Saturday, December 29, 2007

In search of red velvet perfection

Growing up in Pennsylvania in a Pennsylvania Dutch family I had never eaten or even seen, that I recall, Red Velvet cake. I'm sure it was out there, somewhere, but no where in my world. Then we moved to the South. Here in Lower Alabama Red Velvet cake is practically a staple food item. It shows up everywhere and is always greeted with delight. I remember the first time I tasted Red Velvet cake. I was about ten years old, and it was a discovery of pure delight! I loved everything about it. The cake was impressively tall, at least three layers, and moist with cream cheese icing full of pecans. And the color... vibrant Christmas red. I was instantly in love! My mother however, did not share these sentiments. We rarely, almost never, had any foods with food coloring in them, much less a cake made with a whole bottle of the stuff. Mom never made it for us, but I knew the cake would be a part of any gathering we went to, especially any church function. As an adult, I out grew of my love for the red confection and had never made the cake myself. I was recently asked to make cupcakes for a Christmas party. I wanted to make something festive and thought how cute red velvet cupcakes would be. Having never made the cake myself, I didn't have a tried and true recipe of my own. My back up plan is usually to call Mom. That was out in this case. So I searched my cookbooks and the internet. I first tried a recipe from the Joy of Cooking. It was pretty good, but not as moist as I would have liked. I thought this may be becuase I was using a cake recipe and need to use a recipe that stayed moister for cupcakes. On my second attempt, I almost made Paula Deen's recipe for but was a bit put off by the 1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil. I was hoping to find a recipe using butter. I came across this recipe on recipezaar. It used butter instead of oil, so I decided to give it a try. However, I gasped in horror at the 2 ounces of red food coloring. That's two whole bottle's of red dye...Yikes!!! So instead I used 2 TBL of food coloring. It seemed like plenty to me. The batter was very red. These cupcakes were pretty good as well but not as flavorful as I would have liked. Maybe all that food coloring is the key?!
The cream cheese frosting however, was great. I made it in the food processor. It's a super quick and really good recipe from The Joy of Cooking. It's great for decorating with although it does get a bit soft and needs to be put back in the fridge to set up again. I had fun decorating the cupcakes and used them for several parties I catered during the holidays.

But I'm still searching for that red velvet cake I remember from my youth. Next time I may give Paula Deen's recipe a try, after all she's the grande dame of Southern cooking.
Cream cheese frosting recipe
Food processor method:
8 ounces cold cream cheese
6 TBL unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups confectioner's sugar
Combine in food processor and pulse just until smooth and creamy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Southern Comfort

Here is my entry for the Click photo event. The subject for December is nuts. With pecans in abundance here, I decided to use them in my entry for the contest. These mini bourbon pecan pies are a real bite of southern comfort!
Go here for the recipe.
Check out all the other participants on Junglbundi. Wish me luck!!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yule Log

The DB'rs strike again! This time we've gotten into the Christmas spirit making a yule log. I was excited when I found out this was our challenge, because I've never made one before. I have however made other rolled sponge cake desserts, such as a pumpkin roll, a Thanksgiving staple. For this challenge we had to make a genoise cake filled with and iced with a butter cream. Then decorated with meringue or marzipan mushrooms. So here's mine! I filled and iced it with the coffee flavored buttercream. I spread layer of chocolate on the cake before filling it with the buttercream.

I really didn't have any problems with the recipe. My cake stuck a little to the parchment paper and cracked a bit on the last roll, but I was able to cover it with the buttercream. The buttercream was great! So rich and decorating with it was easy. I made the cake on Friday and served it for my mother's birthday on Sunday. It was a beautiful birthday cake although my nephew, five, wanted to know why grammy wanted a log cake for her birthday!
This was a really fun Christmas challenge. Be sure to check out all the other Daring Baker's logs!

Yule Log(from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert)Daring Bakers Challenge #14: December 2007Hosts: Daring Baker Founders Ivonne (Cream Puffs in Venice) and Lisa (La Mia Cucina)Posting Date: Saturday December 22, 2007 or Sunday December 23, 2007 (Note: To accommodate the fact that some of you want to serve this for Christmas, for the first time we're allowing you to choose your posting date. You can post on the Saturday or the Sunday.)
Recipe Quantity: Serves 12
Recipes:Plain Genoise:3 large eggs3 large egg yolkspinch of salt¾ cup of sugar½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)¼ cup cornstarchone (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.Coffee Buttercream:4 large egg whites1 cup sugar24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened2 tablespoons instant espresso powder2 tablespoons rum or brandy1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.Meringue Mushrooms:3 large egg whites, at room temperature¼ teaspoon cream of tartar½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugarUnsweetened cocoa powder for dusting1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.Marzipan Mushrooms:8 ounces almond paste2 cups icing sugar3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrupCocoa powder1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.7.Smudge with cocoa powder.
Assembling the Yule Log:
1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.
2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.
3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.
4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).
5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.
6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.
7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.
8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.
9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.
10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.
11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Christmas cookie by any other name...

For many, me especially, memories and traditions of Christmas are tied to cookies. Which cookie is as diverse as the people themselves. Growing up always had a variety of different cookies every year. Sugar cookies, thumbprint cookies, chocolate kiss cookies, and several others would be included in our Christmas tradition. For me however, Russian Tea Cakes were always my favorite. It was the only time of the year that we made them. They're rich, buttery with a little crunch from the nuts, and just the perfect bite size. They even look like Christmas, like little snowballs. Which is another one of the several names this cookie goes by. They're also known as Mexican wedding cakes, snowdrops, southern pecan butterball, Italian nut cookie and I think there are a few more out there. It seems almost every culture has a version of this melt in your mouth shortbread nut cookie. Historically, this cookie has been a reserved for celebrations;weddings, christenings, and for many including my family, Christmas.
This is a simple cookie to make, with only a few ingredients. Because there are so few ingredients in the cookie, using high quality butter and vanilla extract are the secret to making this cookie great. My favorite part of making this cookie is rolling them in the powdered sugar after they come out of the oven. When you drop them into the sugar is tricky part. Too soon and the sugar melts and you burn your fingertips, too late the cookie cools the sugar doesn't stick well. These are all part of my memories of making this Christmas cookie. Oh and you can't eat just one. They're just begging to be popped into your mouth.

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts ( I always use pecans, but you can use almost any nut you have on hand.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 400ºF.
2. Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.
3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.
5. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again

This is my entry for the Eat Christmas Cookies event hosted by Food Blogga. Drop by and check out all the other great cookies from around the world!!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Drop in and Decorate

I love making Christmas cookies. I usually make several different kinds over the Christmas season and end up eating way too many and giving them away to family and friends. Which I'm sure is greatly appreciated, but this year I came across the Drop in and Decorate cookies for donation, started by Nine Cooks. King Arthur Flour joined in and made up a kit you can use with everything needed to throw your own party. What a great idea! Bake cookies have your friends come by and decorate them, and then donate the cookies to charity! Not only is it a really fun excuse to have a party but you get to do something nice for others as well.

My next door neighbor works for a Senior Center. She was thrilled with the idea and took all the finished cookies to distrubute among the residents at the facility.
I invited everyone to drop in on Sunday from 2-5 p.m. What a party we had! At first some people were a little intimidated by the pastry bags filled with Royal icing. However, once they gave it a try, they were ready to decorate everything in sight!

We decorated dozens of sugar cookies and put them into cellophane bags tied with ribbons. They were adorable when finished and it was a wonderful feeling knowing the smile they'd bring to someone else this holiday season.

I decided to have the party a little too late to order the King Arthur kit, but Nine Cooks has all the recipes and ideas on their site. The cookie recipe is very tasty and rolls out easily. I also made a batch of sugar cookies from another recipe and although very tasty it was MUCH more difficult to roll and cut out.
So invite your friends and family to come over and have your own Drop in and Decorate party. It will fun stress-free party that will bring a little Christmas joy to others!

We had a couple artistic decorators!
What's for lunch honey? is hosting this month's Monthly Mingle, so drop by and check out all the other Drop in and Decorate parties going on!

Friday, December 7, 2007


Peabody has moved into a new home recently, and invited me to her virtual housewarming party. Well she's extended the invite to anyone interested in coming, but I still feel special! So what to take... Peabody is the Queen of Confections, so I thought I'd bring a savory dish. I noticed from her latest post that there was snow on the ground at her house. I decided she needed a warm comfort dish. So I'm bringing Risotto with green peas. Enjoy! Congratulations on your new house, Peabody. I hope you have a wonderful party with lots of great food:) !!
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Saute onions in oil and butter in large heavy bottom pot for 3 minutes. Add rice, stirring for about 2 minutes. Stir in wine until absorbed. Add 1 cup of broth. Continue cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed. Gradually stir in remaining broth1 cup at a time, cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup. In the last five minutes of cooking I stirred in 1/2 cup of frozen baby peas. Remove from heat. I like to add a couple tablespoons of butter at this point. I also add in about 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Cooking Interlude

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but the apron has made a stunning return to fashion! For decades now the apron has been scorned by many as a symbol of the repressed woman, doomed to a life of drudgery in the kitchen. My how things have changed! Just check out Once Upon a Tart's blog. She had everyone pulling out the the stops in her Brownie Babe competition to win one of her adorable aprons. Nowadays the apron has become less about utility and more about fashion and fun. So in that vein, and because I've seen so many cute aprons on the web lately, I decided to give apron making a try. I wanted mine to be completely fun, not at all practical, and very Christmasy. I haven't sewn anything in quite a while, but luckily my younger sister has and she's also made several aprons. We had a design in mind but couldn't find a pattern that was exactly what we wanted. We ended up modifying a pattern she had that had the basic elements of what we needed. I think it came out so cute and have already had someone ask to buy one! Woohoo!

So, it's back to cooking which is even more fun in my cute apron!

Check out the rickrack, which has made quite a return to fashion as well. I guess all things old are new again, but with a modern twist!

Monday, November 26, 2007

In the nick of time

I made it, but just barely! For some reason I thought I had a few more days until the Daring Bakers deadline for this month. Fortunately I saw a post on Eva's blog this afternoon and, after a few choice words, ran to the kitchen and began baking. Luckily for me this challenge was a bread challenge. I feel pretty comfortable with making most breads. I had not however, ever made bread using potatoes in the dough. Our challenge, brought to us by "bread head" Tanna of "my kitchen in half cups" fame, was to make Tender Potato Bread. No big deal, or so I thought before I actually began to make the bread. I must admit working with the potato dough was a bit more difficult than I anticipated. First of all I wasn't really sure if I was using too much/not enough of the potatoes. The recipe said to use 4 medium potatoes, or 8 oz of mashed potatoes. I put my potatoes through a ricer and they came out very fluffy. I measured out 8 oz (and then added a bit more) and added it to the water. My dough was very sticky when I turned it out to knead. I think I should have mixed in more flour before beginning the kneading. The dough rose nicely. Mine was doubled in size in just over an hour. Then the recipe said to knead the dough for a few more minutes and then make your loaves or rolls. This is where I had some trouble. My dough was still very sticky and I found it difficult to get a nice loaf shape. It took a little patience but I did get the dough into a pretty good loaf. With the rest of the dough I made rolls. I topped half with rosemary and left the other half plain.

The only other problem I had was caused by my dirty oven. I used the bottom oven because I was using the top oven as a proof box. The recipe called for the oven to be set at 450. I guess the last time I used that oven I made some sort of fruit dessert that cooked out all over the bottom. All of a sudden my kitchen was filled with smoke and a burning smell. Thankfully the fire alarm didn't go off. After carefully scraping out the bottom of the oven with a spatula, I was ready to bake some bread! I took Tanna's advice and turned the oven down after 10 minutes. I left it at 425 and my bread cooked much quicker than the time stated in the recipe. The finished product was a delicious light flavored, soft bread. I think if I make it again I'd put Asiago or Guyere cheese on top of the loaf.
Woohoo I made it! Just under the wire, baked and posted in record time! Thanks Tanna for a delicious savory DB challenge and for helping me get my oven clean:) Next month I"ll try not procrastinate!

**UPDATE I used my rosemary rolls to make a sandwich for lunch today and OMG it was one of the best sandwiches ever! I used turkey and baby swiss with peach chutney... Wow... The rosemary roll was so good with the turkey and chutney. Now I wish I'd made all my rolls with rosemary instead of half plain:( Oh well I guess it's an excuse to make more!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My first City Swap

I read about the International City Swap event on Shelley's blog At Home in Rome. It sounded like such a fun idea. Basically Shelley paired up people from all over the world to send a box of something that they thought best represented their city. I was to receive a box from Allie in San Francisco and send a box Cinzia in Rome. How fun!! I was so excited when my box arrived! Look what I got. San Francisco sourdough bread, in my opinion one of the best breads in the world. She also sent my an artichoke from the Farmer's Market. Thanks Allie:) I had a great time participating this swap. I hope Cinzia enjoys what I've sent to her!

Friday, November 16, 2007

fall cupcakes

I was recently asked by a friend to make a Chocolate Khalua cake for 50 for a birthday party. Because there would be alot of children at the party as well as adults, she asked if I make cupcakes. This party was right before Halloween. A little late posting, I know, but life... Anyway, she didn't want it to feel like a halloween party so we decided to do the cupcakes in fall colors. What fun!! I couldn't wait to get started! She also asked that they be vanilla since the cakes I was making were very rich chocolate. So here's what I came up with, these are just a basic white cupcake with buttercreme frosting.
The sunflowers were time consuming but so fun to make. I heard later that the adults at the party like they cupcakes as much as the children:)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Just one more... for now

Okay it's not really pie it's a tart. Tart tatin to be exact. Something I've always wanted to make but have always been to intimidated to try. No scared of would probably be more accurate. Making caramel, caramelizing the apples, pate brisee, flipping it all out onto a plate, there's a high chance of failure with this one! I have read many recipes and thought; maybe someday... I came across a recipe in Fine Cooking magazine in 2003, that gave step by step instructions with pictures. Yes that's how long I've thought about making this recipe. Oh and I kept the magazine as well... What does that say about me? I thought maybe I could make this ...someday.
Anyway, it was to be Hubs last meal before deploying to Iraq and I asked what he'd like for dessert. (the rest of dinner had already been decided on.) Well he said pecan pie as he was walking through the kitchen to pack. No sweat I can make that in my sleep. Anyway dinner was under wraps, I thought. Then several minutes later he walks back through the kitchen and throws out "How about Tart Tatin?" What can I say?? "okay" (weakly without conviction) "Oh, you don't have to, pecan pie is fine" he says sensing my hesitation. "No I'll make it. I've been intimidated long enough! I can make tart tatin! I will make it!! If you want Tart Tatin for the last home cooked dessert you'll have in a year, then that's what you'll get!!" Well actually, I just said "I'll make the tart tatin!" This time with a little more confidence.
As I reread through the recipe(the one I've kept from Nov 2003), I realized there are only 4 ingredients in the tart. Apples, butter, sugar, salt. Wow. It's amazing what can be done with so few ingredients. Here is the recipe I used from Fine Cooking. All the pictures with the step-by-step instructions are included on the website.
So I've done it! I'm no longer afraid of Tart Tatin! It's not an easy dessert to make but not as bad as I'd feared. Give yourself plenty of time to make this. It takes 30 minutes, at least, to caramelize the apples. There's no quick way around that!

Making the caramel was the most worrisome part for me. The recipe stated it needed to be a rich mahogany color and not to under cook the caramel. I think I cooked my caramel a bit too long, but it still tasted great. My Pate Brisee making skills are not what they need to be but the crust tasty.

I'll make this again...someday...but I won't be afraid:)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fall pies continued...

I know I waxed eloquent in my last post about pumpkin pie and its fall significance and all around pumpkin perfection. All of which I stand by wholeheartedly, however, there is another pie which also evokes much of the same feelings for me. Many of my childhood memories of fall revolve around pecans. Growing up on a farm with 60-80 pecan trees, picking up pecans became a central part of fall. It's how we kids earned money for Christmas shopping and things like summer camp. I'm not saying we were always happy about it, there was plenty of grumbling, whining etc... But looking back there was a lot of laughing and good times as well. Needless to say we ate LOTS of pecans. Many in the form of pecan pie.
After marrying and moving away I really missed those fresh, organic pecans that were so plentiful on our farm. Buying pecans from the grocery store was always a disappointment. They can be anywhere from a year to two years old before you buy them. Those dried out nuts are nothing like the plump nuts we picked up, cracked out, and ate.
Hubs and I moved back near my family a couple years ago and since that time the pecan crop has been nearly non-existent. No nuts at all, so unfair! This year however things have amazingly turned around. In spite of a terrible drought though out whole southeastern US, this years pecan crop has been unbelievable. So many nuts in fact that many of the pecan trees have lost large limbs from the weight of the nuts. All the nuts on the farm are organically grown, picked up and hand shelled on the premises. For more info or to order pecans check out the farm blog
Hubs is not much a dessert person, he could take it or leave it. Unbelievable, I know! However pecan pie is one of the few desserts he doesn't ever pass up. Especially Bourbon Pecan Pie, a family recipe I've been making for years.

Southern Bourbon Pecan Pie

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 1/2 cup pecans

1 cup sugar* see note

1 cup Karo Syrup (light corn syrup)

4 eggs

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon good quality vanilla

2 TBL Bourbon (I use Jim Beam)

One 9" unbaked pie shell


Preheat oven to 350

Melt butter in large skillet. I skim away any foam from the cream in the butter that rises to the top. Then toss the nuts into the butter and cook 1-2 minutes until nuts are coated with the butter and warmed. Remove from heat and cool slightly. In another large bowl, whisk together sugar, syrup, and salt. Whisk in eggs one at a time and stir in vanilla and bourbon. Stir in the butter/pecan mixture and pour into prepared unbaked pie shell and bake for 35-45 minutes until the center of the pie is set .

*You can use 1/2 a cup of brown sugar and 1/2 a cup of regular sugar for a more dense, rich pie
** Also great with cinnamon whipped cream from the last post:)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pumpkin and spice

That's what pumpkin pie is made of... Yeah it's that time of year. I know the change of season is nice for many reasons but I get excited about change of foods. Sure you can have pumpkin pie any time nowadays, but to me it's the quintessential right of passage to the fall season. The color, the scent of cinnamon and ginger, it all just screams FALL! I crave that first bite of pumpkin pie, ideally to be savored while looking out the window at the changing leaves while drinking a hot cup of coffee. A slightly silly thing to become excited about but oh well, that's what does it for me:) (nerdy I know)
Over the years I've tried several different pumpkin pie recipes, but I always come back the the one on the back of the Libby can for Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie. In my opinion it's the perfect pumpkin pie recipe. I like the balance of the spices and how smooth and silky the pie's texture is when baked. With a few of the recipes that I've tried I was disappointed with the texture of the pie. I've had a few that were slightly grainy. I've never had that happen with this recipe. The only modification I make is I add about 1/2 cup of half and half to the recipe for 2 pies. I think that the pie is just a little more silky with the addition of half and half. I've also recently discovered cinnamon whipped cream. YUM!! It's wonderful with this pie and super simple.
1 cup of whipping cream
1/4 cup of confectioner's sugar (you can use regular sugar if you like)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Whip cream until slightly thick, slowly add the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Whip until cream holds soft peaks. Dollop liberally on pie!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Paradise Lost??

Yeah vacation is great, but by the time you go through security, get on the plane for 5 hours, go through customs, reclaim your bags, go back through security (where they confiscate the jerk sauce and other spices you forgot were in your carry-on) wait 3 hours, get on another plane, get in your car that's developed an alarming shudder over the week it sat in the airport parking lot, get home with two suitcases filled to the top with smelly clothes. The vacation glow has worn off and your feeling somewhat less relaxed. Oh yeah, then suddenly remember your rash decision to cater an art museum luncheon for 20 on Monday. No problem. What was I thinking?!
By the way all the food has to be cooked ahead of time and only warmed at the museum because no cooking is allowed. So coming up with a menu that could be made ahead, but still needs look "artistic"(event directors idea), was a bit of a challenge.
So I hit the ground running, shopped for all the food and started cooking.

Salad of mixed greens with apple, blue cheese, spiced walnuts, and cranberries in a balsamic vinaigrette

For the entree I made chicken and mushroom filled crepes with a mornay sauce and asparagus

Unfortunately, in the chaotic frenzy of trying to keep the crepes warm and get them served as quickly as possible, I forgot to get a picture. *sigh* Not superwoman after all:(

The events director for the museum requested that the dessert be made in individual servings and be "something very chocolaty. So before I left for vacation, while surfing through various foodblogs, I came across the recipe for Shockolate Cheesecake on Quellia's blog All thing's edible.

I adapted the recipe a bit for my needs and made these adorable individual chocolate cheesecakes with a brownie crust and Gran Marnier whipped cream.
Perfect! Individual, beautiful and very chocolatey.

This is a low-fat recipe however I used all full fat dairy for mine. I wanted a very rich chocolate taste. I also added 2 tsp Gran Marnier into the batter.
1 x box (15.5 oz/440 g) low-fat brownie mix (I made brownies -not low fat)
2 cups 1% cottage cheese
1 cup light sour cream (not fat-free)
1 x pkg (8 oz/250 g) light cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 ounces (170 g) semi-sweet chocolate squares, melted and cooled slightly (see Tip)
1 cup fat-free egg substitute or 4 whole eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup fresh raspberries
Melted chocolate for drizzling (optional)
Shockolate Cheesecake

I cooked mine in a flat bottomed silicon muffin pan. I undercooked the brownies and took them out of the oven when they had just set up some. Then I let them cool slightly and pressed the brownie down to give as much room for cheesecake on top. I had to watch the cheesecake cook time carefully. Mine took between 20-25 minutes to cook. Take care not to overcook.

Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Prepare brownies according to package directions, baking in springform pan instead of regular cake pan. Brownies should bake in 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and reset temperature to 325ºF. Set brownie crust aside to cool slightly while you prepare filling.
To make filling, whirl cottage cheese, sour cream and cream cheese in a blender until perfectly smooth. Scrape out mixture into a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, sift together sugar, cocoa and flour.
Gradually add sugar mixture to cream-cheese mixture and beat on medium speed of electric mixer until well blended. Add melted chocolate and beat again, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat just until eggs are incorporated into batter.
Before pouring batter over crust, lightly grease sides of pan. This will help prevent cheesecake from cracking as it cools. Pour batter over brownie crust and smooth top.
Place on middle oven rack and bake for 60 to 70 minutes. Cake will be puffed up and center will jiggle slightly when pan is shaken.
Turn off oven, open oven door halfway, and leave cake in oven to cool for 1 hour. Remove from oven, run knife around edge of pan to loosen cake from sides, and cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To serve, remove sides of pan, slice thinly (it’s rich!), and serve with fresh raspberries and chocolate drizzle, if desired

I whipped cream with powdered sugar and a tablespoon of Gran Marnier and piped that on top. I drizzled chocolate sauce on the plate and topped the whipped cream with grated chocolate and served with raspberries.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A slice of paradise

We went to Barbados for a week and I thought I'd share a bit of it with you all. We had a wonderful, albeit to short, time. We chose to go to there because we have a close friend that is from Barbados and has been trying to get us to go with he and his wife for several years now.

J, the one from Barbados still has some family living there and they graciously hosted a dinner for us on evening during our stay. The wife is a caterer, and she prepared an authentic Bajan meal for us. Outstanding! Hubbs was in pepper sauce heaven! It was neat to see how people really live and not just see the tourist's Barbados.

I would say it was a wonderfully relaxing vacation except for the fact that we also rented a car while there. Thank goodness I didn't have to drive. Every time we had to drive somewhere I felt it might be my last day on earth! The roads are narrow, bumpy, and for and island surprisingly hilly. I feared each time we passed a bus that we may end up careening into a ditch or some one's home. J did a superb job of driving and we did arrive alive to our destinations. Although we took a couple of interesting "detours" while trying to find something called Animal, Flower, Cave. (I'm not making that name up!) I think they're three separate things... I think, still not clear on that. Somehow the men in the front with the map thought they knew a better way than we girls in the back following the street signs. 30 minutes later after several dead-ends into peoples yards,we finally ask a man on the side of the road. He directed us to a "road" through a muddy field to get back to the real road. Men with maps... I'm just saying! Who knew you could get lost on an island?? All worth it for this amazing view!(this is Cave...I think...definitly not Animal?!)

The food in Barbados was wonderful. The seafood is as fresh as it gets and the mango's and banana's are picked ripe and were so sweet.

I had flyin fish for the first time. Very good, we had it prepared different ways nearly every day.

The salt fish cakes at this fun little place we found in Bridgetown were outstanding as was the fresh fish baguette.

I LOVED the pumpkin fritters... taste a bit like fried pumpkins pie. How good does that sound:) yum
We were staying very close to this roti stand that the locals swear make the best roti on the island. I would have to agree. We ate lunch there several times. The food is all prepared fresh and when it's gone it's gone. The best food comes from places like this:

Although we did plenty of eating like this as well:

So for the most part we ate, lay on the beach, ate, walked around town and shopped, ate, swam, ate, walked on the beach, which can really work up your appetite:)