Strawberry and Buttermilk Cake (1 year later)

A year ago, Gourmet Magazine lit up quite a few food blogs with their Raspberry Buttermilk Cake recipe.  Munchkin and I made it and everyone loved it.  This year I found myself at a crossroads of two nice happenstances.  The first was a surplus of delicious strawberries from a farm in the Catskills.  The second was leftover buttermilk after making Alice Waters’ delectable chocolate cake (from the Art of Simple Food).

So we brushed off the recipe, and made it again — this time with strawberries.  It’s extremely easy to toss together, and a delicious summer lunch dessert. Here are the ingredients, and you can get the full recipe over at Epicurious:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh strawberries, washed and quartered

It is a shame Gourmet was shut down, especially since I vastly preferred it to Bon Appetit, but such are the woes of the publishing industry right now. Aside: this was my first time using the iPad in the kitchen to follow a recipe, and it is great for that purpose.  Epicurious’ iPad app is nicely done, and it’s a marvelous device for browsing food blogs.

Poached Pears in Red Wine

I used to make this dessert all the time and for some reason took a long hiatus.  When we had some friends over for dinner tonight, I felt the need to make dessert for a change and took a quick look across the food blogosphere for an update.  I found a nice recipe by Béatrice Peltre of La Tartine Gourmande over on Boston.com and adjusted to my own taste.  Sorry for the lack of a picture, but I was quite happy with the results so thought I’d record it here — the use of cardamom in particular was wonderful.

4 to 6 pears (I used Bosc but have been happy with other kinds in past)
1 lemon
1 bottle of medium-bodied red wine
1 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
2 long orange peels

Prepare a bowl of cold water and squeeze in the juice of the lemon. Peel your pears, leaving the stem at the top and cutting off the bottom so that they can stand upright. Place each pair in the lemon-water so they do not discolor. Combine the wine, sugar, cardamom, cloves, vanilla extract, cinnamon stick and orange peel in a pot big enough to hold the pears and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook the pears for 35 to 40 minutes, turning them gently every few minutes (be careful — a metal spoon will cut gashes in the soft pear surface).  Remove the pears to a bowl and place in the fridge to cool.

Before serving, remove the cinnamon stick and orange peel from the wine liquid and bring to a boil. Cook down until it reaches the texture of syrup.  Be careful not to go too far because it will thicken as it cools.  Plate each pear standing upright and spoon the hot syrup on top.

Elise’s Chocolate & Zucchini Cake

chocolate-zucchini-cake

What do excess zucchini and a bored, unwell 4 year old have in common?  Elise’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake over at Simply Recipes!  This made for a fun Sunday afternoon project, and we’ve been happily nibbling the delicious results all week. It has a wonderful chocolate flavor, and stays moist and not too dense. Lisl was worried that the zucchini might give it a vegetable-y flavor, but one taste and she was sold.

At first I was scouring Elise’s post and comments in puzzlement that the grated zucchini was not squeezed to remove the water, but indeed it is not necessary — the recipe already accounts for the moisture. Note that in the below ingredients, posted for my own future reference, I halved the amount of orange zest used.

I heartily recommend that you pop over to Simply Recipes to read the post and directions.

Chocolate & Zucchini Cake
2 1/2 cups regular all-purpose flour, unsifted
1/2 cup cocoa
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup soft butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
1/2 cup milk
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Peach, Blueberry and Apricot Cake

jerseysummercake-post

When it comes to baking, one of my favorite test kitchens belongs to a New Jersey blog called Stacey Snacks.  I’m not a huge baker, even though I might aspire to Zoe heights, however I’ve mentioned before that baking has become a fun activity where I can involve our 4 yr old munchkin. When Lisl caught sight of a peach and blueberry pie recipe with two thumbs up on Stacey’s site, I knew we had to try it.

The recipe comes from Mango & Tomato, and I followed it pretty much exactly save for replacing one of the peaches with 3 apricots (and I skipped powdered sugar at the end).  It is very straightforward — check out her site to see the instructions.  Moist and absolutely delicious!

Ingredients (just so I have a record should other blogs disappear)
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon yogurt
zest of half a lemon
1 peach, pitted and sliced
3 apricots, pitted and sliced
1 cup blueberries

jerseysummercake-pre

And while my savory dish of the evening didn’t quite pass the “bloggable” bar (experimental vegetarian dish), I did take this photo of spinach which I liked enough to share:

spinach-abstract

Birthday Pavlova

pavlova-full

Every year on my birthday, my family would have my favorite dessert, Pavlova. Inspired by the famous prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who toured Australia in the 1920s, this meringue, whipped cream and fruit concoction is an Australian institution. I’ve since heard that it has been also claimed by New Zealand, which Pavlova also visited on her 1926 tour. This is, of course, just one in a long line of disputed cultural icons ranging from film actors to politicians. Difficulties in Australian/NZ relations aside, it’s a pretty delicious dessert.

Being a busy working woman, my mother purchased my birthday pavlovas from Pavlova Pantry — yes, the dessert was so popular in Sydney through the 1970s and 80s that a chain of these popped up serving huge and quite good pavlovas. I don’t know if they still exist. Much later, after moving to the US, I found that it is really easy to make yourself, and quite a bit nicer than the store-bought variety.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees

Beat the following until stiff peaks form:
4 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
¼ salt

Add:
1 cup sugar, ¼ cup at a time until incorporated and mixture is stiff and glossy

Then add:
4 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp vanilla essence

Put mixture into a lightly greased and floured 8” springform pan, heaping so slightly higher at sides than center (don’t worry about what the top looks like, as this will be completely covered at the end)

Bake for 1 hour until firm and lightly browned. The pavlova will have a crisp meringue crust but stay moist on the inside

Cool slightly and unmold. When completely cool, top with 1 cup heavy cream whipped stiff. Top this with berries tossed in Grand Marnier. You can also use other fruits (e.g. passionfruit, kiwi fruit). Refrigerate uncovered until ready to serve.

pavlova1

A Four Fruit Crumble (or Crisp)

Due to the new addition to our family, Lisl’s mother flew over from Sydney. Over time, I’ve come to grips with the Australian craving for fruit. My niece consumes it in vast quantities. You actually have to strenuously encourage her to eat something *other* than fruit. She could be a bat, save for the whole sleeping upside-down thing. Needless to say, the first thing I did was pop into Costco for a bunch of mangos and blackberries. A fruit crumble was destiny, helped by the fact that they are so simple to do (i.e. sleep-deprived parents can easily whip one up).

There is a debate over the proper name for this dessert. The Aussies call this a crumble, and Americans call this a crisp. I don’t really view either one as right or wrong, any more than I would weigh down on the side of coriander vs cilantro, or eggplant vs aubergine. Open minded, that’s me. Unless you’re talking about raw sea urchin. Or yams. No yams. Ever. We digress.

Four Fruit Crumble (or Crisp)

1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup oats (the regular kind, not instant)
1 cup brown sugar
8 tbsp unsalted butter, chopped
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 small pinches of salt*

1 mango, peeled, pitted and cubed
4 oz blueberries (small container)
8 oz of blackberries
8 oz strawberries (topped and chopped)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Wash and chop your fruit and place it in a pie dish or small baking dish. It probably goes without saying, but do not feel beholden to stick to my ratio of one fruit versus another.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix it all together with your hands, and break the pieces of butter up with your thumbs and forefingers until they are small-pea-sized.

Spread the oats mixture over the top of the fruit.

4 fruit crumble

Bake for an hour, then let cool for 10 minutes. Serve with some vanilla ice cream. I know the below photo isn’t going to win any awards, but really, with a dish like this, it’s eatin’ time!

4 fruit crumble

* a pinch is the amount you can pick up between your thumb and forefinger.

Lavender Panna Cotta

panna cotta plated
(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

For dessert, we turned for inspiration to Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand. This is a wonderfully personal and entertaining book, its recipes interspersed with interesting concepts and stories, such as the letter to Bertolli’s newborn son about aging aceto balsamico, or the concluding Conversation with a Glass of Wine, in which Bertolli creates an imaginary opera of the interactions of the various courses of his meal with a bottle of Barolo.

The dessert section (which is organized into full menus to highlight the place of dessert in a meal), contained a recipe for rose-scented panna cotta with a compote of white nectarines. We just missed the Catskills nectarine season, but the peaches are still magnificent. Instead of roses, we used French lavender from the garden to continue the Provencal theme. We were not disappointed – the panna cotta was delicate and refreshing, the peaches sweet and cool, a perfect end to a rich meal.

I’ve always loved panna cotta as a dessert in restaurants, and was surprised by how easy this was. There is very little “cooking” involved, and the dessert can be made well in advance and kept refrigerated until serving. The only tough part was getting the panni cotti (is that the plural?) out of the ramekins at the end – Bertolli doesn’t give any suggestions for preparing the ramekins to help them slip out; I suppose any kind of lubricant might interfere with the delicate flavors. The Epicurious recipes I looked at suggested warming the molds first by sitting them in some hot water prior to inverting them, which worked after a while, but warmed the puddings up a little. Maybe I was just too impatient to get them served!

Lavender panna cotta with peaches (fills about 10 small ramekins)

6 cups of heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
10 heads of lavender flowers, coarsely chopped
6 tbs cold water
2 tbs gelatin (usually 2 small packets, if using packaged gelatin)
For the sauce:
6-8 ripe peaches
3 tbs sugar
1 cup of cold water

Warm the cream with the sugar and salt over a low flame until hot, but well below a simmer. Turn off heat. Add lavender flowers and steep for about 15 minutes. The lavender flavor should become quite pronounced – if not, leave it for longer, as it will become less strong when cooled.

lavender

Strain the flowers out of the warm cream.

Place 6 tbs cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the water. Leave for 5 minutes to soften. Whisk in some of the warm cream to dissolve the gelatin, then whisk the gelatin/cream mixture back into the rest of the cream. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a medium size mixing bowl.

Set out ramekins on a baking sheet that will fit in the refrigerator.

Set the bowl of cream into a larger bowl half-filled with ice. Stir the cream with a rubber spatula, scraping the inside of the bowl constantly so that the panna cotta doesn’t set. When the mixture is very cold and starting to thicken, remove the bowl from the ice and pour the mixture into the ramekins. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

For the sauce, peel and chop half of the peaches into small chunks (about 1/4 inch pieces – should yield about 2 cups), put in saucepan with water and sugar. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer with lid on for 45 minutes. Strain the mixture. Bertolli says to discard the cooked fruit, but I kept it for my 3-year-old – it was great over vanilla ice cream. Chill the syrup.

Peel, pit and dice the remaining peaches into ½ inch pieces (about 2 cups) and add to chilled syrup.

panna cotta de-ramekin

Unmold the panna cotta by running a paring knife around the inside of each ramekin and inverting on a plate. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of peaches and syrup around and over each panna cotta.

panna cotta peaches
Finishing the dish

table panna cotta
At the table

sauternes and glasses
This can be deliciously paired with a dessert wine — in our case we had a 1967 Sauternes saved by Giff’s father and passed down for a special occasion.

Recipe Links 9-15-08; Rum & Poached Peach

Boy, between Texas flooding, Wall Street collapsing, the heated election and Tina Fey bringing me to tears (of laughter), it is hard to think about food in the evenings, but nevertheless, we sally on! Lisl has been dragged to Switzerland for work this week, which either means that I’m going to be doing crazy experimentation in the kitchen or subsistence eating… you never know. I find it harder to motivate to cook properly when I’m the only one eating the results (our munchkin is a good eater but she likes food bland bland bland!).

First, here’s the latest list of recipes I’ve discovered recently (roughly in the order found) and would like to try at some point:

Recipe Links

Part 2:
Rum and Poached Peach
The other night we had some friends over to dinner. I grilled some New York strips (interestingly, the butcher told me they were “grass raised and corn finished”, which he said is an increasing trend) and made a Mediterranean gratin with layers of eggplant, roasted red peppers, olives, plum tomatoes cooked with onion and garlic, cheese, rosemary and breadcrumbs.

Lisl made a play on Peach Melba, which, rather than topping with rasberry sauce, we topped with some really good dark rum from St. Lucia called Chairman’s Reserve. Delish!

peach melba
Pre-Rum (and the attack of my spoon)

To make: Bring a pot of 1 1/4 quarts water, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and some lemon zest to boil, then lower heat to a light simmer. Poach your peaches (in batches if you have many) for about 5 minutes, allow to cool, then place in the fridge the chill. When cold and you are ready to serve, slip off the skins (they should come off easily), halve and pit. Place on a scoop of vanilla ice cream and lightly pour some high quality dark rum on top.

Vegetarian Lasagna; Strawberries with Basil and Honey

Vegetarian Lasagna
My kitchen is a complete disaster area right now. I’d share a picture but it might short out your monitor. The silver lining is that my first attempt at a vegetarian lasagna was successful (your first, you cry! ah but tis true — normally Lisl is the lasagna champ in this household but she’s on a plane to the UK). And so with no further ado:

Lasagna Components
2 golden zucchini (green zucchini or summer squash would work)
2 red or orange bell peppers
big handful of white button mushrooms
lasagna pasta
basil
parmesan cheese
mozzarella cheese
bechamel sauce (flour, butter, milk – see below)

Tomato Sauce
1 medium yellow or vidalia onion
3 cloves of garlic
14 oz can of skinless, whole tomatoes
olive oil
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper
bay leaf
parsley

Vegetarian Lasagna Ingredients
Note on above picture: I didn’t end up using the orange pepper or green zucchini

Whip up a tomato sauce: in some olive oil, saute the finely chopped onion on moderate heat, then add the garlic, minced. Add the tomatoes, half a teaspoon of salt, some grindings of pepper, a healthy pinch of cayenne pepper, a bay leaf, and a handful of chopped parsley (I also added a touch of white wine). Do not chop up the tomatoes yet, but rather bring to a boil then let it lightly simmer uncovered for an hour if time permits. Then remove bay leaf and chop and mix the tomatoes with your spatula. Note: you don’t want this sauce to be too watery, or your lasagna will be equally watered down.

Fire up your grill or broiler. Char the peppers on all sides and place in a paper or plastic bag for 10 minutes. Then peel off the skin and remove the seeds and stem.

Thinly slice the zucchini lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil and grill or broil briefly, taking care not to burn.

Thinly slice the mushrooms and saute them in a little butter and olive oil.

Next, create a bechamel sauce (white sauce). I decided to reference a few sources here and amusingly everyone differed. For a single cup of milk: Marcella Hazan used 2 tbsp of butter and 1.5 tbsp of flour; Julia Child used 1 tbsp of butter and 1.5 tbsp of flour; and Mark Bittman was right in the middle, with 1.5 tbsp of butter and 1.5 tbsp of flour.

I ended up going the Hazan route more or less. Heat the milk in a saucepan, with a dash of salt, until it starts to bubble. In another saucepan, melt the butter over low heat and then wisk in the flour. Remove from heat and slowly add in the hot milk, wisking aggressively. Continue to cook over low heat, wisking, if you want to thicken the sauce.

For the construction of the lasagna, I used “oven ready” pasta so I didn’t need to pre-soften but actually I would have preferred the latter since it would have made it easier to cut the pasta to fit my baking dish. I used a smaller but deeper pan than normal because I went multi-layer.

My layers (as best I can remember):
1. thin layer of bechamel, 2. pasta, 3. thin layer of tomato sauce, 4. zucchini, 5. grated parmesan cheese, 6. bechamel sauce, 7. pasta, 8. tomato sauce, 9. basil leaves, 10. bell peppers, 11. sauted mushrooms, 12. pasta, 13. tomato sauce, 14. grated parmesan cheese and torn chunks of mozzarella cheese.

I tend to cook light on salt, but you can always sprinkle a touch of salt and/or pepper on a layer or two as you form the lasagna. When complete, place in the oven for 45 minutes at 350F, or until mozzarella on top starts to brown.

Lasagna
Wish my pictures had come out better…

Strawberries, Basil and Honey
Strawberries, basil and honey
For dessert, I tried a very simple but surprisingly good combination I picked up over at Lucullian Delights, thanks to the Food Blog Search. It doesn’t get much easier than this: cut up your strawberries, chop up some basil, drizzle on some honey, and mix it all together. What’s really interesting is that the basil starts taking on the flavor of cloves.

Trice the Fool (Gooseberry, Blackberry and Ginger Snap Fool)

gooseberries.jpg
Walking through the Kingston farmers’ market, we came across a stand with pink and green gooseberries, which I had never tried before. The stand-keeper (for lack of a better name) was kind enough to let me taste them. Both were delicious but the pink were a nice blend of sweet and tart so I bought a punnet and then went rummaging around for a way to use them. Lo and behold we discovered the “gooseberry fool”, which was a marvelous sounding dessert as long as our 3-year-old did not take to heart the expression “fool on me? no, fool on you!

I ended up referencing two sources (this vegan recipe I found through FoodBuzz, and this recipe I found on Epicurious), but not exactly following either. The results were great, however.

Recipe (enough for 4 servings):
1 punnet of pink gooseberries
1/2 punnet of blackberries
2/3 cup of heavy cream
3 big tablespoons of creme fraiche
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup superfine granulated sugar
ginger snap cookies
fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp unsalted butter

1. Remove the tops and tails of the gooseberries (you can see them in the top photo) using scissors or pinching with your fingernails. Then cut the berries in half. In a medium saucepan, cook the gooseberries and blackberries over medium-low heat with 1/4 cup of sugar, stirring constantly and then mashing up the berries thoroughly with a fork once they began to soften. Cook this puree for about 7 or 8 minutes, then remove from heat to cool in a small bowl, then cover and place in the fridge to chill.

2. In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream and creme fraiche until slightly stiff, then add the 1/4 cup superfine sugar and continue whipping until the mixture can hold stiff peaks (I used an electric beater to speed things up). Then fold in the berry puree.

3. Take a large handful of ginger snaps and pulse them in a food processor until you have smallish crumbs. Melt the 2 tbsp of butter and combine butter and crumbs in a bowl and stir around until well mixed together.

4. Take a big handful of mint leaves and loosely chop them up.

5. In your serving glass (or bowl), put down a layer of the “fool” (cream and berry mixture). Loosely scatter a thin layer of of chopped mint leaves. Then add a layer of the ginger snap crumbs. Repeat once more and garnish with some mint leaves.

Gooseberry Fool
The picture above shows a version without the layers of chopped mint leaves, since I tried it this way first and took the picture. I quickly decided that it needed more of a mint kick and the results proved out that theory. The blackberries brought out the incredible pink color.

P.S. I also just found an interesting version at Delia Online with natural yogurt that sounds delicious (hat tip to Foodycat for link to Delia).