Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TWD - The Perfect Lemon Party Cake

It's here! The Perfect Party Cake was finally chosen, by Carol of mix, mix...stir, stir. This is the cake that I looked at again and again in the book and thought "I could never pull off something that looked that good."

I was right.

I made the ugly duckling of Perfect Party Cakes.

Since I cut the recipe in half, I wanted to find a suitable pan to use so I could still make four layers. I knew I wanted this to be a lemon party cake, so I opted for Dorie's lemon cream instead of raspberry preserves. Checking out the volume of the 9" round cake pan, I found that an 8x8 pan has the same volume. This was good news since I could cut the cake in half before dividing the halves to get 4 layers. It would make a nice loaf cake size but without the sloped sides that my loaf pans have. I was confident, enthusiastic, eager to get to baking.

I read and reread the recipe and Dorie's post on Tuesdays with Dorie a few weeks ago. Dorie posted some tips to help us all have successful Perfect Party Cakes. I had all my ingredients at room temperature and was ready to go.

First, I made the lemon cream. It was mostly uneventful, except for the part where Dorie says to strain the curd into the jar of a blender. I must have an excellent strainer, because it didn't let anything, curd or lemon zest, get through, so in frustration I just dumped everything in there and hoped that several minutes of blending at high speed would eliminate any traces of zest.

Later the same day, I started on the genoise. I was so excited because all of my ingredients were measured and at room temperature, and I just knew it was going to be a great baking experience. The genoise came together easily and I tucked it into the prepared 8x8 pan, smoothed the top and popped it in the oven. Since the pan was a little different shape and I didn't want any surprises, I set the timer for 28 minutes (the recipe calls for baking it 30-35 minutes). When the timer went off, I turned on the oven light and saw it had pulled away from the sides of the pan.

Yikes! How could this thing be pulling away from the sides already?!? I yanked it out of the oven, noticing it hardly rose at all. Crushed, despondent and generally experiencing the classic stages of grief (NO! This didn't just happen! Why me? It can't be! This is so unfair!...), I resolved to push on and complete the blasted thing, thinking all the while "THIS is what I do to relax on a Sunday? I mean, really?" Great attitude, huh?

Poor little genoise.

Guess I didn't smooth the batter in the pan so well after all. I set about making the buttercream, which was fairly easy, and a good upper body workout to boot. When it was finished, I looked into the bowl and wondered how on earth I would get that small amount of buttercream to fill and cover the entire cake. I retrieved the lemon cream from the fridge, whisked it like crazy to loosen it up, then sliced open my pathetic little cake.

I had plenty of the lemon cream, not so much of the buttercream, and the ridiculously tiny layers. All went well until I got to the very top layer. Dorie says to place the cut side down, and since my cake was very suntanned when I rescued it from the oven, I had a hard time covering the browning with the light buttercream. By this time, the buttercream was very soft, and every time I took a swipe at it with the offset spatula to fix one area that was showing, I took off a large swath of the frosting in that area. Argh! Finally, I surrendered to the coconut, figuring it's a great concealer.

Immediately, I photographed my homely Imperfect Party Cake and then sat down to enjoy a slice (was it for dinner? pre-dinner? snack?) I was blown away by the wonderful combination of lemon flavors with the different layers of textures. Personally, I thought the coconut detracted from my transcendent lemon experience, so I will leave that off next time.

I had considered making this a chocolate perfect party cake, because if you're talking about perfection and cakes, chocolate's a requirement in my house. But I resisted and I'm glad I did because the lemon was so light and refreshing.

(I must have taken 20 photos of this slice of cake. 18 had that worm-looking thing on the bottom. Why did I not notice this when I was taking the photos??)

I know you're wishing you could kill off a bunch of eggs and butter on a relaxing Sunday afternoon, so you should join us. We're accepting members again, and the best thing is that you get to cook along with some mighty great bakers, from Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours. Check out the website for more information on joining. We'd love to have you.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cauliflower Pickles

The last few weeks, my CSA box has included a head of cauliflower. I like cauliflower, but I don't love it. Except when it's made into Alton Brown's Hurry Curry Cauliflower.

Start with a head of cauliflower cut in florets (I used two heads, and not all of it fit in the jar, so I put the rest in the fridge to add as we eat the pickles). Saute the cauliflower with a couple of cloves of smashed garlic, minced ginger and a variety of spices, when slightly tender put it in a glass jar and add rice and cider vinegars (I double the amount of vinegar the recipe calls for--I never have enough to cover all my cauliflower), salt and sugar. Saute until it softens slightly (not tender or mushy!), adding one or two tablespoons of water if the spices are on the verge of burning, and refrigerate for a week to let it cure.

The beauty of this dish is that it's quick to put together and delivers big flavor. You can substitute or supplement it with other vegetables (I've used carrots in the past) and increase or decrease the amount of curry, and still get great pickles. They're a wonderful addition to salads or as a vegetable with dinner after a 100 degree day (like today!)

So the next time you have a head of cauliflower and you want something cool and refreshing, call on this simple and delicious recipe. Mine's in the fridge, and I'm counting down the days until I can pop open the lid and grab a few for a snack.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

CEiMB - Vegetable Cheese Stratta and Barefoot Bloggers make Ina Garten's Gazpacho

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly selection is Vegetable Cheese Stratta, selected by Jenn of A Mid-Life Culinary Adventure (gee, that's what I feel like I'm having!)

This one was such a pleasure to make and eat. It had loads of veggies (a great use of my CSA goodies) and was very flexible (I didn't have an onion, so I substituted scallions; I felt like adding spinach, so I did). It was a great make-ahead, and I ate it for lunch rather than for breakfast. It would even be great for dinner. Since I'm still on my own this week, I made 1/8th of the recipe so I wouldn't have to eat it for 8 meals.

I added some crushed red pepper flakes for a little kick and I used the last of an olive oil rosemary bread. It wasn't whole grain, but it worked well with the flavors, and it was what I had on hand.

After having this for lunch the next day, I regretted making 1/8th of the recipe. It was fantastic! So cheesy and flavorful from the garlic and nutmeg. This one is going into the rotation.

Meryl of My Bit of Earth chose this week's Barefoot Bloggers recipe and it was perfect timing, as summer officially began in the northern hemisphere and many Barefoot Bloggers live in parts of the US and Canada that are already sweltering. We're finally heating up in northern California, so this was still a great option to use summer's bounty.

Thankfully, this one didn't dirty a kitchen full of dishes, just the food processor, a measuring cup and a large bowl. I used some of my Nudo olive oil (which I learned about thanks to Nancy), but I reduced the vinegar and olive oil by half. The only ingredient that came from my CSA was the red onion, although later I realized I could have added diced yellow squash and it would have been perfect. I used orange peppers because that was what I had, and I added a diced small avocado. I ate the first bowl after I made it, and it was good and fresh, but needed more salt (I used low sodium vegetable juice, so I wasn't surprised). I'm thinking about adding hot sauce or cilantro, or maybe both. Ina says this is better after it sits for a few hours, so I'm really looking forward to enjoying it after it cures.

Many thanks to Meryl for a great pick! If you'd like to join us as we cook and blog our way through Ina's cookbooks (and why wouldn't you, her recipes are easy and great!), check out how to join here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TWD - Coconut-Roasted Pineapple Dacquoise

I thought about skipping this one. I'm not a huge fan of white "chocolate," and I was afraid it would taste of white "chocolate," but I decided I could always pawn it off on my unsuspecting coworkers. I learned a lot with this dessert:

1. Always unload the dishwasher, then load the dishes in the sink before baking.
2. Shortcuts aren't.
3. Dorie's cookie sheets are larger than mine.
4. Don't separate egg whites into the mixing bowl to save time. It doesn't.
5. Do laundry, or bake. Not both at the same time.
6. Pick a recipe. Make it. Then pick another. Repeat. Don't do them all at the same time.
7. Trust Dorie.

Onward to the dacquoise. If you live in earthquake country as I do, it's important to make this recipe on a day that you plan to be at home for a while. The meringues bake for 3 hours, and in California, it's never a good idea to leave the house while the oven is on. I'm not saying I've never violated this rule, but you've been warned.

I only had extra large eggs since that's what my CSA gave me, so I checked the handy table in the back of The Cake Bible and learned that one large egg white weighs 30 grams, so I started cracking eggs and putting the whites in the mixing bowl (which I placed on the scale-saving time and saving dishes!) Then, on the third egg, I must have whacked it extra hard and the yolk broke, polluting the whites in the mixing bowl, as well as the mixing bowl itself. Pause, unload dishwasher, put dirty dishes in dishwasher, wash mixing bowl and dry it. Oops, the laundry is done and needs to be attended to. Come back, separate the eggs (each into a ramekin - coincidentally no yolk breakage this time.) Draw three 12x6 rectangles using two pieces of parchment paper...err, I don't think so. Fortunately, I was using the back of a sheet pan to do this since parts of my counter top were off limits (stains on my new-guaranteed-not-to-stain-for-10-years granite are being treated), because I could tell right away that two 12x6 rectangles weren't fitting on one of my sheet pans. I use sheet pans instead of cookie sheets, so I just put one rectangle on each of three sheet pans. Are you still with me?

At this point, I was questioning the wisdom of making this recipe. But I had bought unsweetened coconut, white "chocolate," and already sacrificed almost a dozen eggs, so I was committed.

With stencils drawn and sheet pans dried, I prepared the dry ingredients in the food processor, then beat the egg whites and cream of tartar, adding powdered sugar when they reached the soft peak stage. The dry ingredients were gently folded in, and the meringue was divided between the sheet pans. I had to improvise to keep the parchment from rolling up before I got the meringue spread out.

After three hours, the meringues were done and after they cooled, I covered them with parchment, made the white chocolate ganache and went to bed, planning (with my usual mix of optimism and idiocy) to complete the dacquoise the next morning and take it to work for my coworkers to enjoy. This plan wasn't as insane as it sounds, since all I had to do was whip the ganache, cut the pineapple (I bought prepackaged fresh pineapple at Trader Joe's) and broil it. What could go wrong?

M. is on a business trip and he Skyped me from the road thinking I might want to talk to him (which I did, but can't we do it after I finish assembling my cake...?) Needless to say, I halfway paid attention to him while I assembled, frosted, layered the pineapple, etc., pausing occasionally to ask him if he wanted to see it. I'm sure he was asking himself why he left an important meeting to call me if all I was going to do was babble on about my dessert.

It actually didn't look half bad:

I put it in back of the car and headed off to work. Halfway there, I heard the sickening sound of my tote bag (with my lunch, coffee mug, a yogurt, box of crackers, etc.) fall ON TOP OF the dacquoise. I pulled the car over and opened the back of the car and could have cried. My beautiful dessert was a misshapen shadow of its glamorous self. It was largely intact but obviously had cushioned the fall of something heavier.

When I served it at work, you wouldn't believe how many people commented on how it looked, as in, how good it looked. Nobody said "That's a strange shape" or "Why didn't you smooth out the frosting?" They oooed and ahhed and politely waited for a small piece. And then a hush fell over my coworkers, except for the occasional "Mmmm."

The white chocolate that I vilified? It and the cream created a light cloak for the crisp and chewy meringues. The pineapple, lightly charred with the caramelized sugar, flavored the whole dessert. The almonds weren't detectable, but lent a subtle crunch to the meringue.

Once again, I learned lesson #7. Trust Dorie. Trust her palate. Trust her instructions. Trust her sense of the impact a simple but elegant dessert can have over a room of people, holding out their plates expectantly, holding their breath until they take that first bite.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

CSA - An Update

My one week CSA challenge is half over and I still have a LOT of veggies left. Here are a couple of the things I've made with this week's fruit and veggies:

Roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, garlic and new potatoes (toss veggies with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in a 500 degree oven until nicely roasted):

Mmmm.... Love roasted vegetables. I've eaten these vegetables with my leftover jambalaya and in salads. Speaking of...

Salad with roasted veggies and turkey with an orange:

I dressed this salad with vinegar and olive oil plus some of the fresh Maille dijon mustard I got when we were on vacation.

I've made a few salads, had cereal and muesli with the golden raspberries (which were amazingly sweet) and strawberries, eaten the oranges for snacks and had a few smoothies with the Swiss chard and spinach.

Here's what I have left:

Eggs (not for long! time to start baking!)
Yellow globe squash
Sweet potatoes
Green glove squash
Broccoli (a lot!)
Carrots (a lot!)
Lettuce (half a head)

Part of the problem is I'm alone this week, and I already had leftovers and loads of fruit. I hope to finish the broccoli, spinach, lettuce and carrots before Tuesday. Meanwhile, I'm already itching to know what will be in the CSA box next week, and whether I'll be through with enough of this week's to justify ordering it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Cranberry Orange Pecan Scones

I don't usually participate in the Barefoot Bloggers bonus recipes. After doing Tuesdays with Dorie, Craving Ellie in My Belly (both weekly) and Barefoot Bloggers (twice a month), I generally want to focus on recipes I want to make from other bloggers. But when Em of The Repressed Pastry Chef picked the bonus recipe for this month, I had to do it. See, I love scones but I've never made them, and I knew Ina's recipe had to be easy enough for a scone-making newbie like me.

I've seen Ina make scones on the show a couple of times (maybe it's the same episode and I've watched it more than once!), and that was good because some of the lessons she taught made this an easy recipe. Some of the Food Network feedback said the scones were too salty, and some said they needed more orange zest or extract, and some said more sugar. I thought the salt level was fine, but I agree they could have been a little sweeter and had more orange flavor. Perhaps if I had used Dorie Greenspan's technique of rubbing the zest with the sugar before adding it to the bowl, it would have brought out more of the orange flavor.

Ina's technique of letting your mixer do the work was wonderful. I was extra careful not to over mix the dough. I wanted to add pecans for some crunch, and I mixed them together with the dried cranberries in the empty cranberry bag, before adding the flour and shaking it up. In hindsight, my dried cranberries were a little too dried, and I should have rehydrated them (which you can do by putting them in a steamer basket over boiling water).

When I turned this out to shape the dough and cut it out, it was very shaggy, which I expected. I rolled it only to get it to the 3/4" thickness, and floured a 2" biscuit cutter before cutting each scone. I baked off a few immediately (the dough was absolutely incredible!), then put a few in the freezer for another day, and the rest went into the refrigerator to bake and take to work.

My 2" guys baked for about 20 minutes, and I think that was a bit too long. Since they were smaller than the 3" Ina recommends, you may want to check them at 18 minutes. Even so, they were fluffy, tender and delicious, in short, nothing like the "scones" you can get at national chain coffee houses.

Next time (and there will be a lot of next times) I will up the orange zest, use Dorie's zest/sugar rubbing technique, increase the pecans, decrease the dried cranberries (or use fresh!) and add slightly more sugar. But before I make these again, I want to see if I can replicate (and improve) the lemon curd scone served at my favorite coffee house. With Ina's tender scone as a base, you can go in many directions with this recipe. Check it out here or here. And my thanks go out to Em for choosing this wonderful recipe. Now I know how to bake scones!

CEiMB - Jambalaya, Sort Of

All's well that ends well - William Shakespeare

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was picked by Anonymous New York who picked Ellie's jambalaya with shrimp and ham. I was excited to make this recipe even though I don't eat ham, and the last time I ate shrimp (a couple months ago) I ended up in the emergency room. But I had plans!

Plan A
Replace shrimp with chicken and ham with ? (I didn't say these were well developed plans)

Plan B
Replace shrimp with salmon and ham with smoked tofu (Thank God this one didn't pan out...what was I thinking?)

Plan C
Replace shrimp with salmon and ham with Soyrizo (meatless soy chorizo, I was surprised to find this at Safeway, where I had gone in a halfhearted attempt to find smoked tofu). Again, happy this one didn't get made but this was what I was going with until the salmon looked iffy and I settled on...

Plan D, or not a plan at all but basically what I made for dinner
Replace shrimp with kidney beans (what?) and replace the ham with Soyrizo

I accidently included some of the ingredients Ellie called for:

Red and green peppers (I used red and yellow)
Paprika-(I used smoked Spanish paprika and skipped the cayenne)
Tomato paste, chicken broth, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper and bay leaf-YES!
White rice (I used brown, which I parboiled so dinner would be ready before midnight)

That's when I stopped reading 'cause I knew the wheels were already off and the bus was careening down the cliff.

Because I had opened my Soyrizo and discovered it was, um, very squishy for a mock-sausage. The instructions said to fry it hot and fast. So I fried it on medium and discovered...

(pause to take comforting bite of chocolate)

...that it goes from semi-liquid to burned in two minutes.

Even with all of the twists and turns, this meal was pretty good. Even the crispy Soyrizo was good. Who knew a burned soy product could taste good?!

Thanks to Anonymous New York for what must have been a great pick before I got my hands on it. You can find the real recipe here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

CSA - One week, one box, many opportunities

I have been getting a box from J&P Organics, a local CSA, for a couple of months now. For those of you who haven't heard of CSA, it stands for community supported agriculture. Farmers grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and sell them directly to consumers in what is basically a variety pack each week. For those of us who are idealistic, it's a way of helping family farmers survive in a nation of mega factory farms.

I like belonging to a CSA not just because we're helping to preserve family farms, but because you get to have a personal relationship with the farmer, in addition to having organic fruits and vegetables picked at their peak.

I'm not always good about finishing all of the bounty that comes to me in my box each week (and I don't always order weekly, I usually order every other week--because the produce was picked that day, it generally lasts two weeks). In order to spur myself to finish all of the box this week, I'm going to post the contents of this week's box, and post updates daily on how I'm using my veggies (we get less fruit, so I generally don't have a problem finishing that!)

Here's what we got this week:
eggs (available if we want to order them with our box)
golden raspberries
yellow globe squash
green squash (maybe tatuma?)
sweet potatoes
new potatoes
red spring onion
Swiss chard
green leaf lettuce

M. is gone for a couple of weeks, so it's up to me to finish off this week's box! I'd love to hear your suggestions especially for the swiss chard as I've not cooked with it much before.

For my A.M. pick-me-up, I'm having a Green Monster with about a cup each of chard and spinach, a banana, unsweetened Almond Breeze and a T of flax seeds. Since I'm not yet sure how I'll cook the chard, I decided to add it to a Green Monster to take advantage of its nutritional benefits (it's high in folate, thiamin and zinc, plus lots of vitamins). I first learned about Green Monsters on Caitlin's blog Healthy Tipping Point, and although I thought anything with pureed greens would be revolting, the banana and Almond Breeze add great flavor so you don't even taste the greens. I loved GMs from the very first one I made. It feels virtuous to get in 2 cups of leafy greens without even tasting them!

My usual summer breakfast is muesli:

1/2 cup oatmeal (NOT steel cut)
1/2 cup 1% milk
1/2 cup fat free yogurt (I'm using plain, but I usually use vanilla)
1 T maple syrup

Combine ingredients in a bowl, refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.

Today, I'm topping my muesli with strawberries and golden raspberries from my CSA and a couple of toasted pecans.

I usually get up around 5:00 AM and have a small snack then eat breakfast at my desk around 8-ish, so this will be all ready for me when I get hungry. With a breakfast this yummy, I'll be ready to face whatever problems crop up (the last couple of days have been insane at work!)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TWD - Honey Peach Ice Cream

We're well into our June recipes with Tuesdays with Dorie, and this week we're making ice cream. This week's recipe was chosen by Tommi of Brown Interior, and I think a lot of us were jumping for joy when we saw this one. Ice cream! Peaches! Honey! OK, when can I start?

I found nice organic yellow peaches at Whole Foods, and their perfume fragranced the house as they ripened on the counter. Welcome, summer!

As with many of Dorie's recipes, this one was easy and lent itself to preparing in stages. I made the custard and peach puree before leaving for work in the morning, and put it in the ice cream maker when I got home from work. Now, I'm not always functioning at 100% while I'm getting ready for work, and I not only heated the custard too much, but I also didn't combine the custard and peach puree before refrigerating.

But it all worked out in the end. The freshness of the peaches, paired with my favorite vanilla bean paste, gave this ice cream the heady scent of summer. Be sure to DICE or puree your peaches, instead of cutting them in chunks as I did, because they are rather icy when you chew on them. In fact, my ice cream was a bit icy if I didn't let it soften somewhat. Softened slightly, it was creamy and delicious, and a sprinkling of chopped candied ginger give it a nice bite. Another winner from Dorie!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ina Garten's Curried Couscous, Ellie Krieger's Double Chocolate Pudding Pie AND My 100th Post!

Talk about a mega post!

This week's Barefoot Bloggers recipe is Ina's Curried Couscous, selected by Ellyn of Recipe Collector & Tester. We love couscous and I'm always trying to think of new ways to make it exciting. Trust Ina to come up with a tasty twist on this go-to side dish.

I changed up the recipe somewhat, substituting whole wheat couscous, nixxing the red onion (figuring the spring onions have enough onion flavor), substituting cilantro for parsley (sorry cilantro haters!) and slivered almonds for sliced. I also tossed in a can of drained and rinsed garbanzo beans for some added protein and called it dinner! What can I say, I was going to make tandoori chicken to serve along side but that requires taking the chicken out of the freezer. Maybe next time!

This was soooo tasty and it made (in typical Ina fashion) a ton of couscous. We'll be eating it for a while, and I'll have plenty of chances to dress it up with different proteins and make it seem new. It had a great curry flavor without being overbearing, and the almonds and carrot gave it a nice crunch. Definitely another great recipe from Ina. Thanks, Ellyn for a wonderful pick!

For Craving Ellie in My Belly, we made Double Chocolate Pudding Pie, selected by Tessa of Handle the Heat. This recipe was so easy, I made it at 6 AM before work, with time left over for 20 minutes of cardio (I MUST counteract all of these!) and a shower before leaving for work. Hearts make me happy, so I used these mini tart pans I got while we were in Paris. I also wanted to break in my new mini pie pan, and two of the heart shaped ramekins I bought about 10 years ago at Williams-Sonoma and have never used. Truly. I made Ellie's graham cracker crust almost as written (no water, extra tablespoon of butter and one additional graham cracker sheet). I didn't mess with the filling, using 70% bittersweet for the chocolate. I did follow one Food Network reviewer's suggestion to sprinkle the gelatin over cold water rather than hot, and I didn't have any clumping at all. It took ten minutes of constant whisking before the chocolate mixture thickened. Once it did, I actually LISTENED to the voice in my head that said to use a ladle to fill the various tins, ramekins, molds, etc. No spills to clean up, though we won't talk about what happened to the traces clinging to the side of the pan.

This was delicious! The crust wasn't as sturdy as my usual butter-laden graham cracker crust, but this was outrageously chocolaty and the perfect portion size. Truth be told, I preferred the ones I made sans crust, as the graham cracker crust interfered with my enjoyment of the chocolate pudding. If you prefer a less assertive chocolate flavor, you could substitute milk chocolate and the flavor would mellow out.

And finally, this is my 100th post. I've been thinking about it for a couple of weeks and can't get my head around it. When I started this blog last fall, it was to be a part of Tuesdays with Dorie. I've since joined Craving Ellie in My Belly and Barefoot Bloggers, and have gotten more out of blogging than I could have ever imagined. I love to cook, and I love to share my cooking, and this is just another way to share. Most of all, I love visiting your blogs to see what YOU'RE cooking, to be inspired by you, to learn from you, and to share in your story. You have elevated my cooking by your words and your sharing, and I am a better cook and baker because of you. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

TWD - Parisian Raspberry and Peach Tartlets

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie pick is the easiest one to date. I can't imagine an easier dessert, nor one more simply elegant.

I made this to serve with next week's Honey Peach Ice Cream, and as a result, I bought peaches instead of apples. They're in season now, and they speak to me of warmer weather with hints of summer's coming bounties. The recipe calls for placing your fruit on a round of puff pastry, sprinkling it with some brown sugar, dotting with butter and baking. That's it. Let it cool, serve it with ice cream, or just a spoon. Sharing, while possible, is difficult with a precious little pastry that oozes with butter and has hints of caramel where the sugar burns along the edges.

The peach tartlet was delicious, but the raspberry one I made as an afterthought, indulging an unexplained silent urging from the berries in my fridge, was the sleeper hit. The berries weren't heavy enough to weigh down the pastry and it puffed up as it baked, tumbling the ruby jewels to the baking sheet. They scooped up just fine and topped with the ice cream melting into the mess of recovered berries, this dessert was as satisfying as simple perfection can be.

My thanks go out to Jessica of My Baking Heart for choosing this special recipe for us this week. If you'd like the recipe, check out Jessica's blog. And then go shopping for the fruit that speaks to you, and some puff pastry to adorn with it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Graham Crackers

Graham crackers and I go WAAAYY back. When I was a child, if I was "good," my mother would give me a treat to reward my good behavior. She would crumble graham crackers in a glass, pour some milk over it and add a teaspoon or two of sugar. It may sound strange, but I loved that concoction. To this day when I have an opened box of graham crackers in the house, it's a guarantee that they won't last long. I don't indulge in my childhood treat (which sounds awful on so many levels), I simply eat them straight from the box until they are gone.

When I needed to buy a box for a recipe (check back later in the week for that one...if the graham crackers last), I knew I would have to find a way to use up the remainder of the box or they would end up in my (expanding) tummy.  That's when I remembered this tried and true recipe, guaranteed to please children and adults alike. It calls for only six ingredients (graham crackers, butter, brown sugar, salt, nuts, and chocolate) and takes just minutes to prepare. I tore it out of Gourmet several years ago, and I go through periods where I make it a lot, and then I ignore it a lot, then I go back to it and make it a lot... You get the picture. Make these, and you'll understand.

Note:  This is an excellent use for your Reynolds Release foil. It eliminates prying these babies off the foil (the sugar and butter form a caramel that is a big reason why these are so yummy).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

CEiMB - White Gazpacho with Toasted Almonds

White gazpacho...refreshing, summery, easy and healthy. Sign me up!

I was very skeptical about this week's selection, chosen by Lauren and Paul at I'll Eat You. Wet bread and I have a hate-hate relationship. I seriously had a hard time understanding how anything containing wet white bread would be something I wouldn't throw out, not to mention love.

I started out with a loaf of olive oil rosemary bread, thinking if I only needed a couple of slices, let's buy something that stood a chance of being eaten. My reasoning was that the rosemary would enhance the flavors of the soup nicely.

After I was well into the prep, I discovered that I was out of slivered almonds. I had to sub unblanched whole almonds. I also nixxed the grapes since I'm not a grape fan. I cut off a couple of slices of the bread and poured the water over it and went on with the rest of the prep. When the time came, I tossed the bread slices into the FP, and turned it on.

Now, I don't know if anyone else noticed that this didn't really need two minutes to process, but mine came together rather quickly. I poured it into bowls, garnished with the reserved cucumber and almonds, and served it. The verdict? We loved it! This was a surprisingly wonderful summer soup, and since the food processor does the work, prep is minimal. It's very creamy, but that creaminess is from the dreaded wet bread not from actual cream! The garlic flavor was very prominent (but I doubled the garlic since we really like garlic).

Next time (and there WILL be a next time), I will buy the grapes because I think they will add a nice contrast to the flavor of the soup. We loved the sharpness of the garlic, but if you don't like that flavor, you can parboil it to take out some of the sharpness.

Thanks, Lauren and Paul for picking a real winner! And if you'd like to see what the other Craving Ellie in My Belly cooks did with this week's recipe, check it out here.