Friday, April 29, 2011

I'm Craving Cake: Stabilized Chantilly Creme Frosting

Wasn’t that a beautiful wedding? The groom was dashing and the bride was glowing and beautiful. I know, I know, I’m the same woman who was just complaining about all the hype associated with it, but I have to admit that I enjoyed every minute from the bride’s arrival to the convertible ride to Clarence House. The wedding on a whole was tasteful and elegant. The English weather even held out which is a miracle in itself. Well done Kate and Will.

As all the post wedding reports come in, the one I'm really waiting for is the real low down on the food, especially the cake. I’m a cake eater from way back. When I was a girl and was made to attend weddings by my mother, the trip pretty much resembled the Trail of Tears. Usually by the time we arrived at the venue, I had gotten a swat on the behind and was wearing a tear stained face, but there was no getting out of it. We were going.

Just about the time I had decided that life wasn’t worth living, the bride and groom would finally get around to cutting their cakes. Being a white cake lover, my best chance at scoring a big soft piece of moist cake was definitely the bride’s cake.

The groom’s for some reason seemed to always be German chocolate, which as anyone with children well knows, is pretty much kid repellent because of the coconut and nuts. So, as the ladies and gentlemen at our table oooh’d and ahhh’d about the groom’s cake, I was standing in line with all the other kids for the bride’s. Once back at my seat I could dig in and get a little bit of a payoff for all of the misery I had endured.

Since I knew I wasn’t going to get any cake from the royal wedding (one I wouldn't have minded going to) I made a couple dozen white cupcakes in honor of the occasion. I frosted them with the lightest, most delicious frosting I have ever eaten and as my wedding present to you, I’m giving you the recipe. I just know your kids will love it, especially when they find out they don’t have to go to a wedding to eat it.

Stabilized Chantilly Crème Frosting

Since this frosting recipe incorporates so many dairy products it normally doesn’t hold its shape for long so I solved this problem by adding gelatin to stabilize it. It does need to be kept cool until eaten so it doesn’t spoil. Feel free to make this recipe your own by replacing the almond extract with orange, lemon or any other flavoring you love.

8 ounces cream cheese (225g), softened to room temperature
8 ounces Mascarpone cheese (225g), room temperature
3 tablespoons butter (42g), softened to room temperature
1 cup (125g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5ml) almond extract
1 cup (250ml) heavy whipping cream
4 teaspoons (20ml) water
1 teaspoon (5ml) powdered gelatin

In a large bowl, stir together cream cheese, Mascarpone, butter, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts until they are well combined; set aside.

In a separate medium size bowl, whip whipping cream to soft peaks with a whisk or electric mixer set to high; set aside.

In a small microwave safe bowl pour in water before sprinkling with the gelatin. Stir well and let sit until gelatin has completely dissolved, approximately 1 minute. Place bowl in the microwave and cook on high for approximately 10 - 15 seconds; stir.

With the electric mixer set to high, slowly drizzle the gelatin liquid into the whipping cream. Continue to whip until you are confident it is well combined with the cream. Fold the cream into the Mascarpone mixture. Gently stir until it is completely combined.  If frosting seems loose at this point, cover and place in the refrigerator for 15 - 30 minutes or until it stiffens a bit.

Transfer frosting to a piping bag fitted with your desired decorating tip and pipe onto cake or cupcakes. Refrigerate uneaten frosted cakes or cupcakes.

This recipe will easily frost 24 cupcakes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Dessert Fit for a Future King: Eton Mess

Ok, ok, William and Kate get married already! I bet the only people more ready than my husband and I are the villagers in Bucklebury (Kate’s home village, for those of you who have been living under a rock). I can only imagine what it must be like trying to get a drink at the local pub there with so many American reporters hiding behind every bush. Don’t get me wrong, I really think this is a wonderful time for these two beautiful young people, but the Today Show has just run it in the ground.

I know more about Kate Middleton and her ancestors than I care to. I’ve seen her in that see through dress (more of a swim suit cover-up to me) a million times. Personally, I do not think this was a good look for our Kate. After seeing their engagement photo of her looking beautiful in white, I can’t believe that William first noticed her in a transparent tube dress with her hair in stringy dreadlock looking tendrils. I bet he fell in love with her one day when she was wearing a white or royal blue tailored dress. I just refuse to believe everything I’m force fed by the media.

I have to admit that I’m a bit nervous that since it has been 14 years since we had a beautiful young princess to watch, a feeding frenzy will begin. I just hope everyone will leave the two of them mostly alone, with a peek every now and then during a public appearance or the birth of their children which, if my prediction comes true, will most certainly be happening very soon. In the future I promise that I will do my best not to buy into the Princess Catherine media machine. You know, the same one that chased Diana into an early grave, but on Friday I know that I won’t be able to resist and I will be in attendance at her wedding.

With all of the reporting coming from London these days it has made me crave some of my favorite English foods. I just love a great steak and ale pie or a scrumptious Bakewell Tart. One of my other favorites is a simple little dessert that I first had at my friend Karen’s house some years ago. Since William attended Eton, and after all it is his wedding too, I thought I might celebrate a bit early with a little Eton Mess. Not only is this little dessert unbelievably simple and delicious, I think it will go perfectly with a glass of champagne in honor of this very special occasion.

Eton Mess

1 cup (250ml) heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 pound (500g) fresh strawberries, raspberries or a combination
1 - 1/2 cups mini meringues, broken slightly or 5-6 large meringues broken

Place whipped cream, vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of the whipped cream in a large bowl. Whip cream until it is firm; refrigerate until ready to use.

Place cleaned strawberries in a medium size bowl and mash slightly. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar and mix well. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes or until the sugar is completely dissolved and juices become syrupy.

In a large bowl fold together the meringues and the whipped cream. With a slotted spoon, spoon 2/3 of the strawberries on top of the whipped cream mixture; gently fold in just until combined. Spoon into 4 chilled dessert bowls (or 2 giant mugs). Drizzle the remaining strawberries and syrup over the top and serve immediately or chill for up to 1 hour.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Groupon Tacos: Stuffed Jalapenos Two Ways

Some months ago my beautiful, hip and smart niece in Austin told me about this wonderful site she joined that had amazing deals of the day that you could purchase online and live the good life on the cheap. Hey, sounds good to me. I like living the good life and I’m pretty cheap, so count me in!

I signed up and watched and waited for the perfect opportunity to lose my Groupon virginity, taking this very seriously since at my age I don’t have much virginity left. I passed on dance lessons, massages, teeth whitening, microdermabrasion and family portraits. Then my opportunity came in the form of $40 worth of food for $20 at Lime here in Denver, so I bought two. My daughter had visited their location downtown and had returned with a good review, and since I raised her to appreciate good Mexican(ish) food, I figured I could trust her opinion. I typed in my credit card information and printed off my coupons and waited for the required 24 hours before loading up my daughter and heading over for lunch.

The next day, after running errands which took much longer than we thought they would, we arrived about 1:45 which, as I well know from working in restaurants, is about the time the chef goes home and leaves the dishwasher do the cooking. Since I knew this might be the case, I thought I’d ask our bartender/waiter what he recommended. He liked the chicken sandwich or the Scorpions (or some cute sounding name like that) which was one of their appetizer specialties.

Since I didn’t lose my Groupon virginity for a sandwich I went with the steak fajitas and the Scorpion Bites which turned out to be shrimp stuffed jalapenos wrapped in wonton wrappers and fried. Well, long story short, the wonton wrappers were chewy and tough and the fajitas were baked. To add insult to injury we got to sit in the bar with the manager and listen to her phone in the restaurant’s liquor order way too loudly during most of our lunch.

I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t just this grumpy old woman’s take on things, my daughter was bugged by it too and it takes a lot to rattle her. I think it may have been the off duty waiter pacing around arguing over the phone in the lounge area on the other side of us that pushed her over the edge. Employee rudeness in stereo! Oh well, lesson learned, next time I buy a Groupon I’ll read the reviews BEFORE I purchase it. So here I am with one more Lime coupon left, looking for a silver lining. We figure since we know that they are well stocked for alcohol, we’ll just wait a few more weeks and go have Margaritas with it after my daughter returns home for summer break.

Now that I’ve sufficiently roasted Lime, I’ll get to my recipes. I’ve got two of them for stuffed jalapenos that I know you’re going to love. They are neither wrapped in wonton wrappers nor fried and are pretty simple to make. Beware though you must wear gloves when you are preparing the jalapenos or risk hours of excruciating pain. Believe me I know this one from an experience when I was working for caterer Chris, so heed my warning.

The first recipe is a great warm appetizer for those long lazy summer nights ahead, just perfect with a cold Corona. The good thing about this recipe is the longer you bake the jalapenos, the milder they get so they can also appeal to those who don't care for ultra-spicy food. The second recipe is a cold version that I always include on relish platters for summer barbeques. It adds that little bit of punch that goes perfectly with smoked meat and potato salad.

Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Fresh Jalapenos

8 large fresh jalapenos
4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
3 slices crisp bacon, chopped (precooked real bacon bits can be used in a pinch with pretty good results)
2 green onions, white and light green parts finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut jalapenos in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and membranes with a small spoon; set aside.

In a medium size bowl, blend the cream cheese, cheddar, bacon, onion, cilantro and garlic, stir well to blend completely.

Spoon even amounts of filling into the jalapeno halves and place on a cookie sheet then into the preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until they are golden brown and bubbly. For a milder flavor, continue to cook for up to 10 additional minutes, but be advised as they get milder the peppers also soften and lose their shape.

Olive Stuffed Pickled Jalapenos

8 large pickled jalapenos
4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pimento stuffed green olives
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or green onion
Paprika for garnish

Cut jalapenos in half lengthwise and scoop out insides with a small spoon; set aside.

In a medium size bowl, combine the cream cheese, olives, garlic and onion; mix well. Spoon equal amounts of the cream cheese mixture into the jalapeno halves. Sprinkle with paprika before serving.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Real Men DO Eat Quiche: French Onion Quiche

In 1982 a little satirical book called “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” was published and for whatever reason became an overnight success. Although I never read it, rumor had it that it made fun of men who not only ate quiche but had the audacity to cook it themselves and clean the kitchen up afterward. How dare these “less than real men” enjoy being creative in the kitchen?

I think today we might call the guys referenced in this book metro-sexual and I bet they would happily own their affection for quiche. Thank goodness for evolution. Anyway, back then all the hoopla over this book introduced a whole new generation in this country to the deliciousness that is baked eggs in a flaky pastry crust.

Thanks to this silly little book the popularity of this dish soared. At that time there wasn’t a café that didn’t have a quiche of the day listed on their menu. Soon after the mini quiche was born and became a staple on every happy hour and wedding buffet table for years. Thirty years later, there is still the rare quiche listed on the occasional French café menu but nothing like the popularity of its 80’s heyday and I really miss it, so I’m doing something about it.

Today I’m offering you a recipe for a wonderful quiche. It’s loaded with aromatic ingredients that when blended together make a dish so flavorful that it is perfect for a light lunch or a hearty dinner. The best part is I even guarantee that “real” men will love it, so join me in saving this great dish from extinction and bake a quiche today.

Savory Herbed Pastry Crust

1 – 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface
4 tablespoons cold butter
3 tablespoons shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
2 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
4 – 6 tablespoons ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, process the flour, butter, shortening, salt, thyme, sage and Parmesan cheese; pulse to combine. The contents should look similar to cornmeal. With the processor turned on, add the water a tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Dust a clean dry surface liberally with flour. Turn the dough out on the floured surface and roll out to 1/4” thickness that will cover a 9” glass pie pan. Lay dough into the pie pan, trim (leaving a 1/2" overhang), turn excess under at the edge, and flute edges; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 – 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lay an oversized piece of foil on top of the crust. Pour a cup or so of dried beans or pie weights over the foil. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove foil and pie weights, fill and bake as needed.

Makes one 9" deep dish crust

French Onion Quiche

5 slices bacon
1/2 medium size onion, thinly sliced across
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
6 large eggs
2/3 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces shredded Swiss or Gruyere cheese
2 ounces shredded Asiago (I like the flavor of Asiago but if it isn't available increase the Swiss or Gruyere to 6 ounces)
1 - 9-inch Flaky Herbed Pastry crust (recipe above) partially baked and still warm

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Fry the bacon in a large non-stick frying pan over medium high heat until almost crispy. Transfer bacon to a cutting board and chop into small pieces; set aside.

Drain all but about one tablespoon of the bacon from the pan. Return the pan to medium high heat and sauté onions in the bacon drippings until they are soft and almost transparent; add the garlic and thyme and sauté for one minute longer, set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half and half, salt, and pepper; set aside.

Spoon the onion mixture evenly into a partially cooked pastry case followed by the bacon and the cheese. Slowly pour the egg mixture over the top of all.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 40 to 50 minutes or until the middle is set and golden brown. Cool for approximately 10 minutes before serving. This is delicious served warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chana Masala for the Birthday Girl

My baby girl turns 21 in a couple of days. How did this happen? When she bounced into our lives all those years ago we were totally selfish and unprepared to care for anyone other than ourselves. Somehow she picked up on this weakness and took control. There was no situation that she couldn’t shut down on a whim. With one simple little scream she could call her roadies into action, packing up her truck load of baby equipment in seconds in fear of incurring her further wrath, earning her the pet name “Boss Lady.”

In the blink of an eye she was growing by leaps and bounds, running through our house overly accessorized, smelling of strawberry lip gloss and dancing to the Spice Girls. Back then there wasn’t a fashion trend in which she didn’t participate. We’ve run through literally thousands of dollars on every tween fashion must have in the last fifteen years. Now days she is anti-fad with a simple elegant style all her own.

I don’t want anyone to think that she always ran the show. Middle school and high school were difficult years for our girl. She weathered the storm of queen bees, mean girls, stupid boys and algebra. She faced her hard times with amazing dignity and courage managing to choke back the tears until she got in my car and I drove away. I only share this with you now to give anyone going through this hope that things will get better, because even though it was hard, these experiences made her the strong young woman that she is today. Take that mean girls . . . you lose.

Now as we get ready to celebrate this milestone, and even though I am so happy, my heart is a bit heavy with the realization that a woman now walks in my little girl's shoes. As the clock ticks away we will soon celebrate her college graduation, and hopefully someday her wedding and the birth of her own children. That’s when I understand the fun really starts, when you can share in all the fun of child rearing without being a full-time participant. I don’t know about that, I can't imagine anything could be better than being her mom. Happy birthday sweetheart and thanks for 21 great years!

Since she’s working on her birthday and can’t come home, I’m driving up to college a little early to take her to lunch and drop off her birthday presents. After racking my brain as to what might be a treat for her to heat up for lunch on her real birthday I believe I came up with the perfect thing. Since she grew up in the home of two curry lovers, she has acquired a taste for all that is Indian. We recently dined in a new restaurant and she ordered the Chana Masala and instantly fell in love. It was medium spicy with a drizzling of sweet/tart tamarind chutney. I had to go to a spice shop and our local Indian market but I managed to get everything I needed to prepare this new favorite for her and pass a great recipe on to you.

Chana Masala with Tamarind Chutney and Pappadums

Chana Masala

1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoon grated gingerroot
1 medium size hot green chili, chopped
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional (I found my recipe just right without it, but if you like spice, you can use up to 1/2 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon amchoor (green mango powder), if available, if not use additional lemon juice
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 – 15 ounce can chopped tomatoes
2/3 cup water
2 – 15 ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoons salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon (double this if you don’t have the amchoor)
Chopped fresh cilantro to serve

Place the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, garlic, gingerroot and green chili and sauté for approximately 5 minutes or until it is slightly browned and soft. Reduce heat to medium; add the coriander, cumin, cumin seeds, cayenne, turmeric, amchoor, paprika and garam masala. Stir and sauté for a minute or two before adding the tomatoes, water and chickpeas. Bring contents to a simmer, reduce heat and cook uncovered for approximately 10 minutes or until sauce thickens. Add salt and lemon juice. Cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes before serving over rice with cilantro sprinkled over.

Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to reheat and eat. Curries just get better a day or two after preparation.

Makes 4 hearty servings

Tamarind Chutney

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups water
1 – 2/3 cups lightly packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons tamarind paste

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, ginger, onion powder, garlic powder, and garam masala; cook and stir for about 2 minutes to release the flavors.

Stir the water into the pan with the spices along with the sugar and tamarind paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer over low heat until the mixture turns a deep chocolaty brown and is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon (mine took about an hour). The sauce will be thin, but it will thicken upon cooling.

Fabulous drizzled over the spicy Chana Masala or used as a dip for pappadums or naan bread.

Makes about a cup