Wednesday, May 30, 2012

OMG Popovers!!

Before Sunday, Michael and I had never had a popover.  We had seen several chefs make them - Barefoot Contessa, Giada, Cook's Country - and always thought they looked awesome, but you needed a special pan and yadayadayada, we never made them.

A few weeks ago Michael saw Giada make them again and he wanted them so we bought the fancy pan.  And on Sunday I made them using this recipe. And wow!!  Just wow.  They are some of the most amazingly wonderful things ever.  Super crusty exterior with a soft, fluffy, custardy interior. The most perfect dinner roll ever!.  They aren't that hard to make - a little complicated at first, but I think once you get the hang of it, they could be whipped up pretty fast.  They will definitely be going on my Thanksgiving menu, and probably just about every other party I have.  Also, they reheated beautifully.  Just pop them in the oven for about 10 mins at 400° and they're exactly like they just came fresh out of the oven. I have one in the freezer to test if they can be reheated from frozen and still be tasty.

Oh and I tried one with strawberry jam and it was even better! So, so good!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Blueberry scones

This weekend I had several recipes I wanted to try (more posts to follow).  The first... I just HAD to make those scones again.  This time I tried fresh blueberries.  Again, so good!  It’s just a great recipe.  They have this great buttery crisp exterior and are so fluffy and soft on the inside.  Between the 2, I prefer the strawberries.  I think this was because the blueberries were slightly more bitter than the strawberries.  Also, blueberries dye everything.  My fingers were blue, my teeth, my lips, my tongue... all really, really blue.  :)

Another tip - reheat in oven.  They lose too much of the crispy exterior in the microwave.

Next time I make them I will try a savory version... maybe cheddar and rosemary.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Strawberry Birthday Cake

The Duncan Hines Strawberry cake.  Duncan Hines Strawberry cake mix, baked, poked with holes and drizzled with strawberry jello.  Then covered in a mix of vanilla pudding (from a powder) and Dream Whip (from a powder).  And then covered with HUGE strawberries.  Every year, for as long as I can remember, my Maw Maw made me that cake.  And when Hillary came along, it became our cake.  Here a “lovely” photo of us with said cake(s):

Me-16, Hill-9

It’s a good cake.  Ridiculously moist and strawberry-ee.  We love that cake.  And I have made it on numerous occasions and in various forms - when I was vegetarian I used melted strawberry jam or a strawberry sauce or vegetarian jello; when I needed to travel with it, I made it into a trifle; and last year, when I actually purchased my birthday cake, we attempted to make it into a cocktail (that didn’t work all that well, but we didn’t have Cake Vodka at the time... maybe I need to try that again).

So this year, since I really want to move away from preservative laden foods, I tried making it from scratch.  I had a lot of trouble finding a “from scratch” recipe to start with, but eventually I found this one.  I thought it looked like a good start, but I knew I wanted chunks of strawberries in the cake and I wanted to make sure it was really moist.  So, as I mentioned in last week’s post, I tried 2 versions: one with strawberries and one in a “tres leches” style.

I decided I like both, so I ended up doing tres leches on the bottom layer and fresh strawberries on the top.  In the end though, I think I preferred the one with the fresh strawberries and when I make this again, I will just do that.  I think you really needed a sponge cake to make tres leches work correctly and this wasn’t a sponge cake recipe.

Also, I made it with egg whites this time and that worked better.  It was slightly fluffier.  And allowed for some of the strawberries to stay suspended, which was nice.  I would still like it to be lighter and more airy, but I’m not a good enough baker to start messing with ratios.

Once the cake was done, I covered it in a homemade pastry cream.  This batch came out even better than the first.  LOVE it!!  I want to make pastry cream all the time to just eat.  However, I needed more for this cake.   I used it for the layer filling and I wanted a light coating over the whole cake, but couldn’t quite get it to go that far.  Next time, I’ll do a batch and a half or double batch.

Then I covered the whole thing in a mascarpone whipped cream.  This was super fantastic.  It makes the whipped cream slightly denser than a regular whipped cream, which is perfect for icing.  And it was SO creamy and rich.  And of course, finished it off with humongous strawberries!

Overall I did love this cake.  It’s not Maw Maw’s, but it was very good.  And I look forward to continuing to tweak it.  Below is the recipe for only the fresh strawberry version.

Fresh Strawberry Cake with Pastry Cream and Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Yield: 12-16
Cake: (adapted from Confessions of a Foodie Bride)
2 ½ pints very ripe fresh strawberries, diced
1-2 tsp Sugar, only needed if using fresh strawberries
¼ cup Milk, at room temperature
6 large Egg Whites, room temperature
1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
2 ¼ cups Cake Flour, sifted (+ 1 Tbsp for dusting strawberries)
1 ¾ cups Sugar
4 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
12 Tbsp Unsalted Butter (1 ½ Sticks), softened (not melted)

Pastry Cream: (adapted from The Kitchn)
2 1/4 cups Half And Half
3/4 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Flour
1/3 tsp Salt
6 large Egg Yolks, room temp
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract, or vanilla paste or almond paste

Mascarpone Whipped Cream:
1 pint whipping cream, cold
6 oz mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
4 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For cake:
Dice 1/2 pint of strawberries and toss with a teaspoon of sugar and cover. Let them sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, until nice and juicy. Place strawberries in a food processor or blender and puree.

Reserve ¾ cup puree for the cake.  Save the rest for yogurt or ice cream.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 8 inch pans with butter and flour.

In small bowl, combine puree, milk, egg whites (save yolks for pastry cream), vanilla and mix with fork until well blended. In bowl of stand mixer, add sifted flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and mix to combine. Continue beating at slow speed and add butter. Mix until combined and resembling moist crumbs.

Add liquids and beat at medium speed for about 1 minute or until combined. Stop mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl and hand beat for 30 more seconds. Divide the batter evenly among the pans.

Dice a pint and a half of strawberries and toss using spoon (not hands) with 1 Tbsp of flour.  Lightly lay on top of cake batter.

Wrap cake pans in an aluminum foil collar to prevent the center from sinking.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (time will vary). Let cakes rest in pan for about 20 minutes and turn out onto wire racks. Let cakes cool completely before icing.

Make Pastry Cream:
Warm half and half in a saucepan until you start to see wisps of steam. It should not actually be boiling.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the egg yolks and whisk them into the dry ingredients. This will form a thick paste. It may look a bit crumbly, but keep whisking and it will come together

Pour a little of the half and half into the eggs and whisk to combine. Continue pouring the cream slowly into the eggs, whisking continuously.

When all the half and half has been added to the eggs, pour everything back into the saucepan.

Set the pan back over medium heat. Whisk constantly. It will start to thicken after a few minutes. It’s done when you see large bubbles popping on the surface.

Stir the vanilla (or almond extract or paste) into the pastry cream and then pour the cream into the strainer set over the bowl. Stir to push it through the strainer. This will catch any bits of cooked egg that may be in your pastry cream.

Cover the pastry cream with a piece of plastic wrap pressed right up against the surface of the cream and chill completely.

Assemble Cake:
Put bottom layer of cake on cake plate.  Cover with thick layer of pastry cream.  Cover with last ½ pint of diced strawberries.

Put second layer on top.  Cover entire cake with layer of pastry cream.  Not too thick, but enough to cover whole cake.

Put in fridge to chill.

Make Mascarpone whipped cream:
Put pint of whipping cream into bowl of an electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment.  Beat on medium speed until it starts to get thick.  Stop mixer, add mascarpone cheese and powdered sugar.  Continue mixing until you get stiff peaks, probably another minute or 2.  Add vanilla and mix with spatula.

Remove cake from fridge and frost with whipped cream.  Pile cream high on top and work frosting carefully down sides until cake is fully frosted.

Top with the biggest strawberries you can find!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Strawberry Party

May 10th was my birthday.  May 3rd was my cousin’s birthday.  On top of that, our friends from Seattle were visiting this past weekend and wanted to see everyone.   So, as usual, any reason to have a party...  :)

Since May is strawberry season, our grandmother would always make Hillary and I the Duncan Hines Strawberry cake.  This cake is what started the ball rolling on the party.  I’ll have a separate post about the cake, but basically I decided I wanted to recreate it from scratch.  Then I saw a strawberry cocktail recipe and I thought “Why not have a strawberry themed party?!”  After weeks of looking at strawberry recipes, here’s what I settled on:
Strawberry Bruschetta
Strawberry mascarpone bites
Cheese tray with strawberry jam
Strawberry scones
Strawberry and mixed field green salad
Strawberry chicken club on homemade bread
Strawberry amaretto cocktail
(And of course the cake)

Funny little story... to make all of these dishes, I needed 12 pints of strawberries.  While in line at the checkout, I’m putting my strawberries on the conveyer and I hear “Whoah!  That’s a lot of strawberries!”  The little girl in front of me (about 7 yrs old) was in shock.  She asked “How many is that?” and I said “12!  I’m having a strawberry party.”  She then turned to her Dad and said “She’s got 12!  We only got 2!”  Then, my favorite part, she proceeded to help me unload my groceries onto the conveyer.  What a great kid!!

So I’ll just walk through each one of the dishes...
Strawberry Bruschetta
I bought one loaf of a long, wide french baguette, sliced it down the middle, brushed it with olive oil and grilled it.  It was long enough that each half gave me roughly 13 slices, which was perfect.  I made 2 types: A caprese style with chopped strawberries, diced mozzarella, olive oil, good balsamic vinegar and chopped basil; and a goat cheese, strawberry and honey.
I got the idea from this site/recipe.

They were both quite tasty, but I think the caprese was my favorite.  I like tomatoes in general, but I am picky about what I like them on and have never loved caprese.  But the strawberries work so much better than tomatoes in my opinion!  I think my palate just prefers the slightly more sweet flavor of the strawberries to most tomatoes.  Hillary reiterated this because she really doesn’t like tomatoes, but the strawberries worked quite well for her too.  I may even make this into a salad.  One complaint - it was hard to eat without everything falling off.  Which, granted, is a common problem with bruschetta.  Next time I would try layering the strawberries with the mozzarella.

Caprese Bruschetta

Strawberry Mascarpone Bites
I wanted something that people could just pop into their mouth when they were hanging around chatting and these were perfect.  Simply strawberries cut in quarters and filled with a mascarpone cheese mixture.  I followed this recipe, but I used amaretto instead of chocolate liquor since I had the amaretto on hand.  They were so, so tasty!  One of the favorites of the day based on an informal poll.  :)

Thanks to Jessica for assembling these!!

Cheese tray with strawberry jam
Nothing too fancy here... we had Beecher’s Flagship cheddar and a Forme D’Ambert blue, with rosemary crackers and Strawberry Mojito Jam that our friends brought from Seattle.  It was a perfect compliment to the 2 cheeses.

Strawberry Scones
Ok, so this was by far the favorite of the day.  This is one of the best scone recipes ever!!  I got it here and I just used fresh strawberries instead of the frozen berries.  These are super light and fluffy and the ingredients are wonderfully healthy.  She even offers vegan options.  I would highly recommend trying these scones.  They were easy to make, but you do need a lot of flour for handling because the dough is sticky.  I plan on trying them with blueberries and then later in the summer, peaches.  I also want to try a savory version - maybe cheddar and rosemary.

Strawberry and mixed field green salad
I looked at A LOT of salad recipes.  I wanted something more interesting that just strawberries, spinach and a simple vinaigrette.  I ended up picking this recipe strictly because of the dressing.  It’s nicely complicated with flavors that seemed like they would go really well with all the other ingredients.  It calls for spinach, but since there in spinach in the sandwich, I didn’t want to use it twice.  So I replaced it with mixed field greens.  It really needed the spinach though.  It needs a hardier green.  Arugula may work as well.  The dressing however is one of the best.  I plan on making a batch for the fridge to use on random salads.  It’s really unlike any other dressing I’ve had - tart and slightly sweet and a beautiful coral color.

Strawberry chicken club on homemade bread
I wanted at least one fairly hearty dish that could act as the “entree” - even though everything was finger food.  I looked at several sandwiches and settled on this one because most people like club sandwiches.  Also it just looked good in general.  And I thought the homemade “outback” bread would make a really good sandwich bread.
So I baked off 4 loaves the weekend before and froze them.  Took them out 2 days before the party and put them in airtight containers.
I didn’t want anything too large so I didn’t do a “stacked” version - I just made one layer.  And the only other thing I changed is I marinated the chicken in a lemon, rosemary, garlic marinade because I really wanted the chicken to be juicy and flavorful.  I’m really glad I did that.  The chicken came out super yummy - very lemony and herby.  My husband and I were very glad that we had leftover chicken.  We will be making yummy sandwiches and salads for a while.
Overall the sandwiches were really good.  All of the flavors worked really well together.  And again, I think the fact that the strawberries were just slightly sweeter than tomatoes, it just worked a little better.  Plus, they have bacon on them.

A HUGE thanks to Jessica and Alex for assembling the sandwiches!!

Strawberry amaretto cocktail
I was a bit disappointed in the cocktail.  Not because of the recipe, which was this one, but because I don’t think it was really what I wanted.  I thought I wanted a champagne or prosecco based cocktail, but when it came down to it, I think I would’ve preferred a punch of some kind.  I wanted something more mixed and fruity.  And my husband had to spend too much time making drinks.  I think I’m going to stick with punches for parties from now on.

Overall we really enjoyed our party.  I was really happy with the food and it was great to have everyone together and visiting and eating and laughing.

Tomorrow I will post about the cake....  :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie & French Style Peas

Last night some friends arrived to stay for the week and I thought it would be fun to cook them dinner.  For the last few weeks I’ve been going through my head trying to decide what to make.  Then last week I saw an episode of Jamie Oliver’s “Meals in Minutes” and he made this quick, easy chicken pot pie and french style peas.  I thought that was perfect!

I made the pot pie just as the recipe suggests.  However... on the show, Jamie uses this baking tin that goes from the stove to the oven.  He even mentions that it’s a cheap tin that he got for a few pounds.  I couldn’t find anything like that here.  Everything was really expensive or it couldn’t go on the stovetop (such as Pyrex or stoneware).  I looked online to see if I could purchase the tins from the UK, and you can, but it would cost $100.  Ridiculous.  I told Michael ‘I know what we’re bringing back from our next trip to the UK’.  Also, I cheated on the puff pastry because I was lazy and it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been.  I didn’t feel like dusting with flour and making a mess, so I rolled the puff pastry between 2 sheets of wax paper.  But it got too warm and stuck to the wax paper and then of course did not puff as much.  Overall the dish was very good and I will make it again.  But now I know, don’t be lazy.

The peas - I altered slightly.  The original recipe calls for mint and lemon.  I thought I had a lemon, but when I went to use it, it was fuzzy.  So no lemon.  And I am just not a mint and pea person.  I’m very particular about mint in general.  So, I used herbs from my garden - parsley and two types of thyme.  This dish was really good!  Surprisingly so.  I figured it would be a nice simple side, but the slight rue and all of the flavors combined nicely in a rich broth that is perfect with the lightness of the peas and romaine.  I highly recommend both of these dishes.  They are super easy and yummy and perfect for a weeknight meal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

une expérience griller & dos leches con puré de fresas

This past Sunday I cooked A LOT!  I made 4 loaves of the outback bread to use as sandwich bread for a party I’m having next week.  I’m kind of loving this bread, but I do plan on trying something else soon.  I actually purchased “Artisan Breads Every Day” for my kindle and I’m excited about taking bread making to the next level.

Yummy outback bread

I also tested some strawberry cake recipes.  I’ll talk more about the strawberry cake next week after it’s done, but I had 2 ideas and I wanted to see which one was better.  I started with this recipe.  One half of the cake I added strawberry chunks and the other half of the cake I did “tres leches” style (well actually, dos leches because I left out the half/half and added strawberry puree.)  They were both tasty, but the fresh strawberry version won with my taste testers.  However, I really liked both so I’ve decided to actually do both - dos leches on bottom layer, fresh strawberries in top layer.  As you can see from the photo below, the strawberries sink to the bottom which was ok because it created this yummy, gooey layer.  I tried adding flour to them beforehand to prevent sinking, but the strawberries are too wet and created a paste.  I have found some other ideas online to prevent sinking, but I really liked that layer of strawberries, so I’m just going with it.  In fact, I will add even more strawberries.  :)

Not the prettiest cake, but very tasty

My husband and I also decided to grill since the weather was awesome.  I wanted a burger, but as I mentioned in my previous post, I was still hesitant about beef.  I went through a couple of options in my head... I could make a patty from ground pork (which I’ve done before and was tasty) or my husband suggested I buy pre-made patties from the grocery because they sometimes have lamb or chicken.  I went with that option because I didn’t want to deal with making them myself.  Unfortunately, when I got to the grocery, they only had beef patties.  But they were celebrating France, and one of the beef patties had blue cheese and herbs and that sounded great!  So I thought ‘why not?’  Maybe I like beef??  Let’s try it.  I also bought ciabatta rolls (because regular hamburger rolls have a ridiculous amount of bad ingredients) and supplies to make potato salad and grilled corn.
Result: I don’t like beef.  In fact, neither one of us really liked it.  At least now I know.  But the potato salad and corn was yummy!  I use this recipe for potato salad and it is fantastic!  On Sunday, instead of buying large potatoes and peeling them, I just bought a bag of little potatoes, washed them, and halved them.  They were perfect little, bites of potato.  So good.

Looks good, but alas, is not for me

Finally on Sunday, I made pastry cream.  This is also a part of the strawberry cake.  I have tried twice in the past to make pastry cream and failed miserably.  So I watched numerous videos on how to make it and finally succeeded!  It’s thick and yummy.  I think for the final version though I am going to add almond paste instead of vanilla extract.  More on that next week.  :)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why I am eating meat again

So, this story amuses me somewhat because I stopped eating meat after a diet and I started eating meat again after another diet.  In March of 1998 I “finished” dieting after losing about 30 pounds.  I had not eaten beef since ‘94 (and still try to avoid it), but I was eating all other meats.  However, after losing that weight, every time I ate meat I felt heavy and weighed down.  So me and my husband both decided to stop eating meat, while continuing to include seafood in our diets (called a “pescetarian” diet).

This made sense to us at the time for both diet and ethical reasons and I was thrilled with the choice.  I grew up eating a lot of vegetables and seafood, so the decision wasn’t hard for me.  And over the years, I loved discovering vegetarian recipes and never felt deprived.  We were never self righteous about it - I feel everyone should eat what they feel comfortable eating and we just weren’t comfortable eating meat.

The change in opinion, I have to say, probably started several years ago.  The “foodie” movement was starting to take hold and my husband and I started to appreciate food more.  And to really see what a good, balanced diet should entail.  We started watching chefs like Jamie Oliver cook beautiful meals using whole, unprocessed food and that had great appeal to us.  However, I was still not comfortable eating animals.

So in 2010, when I started dieting again, I was still pescetarian.  And I lost the weight on a diet of fish and vegetables, soy and vegetable protein.  But my exercise consisted mostly of cardio.  At the beginning of 2011, I had lost the weight and started to alter my exercise routine in order to build muscle.  By April of that year I was feeling poorly, as if my body, instead of building muscle, was actually losing it. I felt deprived. So I made the decision to start eating meat again.  Not huge amounts - but I wanted to see if it helped me feel better.  And boy did it.  Within a week, I felt 100 times better with regards to my strength.   I knew that eating a balanced diet that included meat was the right thing for me.
I still eat a lot of vegetables - I love them.  And, for convenience, I still eat a lot of vegetarian soups and frozen meals.  But as you can see from my posts, I’ve completely made the leap back into the omnivore world and I am loving it.  I feel so much healthier and stronger.  And thankfully I have the ability to purchase humanely raised and slaughtered meat.  I still have the goal to eat food in as natural a form as possible and avoid things that are over processed, refined or contain preservatives
.  I feel like I'm only half of the way there but I think it’s good to have that goal and to always be aware of what you are putting into your body.