Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Happy Leis to You

We're off! It is our one year wedding anniversary and we are heading back to the island where we were married, Kauai. We both love Kauai. In our opinion, it is the very best of the Hawaiian islands. Visiting Hawaii is so nice because its so easy. There is no language barrier or currency exchanges and you feel like you're really away from it all. I used to be the kind of person (still am somewhat) who thinks that going to the same place every year is BORING. The reason we go back to Kauai, repeatedly, is that it truly is a vacation. I come back feeling so refreshed, so positive, so alive. What can beat that?

My next 10 days include fresh papaya every morning, snorkeling, sunbathing, drinking mai tais and learning to surf. What a great break we have ahead of us.

This means no baking for a couple of weeks and I'm now missing out on two delicious recipes from Tuesdays with Dorie- the Fluted Polenta Cake that I really could have made but didn't and the Peanut Butter Torte that's up for this coming week. I've been hoping the torte would be selected soon as I adore peanut butter and chocolate. I won't complain any more about that though.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

An Ode to an Old Favorite

I grew up in a Boston suburb in New Hampshire and that makes me an official New Englander. If you're from New England, or happen to live there, you must know that more ice cream is consumed in that part of the country than anywhere else. I remember eating ice cream every day in the summer. I'm glad I have that memory and need to remember not to try that this year as the metabolism of a 34 year old is much different than that of an adolescent. Anyway, the soft-serve, vanilla and chocolate swirl cone could often be seen in my hand- especially if we were at the beach. This cone to me is the perfect ending to a day basking in the sun and playing in the water.

You can't get the swirl cone anywhere around here. We're filled with Coldstones, Dairy Queens and Baskin Robbins in this part of Montana. Most people in the Northwest don't get as visibly excited for ice cream as they did back east and its definitely a seasonal treat here. That doesn't stop me from busting out my Cuisinart ice cream maker 12 months out of the year to create new and old favorites.

Lately, I've been really nostalgic for New England-I get this way about twice a year. As I write, my mom is visiting my grandmother in Chesterfield, New Hampshire- a charming, small, perfectly New England town(she also left the east coast and is now in Seattle, a great town in itself). She called me this morning to fill me in on their beautiful, spring morning that was kicked off by a delicious plate of lobster benedict. My heart and stomach growled simultaneously. Of course I don't just miss the lobster and soft-serve. I miss forsythia bushes in bloom in the spring, the heart-stopping beauty of a perfect foliage season, and the character and class that the east coast just oozes.

Enough about that and on to the cupcakes. I leave for vacation in 2 days and know that inevitably my close to 2 week absence will cause some coworkers to scowl and may even cause some extra work to fall into their laps. So, I'm hoping to buy some forgiveness and patience with some sugar. Its been done before. I'll lay these suckers out tomorrow morning in our kitchen, right in front of the coffee pots and listen to them all mumble "maybe just one" or "I really shouldn't but.." or "Oh, why not". Hopefully, this will do the trick.

I used a vanilla cupcake recipe from here. Its sturdy, and has a nice flavor and it pulls away from the paper with ease, but its a little too dense. The cupcakes are really good, and they will be eaten, but I won't use this recipe again. Why is it so hard to find a great, vanilla cupcake recipe? If you have one, please share. I topped them with Cook's Illlustrated vanilla buttercream and Gale Gand's chocolate frosting. Oh, there's also some chocolate pudding in the center. Both frostings were left over from my husband's birthday cake that I had frozen. Freezing left over frosting is a great time saver, esp. when you're in a rush to make cupcakes for a bribe. The birthday chocolate cake and the frostings were AMAZING and I am comfortable saying this is the best chocolate cake recipe I have ever had. You can find the recipe here. Make it for that chocolate lover in your life and while you're at it, make sure its served with ice cream, preferably home made.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie, Bill's Big Carrot Cake

I had one of those sinking feelings that I should not have ignored. I know that not every cake recipe will make a good cupcake- I know this. I also know I read more than one comment on the Tuesdays with Dorie website from others who had had the same experience I was yet to: The Incredible Sinking Cupcake.

But, what did I need a whole carrot cake for? And if I halved the recipe and made just one layer, I would still end up with half a cake that I really didn't have a need for. Hence the cupcakes. They are the perfect "bring to work giveaways". I work at a bank and there's no better way to my co-workers hearts than through their growling, desk-sitting tummies. So, even though I had the feeling, and I had read the comments, I decided I would forge ahead with my cupcakes. Luckily, I did decide to halve the recipe, so I ended up with only 16 sunken cupcakes, instead of 32. Phew.

I did at least try the cake on its own. I had added coconut, pecans and cranberries. Although the cake was good, I found it was a little too sweet. There's something about The Silver Palate's that is hard to beat as far as I'm concerned. I do like this cake better today than I did yesterday when I baked it, but you know what? I'll probably never make this one again.

So, when life gives you sunken cupcakes, make a trifle. My husband joked that a trifle, really should be called a tri-fail as this is what they are usually the result of. My trifle, thankfully was a hit. I layered the cake with creme fraiche that I sweetened only lightly with honey and added a layer of chopped pineapple in the middle. I also sprinkled the cake layers with Sherry- dry or cream, either will work. Topped with toasted coconut, it was a great ending to my boring dinner of chicken and spinach salad.

This week's recipe was chosen by Amanda of Slow Like Honey. Thanks Amanda! You can view the recipe on her site.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Great Grains

I love Tabbouleh. Plus, the truth is my husband and I leave for our Kauai vacation in 2 weeks and after a winter of baking, this really is the kind of food I need to be eating right now. If you've never had Tabbouleh, you should try it. The flavors meld together really well and it is a guiltless, meatless, delicious dish and it is so easy. I do eat meat, but I'm really quite picky about what kind and where it lived before it came to me. There's nothing like a great pulled pork sandwich though, is there?

I tried the new tricks for photography this time around. Flash off, steady hand, zoom in- I think it is a VAST improvement. Now, I like my camera a little more. I'm still searching for the manual and software though that conveniently disappeared over the past few months.

Okay, back to the grains. This is the kind of food we should all be eating.


1 cup raw bulgur wheat

3 cups finely minced parsley

1/2 cup finely chopped mint

1/4 diced red onion

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. cumin

3 vine-ripened tomatos chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

1 cucumber seeded and chopped

4 Tbsp. lemon juice

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. salt

Prepare the bulgur:

Place the bulgur in a bowl and pour 1 cup of hot water over. Allow the bulgur to sit until all water is removed, approximately 1/2 hour. When the bulgur is ready, you should have 2 cups now.

Mix your tabbbouleh:

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together, gently, except the lemon juice and oil. When all dry ingredients are combined, add the lemon juice and oil. You'll want to place this mixture in the refrigerator for a couple of hours at least. The flavors will soften and the dish will become delicious. Serve with crackers, in pita, or eat out of a bowl with an extra squeeze of lemon.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dorie Greenspan's Lemon Cream Tart

The snow continues to fall here in Montana and it really feels like this winter will never end. I did do some snowboarding yesterday and it made me not mind the snow so much. Today, however, I declare that I am finished with it. This tart was the perfect dessert to get me in the mood for spring. Its light and tart and sweet and creamy and really, really satisfying.

This week's challenge for Tuesdays With Dorie was selected by Mary of Starting From Scratch. She chose "The Most Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart". The lemon cream is indeed extraordinary. I also found it quite simple to make. I chose to make her nut crust, which replaced some of the flour with almond meal, and I also used a whole wheat pastry flour instead of the all purpose. The dessert turned out light, flavorful and the crust had a wonderful crunch to it. I made 6 individual tarts and found I really liked this approach- I've been able to hand out a tart here or a tart there. I do have some lemon cream left over and I think I may stir in some coconut milk and churn it up in my ice cream maker. Doesn't that sound delicious? This lemon cream really is versatile- I've already thought of so many uses for it. I'm sure I'll fill some cupcakes with it, top a cheescake, and use it in a trifle. It would be perfect for all of them. It is so deceptive I noticed- its very light and smooth- so light that you forget how much butter there is in it. This is not a health food.

I made the raspberry coulis and just dotted the top with it. I also tried it with creme fraiche and truthfully this wasn't my favorite coupling. Once again, my issues with food photography come into play here. I knew I should have read that camera manual! How do you all make your photos look so beautiful? I would love any tips you are willing to share.

The Most Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart

adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours

Lemon Cream

Zest of 3 lemons
1 Cup of Sugar
3/4 Cup Lemon Juice
4 Eggs
2 Sticks of Unsalted Butter plus 5 Tablespoons at room temperature, cut into pieces

To Make the Lemon Cream you'll want to get all your necessary gadgets together: a bowl, metal or glass, a saucepan to set the bowl atop, a whisk, a thermometer, and a blender or a food processor. I used my food processor.

Set a saucepan filled with a couple inches of water on the stove and bring to a simmer.

In a large bowl (I used a glass pyrex bowl) rub the lemon zest and sugar together with your fingers. Whisk in the eggs, then the lemon juice.

Set the bowl on the saucepan and whisk slowly at first then more rapidly as your cream comes up to temperature. You're going to keep this up until your cream reaches 180 degrees ( I actually took mine a little higher to make it a bit thicker). I prefer to judge the readiness of the cream based on the look of it, not just the temperature as you never know when your thermometer may be off. You're looking for a noticeable thickness, and for the whisk to leave "tracks"- this means you'll see the lines in the cream the whisk leaves when you drag it through. It is very important to keep whisking away- you don't want your eggs to scramble. Once your cream is at the right stage, remove it from the heat.

Now strain the lemon mixture into your blender pitcher or the bowl of your food processor. Let the cream cool- you're looking for it to come down to about 140 degrees. Stir it every now and then.

When the mixture is at the proper cooled temperature, turn your machine to high, (with the lid on) and drop about 5 pieces of the softened butter in the feeder at a time. Keep going until you've incorporated all of your butter. At this point, keep the machine going on high for another 3 full minutes. This will ensure the butter is fully emulsified. Pour the cream into a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the cream-touching the surface, then chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Don't be impatient now- this cream needs to be served cold and it will firm up as it chills.

While your cream chills, you can make your crust.

Nut Crust

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond meal (grind whole almonds in a food processor until they resemble coarse flour)
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 sticks plus 1 Tablespoon frozen butter ,cut into small pieces
1 1/2 egg yolk

Butter either one large tart shell or 6 individual tart shells with removable bottoms.

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of your food processor and pulse for a few seconds to incorporate all the ingredients. Sprinkle the butter over the flour. Using the pulse button again, pulse about ten times to mix in the butter. It should look broken up but there can still be some bigger pieces at this point. Add the egg yolk a little at a time through the feeder tube and pulse it in. Once the yolk has been added, the dough may appear really really dry- don't despair. You're going to need to pulse your machine for 10 seconds at a time. Do this until you see your dough come together. You'll also notice a change in the way the machine sounds when the dough is ready.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and using a light hand knead the dough to make sure all ingredients are incorporated.

Press the dough into the shells and again, be gentle while doing so. You want your crust to be light and flaky and if you're rough during this stage it won't be. Prick the bottoms lightly iwth a fork. Place the crusts in the freezer and freeze for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Center a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the tart pans from the freezer and place on a baking sheet. For this dessert you'll need a fully baked crust- look for it to become a light golden brown- about 25 minutes for the large crust and about 15 minutes for the individuals. If the crust has puffed when you remove it from the oven, press it lightly with the back of a spoon.

Place on a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.

Assemble the tart by removing the tart shell from the pan and place it on a serving dish. Fill the shell with your cold lemon cream just before serving. Garnish with a lemon slice and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Gooey Chocolate Cake

I just finished making these. I chose to make them in individual ramekins that were buttered and floured.I think next time, I'll butter and dust them with cocoa instead- I don't particularly like seeing the white dusting of flour against the dark chocolate cake when they are inverted and released from the ramekin. Of course, I found a solution to the evident flour- ice cream, warm huckleberry sauce and a dusting of powdered sugar. How yummy- so good in fact that before I had a chance to take out the camera, Paul had dug into it and finished it right up! I did manage to take a not so great photo, posted above, of the second version, that we ate with a warm pear/cinnamon caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream, again.

These had a melted center, somewhat, but not like I expected. The chocolate stayed on top and didn't find its way to the center like I had imagined. They were really good, but not as molten as I thought they would be. I would say that you need to do exactly as Dorie says- cook these for 13 minutes only if you know your oven temp. is right on.

The great thing about this recipe is how easy it is- no Kitchenaid, no food processor-just a whisk, spoon, a couple of bowls and a few other things. This is a recipe you can make when you have very limited kitchen tools- these are important recipes to have and I wish I had known how to make this back in my college days. If you don't have a double boiler, it is really easy to improvise- just put a glass or metal bowl over the top of a small saucepan filled with about an inch of water. You don't want the bottom of the bowl to come into contact with the water.

I did make a couple of changes: I added a tsp. of espresso powder in with the chocolate while it melted. I also added 2 tsp. of vanilla extract. I also added about 2 tablespoons of a delicious Port that was given to me by a friend to only one of the cakes, and truthfully we've yet to eat that one, but I have a feeling it will be heavenly.

Gooey Chocolate Cakes
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking From My Home to Yours

My version of the recipe is:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, 4 ounces coarsely chopped, 1 ounce very finely chopped (I used Chocolove, 70%)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 teaspoon espresso powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
6 tablespoons vanilla sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Position your rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter and dust with cocoa 6 cups of a regular-size muffin pan, or 4 ramekins and place on a baking sheet.

Sift the flour, cocoa and salt together.

Using a double boiler, put the coarsely chopped chocolate and the butter in the top and stir occasionally over the simmering water just until they are melted. Remove the bowl from the pan of water as soon as the chocolate mixture is melted and smooth.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until they come together. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and, still using the whisk, stir them gently into the eggs. Add the melted chocolate slowly- I added about a 1/3 at a time and folded it in ( I basically made a figure 8 with the whisk to incorporate the chocolate). Divide the batter evenly among your ramekins or muffin cups and sprinkle the finely chopped chocolate over the batter.

Bake the cakes for 13 minutes. While still on the baking sheet, move these to a rack to cool for 3 minutes. While these cool, gather your ice cream/whipping cream/creme anglaise/caramel/powdered sugar, etc.

If you have baked these in individual ramekins, now is a good time to grab your guests and allow them to invert their individual cakes themselves. I think its a nice gesture and makes everyone comfortable and excited about what they are about to eat next. Pick up the ramekin with one hand- it shouldn't be too hot now and grab a plate with the other. Place the plate on top of the ramekin and flip. When you flip the two over the ramekin will be on top, and with a gentle shake, the cake should come out easily.

If you've used a muffin tin, place a cutting board on top of the tin and invert the same way you would for the ramekins. You'll then be able to gently place each individual cake on the plate.

These are pretty dusted with powdered sugar, and served with cold ice cream. We tried them both with fresh huckleberry sauce and caramel and both were fantastic.