Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TWD- Perfect (90th Birthday) Party Cake

A few weeks ago I had a great time making the Perfect Party Cake to celebrate my husband's Grandma's 90th birthday (wow!) I was excited for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie choice because I actually had a good excuse for this enormous, gorgeous cake. I pulled out all the stops- home made strawberry jam, cream cheese icing, and white chocolate for decorating. And it was a big fat mess.

The cake came together perfectly and the flavors were amazing, but my icing was too soft and I used too much jam (I think). I assembled it and then we took it to the party, and by the time we got there (in the 100 something degree heat, of course) the cake made the Tower of Pisa look straight backed. Seriously. I hid it in the back of the kitchen and was relieved to know that each slice looked beautiful with all the layers, even if the whole cake didn't.

Nonetheless, this is one delicious cake you don't want to miss. I've included my favorite frosting recipe that is not so cream cheesy that it makes you sick, but doesn't feel as sugar heavy as most powdered sugar icings do. It's delicious on graham crackers, cakes, cupcakes, spatulas, whatever you have. :) I'd add husbands to that list (like I always tease Auburn, the biggest frosting lover I know, about) but there are nice old ladies from my Church that know about my cooking blog somehow. So make a big batch for whatever you'd like. And don't look to closely at that big blotch of strawberry jam oozing out of my cake. It was freaking good nonetheless.

Perfect Party Cake tips from Dorie (don't miss these!)

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 package of cream cheese, softened (I like to use Neufchatel, less fat and I don't notice much difference)
1/2 C. butter, softened (one stick)
2 T. milk
2 t. pure vanilla extract
dash of salt
6 cups of powdered sugar (more or less to achieve desired consistency, this is a baseline)
1 T. meringue powder

In a mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the cream cheese and butter until they are light and fluffy. Then add in the milk, vanilla, and salt, and blend.

Next, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, cover the bowl of the mixer with a dish towel, and turn it on low until everything is combined. Then increase the speed for a minute or so until the frosting is light, fluffy, and delicious. The meringue powder will help set the frosting after it dries so it holds its shape.

Variation:
Add 1 T. Lemon or orange zest and substitute juice for the milk to make a tangy citrus frosting .


Cake recipe posted here from my last birthday. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Basil- my favorite herb

I think the first time I remember eating fresh basil was the summer after I started college when I studied abroad in Paris. I didn't make it to Italy, but I did enjoy many pizza marguerites while I was there. Topped with fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes, this is probably my favorite pizza combo to this day (especially when the cafe owner was adventurous and added a little goat cheese... though my husband would attest I'll eat goat cheese on just about anything). Since then I've enjoyed fresh basil in pasta, pesto, salads, even dessert dishes (see Camilla for some of those, she rocks). It's so good.

For my local peeps, Trader Joe's has these enormous basil plants right now for only $2.99. That's cheaper than the small bunch of already dead fresh basil you can buy in the produce section of Safeway. They'll make you feel very French, too, carrying home the beautiful, fragrant plant in anticipation of many delicious dishes. And with a little water and love (not that much, don't worry, since I can't keep anything alive), these will last year round in Arizona. I have a friend that even landscapes her pool with basil plants- several enormous ones are growing right off the deck and thriving in this desert.

Here are some of my favorite Basil recipes, perfect for summer (even if it's a million outside, you're almost seven months pregnant, and turning on the oven seems like torture). They're quick and painless- and so fresh and delicious you'll throw your bottle of dried basil away.

Pesto
Bell Pepper and Goat Cheese Tarts
Panzanella
Bruschetta with Sauteed Sweet Peppers and Goat Cheese
Pasta, Pesto, and Peas

Monday, June 22, 2009

Snickerdoodle Blondies

For Father's Day, I needed a good and quick dessert to feed my in laws (and husband). It couldn't include chocolate because of my tall man, so I remembered Peabody's Snickerdoodle Blondies and knew they would be just right. I think with a healthy serving of ice cream my husband didn't miss brownies at all. And I know that the light cinnamon flavor is, to me at least, a refreshing break from all that heavy, delicious chocolate. I did up the decadence by stirring in a some cinnamon chips that my cousin smuggled down from Utah (I'm not sure why we don't have them in Arizona, I know they'd be well appreciated!) These come together just like cookie dough and bake in about a half an hour. Line the pan with foil for easy clean up and serving. We served ours with ice cream and strawberries (but you know me, I'd serve strawberries with just about anything.)

Snickerdoodle Blondies
from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody
8 ounces (two sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
3 ounces Mascarpone cheese (I subbed cream cheese or sour cream)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
¾ tsp cream of tarter
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cinnamon chips (optional)

Cinnamon Sugar for coating (about 1/3 cup)

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch pan. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar and move pan around to make sure that the bottom and sides are coated. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cream of tarter.

Using an stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars. Beat for three minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add the Mascarpone cheese and beat until fully incorporated.

Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat for another 30 seconds.

On low speed add the sifted flour mixture. Mix until fully incorporated. Add optional cinnamon chips if desired.

Spread mixture evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle more cinnamon sugar on top of the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cinnamon Honey Greek Yogurt Dip

Last fall I went to Greece and enjoyed amazing food and beautiful scenery (not to mention the company of my favorite people!) So when the nice people at Stonyfield asked if I'd like to try some Greek yogurt, I knew everyone at my house would be happy. My brother says the Greeks use yogurt like crazy and even serve it with beans (he didn't want me to recreate that one, though). We tried several different recipes, subbing in the thick, strained yogurt for sour cream and to add richness to other dishes. Seriously, people didn't believe that it was fat free. And good for you (and you don't even have to go to Greece to get some? Though I'd still recommend the trip...) This cinnamon dip is sweet and tangy and perfectly compliments all the fresh fruit overflowing right now. And since it comes together in one bowl in as many minutes, it'll make everyone happy.

Cinnamon Honey Yogurt Dip
1 (7 oz.) container Greek yogurt
1/4 cup honey (to taste)
Ground cinnamon (also to taste)

Directions:
Combine the yogurt and honey in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly until smooth and well combined. Add a very small amount of cinnamon, taste, and adjust accordingly. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with fresh fruit.

from Annie's Eats

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

TWD- Easy Parisian Apple Tartlets

I never ate a bad pastry in France. Even when buying from the biggest hole in the wall or (something I would never do in America) from a bakery in the metro station, they taste great. The French just know food. And with high quality butter, delicious produce, and simple flavors, you can't go wrong. So I was excited to try this Parisian tart. Unlike the apple pie I made last week that took tons of time chilling, rolling, cutting, etc (with a fabulous end result), the assembly of this dessert took about five or ten minutes (also with a fabulous end result). A brief stint in the oven and out comes a flaky, buttery, and tender dessert. With different fruit options, there's really no limit to this recipe.

Atop La Tour Eiffel
And with all the time you've saved making this wonderful French treat, why not watch a romantic movie with your honey. Or the Lakers game, in our case.

Parisian Apple Tartlets
Adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

1 sheet cold puff pastry
3 apples, peeled and cored
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons cold butter, cut into bits

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Lightly flour a surface and roll the puff pastry out to about an 11 inch square. Using a fluted cookie cutter between 3 and 4 inches wide, cut pastry into about 8 pieces.
(Reserve the scraps, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake for a few minutes for a treat for your hungry husband who can’t stand to wait during the photos!)
Cut the apple half into 4 or 5 slices (depending on size) and place three slices on the pastry circle. Sprinkle the apple with 1 or 2 teaspoons brown sugar-depending on how much sweetness you want-and a couple bits of butter.

Bake the tartlet for about 20 minutes (the time will vary depending on how your apple bakes), until the pastry is deeply browned and puffed up around the apple and the apple can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. If it looks like the tartlets need more sugar on top, sprinkle on a bit more toward the end of the baking time.

Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and let the tartlet cool-it's great just a little warm and equally good at room temperature. Serve with ice cream if desired.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pink Raspberry Cream Sandwich Cookies to Celebrate

It's Tuesday and instead of a delicious cinnamon cake, I've made a perfect party cake (early) and a few dozen cupcakes for my tall man's Grandma's 90th birthday, loads of cookies, and a newly refinished front door. Maybe the door doesn't fall in the "making" category, but it's certainly taken up lots of baking time and the end results of the newly stained dark chocolate colored wood are delicious. So I present one of my favorite cookie recipes- Martha Stewart's Raspberry Cream Sandwich Cookies. Layered between two vanilla bean cookies is a creamy raspberry white chocolate ganache that lends itself to other delicious flavors- chocolate, mint, strawberry, whatever strikes your fancy.

I made these last summer to give to a friend who had just had a beautiful baby girl so I figured they were appropriate to celebrate my upcoming little girl! That's right, it's a girl. We found out about a month ago but the doctor only gave me a 90 percent certainty which just wasn't enough for me to believe him with my husband's family's strong man genes. After another ultrasound last week, I finally do believe him and I can't believe it's a little girl. My man is excited to have a little sweetie and my little guy is (theoretically) excited to have a little sister like his favorite Caillou. I'm just glad to know I'll have someone to keep me company in the kitchen, although my little guy is pretty good at that for now. We're all happy about this healthy, beautiful baby and these cookies are perfect to celebrate. They even taste great with mint filling (I use Guittard Mint Chips) but those would have been more for the boy variety...

I'll be back next week with Dorie's Parisian Apple Tart. I certainly couldn't skip something with apples or puff pastry (not to mention something French!)

Raspberry Cream Sandwich Cookies
From Martha Stewart's Cookies, page 93

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
6 ounces (1 cup) fresh raspberries
7 1/2 ounces best-quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream (add 1 t. Meringue Powder)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
2. Mix butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg, extract, and vanilla seeds; mix until smooth. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture.
3. Scoop batter using a 1-inch ice cream scoop; space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
4. Bake cookies 4 minutes. Remove from oven; gently tap baking sheets on counter to flatten cookies. Return to oven, switching positions of sheets; bake until cookies are just set, 4 to 6 minutes more. Let cool on parchment on wire racks.
5. Puree raspberries and remaining 2 teaspoons sugar in a food processor. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a small bowl, pressing to extract juice; discard seeds. Set mixture aside.
6. Melt white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat; whisk in cream in a slow stream. Whisk in reserved raspberry mixture. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
7. Spread 1 heaping teaspoon raspberry cream on the undersides of half the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies. Cookies can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container up to 2 days (no way will they last that long, though!)