Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lemon Pound Cake with Blueberry Cream Cheese Frosting Decorated with Sugared Blueberries

 IN HONOR OF THE RETREAT I ATTENDED last week (Camp Bluebird), to celebrate summer, my favorite season, and to debut the kooky and festive cake stand that followed me home from an estate sale,  I present you with Lemon Pound Cake with Blueberry Cream Cheese Frosting decorated with sugared blueberries.

Several steps were involved in making this cake, including zesting and juicing fresh lemons, preparing a lemon syrup, pureeing and straining fresh blueberries, and making  sugared blueberries so they can be set aside to dry. Those are details I like to go ahead and put behind me before even beginning the cake baking process.

The butter, eggs, buttermilk, and cream cheese all need time to come to room temperature so plan accordingly. The cake layers need time to cool completely before frosting.

To make sugared blueberries, rinse and dry fresh, plump blueberries. Beat one egg white along with a teaspoon of cold water until very frothy, but not stiff. Pour as many blueberries as you want for decorations into the egg white mixture. Roll each blueberry, individually,  in sugar and set onto a board to dry for at least 2 hours.

For blueberry puree, blend about 8 ounces of fresh blueberries in a blender. Strain out the solids in order to make a completely smooth frosting. Use leftover blueberry puree for making smoothies.

Lemon Pound Cake
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 (8-inch) cake pans.

Cream butter and sugar, with electric mixer, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Add the flour and buttermilk alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Blend in vanilla.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto cooling racks set over wax paper.

While cakes are baking, make a lemon syrup by combining 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Spoon over the cakes on the cooling racks, then let the cakes cool completely before frosting.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. (1 stick) butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp. blueberry puree
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
4 cups powdered sugar, as needed

Whip butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer until very pale and creamy, about 8 minutes. Mix in blueberry puree and vanilla. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, and beat well until fluffy. If the frosting is too stiff add a little blueberry puree; if too thin, add more powdered sugar. Use about a cup of frosting between the cake layers and the remaining for the top and sides of the cake.

My frosting was a little more oozy than I usually like it because I was trying to achieve a vibrant blueberry color. I used more puree and less sugar than I would have used if I'd wanted to pipe frosting onto the cake.

Decorate with sugared blueberries.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fresh Strawberry & Ginger Jam (a small batch)

IT IS A COOL AND RAINY DAY and I am glad. I'm having a tad of trouble transitioning to summer. It is not the heat--I love that. It is the noise. From year to year, I forget waking before dawn to the cheep, cheep, trilling, cawing, cooing, tweedle-dee of our avian choir. It is really a joyful sound but it does jar me from my dreams.

Then the machines start up. The mowers, blowers, trimmers, tillers. Somewhere in the neighborhood a building project is happening, so there is hammering and buzzzzing and the most grating sound in the world, that high-pitched, jangly beep-beep-beep of some vehicle in reverse. Repeatedly. Do those things only go backward?

Today, the birds are roosting, the gardening and building projects are on hold, the weather is cooler and I have closed the windows.

What a great day to simmer a fragrant pot of strawberries. . .

Fresh Strawberry & Ginger Jam
1 pound fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and diced
1 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. candied ginger, diced

Combine ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes until mixture begins to look syrupy and thickened.

Let cool to room temperature before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bacon Bay Chick Pea Nuts

CRISPY CRUNCHY OVEN ROASTED CHICK PEAS seasoned with bay leaves and bacon are finished with zesty Old Bay seasoning blend. These nutty peas are delightful for snacking and make a scrumptious topping for salads.

I have been scratching my head in wonderment for a few days. In one of my current food magazines, I saw an advertisement for a product I hesitate to call  food. It doesn't say what it is, but there in a full page, fancy, well photographed ad right in the middle of the issue, in all its glory, in graphic, large font are the words:

No Calories
No Fat
No Carbs
No Gluten
No Sugar
No Salt
No Dairy
100% Guaranteed


Well, now that we have cleared up what it is NOT, may I ask, what in the heck it IS? I know what the photograph wants me to think it is, but I see you and what you really are.

So, shall we mention nutrition? protein? fiber? How about flavor? Crunch? Satisfaction?  These pea nuts have all that and more.

Bacon Bay Chick Pea Nuts
(Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)
2 (15 oz.) cans chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted very dry
3 slices bacon, chopped
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread chickpeas, bacon, salt and pepper on a rimmed sheet pan. Roast for about 50 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until crunchy. Toss with Old Bay Seasoning.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Buttery Fresh Spinach Risotto

CAN YOU BELIEVE I had never eaten risotto until a couple of weeks ago? A notable lapse in my gustatory experiences and pleasures.  Although absent from any Southern menu I ever read, that is no excuse. I was aware of this beloved dish. . .it just never appealed to me. I thought it looked like mushy, overcooked white rice.

Recently, my husband and I had the pleasure of dining at a supremely delicious Italian restaurant in beautiful downtown Asheville, North Carolina. I ordered one of the specials for the evening which came with risotto as a side. One taste and I was in love! I could barely focus on the entree I was so savoring the risotto. I learned, then and there, that risotto is not soggy rice but rather creamy, al dente rice.

I ate every word I ever said about risotto and made a vow to cook it at home.  I did, and we loved it.  After some research, I decided on a recipe and method graciously provided by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. And now that I have followed her recipe, precisely, to the best of my ability, I can't wait to try variations--sweet potatoes? Mushrooms? Eggplant?  Stay tuned. . .

Buttery Fresh Spinach Risotto
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 tsp. salt, divided, plus more to taste
2 cups Aborio rice
1 cup white wine
6 to 8 cups very hot water (keep hot on stove near the risotto pot)
10 ounces fresh spinach, washed, dried, and sliced into 1/2-inch strips
6 Tbsp. butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the olive oil, onions, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a heavy 10-inch saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are wilted and starting to color. Pour in the rice all at once, raise the heat, and stir continuously for about 2 minutes, until the rice grains are toasted (not browned) and make a clicking sound in the pain. Pour in the wine, and keep stirring, all around the pan, until it has evaporated and the rice is dry.

Ladle in 2 cups of hot water, enough to cover the rice. Cook for a minute or two, stirring, then pile the shredded spinach on top of the rice, and stir steadily as the spinach wilts and the rice gradually absorbs almost all of the moisture, 5 minutes or more.

When you can see the bottom of the saucepan as you stir, ladle in more water to cover the rice, and stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, as the risotto develops its creamy suspension. Again, when the liquid is almost completely absorbed, ladle in another cup or so of water.

After the risotto has cooked for 15 to 20 minutes and incorporated 6 cups of water, taste; add more salt or more hot water as needed. When done al dente and creamy, turn off the heat.

Drop in the butter pieces, stir vigorously, then beat in the 1/2 cup of grated cheese, and grind black pepper generously on top.

Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Homemade Vegetable Broth

HOMEMADE VEGETABLE STOCK is a cinch to make and virtually free to use. It adds depth of flavor and a boost in nutrition to anything you cook. It can be used for cooking grains, beans, making soups, of course, and also for cooking other vegetables.  No cans of commercially prepared broth or stock to purchase. It tastes great, chilled, for a refreshing and restorative beverage.

Simply save, in the refrigerator, all the trimmings from the vegetables you use for a few days. Peelings, skins, trimmed ends from carrots and celery, papery skins from onions and garlic, stems from spinach and herbs, membranes from bell peppers, potato peels, apple cores, and lettuces all make delicious ingredients for broth.

I am very picky when it comes to prepping vegetables as I want them all to look perfect and beautiful. Saving the parts that are blemished and don't pass muster for plating, helps me feel exonerated from wastefulness.

For this batch, I used:

Spinach stems and a few leaves
Parsley stems
Garlic stem, peels, and inner small cloves
Shallot that no longer felt crisp and fresh
Peel and trimmings from fresh ginger
Celery stem ends and some leaves
Red and green bell pepper tops and membranes
Carrot stems and peels
Red onion skins and outer layer
Sea salt and peppercorns

Cover vegetables with fresh spring water and bring to a boil. Cover with a tight fitting lid, and remove from heat. Let the vegetables steep for about 15 minutes. Overcooking will make stock bitter, just like overcooking vegetables will. Experiment with different vegetables and herbs keeping in mind what you are likely to use the stock for.

Taste the stock and adjust seasonings, if desired. Strain and keep refrigerated.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Chicken a la King

Although it was considered by many to be a crip course, I loved Home Ec class in high school. Prior to the cooking section we studied the science of nutrition. Most of my classmates, all girls, moaned about this because it was truly academic study and not the perceived "easy class" they could sail through.

I ate it up and it became a life-long passion of mine. I am still reading and studying ever evolving nutritional science studies and how different foods, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients affect us.

Once we got into the lab (kitchen) the first thing we learned was white sauce--thin, medium, and thick white sauce, which can be the base for so many dishes. And with our white sauce, we made Chicken a la King. We served it over toast points and it seemed so fancy to me at that time.

I thought of that class when I made this. I think Mrs. Columbus would be happy with this colorful and updated version of her recipe.

Chicken a la King
8 oz. boneless, skinless chicken, bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup flour
2 Tbsp. cooking oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (I used rainbow carrots)
2 stalks celery, sliced
6 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 cup dry sherry
1 cup broth
1 cup milk
1/4 cup diced roasted red peppers
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
Thinly sliced scallions for garnish, if desired

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Coat chicken pieces with flour, brown in the hot oil, then set aside. Add the other tablespoon of oil into the skillet along with the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook and stir for a few minutes, then add the mushrooms. Stir for a minute or two more.

Stir in the dry sherry to deglaze the pan. Combine the broth and milk with the remaining flour and mix well. Stir into the pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until thickened. Add the roasted red peppers, fresh parsley, and salt and pepper, to taste. Heat through.

Serve over toast, noodles, or rice.