In the mood for Banana Bars!

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Here’s a wonderfully easy and extraordinarily tasty little bar recipe that I tried this week.  I needed to use up some over-ripe bananas and was in the mood to try something different.  Since I am traveling right now and not in possession of my collection of cookbooks, I moseyed on over to Tastespotting and searched for photos with the keyword “banana”.  So… this recipe is comes courtesy of Cooking Classy and it is definitely a keeper!  Enjoy!

For the base:
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons applesauce
1 egg
1 cup over-ripe mashed bananas (about 2 large bananas)
For the frosting:
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients for the base in a large mixing bowl.  Mix with an electric mixer for 2 minutes.  Pour mixture in to a buttered 13×9 inch baking pan and spread evenly.  Bake about 20-25 minutes…until edges are just beginning to turn golden and center is puffed and set.  Cool completely.
Mix the 5 frosting ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Whip until fluffy.  Spread evenly over cooled banana base and sprinkle with chopped pecans.
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In which I make a show stopping Holiday Dessert!

Must be the festive holiday spirit in the air that compelled me to make this special dessert from Laurent Tourondel.  I’m no pastry chef so many of the spectacular holiday cakes that I see in cookbooks and magazines intimidate me…. but I had a feeling that I could pull this one off.

This is definitely a chef’s recipe, and by that I mean it is a recipe that was written from a professional’s prospective instead of being geared to the average home cook like me.  But it is actually very doable and I am going to try and be a bit more precise as I rewrite the directions.  I will warn you that I used a lot of mixing bowls in this process.  But you can make this dessert and run the dishwasher a good 36 hours before your guests walk in the door.

It cracks me up that this is called “Mom’s Chocolate Cake”!  No wonder this guy became a chef….growing up with a mom who whips up cakes like this!

I am so happy to finally know how to make beautiful chocolate curls.  Of course I had to do a little online research to find a technique.  See what I mean about “chef’s recipes”?  They say things like, “decorate with chocolate curls” just assuming that we all know how to do that.  But now I do know how to do that so thank you Chef Tourondel for inspiring me to figure it out.

 

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Mom’s Chocolate Cake
 (chocolate mousse cake with creme anglaise) 

Adapted from Bistro Laurent Tourondel: New American Bistro Cooking by Laurent Tourondel and Michele Scicolone. Here is the basic idea:  you make a yummy chocolate mousse, layer it with lady fingers dipped in syrup then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.  Then you make a vanilla creme anglaise, let it chill a couple of hours, pour it on top of the cake and chill again for a bit.  Decorate with chocolate curls and serve.  I’ve made the cake a little less boozy cause I like my liquor on the side rather than in my dessert.  In my version the liquor just heightens the flavor but it won’t come through on its own. As for the chocolate curls,  I turned to  The Pioneer Woman to get a photo demonstration to show me the way. (I used chocolate chips)  Here’s a link:  Chocolate Curls
Chocolate mousse
 
7 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoons rum
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
5 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons sugar, divided

 

1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place it in the top half of a double boiler set over simmering water. Add the espresso powder and rum and let stand uncovered until the chocolate is softened. Stir until blended. Transfer the chocolate to a large bowl to cool.
2. In a large, chilled bowl, whip the cream on high speed for 4 minutes, or until soft peaks form.  In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the sugar until pale, about 3 minutes. In yet another bowl, beat the whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until frothy. Gradually add the remaining 4 tablespoons of the sugar and increase the speed to high. Whip until soft peaks form.

3. Add the egg mixture to the melted chocolate and stir to combine. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the whites.

 
Cake Assembly
 
Chocolate mousse 
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons  rum
20 to 25 ladyfingers, cut in half horizontally
 
1. Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and ¾ cup water in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool completely.
2. Mix together the simple syrup (you should have ¾ cup) and the rum. Dip half of each ladyfinger in the syrup until slightly softened.
3. In a 2-quart glass serving bowl, alternate layers of 1/3 of the mousse followed by 1/3 of the ladyfingers, finishing with the mousse. Alternatively, you may make individual servings by layering the mousse and ladyfingers in large wine glasses. Cover and chill at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.
 
Creme Anglaise
 
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
Chocolate curls or shavings, if desired

 

1. Bring the milk, vanilla bean scrapings and pod, and 1/2 cup of the sugar to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and discard the vanilla bean.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until thickened slightly and well combined. Very slowly,  add about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the yolks and whisk until well incorporated. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture, stirring constantly.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened slightly and the mixture lightly coats the back
of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, dip a spatula in the sauce and run your finger through it. If your finger makes a trail rather than causes all of the custard to run off, the sauce is ready.
3. Remove the sauce from the heat and strain into a clean bowl. Place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Pour the creme anglaise over the chocolate mousse cake and chill until ready to serve.  Decorate with chocolate curls just before serving.
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In the mood for a Sweet Shortcut!

Here are three recipes for those times when you are entertaining but either don’t have time or aren’t in the mood to bake.  Now I admit I have been known to pop open a box of Dove Bars for company on occasion but in general, I prefer something a little more original.  I’ll order them by degree of difficulty and mess, starting with one so easy that it is not even a recipe, just an idea, and a tasty one at that.

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Yep, that’s it. Pieces of your favorite ice cream sandwich skewered with a juicy sweet raspberry on a cute bamboo toothpick.  Put your serving platter in the freezer for a bit so they won’t melt while they are being passed around.  Shouldn’t be a problem…they disappear quickly.

 

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Mini Ice Cream Sandwiches

You might be surprised to taste the difference between these semi-homemade ice cream sandwiches and the store bought variety.  I like to use small cookies so the dessert becomes a 3-4 bite treat.  The softEntenmann’s cookies make good sandwiches as do the crispy, buttery mini cookies that many gourmet companies package for sale.  The Chips Ahoy cookies tend to get rock hard in the freezer so I avoid those.
     Line a rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper and set your favorite gourmet ice cream out to soften a bit.  Use a table knife to generously mound ice cream onto one cookie and top with a second cookie.  Take care not to press the sandwich together too firmly, just a gentle touch so that it will hold together.  I like to quickly over-fill as many cookies as possible then put the whole sheet in the freezer to firm up for 15 minutes.  Then I quickly trim around the edges of each sandwich with a table knife to neaten them up.
     As an extra touch, I like to drizzle melted white chocolate and melted semi sweet chocolate over the tops of the ice cream sandwiches.  The quickest and easiest way to do this it to melt the chocolates separately in glass Pyrex cups in the microwave then stir and use a fork to drizzle.  After the sandwiches are frozen firmly, cover with plastic wrap or store in a zip lock freezer bag until ready to serve.
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Ice Cream Bonbons

 These little ice cream bonbons may be a little more work than the 2 previous desserts….but I think that these will be my go-to sweet shortcut for summer 2011.  If you like buttery caramel, covered in chocolate and dusted with flakes of sea salt just imagine how much you will love this same treat substituting caramel ice cream. Adapted from the June 2011 issue of Food and Wine in an article on Ice Cream Parlor Tricks,  these are just my style for summer entertaining.
10 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped chocolate wafer cookies (such as Nabisco Famous Wafers)
1 pint caramel ice cream (I used Haagen Dazs Dulche de Leche)
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
In a medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the dark and white chocolate together.  Scrape into a smaller cowl and let cool slightly.
Put the crushed cookies on a small plate.  Line 2 baking sheets with wax paper and place one in the freezer.  Fill a cup wit ice water
Working very quickly, scoop a 1 tablespoon size scoop of ice cream, packing it tightly.  Transfer it to the melted chocolate.  Using a skewer, poke the rounded top of the ice cream and coat the ball int he chocolate.  Lift the bonbon, allowing the excess chocolate to drip into the bowl.  dip the bottom of the bonbon in the cookie crumbs and set on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle salt on tom.  Let stand for 10 seconds then transfer the bonbon to the baking sheet in the freezer.  Repeat to form the remaining bonbons; dip the ice cream scoop in the ice water between scoops.  Freeze the bonbons until firm 30 minutes. then serve.
(I found it helpful to use a mini scoop (the one I use for cookie dough) and make all of the the ice cream balls at one time and freeze them solid before I began the chocolate dipping process.)
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In the mood for a Champion’s Dinner…celebrating Masters week 2011

I recently learned that on Tuesday night of Masters week, the reining champion hosts a dinner for all previous tournament champions, an elite group indeed.  Not only does he get to choose the menu but he also is responsible for the check.  And, adding to the pressure (in my opinion) if the guests don’t fancy the menu that the host offers they are allowed to order something else off the regular clubhouse menu.  I can only imagine how busy the clubhouse kitchen was in 1989 when Sandy Lyle served Haggis and mashed turnips to his fellow golfers.

Tiger served cheeseburgers, french fries and milkshakes following his first Masters trophy in 1997 (perfect for the youngest Master Champion at 22) and since then he has served porterhouse steaks twice and then a Mexican style fajita dinner in 2006.  Understandably, players like to tout their own local cuisines…..  wiener schnitzel for Bernherd Langer, fish and chips for Nick Faldo and paella and tapas for Jose Maria Olazabal.  Check out VJ Singh’s menu:  seafood tom kah, chicken panang curry, baked sea scallops with garlic sauce, rack of lamb with yellow kari sauce, baked filet, Chilean sea bass with three flavor chili sauce, lychee sorbet.  YUM!

And so this week, Phil Michelson hosted his third Champions dinner.  After his first win in 2004, Phil served lobster ravioli in tomato cream sauce, caesar salad and garlic bread and then moved on to more casual fare (barbecue ribs, chicken, sausage and pulled pork with cole slaw) for his second go round.   I understand that this week he hosted a spanish feast to honor his friend and Spain’s greatest golfer, Seve Ballesteros, who is unfortunately quite ill and could not attend.

What follows is my interpretation of this years menu from the Champions Dinner at Augusta National.

 

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Seafood Paella

 
Now I admit, this is not “authentic” paella.  But you should really make note of this brilliant recipe from Bob and Melinda Blanchard.  In it’s original form, it is Tequila Shrimp with Saffron Rice from their book,Cook What You Love.  I’ve made it many times and will give it to you verbatim so you can too.  For my spanish feast, I’ve substituted fresh clams for the black beans to give it a real paella look and taste.  If you choose to do that as well, add the clams when you stir in the rice as they take longer to cook than the shrimp.
1/4 cup olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 pound chorizo, thinly sliced (I tend to use about half that amount and I like the spicy chorizo)
3 large ripe tomatoes, chopped (use one can chopped tomatoes if out of season)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups tequila
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large pinch saffron threads
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large, shallow ovenproof casserole, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic, onion and bell pepper and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally,  Add the chorizo and cook for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes and beans and sir well.  Increase the heat to high and add the tequila, chicken broth, rice, salt, saffron and turmeric and stir well again.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the shrimp, mix well, and bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes, or until the shrimp is cooked and the rice has absorbed the liquid.  Serve right away.  Serves 6
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Arugula with Gazpacho Vinaigrette

During my quick research into the Champion’s Dinner menu for this year I found descriptions of two different salads. One a simple mesclun with sherry vinaigrette and olives and one a mixed salad with a gazpacho dressing.  I think that the latter sounds more interesting so here is my version.  I used spicy arugula, which really holds it own with the bold flavor of this vinaigrette.  You could make this in a blender to get a smooth dressing but I kind of like the colors and textures that hand chopping delivers.  This dressing comes from a recipe for a lovely new potato salad in a little book called Vegetable Sides, published by Rylan, Peters and Small.
Gazpacho Dressing
 
2 large ripe tomatoes, halved, seeded and diced
2 ounces roasted red peppers (from a jar) diced (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
pinch of sugar
a bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put all dressing ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over fresh arugula.
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Filet of Beef with Smoked Paprika and Garlic

Phil’s menu calls for prime beef tenderloin with manchego cheese and smoked paprika demiglace.  This reminded me of an excellent yet very simple recipe for a whole tenderloin that I cut out of Gourmet Magazine (July 2008) and have adapted here to create a quick and east way to impart warm, wonderful spanish flavors to the tender beef filets.
2 large garlic cloves, minced finely
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil
4-6 beef tenderloin filets
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Mix garlic, paprika, cumin and olive oil together and rub this mixture into the filets.  Cover and let marinate several hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator.  Stir together the mayonnaise and the paprika and cumin and set aside.  Grill steaks until desired doneness and serve with the spiced mayo and lime wedges.
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Apple Empanadas with Vanilla Ice Cream and Dulce de Leche

 
The Champion’s menu called for an ice-cream topped apple empanada.  I’ve chosen to top the ice cream with dulce de leche and serve the pastries on the side.  Adapted from a recipe for Sweet Apple Cinnamon Empanadas by Marian Blazes in an article on South American Food (About.com), these melt in your mouth pastries can be dessert one night and breakfast the next morning.
 
For the pastry:
 
1 cup butter, chilled
8 ounces cream cheese, chilled
2 1/3 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
 
For the filling:
 
4-5 Granny Smith Apples
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
 
1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water
coarse sugar for sprinkling
 
1.  For the pastry, put flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly.  Add the butter and the cream cheese and pulse until the mixture just starts to come together.   Add the vanilla and pulse twice more.  The mixture will look crumbly.  Turn it out onto a piece of plastic wrap and bring the dough together and pat it into a disk.  Wrap well in plastic and chill for at least 2 hour, or overnight.
 
2.  For the filling, place the apple cubes in a saucepan with the butter, sugars, cinnamon and salt.  Stir over medium heat until the apples are tender then add the cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened.  Remove from heat and cool then chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
 
3. To shape empanadas:  Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch.  Cut out 4 inch circles, gathering scraps and re-rolling as necessary.  Wet the edge of a dough circle slightly, all around the perimeter.  Place one scant tablespoon of filling in the middle of the dough.  Fold the circle in half, enclosing the filling and press the edges together firmly, flattening and extending them slightly as you pinch them.  Fold and crimp the flattened edge over itself to seal.  Repeat with the remaining empanadas.
 
4.  Chill empanadas for about and hour for best results (or 15 minutes in the freezer).  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix egg yolk with a little bit of water and brush over empanadas.  Sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
 
5.  Serve warm or room temperature with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche, or your favorite caramel sauce. (pastries may be reheated in a low oven if you like)
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In the mood for a Tea Party, Southern Style!

  Although you never need an excuse to have a tea party, this one has a special purpose.  The folks atFoodbuzz have joined forces with Kelly Confidential  to raise money for The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and are donating $50 for every tea party posted today.  And on Friday, these tea parties will be the subject of a Foodbuzz “Top 9 Takeover”!  Fun stuff… and all for a very important cause.  You too can help raise money by going to Kelly Confidential and simply voting for an outfit for Kelly to wear to her “virtual tea party”.
So welcome to my tea party….southern style!
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 A southern style tea party needs iced sweet tea, of course!
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Pimento Cheese, Tomato and Chive Finger Sandwiches

Two of the South’s favorite sandwiches in one.  How can something so simple be so sublime?  When I was little, I used to pick the slivers of red pimento out of my pimento cheese sandwich so I appreciated the version that my Aunt Caroline made in a blender.  My version uses mild yellow cheddar and those wonderful sweet fire roasted red peppers that you find in a jar.  And although I no longer have an aversion to colorful specks in my food, I still like to blend my pimento cheese.  It just seems to take that lovely pimento flavor all throughout the spread.
For the pimento cheese:
1/3 pound mild cheddar
2 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
several strips of roasted sweet red bell peppers (I use the equivalent of 1/2 of a med. red pepper)
Blend ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth, adding more mayo if needed to get to a nice consistency for spreading.
For the sandwiches:
Very Thin White Sandwich Bread (I use Pepperidge Farm)
mayonnaise
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced very thinly
1 bunch fresh chives, minced
salt and pepper to taste
Stack the bread and trim it so that each piece is approximately 3×3 inches.  To construct a sandwich, spread one slice of bread with mayonnaise and top with one or two slices of tomato.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Spread pimento cheese on second slice of bread and set that on top of the tomato.  Top with a third slice of bread and press slightly.  Wrap sandwich in plastic wrap until all sandwiches are assembled and you are ready to set your tray.
To serve:  Cut each sandwich twice on the diagonal to create 4 equal triangles.  Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise onto the long end, the “uncut” side, of the triangle and gently press this side into your minced fresh chives.  Repeat with remaining sandwiches and arrange on a platter.
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Brown Sugar Shortbreads with Smashed Blackberries and Sweet Cream

Slightly sweet flaky biscuits slathered with smashed fresh blackberries and whipped cream…a southern take on the traditional British scones with jam and clotted cream.
For the shortbread:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing tops of biscuits
coarse brown sugar for sprinkling (such as Sugar in the Raw or Demerara Sugar)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder sugar and salt.  Cut cold butter into small pieces and toss into the flour.  Then, with a pastry knife, two table knives, or your fingers, blend butter into flour mixture until it is the consistency of coarse crumbs.  Add the cream and stir quickly with a fork until flour is just moistened (do not over work the dough) then turn it onto a lightly floured surface and pat it gently to a thickness of about 1/2 inch.  Use a 2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out shortbreads and place them 1 inch apart onto baking sheet.  Brush with additional heavy cream and sprinkle generously with coarse brown sugar.  Bake 12-14 minutes or until puffed and just lightly brown.  Remove from oven and cool.
For the berries and cream:
1 pint fresh blackberries
3/4 cup heavy cream
sugar to taste
Wash the blackberries (don’t dry) then toss them with a tablespoon of sugar (or more, to taste).  Using a table fork, smash berries, leaving some whole until you get a nice chunky jam-like consistency.
Whip cream with a couple of teaspoons of sugar (once again, you can use more if you like).  With this amount of cream, I prefer to whip it by hand with a whisk.  It only takes a few minutes and is good exercise…at least for one arm!
Serve and shortbreads with the smashed berries and cream.
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 Hush Puppy and Deviled Crab Bites

 There is nothing dainty about the flavor of this little treat.  Crispy hush puppies, hollowed out slightly and filled with a cool and creamy crab salad.
1 package frozen hush puppies  (I use Savannah Classics original recipe)
8 ounces jumbo lump crab meat, picked over for shell fragments
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon coarse grain Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
salt and pepper to taste
fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Prepare hush puppies according to directions on package.  Let cool slightly then cut top 1/3 off of each hush puppy and remove some of the interior to make room for a nice portion of crab meat.  You may also want to take a tiny sliver from the bottom of each hush puppy so that the finished product will stay level on a serving tray instead of rolling about.
In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and horseradish.  Gently stir in crab until it is well coated then taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, fill hush puppies with crab salad and top each with a fresh parsley leaf.

In the mood for Orange!

Orange is the subtle citrus…sweet and delicate compared to the power of lemon or lime.  Oranges and their juice and zest are a surefire way to bring a little sunshine to all types of dishes.

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Tomato Soup with Orange and Cumin

 

I’ve been making this all winter and see no reason to stop now.  It is like a light tomato cream soup with no cream in sight, just a hint of orange juice and the warmth of cumin. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it as it makes this soup a breeze to puree.  This recipe is from Food and Wine Magazine.
 
1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 bay leaves
2 cans (28 0z each) peeled whole tomatoes with their juices (I like San Marzano)
1 tablespoon packed finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon kosher salt, more to taste
freshly ground black pepper 
snipped fresh chives for garnish
 
Put the onion, orange juice, potato, butter, cumin, bay leaves, and 3 cups of water in a large saucepan.  Cover, bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to a summer.  Cook  until a skewer easily pierces the potato, 15-20 minutes.  Add the tomatoes with their juices and the orange zest.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a steady low simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the potato chunks are falling apart, another 20 minutes  Discard that bay leaves; puree the soup with an immersion blender,  hand blender, stand blender, or food processor.  Strain through a medium/large sieve; discard the contents of the sieve. Season immediately, let cool completely if refrigerating or freezing.  Heat gently, adjust the salt and pepper as needed garnish with the chives and serve. (makes about 10 cups)
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Scampi Al Dragoncello

This bright and beautiful shrimp recipe is from Christina’s Tuscan Table by Cristina Ceccatelli Cook.  The only change I made was to segment the oranges instead of slicing them.  It’s super easy if you have a small, sharp knife.  Just cut a bit off of both ends of the orange so that you can set it flat on a cutting board then,  slicing from top to bottom, remove all of the peel and pith from the orange.  When it is completely clean, you will be able to quickly slice between the membranes to remove the orange segments.

24 large shrimp, cleaned and deveined, tails left on
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for cooking
juice and zest of 2 oranges
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
a few sprigs fresh tarragon, for garnish
orange slices for garnish
salt to taste

Combine shrimp, 1/4 cup olive oil, juice and zest of oranges and lemon, tarragon, garlic, red pepper flakes, and parsley in a bowl.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and cook the shrimp on high heat for 3-5 minutes,  adding a splash of marinade as you cook to keep them moist.

Season to taste and serve hot, garnished with fresh tarragon sprigs and orange slices. (serves 4-5)

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Berries with Orange Sabayon

I could live without a microwave.  For the most part, I use ours to melt chocolate for baking and to warm a tepid cup of coffee.  When I prepared to try this recipe, I almost pulled out the double boiler to cook the eggs then decided that if Chef Laurent Tourondel suggests the microwave, I should at least give it a try.   It came together like a dream and I am thrilled to have such a quick and easy make ahead dessert recipe for entertaining this spring and summer. (And the flavoring possibilities are endless!) This recipe is based on one in his book, Bistro Laurent Tourondel, New American Bistro Cooking. 
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 cup heavy cream
scant 1/4 teaspoon pure orange extract
fresh berries, like raspberries, blueberries or strawberries (about 5 cups to serve 6)
Make a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from heat and let cool.
In a microwave safe bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the cooled simple syrup (the rest will keep in the refrigerator for another use, if you like) and the orange juice until frothy.  Cook 8-10 seconds on high heat in the microwave.  Remove from the oven and whisk until smooth.  Repeat 9-10 times, until the sabayon is cooked and thick.  Let cool for 10-15 minutes. (I cooked it 8 times for 10 seconds and then 2 times for 8 seconds, whisking between each and it turned out perfectly)
In a large chilled bowl, whip the cream with the honey and orange extract until soft peaks form.
Fold the whipped cream, gently but thoroughly, into the egg mixture and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Serve the sabayon over fresh berries and garnished with orange zest if desired.
Mint would be nice as well, of course, but I just couldn’t spend money on fresh mint when it will be popping up all over the place around here in just a few weeks!  The daffodil below is the first to bloom in my woods this year…Spring is here!
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In the mood for Holiday Food Gifts!

I grew up in a household that was absolutely showered with food gifts during the holidays.  My father’s career in the food business guaranteed almost daily UPS and FedEx deliveries, many packed in dry ice, between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We received luscious desserts, most only available to restaurant clients, chocolates and fresh nuts, coffees and teas, huge beef rib roasts, breads and pastries, cured meats and cheeses, and our favorite, the Bryan Family Christmas Ham.

These days, the only corporate gift that comes to my door is a lone tin of ginger thins from a certain banking institution.  Unfortunately, it often sits undisturbed in the pantry, only to be replaced by an identical, albeit fresher tin exactly 12 months later.  No… the gifts that show up at my door during the holidays are of the warm and personal variety….homemade food gifts.  Wonderful pies to eat right away or freeze for later, flaky breakfast pastries, delicate cookies dusted with powdered sugar, glazed pecans and walnuts and homemade jams are just some of the treats that we have been blessed with in recent years.

Here are three food gifts that you might consider making this year.

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Toffee Sauce For Ice Cream

This is a great food gift for three reasons:
1.  You can multiply the recipe as needed to make big batches of sauce.
2.  The sauce will keep for a week in the refrigerator, and travels well.
3.  This is one of the best ice cream sauces you will ever taste.
Combine in a medium saucepan:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup evaporated milk (Pet or Carnation….not condensed milk!)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup light Karo syrup
dash of salt
Bring to a boil over low heat.  Boil one minute the remove from the heat and stir in:
1/2 cup chopped chocolate covered toffee bars (Heath or Skor Bars)
Let cool then refrigerate.
At this point, I like to add another handful of chopped candy to the sauce to add a bit of crunch since the candy you added earlier will have melted to become part of the sauce.  Or you could wait and sprinkle the extra candy over the ice cream when serving as shown below.  This recipe fills one medium sized jar, as shown in the photo above, and will easily serve 6-8.
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Cinnamon Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Toasted Pecan Filling

 
Possibly one of the best coffee cakes I’ve ever had and most definitely the best coffee cake that I have ever made.  A very special gift for someone during the holidays that will keep wrapped, at room temperature, for up to 5 days.  I’m copying and pasting the recipe straight from Fine Cooking because I didn’t change a thing and I don’t want to make a mistake in the precise baking measurements.  Note: If you don’t have superfine sugar, just make some by running sugar, before you measure of course, through the food processor until it is as fine as sand.
1 Tbs. softened unsalted butter
For the Streusel Topping
2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter
3 oz. (2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 Tbs. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. table salt
For the Filling
1 cup toasted pecans
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
3 Tbs. light brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. Dutch-processed or natural cocoa powder
For the Cake
11-1/4 oz. (3 cups) sifted cake flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. table salt
10 oz. (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter, slightly softened
11-1/2 oz. (1-2/3 cups) superfine sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
16 oz. (2 cups) sour cream
 

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F (325°F if using a dark nonstick pan). Generously butter a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.
Make the topping: In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until almost melted. Remove from the heat and cool to tepid. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, pecans, both sugars, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt and stir with a fork. Add the flour mixture to the butter and stir until evenly moistened and crumbly.
Make the filling: In a food processor, pulse the pecans, both sugars, cinnamon, and cocoa 4 to 6 times to combine and chop the pecans.
Make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sugar slowly, beating until combined. Scrape the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending each one completely before adding the next. Scrape the bowl and blend in the vanilla. On low speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the sour cream, adding the flour in four parts and the sour cream in three parts, beginning and ending with the flour, and scraping the bowl as needed.
Layer and marble the batter and filling: Spoon 2 generous cups of the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with the back of a soupspoonsoupspoon.
Top and bake the cake: Take a handful of the streusel crumbs and squeeze firmly to form a large mass. Break up the mass into smaller clumps, distributing the streusel evenly over the batter. Repeat with the remaining streusel. Press the streusel lightly into the surface of the cake. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown, the sides are beginning to pull away from the pan, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 70 to 75 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least an hour before removing from the pan.

This cake keeps at room temperature, well wrapped or under a cake dome, for up to 5 days; you can freeze it for up to 3 months.

From Fine Cooking 96, pp. 70p
October 22, 2008
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Peppermint Pretzels 

You won’t really need a recipe for these addictive treats….like peppermint bark but with a salty crunchy bite.  Just buy more white chocolate than you think that you will need if you want to coat the pretzels as thickly as I did. (For example, it took 3 Ghiradelli bars to cover 12 large pretzels.)
All you need:
white chocolate
 shortening
hard peppermint candies or candy canes, finely crushed (food processor make quick work of this)
pretzels
wax paper
Melt the white chocolate slowly in a double boiler or as I do, in a stainless steel bowl set over a medium saucepan of simmering water.  Stir in just enough shortening to make the consistency thin enough for dipping.  (Start with one tablespoon and add more by teaspoons if necessary) Dip pretzels (I use a wooden or metal skewer to make dipping easier) and set on wax paper.  Sprinkle with crushed peppermints and let dry at room temperature until firm.  Although chocolate will firm up quicker in the refrigerator, I find that it makes the crushed candy sticky, so I recommend taking the time to let it set at room temp before storing.
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In the mood for Baking with Apples!

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“With an apple, I will astonish Paris!” Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) Still Life with Apples

 

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“There’s small choice in rotten apples.” The Taming of the Shrew William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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“Comfort me with Apples, for I am sick of love.” Song of Solomon 2:5

 

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Apple Crumb Nut Muffins

This recipe comes from The Muffin Lady, Muffins, Cupcakes, and Quick Breads for the Happy Soul, by Linda Fisher.
Linda has an interesting story… divorced and struggling to provide for her young son, she adapted her mothers pancake recipe into a muffin batter and began baking muffins and selling them out of her red Radio Flyer wagon on the sidewalks of Westminster, Maryland.  But soon the Health Department intervened, telling her that would have to stop as she did not have a department approved commercial kitchen.  Fortunately, the local community came together to support “The Muffin Lady” and the fire department offered her the use of their government approved kitchen.
Concerning baking with apples, she says, “Apples have a flavor, but they need some seasoning when they are baked.  Cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are key spices with apple, pumpkin, and other autumn fruits.  Summer fruits don’t need them because they tend to be pungent enough on their own.”
These muffins are a great example of this as the moist base is just softly flavored with the fresh apples and the sweet, spiced, crunchy topping provides the complimentary flavor and texture.
I think the flavor of these muffins improves with time so try to make them a bit ahead of time. They easily keep for several days.
 
Streusel Topping
 
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup flour
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
Mix all of the dry ingredients except the nuts.  Cut the butter into the mix using your hands to break into large chunks.  Mix by hand until small balls form,  Toss the nuts lightly into the mix.
For the muffins:
2 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored and small diced (about 3 cups)
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together the dry ingredients,  Make a well in the center.  Blend in the eggs, milk, butter, vanilla and oil.  Fold in the apples.  Spoon the batter into a wax paper lined muffin pan, filling cups almost to the top.  Top with streusel and bake until light golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.   Baking time will be 25-40 minutes depending on size of muffin tin.  Makes 12 (4-ounce muffins) or 6 (8-ounce muffins.)
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All American Apple Turnovers

I love making these turnovers.  It is best to use a combination of apples in your filling to create the best texture and flavor.  Try a combo of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious, Rome or Jonathans.  Just make sure they are of the firm, cooking apple variety.  These are amazing fresh out of the oven so for entertaining, get them all ready and keep them in the refrigerator, ready to bake.  They are still good the day after baking but you will find the pasty to be softer and less flaky.  The recipe comes from Gourmet Magazine.
 
First, make the dough and chill:
 
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices
4 ounces cold cream cheese, pinched into small pieces
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
3-4 tablespoons ice water
In a food processor, combine the 2 flours, sugar, and salt and process until blended.  Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse 10-12 times until the butter is coated with the flour and is the size of small peas.
Combine the egg yolk with 3 tablespoons of the ice water.  Pour this mixture through the feed tube and continue pulsing several times, until the dough just begins to clump together, but before it forms a ball on the blade.  (Use the remaining 1 tablespoon ice water if the dough seems too dry)
Using floured hands, pat the dough into a ball, then press it into a 4×6 inch rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Dust the dough lightly with flour and wrap in wax paper.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.
To make the turnovers:
 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large apples, peeled, cored and cut in 1/4 inch dice (3 cups)
1/2 cup apple cider, or unsweetened apple juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsweetened apple butter
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of ground allspice
cream cheese dough
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add 2 cups of the diced apples and cook, stirring frequently, until the begin to color, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the cider, sugar, lemon juice and salt. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until the liquid is reduced and the apples appear almost dry but still retain their shape, about 5 minutes longer.  Remove the skillet from the heat and sir in the apple butter, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and allspice, along with the remaining cup of raw apples. Transfer the apple mixture to a medium bowl and refrigerate, uncovered, until cooled completely.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the cream cheese dough to an 18-20 inch rectangle, 1/16 inch thick.  Using a 6 inch plate or bowl as a guide, cut out eight rounds as close together as possible.  Gather and re-roll the dough then cut out 2 additional rounds.
Spoon the cooled apple filling on the lower half of each of the rounds.  Lightly moisten the edges of the rounds with water and fold the dough over the filling to form semicircular turnovers.  Press down on the edges to seal, first with your fingers and then with the times of a fork.  Using the back of a small knife, press into the sealed edges a 1/2 inch intervals to create a scalloped effect.   Transfer the turnovers to a heavy, parchment paper lined baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Bake the turnovers in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes.  Move them to the upper rack and bake for 8-10 minutes longer, or until the pastry is a deep golden brown and he filling begins to bubble.  Let cool on a rack.
Drizzle with a confectioner’s sugar glaze if desired:
 
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanille
2 or more teaspoons water
Whisk together until glaze is a nice drizzling consistency  Transfer to a zip lock sandwich bag and snip off a tiny piece of one corner and use this to pipe the glaze onto the turnovers.
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Ina’s French Apple Tart with Cinnamon Ice Cream


Ina says that this just might be her favorite dessert and I just might agree.  I’ve made this a number of times and it is simply a perfect recipe.  You will find it in Barefoot Contessa, Back to Basics. The only addition I made was to use a baking sheet with sides and wrap it in foil because the sugar and butter do burn on the pan , and sometimes in the oven, and create a bit of a mess to clean up.  I like to have this all ready and bake it during dinner because it is to die for warm out of the oven.  Amazing, it stays crisp and if there are leftovers, they usually disappear around breakfast time the next morning. (Wish I had gotten a photo of the whole tart but sometimes enjoyment cannot wait for photography!)


For the pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup ice water
For the apples
4 Granny Smith Apples
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, small diced
1/2 cup apricot jelly or sieved apricot jam

2 tablespoons water

For the pastry, place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Pulse for a few seconds to combine,  Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas.  With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together.  Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the open to 400 degrees.  Wrap a jelly roll pan with foil then line with parchment paper. (this will help with the cleanup)

Roll the dough slightly larger than 10×14 inches.  Using a ruler and a small knife, trim the edges.  Place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem.  Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baller.  Slice the apples crosswise in 1/4 inch thick slices.  Lay overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows on both sides of the first row until the pastry is covered with apple slices.  Sprinkle with the full 1/2 cup sugar and dot with the butter.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. Rotate the pan once during cooking.  If the pastry puffs us in one area,cut a little slit with a knife to let the air out.  Don’t worry!  The apple juices will burn in the pan but the tart will be fine!  When that tart is done, heat the apricot jelly together with the water and brush the apples and the pastry completely with the jelly mixture.  Loosen the tart with a metal spatula so tit doesn’t stick to the paper.  Allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serve with cinnamon ice cream or gelato, or vanilla ice cream sprinkled with cinnamon.

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In the mood for Cupcakes!

Cupcakes are everywhere these days and I don’t have to wonder why.  They are fun to make, fun to serve and eat, and so much less intimidating than a whole cake.  When I have time to make cupcakes here at home, I want them to be something a little special.  And it doesn’t have to be hard…just a couple of extra steps and as you will see it is definitely worth the effort.  What do these three have in common?  They are all about the cake, instead of the frosting, which is how we like it around here.  But they also each have a sweet surprise on the inside!

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Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

Tender yellow cake, sweet pastry cream and a quick chocolate ganache and you have the cupcake version of Boston Cream Pie…which is actually a cake, by the way.  After several test runs (all happily devoured) I have settled on the cupcake and the glaze recipes from Gail Gand in her book, Chocolate and Vanilla.  For the pastry cream, I use the recipe from Cooks Country, published in the June 2006 issue.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
Make the pastry cream:
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of table salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch plus 1 additional teaspoon
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat until simmering,  stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl.  Add cornstarch and whisk until mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 15 seconds.
When cream reaches full simmer, slowly whisk it into yolk mixture. (Pour cream slowly and whisk quickly or you might end up with scrambled eggs!) Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick and glossy, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla.  Transfer pastry cream to a small bowl, press plastic wrap directly on surface, and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Make the cupcakes:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.
In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add the sugar and continue to whip.  Add the vanilla and gradually mix in the eggs, one by one until well combined.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk and ending with the dry ingredients.
Pour batter into the prepared pan, filling each slot three quarters full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cupcakes are puffed, firm in the center and light golden brown on top.  Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack.
To fill the cupcakes, use a small paring knife to remove a plug of cake from the top center of each cake and set the plugs aside.  Spoon a heaping tablespoon of pastry cream into the cavities.  Trim each plug so that it is now a flat coin.  Replace the cake coin on top of the custard  and chill for 30 minutes.
Make the glaze:
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped
Heat the cream in a saucepan or in the microwave until almost oiling.  Meanwhile place the chocolate in a medium bowl.  Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and whisk until melted.
Dip the chilled cupcakes in the warm chocolate glaze to coat the top.  Refrigerate until serving.
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A peek inside…
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Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

Inspired by a recipe in the book Cupcakes, by Joanna Farrow, but I had to look further for a really great white cake batter.  I found it in The Best Bake Sale Cookbook, Ever, by Barbara Grunes.   I’ll be using it as my “go to” white cake mix from now on.  No icing here…just freshly whipped cream and beautiful strawberries.
 
This will make 24 cupcakes.
 
For the cupcake batter
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 egg whites
2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttercup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.
Sift together flour, caking soda and salt.  Set aside
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the cream of tartar, and beat  until stiff, glossy peaks form.  Set aside.
In another large bowl,  using the electric mixer, cream the butter and the remaining 1 1/2 cup sugar until light, about 2-3 minutes.  Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.  Beat in the vanilla.   With a spatula or large wooden spoon, fold in the egg whites.
Fill each cupcake tin about three-fourths of the way to the top.  Bake until tops are just firm and edges are starting to turn golden, 18 to 20 minutes.   Let cool completely on a wire rack.
For the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
6 tablespoons red current jelly
16 ounces small strawberries
Whip the cream with the sugar until it holds soft peaks.  Set aside 6 of the smallest strawberries and slice them in half for the center of the cupcakes.  Thinly slice the remaining strawberries.  Prepare the cooled cupcakes by removing a plug from the center of each cake.  (You won’t need these again so nibble away!)  Fill the cavity with a couple of spoonfuls of whipped cream and let it spill out onto the top of the cupcake.  Flatten a bit with the back of a spoon.  Arrange the sliced strawberries around the center of the cupcake, overlapping slightly.  Then place a strawberry half in the center of each cake.  Heat the red current jelly in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons water until melted then brush over the strawberries gently to form a light glaze.  (a silicone pastry brush works really well for delicate glazing)  Store the cakes in a cool place until ready to serve.
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“So Much Better Than Hostess” Chocolate Cupcakes

What can I say?? Of course it is easier to run in the gas station and pick up a two pack of those chocolate marshmallow cupcakes we ate when we were kids.  But trust me…they don’t compare.  I would like to invite my nephews, who ate these exact cupcakes this summer at the farm to comment below.  Thanks guys!
 
 
Makes 12 cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/4 teaspoon Salt 
1/2 cup boiling water 
1/3 cup cocoa powder 
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
1 tablespoon instant espresso 
3/4 cup sugar 
1/2 cup sour cream 
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
2 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
FILLING
3 tablespoons water 
3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin 
4 tablespoon (1/2 stick) unsalted butter , softened
Pinch salt 
1 1/4 cups marshmallow créme (Fluff, or Kraft Jet Puffed Creme)
GLAZE
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
3 tablespoons unsalted butter 

1. MAKE BATTER Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 12-cup muffin tin. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in bowl. Whisk water, cocoa, chocolate chips, and espresso in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar, sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla and mix until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until incorporated. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out with few dry crumbs attached, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool -cupcakes in tin 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.

2. PREPARE FILLING Combine water and gelatin in large bowl and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Microwave until mixture is bubbling around edges and gelatin dissolves, about 30 seconds. Stir in butter, vanilla, and salt until combined. Let mixture cool until just warm to touch, about 5 minutes, then whisk in marshmallow creme until smooth; refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes. Transfer 1/3 cup marshmallow mixture to pastry bag fitted with small plain tip; reserve remaining mixture for filling cupcakes.

3. ASSEMBLE CUPCAKES Microwave chocolate and butter in small bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 30 seconds. Cool glaze to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Cut a deep cone from top of each cupcake (see note below) and fill cupcakes with 1 tablespoon filling each. Replace tops, frost with 2 teaspoons cooled glaze, and let sit 10 minutes. Using pastry bag, pipe curlicues across glazed cupcakes. Serve. (Cupcakes can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for 2 days.) 

 
note:  To fill the cupcake:  Insert a small paring knife into the top of the cupcake, about 1/4 inch from the edge at a 45 degree angle and work your way around to carve out a cone of cake.  Remove the cone, cut off the bottom of the cone, leaving you with a flat disk.  Fill the cupcake and replace the disk.
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In the mood for Peaches!

Peaches are one of those fruits that I would never, ever buy out of season.  Sometimes I wish that I could  find the discipline to buy and eat only local, in season products as Barbara Kingsolver did, and then documented, in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I was fascinated by her year-long challenge and adventure.  But quite frankly, I can’t imagine never eating a banana or pineapple, nor could I bear going all winter with only canned or frozen vegetables and fruits.  But it is an interesting concept and one that I try to keep in mind as I choose produce.  Back to the peaches…knowing that the season is short makes us appreciate them all the more.   Here are three peach recipes that we are enjoying this summer.
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Peach Crostata

Now, I’ve made pies and tarts, crisps, crumbles and cobblers….but this is the first time that I have made a crostata.  No particular reason, just never got around to it.  Well, I’m here to tell you that I may never make another proper fruit pie.  This crostata, or free form tart, couldn’t be easier and I just loved the way that the kids would slice off a wedge and carry on their way, no plate, fork or napkin.  Such a casual, fun little pie.  Of course, you could always dress it up for company with a lovely scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sprig of fresh mint.  This recipe is adapted from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table.
(makes 2 small crostatas that will serve 4-6 each)
For the dough:
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, cup into 1/2 inch cubes and chilled
1/4 cup ice water
For the filling:
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 1/2 pounds ripe peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced into 3/4 inch thick wedges
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon heavy cream, for an egg wash
1 tablespoon coarse or granulated sugar for topping
To prepare the dough, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend.  Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of small peas, about 15 times.  With the processor running, add the ice water and process for about 10 seconds.  Stop the processor before the dough comes together.  Turn the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper, divide the dough in half, and shape it into two disks.  Wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, for the filling, combine the flour and sugar in a small bowl. Add the butter and cut the mixture together with a pastry knife or two table knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Roll each disk of dough into an 11 inch circle on a lightly floured surface.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Place the peaches in the center of the dough circles on the baking sheet and top with the butter sugar mixture.  Begin draping the edges up and over, forming about three pleats.  crimp the pleats and press down to seal.  Brush the pastries with egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse sugar.
Bake the tarts for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.  let cool on a rack and serve warm or room temperature.
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Fresh Peach Bellini

Mmm…fresh squeezed peach juice and Prosecco.  This is a refreshing cocktail that is perfect for late summer parties.  Harry’s Bar in Venice is the supposed creator of the peach Bellini.  But theirs is made of  white peach puree and is quite overpriced, if I remember correctly.  This is another recipe from Frank Stitt, a chef and restaurateur from Birmingham Alabama.  Not surprising that a southern chef would know what to do with peaches!
8 very ripe peaches
1 ounce simple syrup ( 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water, simmered for 2 minutes to dissolve. Cool.)
fresh lemon juice to taste
1 bottle prosecco, well chilled
Wash the peaches.  Set a colander over a large bowl and , with clean hands, squeeze the whole peaches one at a time over the strainer to extract every bit of juice possible.  You will need 3/4 cup juice.  Add simple syrup and lemon juice to taste…depending on the ripeness of the peaches, you may need a little more syrup…and whisk to combine.  Refrigerate the peach juice mixture until will chilled.  In a large cocktail shaker or pitcher, combine the peach juice mixture with half of the prosecco.  Let the foam settle and add the remaining prosecco.  Stir and serve.
note:  From my experience making this wonderful drink, you really need very ripe, never been refrigerated, peaches to be able to juice them in the way described.  These photos were taken on a day when the farmers market peaches that I had were just perfect for juicing.  A subsequent time, I had peaches from the grocery that advertised to be local but although ripe, they just wouldn’t release their juice so I ended up peeling and pureeing them to make the Bellini.  While the taste was still very nice, the drink had a thicker consistency so not as light and refreshing.
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Fresh Peaches with Whipped Cream and a                 Balsamic Caramel Sauce

 

If a dessert could be fresh and light, and luxurious and decadent at the same time, this would be it.  And I am already counting up the ways that I will use this caramel recipe this fall and winter. I found this special dessert in At Home with Michael Chiarello.

2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

8 large ripe peaches, halved, pitted, peeled if desired, and cut into 1/2 inch wide wedges
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Pour 1 cup cream into a small saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to low to keep the cream hot.

In a large, deep, heavy saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar with 3 tablespoons of the water and place over medium high heat.  Heat the mixture, tilting and swirling the pan in a circular motion every now and again, until the sugar dissolves.  As the sugar mixture begins to bubble, watch for crystals developing on the inside of the pan just above the liquid.  Using a pastry brush dipped in water, brush the inside of the pan right above the crystals, so the water drips down and dissolves the crystals back into the liquid.  When the sugar begins to brown, occasionally move the pan to swirl the liquid gently and cook it evenly.  Continue to cook, without stirring, until the mixture is a dark golden brown.  The total cooking time will be 12 to 15 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat.

Very carefully, add the hot cream to the sugar mixture a few tablespoons at a time.  The liquid will bubble up dramatically, so watch for spatters.  Stir the sauce, place over medium heat, and cook for 1 minute.  Pour into a heatproof bowl and add the vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and mix well.  You should have a bout 1 1/4 cups sauce.  You will only need 1/2 cup for this recipe; cover and reserve the remainder for another use.

Put the peaches in a bowl.  Add the lemon juice and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and toss lightly to coat evenly.  Divide the peaches evenly among individual glass bowls.  Cover and refrigerator to chill the fruit.

In a bowl, using a mixer or a whisk, whip the remaining 1 1/2 cups cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form.  Cover and refrigerate until serving.

To serve, plop a spoonful of whipped cream into each bowl of peaches.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the  sauce over each bowl.  Serves 8

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