of August, I did my best to let them know what to expect.

They responded enthusiastically to my e-mails and phone reminders to bring sunscreen, bug spray, and extra  batteries for our video equipment, so I figured they were on top of things and ready to go. It was only when we were at the airport about to take off did they drop a major bombshell on me.

“Well, of course I’m concerned about the sanitation issues,” Joel said as we strolled toward our terminal. “And finding enough speakers to have a statistically sound sample. And also the language – do you speak Spanish?”

“Sure,” I said. Well, duh – we were going to be in a tourist-free, predominantly Indian region where even urban Mexicans were a rare sight – how else would we communicate?

“Good, I’m glad to hear that – we’ll need your translation services.”

Holy cow. “Wait,” I said. “You don’t speak Spanish?”

Joel shook his head. So did Deirdre.

“Do you read it?” I asked.

They shook their heads again.

Great. My Spanish wasn’t all that great either – I could read it fine and spoke it competently enough  to muddle gracelessly through whatever I needed to do, but serve as the mouthpiece for two needy, helpless Midwesterners for three weeks? Not so much.

They chose to drop Bombshell Number 2 on me a short time later, when we were looking for dinner in the airport.

“Oh yes, I think I should tell you,” Joel said, “Deirdre and I are both vegetarians – will that be a problem down there?”

Only if you want to eat, dude, I thought. Aloud, I said, “Well…”

Here’s the  deal: in rural Oaxaca, where we were going to be, the diet of the sustenance farmers in the tiny village where we’d be working was, indeed, predominantly vegetarian – beans, rice, corn tortillas, home-grown vegetables – but the food available to visitors in the slightly bigger market town nearby where we’d be staying and having most of our meals?  Our dinner options could be described in three words: carne asada tacos.

From my previous trips, I knew these tacos would be wonderful – as would be everything else in the market stalls and tiny food stalls here in town . Oaxaca may be one of the poorest and most primitive states in Mexico, but its native cuisine is among Mexico’s most baroque and creative – for instance, the region is justifiably proud of its seven distinct, equally complex mole sauces , each a colorful and elaborately wrought amalgam of roasted and finely ground nuts, spices, fruits, vegetables, and/or chocolate. Oaxaca’s dishes of pride are what one finds in most restaurants – and while many are vegetarian, many of the best and most beloved of them contain meat.

And this is why my mealtimes in Oaxaca on that trip – the times of day that I looked forward to the most – were ruined.

We ate breakfast every morning at a tiny fonda – basically a little stall with no written menu – near our hotel in the small market town where we were staying. (Our grant allowed us the luxury of a $10/night  hotel, since I figured out – correctly – that my colleagues couldn’t possibly last three weeks in the village, where electricity and running water weren’t guaranteed.)  Every morning, the owner of the fonda, the most patient person who ever walked the earth, would come to our table and recite the day’s offerings, which I’d translate into English. And every morning, my colleagues said the same thing.

“Ask if it has any meat in it!”

“Does it have any meat in it?” I’d ask as politely as I could in Spanish, wanting to fall through the floor.

Almost none of the breakfast dishes, which mostly involved freshly made corn tortillas enrobed in various vegetable-based sauces, did. But this didn’t assuage my companions’ paranoia: in their minds, this alien land was just lurking with  invisible critters and critter bits.

“Ask if the sauce has any meat in it!”

“Ask if the vegetables were cooked in meat broth!”

Even after being assured that everything was, indeed, meat-free, Deirdre rarely believed me (or the poor local I had been interrogating). She’d lift her plate of beans  or entomatadas – tomato-sauce-covered tortillas – to her face, sniffing loudly. “It smells like it has meat in it!” she’d  wail, as if betrayed.

I wanted to die.

Still, there were some great things about that trip -- and my companions, when I wasn’t trying to feed them. I'll always remember the pleasure of watching their eyes light up at the big Sunday market near our hotel and showing them the amazing  18th century church in the village – which would easily qualify for national landmark status had it been located in the U.S. or Europe. And unlike the crew I worked with back home at the time, they laughed at my jokes and were (mostly) easy and fun to talk to. In the end, we became friends -- although I still wanted to strangle them at mealtimes.

So in honor of the Trip From Hell and my vegetarian buds, I’ve devised a vegetarian version of a little-known Mexican sausage variant, green chorizo. Most people are familiar with the bright-red, wonderfully greasy and spicy version of chorizo, but a green version also exists – brightly flavored with cilantro and parsley along with spices and chile.

My green chorizo was inspired by recipes by the two Anglophone masters of Mexican cooking, Rick Bayiess and Diana Kennedy. Bayless’s green chorizo recipe is minimalist – a few herbs and chiles ground, mixed into ground pork, and quickly cooked. Kennedy’s version is a bit more complex, involving a puree of spices. herbs, and chile  mixed with meat, stuffed into sausage casings, and aged for a short time before cooking.

My version combines (most of) Kennedy’s flavorings with Bayless’s weeknight-friendly technique, Using an idea from another chef I admire, Deborah Madison, I made my chorizo vegetarian by using crumbled firm tofu instead of ground pork.

It’s not authentically Oaxacan (traditional Oaxacan chorizo is red and shaped into ping-pong-ball-sized rounds), but my version does have a lively, spicy, flavor and pretty green color. It’s lighter and less greasy than “real” chorizo, and appropriate for Lent, St. Patrick’s Day, and dinner with difficult friends you really want to keep, after all.


1 (14-ounce) carton extra-firm tofu
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup chopped cilantro
1 poblano chile, coarsely chopped
2 serrano chiles, coarsely chopped
½ cup cider vinegar
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 whole clove
5 black peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon each cumin seed and ground coriander
3 tablespoons neutral cooking oil (such as canola) for frying

Corn tortillas, crumbled cheese, shredded cabbage, salsa and/or guacamole for serving

1.Using your hands, crumble the tofu finely and place in a colander set over a bowl. Allow to drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

2. Put ¼ cup of the vinegar in a blender jar and add the garlic, salt, and spices. Blend until all is finely ground.

3.Add the rest of the vinegar and the chiles and blend to a smooth puree.

4.Add the parsley and cilantro and blend  to a smooth puree.

5.Put the drained, crumbled tofu into a bowl, add the puree, and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Mixture will be a pretty green.

6.In a heavy sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the green chorizo and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thoroughly hot and most of the liquid has evaporated.

7. Serve with tortillas and garnishes.

This post is part of the monthly, Twitter-based #LetsLunch series -- every month, participants share their recipes and stories about a dish reflecting that month's theme. This month is green food month! I'll post links to fellow #LetsLunchers in a bit -- now's a great time to enjoy your veggies!

Linda at Spicebox Travels on Kale Chips
Charissa at Zest Bakery on Pandan Tapioca with Coconut Cream
Grace at HapaMama on how to brew the perfect pot of tea
Ellise at Cowgirl Chef on Notos Pesto
Cathy at Showfood Chef on Matcha Green Tea Cupcakes with Matcha Green Tea Butter Frosting
Lucy at A Cook and Her Books on Green Bean Soup with Butter and Chives
Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club on Natanya's Soon-To-Be-World-Famous Avocado Dip
Eleanor at Wok Star on Ginger Honey Wok Brussel Sprouts
Karen at GeoFooding on Asparagus with Poached Eggs

Monday, February 13, 2012

This Is Not a Valentine’s Dessert

Let it be proposed that Valentine’s Day is the most unnecessary and overblown of holidays. A day dedicated to the celebration of romantic love seems about as necessary to me as a holiday honoring English-speaking communities or Protestantism – aren’t most days already dominated by these things and their looming cultural reach?  As if it didn’t suck enough to be a single adult in America the other 364 days a year, there has to be one oh-so-special day in the darkest part of winter when a huge swath of the human population is reminded of what pathetic losers they are.  And those of us who are fortunate enough to be in happy, committed relationships (such as yours truly) are badgered into believing that cheesy jewelry and heart-shaped tchochkes are the only legitimate ways to validate our commitment to each other.

Bah, humbug.

Valentine’s Day was a lot more fun in grade school, back when boys and girls considered each other gross and inscrutable. My tiny grade school had a deeply egalitarian ethos; every kid in a class exchanged a valentine with every other kid, so everyone gave and got the same number of valentines. The highlight of the holiday, back then, was the opportunity to eat sugar cookies with red sprinkles on them, collect those little candy hearts to see how many different messages you could get, and of course, eat lots of chocolate. It was also the only time of the year when the school’s art teacher let us use pink and red together. The rest of the time, she said they clashed.

In short, it was a celebration of cordiality (albeit enforced cordiality – little kids do have to be taught to be nice to each other), friendship, and food – with just enough decadence to make it memorable.

In the spirit of THAT Valentine’s Day, which I vastly prefer to the pressure-driven adult version, I’m serving for dessert this year a simple chocolate-y treat that makes enough to share with several good friends, along with that special somebody in your life (should there be such a person). It’s a riff on a Valentine’s Day chocolate shortbread recipe presented recently in the New York Times: while the original recipe featured a chocolate shortbread base topped with layers of cherry jam and chocolate ganache flavored with rum, my version switches out the jam and rum for something with an even greater aphrodisiac (and conversation-starting) effect: a hot jelly made from datil chiles, a Florida specialty.

Datils, grown commercially in the U.S. only in the area around St. Augustine, Florida, have a distinct pineapple-passionfruit-like aroma and serious chile punch that marries well with chocolate. (Any other hot, fruity jelly would produce a similar vibe.) The combination of chocolate and chiles is traditional in Mexico – indeed, some of the earliest recorded versions of chocolate drinks drunk by indigenous people there were flavored with chiles – and it’s a combination that works. And unlike those cloying supermarket chocolates in heart-shaped boxes, this chocolate treat actually tastes interesting – and is a suitable accompaniment to either a steamy relationship or a heated political debate with friends.

And this brings me to another pet peeve about Valentine’s Day: every relationship is unique, so why are we always pressured into commemorating these special bonds with the same mass-market crap as everyone else? This guy I dated, before I met my husband, used to bring me big bouquets of roses fairly frequently. “Guys get girls flowers because we can’t think of anything else,” he told me on several occasions. Wow, how romantic.

But once, he actually did come through with something personal and thoughtful, and ironically, it was the evening when we finally broke up. He was a good guy – honest and well-intentioned – but we were wrong for each other in every respect: different tastes, values, politics, and goals in life. We finally realized that we liked the idea of being together more than we actually liked each other.

The week before our breakup, I had accidently left the lights on in my car when I parked it at work, and when the workday ended, I found my battery was dead. A quick call to AAA solved the problem, but my then-boyfriend was surprised that I didn’t have a set of jumper cables in my trunk. “You could have been back on the road a lot faster if you’d just gotten a jump from someone else in the office,” he told me.

But on our last evening together, we stood, still shell-shocked at our decision, in the parking lot of his condo complex. He gave me a long hug, then ran to his car. “Wait—I have something for you,” he yelled from across the parking lot. He opened his trunk and ran back with a set of jumper cables—the ones he always kept in his trunk.

“I want you to stay safe – always,” he said, thrusting them into my hands. “I wish I could love you forever.”

And this is the story of the most romantic (pre-engagement ring) gift I ever got: a set of used jumper cables. And this is also why most Valentine’s Day propaganda makes me want to hit someone: because I understand what the spirit of love really is – and you can’t find it in a pre-printed card.


This recipe is such a close adaptation from the original New York Times recipe that I’ll just provide a link to the original plus instructions for my little hack:

Bake the chocolate shortbread base as instructed in the original recipe. Replace the cherry jam with datil jelly (if you can find it) or other hot pepper jelly, preferably from a fruity chile such as a habanero. Likewise, instead of mixing two tablespoons of rum or other liquor into the finished ganache, melt two tablespoons of the datil (or other hot pepper) jelly into the cream while you’re heating it to make the ganache. Mix the heated cream with the chocolate as instructed in the recipe. Pour the ganache over the baked shortbread base, then garnish and chill as directed in the original recipe. (If you're sharing this with kids or hard-core V-Day traditionalists, top the ganache with red sugar instead of fleur de sel.) 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Let’s Lunch: Tommy’s Chili and Rock n’ Roll Dreams

It was the dawn of the 80s, and we were hard-rockin’ renegades, living life in the fast lane on the edges of the Los Angeles music scene. We were young  – I was sixteen when we started – but worldly: we were L.A. girls after all.  Yes, we’d seen and heard it all, unlike those pathetic teenage runaways on Hollywood Boulevard who came to town corn-fed and starry-eyed and ended up strung-out, destitute, and disillusioned.

We knew better. WE were going to be famous!

And we knew that becoming famous would take a lot of work. Mark, our leader, never failed to remind us of this. Mark was a motorcycle-riding veteran studio musician and a bit older than the rest of us – he was already 26 – and he liked to quote  from Jackson Browne’s song “The Load-Out ”: “Pack it up and tear it down/ They’re the first to come and last to leave/ working for that minimum wage…

“Yeah, this is what the industry’s all about,” he’d say as we’d collapse, hot and sweaty, after yet another couple of hours hauling instrument cases, microphones, amplifiers, tangles of  second-hand extension cords and piles of sheet music down the rickety set of stairs from our rehearsal room to our van for yet another concert. “Gotta pay your dues. The music world’s cutthroat—no one will respect you unless you can carry your own weight. And you know what, guys? You’re doing it.”

In those days, we never stopped doing it. There were eight of us:  Suzanne played drums, Kentia, Maria, and/or Mark played guitar, Sandy and Sue played keyboards, Judy and Michelle provided vocals, and I played bass.  Another girl, Dana, was our permanent stage hand  -- she already had both a drivers’ license and free use of her dad’s van, both of which were essential to our existence as a functioning band. We rehearsed for several hours every weekday afternoon, and sometimes on weekends.  I heard our songs in my sleep and tapped their rhythms with my fingers as I ate or studied or watched TV. I grew thick, ladybug-shaped callouses on my fingertips from the ridged metal strings of my electric bass. I could hook that bass up to my amp and troubleshoot said amp with my eyes closed.

Performances, of course, were what we lived for. We didn’t get too many calls for paid gigs, but when we did, boy did it feel sweet. Never mind that they weren’t in the most prestigious of venues – in time, we knew we’d be on regular rotation at the Troubadour or the Roxy or some other Sunset Strip hotspot where a talent scout from a record label would certainly discover us – but, as Mark said, we were still paying our dues.

So off we went to our humble gigs. There was the charity fundraiser in the parish hall at Christ the King. And the dinner meeting of area Catholic school principals at Notre Dame High School, an especially tough crowd.  (We played only mellow instrumentals for them.)  But no matter who we played for, we gave them our all – that was part of the game plan too, according to Mark. Every performance, he said, has to be your best if you wanted to make the big time. And someday we’d be able to look back and laugh about those evenings playing half-amplified Doobie Brothers and Pat Benetar covers (had to be considerate of the neighbors!) for venues filled with nuns and squealing children. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a necessary part of our journey.

Besides, we had no choice.  Yes, we were rockers at heart, destined for stardom. But officially, we only existed for four units of fine arts credit towards our graduation. And what serious club would listen to an audition tape from an outfit officially called the Immaculate Heart High School Contemporary Band?

Mark’s hands were tied. His rock’ n’ roll dreams burned even more brightly than ours, but he couldn’t afford to lose his day job as the school’s music teacher. And because we didn’t want to lose the coolest teacher in the school, we dutifully limited ourselves to our school-sanctioned gigs.

But after our performances, we allowed our dreams to take full flight. Somehow, no matter where we had performed in town, we always ended up at the same place for dinner afterwards: Tommy’s, a beat-up hamburger joint in a seedy neighborhood close to downtown. It was cheap, open late, famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) for the distinctive, gut-busting chili that came with every burger, and best of all from our perspective, known to attract a racy crowd of night owls, especially musicians. In short, it was a de facto industry canteen for strivers, and we considered ourselves card-carrying members of this club. Forget boys or horses or whatever other stuff the other girls at school were into: nothing felt better to my 16-year-old self than biting down into a sloppy, shamelessly greasy Tommy’s burger late on a Saturday night, chili dripping down my arms and  bass lines still pounding in my head.  It was the taste of dreams come to fruition: I’ve just been paid to rock my heart out, and my music paid for this burger! With five bucks left over! And Mom and Dad said I’d never make money in music!

I savored every savory, goopy bite, every word of our fantastical banter about record contracts and auditions and tours. I knew there would never be another time like this in my life, and I was right. For a short while, Tommy’s oh-so-dangerous burgers weren’t the only thing that rocked in our ordinary Catholic schoolgirl lives. We did, too.


Tommy’s burgers have been a favorite late-night post-party alcohol mop for Angelenos since the 1940s.  The recipe for Tommy’s chili – an object of passionate craving and even more passionate revulsion – remains a closely guarded secret.  Whatever’s in it, it probably won’t win any Texas chili competitions: it is clearly intended to be used as a condiment, rather than eaten as a dish by itself. It has a distinctively thick, gravy-like texture, and while it tastes distinctively of beef and chiles, it contains neither sizable pieces of meat nor any discernible chile heat (at least not to me -- but some  people do go on about how spicy it is).

Those who have attempted to back-engineer the mysterious condiment (there are many) are mostly in consensus that it involves a roux of flour deeply browned in fat, preferably beef fat. But some have suggested that the distinctly smooth, thick texture comes from boiling the ground meat in the sauce base to cook it, rather than browning it -- this will cause it to cook into a thick paste, rather than into distinct little meaty granules. I’ve decided to split the difference and use both techniques: a dark roux based on rendered fat from the cooked meat (there should be a lot of it; this isn’t a diet recipe), as well as additional ground meat simmered into submission in the dark, chili-scented sauce. Some recipes call for dried onion flakes, garlic powder, and even industrial beef patties to replicate that deliciously sleazy, fast-food taste. Others, however, point out that none of these things probably existed when Tommy’s first opened, so couldn’t have been part of the original recipe. Since I don’t keep those things around the house, I used fresh onions and garlic, as well as freshly ground beef – but as most recipes suggested, I used the fattiest, cheapest fresh ground beef I could find.

I won’t pretend that my version can pass for the original – it can’t, and I’m sure nothing can. (Tommy’s is now a small chain in the Los Angeles area; my husband and I agree that a Tommy’s burger only tastes truly right when eaten in a dangerous neighborhood after 10 p.m.) Instead, I think of my take on that chili the way I now think of my girlhood covers of those Doobie Brothers songs – a competent, agreeable, slightly more wholesome tribute to the original.


1-1/2 pounds fatty ground beef
2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil, such as canola
4 tablespoons flour
½ cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cayenne (or to taste)
3 cups beef broth

1.Divide the beef in half.  Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy pot and add half the ground beef, breaking it up as you do so. Cook, stirring constantly, until the meat is brown and crumbly and no pink remains. Transfer the cooked meat to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving any juices and rendered fat in the pot.

2. Add the flour to the fat and juice in the pot and cook on medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns a pale tan. Add the onions and continue to cook until the mixture turns reddish-brown. Quickly stir in the garlic and spices and cook for about a minute more, until the garlic releases its scent.

3. Add the broth and whisk until the flour mixture dissolves. Stir in the cooked beef, then the raw beef, breaking it up as you go.

4. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and reduces. When done, it should be thick enough to coat a spoon. Taste and add salt if needed (both my beef broth and chili powder contained salt, so I didn’t need any more  -- so be sure to taste your chili before salting it).

5. Serve over cheeseburgers, hot dogs, or fries, preferably late at night in a suspect neighborhood, with good friends nearby to share the evening.

This post is part of the monthly, Twitter-based #letslunch series: on the first  (or sometimes second) Friday of every month, LetsLunchers blog about a dish or their choice based on a given theme. This month's theme is music. At least I hope it is!

 I'll try my best to post links to other LetsLunchers' posts as they come in -- check them out:

Linda at Spicebox Travels on the Buena Vista Social Club, Cuban beans and mojitos, and the Chinese diaspora

Ellise at Cowgirl Chef on Tiger Cakes, a tribute to her new favorite song, Valentine's day, and chocolate

Cathy at Slow Food Chef  on Southern chicken and dumplings, inspired by Roxie Waller.

Rashda at Hot Curries & Cold Beer on "Besame Mucho", banana bread, and memories of her father.

Patrick G. Lee on what (not) to eat during an organ concert.

Rebecca at Grongar Blog on traditional Jewish kishka and a song inspired by it.

Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club on Hawaiian songs and macadamia wafers

Steff at The Kitchen Trials on Garth Brooks, pina coladas, and coconut cake

Free Range Cookies on how the Bee Gees inspired the creation of gluten-free Thin Mints

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sweetness and Luck: A Multicultural Cake for Chinese New Year

Western civilization does New Year’s celebrations all wrong.

Western New Year’s celebrations are all about looking back – and Monday morning quarterbacking is never truly satisfying. Do you really want to hear the past year’s Top 100 songs played back in ascending order of popularity, rehash every natural disaster and political scandal of the year, and re-read the obituaries of every important person who has passed on during the past twelve months? Worst of all, after the celebration itself – typically a frenzied and wildly overpriced evening on the town (look out for those sobriety checkpoints!) – there's nothing to look forward to but taking down the Christmas tree.

No wonder everyone wakes up on January 1 with a hangover.

On the other hand, Chinese New Year celebrations – which I grew up with alongside their champagne-fueled Western counterparts – are all about looking forward. Sure, the past year may have been marked by screw-ups, disasters, and disappointment, but so what?  The advent of a new year is a chance to reset the clock, get back up, and start out again from scratch – and that in itself is genuine cause for celebration.

In the days leading up to Chinese New Year (which falls on January 23 this year), houses are cleaned (to ensure a fresh start), new clothes are purchased (ditto), and decorations in lucky colors – red and gold – are put up everywhere to invite good fortune for the following year. On a trip to Singapore several years ago, my parents loaded up on gaudy bright-red New Year decorations, the likes of which they’d never seen anywhere else – a six-foot long red dragon, which they’ve taken to hanging over the dining room table, and long strings of fake red-and-gold firecrackers (including a battery-operated one that lights up and makes obnoxious popping noises when you press a button). In the years when they’ve hosted  big Chinese New Year’s parties, they’ve left the outdoors Christmas lights up to add to the festive look. (Conveniently enough, Chinese New Year typically takes place in late January or early February, which always gives us something to look forward to in those blah days after the other New Year.)

Like all worthy celebrations, Chinese New Year festivities are centered around food. But not just any food – everything eaten during this important time must contribute to one’s good luck in the following year.
This focus on securing one’s future good fortune begins the moment one wakes up on New Year’s Day. While Western custom dictates waking up every January 1 to the taste of  Alka-Selzer and regret, Chinese tradition requires that you start the new year with a taste of something sweet, to ensure sweetness in the year ahead. (I clearly remember being fed a bit of rock candy before breakfast one Chinese New Year morning during my childhood – right before a dental appointment!)

To ensure that your friends and family have an equally sweet start to their year, you must also have a pretty box of sweets – such as candied kumquats, melon, and ginger – on hand when they drop by. If they come over for lunch or dinner, traditionally lucky foods you can serve them (and yourself) include clams, lettuce, whole chickens, and pretty much anything round or orange or gold – all of which symbolize wealth and completeness.

Besides being auspicious, traditional Chinese New Year dishes can be delectable – fresh clams stir-fried with savory black-bean sauce, juicy poached or roasted chicken, and, of course, lettuce wraps – but some may be acquired tastes for those who did not grow up with them. In particular, Chinese sweets tend to be problematic for non-Asians – they’re generally a lot less sweet than Western desserts, and the bouncy, toothsome texture of some of the rice-based sweets is an unfamiliar and startling sensation for many.

Still, festive meals call for dessert, and most Chinese-Americans have plenty of non-Chinese friends who share in their celebrations (and also deserve any good luck that comes along). Since sweets in general are lucky, as are round, orange or yellow things, pretty much any sweet, round, orange or yellow thing will serve as good insurance against misfortune – this is why tangerines, oranges, and kumquats are popular New Year’s treats and decorations.

Still, pointing your non-Asian friends towards that decorative bowl of tangerines while you enjoy your sticky-rice new year’s cake is not very classy. Instead, I’d serve a dessert that pleases all constituencies involved (because this is America, doggone it!). This almond cake topped with candied orange slices (inspired by a Mexican almond cake by Paty Jinich) has all bases covered: It’s round. It’s orange. It’s laden with an exceptionally lucky fruit.  The cake is sweet but not too sweet, with a moist, tender texture that will please everyone at your table. And if any of your New Year’s guests are avoiding gluten, you’re also safe: the cake is also flourless and gluten-free.

Back in high school, one of my English teachers gave a fantastically depressing lecture about New Year’s Eve. He told us that it was a profoundly sad occasion because that’s the time when people reflect upon the failures and disappointments of the past year and realize they’re a year older and they’ll never get that time back. Nobody actually enjoys all those big parties and all that champagne, he said. All they’re doing is trying to hide from the pain.

Speak for yourself, dude.
This cake takes as its point of departure Paty Jinich’s version of a Mexican convent sweet – a flourless almond cake topped with a marmalade glaze. To make this simple cake prettier and more festive, I’ve replaced the original marmalade topping with candied orange slices (based on a surprisingly easy recipe from Food and Wine), and replaced the original port flavoring in the cake with a mixture of orange juice and orange flower water.


For the cake:
2 cups blanched almonds
¾ cup sugar
4 eggs
½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon orange flower water

For the candied oranges:
2 large navel oranges
3 cups water
1 cup sugar

Sugar for garnish (optional)

1.Butter an 8-inch round cake pan or springform pan, and cover the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.In a food processor, pulse the almonds and sugar together until finely ground. Add the eggs and pulse until all is thoroughly combined. Then add the vanilla, orange juice, and orange flower water. Cut the butter into chunks and add to the batter, processing until thoroughly combined.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

7. Allow the cake to cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the pan and cooling it completely on a wire rack.

8. To make the candied oranges: If the oranges have been waxed, dip them briefly in a pot of boiling water, then rinse and dry them thoroughly to remove the wax. Cut them crosswise into ¼-inch slices.

9. In a wide, deep skillet, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Add the orange slices and cook over medium-high heat until the oranges are translucent and the liquid forms a thin syrup, about 20 minutes. Gently stir the oranges from time to time to ensure that they cook evenly.

10. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue cooking until the syrup thickens and reduces and the orange rinds are tender.

11. Once the oranges are cool enough to touch, arrange them decoratively over the top of the cake, glaze with the leftover cooking syrup, and sprinkle with extra sugar, if desired.