Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It's All About The Cake

One of my earliest birthday memories is of watching guests arrive to my party. The mothers walked the girls up to the front door. The girls were all wearing dresses, white ankle socks, and patent leather shoes, because that's what little girls wore back in that time and place, and they were all carrying gifts. As I eyed the gaily wrapped packages, I tried to guess what might be inside and one package in particular got me very excited. It was a long, thin, tubular shape. I just knew it had to be a baton! Dreams of happy twirling filled my head, only to crash to the ground when I opened it and found it was a pup tent.

As a child, birthdays were all about the presents. But presents can be disappointing, so as I've gotten older (and older), birthdays have become all about the cake. I spend the weeks leading up to my birthday thinking about what kind of cake I want. What kind of frosting. What kind of decoration. And then I get to make it.

Non-bakers that I know invariably will say, "You have to make your own birthday cake?" No, no, I get to. I have an excuse to spend a day trying a new recipe, a new technique, or just making a tried and true favorite. And then an excuse to eat it!

Recently I saw a cake in a bakery display case that stood out. Pure, snowy white frosting, crowned with a ring of raspberries. Yes, that was the look of the cake for this year. But what to put inside? I'd been eyeing several lovely cakes in Baking and decided to do the Black and white chocolate cake, only substituting raspberry for chocolate, so it would look like the Perfect Party Cake, only without coconut.

The day before my birthday I made the cake without any problems. I left it to cool overnight, got up early in the morning to make the frosting, which I knew needed to be chilled for several hours. There I hit a snag. The frosting is simplicity itself. Only two ingredients. White chocolate and heavy cream. The choclate needs to melt while part of the cream boils. The two are put together, stirred, and then left to cool to room temperature. This part went fine.

It was when the mixture was to be added to the rest of the cream that it started to go south. I put the cream in the mixer, watching for it to just reach the "soft peak" stage, and the phone rang. My darling husband was calling to wish me a happy birthday. He's so sweet and deserves better than a wife who abruptly ends the conversation with "Oh, #&%!" when she looks into the mixer and sees VERY stiffly beaten whipped cream.

I turned off the mixture, carefully scraped out the cream, saving it for later dessert topping, and added more cream for a second try. Thank goodness I buy cream by the jug from Costco! This time I got the cream to just reach soft peaks. Perfect. Then the directions say to turn the mixer to high and add the white chocolate mixture all at once. I tried, but it was awkward and the mixture was not all going into the bowl. I turned off the mixer, quickly scraped all the white chocolate cream into the bowl, turned the mixer back on high and....eeek! Why is it all curdy? Maybe it's just not incorporated enough and needs more mixing. Back on high. No, no! It's turning yellow and breaking up. I'm making....butter!

At this point I figured this batch was a goner and just went for the butter. To make butter from cream in a mixer you just keep whipping the snot out of it until the fats clump together and you have a butter glob in a pool of runny liquid. This is what I achieved. But interestingly, it tasted a lot like white chocolate. So, when life hands you white chocolate butter, make white chocolate buttercream frosting. Also, save the white chocolate buttermilk to put in your coffee.

So, here's how to make a stunning cake with lots of improvisation, a sprinkling of colorful language, and a jug of heavy cream.

Raspberry White Chocolate Birthday Cake
adapted from Baking by Dorrie Greenspan


2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/4 sticks (10 Tbsp) unsalted butter or white chocolate butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

1- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 deg. F. Butter two 9 x 2-inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet. (Note: I used 8-inch cake pans. I can't wait to get my new prescription for my glasses!)

2- Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3- In an electric mixer beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don't be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermillk, adding the dry ingreients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (beginning and ending with the dry ingredients): scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

4 - Bake for 28-30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and spriny to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 2 minutes, then unmold, remove the paper and invert to cool to room temperature right side up on the rack.

5 - To assemble the cake, when the layers have cooled, level off the tops with a serrated knife. Then with a gentle sawing motion, cut each layer in half. Place one half layer on your cake plate, top that with a generous amount of raspberry filling. Place the other half on top of that and spread a generous amount of frosting. Repeat with the other two layer halves and then frost the cake, crowning it with a ring of plump, juicy raspberries. On a hot day, store in the refrigerator to keep the frosting and berries from wilting.


Best quality raspberry jam. I used a jar of low-sugar freezer jam that a friend gave me. It was bursting with raspberry flavor and was a good foil for the sweetness of the frosting.

White chocolate buttercream Frosting:

1/4 cup unsalted butter or white chocolate butter
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp almond flavoring extract
4-4-1/2 cups (454 g) sifted confectioners' sugar
5 Tbsp milk, more or less as needed

In an electric mixer, cream the butter until soft. Beat in the salt and almond extract.

With the mixer on lowest speed, gradually beat in the sugar and milk, in 4 alternating batches. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater.

Beat on high speed until creamy. Add more milk if needed for proper spreading consistency. This can be made in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature and whip smooth before using.

White Chocolate Butter:

This can be used in the cake, as well as the frosting, to impart a subtle white chocolate taste. I'm looking forward to trying it in some cookies.

6 oz. premium-quality white chocolate, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1- Put the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl and put the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Stir frequently to melt the chocolate evenly. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 cup of the heavy cream to a boil.

2- When the white chocolat is melted, remove the bowl from the pan. Pour the hot cream into the melted chocolate and let it sit for a minute. Using a small spatula, stir the chocolate gently until it is smooth. Let it sit on the counter until it reaches room temperature.

3- Pour the remaining cream into a mixing bowl. Using a whisk attachment or hand mixer, beat the cream until it holds soft peaks. Turn the machine to high, add the cooled white chocolate all at once and continue to beat until the whipped cream holds firm peaks. (If you want to keep it like this, turn off the machine, press a piece of plasti wrap gently against the surface to seal it and refrigerate for 2 hours.) If you want white chocolate butter, continue beating on high. The cream will break up into small curds and the curds will start to clump together. When it's mainly one big clump swimming in a milky liquid, turn off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to press against the butter, encouraing it to stick together and forcing out liquid, pouring off the liquid (save it for coffee!) as it appears. When you've removed most of the liquid, put the bowl in the refrigerator. Remove it every 20 minutes or so to press out any remaining liquid from inside the butter.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Taste of the Tropics

My dream home would have an enormous kitchen well-stocked with every gadget, a self-growing garden, and bookshelves on every available square foot of wall space. I love books. Not just cookbooks, but fiction, fact, and in between. As a homeschooler I buy books like 101 Fun Science Experiments You Can Do at Home With Aluminum Foil and Peanut Butter and The Rise and Fall of Mesopotamia. As a fiction reader, I devour mysteries. And as a baker I have a hard time restraining myself when it comes to any cookbook with wonderful pictures.

I have a special fondness for good children's books and one of my childhood favorites that I read and reread till the corners got dog-eared was the classic, Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink. It's a charming story about 2 girls who get stranded on a desert island with a boatload of babies. It's the perfect read for any pre-teen girl who's in the "Awwww, a baby!" phase.

One of the things that mystified me in the book was the mention of breadfruit. What was this? According to the book it grew on trees, but was it shaped like a loaf of bread? Did it taste like bread? Did the flowers emit the seductive smell of fresh-baked bread? I never knew the answer until my husband and I were on a vacation in Maui. Walking around, soaking up the sights, I fairly shrieked aloud when I read a historical marker plaque telling that the gigantic tree there was a breadfruit tree. I picked up one of the fruit and had my picture taken with it, so pleased was I to finally meet a breadfruit.

Another fruit I had read about but never tasted was mango. I know, a collective gasp of astonishment goes up. I'm aware that it's probably the most popular fruit in the world, but in the desert climate I grew up in, there weren't a lot of mango groves. It wasn't until recently that I tried a mango. After all I'd heard about mangoes, I expected a lot, but wasn't immediately sold. It's a strong flavor that takes a bit of getting used to. In fact, in researching, I found that there is a small amount of naturally occuring kerosene in mangoes, some varieties more than others. Now kerosene is not an item I stock in my spice cupboard. So it was only because I was on a Perfect Scoop roll that I plucked up two mangoes at the market and whipped up this sorbet.

It went together really easily, and I think if you like mangoes you'd love this sorbet. David Lebovitz suggests pairing it with raspberry sherbet and I think I'd enjoy it more with something to cut the intensity of the flavor. My family had texture issues with it. Maybe it was the mangos I used, but there was a certain stringy, pulpy consistency to it. Anyway, this is my offering for Alpineberry's Tropical Paradise Sugar High Friday. For me a mango is the second best way to say "tropical." My grocery store doesn't carry breadfruit.

Mango Sorbet
- adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

2 large, ripe mangoes (about 2 pounds or 1 kg)
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) water
4 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
1 Tbsp dark rum
Pinch of salt

Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh away from the pit. Cut the flesh into chunks and throw them in a blender with the sugar, water, lime juice, rum, and salt. Squeeze the mango pits hard over the blender to extract as much of the pulp and juice as possible. They're slippery at this point, so be wary of mango-pit missiles!

Puree the mixture until smooth. Taste, then add more lime juice or rum, if desired. Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Serve with coconut sprinkled on top for an extra taste of paradise, or with a raspberry sauce.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pink Ladies

My best friend growing up was a funny girl named Karen. She was infectiously cheerful and would really get into things. With her it wasn't "Oh, I like this song." It was, "Stop everything and listen to this song right now. I love it!!" She was exhuberently enthusiastic about whatever held her interest at the moment. From music to food to boys to movies, there was never any middle ground. It was love it or (rarely) hate it. It was no surprise to anyone that she went on to be a cheerleader in high school.

When she asked me if I'd seen the movie, Grease, I told her that I didn't like John Travolta. She said, "Oh, go see it! You'll really hate him then!"

I saw the movie and enjoyed it, although I still didn't like John Travolta. One of my favorite elements of the movie was the Pink Ladies, the cool, bad girls with teased hair, tight pants, strut and attitude. I wished I could have had an awesome, pink jacket like theirs to wear.

This is hardly a recipe, more of a throw-together for the end of a hot week. When you've been sweltering and deserve a little unwind time and want something with a bit more kick than lemonade, reach for the blender and try a Pink Lady to start the weekend off with some attitude.

Pink Ladies

1 (6 oz) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate, undiluted
1/2 cup rum
1 cup fresh whole strawberries, stems removed
Ice cubes

Combine first 3 ingredients in container of an electric blender; add ice to make 5 cups. Process until smooth. Yield: 4-1/2 cups. Note: you can substitute vodka for rum, if you prefer, and vary the amount of liquor, depending on how tough your week has been.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Java Joy

As happy as chocolate makes me, that's how happy coffee makes my daughter. She did a brief stint as a barrista with a major coffee company, staying just long enough to get a really good coffee education. She now can talk knowledgeably about the subtle nuances of flavor, varietals, and the best pairings for different coffee beans. My own coffee knowledge extends to, "ooh, bitter." I don't drink coffee, so making coffee ice cream for her was a love thing.

She donated the beans, a rather expensive variety from her stash. As I threw the beans in to the saucepan to soak in the milk, she had second thoughts (too late!) about "wasting" those beans on ice cream. Maybe the expensive subtlities would be smothered by the ice cream. She shouldn't have worried. When she tasted it she said, "Oh, my gosh! That is the Best ice cream I have ever had!" (And considering the amount of quality ice cream I've been producing lately, that's saying quite a bit.)

And as with all wonderful foods, it was even better shared. The group she blessed with the ice cream gave it rave reviews, too. I, who don't even like coffee, thought it was pretty darn good, and would be even better with a little hot fudge sauce on top. My daughter also said that she could taste the flavor of the beans. So don't be afraid to go ahead and use really good beans. It will only enhance the flavor of the finished product.

Coffee Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1-1/2 cups (375 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1-1/2 cups (125 g) whole coffee beans
Pinch of salt
1-1/2 cups (375 ml) heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp finely ground coffee

Warm the milk, sugar, whole coffee beans, salt, and 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the cream in a medium saucepan. Once the mixture is warm, cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

Rewarm the coffee-infused milk mixture. Pour the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm coffee mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constanltly. To prevent the bowl from skittering around the counter while you're pouring and stirring, place it on a rubber glove. Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constanlty over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. A finger pulled across the spatula's surface will leave a trail that doesn't close up. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Press on the coffee beans in the strainer to extract as much of the coffee flavor as possible, then discard the beans. Mix in the vanilla and the finely ground coffee and stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to directions.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cooking in the Fog

Sometimes I just know I shouldn't be in the kitchen. I can't seem to focus and can reread the same sentence 3 times without comprehending what it means. It's like a fog has settled over my brain and I just can't seem to process anything. These are the times when I need a lighthouse to warn me of the shoals ahead. To flash a beacon warning me away from certain disaster that looms in the mist.

Recently I came upon a delightful little lemon cake on Alpineberry. I was smitten by its charms and filed it in my mental "make soon" file. My opportunity arose when my husband arrived home with a bag of lemons and a friend was going though sugar withdrawal. What better way to fill that need than with this sweet cake?

Or it would have been, if not for the fog. I looked at the recipe. And moved over to the counter to pull out a bowl. Then went back to recheck the recipe. And went back to the counter. Then back to the recipe. I finally gave myself a mental shake and tried to focus on the task at hand. I measured, sifted, and blended. Oops, it called for cupcake papers. Did I have enough? Yes! Just barely.

I carefully scooped the delicate chiffon batter into the papers and then wiped an errant blob off so it wouldn't burn onto the pan. Of course I couldn't resist popping it back into my mouth.

Euwwww! Why was it so sour? Had I really forgotten the sugar? Yes, I had. And adding it at this point was going to spell disaster for the dainty beaten egg whites. But I had no choice.

As I scraped out the cupcake liners I realized that there was no hope of reusing them. They made a sodden, nasty heap as I worked. Since granulated sugar would be too difficult to incorporate at this point, I used confectioner's sugar, blending as gently as possible. And since I had no more cupcake papers, I used two mini loaf pans and guessed on the baking time. Sigh.

It turned out pretty well, all things considered. And the friend to whom I gave one of the loaves did not complain, so maybe she was sufficiently sugar-deprived that she didn't notice all that was wrong with it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Taste of Summer

Blueberries are wonderful. They taste fabulous, go into any manner of baked goods gracefully, plus they're so doggone cute! Purply-blue berries nestled in a cluster among the slender, green leaves always sends a thrill shooting through me. Puckery-sweet taste of summer, one juicy berry at a time.

One of the dating rituals for my pre-husband and me was going to a little local cafe. He would always order a Monte Cristo sandwich and I would always order a blueberry muffin and tea. Fast forward many years and we're happily married, living in our new house in the suburbs. What does my sweet, thoughtful husband get for me for out anniversary? Three darling little blueberry bushes. I was thrilled and loved them. Not as much as my children, but certainly more than the dog who chewed one to nubbins in a fit of pique at being left alone for the day.

Despite my amazingly brown thumb, I've managed to keep them alive all these years and they are now taller than I am, giving handfuls of plump, juicy berries for our cereal each morning. Each spring I feel happiness well up in me as I see the blossoms set on, promising a summer full of fresh fruit and a winter full of muffin baking.

Smart husbands take note: a blueberry bush is the gift that keeps on giving. And giving. And giving. I still tell my husband, "Thanks for the blueberry bushes, honey!"

Jerry, the creative lady over at Food and Photo is hosting a challenge for Summer Flavor desserts. Well this beauty is my entry. What better way to capture the flavor of summer than homegrown blueberries in frozen yogurt. The recipe, of course, is adapted from The Perfect Scoop by the fabulous David Lebovitz.

Blueberry Frozen Yogurt

1-1/2 cups (360 g) plain whole-milk yogurt
3/4 cup ((150 g) sugar
3 cups (340 g) blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 tsp kirsch
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice

In a blender or food processor, blend together the yogurt, sugar, and blueberries. Press the mixture through a strainer to remove the seeds and skin. Pressing thoroughly gives it that lovely purpley color.

Stir in the kirsch and lemon and lime juices. Chill for 1 hour.

Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

(If you don't have lemon and lime juice, you can use just one or the other, but I liked the zip of the flavor combo.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Perfectly Paired

I had a roommate in college who was very opinionated. She firmly knew that there was a right way and a wrong way, and was never shy about expressing it. Softball was the only right and true sport, it was an abomination to pollute a hot dog with anything other than mustard, and the only perfect peanut butter was Skippy.

This set up a little dynamic tension in our room as I am opposed on principal to having balls thrown at me (I am catching impaired), I like ketchup on my hot dogs, maybe a little chopped onion, too, and my favorite p.b. brand is Jif. Skippy has a more roasted peanuty taste, but Jif has sugar added and to a person of my particular palate (sugar fiend) the added sugar makes wonderful things happen with the peanut taste.

My roommate and I managed to find common ground (school, boys, parties, boys, and boys) so we didn't kill each other during our tenure together, but when we parted ways, we were still each firmly convinced of the rightness of our beliefs. After all, you can leave your clothes lying around, let mold grow in the coffee cups, but you don't mess with my peanut butter!

Since adding sugar to peanut butter only improved it's flavor, I was in the delightful quandary of what to do with the extra filling from my Peanut Butter Creme-Filled Cookies. I thought of rolling it into little balls and dipping it in chocolate. Yumm. Sugared peanut butter with chocolate? Oh yes!

But while that thought was percolating in my brain, I happened across a recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream in The Perfect Scoop, and had a brilliant thought. Why not stir my leftovers into the ice cream? Why not, indeed? I did and it was heavenly! The recipe makes a dense, intensely chocolate ice cream with overtones of peanut butter taste, then as you take a bite you hit a pocket of frozen peanut butter filling. If you like peanut butter cups, this is your dream ice cream!

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream
- adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

2 cups (500 ml) half-and-half
1/4 cup (25 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (130 g) smooth peanut butter

Peanut Butter Creme Filling

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) salted butter, softened
2 Tbsp half-and-half
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar

(For the dark chocolate color and deep chocolate taste be sure to use the Dutch-process cocoa)

Whisk together the half-and-half, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Heat the mixture, whisking frequently, until it comes to a full, rolling boil (it will start to foam up). Remove from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter, stirring until thoroughly blended.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator. While it is cooling, make the creme filling. This is a full recipe, so you'll have leftovers to put in cookies, make peanut butter balls, or make many batches of this fabulous ice cream. Or you could reduce the recipe.

Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the directions. The last 5 minutes of freezing, stir in the peanut butter filling.

For an over the top, show-stopping dessert, serve it with The World's Best Hot Fudge Sauce.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Take Two And Call Me In The Morning

Long, long ago, in a state far far away, I wanted to be a ballerina. I'm not just talking prancing around the house in a tutu, although I went through that phase. I am talking taped, blistered toes, living in leotards, trying to vomit up dinner (never got the hang of that one, thankfully), and living at the ballet studio.

The goal of every young girl in tights was to be in the annual production of the Nutcracker. The process of getting there was a huge ordeal. The first step was the auditions. My first year I signed up and arrived, along with hundreds of other hopefuls with their mothers. I was assigned a number and had to wait, nervously, as groups of numbers were called. That group would disappear behind closed doors, reappearing 20 minutes later, a few girls with confident smiles on their faces, most looking depressed, and a few in tears. Then the next group would be called and the process repeated. This continued until my number was called.

I went with my assigned group into a seemingly vast room presided over by a terrifying woman with a stick, the ballet mistress. She told us to line up, then proceeded to teach a combination of steps. She showed us once, ran through it with us twice, and then we were to do the combination in small groups for her. Under pressure I just couldn't remember the sequence. I was going left when I should have been jumping, turning when I should have been going right, and generally tripping over my own feet.

Needless to say, I was one of the ones who left that day downcast. I was rejected for two years in a row.

My third year a fellow dancer, older and better than me, gave me some sage advice. After school, she said, go home and take a bath then eat a peanut butter sandwich. It would calm me and help me to focus. I did and it really worked. I got into the production as a toy soldier and loved it.

Ever since, I have been convinced of the soothing powers of peanut butter. When stressed out, a peanut butter sandwich, oozing with smooth, creamy goodness, makes me feel that all's right with the world. So when my husband asked for some cookies to take to an extremely stress-filled meeting at work, I made these delicious cookies, packed with peanut butter. How could life not look a little better when you're munching one of these babies?

Peanut Butter Cream-Filled Cookies
- adapted from Mrs. Fields' Best Ever Cookie Book

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup quick-cooking oats (not instant)
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 stick salted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract


3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) salted butter, softened
2 Tbsp half-and-half
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar

1- In a medium bowl, combine flour soda, cinnamon, and oats. Mix well with a wire whisk and set aside.

2- Cream sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl at medium speed with an electric mixer. Add egg and vanilla, and beat at medium speed until light and creamy. Add the flour-oat mixture, and blend at low speed until just combined. Do not overmix.

3- Separate dough into 2 balls, flatten them into disks and wrap each tightly in plastic wrap or a plastic bag. Chill for an hour.

4- Preheat oven to 325 deg. F.

5- On a floured board using a floured rolling pin, roll out one disk to 1/4" thickness. Cut cookies with a 2-inch round cookie cutter dipped in flour. (A fancy, fluted cutter is beautiful, but I don't own one). Repeat procedure with the second disk, reworking scraps until all the dough is used. Bake cookies on ungreased cookie sheets 1/2 inch apart for 13 to 15 minutes or until bottoms turn light brown. Transfer immediately to a cool, flat surface with a spatula. This helps the cookies to stay moist on the underside as they cool.

6- When the cookies are cool, mix filling ingredients and spread 1 Tbsp of filling on the bottom side of a cookie. Top with another cookie so tops of the cookies are facing outward. Repeat with remaining cookies and filling.

I didn't measure the filling as I applied it to the cookies and I had some leftover. Tune in to my next post to see what I cleverly did with the leftovers!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I've Been Tagged

I got tagged by the Cooking Ninja (that stealthy gal) to list 7 random things about myself that you probably don't know. So here goes.

1- I've jumped out of an airplane. On purpose. My sister and I took a day jump class and went parachuting. I wanted to be able to say I'd done something bold and adventurous in my life. It was combination exhilarating and terrifying. I'm so glad I went but have no need to ever go again.

2 -I had 3 of my 4 babies at home with a midwife and no drugs. The first one was in a birthing center with a midwife, also no drugs. I love being in my own space with my own comfort measures to have my babies. It sure beats going to the hospital and having nurses and doctors boss you around and possibly getting cut into. The current US c-section rate is 1 in 3. Yikes!

3- I can make my ears wiggle, without using my hands. Don't feel badly if you can't do it; it's a genetic trait.

4- I am the world's fussiest shopper for shoes. I can't stand shoes that pinch, slip, slide, or bind. My mother would go nuts trying to get me to buy school shoes; it took forever.

5- I loathe running. It makes my lungs and knees hurt and my bum and boobs flop.

6- I speak in movie quotes. Some TV shows, too. Currently, a lot of Arrested Development and The Office. It saves the time and energy of having to think up my own witty lines, but baffles and mystifies people who haven't seen the movie.

7- I lived a year in Germany when I was 8. I attended a German school and learned German by the sink or swim method. There I learned about the joys of zimmels, and Nutella. My best friend was a fun, feisty German girl named Manuela Schindler. Anyone know her?

There. Wasn't that enlightening?

Now it's my turn to tag. Participation is entirely voluntary! If you'd like to do it, just post seven random things about yourself that others might not know.

Food and Photo
Eat Me, Delicious
Food Blogga
Simply Anne's
Gruel Omelet
Dine and Dish

Friday, July 13, 2007

I Want It Now

It is the perversity of human nature to want what is unattainable. I am particularly guilty of this when it comes to the seasons. I moan about the cold, the rain, the gray skies of winter and imagine perfect happiness will come with the sunshine. But there is nothing that convinces me of the charms of hot soup for dinner, wrapping up in a blanket to read a book, and a crackling fire like the onslaught of summertime heat. I melt, I pine, and I moan some more.

Is perfect happiness attainable? Is it possible to want something and have it right away? Or at least in an hour?

The answer is yes, if you have a ripe cantaloupe on the counter and an ice cream machine ready to kick into action.

This gorgeous sorbet is adapted from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz. I know, I know, you're saying, "Will she ever get off this Perfect Scoop kick?" No. Not while it's hot and there are still recipes untried. So quit whining and get churning. You know you want it. The cool, refreshing sorbet perfectly captures the full, juicy cantaloupe flavor, piquantly set off by fresh lime juice. Mmmmm. You might be having summer meltdown, but this sorbet can help you hang on till soup weather.

Cantaloupe Sorbet

One 2-lb (1 kg) ripe cantaloupe
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
2 Tbsp dry or sweet white wine or champagne (optional)

Cut the melon in half and scrape out the seeds. Cut the melon halves in quarters and remove the melon in 1 inch pieces, being careful to leave all the green with the skin.

Puree the melon in a blender with the sugar, salt, and lime juice until smooth. Taste, and add additional lime juice if desired and the wine, if using. The addition of alcohol prevents the formation of ice crystals. I made it without alcohol and had no problems with the texture.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What I Do For Love

I'm the odd one out in my house. The rest of my family loves blue cheese. It's my husband's first pick for salad dressing. It's a treat to my kids crumbled in a salad. To me it is food gone bad. Come on, people, it's riddled with mold!

I have serious issues with mold. It grosses me out. Nothing gets my gag reflex going as much as finding the lurker at the back of the fridge. You know what I'm talking about. The Tupperware container that you didn't label, knowing you'd use it in a few days, but it got something juicier and more tempting put in front of it and it gradually migrated to the back of the fridge. You forgot all about it, until a fit of cleaning made you gingerly remove it, carefully peeling up the lid (if it hadn't already self-popped). You reel back in horror, the noxious odors assaulting your nose, the fuzzy blue, green, and red puffs threatening to crawl out of the container, and you rush to the sink to stuff it down the drain and let the sewer gators take it on.

Mold smells nasty, looks frightening, and makes me gag. Yet some people enjoy it and even go so far as injecting an innocent cheese with it. And then eating it. On purpose. The mind boggles.

In order to maintain a happy marriage, my sweet husband and I have reached a compromise. He deals with the nasty mold from the fridge and I try not to retch when he enjoys his blue cheese. When he got a chunk of blue cheese for his birthday from our daughter, I took it as an opportunity to score good wifey points and made him a blue cheese dip. My daughter did the crumbling of the blue cheese and the stirring in so I wouldn't be overcome by the fumes.

They said it was delicious. It's easy to make and you don't have to wait to enjoy it, although my husband said the next day the flavors had melded into a somewhat different, but equally enjoyable blend. If you like blue cheese, by all means try it. Just don't make me watch.

Chunky Blue Cheese Dip (adapted from Taste of Home)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/3 cup minced fresh chives

In a small mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, sour cream, pepper and salt until smooth. Gently blend in the blue cheese and chives. Serve with crackers, apple and pear slices, and / or pecans. Makes 1-3/4 cups.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Cool, Quick, and Easy

Cool, quick, and easy. I'm not talking about the most popular girl in high school, I'm talking about what's for dinner.

We are looking at a super-hot week and I'm not excited. I was raised in a desert climate, but have happily adapted to a temperate climate and I get whiny when it's over 80 degrees. I start finding reasons to go to the mall and spend inordinate amounts of time shopping for frozen foods. How long does it take to comparison shop frozen peas? As long as it takes!

So I'm always up for dinners that don't require turning on the oven and go together in a flash. I tried this chicken salad and it was love at first bite. It's flavorful and has interesting texture bits to keep my mouth interested. When it's hot I like to be lazy and just buy a roasted chicken at the store for the cooked chicken. Mix it together, put it on a bun or croissant and dinner's served. Yeah!

Honey Pecan Chicken Salad
(adapted from Fresh From The Pantry)

1 cup mayonnaise (homemade with the Cuisinart recipe is excellent)
1/2 cup sweet pickle relish
2 Tbsp minced onion
1 Tbsp honey
1-1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
3/4 chopped celery
3/4 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 pounds chopped, cooked chicken (about 4 cups)

Mix together the mayonnaise, relish, onion, honey, sugar, salt and white pepper in a bowl and mix well. Stir in the celery and pecans. Fold in the chicken. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator. Serve on crusty French bread rolls or a croissant. Optional: add lettuce, tomato, or other favorite garnish.

Serves 6 to 8

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane

In my previous life, prior to entering the fast-paced and highly profitable world of food blogging (pause for laughter), I did in-home parties selling baskets and pottery. I loved doing the shows but dreaded making phone calls to book the shows. I hate rejection (who loves it?) and any kind of a "no" felt like rejection. Even the "I'd love to but my house just burnt to the ground and we're living in a tent on the beach so there's no room to have a show" excuse felt like rejection.

Some people, trying to be nice, would go for the delay. "Oh, gosh, I really want to, but the kids are so busy with school and sports and lessons that I just don't have time. For sure call me when school gets out." After years of hearing this, I've learned. Life never gets less busy. It stays as busy as we choose. Those same people when I call them 5 minutes after the closing school bell has rung already have their kids in day camp, soccer camp, and art camp, have out of town visitors scheduled and their two vacations already scheduled. And they say, "Oh, gosh, I really want to, but we're so busy. Life will calm down when the kids are in school. Call me then."

Life is hectic but one constant is that people need to eat. And if you have teenagers, you know they need to eat constantly. Having a good, quick supper in your repertoire can save you time, money (no nasty grab-a-burger-at-the-drive-through-on-the-way-to-the-swim-meet), and your sanity.

This salad is beautiful, delicious, quick, and easy. The lemon gives a bright contrast to the pasta, the broccoli makes you feel healthy, and the chicken says it's a meal. Of course, a vegetarian can omit the chicken and it's still delicious.

Broccoli, Chicken, & Bow Ties
(modified from Barefoot Contessa Family Style)

8 cups broccoli florets (4 heads)
1/2 lb farfalle (bow tie) pasta
1 whole chicken breast, or 1 large 1/2 breast
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. good olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup toasted pignoli (pine) nuts
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional

To toast the pignollis, place them in a dry saute pan over meium-low heat and cook, tossing often, for about 5 minutes, until light brown.

Cut the chicken into strips on the diagonal. Place the chicken in a skillet and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, cover, turn down the heat, and let simmer till chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Don't overcook, or your chicken will be rubbbery.

Cook the broccoli for 3 minuts in a large pot of boiling salted water. Remove the broccoli from the water with a slotted spoon or sieve. Place in a large bowl and set aside.

In the same water, cook the bow-tie pasta according to the package directions, about 12 minutes. Drain well and add to the broccoli.

Meanwhile, in a small saute pan, heat the butter and oil and cook the garlic and lemon zest over medium-low heat for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add 2 tsp. satl, the pepper, and lemon juice and pour this over the broccoli and pasta. Toss Well. Season to taste, sprinkle with the pignolis and cheese and serve.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Lemon Fireworks

To all those in the United States, Happy Independence Day! For me it's a day that's filled with many happy memories of picnics in the park, swirling sparklers, and fireworks lighting up the night. Since moving to the Northwest, most of those memories have been cold, soggy ones. We try to have the proper spirit, but having a picnic indoors, trying to barbecue under the roof overhang to avoid the fire going out in the downpour, and huddling up in wool blankets to watch fireworks just doesn't seem right.

This year, though, we've got a proper Independence Day going. It's clear, sunny, and looks promising. I can see that we'll go through at least 3 boxes of sparklers, a vat of sunscreen, and a tub of ice cream. Good thing I've got The Perfect Scoop on hand!

What better way to cool off and enjoy summer than with ice cream? In a cone, in a bowl, or straight from the tub with a spoon -no other food as completely embodies summer to me. Cool, sweet and refreshing, it's the perfect ending to the perfect picnic on the perfect day. And I've found the perfect summer treat - Super Lemon Ice Cream. It's quick and easy to make. You don't heat up the kitchen or have lots of pans to wash. And it's wonderfully sweet yet tangy. Mmmm, quick, go get a batch going so you can enjoy it, too!

Leave comment and tell me what your favorite picnic / holiday /summer food is. Please put a link, if it's something you've posted on your blog. I'd love to hear from you!

Super Lemon Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop - David Lebovitz (of course)

(When fruit is sprayed, the spray tends too concentrate in the skin or peel, so look for unsprayed fruit if you're using the skin)

2 lemons, preferably unsprayed
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
2 cups (500 ml) half-and-half
Pinch of salt

Zest the lemons directly into a food processor or blender. That way you capture the flavorful citrus spray, rather than flavoring your cutting board. Add the sugar and blend until the lemon zest is very fine. Add the lemon juice and blend until the sugar is completely dissolved. Blend in the half-and-half and salt until smooth.

Chill for 1 hour, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Wonderful Weekend

Wow, what a weekend! First, Ratatouille. 4 stars. It's a winner! Two thumbs up. Run, don't walk to see it. I was amazed at how well Pixar and Brad Bird nailed what love of cooking is all about. Remy is darling and my whole family loved this show. With all the attention to detail, the sweet story, and the beautiful rendering of Paris, this show deserves to be a huge hit.

Then, the main attraction - David Lebovitz! He's amazing. He started off the class sipping on an Odwalla to try to regain his voice as we were the last class he taught on this trip. He confessed that he was missing his own bed and ready to head home, but he still gave us a wonderful class. I promised you bad pics, but the picture that my obnoxious point and shoot took was sooo bad that it wouldn't be nice to post. David was talking to someone and I caught him in mid-expressive face. I wish I could have captured him doing his Giada impression, shirt a bit unbuttoned, leaning over. Hilarious!

The class ran just like a cooking show; David would demonstrate a step and then he'd show us the finished product after steeping, baking, or freezing. He made an incredible variety of food - eleven different recipes from his terrific book, The Perfect Scoop. The book is not just frozen desert recipes; it includes many recipes for treats to stir into ice cream, and David showed us an assortment of those.

He started out with the Gianduja Gelato, the same recipe I taunted you with last time. He stirred in some melted bittersweet chocolate at the very end of churning so the gelato had little chocolate chunks in it. This was served to everyone in the class. One small scoop on a plate next to a small mound of espresso granita, with a dollop of whipped cream. The flavor combination was just right. The espresso cut through the richness of the gelato and gave it a good flavor counterpoint. I'm not a coffee fan, but I'll be making this granita.

When I asked if I could put the recipe on my blog David patiently coached me on how to say Gianduja. John -doo-ya. There. Easy! And not at all what I would have guessed. No Italian in my genes.

Roast banana ice cream was a snap (or David made it look that way) and he served it in tiny, darling profiteroles that he'd gotten up early to bake for us. The puffs were cut in half with a small scoop of Roasted Banana Ice Cream placed inside. I was thinking, "Oh, that's cute," then he ladled Marshmallow Hot Fudge Sauce over the top. I thought, "Oh, heavens, that looks perfect." Then he sprinkled candied, salted, roasted almonds over the top and on the plate. What a masterpiece! I have so much to learn about plating!

Talking all the while, David made a Breton Buckwheat Cake that was not very sweet, a perfect coupling for the coffee frozen yogurt. Offhandedly, during the break, David had taken a square plate and drizzled some melted chocolate in a zig-zag over the corner then put it in the refrigerator. He used this to serve the cake and yogurt, drizzling them with Salted Butter Caramel Sauce. The cake was even an OK item for the lovely and infectiously cheerful, Shauna, the gluten-free girl. She had her camera with macro lens out and was taking pictures of the treats, so I suggest you head over to her site to see some lovely pictures of what we got to see and eat.

David finished up by making Peppermint Patties and showing us how to dress up store-bought ice cream with home-made mix-ins. With the resulting ice cream he made ice cream sandwiches. And I was about to burst. I'd balked a bit at the cost of the class since it was only a demo, not hands on - I hadn't realized I'd be eating a four course ice cream meal!

I'd love to be able to cook like David. His artistry, his flavor combinations, but most of all, his dishwashers. He had two assistants during the class whose sole job was to wash the pots, pans, and plates as he used them and fetch things for him. My kitchen would be so much tidier if I had them. When I made the Gianduja Gelato it took the better part of a day and it looked like a bomb went off in my kitchen!

Some words of random wisdom sprinkled by David throughout the class:

-Sharpen the blade of your food processor. It only costs about $4 and it's like getting a whole new machine.

-Use baking powder without aluminum (like Rumford brand). It's inexpensive and gets rid of that metallic taste.

-Buy your olive oil where the Italians do - Spain. Many Italian olive oils are imported from Spain and repackaged.

- Gelato means "frozen."

- Many comestibles are labeled as "medicine" in France. So the French eat chocolate and marshmallow for their health and avoid the 20% sales tax.

- Because the vanilla bean crop is such a lucrative one in poor countries, people are killed over it. The bean pods are branded, like cattle, so that if the crop is stolen it can be traced.

- A lucrative opportunity. Develop a spray on tart dough. David would use it and promote it, asking only a small percentage of the fortune for the idea.

- His ice cream scoop is The Whacker, whose box said, "The Whacker -it's only limitation is your imagination."

- The reason ice cream is harder coming out of your freezer than at an ice cream place is that the temperature for a home freezer is set lower than that of an ice cream parlor. It needs to be lower for keeping meats and veggies at the correct temp.

- The number one way people mess up in cooking is by not reading the recipe.

Now, for the much anticipated recipe. With David's permission, adapted from David Lebovitz's fabulous book, The Perfect Scoop:

Gianduja Gelato (makes about 1 quart)

1-1/2 cups (185 g.) toasted hazelnuts
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
3/4 cup (170g) sugar
1/4 tsp coarse salt
4 oz dark milk chocolate (at least 30% cacao solids), chopped
5 large egg yolks
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

Fub the hazelnuts ina kitchen towel after roasting to remove as much of the papery skin as possible. I put on rubber gloves and rubbed them between my hands. Chop them finely in a food processor or blender.

Warm the milk with 1 cup (250 ml) of the cream, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Once warm, remove from heat and add the chopped hazelnuts. Cover, and let steep for 1-1/2 hours.

Put the milk chocolate pieces in a large bowl. Heat the remaining1 cup (250 ml) of cream in a medium saucepan until it just begins to boil. Pour it over the milk chocolate pieces, and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Set a mesh strainer over the top.

Pour the hazelnut-infused milk through a strainer into a medium saucepan, squeezing the nuts firmly with your hands to etract as much of the flavorful liquid as possible. David says to discard the nuts as the flavor is gone. I'm saving mine in the refrigerator for a coffee cake.

Rewarm the halzenut-infused mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. If you don't have a rubber bottomed bowl, place it on a rubber glove or moistened kitchen towel for the next step. Slowly pour the warm hazelnut mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constanly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constanly over medium heat with a wooden or heatproof plastic spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the straner and stir it into the melted milk chocolate. Add the vanilla and stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ie cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Serve immediately for a soft, smooth gelato. It will firm up if you choose to put it in the freezer. But who can wait?