Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Blueberry Lemon Trifle for Spring and Summer Desserts!

Perhaps it's the same where you live - after the longest and coldest winter in recent memory, we are so ready for warmer weather here in upstate New York! This past Easter weekend, we were blessed with warm days and sunny skies. To help celebrate spring and the promise of warmer days, I decided to make an Easter dessert that reflected all the lightness and cheer of a new season - a blueberry lemon trifle. Part of the incentive was a trifle dish my friend Kim gave me for my recent (BIG) birthday(!). Another motivating factor was extra layers of lemon cake waiting in my freezer to be turned into something wonderful. I had a bag of frozen blueberries, a box of vanilla pudding mix (six serving, cooked not instant) and a big container of Cool Whip. Cool Whip is not something I buy regularly, preferring by far home-made whipped cream, but for ease of preparation and stability, I had that Cool Whip thawed and ready to go!

This would be a great dessert for any spring or summer brunch or dinner, but I'm thinking it could be especially lovely for Mother's Day.

Here's how it all came together:

BLUEBERRY LEMON TRIFLE

Ingredients:
1 2-layer baked cake, lemon (home made or mix)
6-serving Vanilla pudding mix, cooked style
3 cups milk for the pudding
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 cups frozen blueberries
Large container Cool Whip, thawed

Early in day or day before, make cooked pudding according to package directions. Cool. Chill in fridge until ready to use.

Make blueberry compote:
In medium saucepan, stir together:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch

Add:
2 cups water, whisk well until completely blended.

Stir in 2 cups frozen blueberries.  Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring often, and then continue to boil for two more minutes until quite thick.

Cool and set aside. Chill in fridge until ready to use.

Getting ready to assemble trifle:

cooked vanilla pudding
large container of Cool Whip

To the vanilla pudding, fold in 1/2 the container of the Cool Whip until well combined.

Cut lemon cake layers into chunks, about 1 1/2-inch in size.

Into trifle dish, layer ingredients using about a third of each ingredient per layer, starting cake chunks, then blueberry sauce,  pudding mixture,  and layer of straight Cool Whip. Repeat layers until you get to the top, finishing with pudding mixture and a fluffy crown of Cool Whip (see photo). Garnish with a tiny bit of blueberry sauce and a lemon slice.

Chill. Bring to the table, and spoon into serving dishes.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Orange Almond Chocolate Biscotti YOU Can Make!

YOU can make biscotti. It's not difficult at all! Just takes a little time. The dough comes together quickly and easily. It gets shaped into a loaf which is baked. The baked loaf cools a bit and is divided into a dozen half-inch slices which are baked again and you end up with firm, crispy servings just waiting to be dunked into a steaming hot cup of coffee.

This recipe was inspired by one I found in Ellie Krieger's cookbook, The Food You Crave. Ellie takes our favorite foods and healthies-them-up. I love her and all her recipes. Anyway…this recipe uses whole wheat flour along with all-purpose, uses olive oil, has relatively little sugar, as well as the healthy additions of sliced almonds and fresh orange zest. Dark chocolate rounds out this biscotti, which is a perfect compliment to the orange.

This is my first attempt at biscotti, and it came out great. Try it and let me know what you think! (As always, make it your own with whatever flavors, add-ins appeal to you!)


ORANGE ALMOND CHOCOLATE BISCOTTI
adapted from Ellie Krieger's recipe

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (seriously, if you don't have it, go get it!)

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour or whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur's Whole White)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup orange juice (fresh or otherwise)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract, if you have it
1 generous tablespoon freshly zested orange rind

2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (I used semi-sweet morsels and chopped them up a bit)
1/2 cup sliced raw almonds

Directions:
In medium mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.

In large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, olive oil, orange juice, vanilla extract, orange extract, and orange zest.

Gradually add dry ingredients, a bit at a time, into wet. Mix on low speed until the dough comes together. (I added orange juice to the recipe for this reason - it didn't come together without the added moisture.)

With your hands, blend in almonds and chocolate.

Turn dough out onto floured surface. Knead a few times. Shape dough into a loaf, 10x3 inches. Place loaf on parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Bake 25 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool pan on wire rack for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, with sharp, serrated knife, gently but firmly slice loaf on the diagonal in 1/2-inch thick slices, being careful to keep slices intact.

Bake slices for 10 minutes. Turn slices over and bake for another 5-10 minutes (I went for 10).

Remove from oven and allow sliced biscotti to cool on wire rack.

These biscotti keep well for a week in a covered container, if you let them! After just a few minutes out of the oven I brought a few slices downstairs to Katie, Bill, and Meghan, who were enjoying hot cups of coffee from their new fancy-schmancy Breville coffee maker from Bed, Bath, and Beyond (which grinds the beans right in the coffee maker!), and they were very happy to put this biscotti to the test. They loved it!

Here are photos of the biscotti coming together:

Dough with almonds and chopped chocolate


Shaped and ready for the first baking...


Half-baked!


Sliced and ready to go back in the oven!
You can see it's still doughy in the middle, which is fine.


BISCOTTI!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fudge Walnut Swirl Scones!

Who knows what provides that spark of inspiration? It can be as simple as a scene in a movie, or a photo in a magazine, or just reading a cook book. It might be a memory. Sometimes it comes out of thin air! I find inspiration all over the place. Even when I'm sleeping new recipes come to me. That's what happened last night, after I finally fell asleep at 4:30 in the morning (yes, I'm that age!). I woke up around 7 am and just knew I had to make a scone with a fudge swirl and walnuts, and make it today! Because I'm working all nights this week, I had the morning off and started right in. I can make scones blind-folded, so these came together in a flash. Here's a collage of the process, followed by the recipe which just might become part of my regular repetoire, and yours, too! Let me know if you make these delicious scones and how you like them!



FUDGE WALNUT SWIRL SCONES
Makes 6 large or 12 mini scones

Ingredients:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces butter, softened
1/4 cup buttermilk, or 1/4 cup milk soured with a tablespoon of cider vinegar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons hot fudge sauce
chopped walnuts
egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with a tablespoon of milk or cream)

Directions:
In large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in softened butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or two knives until butter is the size of small peas. Place bowl in freezer for 10 minutes for the butter pieces to firm up and become well chilled.

Take flour mixture out of the freezer. In small, separate bowl, combine milk, beaten egg, and vanilla. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and toss lightly with fork until most of the flour is absorbed.

Turn out the flour/milk mixture onto a well-floured counter top or board. Shape it into a loose ball and knead 10 times (folding in half over itself and patting down 10 times).

Shape into 1 round disk, about 6-inches across for 6 large scones, or divide dough into two equal parts and form each into a disk, about 4-inches across.  Spread disks with hot fudge sauce (two tablespoons for large disk, one tablespoon each for smaller disks). Sprinkle hot fudge with chopped walnuts.

Roll up disk, jelly-roll style, into a log.

Tuck ends under the log.

Shape log into a circle (6-inches for 6 large or two 4-inch circles for 12 mini).  Cut each disk into 6 sections.

Place triangles on parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Brush or blot tops of scones with egg wash.

Put pan in the freezer for 10 minutes before baking. The shape is better when they go in the oven super cold!

Take pan from freezer and bake for 20-23 minutes depending on oven. Scones are done when they take on a golden-brown crust. Don't let them get too dark.

Remove pan to wire rack to cool.

Serve scones for breakfast or with tea, or for a really lovely dessert, warm up and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Bonus photo: Pete, my 3-year old grandson, helped make these cookies yesterday. Actually, I helped him because his motto is "I can do it myself!" for everything. And he pretty much did!



Sweet Pete 


Monday, April 7, 2014

Chicken Piccata, The No-Fuss Version!

I had this THREE nights in a row!
Still not tired of it!

I love chicken piccata. I often order it out, and did recently at a fine Peruvian restaurant during a trip to Florida with my friend Catherine and her family. It was very good. It's usually always very good.

This weekend, Russ took me out to dinner to a restaurant we hadn't yet visited, Wine and Roses Restaurant in Broadalbin, New York. Russ ordered lasagna and I ordered spaghetti and meatballs. We were in an Italian mood, apparently! Wine and Roses is owned by Jim and Shelley Rose. Jim is the head chef at Skidmore College's Dining Services and told me about their restaurant, so when Russ asked me where I wanted to go Friday night, the decision was already made. If you live anywhere in the Saratoga/Sacandaga/Amsterdam area, you have to try this restaurant, it's great. The menu is full of great choices and the prices are unbelievable. The atmosphere is lovely, comfortable, and the parking lot was FULL (always a sign of a great restaurant!).

So, when it came time to think about dinner for Saturday night, I decided to cook. I had chicken breasts ready to be transformed into something wonderful, but wanted to stay away from a tomato-based Italian dish since we'd done that the night before. I was thinking light and fresh - lemon! So, I headed out to buy a nice bottle of white wine, capers, and those tiny little Yukon Gold potatoes to complete the meal. I based this recipe on one I found on allrecipes.com, and changed it up a bit. Click here for a link to the inspiration recipe and compare to the changes I made, which were very successful. Russ and I both loved it, and I have had it twice since! Now, it's gone but it won't be long before I make this simple and delicious recipe again!

CHICKEN PICCATA
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F
Get a cookie sheet ready and line with foil. Spray foil with vegetable spray. This will keep the cooked chicken warm while the sauce is being made.

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour, mixed with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Put flour mixture in large zippered bag, or paper bag (you're going to shake the chicken pieces in the bag).

2 good-sized skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, trimmed and cut in half width-wise and each half cut again in half cross-wise (to make 8 pieces). This is easy if the chicken has a little frost in it, just barely thawed. (The original recipe used 4 chicken breast halves, but I only had 2, and it was plenty.)

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup dry white wine

1 lemon, juiced (or 1/4 cup bottled real lemon juice works well)

One tablespoon flour, dissolved in 3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon capers, or to taste (I like a lot)

1 lemon, sliced

chopped fresh parsley if you have it

Instructions:
Wash and pat dry chicken pieces. Shake pieces in bag to coat completely in flour mixture.

In large non-stick skillet, over medium heat, melt butter but don't let it brown. Place coated chicken pieces in butter in skillet and let cook for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally to cook/brown evenly (careful not to disturb the coating), about 10 minutes or until juices run clear. Remove from skillet and place pieces on cookie sheet. Keep warm in oven while the sauce is being made.

OK, the sauce:

Add wine to the butter in the pan and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up the solid pieces from the bottom of the pan. Don't remove, just stir well to dissolve. Add the lemon juice and capers and turn heat to low. Strain the flour/water mixture into the liquid, whisk or stir well, and allow to cook very slowly, about 10 minutes to reduce, stirring now and then until the sauce is thickened.

Platter the chicken pieces and pour the reduced sauce over all. Garnish with sliced lemons and parsley if you have them. If not, you won't miss a thing!

I served this with green beans and baby Yukon Gold potatoes, but you can serve it with pasta if you prefer. It's amazing!



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Orange Cranberry Muffins

This is a great recipe. It's easy, too - just stirred together, no mixer required. It bakes up light, and firm yet tender, and comes out of a prepared muffin tin like a dream. I adapted this recipe from one I found on allrecipes.com for a great basic buttermilk muffin. There are enough changes to the recipe to make it my own, and you can too with whatever you imagine. The original recipe included nutmeg which I omitted for this citrus-y version. Anyway, compare the linked original to my adaptation, and go on to create whatever muffin your heart desires!

Helpful hint of the day: use a levered ice cream scoop (standard size) to measure and drop dough into muffin cups. It makes the job so much easier!

ORANGE CRANBERRY MUFFINS
Makes 1 dozen
Preheat oven - 375 degrees F

Ingredients:
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk soured with 1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar - let sit 5 minutes)
1/2 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
fresh zest of 1/2 an orange (about a generous tablespoon fresh, or a teaspoon dried)
2.5 oz. dried cranberries (half a 5 oz. package) tossed with a tablespoon of flour. The flour keeps them suspended in the batter. You can use more cranberries if you like.

Directions:
Prepare muffin pan by spraying well with cooking or baking spray rather than using paper liners.

In large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another bowl, mix together buttermilk, orange juice, beaten eggs, and vanilla.

Pour milk mixture into flour mixture and, with a fork, mix together just until all dry particles have been incorporated.  Make sure it's all mixed in, especially at the bottom of the bowl. Wait a few minutes - the batter will become light and fluffy before your eyes as the acids in the buttermilk react with the leavening (baking powder and soda).

Gently but completely fold in cranberries and orange zest.

Drop batter into prepared muffin cups.

Bake for 18 minutes or until edges begin to brown and muffins spring back when pressed lightly in the center.

Remove from oven and cool on wire rack for about 15-20 minutes. Remove muffins from pan and cool completely.

Here are photos of the process:

Beautiful orange!


Microplane was a birthday gift from
my great friend, Claire!


This is what the batter looks like
when the buttermilk reacts with the baking powder and soda.


And a little sugar on top...


You can see the orange zest!


On my really cool cooking rack
from King Arthur Flour!


Picture perfect...


And a close up!

Enjoy every bite!

AND, here's a recent photo of Henry and Peter, visiting on a Sunday morning. They're getting SO big, so fast. I want to slow down time!!!

Henry and Peter visiting Grandma
on a recent Sunday morning

Monday, March 31, 2014

Boys and Cake to Celebrate!

This is a short-and-sweet post, kinda like the recipients of this past Saturday's cakes! The first, a Onesie Cake, was for Erin's soon-to-be-born baby boy. Her mom Nancy is a great and life-long friend of mine. We went to high school together. This will be Nancy's second grandchild, second grandson. Her son Jason has a cutie patootie little guy named Kenny with the biggest brown eyes I've ever seen!

A few words about the cake - Nancy sent a photo of her inspiration cake, a fondant-covered cake that looked like a baby's onesie. The inspiration cake had little nautical flags on the bib. Nancy asked for jungle animals. I'm not an expert at fondant-covered cakes, so I told Nancy I'd be happy to do it in buttercream with fondant decorations. The cake was a black-and-white marble cake, the marble made with two batches of a white cake recipe marbled with one recipe of dark chocolate fudge cake. I let the BIG cake cool overnight and carved its shape the next day. I made a sketch indicating just where I needed to cut away, and did just that. I crumb-coated the sides and top and allowed that to sit for a few hours to make sure the crumbs stayed contained, which is important when you're frosting raw, crust-free edges. I liberally frosted it in a pretty periwinkle blue, and smoothed out the surface with a paper towel (great trick!) and a fondant smoother. Then I started to make defined marks on the cake with a skewer and other gadgets (like a fondant wheel). I loaded up my pastry bag and added shell borders. The bib, jungle animals, and buttons were all shaped with fondant that I colored, molded, and even painted (with paste food coloring). I loved making this cake for Erin's new little bundle, and I am thrilled that it got such great reviews, not only for its appearance, but also for its flavor. Here is the Onesie cake:




The other cake I made for Saturday was for my great-nephew Carriag's 4th birthday party. Carraig's mom, Emily, told me Carraig really wanted a tuba cake. OK. A first, but who's to deny a 4-year old the cake of his dreams?  Not me! So, I looked up images of tubas all over the internet, got a bit of inspiration, and made this cake -- in true family fashion, chocolate on chocolate! -- as well as cupcakes for one of the cutest and sweetest little guys in the world! Here are Carraig's cupcakes and dream cake:






Hope you've enjoyed seeing these cakes as much as I enjoyed telling you about them!


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chip Chip Cookies - Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper Potato Chips!

You can't avoid the sweet-salty collision. It's everywhere - in chocolates, caramels, and even baked goods. Today I made Chip Chip cookies, my take on the sweet-salty revolution. This is NOT your grandmother's chocolate chip cookie! It's a chewy cookie with sea salt and cracked pepper potato chips inside and out. I took an old recipe for a not-quite-typical chocolate chip cookie and changed it up even more with the addition of sturdy, kettle-style potato chips.

What sets this recipe apart from the familiar standard is that the dough is not beaten, it's stirred. I based it on the basic cookie my friend Betsy Cogan made for years. Everything is stirred, old-school. Barely melted butter mixed with more brown sugar than white creates a caramel-y texture, and these cookies are perfectly chewy when baked for 10 minutes (in my oven).

You can see the crushed potato chips on top of the cookies
giving a hint as to what's inside! 


Here's the recipe:

CHIP CHIP COOKIES
Makes 3 dozen large (3- to 4-inch) cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit
If you have parchment paper, line a cookie sheet. (I always use parchment paper - it's worth its weight in gold! Cookies bake evenly, and clean up is much simpler. Won't bake without it!)


Ingredients:

1/2 lb. unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups kettle-style potato chips or more to taste - I used Saratoga Chips - Sea Salt and Black Pepper

Directions:

In large mixing bowl, place both sugars and vanilla. Stir.

In small saucepan over low heat, melt butter until it's about 3/4 melted. Turn off heat and allow the residual heat to melt the rest of the butter. These keeps the butter from getting too hot.

Pour melted butter into sugar mixture and stir well.

Add eggs to sugar butter mixture, one at a time, stirring well after each addition.

Place flour, baking soda, and salt over top of mixture in bowl. Toss these dry ingredients lightly with a fork to incorporate, and then stir well into butter/sugar/egg mixture.

Stir in chocolate chips and 1 cup of the potato chips that you have broken in coarse pieces over the batter. Mix well. The other 1/2 cup of the potato chips will be crushed with a rolling pin (or however you'd like to crush them) to sprinkle on top of the cookies before they go in the oven.

Using a cookie scoop or a generous tablespoon, drop batter a few inches apart onto lined cookie sheet. You should get 12-15 cookies per pan. Press down a tiny bit to flatten the tops. Sprinkle crushed potato chips on top.

Bake for 10 minutes OR just until edges begin to brown and middles begin to look dry. Don't let them get brown all over or they'll lose their chewiness.

Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before moving the cookies to a cooling rack.

And the close-up!
See the potato chips?