Saturday, July 30, 2011

Vanilla Cupcakes

I love it when I have an actual occasion to bake for.  I find most of the time I am baking for a baking group assignment or just because I have a compulsion to bake every few days or so.  So when I saw my friend Sharon's birthday was coming up on the calendar my mind kicked into to gear to decide what  to make for the occasion. 

Cupcakes!  Everyone loves cupcakes right?

Sharon's favorite cake is vanilla cake with vanilla frosting.  I rarely make white cake (since I'm a chocolate girl through and through), so I went in search of recipe.  I added Martha Stewart's Cupcakes cookbook to my collection a few months back but had not had the opportunity to break it in.  If you can call making one recipe breaking it in...we are now broken.  I made her white cupcake recipe.  I cheated a bit on the frosting and used Trader Joe's white frosting box mix.  And to spruce it up I filled the cupcakes with raspberry jam. 

The cake was light and tender.  The frosting was super sweet...think buttercream.  And the tartness from the raspberry jam brought it all together.  Next time I would try a lighter this whipped cream frosting.  When we ate them I think we all had a major spike in our blood sugar, but they were still tasty!


White Cupcakes
from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

3 1/4 cup of sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
5 large egg whites at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin tins with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, sift cake flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  Stir vanilla into milk and set aside.

Cream butter with an electric mixer on high until smooth.  Slowly add in sugar and beat until the mixture is pale fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in thirds alternating with the milk mixture until everything is just combined.

In separate bowl beat eggs whites on medium speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Fold a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten the batter.  Gently fold in the remaining egg whites in two batches until just incorporated.

Use an ice cream scoop or spoon to fill cupcake liners 3/4 full.  Tap muffin tins on the counter top to release any air bubbles.  Bake for 18 - 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  A toothpick should come out clean.  Cool on a wire rack. 

To fill cupcakes with raspberry jam, cut a cone shaped hole out of the top center of the cupcake and set it aside.  Fill with a teaspoon or so of jam and then replace the cut out piece of cake to fill the hole.  To see an example of filling a cupcake, click here.

Top cupcakes with a frosting of your choice.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

Zucchini is in full swing.  If you have a few plants in your garden, you know that it produces heaps and heaps that one family can hardly keep up with.  Unfortunately we didn't plant any this year, but we have been picking it up from our local farmer's market.  We eat zucchini at least a couple of times a week and I've always got my eyes peeled for a new zucchini recipe.
This one happens to be one of my favorites. 

This recipe comes from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave cookbook.  Zucchini rounds (or ovals in this case) are engulfed in a crispy panko and Parmesan cheese coating.  These delicious little chips brown beautifully in the oven with a nice crunch, similar to a crispy fried zucchini stick....but you don't have to feel guilty eating these since they are baked.  I like to dip mine in a little (light) ranch dressing which you can easily omit if you are counting calories.  They are delicious all on their own.

If you've got some zucchini laying around and you can stand to turn on your oven, this is a great way to use some of it up.


Zucchini Parmesan Crisps
adapted from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave

1 pound of zucchini (about 2 medium)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese (I use the small grater on my box grater or you can use a zester)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup ranch dressing (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.

Prepare bread crumb mixture.  Place Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and mix.  Wash and dry zucchini.  Slice into 1/4 inch rounds and place in a medium size bowl.  Drizzle zucchini with olive oil and toss to evenly coat all the slices.  Coat each slice generously with the bread crumb mixture.  Pat crumbs into the slices to get a good even coating.  Place each slice on the prepared baking sheet leaving a little bit of room in between each slice.  Bake 25 - 30 minutes until zucchini is tender and breadcrumbs are golden brown and crisp.

Serve while still warm with ranch dressing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

In my quest for the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie, I have tried out a few.  I made Crystal's Chocolate Chip Oops Cookies.  I also tested Alton Brown's Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie.  Back in April I had promised to tackle the Cook's Illustrated Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.  For reasons I'm not sure other than pure procrastination, I have waited nearly 3 months to make good on my promise.  Better late than never?  The sad part is I was hopeful that one of these recipe was just going to scream out at me proclaiming to be the "perfect" cookie.  But the truth is they are all great.  And the Cook's Illustrated version is no exception.

The Cook's Illustrated cookie does have some different techniques from your standard chocolate chip cookie recipe.  First off, these cookies are mixed the old fashioned way, by hand.  Do you ever wonder how our grandmother's got along without a Kitchen Aide or a mixer?  The recipe starts out with melting butter and cooking it until the butter fats turn a lovely golden brown.  The melted butter goes into a large heatproof bowl and you add some additional butter that melts from the heat of the browned butter.  Next you whisk in brown and white sugars, vanilla extract, salt and eggs.  You whisk for 30 seconds and let rest for 3 minutes.  You repeat that step (of whisking and resting) three more times and then add in your flour mixture and lastly the chocolate chips.  It's simple really, even without the aid of a mixer.  This recipe requires no refrigerating the dough.  You can go straight from mixing bowl, to baking sheet to oven.  I used my large cookie scoop and ended up with 15 3 3/4 inch cookies.

The result, a cookie chewy in the center and slightly crisped on the outer edges...just how I like em!  You can taste the brown butter and it's delicious!  It brings a level of complexity to these cookies that I really liked.  And I can safely attest they still taste delicious on days 2 and 3 (though like most cookies, they lose that crispness that can only be enjoyed the day they are baked). 

Do these cookies live up to the ever so coveted title of  "the perfect chocolate chip cookie"?  I don't know if I can go that far.  Maybe it's because I'm not ready for my cookie quest to end?  But I can say, this is a delicious, nearly perfect, chocolate chip cookie. 

Next up on the test roster, the Jacque Torres recipe featured in the NY Times.  Hope it doesn't take me 3 more months!

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie
from Cook's Illustrated via Tracey's Culinary Adventures

1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces granulated sugar
3/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional) - I omitted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk flour and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside. 

Place a medium skillet over medium heat and add 10 tablespoons of the butter.  Cook the butter until it melts (about 2 minutes).  Once melted, lower the heat to medium/low and cook until the butter turns golden brown and has a nutty aroma.  Stir the butter with a rubber spatula frequently to allow butter to brown evenly.  Transfer the browned butter to a large heat proof bowl and immediately add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter.  Stir until butter melts.

Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt and vanilla to the butter and whisk until fully incorporated.  Whisk in the egg and egg yolk until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Let the mixture rest for 3 minutes and then whisk again for 30 seconds.  Repeat this process of letting the mixture rest and whisking for 30 seconds, two more times.  The mixture should be thick, smooth and shiny.  Add in the flour mixture and stir together with a rubber spatula until the flour is incorporated (don't over work the dough).  Lastly, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts (if you are using them).

Scoop dough into large balls, about 3 tablespoon each and arrange 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.  Bake 1 tray at time for about 10-14 minutes until the the cookies are golden brown, puffy, with edges that are just set and the centers are soft.  Cool the baking sheet on a wire rack until cookies are completely cooled.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer Tomato Salad with Basil, Goat Cheese and a Balsamic Reduction

Have you ever had a caprese salad?  Thick sweet juicy tomatoes topped with basil leaves, soft creamy fresh mozzarella and finished off with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  It's one of my favorite salads and one of my favorite ways to enjoy ripe summer tomatoes.  I decided to do a play on this delicious salad and twist it up just a bit using some fresh made basil goat cheese that Hubby and I picked up at last week's farmer's market in place of the mozzarella.  The other twist was to use a balsamic vinegar reduction that I saw recently on the The Pioneer Woman Cooks (check our her site to see a gorgeous caprese salad).  The balsamic reduction is so sweet and lovely and perfectly compliments the basil goat cheese, fresh basil and luscious tomatoes.

This summer tomato salad with basil, goat cheese and balsamic reduction is the final salad in the Trio of Summer Salads that Hubs and I enjoyed last weekend.  Since I love caprese salad, it's no surprise this was one of my favorites in the trio.  This salad is all about the tomatoes.  Maybe you have some nice ripe fat sweet tomatoes growing in your garden, or available from your local farmer's market? 

I really loved how the creamy mild basil goat cheese enhanced the tomatoes and balsamic reduction.  Simple ingredients, yet bursting with flavor.

One note about the balsamic reduction.  It thickens quite a bit after it be careful not to overcook.  I started with 1/2 cup if balsamic vinegar and ended up with way more than I needed.  I recommend using 1/4 cup and cooking it no more than 3 - 5 minutes if you don't want your balsamic to turn into tar. You can make more reduction if you have other dishes to use it on and you can store it in the fridge.

This salad is easy to make and incredibly delicious!  Give it a try!

Summer Tomato Salad with Basil, Goat Cheese and Balsamic Reduction

Serves 2

2 large ripe tomatoes
6-8 medium/large basil leaves
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 ounce of goat cheese (you can use an herb cheese or plain chevre as well)
2 teaspoons of good extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Using a small sauce pan on medium low heat, cook down balsamic vinegar until slightly thickened, stirring with wooden spoon frequently, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.  Stack basil leaves on top of one another and starting at one end, roll the stack up into a little mini cigar.  Using your knife cut 1/4 inch thick ribbons starting at one end of the roll until you make your way all the across.  Wash tomatoes and dry.  Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick, discarding the slice containing the stem end of the tomato.  Place tomatoes on serving plate and season the top side of each tomato slice lightly with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.  Using a fork, crumble generous bits of goat cheese on top of the tomato slices, ensuring that each slice has least a teaspoon of cheese.  Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the tomatoes.  Use as much (or little) as you like.  Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes and lastly, top with the ribbons of basil.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Grilled Corn Summer Salad

Grilled Corn Summer Salad is part 2 in the Trio of Summer Salads.  To see part 1 click here.  Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of the array of wonderful vegetables that are in season.  I love to pick up fresh fruits and veggies from our local farmer's market.  The bounty of goods we brought home were the inspiration for this and the other salads in our trio. 

Grilled Corn Summer Salad is tasty and easy to  make.  We grilled our corn and some sweet onions on the barbecue.  But you could easily cook your corn indoors on a grill pan or even in a regular non stick pan.  I love the addition of the smokey grill flavor in the salad.  The other ingredients in this salad were inspired by what was fresh from the market, but you could easily use other veggies or fresh herbs that inspire you.  Maybe some roasted red peppers or cilantro and minced jalapeno?

This salad is sweet, simple and light.  It would make a great side dish for your next summer BBQ!  The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled depending on the size of your crowd.  Enjoy!

Up next in the final part of the Trio of Summer Salads is Tomato Salad with Basil, Goat Cheese and Balsamic Reduction. 

Grilled Corn Summer Salad

Serves 3-4 small portions

3 ears white or yellow fresh corn, husks and silk removed (we used white corn)
1 inch thick slice from a large sweet onion (any other onion type is fine too)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chiffonade of basil (chopped into long thin ribbons)
1/2 cup grape or small cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Juice from 1/2 lime (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon melted butter
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Olive oil

Preheat your barbecue to medium/high heat.  Rub olive on husked corn and onion to lightly coat. Note: we grill a whole onion cut in 1 inch thick slices and use the extra onion for other meals during the week.  Place onion on the grill turning every few minutes until tender and lightly charred.  At the same time place corn on your grill and cook on all sides turning every couple of minutes, for about 10 minutes.  Once the corn onion are nicely browned from the grill remove and set aside to cool.Once corn is cool enough to handle use a large chef's knife to slice off the bottom where the husk was attached so that corn stands up flat when turned on it's end..  Position your ear of corn standing in a wide somewhat deep bowl and use a sharp knife to slice off the kernels as closely to the cob as possible.  The corn tends go flying and the bowl catches the strays.  Repeat with all your ears of corn.

If you don't have a barbecue you can use a grill pan following the same instructions above.  Or you can cut the raw corn off the cob (getting as close the cob as possible to extract all the sweet corn nectar) and heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a non stick pan on your stove stop to medium/high heat.  Saute the raw corn in the pan, stirring occasionally, until it is cooked through and some of the corn looks lightly browned.  You can put the onion in the pan at the same time as the corn and flip using a spatula, cooking until onion is tender all the way the through and lightly browned.

Chop the grilled onion into 1/4 - 1/2 inch pieces and add to the corn.  Add the tablespoon of melted (still warm) butter and stir to evenly distribute.  Add chopped green onions, basil, tomatoes and lime juice and stir.  Season with salt and pepper to your taste.  Add additional lime juice if you like a little more acidity. 

Serve at room temperature.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Shaved Zucchini Summer Salad

Hubby and I are lucky enough to have a fabulous small farmer's market just a few miles from our home.   We went for the first time this season last weekend and the market was in full swing with the delicious fruits of summer.  And veggies of course.  Zucchini and other squash was available in abundance and we brought home an armful!

Zucchini usually gets prepared just a handful of ways at our house.  GrilledBaked with Parmesan cheeseStuffed.  Cut into discs and coated with crispy panko breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese and baked (hopefully a future blog post).  And now I have a new preparation to add to the rotation.  Shaved (raw) zucchini salad with fresh Parmesan, almonds and lemon dressing.  I shared a preview on Thursday with the Trio of Summer Salads.

I first saw this salad on Paige's blog, A Cooking Life and I was immediately intrigued.  Paige is a professional chef and cooking teacher and provides wonderful posts chalked full of detailed instructions on how to prepare her recipes along with a wealth of food knowledge weaved in.  Her dishes often focus on what is in season, making her zucchini post very timely!  (She has several other zucchini recipes too if you are looking for ways to use up your zucchini and squash...but I have my eye on Summer Squash Gratin to try next).

What I love about this salad is the zucchini is raw, yet is so tender it is as if it were cooked.  The key to this salad is choosing squash on the small side as well as getting a very thin shave on your zucchini, 1/16 of inch thick.  I think the only way to really achieve this with any consistency is by using a mandoline slicer.  A basic mandoline can be purchased for between $20 - $40.  I acquired a mandoline from my pal Amy for Christmas this past year and I haven't had a chance to really break it in yet, so I was thrilled to use it for this salad.  It worked like a charm.  Though it took me a good solid 10 minutes to figure out how to disassemble it to wash it and just as long to put it back together again! 

Paige's post talks about 2 different approaches to dressing the salad.  The recipe featured on Paige's blog comes from the cookbook The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm and uses the method of squeezing fresh lemon juice straight onto the salad and then finishing the salad with olive oil.  The other method is to prepare a lemon vinaigrette and then dressing the salad.  I followed Paige's recommendation to go with the method from The Vineyard Kitchen.  It allows the lemon to really soak into the squash without the oil being a barrier.  It was delicious and the lemon brings a wonderful bright flavor to the salad without being overly lemony. 

I made only 2 minor modifications.  I used fresh basil rather than flat leaf parsley.  And I added yellow summer squash in addition to the zucchini.  I love the sunny yellow splash the squash brings to the salad.  The ingredients are simple and really sing when brought together--the tender zucchini softened by the lemon, with a nice crunch from the toasted almonds and saltiness of fresh shaved Parmesan cheese tied up with sweet ribbons of basil.  I absolutely loved this salad.  It's light and refreshing and perfect for a summer day. 

A couple of notes.  The zucchini releases quite a bit of water as it marinates in the lemon juice and olive oil.   That being said, you can really be generous with the lemon juice so that it retains it's flavor.  Leftovers don't do so well the next day.  This salad is best eaten shortly after it's made.

Thanks for sharing such a great recipe Paige!

Shaved Zucchini with Toasted Almonds, Parmesan and Basil
Adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen via A Cooking Life

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds small (3 to 4 oz. each) zucchini and or yellow squash, washed and ends trimmed
3 ounces of fresh Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1/2 cup sliced or slivered toasted almonds (toast lightly in a pan on the stove over medium heat for 5 minutes stirring occasionally)
2 - 4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 - 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Slice zucchini/squash lengthwise 1/16th inch thick using a mandoline slicer.  Place shaved zucchini in a medium/large bowl.  Add 2/3 of the shaved Parmesan, the toasted almonds, basil and season (generously) with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and toss gently and taste for seasoning. Add more lemon juice and salt as needed.  The salad should be a bit tangy.  Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss again and taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.  Serve salad and finish with a drizzle of olive oil remaining Parmesan.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trio of Summer Salads

I heart farmer's markets.  Hubby and I made a trip to our local farmer's market this past Sunday morning.  The market was bustling with people and bursting with abundant colorful harvests of summer.  We picked up a few things, with no particular recipes or meals in mind.  We selected our small bounty based on what looked most ripe and delicious!  They had stunning large red tomatoes, a mountain of zucchini and yellow squash, fresh herbs, corn on the cob and perfectly sweet white nectarines that all made it into our bags along with small container of fresh made goats cheese seasoned with basil. 

Both of us were recovering from a completely glutenous and indulgent meal from the previous day.  See, we had gone to a new gourmet burger restaurant and started off with a truly evil appetizer called "Vampire Dip" which is served in a toasted bread bowl alongside hunks of fresh crusty bread and fried pita wedges.  The vampire dip is a super cheesy, creamy concoction laced with an obscene mount of garlic (which we love) and diced artichoke hearts.  It was insanely delicious.  We devoured it and only a couple of hunks of bread and 1/3 of the bread bowl remained on the plate. 

Then....let's just say I ate (half of) their famous 50/50 burger (50% ground beef and 50% ground bacon).  Yes, ground bacon!  That was a first for me.  The burger was topped with avocado mash, pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayo all nestled between a warm, soft brioche bun.  Wow.  It was pretty tasty, but was almost too decadent.  I think my tummy went into shock after all that crazy rich food.  I shudder to think about the number of calories we consumed!  I am certain we set some type of record!

Needless to say, we had been detoxing from that ridiculous meal for the next 24 hours and a light farmers market meal seemed like the right thing to do for the following night's dinner.  As I inspected our farmers market haul I started thinking about fresh summer salads.  And the trio of salads was born... 

3. Tomato salad with basil, goat cheese and balsamic reduction

It was a delicious meal.  Light.  Refreshing.  Yet satisfying (despite the absence of meat/protein).  And healthy to boot!  A chiffonade of basil tied all three salads together beautifully.  Hubs didn't care for the shaved zucchini salad for reasons he can't quite put his finger on.  Not to worry, I ate his portion.  He did, however like the others.  I really enjoyed all the salads and would make them all again.  Though they all ranked highly in my book, my favorite salad by a hair was the shaved zucchini (went back for thirds), followed by the tomato salad (went back for seconds) and then the corn salad (also went back for seconds).  Good stuff!  And my conscience was magically cleared (after the dip and burger induced food coma), so I finished off my meal with a generous scoop of homemade strawberry ice cream. What's a meal without dessert?

Check back over the next several days to see individual posts featuring each salad and the recipes.

Have you been to your local farmer's market this summer?  Let the market tell you what yummy dishes to create in your kitchen.  :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

I am completely smitten with my ice cream maker.  Hubby and I purchased it on a whim while strolling through warehouse store Costco a couple of months back and now I'm wondering how I went so long without one.  Making ice cream is fun and I can see that the flavor possibilities are vast.  I have now officially covered the basics with my maker by churning, decadent chocolate ice cream, brown sugar vanilla ice cream and now fresh strawberry ice cream.

I think I'm starting to get a hang of this ice cream thing.  The typical ice cream base includes milk, heavy cream, and sugar that are cooked together until hot and then are slowly incorporated with egg yolks to make a custard.  This cooks until thickened (and reaches about 175 degrees on a candy or instant read thermometer).  Various flavors can be incorporated during the process depending on your recipe. The mixture is usually cooled for a few hours and then comes the churning.  If you want to add more flavor via mix ins (like crushed oreos or chocolate chips) they can be added during the last minutes of churning.  Mix ins are next on my ice cream journey!  My ice cream maker takes from 25 to 35 minutes to do it's magic.  The magic frozen custard goes into the freezer for a few hours of freezing time and then your homemade treat is ready to be enjoyed!

The steps are easy, but ice cream most definitely requires patience and planning.  Something I have learned the hard way!  You can get an ice cream maker for a pretty low price (we paid $30 for our Cuisinart 1 1/2 quart maker at Costco).  Oh, the other thing you have to remember is to have the bowl for the ice cream maker frozen for at least 6 hours or overnight.  We just keep the cleaned bowl in the freezer and cover it with plastic wrap so it's always ready to indulge our ice cream whims!

I've had strawberry ice cream on my mind ever since I saw it over on Tracey's Culinary Adventures a couple of weeks ago.  I adore strawberry ice cream.  It definitely ranks in my top five ice cream flavors.  And this homemade version is creamy and sweet and bright with fresh strawberry flavor.  I've been savoring it every night after dinner this week to get my sweet fix.  Yum.

The original recipe Tracey posted called for pureeing only half the chopped strawberries (1 cup) and saving the other half to mix into the ice cream during the last few minutes of churning.  Tracey noted that the strawberry pieces get very "firm" in the freezer.  I decided to go with a smooth version of the ice cream and I pureed all the strawberries adding it after the custard cooked.  If you want more texture in your ice cream, save out 1 cup of the strawberries and add them in to your ice cream in the final minutes of churning.

If you don't have access to fresh strawberries, you could easily use frozen and thaw them out.


Strawberry Ice Cream
adapted from William Sonoma Frozen Desserts via Tracey's Culinary Adventures

2 cups of strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add strawberries and 2 tablespoons of sugar to a food processor and puree until smooth and set aside.

Whisk egg yolks in a medium heat proof bowl with 1/4 cup of the heavy cream until pale yellow.  Combine remaining 3/4 cup of heavy cream, milk and 1/2 cup of sugar in a medium saucepan.  Cook mixture on medium heat while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it is hot but not boiling.  Slowly stream in the hot milk and cream mixture into the egg mixture, whisking continuously until fully incorporated.  (You want to add it in slowly while whisking vigorously to prevent the eggs from scrambling from the hot liquid).  Return the mixture to the saucepan and continue cooking until the custard has slightly thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon and reaches about 175 degrees on a candy or instant read thermometer.

Remove the custard from the heat and stir in the strawberry puree and vanilla extract.  Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve or strainer and into a medium sized heat proof bowl. Once custard cools slightly (I waited about 15 minutes), cover it with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 3 hours or until well chilled throughout.  Pour chilled custard into your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's directions.  Transfer ice cream to a freezer proof resealable container and freeze for at least 3 hours or overnight before serving.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Secret Recipe Club: Summer Gazpacho with a Nutty Twist

A cool refreshing soup bursting with flavor is perfect on a hot summer day.  Especially one that requires no cooking.  Gazpacho is a delicious chilled vegetable soup that originates from Spain.  I found this recipe for Summer Gazpacho with a Walnut Twist from Cheap Ethnic Eatz.  I had a blast browsing through Evelyn's blog as my first assignment with the Secret Recipe Club! 

What is the Secret Recipe Club you might ask?  It's a very cool online group founded by Amanda of Amanda's Cookin'.  Each month the participating food bloggers are each assigned another persons blog in the group to make a recipe from.  Everyone posts the recipes they made on the same day at the same time. The cool part it is a secret and you don't know who has been assigned who's blog until the post date.   It's a great way to get to know other food blogs, take on new recipes and increase exposure for everyone.  If you are interested in joining or just learning more head over the Secret Recipe Club.  And don't forget to scroll all the way to the end of this post to see the blog hop linking to what everyone made this month.

I have spent quite a bit of time perusing Cheap Ethic Eatz over the past month.  Though I'm a big fan of cheap (and delicious) food, I have to admit I'm not overly adventurous when it comes to ethnic cuisines.  I guess compared to my mom I'm a word traveler of cuisine, but compared to the truly adventurous, like Evelyn, I'm pretty basic.  I like, Italian, Greek, Persian, Lebanese, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, French (to a certain extent).  I'm bit more leery of other types like Ethiopian, Korean, Thai or Indian.  The great thing about Evelyn's site is she has a range of diverse dishes.

When deciding which recipe to make, I must have changed my mind at least 56 4 or 5 times.  Some of the recipes I was debating on were homemade jalapeno hot sauce, aranci (Italian fried rice balls), peach salsa and fig ice cream.  In the end I went with Summer Gazpacho with a Walnut Twist.  I admit, I played it a little safe by making gazpacho....but I couldn't resist.  I came across it when we were in the middle of a mini heat wave here in Southern California and this no cook soup sounded like a perfect accompaniment to grilled mahi mahi I was planning to make.

The gazpacho was wonderful and this offered a twist I haven't seen before...topping your soup with herb toasted walnuts.  I didn't have walnuts on hand, but I had some pecans and they were a great addition to the soup, adding a nice texture and flavor.

The nuts give a little extra heartiness to this very light soup.  Hubby is not a fan of nuts so I also did a version with garlic croutons so his soup would have a little extra crunch.  And that was delicious too! 

If you have never tried gazpacho before, I highly recommend it.  Thanks for sharing a great recipe Evelyn!

Summer Gazpacho with a Walnut Twist
from Cheap Ethnic Eatz

For the gazpacho:
5 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped (I left the skin on as I was using an English cucumber)
1 small red or green bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped (I used red onion)
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 1/2 cups tomato juice
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For toasted walnuts:
2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I used walnuts)
1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon finely chopped herbs (I used fresh flat leaf parsley and a bit of minced garlic)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt (optional)

To make soup:
Combine tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, garlic, onion, vinegar and tomato juice in a large bowl.  Transfer batches of the mixture to a food processor and pulse until coarsely pureed.  Transfer pureed soup into another large bowl and stir in salt and pepper, cover and chill in the refrigerator.  When serving if soup seems too thick, stir in more tomato juice.  Top with toasted nuts and serve.

To make herb walnuts:
Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil and toss nuts, herbs, cayenne and salt and pepper with your finger to coat.  Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until nuts are lightly toasted. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Farm Stand Donuts: Club Baked

To me doughnuts are a special treat.  I remember when I was kid and getting super excited on the rare occasions when my dad would go out for doughnuts on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  I love all doughnuts chocolate.  The chocolate cake doughnuts with chocolate frosting and the light airy chocolate twist.  Or the raspberry filled with chocolate icing....So sweet and delicious.

That's why Farm Stand Doughnuts were the perfect choice for my first time hosting a recipe for the new baking group, Club: Baked.  I have never made doughnuts before so I knew this would be a good challenge.  And a challenge it was!

The Farm Stand Doughnuts are a cake style doughnut.  Sadly, attempt number one produced a barely edible doughnut.  I only wished they tasted as good as they looked!  Just goes to show you, you most definitely should not judge a book by it's cover or judge a doughnut by it's frosting! 
Here is what batch one looked like.

The dough ended up being incredibly dry.  The recipe describes the dough as being "sticky".  Not sure where I went wrong...I may have lost track of how many cups of flour were in the bowl.  I should have used my intuition and added more buttermilk, but I doubted myself and forged ahead ending up with dry dense doughnuts.

The toppings were much better than the doughnuts themselves....shockingly, the chocolate was my favorite!  With the fresh blueberry glaze coming in a close second and trailing up the back was the cinnamon sugar. 

I couldn't very well let these doughnuts get the best of me, so I went for attempt number two this past weekend. 

I did things a bit differently this time and had a vastly improved outcome!  This time I halved the recipe.  I was extra extra careful with my flour measurements and I made mini's this go round.  My mini's were a good size, but unfortunately I made the donut hole too small and it pretty much disappeared upon frying.  Along with making a bigger hole, I also should have made my dough a bit thinner as the donuts puff up quite a bit when they are cooked.  I got 20 two inch mini donuts from the half recipe...which was plenty for our two person household. 

One issue I had on round 2 was with frying the doughnuts.  My oil was around 370 degrees and my doughnuts browned very quickly...about a minute on each side.  They were on the verge of burning so I removed them and cut into was still doughy inside.  I lowered the oil temperature to stay between 350 and 360 degrees so I could allow the doughnuts too cook through without over browning.

In terms of toppings, I went with cinnamon sugar, chocolate ganache and a strawberry glaze using homemade strawberry jam, powdered sugar and a splash of cream.  This time I actually liked the chocolate frosting least...but that is probably because I didn't so much bother with measuring the ingredients and the ganache turned out to be too thin.  The cinnamon sugar and strawberry doughnuts were both great, especially with a hot cup of tea.  These are best eaten the day they are made.

I am certain that the third time making these will be the charm!  And after that, I would like to tackle yeast doughnuts.

See how other bakers fared with their farm stand doughnuts here.

Farm Stand Buttermilk Doughnuts Three Ways
from Baked Explorations

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 sour cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly browned and cooled
Vegetable oil

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper to place your cut donuts on.  Line another baking sheet with at least 2 layers of paper towels to absorb the oil from frying.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in a large bowl and set aside.  Whisk eggs, buttermilk and sour cream in a medium/small bowl.  Whisk in the completely cooled butter.  Make a well in the dry mixture and pour in the wet mixture.  Using a rubber spatula, slowly pull the flour into the liquid center until a sticky dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle lightly with flour.  Pat out the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut out doughnuts using a floured 3 1/2 inch cutter for a large donut and a 1 1/2 round cutter for the doughnut hole.  For a smaller doughnut, use a 2 1/2 cutter for the doughnut and 1 inch for the hole. Cut out doughnuts and holes and place on your prepared parchment lined baking sheet.  Use the scraps to pat another disc of dough and cut out doughnuts.  Repeat until you have used all your dough.  Place your baking sheet in the refrigerator while you wait for your oil to heat up.  You can also make your toppings during this time.

Heat oil in a deep skillet or pan so that oil is about 1 1/2 inch deep.  Slowly heat the oil over medium/high heat until it reaches 365 - 370 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Gently slide each doughnut into the hot oil, making about 3 doughnuts at a time.  When the doughnut has browned on one side (about 2-3 minutes), turn it over with tongs and cook the other side for about another minute, until browned.  Remove donuts from oil using a slotted spoon and place on the paper towel lined baking sheet.  The doughnut holes will cook faster and should be made after the doughnuts.

Assemble doughnuts by dipping in topping of your choice.  See recipes below.

Doughnut toppings - Note each topping recipe is enough for the entire batch of doughnuts so you might want to cut recipe if you use multiple toppings.

Chocolate Dip:
4 ounces high quality dark chocolate (60-70% cocao), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sprinkles to decorate (optional)

In a small saucepan heat the cream until just about to boil.  In a medium widemouthed bowl, place chocolate and cover with hot cream.  Let stand for about a minute.  Whisk chocolate and cream until smooth and then whisk in butter.  Keep warm.

Vanilla Glaze:
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/3 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Sprinkles to decorate (optional)

Whisk all ingredients together in a medium widemouthed bowl.

Cinnamon Sugar:
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon

Stir cinnamon and sugar together in a medium widemouthed bowl.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Plum and Raspberry Pie with a Sweet Almond Lattice

This is my second and final time hosting a recipe for Sweet Melissa Sundays.  The group has nearly baked their way through every recipe in the Sweet Melissa Baking Book.  Only 3 recipes remain after this one with our final posting date on August 21st.   I'm sad to see the group near its end, but also excited because we've recently embarked on baking our way through a new book, Baked Explorations.  Club: Baked kicked off it's first recipe on July1st and we are baking twice a month, posting on the 1st and 15th.  To join the fun head over to the Club: Baked site and get in touch with Karen.

Now, on to the important business.  Pie. 

I will admit that I selected this recipe to host before fully reading it through.  Mind you, I didn't have a lot of choices since we are down to the last handful of recipes.  But I had a moment of dread when I finally did read through the recipe.  It had a lot of steps and a couple of non standard (in my kitchen) ingredients.  Tapioca pearls and almond paste.  I did find the almond paste, but not the tapioca pearls.  I ended up using more cornstarch in place of the tapioca, which worked out just fine.  The tapioca helps with thickening the fruit filling, but the cornstarch did the job. 

This pie is best made over two days to reduce stress and mess in your kitchen.  Day one make the base crust and the almond lattice.  Cover both in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Day two wash and cut the fruit, make the filling, assemble the pie and bake.  I baked my pie for the full time called for in the recipe but had to lightly cover it with foil to prevent over browning of the lattice crust. 

How did it turn out?  Pretty.  And tart.  Too tart for my taste.  But still pretty.  I've never been a fan of the skin on plums.  I like the flesh of the fruit, just not the skin.  This recipe calls for leaving the skins on and I was hesitant to do that.  So I decided to compromise and leave only half the skins on.  I should have gone with my gut.  Unfortunately the pie was overly tart, despite the fact the inner part of the plums was sweet. 

The almond lattice was delicious, though.  And so was the crust.  This was my first time making Melissa's Flaky Pie Crust and it turned out great!  I would definitely make it again.  It didn't have the issues I have seen in the past with her all butter pie crust shrinking.  The almond lattice would make a great top pie crust for a number of fruit pies, such as cherry or blueberry.  It's tasty and beautiful, with the bright fruit oozing up around the basket weaved sweet almond pastry. 

A quick note about the almond lattice.  It's delicate and requires a little special attention.  You start by rolling out the dough between lightly floured parchment.  The dough is transferred to a baking sheet and cut into long strips with a pizza cutter.  Then the baking sheet goes into the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes, if not longer.  Don't try to separate the strips until after the dough comes out of the fridge, nicely chilled.  Here's where you have to work quickly...the strips can be challenging to remove without breakage.  I used a small spatula to coax each strip off carefully in one piece.  The colder the dough, the easier it is to work with.  I would even recommend placing both your partially assembled pie and the strips back in the fridge if things get too warm. 

I made this pie for Father's Day and served it with Melissa Murphy's Brown Sugar Vanilla Ice Cream.  The ice cream was wonderful and sweet which toned down the tartness of the pie. 

If I make this pie again I would definitely omit the plum skin.  Looking forward to seeing how every one's pies turned out.  Thanks for baking along!

Plum Raspberry Pie with a Sweet Almond Lattice
by Melissa Murphy from Sweet Melissa Baking Book


Flaky Pie Crust:
Note you only need 1/2 the pie crust recipe.  I made the full recipe and froze half the dough.
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening cut into 1/2 pieces
6-8 tablespoons ice water

Sweet Almond Lattice:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter cut into 1/4 pieces
3 tablespoons almond paste cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons ice water

Egg Wash:
1 large egg
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Pinch of kosher salt

Plum Raspberry Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons tapioca pearls finely ground (you can use a spice grinder)
2 3/4 pounds black or red plum (about 8 plums), washed, pitted and cut into 1/2 inch slices
Zest from 1/2 orange
1 dry half pint fresh raspberries


To make pie crust:
Place your butter and shortening in the freezer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Prepare a glass of ice cold water.  In a medium/large bowl whisk together flour and salt.  Drop cold pieces of butter into flour mixtures and quickly toss to coat butter in the flour.  Work fast so the heat from your hands doesn't make the butter soft or warm.  Use a pastry blender (or 2 knives) and cut the butter into the flour until large pea size pieces form, turning your bowl 1/4 turn after each cut.  Toss shortening pieces into mixture and lightly coat with flour.  Use pastry blender to cut the shortening into the dough until large pea size pieces form.  Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and add ice water, starting with half the water and gently pull flour into water using a fork.   Dough will start to come together and add remaining water.  Dough is ready when you pinch it and it holds together.  Add additional water if needed.

Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and form 2 equal size discs.  Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes to an hour.  After the dough is chilled, roll out one of the discs on a lightly floured surface using a rolling pin until 1/4 inch thick.  Gently transfer dough to a 9 inch pie plate.  Take excess dough and fold underneath itself so it lays on the rim of the pie plate with going over the edge.  Crimp the edges and refrigerate the dough until firm, about 30 minutes.

To make Almond Lattice:
Using a food processor, pulse flour, sugar and salt until combined.  Add butter and almond paste and pulse until mixture is course.  In a small bowl whisk the egg, vanilla, almond extra and water.  Add wet mixture to the flour mixture and pulse until the dough appears uniformly moistened and crumbly.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form a disc about 6 inches in diameter.  Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes. 

Use a rolling pin to roll the dough between 2 large pieces of parchment paper lightly sprinkled with flour.  Roll into a round 11 inches across.  Remove top piece of parchment and cut dough into 3/4 inch wide strips using a pizza cutter or sharp chef's knife.  Transfer the dough still on the parchment to a baking sheet and refrigerate at least 20 minutes. 

To make egg wash:
In a small bowl, whisk egg, heavy cream and salt together.

To make the filling:
Whisk cornstarch, sugar and and tapioca flour in a small bowl.  In a large bowl toss the plum and zest together.  Gently fold in the raspberries.   Sprinkle sugar mixture over the fruit and stir gently to combine.  Transfer the filling to the unbaked pie shell.

To finish the pie:
Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment.  Remove lattice strips from the refrigerator and carefully separate each strip and lay it across the pie weaving a crisscross pattern.  Press the strips together gently where the strip meets the pie crust dough to join them together.  Gently brush egg wash over the lattice and pie crust edges.  Place the pie on your prepared baking sheet.  Cover the pie loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes on the center rack of your oven.  Uncover the pie and continue baking for 90 minutes or until the fruit is thick and bubbling.  Cool on a wire rack until pie is room temperature before serving.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Grilled Veggies

Is it bad that every night after dinner I want to go to Yogurtland?  There's one way too close to our house that is continually calling my name.  Bad Yogurtland. Do you all have these serve yourself yogurt shops in your area?  With 10+ frozen yogurt flavors to choose from and a bounty of toppings (from nuts, to crushed candy bars, to mochi, to captain crunch and fresh fruit)?  The possibilities are endless!

One of my favorites is devils food cake batter frozen yogurt topped with toffee bits, reeses's peanut butter cup chunks and why not throw in some juicy strawberry slices?  Also loving strawberry cheesecake and cinnamon graham cracker yogurts topped with graham cracker crumbs, crushed oreos, a little dragon fruit and more fresh strawberries.  So good.  Especially on a hot summer night.

What does delicious frozen yogurt have to do with grilled vegetables?  Nothing, really.  Except that I wanted to venture out for a yogurt after our grilled steak and veggie dinner last night.  But that happens a lot of nights.  Instead of succumbing to frozen yogurt and topping temptations, I ate a handful of chocolate chips to get my sweet on (yeah, I did....and no it wasn't the first time).

I don't feel too bad eating something sweet after a meal consisting mostly of vegetables.  Grilled veggies are another favorite summer food (after frozen yogurt of course).  They are easy to prepare and have that tasty browned grilled goodness that only a barbecue can produce. 

For last night's dinner we had asparagus, zucchini and onion that needed be used up and the grill was the perfect cooking vehicle.  A little olive oil, sea salt and pepper and your veggies are ready to go.  For a special twist, use a flavored olive oil.  I used regular extra virgin olive oil on the onion and asparagus and basil olive oil on the zucchini.  The mild flavor of the squash really allows the basil to come through.  Delicious! 

Don't limit yourself to just these veggies.  Most anything is fair game...including corn on the cob, bell peppers, yellow squash, whole tomatoes, chiles, portobello mushrooms, green onions and cabbage (this one requires a foil pouch and butter instead of olive oil).

Grilled Vegetables

1 large bunch of asparagus, washed and woody ends trimmed off
3-4 small zucchini, sliced length wise in 1/4 thick slices
1 large sweet onion (or red or white), sliced across the onion in 1/2 inch slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh group pepper

Working by veggie type, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until glistening and lightly  coated.  Sprinkle generously with and salt and pepper.  I like to use my hands to toss the veggies in the oil salt and pepper to ensure and even distribution of ingredients.

Fire up your grill on medium high heat.  Different veggies have different cooking times.  Start with the thickest veggies first (that will require most cooking time), in this case put the onion on first and cook for 5-7 minutes.  Flip the onion using a grill safe (metal) spatula.  Then add the zucchini and cook for about 3 minutes and flip and cook for 3 more minutes.  Lastly, lay asparagus on the grill perpendicular to the grates when you have 3 minutes left to cook your veggies.  After a minute, begin to roll the asparagus so that it gets evenly cooked on all sides. 

Serve alongside your favorite grilled chicken, fish or steak.

Friday, July 1, 2011

New York Style Crumb Cake and a New Baking Group

Don't dare call this coffee cake.  This is way beyond a coffee cake.  This is New York Style Crumb Cake.  Apparently New Yorkers take their crumb very seriously, the crumb to cake ratio is about 40/60.  The cake is sturdy, yet moist as it uses sour cream.  The crumb is pretty outrageous with "boulder" like chunks of delicious brown sugar deliciousness.  The crumb has a nice texture and crunch, contrasting perfectly with the soft cake.  To maximize the sweet goodness of this cake, heat your piece for about 20 seconds in the microwave.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.  Really.  It takes this cake to a whole other level. 

This fabulous cake marks the very first posting of the new baking group, Club: Baked.  Thank you Karen of Karen's Cookies Cakes & More for not only picking this great recipe to kick off the group, but for founding Club: Baked.  Karen guided a group of bakers through the Sweet Melissa Baking Book with Sweet Melissa Sundays and that group is posting our last recipe on August 21st.  The perfect time to start a new group, and several other SMS bakers quickly hopped on board. 

Club: Baked will take us on baking journey through the book Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  The book features classic American recipes with a twist.  I am super excited to make many of the Strawberry Jello Salad, Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie, Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars, Aunt Sassy Cake, Buckeyes (chocolate covered peanut butter balls--can you tell I like peanut butter?) and Farmstand Donuts which will be the group's second post, scheduled for July 15th. 

If any of the recipes above or these recipes sound good to you,  and or you just want to expand your baking skills, come join us and bake along with Club: Baked!  Every 1st and 15th of the month a baker from the group selects a recipe to make from the book.  Everyone who bakes along for that recipe posts their results on the scheduled date.  It's a great way to get outside your baking comfort zone and learn new things.  I can't tell you how much I have learned participating in Sweet Melissa Sundays for the past year and a half . I really thought I knew how to bake when I joined the group and I quickly realized I had a lot more to learn!  It's fun and your friends, family and co-workers will love you if you choose to share your tasty creations with them (or hate you because you are expanding their waistlines).  To join the fun, head over the the Club: Baked site and get in touch with Karen.

In the meantime I highly recommend the New York Style Crumb Cake.  It would be perfect for a brunch or special breakfast.  Or as a snack.  Or for dessert.  It's delicious!

To get the recipe stop by Karen's Cookies Cakes & More. Check out how other bakers did with their NY Style Crumb Cake here.