Monday, July 6, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Tale

Everyone in the UK will be glad to know that many of the 4th of July crazies are safely in residence here in Colorado. No kidding, yesterday as I was making my daily trip to Walmart, here came “Mr. Patriotic”, up from behind me on the interstate with a full size American flag draped across the roof of his car, tucked into his windows, blowing wildly in the wind. When I was in school, we were taught that there were strict rules about the American flag. As I recall, we were told that if it even touched the ground (no five second rule here) it was to be surrendered and ceremoniously burned by a military entity, so I don’t suppose wrapping your 1988 Chevrolet in it is proper flag etiquette. I guess that this rule has gone the way of many traditions, as dead as fish on Fridays.

When I was a very young girl, the 4th was a day of parades, family parties and fireworks. Since we usually visited my grandmother’s farm in the country, we would have to make our own fireworks display which was OK by us. After all of our relatives arrived and hours of begging, our fathers would pack all of the children into the back of the station wagon and head to the nearest fireworks stand. Now, I’m not really sure why we were always so excited because our purchase was the same year after year, hundreds of firecrackers, a handful of snakes (that never worked properly on my grandmother’s dirt driveway) sparklers (lots and lots of sparklers), a couple of bundles of bottle rockets, and, for dads only, the “ultra dangerous” eight shot Roman Candle. Did I mention this was a simpler time? Anyway, having blown our entire budget we would jump in the car and head back to my grandmother’s anticipating a night of dazzling pyrotechnics.

Waiting for the sun to set was pure torture for me and my cousins. Our parents held us off as long as they could before giving us a paper bag full of sparklers and firecrackers and a punk (or in a tight spot, a lit cigarette – remember, a simpler time) to set the lot ablaze. We headed out to my grandmother’s drought ridden crispy dry front garden and got to work on having fun. If my memory serves me, every year was much the same; we would all land up with sparkler burns, ringing ears due to multiple firecracker blasts and a grass fire that would usually have to be extinguished by a small brigade of inebriated uncles. About this time, all of the drama would catch the attention of the women in the family who would sharply question the sanity of the men and accuse them of “trying to kill their children” all the while wiping our tearstained faces and putting ice on our burns. Aahh, good times!

Mercifully, night would finally come. The men of our family would begin preparations for the big show by digging holes for the Roman candles and lining up thick returnable Coke bottles for the bottle rockets. We took our places on blankets that were thrown over the prickly ground and watched the grand finale, soaking up ever minute of splendor that $20 could buy. By the time the brief but oh so spectacular show was over, we were exhausted and comforted in the knowledge that all the men would soon be doctoring finger burns of their own.

This year I spent the day of the 4th refinishing furniture. Since it poured rain for a good hour, my husband and son decided that this was the year to ignite the “bombs” that they had imported from Texas and had been dangerously aging in the top of our closet for the past two years. Usually it is so dry here that fear of the sheriff and of burning down the state of Colorado keeps the big aerial fireworks packed away. The old sayings “Lock you up and throw away the key” and “Throw you under the jail” come to mind.

Like so many other “kids” across the country, my son and husband paced a hole in the carpet until the sun set and the night was aged to perfection. When they concurred that the time was right, they took their fireworks and walked out into the street and to the spot that had been carefully chosen during the daylight hours. All was right with the world until I caught my 14 year old son trying to light the first fuse. Before I could stop I found myself questioning my husband’s sanity and asking him if he was trying to kill my child. I guess some traditions don’t die after all. I’m happy to report that we had a beautiful show without any injuries, fires or arrests.

Since I was too exhausted after a day of sanding and staining, I’m embarrassed to say that all I could find the energy to make was hotdogs. Luckily, the day before I assembled this old favorite chocolate dessert and an updated berry version that I developed with the 4th in mind. I really think that it is the better of the two recipes. Since you make these a day in advance of serving them, they make a refreshing and easy ending for a dinner party or summer barbeque.



Red White and Blueberry Lush





Chocolate Lush

Red White and Blueberry Lush

I first tried this dessert in its chocolate form and was immediately hooked. Being an equal opportunity dessert lover, I soon set about changing the custard flavor, trying to reinvent the wheel. I tried lemon, key lime and mixed berries, searching for my favorite. Well…..my conclusion is that although I really like them all, the berry wins my vote. The original recipe calls for frozen whipped topping which you can use if you like, but I much prefer using real dairy cream and a little bit of extra effort. In my opinion the results are far superior. Word of advance consolation, sometimes you can cut neat slices and sometimes you can't but don't worry, it is just as delicious and pretty either way.

2.25 ounces (66g) coarsely chopped pecans
5 ounces (141g) butter, softened to room temperature, divided
1-1/3 cup (166g) all-purpose flour, divided
8 ounces (227g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 cup (132g) icing sugar
3 cups (750ml) whipping cream, divided
3/4 cup (88g) plus 3 tablespoons (45ml) granulated sugar, divided
2 tablespoons (30ml) cocoa powder (optional for making chocolate filling)
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) salt
2 cups (500ml) milk
3 slightly beaten large egg yolks
3 teaspoons (15ml) vanilla extract, divided
2 cups blueberries or mixed berries (for the 4th of July recipe, I used strawberries, raspberries and blueberries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees 180C.

In a medium size bowl, combine the pecans, 4 ounces (113g) butter and 1 cup (144g) flour. Mix well and press into an even layer in the bottom of a 9 x 13” glass pan. Place in the preheated oven and bake until golden brown, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

In a large bowl, whip 1 cup (250ml) of the whipping cream and 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract to soft peaks. Add 1 tablespoon (15ml) of the granulated sugar and continue to beat to stiff peaks. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use. In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and icing sugar; blend well into a smooth consistency. Fold the cream cheese mixture gently into the whipped cream; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large saucepan, combine the remaining 1/3 cup (22g) flour, 3/4 cup (88g) sugar, salt, cocoa (if making chocolate) and milk. Place saucepan over medium heat, stir constantly until mixture is thick and comes to a gentle boil. Stir and cook for an additional 2 minutes after it has come to the boil. Remove from the heat and add approximately 2/3 cup (160ml), 1/3 cup (80ml) at a time to the beaten egg yolks in a small bowl to temper before pouring back into the hot custard; stir well. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons (28g) butter and 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract; cover and set aside to cool completely.

Remove the cream cheese mixture from the refrigerator and spread evenly over the top of the crust in the baking pan. Pour the cooled custard mixture over the top of that. Place a piece of cling film over the top of the custard, gently touching the top to prevent a skin from forming on the top; refrigerate overnight.

A couple of hours before serving, place the remaining 2 cups (500ml) whipping cream into a large bowl; whip to soft peaks before adding the remaining 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, continue to whipping until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle the berries evenly over the top of the custard. Spread the whipped cream over the top of all, cover and return to the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Garnish the Berry Lush with mint if desired or the Chocolate Lush with chocolate shavings. Serve ice cold.

Easily serves 10.