Saturday, June 30, 2012

#Baketogether with Abby Dodge: Very Berry (or Cherry) Mini Pies with Creamy English Custard Sauce

Beautiful little tart cherries.  They just mean summer to me.

I’ve known for a whole month now that this month’s #baketogether dish is for some beautiful very berry mini pies with a crumb topping (one of my absolute favorites) and I have been chomping at the bit to try them.  Well, things kept coming up that needed my immediate attention (cherry picking, Tillamook, Denver Burger Week and some re-upholstery work) so here we are, the last day of the month and I am finally posting my interpretation.
My latest project

Abby’s original recipe just looked so good that I really didn’t know what I was going to do to make this recipe mine, then it struck me.  Since I have spent no less than two days this week up the street stripping my neighbor’s sour cherry tree of its fruit and the rest of the week canning it, I decided on English inspired jam tarts (surprised it’s something English?).

It just so happens that my last batch of cherry jam turned out a little loose due to the impatience of the cook, so I’m now calling it pie filling.   Just as I was beginning to wonder what I was going to do with it, this month's Bake Together came to mind.  Seeing that it worked perfectly for this recipe I guess it is really a good thing that I waited.

Ok so now I’ve got some great little jam tarts with a tart and bright flavor, but there’s still just a little something missing.  I got to thinking that if I were to make these for my friends in England I would serve them with either heavy unwhipped cream or with warm custard.  Since I posted a Bakewell pudding blog with heavy pouring cream not long ago, custard it is. 
English custard or crème Anglaise as it is also known, is a sweet, creamy, thinner version of American vanilla pudding.  Served as an accompaniment to desserts, it is something just a bit different if you would like a break from ice cream or whipped cream. 
This custard pairs very nicely with the brightness of the fruit in these tarts and the nuttiness of the crumble topping.  I highly recommend that you take just a little extra time and treat your guests to this simple little gem of a recipe when you are wanting to kick your dessert up just a bit. 
Here's Abby's original pie recipe:

Very Berry Mini Pies

Makes 10 mini tarts

For the dough
1 1/3 cups (6 ounces) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 6 slices, well chilled
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) vegetable shortening, cut into 2 slices, well chilled
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon very cold water
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the streusel topping
1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (5/8 ounce) quick cooking oats
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of table salt
4 tablespoons ( 2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons (7/8 ounce) sliced almonds, lightly toasted

For the filling
1/3 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of table salt
2 cups (10 ounces) fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (5 ounces) fresh raspberries, rinsed and dried

Make the dough
1. Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until the butter and shortening pieces are slightly larger than pea size, about 10 to 12 pulses depending on your machine. Drizzle the water and lemon juice evenly over the flour mixture. Pulse until the dough begins to form moist crumbs that are just beginning to clump together, about 8 or 9 more pulses depending on your machine.
2. Dump the moist crumbs onto a large piece of plastic wrap and gather into a pile. With the heel of you hand, push and gently smear the dough away from you until the crumbs come together. We did this “Fraisage” technique in the Savory Sables – check out the pix. Two or three ‘smears’ should do the trick. Shape into a 5-inch disc and wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

Make the streusel
1. Put the flour, oats, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl and stir until well blended. Add the butter and, using a fork (or your fingers), mix and mash until the ingredients are well blended and form small crumbs. Stir in the almonds. Pop in the fridge while you make the filling and assemble the tarts.
Line the tart pans
1. Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease ten regular-sized (2 3/4- 3 inch diameter) muffin cups.
2. Set the wrapped, chilled dough on the counter at room temperature until it’s pliable enough to roll, 10 to 20 minutes (depending on your kitchen temp and the weather). Arrange a large piece of plastic wrap or parchment on the work surface and put the dough in the center. Cover with another piece of plastic or parchment and press down on the dough to flatten. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough between the plastic or parchment to about 1/8- inch thickness, turning, lifting and repositioning the plastic or parchment and lightly flouring throughout the rolling. Using a 3 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 8 rounds. Gather up the scraps, reroll to a 1/8-inch thickness, and cut another round. Reroll and cut one more round for a total of 10 rounds of dough.
3. Working with one round at a time, use your fingers to gently press the dough into a prepared muffin cup, making sure there are no air bubbles in the bottom and the dough is pressed firmly and evenly up the side to within 1/8 inch of the top of the cup. Repeat with the remaining dough rounds. If your kitchen is hot, slide the muffin tins into the frig while you make the filling.
Make the filling and bake the tarts

1. Put the sugar, flour, and salt in a medium bowl and, using a table fork, mix until well blended. Add 1 cup of the blueberries and, using the table fork, crush the berries while stirring them into the sugar-flour mixture. Add the remaining blueberries, raspberries and the vanilla and toss to coat evenly. Evenly spoon the filling into the lined muffin cups (they will be completely full). Scatter the streusel evenly over the filling – don’t be shy.
2. Bake until the crusts and streusel are golden brown and the filling is bubbling, 27 to 29 minutes. Move the muffin tin to a wire rack. Using a paring knife, run the blade between the crust and the pan to loosen the tarts from any sticky berry juices and let cool for 10 minutes. Using a thin, metal spatula or the paring knife, carefully remove the tarts from the muffin cups and set them on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A slightly heaping tablespoon of jam will fill the cups to the perfect level to still accommodate the crumb topping.

For my version I prepared the dough and streusel topping as directed but instead of preparing the berry filling as Abby did, I spooned in a heaping tablespoon of my homemade tart cherry jam, uh sorry, pie filling, into each dough lined muffin cup.  I then topped with equal amounts of the streusel topping as directed.  I then baked them until golden brown and served them with a healthy splash of my custard (recipe follows). 

Thanks so much Abby for a great little recipe.  The crust is tender and crumbly and they are the perfect size for everyone to have their own personal little treat. 
 English Style Custard Sauce

I call this recipe "English style" custard because it is not quite traditional with the addition of the butter, which I believe adds a nice finish in texture and flavor.  You can also add any other extracts or liqueurs that you want to make it your own.  It is a fun recipe to play with and make your own.  Feel free to serve this at any temperature you desire but you may need add just a little extra milk to thin it down if you serve it cold from the fridge.  I think you’re really going to love it.
2 cups half and half
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
Place the half and half in a heavy bottom saucepan set over a medium heat.  Bring to a simmer.
While the half and half is heating, stir together the yolks, sugar, corn starch and vanilla extract; set aside.
Once the half and half comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat and add it to the egg mixture in a slow steady stream while whisking the egg mixture to temper it. 
When you have mixed approximately 3/4 of the half and half with the eggs, whisk that mixture back into the remaining half and half in the saucepan. 
Return the saucepan back to a medium heat and, while stirring constantly, bring it back to a simmer.  By this time the mixture will be thick and creamy.  Remove from the heat as soon as it thickens.  Since cornstarch isn't as stable as flour, keeping it on the heat too long will cause it to break and thin back down.  Stir in the butter. 

If you are not serving it immediately, cover it with plastic wrap so it does not form a skin on top.
Makes approximately 2 – 1/4 cups
Very Cherry Mini Pies with English Style Custard

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tillamook's Loaf Love Tour, D Bar Desserts and a Pimento Cheese Recipe

One of Tillamook's 5 Loaf Love Tour buses.

Many of you may not know this, but it is burger week here in Denver.  Part of Tillamook’s Loaf Love Tour, the company is "bringing their cheese to the people" by sponsoring celebrations all over the country.  Starting June 23rd and lasting through the 30th , four Denver area restaurants will feature their own signature burgers using Tillamook’s cheeses as ingredients.   To see all four of the participating restaurants, view their burger descriptions, and learn more about Tillamook’s Loaf Love Tour, please click here.

I’m no stranger to the goodness that is Tillamook.  A few years ago I participated in their mac and cheese competition here in Denver and even though I didn’t win my region and a trip to their home in Tillamook, Oregon, I won lots of cheese that left me with a discerning palate forever spoiling me from completely enjoying anything else.

Last Wednesday I was more than happy to join several other bloggers and Tillamook representatives at D Bar Desserts for the kickoff of the Denver leg of this event.  As the name implies, this restaurant is not only home to some of the city's best desserts but some truly inspired light savory bites as well.  

 In addition to being a Food Network celebrity, our host owner Keegan Gerhard is also an award winning pastry chef and one very nice guy.   After enjoying drinks and appetizers on the patio we were invited inside the restaurant for a demonstration on how he prepares his signature burger. 
Keegan Gerhard demonstrating how to make his KGB burger while dessert ingredients bubble in the foreground.

The KGB burger is a decadent combination of savory waffles made with herbs and lots of Tillamook cheese, Kobe beef, bacon, and if it could get any better for this Texas girl, a slathering of homemade pimento cheese spread. 

Even though he is a famous chef, I must admit just between you and me that I was a little apprehensive about his ability to make really good pimento cheese.  I mean as far as I know you must be:  A. from the south, B. a female, and C. have blue hair, to possess the proper skills to make it really well, and as I observed Gerhard was none of the above.

As he started his demo, he began talking about how his wife was from Texas and how much he loved his mother-in-law’s Cool Whip and candy bar Snickers pie.  I soon came to figure that anyone who loves a favorite community recipe like that must know something about good old southern food, so maybe his pimento cheese was going to be good after all. 

Keegan Gerhard's KGB Burger available at D Bar Desserts

As you can tell from this photo, this burger was good beyond description.  From the crispy, cheesy waffle bun to the Kobe beef patty and yes his delicious pimento cheese spread oozing between the two, this burger was near perfection.  Oh and by the way, he served breaded and deep fried mac and cheese with a little sriracha ranch dip on the side taking this comfort dish to a whole new level.

Our tasting burgers with fried mac and cheese

Since desserts are what this restaurant was founded on, this post wouldn’t be complete without showing what sweets Gerhard and his staff cooked up for us on this night.
After we finished our burgers we were served the lightest and fluffiest churro that I have ever eaten, including those that I have made myself.  It was truly like eating a little cinnamon sugar covered cloud dipped in ganache.  I adored every bite.

The only consolation to finishing my churro was in the little white bowl sitting next to the empty spot where it once sat.  Upon cracking the caramelized sugar covering on top, I sunk my spoon into a creamy and perfectly sweet vanilla custard that waited underneath.  Each bite of this mini crème brulee no less than melted in my mouth.  This was truly a wonderful ending to a great evening.  

My pimento cheese

Since I have actually been planning on a pimento cheese blog for some weeks now, I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to use Gerhard’s inspiration and two of Tillamook’s cheeses.  I am proud to say that even though I don’t have blue hair my pimento cheese is legendary (well, in my family at least). I’m also giving you a few of my favorite variations of it that we frequently enjoy if you’d like to try something just a little bit different. 
My favorite BLT with pimento cheese.

As you can tell by my photos, this is a pretty versatile recipe that you can use on burgers, sandwiches or spread inside a celery stalk for one of my mother’s favorite appetizers from the 60s.  I always knew that if she was spreading pimento cheese inside a stalk of celery, something really special was about to happen.

Tillamook Pimento Cheese

I totally agree with Keegan Gerhard when he said not to use the jarred pimento (or pimiento) as they are just flavorless and too soft.  While he prefers to roast and peel his peppers, I prefer using fresh raw red bell peppers as I find their flavor to be brighter than the roasted ones. 

4 ounces Tillamook medium cheddar, grated and chilled

4 ounces Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar, grated and chilled

2 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature

1/2 of a medium size red bell pepper, finely minced

1 scant tablespoon finely minced yellow onion

7 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 - 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons Sambal Oelek chili paste or sriracha for a spicier taste (optional)

Pinch of white or black pepper (my momma never had any white pepper)

Place the cheddar cheeses in a large bowl; set aside.

In a medium size bowl add the remaining ingredients and blend well to form a dressing.  Pour the dressing over the cheese and fold the two together being careful not to over work.  This mixture is best when the cheese shreds are well defined with a creamy sauce holding them together.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but preferably overnight.  Serve.

This recipe makes approximately 2 cups, enough for 6 sandwiches


Mexican Style Pimento Cheese

Prepare as above only adding ½ - 1 chopped jalapeno (fresh or pickled depending on your preference), 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro and a pinch of mild chili powder.

Smoky Chipotle Pimento Cheese

Prepare as above only adding 1 teaspoon adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers and 1 teaspoon of the chopped chipotle pepper from the same can.

Asian Inspired Pimento Cheese

Prepare as above adding 2 teaspoons – 1 tablespoon sriracha, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro and substitute the yellow onion with 1 – 2  large green onions, thinly sliced.

English Style Cheese Spread

Prepare as above omitting the red bell pepper, reducing the yellow onion to 2 teaspoons and adding 1 large green onion (white and light green parts only) thinly sliced and2 - 3 slices of crispy bacon, chopped.

Italian Inspired Cheese Spread

Prepare as above adding 1 tablespoon chopped sun dried tomatoes (packed in oil or soaked in water to soften), 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Say Happy Father's Day With a Big Steak and My Version of Delia Smith's Piedmont Roasted Peppers

Fathers’ Day is around the corner and like millions of others I will think of my wonderful father and miss him when I do.  Bittersweet this day.   Even though I miss my dad more than I can say, I count myself lucky because I do have a wonderful father in my life, my husband.

Since his very first Father’s Day 22 years ago, he has made sure to keep a warm and cozy house for us to live in and good food for us to eat.  He put money away for college instead of buying a flashy red convertible.  Well, he did buy one once, but gave it to me. 

He helped me take care of my father and grandfather at the end of their lives (this counts since they don’t have a Son-in-law’s Day).  He keeps our trash cans empty, our cars clean and walks our dog every day without fail.   He can fix ANYTHING which makes him pretty darn important around here.   He has even provided us all with thrills and adventure by taking us to live in Europe. Pretty great guy, huh?  So what if he’s a little challenged around the barbeque grill, and couldn’t put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder if his life depended on it.

When it comes to buying him presents for his day I’m of the belief that the shopping is up to his children.  When they were little, they handmade cards and gave him lots of hugs and kisses just like I did for my own dad when I was young.  Now that they are 17 and 22 they will be buying him something on their own, and since he just put our daughter through college and bought our son a new car after he totaled his first one, I might suggest they put their thinking caps on and really go all out.

As for my part, I’m in charge of supper of course.  Since this is Dad’s day I’m going to make a real dad meal with a big hunk of meat and a pile of potatoes with a special dish on the side that happens to be one of his favorites. 

We originally discovered this dish, which is a delicious combination of baked sweet bell peppers stuffed with tomatoes and garlic, at a friend’s house in England.  Quite an accomplished cook herself she had to confess that this wasn’t her own recipe.  I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn that it was a recipe from Delia Smith’s Summer Collection Cookbook.  Come to find out as I dug a bit further, Delia Smith found this recipe through another chef who had discovered it when it was served to him at one of his favorite restaurants.  So as you can see it has quite a long pedigree.

For my version of this recipe I have omitted the usual anchovies because I find them to be evil. In their place I have substituted yellow summer squash and onions and it is still just a fabulous summer dish.  I have also included a simple steak rub recipe that I think you will love too.  Rub this into your steaks and throw them on the grill and you will discover that you never need buy steak seasoning or steak sauce ever again.

Father’s Day Steak Rub

1 tablespoon beef bouillon powder or crushed granules

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon rubbed sage

1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon (depending on how spicy you like it) coarsely ground black pepper

1 tightly packed tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir together breaking up the ingredients until they are a uniform powder.  Sprinkle half a teaspoon on each side of an 8 – 10 ounce steak.  Rub in to coat and place it on the counter for 15 – 30 minutes or in the refrigeratior overnight if you wish.  They just get better as they sit. 

Will coat 6 steaks

Piedmont Roasted Peppers My Way  


4 medium size tomatoes

4 large red, orange or yellow bell peppers, cut in half lengthwise, reserving the stem if possible

1 medium size yellow summer or patty pan, cut into small bite size pieces

1/4 of a small onion, sliced into thin strips

1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place tomatoes in a medium size bowl and pour enough boiling water over the top to cover them.  Set aside for 2 – 3 minutes or until the skins split.  Remove from the water and remove and discard the skins; chop into large bite size pieces. Place in to a medium size bowl; set aside.

Remove the seeds and membranes from the inside of the peppers and set aside.

In a medium size bowl combine the chopped tomatoes, squash, onion, thyme, salt, pepper and garlic; toss well to combine.  Divide the mixture evenly amongst the 4 pepper halves and stuff.  Place the stuffed pepper halves in a 9” square pan that has been lightly greased. 

Drizzle each pepper with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil.  Place into the preheated oven and bake uncovered for 1 hour or until the vegetables are fork tender.

Serves 4

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Summer Vacations and Chicken and Dumplings

We are in the process of planning our annual family vacation.  Over the years we have done this so many times I have lost count, but the excitement of the process never wanes.  It starts out with the four of us throwing out ideas which are cut down to a short list before a final vote is cast and our winner is announced.  We are now in the short list stage for this summer’s getaway.

Last year there was no short list because our plans were in effect made for us many years ago.  You see my husband was adopted at birth, and like many adopted children he wondered for years and years who his birth mother was.  During a visit with his adoptive mother several years ago they worked together and after much searching they finally found her.

At first his birth mother was shocked and angry that anyone could find her, making it clear that she wanted no part of the child she gave up all those years ago.  Knowing that this reaction was a possibility, my husband respected her decision and took it all in stride, then turned to the possibility of finding his birth father.  After a few more weeks it was found that he had died ten years prior, bringing this lifelong quest to an end.  Even though there were no tearful reunions, there was a definite sense of resolution and our lives moved on.

Just about the time things had settled down my husband received a telephone call telling him that his birth mother had had a change of heart and wanted to talk.  She explained to him that she had tried to put the whole experience out of her mind and went on to marry a good man and have two more children who knew nothing about him.  She eventually shared her secret with her children who were shocked but became accepting over time. 

My husband and the new woman in his life spent the next ten years carrying on a clandestine relationship calling at prearranged times and mailing letters with no return address as not to let her husband catch on.  Somehow they even managed to spend a few days together at the halfway mark between our house and hers getting to know each other.

This arrangement worked well until about a year and a half ago when she had an aneurysm.  Her letters were no longer light and cheerful.  They had taken on a tone of sadness and recognition of her diminished physical and mental capacity and most of all her mortality.  We knew that it was either now or never, we had to make a family trip to meet her so she could see her first child once again and the grandchildren that she had never met.  It became obvious that a trip to Memphis was in our future. 

For those of you who have been reading my blog for at least the past year or so, you will probably remember my post about what fun we had on our family trip to Memphis last summer (to read my original post, click here).  Not only did we see all of the sights, but we also met with the woman who gave birth to my husband, and yes, we met her husband too.  From what we could understand, it was explained that we were long lost distant relatives from a land far away.  He may have known something was up, but was kind enough not to ask any questions thank goodness.  He was a true gentleman and we all liked him very much.

Our trip was short and sweet and jam packed, but the most memorable moment of all took place shortly after our arrival at her home on that first day when she felt the necessity to cook for us.  She had no way of knowing this, and we felt no need to tell her, but we had all just finished a late lunch of mall food court Chinese stir-fry before heading over to her house.  When she proudly presented each of us with a big bowl of chicken and dumplings, we felt we had no choice but to raise our forks and clean our plates.  I must say now that I don’t think I have ever been more proud of my children than I was at that very moment.

Her chicken and dumplings were really very good.  As with every good southern cook she had stewed her chicken until the meat was falling off the bone which gave her stock a glossiness that can only be achieved by slowly cooking collagen and marrow.  In her creamy sauce she had large pieces of soft onion, celery and carrots which were a truly important part of the dish not just something with which to season it.  The only chink in the armor here was the imitation salt that she had used to season it with, but seeing that she was faced with serious health concerns we understood.  Ignoring the no-salt, this was without a doubt the best meal we had on our holiday for more than one reason.

After several days in the hot and humid land of Elvis we headed home to Colorado and settled back into our everyday lives.  Life rocked on much as it always had until this past February when a large mysterious box was delivered to our house with my husband’s half-sister’s return address.  He was on the road when it arrived and asked me to open it up and satisfy his curiosity.  The moment I tore off the last piece of tape I could smell the unmistakable scent of musty old papers. 

On top of the stack of cards and letters inside the box was a small cream colored handwritten note explaining to my husband that his birth mother had died three weeks before after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage. His half-sister was returning all of the letters and photos that he had sent to their mother over the past ten years.  Obviously since she had saved every one they had been very important to her and she wanted my husband to know that.  What a kind gesture to make in honor of her mother.

We are now left with great memories of our trip to Memphis, a very special woman and the only meal she ever prepared for her son.  I remember thinking at the time that this was an odd choice for supper on a hot summer's day, but who knows why she chose it.  All I can figure is that it must have been very special to her to have served it on such an important occasion.  

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that my recipe offering for this post will be for chicken and dumplings.  Although just plain down home food, it has taken on a very special place in our lives.  This dish is simple, comforting and nourishing, just like the relationship that they shared in those ten years.  I hope you’ll find comfort in this dish too.  The type of salt you use is totally up to you.

Chicken and Dumplings

Pillsbury, Paula Deen and Sandra Lee may approve of this recipe, but I'm afraid that I may get some grief from a couple of my friends about the dumplings in this recipe being from a can, but I really love their taste and ease.  Since I didn't have my husband's birth mother's recipe, I was happy to use my own mother's. 

1 – 2.5 pound chicken cut into quarters

6 cups of chicken stock

1 large bay leaf

3 large carrots, sliced into 1 – 2” pieces

3 large celery stalks, sliced into 2” long pieces

1 large onion, sliced into 6 wedges from top to bottom

4 – 5 small new potatoes, cut in half

1 – 8 count can of refrigerator biscuits, cut into quarters

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup milk

1/8 teaspoon ground thyme

1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage

2 tablespoons butter

Chopped parsley to garnish

Rinse the chicken pieces.  Place the chicken in a large stockpot.  Add the chicken stock and bay leaf.  Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for approximately 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, turning the pieces over ½ way through the cooking time.

Remove the chicken from the hot stock and place on a plate to cool.  When the chicken is cool to the touch, remove the meat from the bone and tear into large shreds.  I like to leave the drumsticks and wings in tact because I like the way it looks but this is up to you.

Add the carrots to the boiling stock and cook for 5 minutes before adding the rest of the vegetables and cooking for another 10 minutes.

Gently drop the biscuit quarters in a single layer on top of the liquid.  Cover the pot and continue cooking for an additional 10 minutes or until the biscuits are firm.  With a wooden spoon gently turn the dumplings over.  Cover once again and cook for an additional 2 - 3 minutes.

While the dumplings are cooking, place the flour in a shallow bowl.  Slowly add the milk to the flour, whisking constantly to make a creamy paste.  Add the thyme and sage to the paste.

Reduce the heat under the pot to low.  Gently push a couple of the dumplings to the side to make a hole so that it is easier to add the remaining ingredients. While stirring constantly, add the paste to the broth in the pan, stirring until it is completely incorporated.  Add the butter and continue gently stirring to incorporate being careful not to break up the dumplings.

Add the chicken meat to the simmering liquid and heat until the broth has thickened and the meat is heated through.  Ladle into shallow bowls and garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 6 - 8

Friday, June 1, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Cakes aka Union Jack Petit Fours

At first I was baffled about all the cupcake hoopla that has been going on for the past few years.  I mean haven’t we all grown up eating them our whole lives?  It just seemed to me that some people act like they had just invented the wheel.  Cupcake insanity has taken over the world. . . thank goodness.

Well after thinking about it awhile I have come to the conclusion that we all just like something cute and small that belongs just to us.  Who wouldn’t love a little individual cake that is all yours and that has been decorated with just as much love and care as a big cake?  I have a friend Beverley that has a Facebook page, Something About Cupcakes, that is devoted to talking about cupcakes and I have to say I’ve seen some pretty amazing examples through her efforts.

The only thing that seems to be a notch up from cupcakes to me is the ever elegant little petit four.  There has always been something super chic about these little cakes to me.  Maybe it is that perfect ratio of icing to cake.  I just love their size and that delicate little glaze that cracks slightly when you bite into them.  Then, normally towards the middle they are crowned with a soft and buttery little decoration that melts on your tongue.

When I was deciding what sweet little treat I’d like to follow my coronation chicken up with for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, I decided to pull these sinful little confections from the shadow of their cupcake cousins and give them the attention they deserve. 

Since I have never made petit fours before I perused the internet and decided on trying a recipe from Land ‘O Lakes, figuring I couldn’t possible go wrong with a recipe from a butter company.  This recipe wasn’t necessarily difficult to make, but since my old oven’s temperature is hard to regulate, my cake took about 10 minutes less time to cook than stated.  I'm not sure if this was my oven or the recipe so please keep a close eye to avoid disappointment. 

I also found that the icing had a perfect consistency, but also had a strong powdered sugar flavor that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.  I’m not saying that this isn’t a great recipe but if I make this again I will be adding just a pinch of salt to the glaze to cut the sweetness just a bit.

Once I had the cake baked and cooled, I trimmed the crusts from it and cut it into 2-½ “ x 2” squares with a very sharp serrated knife.  This meant that my recipe yielded only about 18 larger petit fours but with my Union Jack decoration I needed a larger surface to work with.

To decorate I cut a Union Jack shaped stencil from a thin plastic cutting board that I had tucked away.  After glazing the cakes I let them dry for 10 minutes or so, so they were dry to the touch before laying the stencil on top and lightly spraying them with some blue Wilton Color Mist food color spray.  I then removed the stencil and added the red icing accents over the white icing to complete my Union Jacks.  During this process I took great pains to take photographs only to discover after I had finished that I didn’t have a card in my camera, duh.  Please accept my apologies.

The only other comment I have on this recipe is that I strongly recommend that these be made (or at least glazed) the day that they are to be served.  If they are covered overnight the glaze softens and becomes a bit gooey.  If they are left uncovered they can become stale.  You can in a pinch make them the day before, cover them overnight then uncover them and expose them to the air to dry back out for at least an hour before serving or decorating.  They will have that crisp texture again but the icing has a tendency to sink into the cake during the time they sit.
My conclusion is that whether or not you are making Union Jacks for the Queen or little birthday bites for your little prince or princess, these are really something special.  Just like cupcakes, who doesn't love their own little cake with just the right amount of icing?
 Union Jack Petit Fours
This is the original Land O Lakes recipe that I made with the only changes being those I mentioned above.


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
6 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk


3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla
3 drops food color, if desired


Candy flowers, if desired
Frosting flowers, if desired

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 13x9-inch baking pan; set aside.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Set aside.
Beat sugar and butter in large bowl at medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally, until creamy. Add 1 egg white at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition just until mixed.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire racks 10 minutes. Loosen edge of cake by running knife around inside edge. Carefully remove cake from pan; cool completely.
Trim edges from cake; cut cake into 48 (1 1/2-inch square) pieces.

Combine sugar, cream of tartar and water in 3-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a full boil (12 to 14 minutes). Cover; boil 3 minutes. Uncover; continue cooking until candy thermometer reaches (228°F. to 234°F.) or small amount of mixture dropped into ice water forms a 2-inch soft thread (15 to 20 minutes). Remove from heat; cool to 110°F. or until bottom of pan is slightly warm to touch (do not stir) ( 1 hour). Stir in powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon almond extract and food color, if desired.
Place wire cooling rack over waxed paper. Place 1 cake piece on fork; drizzle icing over top and sides of cake, making sure each side is covered. Place onto wire rack; let stand until icing is set. (If icing becomes too thick, reheat over low heat until thin consistency and easy to drizzle (2 to 3 minutes)). Garnish each petit four with candy flowers or frosting flowers, if desired.

- If you do not have a candy thermometer use these guidelines for the cold water test: *Use a clean spoon. *Drop small amount of mixture into a cup of very cold water. *Test hardness with fingers. At 223°F. to 234°F. the mixture should form a 2-inch soft thread.

- Package petits fours in a festive candy or cake box for gift giving.