Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cupcake of the Month - Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes with Vanilla Swiss Buttercream



Don't let the zucchini in these cupcakes scare you. I guarantee, you and your kids will never believe there is any zucchini in them. These are so good, you'll be wanting to replace your favorite chocolate cake recipe with this one. These are just as delicious without the icing, and even better the day or two after you've baked them - moist, rich, chocolately, sooooo unbelievably good! Next year, this is my entry for the zucchini cook-off! They're a sure winner - just as my zucchini soup was the winner this year! If the list of ingredients seems too much, try this recipe for the zucchini chocolate cake I made last year. It was really good too - and had a chocolate frosting that was to die for!



Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes
adapted from King Arthur Flour

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounce) Dutch-process cocoa (I used Hershey's Special Dark here)
2 teaspoons espresso powder, optional but really helps to bring out the rich chocolate flavor
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (4 ounces) sour cream or yogurt
2 cups finely shredded zucchini (I use the small grater on the food processor for this job)
1/2 cup (3 ounces) chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the cupcake pans with paper liners (makes at least 24).
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, oil, sugar, and vanilla.
4. Beat in the eggs.
5. Stir in the sour cream or yogurt alternately with the flour.
6. Then fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips.
7. Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, till the top springs back lightly when touched, and a toothpick inserted in the top comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack. Frost with Vanilla Swiss Buttercream (recipe below) and garnish with real chocolate sprinkles.

Swiss Buttercream
from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
26 tablespoons butter, softened (3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.

2. Transfer mixture into the mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. (Here’s a tip: when you transfer to the mixer, make sure you wipe the condensation off the bottom of the bowl so that no water gets into the egg whites. This can keep them from whipping up properly.)

3. Add the vanilla.

4. Finally, add the butter a stick at a time and whip, whip, whip until it comes together. This may take as long as 15 minutes.

5. Transfer the icing to a piping bag (I used a large Ateco #828 tip) to pipe icing onto the cupcakes or spread icing on using a small offset spatula.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Peach Pistachio Frangipane Tart




Hmmmm. Let's see... I have some tart dough leftover from the Blueberry Lemon Tarts ... have tons of peaches getting riper and riper, I really want to use my new mini tart pans from Williams Sonoma again ... search the internet ... and viola! The recipe for this tart appears on my computer screen. Don't you just love the world wide web?? The last time I made a frangipane tart was last year about this time, but with plums and almond frangipane (pronounced fran-je-pane). They're not too difficult to make, they make a lovely presentation, and they sound so fancy! - oh and did I mention they're really good? They remind me a little of the tarts we ate in New York City at Le Pain Quotidien. You must eat them the day they are made if you want a crisp crust.

Peach and Pistachio Frangipane Tart
adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley via Dessert First
makes one 9-inch tart or six 3 1/2-inch tarts

1/2 recipe pate sucree, recipe below
1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, skinned
1/3 cup (66 g) sugar
5 tablespoons (68 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk (save egg white for egg wash)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons (20 g) flour
Fruit
2-3 ripe peaches
apricot jam for glaze
chopped pistachios for garnish

Place the mini tart pans on a baking sheet. Cut out circles of dough about an inch larger that the tart pans. Place the dough carefully into the tart pans, pressing lightly into fluted sides, being careful not to stretch the dough or it will shrink when baked. Cut off the extra dough with a knife or rolling pin. Place the tarts into the freezer to chill for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the shells from the freezer, prick the bottom of the tart with a fork several times, line the shells with foil and fill with dried beans or rice to keep the shells weighed down.
Bake shells for about 20 minutes until they are lightly colored and the shell feels dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and place on a rack. Remove the beans and parchment and brush the bottoms of the shells with a light egg wash (made from an egg white and a bit of water). Let finish cooling.

For the frangipane:
Place the pistachios in a food processor along with the sugar. Process until finely ground and combined. Add the butter and process until smooth. Add the egg and egg yolk and process until combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the almond extract and combine.
Add in the flour and pulse just until combined - do not overprocess.
You can use the frangipane at this point or refrigerate it for up to two days. Let it come to room temperature before using.

Assembling the tarts:
When you are ready to bake the tarts, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the frangipane evenly into the shells - do not overfill because it will puff up in the oven.
Wash the peaches, slice in half and discard the stones. Slice each half into thin slices and arrange evenly over the frangipane on each tart.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes for small tarts, 50-60 minutes for a large tart, until the frangipane is puffed and golden and the center of the tart is firm to the touch.
Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Warm a bit of apricot jam in a saucepan or in the microwave to make a glaze, and brush gently over the entire top of the tart. Let cool before serving. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios if desired.

Pate Sucree
adapted from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard
enough for two 9- or 10- inch tarts, or 16 mini tarts
1/2 pound butter, softened but still cool
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3 cups pastry flour, sifted
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1. Place the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed for 2-3 minutes, or until lightly creamed. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar and mix for 30 seconds.
2. Add the salt and egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
3. Add the flour and mix until the dough just about comes together, about 30 seconds. Add the cream, then pulse the mixer on low speed for 15-30 seconds, or until the dough is smooth.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl, divide it in half, and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 4 hours. At this point, the dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or may be rolled out and frozen for up to 1 month.
5. When you remove the dough from the refrigerator, it will be very hard. To make it pliable enough to roll out, you must soften it without warming it up too much. I cut the dough into several pieces and gently kneaded each piece, then gathered the pieces back together into a ball.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cooking with Kids Episode 4 - Strawberry Banana Smoothie





Here's our family's favorite smoothie. The kids love them and they're good for their growing bodies. I usually make more than I think I'll need so I can make smoothie popsicles. I don't even mind if they eat one of the popsicles for breakfast! This recipe is great for the kids to make because the amounts do not need to be precise. In fact, I never measure the ingredients. I just eyball it and throw the ingredients in the blender. I've guessed at the amounts for the purpose of writing this recipe, but feel free to add a little more of this or a little less of that. Substitute any berry or fruit for the strawberries if it sounds good to you. Here's a tip: if you ever have overripe bananas sitting on your counter, peel them and break them into chunks and freeze them in a ziploc freezer bag. Then you'll have them whenever you're in the mood for a smoothie (or banana espresso chocolate chip muffins).





Strawberry Banana Smoothies
Serves about 4

3/4 cup vanilla or plain yogurt
1 cup milk
3/4 cup orange juice
1 or 2 frozen bananas, broken into chunks
3 handfuls of frozen strawberries
a bit of sugar or agave nectar, especially if you used plain, unsweetened yogurt

Throw all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add more milk or orange juice to reach desired thickness.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lemon Blueberry Tartlettes


There are five basic parts to this tart:

1. The pate sucree. Pate sucree has more sugar than the Pate Brisee and is therefore a crispier, sweeter tart shell. The recipe came from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard. I am loving this book! Those of you familiar with pie dough making will see that Sherry puts it together more like a cookie dough (creaming butter first, then add sugar, then eggs, then flour) instead of the usual way I think of making pastry (cutting cold butter into flour and then adding liquid.) I figured the dough would shrink during blind baking (baking an unfilled pie shell) but it did not shrink at all! It was buttery, crisp and delicious.

2. Raspberry jam.

3. Lemon Curd. I used the lemon curd recipe from a wonderful blog I found recently called The Pastry Pal. I highly recommend this website for those of you who like to see step-by-step preparations along with wonderful stories and photos from someone who has worked as a professional pastry chef for several years. Irina has only been posting for two months, so if you want to get caught up on the site from the beginning, it would not be hard to do. You will definitely learn something. So far I've learned that lots of butter in lemon curd makes a fantastic lemony treat!

4. Fresh fruit - any fruit in season would be wonderful on this tart.

5. Apricot jam. Strained and thinned with water for a shiny glaze.


The recipes...

Pate Sucree
adapted from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard
enough for two 9- or 10- inch tarts, or 16 mini tarts

1/2 pound butter, softened but still cool
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3 cups pastry flour, sifted
2 tablespoons heavy cream

1. Place the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed for 2-3 minutes, or until lightly creamed. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar and mix for 30 seconds.
2. Add the salt and egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
3. Add the flour and mix until the dough just about comes together, about 30 seconds. Add the cream, then pulse the mixer on low speed for 15-30 seconds, or until the dough is smooth.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl, divide it in half, and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 4 hours. At this point, the dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or may be rolled out and frozen for up to 1 month.
5. When you remove the dough from the refrigerator, it will be very hard. To make it pliable enough to roll out, you must soften it without warming it up too much. I cut the dough into several pieces and gently kneaded each piece, then gathered the pieces back together into a ball.
6. Roll out the dough to 1/8" thickness, using a small amount of flour on the board and rolling pin to keep it from sticking. Cut the dough into circles about an inch wider than the tart pans and gently place the dough into the tart pan, being careful not to stretch the dough too much. Press the dough into the sides of the tart pan and use a rolling pin or a knife to cut off the excess dough. Place the tarts in the freezer while the oven is heating.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust the rack to the lower third of the oven. Prick the bottom of the pastry shell a few times with a fork. Line each tart with a piece of aluminum foil and fill it with dried beans or uncooked rice. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and filling and bake 5-10 minutes more, or until deep golden brown. Cool on a rack before using.

Lemon Curd
from The Pastry Pal

3 large eggs
3 large eggs yolks
1/2 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of salt
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, cut up into small pieces

1. Fill a medium pot with a couple of inches of water and bring to a boil.
2. Place the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt into a large metal mixing bowl and whisk together. Keep the butter chilled.
3. Set the bowl over the pot with boiling water. This is our faux double boiler.
4. You must whisk the entire time the bowl is over the water. Keep the mixture moving, so the eggs don’t get a chance to scramble. After a few minutes it starts to get frothy. (If necessary, hold the bowl still by gripping the edge with a kitchen towel.) Keep whisking. After a few more minutes, it transforms into something creamy. Whisk for another minute just to thicken it up.
5. Take the bowl off the heat. Feed it a handful of butter and whisk it in. The residual heat of the curd will melt it. Keep adding handfuls of butter until it’s all in and fully incorporated. If you still see any little lumps, return to the double boiler for a brief minute, until it disappears, but this is rarely necessary.
6. Push the curd though a fine mesh sieve into a container. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the lemon curd to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate. Once it’s completely cold, wrap the whole container tightly and store. (The curd will firm up considerably as it cools. Give it a good stir to loosen it up again before using.) You can store it in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze for up to a month. To defrost, let the container thaw in the fridge overnight.

To assemble the tarts:
1. Spread a thin layer of raspberry jam on the bottom of the tart shell.
2. Stir the refrigerated lemon curd until smooth and place enough in the tart to almost fill the tart shell.
3. Place the fresh fruit on top of the lemon curd.
4. With a pastry brush, apply a thin layer of strained apricot jam over the entire tart.
5. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint if desired.
6. Refrigerate the tarts until ready to serve. Serve these tarts the same day they are assembled.

One year ago: Favorite Chicken Tortilla Soup

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's Not Pesto, It's Pistou!



We've all heard of basil pesto, but what I actually make is basil pistou. It's simple really. You basically take your pesto recipe and omit the nuts and cheese. I make mine this way because A) Annie is allergic to nuts and B) I like to freeze the pesto, and it freezes slightly better without the grated cheese. The cheese isn't difficult to add later when you are cooking with the pesto. I have tried blanching the basil briefly before adding it to the food processor as this is supposed to help keep the pesto a brilliant green, but I've also read that it can lose some of its flavor too so I chose not to blanch this time. I recommend using a food processor rather than a blender and, if you're a purist, you can make it with your mortar and pestle. Let's just say I'm not a purist - the food processor was invented for a reason!

My favorite ways to use basil pesto or pistou:
1. Spread the pistou without the nuts and cheese onto rolled out pizza dough, and then top with any combination of roasted vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, red peppers, red onions) and cheese before baking. It's my favorite pizza combination!
2. Add some grated Parmagiano Reggiano cheese and use the nut-less pesto to coat some chicken tenderloins before sauteeing in a grill pan. It's super fast and the kids love it. The melted parmesan gives the chicken a delicious brown crust.
3. Add the cheese and nuts if you like, and add a tablespoon or two of pesto and some heavy cream to cooked pasta. Thin with pasta water if necessary.
4. Spread some pesto or pistou on bruschetta and top with roasted peppers and goat cheese for a fantastic appetizer.
5. Put some pesto on your grilled cheese and tomato sandwich.
6. Drizzle some pesto over sauteed zucchini and onions or roasted vegetables for a simple and delicious side dish.
7. Swirl a dollop of pistou onto tomato or red pepper soup for a simple but impressive garnish.
8. Google it! There are a thousand more uses for pesto!


The basil in my garden is fantastic and abundant this year! I love the shiny green color !


So I have two questions for you:
What's your favorite way to use pesto?
Do you prefer pine nuts or walnuts?

One year ago: Fresh Plum Frangipane Tart

Pesto
from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
Note: Omit the nuts and cheeses if making pistou

2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried (I use a lettuce spinner)
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 cup shelled walnuts
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine the basil, garlic, and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor.
2. Leave the motor running and add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream.
3. Shut the motor off, add the cheeses, a big pinch of salt and a liberal grinding of pepper. Process briefly to combine, then transfer to a bowl and cover until ready to use.
4. You may freeze the pesto in jars placing a small piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto. Or spoon into a plastic wrap-lined ice cube trays and transfer to a ziploc bag when frozen.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Favorite - Bodum French Press



I love my new Bodum French Press coffee maker. We bought one about 10 years ago in North Carolina and we used it every day. It does make the greatest coffee, especially if you use this kind! It had the coolest green handle and lid and a cork round to sit on. But a few months ago it broke and I replaced it with a french press of a different brand. It just didn't measure up to the old Bodum. I generally wouldn't be so particular if it was a gadget I used only once in a while, but this method of brewing has become a daily ritual and the new french press really bugged me. The base was hard to clean and it didn't filter out the grounds very well. So I found a Bodum at our Bed, Bath, and Beyond and used one of those 20% off coupons that have been piling up. Here's a valuable tip I'll pass along - our Bed, Bath and Beyond will now let you use as many coupons in one visit as you have items and they don't care if the coupons are expired. I used three coupons! I always thought you could use only one coupon per visit. If you knew this and didn't tell me, shame on you! Anyway, a helpful commenter told me I'd find my favorite pink rubber gloves there too and I found them! No more ordering from the internet - I'm using my coupons baby!!

I almost forgot, I also have an itty bitty baby Bodum which I found at this store that holds just the right amount for one big cup of tea. It works great for brewing loose-leaf teas! Isn't it cute?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cooking with Kids Episode Three - Puppy Chow


Forgot about this recipe? The kids love it! This little snack is so easy and so good, it doesn't last through the day at our house. So grab the Crispix and whip up a batch of Puppy Chow with the kids...and then make something really healthy for dinner!

Summertime tea party with pizza, nectarines, and puppy chow.

One year ago: Wild Alaskan Halibut with Zucchini, Tomato and Onion

Puppy Chow

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 tsp vanilla
9 cups Crispix cereal
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Combine peanut butter, butter, and chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl.
Microwave for one minute then stir to blend all ingredients thoroughly. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla. Stir well.
Place the Crispix cereal in a very large bowl.
Pour the peanut butter mixture over the cereal and toss evenly.
Coat with powdered sugar, sprinkling evenly over the mixture as you toss to coat each piece. (A fine mesh sieve might work well to do this.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Triple Chocolate Cake - The Perfect Stress Relief!


This is the ultimate cake for the chocoholic in your life - dark chocolate cake flavored just a bit with espresso and cinnamon, with a white chocolate mousse filling, and topped with sour cream chocolate icing. Oh my!

Not that this cake didn't cause me just a little stress. The cakes were the easy part - in and out of the oven no problem. The white chocolate mousse however was too soft (I think I may have followed the directions a bit wrong) and when I stacked the cakes with the filling it started to slip and slide all over the place. I quickly and carefully got the cake into the refrigerator, staightened it up as much as possible, and left it to chill while I worked on the icing. Fortunately, the kids spent the night at Grammy's the night before and were waiting at the party location already - no kids underfoot for this project - thank goodness!


The refrigeration definitely helped, but it wasn't totally fixing the problem so I pulled out the cake dowels I bought with the hopes of baking a tiered cake someday. Panicking a bit at this point, I yelled upstairs to Mark and asked him to please cut the dowels to size (like RIGHT NOW!) and after hearing some loud power tool in the basement, he produced perfect supports for my cake (I slid them right down into the cake). Thanks Hunny!

Even after all that, the icing I had now made wasn't at all stiff enough to frost the cake. With my experience with ganache-type icing, I knew it would need time to cool in order to thicken. With just an hour or so before we had to leave for the party, I placed the frosting in the refrigerator and stirred every 15 minutes until it was thick enough to coat the cake - and well, it almost got too thick! (read: more stress!) The timing was a little tricky and the recipe wasn't helping me out in that department. Well, as you can see, the cake made it through the assembly process. But I knew the hardest part was yet to come - the part people don't usually think about when making a cake - which is the transportation - the car ride was 40 minutes to our destination. Mark drove the car while I held the cake on my lap and acted as a human gimbal to keep the cake from toppling over. We (the cake, and Mark and I) made it to the party without incident. Whew!

Now I don't know about you, but when I'm feeling stressed, I eat some chocolate! So we sang Happy Birthday and ate the cake and I felt perfectly calm and satisfied! This cake was absolutely incredible and provided yet another learning experience! Happy Birthday Lisa!


OK, so the kids are tired of me having more photos of food on my camera card than I do of them! They snuck right into this picture and I love it!


Lisa's birthday cake complete with candles. And no one was the wiser!

One year ago: Roasted Plum Cakes

Triple Fudge Cake
from Sky High by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne
Makes a 9-inch triple layer cake, Serves 16-20

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups hot, strongly brewed coffee
2 eggs
1 cup real mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment and spray the parchment with cooking spray.
2. Brew the strong coffee. While the coffee is brewing, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and cinnamon and set aside.
3. Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring the milk to a simmer. Pour the hot coffee and milk over the chocolate and let stand for a minute. Then whisk the mixture until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.
4. In a mixer bowl, beat together the eggs, mayonnaise, and vanilla until well blended. Gradually beat in the sugar. Add the dry ingredients and mocha liquid alternately in 2 or 3 additions, beating until smooth and well blended. Divide the batter among the 3 cake pans.
5. Bake for 25-28 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out almost clean. (I also lightly press a finger on top of the cake and if it springs back, it's done.) Let the cakes cool in their pans on wire racks for 10-15 minutes. Unmold onto racks; carefully peel off the parchment and let cool completely, at least one hour.
6. To assemble the cake, place one layer on a cake stand. Cover the top evenly with half the White Chocolate Mousse, leaving a 1/4 -inch margin around the edge. Repeat with the second layer and the remaining mousse. Set the third layer on top and pour half the Sour Cream Chocolate Icing over the filled cake. Spread all over the sides and top. Don't worry if some of the cake shows through. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the icing to set. Cover the rest of the icing and set aside at room temperature.
7. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining icing, which should have the consistency of mayonnaise. If the icing is too soft, chill briefly. If it is too stiff, microwave on high for just 2-3 seconds to soften, then stir to mix well. Use an offset spatula to swirl the frosting around the cake.

White Chocolate Mousse
makes 1 1/2 cups

4 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon sugar

1. Melt the white chocolate with 1/4 cup of the cream in a double boiler. Whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.
2. After the chocolate has cooled, beat the remaining heavy cream in a clean bowl until soft peaks form. In another clean bowl, whip the egg white with the sugar until fairly stiff peaks form.
3. Fold the beaten egg white into the white chocolate cream, then fold in the whipped cream just until blended. Err on the side of undermixing. (Chill the mousse in the refrigerator if too soft.)

Sour Cream Chocolate Icing
makes 2 1/2 cups

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup half and half, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature.

1. Melt the chocolate with the butter and corn syrup in a double boiler over barely simmering water or in a heavy pan over very low heat. Remove from the heat and whisk until smooth.
2. Whisk in the half and half and sour cream. [Use while soft for first layer of icing (crumb coat). Then allow to cool and thicken until the icing is a spreadable consistency for second frosting layer.]

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Too Hot to Stay in the Kitchen? Three Novels for the Food Lover

It had been a while since I read a real novel. I usually spend my spare time baking or reading cookbooks like novels. It's not extremely diverse, I'll admit. But since summer began, I've been reading a bit more. I finally finished Pillars of the Earth (for the second time) while we were in Florida. The book is so big, I left it there rather than bringing it home on the plane. It might've pushed my bag over the 50 pound limit! It was an excellent book, but a little long and not about food so much. The books I'm going to talk about are much better for a summertime read and major parts of these books do revolve around food.
During that trip to NYC with the 4th graders, I made a friend who is a photographer of still life, interiors, and food. Telling her about my interest in all things edible, she recommended two books to read. I always appreciate a book recommendation mostly because I never know where to begin when I walk into a library or bookstore.

One of those books is Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. It's about two sisters who find themselves living together after being apart for a long time. Claire is a caterer who is believed by the townspeople to be able to change the way people think and act by the unusual ingredients she grows in her garden and uses in her cooking. Sydney (the wild sister) and her young daughter are trying to escape an abusive relationship and find refuge with Claire in the small town where her family is from and discovers her own special talents. This book is a perfect novel to read on your hammock in the backyard under the apple tree or among your own magical garden.


The second book is The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.
"The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight students who gather in Lillian’s Restaurant every Monday night for cooking class. It soon becomes clear, however, that each one seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen." The food lover in you will appreciate the decriptions of culinary creations prepared by the cooking class. The romantic in you will love the way the students come together to help each other find what's missing in their lives.

Sufficient Grace by Darnell Arnoult is a book I randomly picked up at the library. There was a pie on the front cover that caught my eye, although I had no idea what the book was about. Tell me you've never chosen a book by the art on the cover! Sometimes you get a winner, and sometimes you don't. I really loved this book and it turned out to be my favorite of the three. I was skeptical at the beginning and thought it would be too religious in content, but it turned out that it was not an overly-religious story and the characters made me laugh out loud at times. I couldn't put it down and I didn't want the story to end! Basically, it's about a woman who becomes mentally ill later in life. She leaves her home without telling anyone and a chain of events lands her in a house in North Carolina belonging to a woman who used to care for her as a little girl. Here's where the pie enters the story: The ill woman leaves behind a husband who doesn't know how to boil an egg for himself. He starts watching the Food Network and becomes a very accomplished cook. I was humored by this storyline, being one who has watched much too much of The Food Network in the past.
I thought this book is very well written. It explores the mentality of a schizophrenic wife and mother and at the same time makes you laugh at the personalities so well described in the story.

So instead of turning on the oven this month, open up one of these great reads and let the writers do the cooking. If you happen to read one, let me know how you liked it!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cooking with Kids Episode 2, Chocolate Peanut Butter Treats


If you love Reese's peanut butter cups, you'll love this treat. But I must warn you - they can be addictive. This recipe is another keeper from Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook. If you use a microwave to melt the chocolate, you don't even need to turn on the stove. Just make sure you microwave for only 30 seconds at a time and give the chocolate a stir each time, so it doesn't overcook. I bet this would make a great bake sale item too!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Treats
Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook by Angela Wilkes
For the treats:
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
8 1/2 ounces smooth peanut butter (sorry, natural peanut butters won't work here)
scant 2 cups confectioners' sugar
For the chocolate topping:
1 cup dark chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan (or use the microwave and a microwave-safe bowl). In a large bowl, mix the melted butter with the brown sugar, peanut butter, and confectioners' sugar. (The mixture was very stiff and I ended up kneading it together with clean hands to get a uniform mixture).

2. Spoon the mixture into an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan and spread it out evenly. Press it down firmly using a spatula or your fingertips.

3. Place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and add the butter. Melt over a pan of simmering water (or use that microwave again!) and stir until smooth. (For some reason, mine seized up and so I added a little heavy cream and heated and stirred again.)

4. Spread the chocolate over the peanut butter mixture. Chill until set but is still soft enough to cut. Place cut squares back into the refrigerator to set completely.

One year ago: Grandma's Sloppy Joes

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream


Got extra strawberries? Try this recipe for Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream from David Lebovitz' Perfect Scoop. It's perfectly refreshing and slightly tangy.


Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream
from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vodka or kirsch
1 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Slice the strawberries and toss them in a bowl with the sugar and vodka or kirsch, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Pulse the strawberries and their liquid with the sour cream, heavy cream, and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until almost smooth but still slightly chunky.

Refrigerate for 1 hour, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Transfer to a container and freeze to harden the ice cream further.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cooking with Kids Episode 1 - Cream Puffs


I made a point not to overschedule summer for the kids - to give them time to relax and do a lot of nothing. Well, with a month left of summer vacation, my kids have been using the "B" word lately. They're "B"ored! So they begged me to make one of the recipes out of their kids cookbook - they wanted to make cream puffs! So there I was in the middle of my second batch of pesto and they want to get started - now! I really don't like to have two projects going on in the kitchen at the same time because the messes get a little out of control (I'll let the photos speak for themselves), but I let them do this recipe mostly on their own while I finished up with the abundant basil from the garden.

You might think cream puffs would be too difficult an undertaking for kids, but they really are pretty easy. I think those French chefs gave the dough the name Pate a Choux to make all of the rest of the world think it's a complicated pastry, but it's not complicated at all. Just mix up the dough in a pot on the stove and stir like crazy. Add eggs and stir again like crazy. Plop the dough onto a cookie sheet using a small ice cream scoop and bake. Once you've learned how to make this dough, you can make sweet chocolate eclairs or savory gougeres.

Let the puffs cool on a cooling rack, piercing each one to let out the steam.

Then slice each puff in half and fill with whipped cream - the homemade kind, sweetened just a bit.
By this time, I was finished with the basil and that left a little more room for the kids to work. Supervise carefully while the stove and sharp knives are being used, but otherwise just a little guidance is all that's needed.
Ellen's chopping chocolate...

and glazing the cream puffs with the dark chocolate sauce...
The hardest part was deciding who would do which job because of course they all wanted to do everything. But in the end, they took turns reading the recipe, performing the tasks, putting things away, and licking the bowls. I got the coveted job of doing the dishes, but at least I didn't have to hear the "B" word for the rest of that day!
And here comes the easiest part - eating them!


One year ago: My CSA and Dill Pickles and Blackberry Scones

Cream Puffs
from Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook by Angela Wilkes

For the pate a choux dough:
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
2 eggs
For the sauce
4 oz semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons heavy cream
For the filling:
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon superfine sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with a silpat or cooking spray and sprinkle with water.
2. Cut up the butter and heat it in a saucepan with the water.
3. Sift the flour and sugar together. When the water boils, remove it from the heat and add the flour and sugar mixture.
4. Beat the mixture hard with a wooden spoon until it is smooth and comes away from the sides of the pan.
5. Beat the eggs, then beat them into the mixture, a little at a time, until you have a thick, smooth, glossy paste.
6. Put teaspoons of the mixture onto the cookie sheet and bake 20-25 minutes until puffy and golden brown.
7. Put the cream puffs on a wire rack to cool. Pierce them with a fork to let out any steam and to keep them from getting soft.
8. Break the chocolate into a saucepan. Add the butter and cream. Stir over low heat until the chocolate has melted.
9. Whip the cream and 1 T sugar with a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment until thick. Slice each puff and fill with the cream.
10. Arrange the puffs on a serving plate and drizzle with chocolate sauce. Serve immediately.

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