Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pina Colada Cupcakes

We recently celebrated a birthday with a luau. Grandma Betty turned…oops, I’ll never tell…and she loves Hawaii, so my sister-in-law wanted to celebrate appropriately with a big surprise party. We concocted the themed menu of kahlua pork, steamed rice, macaroni salad and tropical fruit salad. Perfect for what would turn out to be a scorching 105-degree day.

For dessert, I offered up some options: trifle (Betty’s fave), pina colada cupcakes or mai tai cupcakes. While the debate raged on which to do, I set out to test recipes. Brilliant Daughter and I started with individual trifles made with multiple layers of pound cake, berries, my homemade berry-cassis sauce, and Bird’s custard, all topped off by whipped cream. It just so happened Betty was here for a visit and I lied, telling her that I was researching trifle recipes, and got her to taste test. She wasn’t wholly impressed, partly because I had neglected to brush the pound cake with brandy. Oops.

Next we moved on to the pina colada cupcakes. To simplify things, I started with a box mix. First I made the standard cupcake, adding drained, crushed pineapple to half the batter and raw grated coconut to the other half. The pineapple cupcakes really didn’t rise and looked a bit forlorn. I think it was the extra liquid in the pineapple that caused this little problem. They didn’t taste bad, but the perfectionist in me wasn’t satisfied The coconut cupcakes just didn’t taste coconutty enough. So I tried again.

I made a second batch using coconut milk in place of the water and sweetened shredded coconut. This I topped with a cooked meringue frosting, which I love, but realized would be just too time consuming given everything else we had to do for the party. (This is the version pictured at top.)

So on to #3. To this batch I added a box of coconut crème pudding mix (I had no idea that Jello-O makes such diverse flavors in pudding, as I never buy it) and the sweetened shredded coconut. I topped these off with a cream cheese/buttercream frosting with pineapple bits. The frosting was an instant hit. I knew it was the right one to use. But the cupcake could be better.

At this point, the decision has been made to go with the pina colada cupcakes, so I needed to step it up. On a leisurely walk with Mr B and friend Larry, I mentioned my dilemma. Suggestions popped left and right and I was again inspired. (Thank you, boys!) Number 4 turned out to be the winner. The addition of Finest Call Pina Colada mix, half box of pudding, and shredded coconut made for a great flavor, moist cake, and perfect foil for the cream cheese/buttercream frosting.

As a topper I had made homemade candied pineapple. This was purely by chance, mind you. I was experimenting with candied citrus, after seeing this recipe on the Brownie Points blog. I had some lemons and oranges I wanted to use, and since I had leftover pineapple, I thought I would try that, too. The result is an almost melt-in-your-mouth piece of pineapple. Sweet, but still flavorful, and shaken with sugar, the perfect little decoration for the cupcake.

So, now that I have done all the work finding the right recipe, I suggest you give them a whirl. Timewise, it is a small investment for the reward. Five minutes to make the cupcakes, 20-25 to bake, 5 minutes on the frosting and a few more to frost. Top them off with piece of fresh or candied pineapple, maraschino cherry, toasted coconut, or one of those cute little paper umbrellas and watch the kudos come your way.

1 box Betty Crocker yellow cake mix
1 1/4 cup Finest Call Pina Colada Mix
1/2 box instant coconut crème Jell-O pudding mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

Beat the cake mix with the dry pudding, pina colada mix and oil. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Beat fro 2 additional minutes on medium-high. Scoop into paper lined cupcake molds, filling only 1/2 full. Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees, until cake tests done with toothpick. Let cool and frost.

8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 cup crushed pineapple, drained and squeezed dry

Optional: Candied pineapple or toasted coconut for decoration.

Whip cream cheese and butter with hand or stand mixer until well incorporated, at least one minute. Add in powdered sugar slowly on low speed, so the sugar dust doesn’t fly all over. Once all has been added, turn on high and whip for 2 minutes. Add the drained and dried pineapple, breaking up with your fingers. Mix on medium speed until incorporated. Pipe or spread onto cupcakes and top with candied pineapple or toasted coconut.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Quick Asian-Style Pickles

Canning isn’t for everyone. It involves long hours in a kitchen over a hot stove. I’ve been doing it for over 20 years, since my children were toddlers, and I don’t think much about pulling out the kettle and setting to work, but it can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t have Brilliant Daughter at your side.

While waiting to get down to the farm to pick up my produce, I happened to see some lovely pickling cukes at the local farmer’s market and decided to make some quick pickles that don’t involve any heat or canning kettles. The original recipe can be found here on the Food in Jars blog, a great resource and inspiration for home canners. Marisa has some great recipes and helpful hints, should you think you might want to venture into the world of preserved food.

I have altered her recipe for Asian-Inspired Quick Pickles to suit what I had on hand, one of the joys of experimentation. I started with pickling cucumbers that were about 5 inches long (this allows them to fit in either a quart jar or flat plastic storage container). I washed them well and then sliced them into 4-6 spears, depending upon their circumference. I laid them out nicely in a flat Tupperware and topped them with the seasoning ingredients, then poured on the rice vinegar. A few tosses with my hand, then I covered them up and stuck them in the fridge. I did periodically shake the container, whenever I was in the fridge for something else, but these were ready in one day.

What I like about this quick pickle recipe is the use of rice vinegar, which is a subtle flavor, not overpowering like white or cider vinegar might be. By using the refrigerator method, there was no problem with the crunch factor. (Some canned pickles, when not done properly, can become flimsy and limp.) And you can spice them up any way you want. I used dry chili flakes, garlic, lime and mint, but you could use any type of dried chili, or fresh chili for that matter (which is what the original recipe calls for). You could also experiment with herbs, spice, ginger, citrus zest…anything your mind can imagine. Because it takes so little produce and so little time, you could make a batch every week!

I, personally, liked these better after 3-4 days, but they got good reviews from the family when they were served with the Cowboy Burgers.

Quick Pickles

5-6 pickling cucumbers
2 teaspoons chili flakes (less if you want a milder heat factor)
1 cup rice wine vinegar
2 limes, juiced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 sprigs of mint, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pack the cucumber spears into a quart jar or flat plastic storage container. In a 2-cup measuring cup, combine the rice wine vinegar, lime juice, chili flakes, garlic cloves, mint and salt. Pour over the cucumbers.

If using flat container, toss the cucumber with the mixture by hand and then cover. Shake the container several times a day to release additional flavor.

If using a canning jar, screw a lid on the jar, and holding the over the sink (in case of leaks) invert the jar and give it a good shake. Do this several times a day to release additional flavor.

Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sun-Dried Tomatoes: The Easy Way

I love sun-dried tomatoes, their concentrated flavor is perfect diced up in pasta salads, added to pizzas, cooked in stews. Right now there is an abundance of cherry and plum tomatoes available and it’s a perfect time to save them for later. But, let’s face it, it’s far too hot in most parts of the country to be drying tomatoes in the oven, even if it is only on to 150 degrees.

My new favorite way to dry tomatoes (and herbs) is in the car. Really, it’s the best method. Brilliant Daughter and I recently brought home a bounty of small plum tomatoes from the farmer’s market. We cut them in half and scooped out the seeds (not really necessary but I prefer it this way).

Then we placed them on racks in trays and sprinkled with some fresh herbs (you could use dried as well) and some sea salt and they were ready to be shriveled. It just so happens we have a classic car sitting in our driveway (1964 Nova) that does not get driven very often. It has a perfect back window that gets good sun most of the day. We covered our tomatoes with floursack towels (cheesecloth also works) to keep away any pests that might have entered the car while the door was open. Then we set them in the back window, rolled up all the windows, shut the door and let them cook.

Between the sun beating down and the heat in the car (probably between 150 and 200 degrees), the tomatoes were done in 2 days. Depending on how big your tomatoes are, how hot it is, and how cold it gets at night, this could be longer or shorter in duration. You can bring them in at night if you want, but it is not strictly necessary.

Once they are dried you can plce them in airtight jars, in Ziploc bags, or in the freezer for later use. This is a great set it-and-forget it way to use up excess tomatoes.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Culinary Term of the Day: Spatchcocking

I’ve always wanted to try making brick chicken, a process whereby you flatten a whole chicken and cook it under bricks or other weight. Traditionally this is started on the stove, to get the skin nice and crispy, then flipped and finished in the oven. But it’s summertime and I don’t want to turn that oven on, so I decided to try doing it on the grill.

The biggest stumbling block you may have to fixing this very easy dish is preparing the chicken for the grill. The trick to using this method is flattening the chicken so that it cooks evenly and gets crispy. This requires a good knife or pair of kitchen shears and the willingness to try. It doesn’t have to be done perfectly, as the chicken really doesn’t care and your family won’t either once all is said and done. The flattening, or spatchcocking as it is technically called, is done by cutting out the spine, opening up the bird and flattening it out with the heel of your hand. It takes less than 2 minutes and no particular skill. You can watch a quick video here to see how easily it can be done or check out this step-by-step photo shoot.

Once you have completed the spatchcocking, it’s time to marinate the bird. You should steer clear of marinades with sugar, as it will cause flare-ups on the BBQ, which you need to avoid. After a few hours of bathing your little beauty in some tasty marinade, it’s time to put the flattened chicken on the grill. This method does involve a bit of babysitting here and there and a kitchen timer, but it is no more effort than cooking a soup or stew, and takes less than an hour. We cooked it on a gas grill, which we kept covered for all but the first 5 minutes. The recipe also explains how to do it with charcoal, but I have not tested this method. In addition, we did not have bricks, so we used a large paving stone wrapped in foil. This can be a bit more difficult, as its size and weight are bit more unwieldy than two or three separate bricks, but it worked just fine.

The chicken did indeed have crispy skin and was moist. The legs and thighs came off easily, as did the breast meat. The chicken did marinate for 5 hours, but the flavor was not very pronounced. I would recommend amping up the flavor a bit by stuffing garlic, herbs and lemon slices under the skin before marinating. Overall, it was a good lesson on spatchcocking and gave us a new way to cook chicken. Brilliant Daughter just found a recipe on using the brick method with boneless breasts that only takes 6-7 minutes to cook on the grill. I’ll have to put that one the list to try!

1 whole chicken (4-5 pounds)
1 teaspoon coarse salt,
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (thyme, sage, oregano and rosemary work well)
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil

Prepare chicken by removing spine and flattening out. Place chicken in flat pan to marinate, (9x13 baking pan works well). Combine marinade ingredients and pour over the chicken, rubbing it into both sides. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 to 12 hours.

Wrap several bricks in aluminum foil. Ready your charcoal or gas grill. If using charcoal, make sure that 1/3 of the grill has no hot charcoal below; with a gas grill, turn off one burner. Brush grill with oil to prevent sticking and place your chicken, skin side down over the heat. Do not close the barbecue.

Due to the marinade and chicken fat, the grill may flare up. If this happens, move chicken over to the unheated side until it subsides (on a gas grill you can just squirt the flame with some water), then transfer back to heat. Cook for 5 minutes. Then, shift chicken to unheated side of grill, cover with your bricks and grill for an additional 15 minutes. Turn the chicken over, place it on the hot side of the grill, cover with your bricks and cook another 20 minutes. At this point you can take the weight off and flip the bird one last time and test for doneness. (Safe internal temperature should be 180 degrees and juice from the thigh should run clear when poked.) Check every 5 minutes until cooked.

Remove chicken from grill, rest for 5 minutes and cut into serving pieces.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Seriously Good Eating: Cowboy Burgers

I am an avid recipe collector. I don’t have the room to keep every food magazine, so I read through, soak up the knowledge, make notes on wine or cheese, and then tear out the recipes I think I want to try. One of the most recent successes was from Gourmet magazine, a coffee-rubbed cheeseburger with spicy bbq sauce. It was so good that Brilliant Daughter requested I make them less than a week after I first served them, they are just that good. I may not go back to regular burgers, ever…..

There is nothing special about the patty itself, it is just plain ground chuck. We tried making them with a leaner ground beef, but found that there was less flavor and moisture, so I’d stick with the ground chuck. The patties are rubbed with a coffee-based rub, which takes just a quick minute to make. Probably a bit more involved is the barbecue sauce. You do have to cook that on the stove, but it can be made ahead, and stores well in the fridge.

These are rather large burgers, not for the faint of heart given the layers and the spicy sauce. I recommend eating them outside with a napkin tucked into your shirt. The coffee rub gives an added dimension to the burger’s flavor, but you cannot taste the coffee, per se. This is topped by crunchy bacon and a smooth melting cheese and finished with a ladle of spicy sauce and a layer of purple onion and red ripe tomato slice. Voila, you have yourself one kick-ass burger that will wow anyone.

My family was so wowed they hardly spoke the whole time they were eating. In fact the original recipe was made with 1/4 pound burgers, but everyone complained that there was not enough, so I increased the recipe to 1/3 pound the second time and received praise for doing so. I know we are trying to eat healthier, but some things have to be splurged on, and this is one of them.

The basics: form burgers, rub one side with coffee rub, grill 3-4 minutes on the coffee side and flip. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add bacon, top with cheese and grill until melted. Place burger on bun, top with sauce, onion and tomato and enjoy.

1 t ablespoon freshly ground coffee
2 teaspoons golden brown sugar
2 t easpoons ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Mix all ingredients in small bowl. This can be made in advance.

1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup worcestshire sauce
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 chipotle chili (canned in adobo), minced with seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Stir in ketchup and all remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to 1 1/3 cups, stirring occasionally. This takes about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

1/3 lb ground chuck per person
1 slice smoked (or regular) provolone cheese per person
1 potato bread hamburger bun per person
1 slice applewood (or thick cut) bacon per person
sliced red onion
sliced tomato

Form burgers into patties. Cook bacon, cut in half, and set aside on paper towels to soak up excess grease. Using your thumb, make a slight indentation in each burger in the center. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the rub on this side, pressing into the meat. Heat barbecue to medium and place rubbed side down. Cook for 3-4 minutes, turn and top with bacon. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Place cheese on top to melt. When done, place burgers on buns, top with sauce, onions, tomatoes, and enjoy.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Canning Frenzy: An Amazing and Exhausting Weekend

I have so been longing to do some canning. Every time I go out into the garage I am exposed to all the reasons I need to do so. I see my canning kettle on the shelf, lonely and longing for some hard work. The rows of empty jars taunt me, waiting to be filled. And my pantry shelves look barren, with a few jars of Meyer lemon/vanilla marmalade and hot pepper jelly the lone wolves from last year’s endeavors.

So Brilliant Daughter (BD) and I cooked up a plan to can over the 4th of July weekend. On Friday we drove south to LJB Farms to pick up the produce. Owner Judy Bonino walked us around the barn, giving us tastes of the various apricots and cherries, making recommendations for the produce that should be used right now for canning. We settled on a box of Blenheim apricots, which they had just gotten in that week. Also on our roll-around cart was a box of Santa Lucia peaches, firm but sweet and juicy, and a big box of pickling cucumbers. For our own immediate gratification, we bought some Rainier cherries to nosh on and makings for salsa (pasillas, tomatoes, garlic, onions). Brilliant Daughter makes a great roasted tomato salsa that we’ll be enjoying after a long day of canning.

We headed for home, car full of wonderful smells, ready to hatch a plan of attack. We’d be up bright and early on Saturday, ready for a hard day’s work putting the produce to good use. Little did I realize at the time how exhausting it all would be!

We began with pickles. We figured that if we started out with the house smelling like vinegar, it would be eliminated (or masked) later by the sweet smells of the jams cooking. I’d much rather end the day with a house smelling like peaches than of pickles, wouldn’t you?

After bathing the little cukes in the kitchen sink, we set about slicing and dicing. In addition to using the cucumbers whole, we cut in half, cut into spears, sliced into thick coins, and got out the mandoline to make fancier crinkle-cuts.

We did dill (fresh from the garden), garlic dill, spicy, spicy dill, and bread and butter pickles—24 quarts in all. Well, 25, but one broke in the canning bath……

Next we broke out the apricots. Blenheims have a short picking season, during early summer, so this was the peak time to put these little golden orbs to use. A vanishing species with many of their orchards paved over in favor of housing developments and office parks, it is small dedicated growers that keep this species alive. A favorite of Alice Waters, Blenheims are smaller than other apricots, but their flavor more than makes up for it. Sweet and juicy, they are perfect for the apricot preserves and apricot/vanilla jam, not to mention a tangy barbecue sauce.

As we readied the apricots for the first batch of preserves, we found that peeling might take most of the day, and, in measuring up the fruit with necessary ingredients, found we were woefully lacking in both jars and sugar. So BD kindly went out and purchased me a food mill, two cases of half-pint jars and another 5 pounds of sugar. As we moved on to apricot/vanilla jam, we realized that our frozen stock of Meyer lemon juice (in cubes) had been unknowingly depleted, so an emergency text was sent to Butcher Son to bring home lemon juice and 5 more pounds of sugar on his lunch break. Usually prepared and organized, I felt a bit overwhelmed at the quantity we were attempting and apparently I underestimated just about every ingredient. Lesson learned.

I got the idea for the apricot/vanilla jam by looking up recommended companion flavors for apricots in The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. We had purchased a pound of vanilla bean pods, and this was a perfect excuse to use them. To 10 pounds of apricots I added 6 vanilla beans. I scraped out the juicy bits first, and then threw the whole pod in to simmer in some additional flavor, pulling them out right before ladling the jam into jars. The resulting jam was sweet but smooth, with a good hint of vanilla. You can see the little flecks of vanilla floating in the jam.

I also wanted to use the apricots in something other than jam. I don’t do chutneys, sambals, chow chows, or other relishes, so I decided on barbecue sauce. Tomatoes, apricots, brown sugar, cider vinegar and a few other goodies bubbled away for several hours, cooking down into a thick rich, fairly sweet sauce. We tested it out on chicken that night and it was definitely a hit. I think it would work well on pork, too.

Santa Lucia peaches were up next. These were large, fairly firm peaches that were easy to peel and very tasty. It was hard not to sneak a taste as we peeled and sliced. I knew I wanted to make peach/ginger jam, and diced up 3/4 cup of ginger early in the day and left it soaking in simple syrup while we worked on everything else. I added this to the 5 pounds of fruit and it was the perfect amount.

The second peach jam was born out of The Flavor Bible and BD’s brilliant mind. Brown sugar is listed as a good flavor combination with peaches in the book, but BD wanted to amp it up somehow. She came up with the idea of adding cinnamon and making peach cobbler jam. That girl knows how to call ‘em. The resulting concoction tastes just like peach cobbler and was, by far, the favorite flavor of the weekend. (We taste tested on blueberry pancakes.) We substituted the brown sugar for the white (minus 1 cup) and added 1 tablespoon of good quality cinnamon and 5 cinnamon sticks to the jam as it cooked.

As if we didn’t do enough, BD also made her roasted tomato salsa. While she didn’t make a huge batch, it was enough to allow us to snack for the next week or two, and helped to take all the sweetness out of our mouths for a short period of time.

24 quarts of pickles
15 half-pints apricot/vanilla jam
10 half-pints apricot preserves
9 half-pints peach/ginger jam
9 half-pints peach cobbler jam
3 quarts tangy apricot barbecue sauce
1 1/2 quarts roasted tomato salsa

Needless to say, we were exhausted after both days. The hot tub and a cool drink helped to ease the pain and the full pantry put a smile on our faces. However we shan’t be retiring the canning kettle just yet. We are determined to rest up and go for round two at the end of the month. Still need to make strawberry jam, tomato sauce and some marinara. Stay tuned….

Monday, July 06, 2009

Friday Foray: LJB Farms in San Martin

As I wrote two weeks ago, I’ve been wanting to find the time to do some canning. Given the long holiday weekend, and no plans to leave town or entertain guests, Brilliant Daughter and I headed south last Friday to LJB Farms in San Martin (near Gilroy, California). LJB Farms runs a farm stand in what is called the “Barn.”

Owned and operated by the Bonino Family for 92 years, the farm is run by Judy and Louie Bonino and their two sons, Russell and Brent. In addition to everything they grow, they supplement the Barn with other local growers and purveyors. So even though I drive 53 miles to get to the Barn (and worth every mile), all the produce I buy comes from within 100 miles of my home.

As usual, the place was hopping. The parking lot, bigger than most farmstands, was constantly filled. Judy Bonino greeted people by name, while son Brent brought in fresh Blenheim apricots, peaches, raspberries and strawberries. In fact, they could hardly keep the berries in stock, they just flew off the shelves.

We bought some huge tomatoes, garlic, and pasilla peppers to make salsa.

…1 flat of Blenheims, 1 flat of Santa Lucia peaches, and a box of pickling cucumbers. I even got a few tips from Louie Bonino on pickling. We’ll see how that turns out!

And did you see those cool old tools they had above the coolers?

They have a great assortment of dried fruits and nuts.

…and jams, jellies, preserves, butters, and local honey. I was interested in their strawberry jalapeno and pickled garlic. What exactly do you think you would use those for?

Needless to say, with the bounty we picked up, we have some work ahead of us. Tune in later this week to see just what we created with all this great local produce. And should you want to make your own foray to LJB Farms, head on down to 585 Fitsgerald Avenue in San Martin. It’s off Highway 101 at Masten Avenue between Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Deceptively Simple: Smores Cupcakes

I had a hankering for some cupcakes, one of my many current fascinations. Recently a Smore cupcake had caught my attention, so I decided I needed to have some. Since I won’t be going camping/cabining until late August, it only makes sense to try and recreate this summer outdoor favorite in the privacy of my own, somewhat substandard kitchen. (Yes, I am still mad at my kitchen and waiting for the day that I can gladly take a sledgehammer to it all.)

I also decided to do it in a quick, easy, straight-from-the-pantry way, so that you could recreate them in a jiffy. (Truth be told, I did have to buy one ingredient). Not that you couldn’t do everything from scratch, because you can. You can also switch up the ingredients in any number of manners to get the right flavor for you.

There are 3 elements to smores: graham cracker, chocolate, and marshmallow. I chose to layer these ingredients in this
order: graham cracker, chocolate, graham cracker, marshmallow. I also made a batch that had graham cracker, chocolate (mini chips), chocolate (brownie), chocolate (mini chips), graham cracker, marshmallow, but I felt that was too much chocolate, believe it or not. You could also do graham cracker, chocolate, marshmallow, chocolate, graham cracker—putting marshmallow in the center of your brownie batter. You get the picture. But I’ll still to the basics here and you can experiment later on your own.

Mix up the ingredients for a graham cracker crust (recipe below). I used 1 tablespoon for each cupcake paper. Then I took the bottom of a juice glass and smooshed (very technical cooking term) the crackers down, compacting them into a base layer.

Prepare a boxed fudge brownie mix, according to the instructions (eggs, oil, water). Top the graham base with 1 ice cream scoop of brownie batter. Don’t use too much here, as too much chocolate can overwhelm the final product. Top the brownie mix with another tablespoon of graham base and even it out with a spoon, pushing the graham into the chocolate mixture a bit. Baking (oven temp per brownie package instructions) will require a bit of vigilance, as different mixes, different ovens, and varying thickness of the brownie all affect the baking time. Start by checking at 15 minutes. Then check every 3-5 after that until they are done and a toothpick comes out clean.

Once the cupcakes are cool, you top with marshmallow. You can pipe on marshmallow fluff or just use a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon. Or use a fresh square marshmallow or even a large Jet Puffed marshmallow. If you feel like investing time in a good marshmallow frosting, I have supplied a recipe below that is really really tasty.

You can use a brulee torch or oven broiler (if you have one that works) to brown the marshmallow for that toasty look. I think it completes the whole cupcake by doing so.

And there you have it. Deceptively simple, deliciously satisfying.

Graham Base:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (or about 15 crushed crackers)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
Marshmallow Fluff or large marshmallows or homemade marshmallow icing (recipe below)

Mini chocolate chips (you can use these between the graham and chocolate layers for an added chocolate punch)
Hershey’s chocolate bar (stick a piece into the toasted marshmallow for a finishing touch)

Homemade Marshmallow Frosting

from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Put the egg whites in a clean, dry mixer bowl or in another large bowl. Have a candy thermometer at hand.

Put the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow the syrup to boil until it reaches 242 F on the candy thermometer. While the syrup is cooking, start beating the egg whites.

When the syrup is at about 235 F, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up. With the mixer at medium speed, and standing back slightly, carefully pour the hot syrup between the beater(s) and the side of the bowl. Splatters are inevitable - don't try to scrape them into the egg whites, just carry on. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating the whites at medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 minutes. You should have a smooth, shiny, marshmallowy frosting.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Salad Nicoise from the Pantry

Today I had an odd hankering for a Salad Nicoise. This is a treat my friend Tea used to bring to potluck luncheons back in my publishing house days. (Her original recipe appears here.)The image of a fresh piece of tuna, cut for me by Butcher Son, quick seared and thinly sliced, nestled on top of field greens, baby creamer potatoes, local green beans, and those flavorful little Nicoise olives could not be banished. I had to have it. But I am making a conscious effort to use what I have on hand before venturing out and buying more, so I dug around and decided to improvise a bit. I headed to the pantry (an industrial shelving unit in the garage) to forage for ingredients.

I found some small russet potatoes, which I peeled and steamed while the eggs boiled alongside on the stove. I had a small bunch of fresh green beans that I trimmed and steamed after the potatoes were cooked. As for the tuna, I did have one can in the pantry. I am unsure how long it has been there, as I don’t eat canned tuna. I’m crossing my fingers.* The biggest sacrifice is that I had no Nicoise olives. I debated between black olives and capers. Black olives are more in keeping with the other somewhat lowly ingredients, but the capers have a flavor closer to the Nicoise—or at least that is what my mind’s palate is telling me. (I went with the capers.)

It turned out to be a relatively hot day, so not only is it a perfect for this lovely summer weather, but I did all the prep in the morning when it was cool. Minimal fuss prepping the veggies, 30 minutes of steaming potatoes and beans, while hard-boiling the eggs, plus about 1 minute to whip up the dressing. Assembly took less than 5 minutes, so it’s a pretty easy thing to do. Smaller creamer potatoes would take a bit less time, but you’d have to sear the fresh tuna, so it’s probably a wash.

I do have to apologize for not having a picture, but my hunger got the best of me. Having waited all day in anticipation of the salad, it was all I could do to plate it before digging in. And I regret not having made extra for leftovers. : (

After dinner, I felt the need for dessert. Well, really I feel the need for dessert every night, but if I indulged I would weigh 400 pounds. I had 4 peaches that had all ripened simultaneously and needed eating. So I turned on the oven to 400 degrees, and proceeded to make some peach turnovers. I peeled and diced the peaches, along with some diced candied ginger I have been making, then added a tablespoon of brown sugar and flour. I took out a pre-made rolled pie crust, unrolled it and cut it in half, and mounded the fruit on each half. I then folded the turnover, pressed the edges and folded them over. By this time the oven was ready, so I brushed the tops with cream and popped them in for 30 minutes. Easy peasy and mouthwatering. And I managed to snap a shot before Mr. B and I devoured the turnovers.