Sunday, July 25, 2010

Currant Frozen Yogurt

Serves 6-8


Talk about enjoying the fruits of our labors! On Tuesday my friend Harmony and I, after months of scheming and failed attempts, finally made our first trip this season to the magnificent Berry Patch Farms in Brighton, CO, a family owned you-pick organic farm. Among the other things that we harvested that day was an incredibly labor-intensive pile of currants. Neither of us has much experience with fresh currants, and Harmony had the unparalleled idea of turning them into frozen yogurt. This was a total boon because I’d been meaning to try frozen yogurt in my ice cream maker for awhile and just hadn’t gotten around to it. One batch of homemade yogurt later, the dream was alive. It’s amazing how it’s sweet, tangy, and creamy all at the same time.

But first, a few pics from the farm. Here we are in the hay wagon!


Dragging the kids around past snack and bedtime:


Strawberry fields forever—Sawyer eats every other berry he picks:


And here are the luscious, ruby red currants.


And now the recipe:

2 1/2 C thick plain yogurt (I used my homemade yogurt recipe with organic one and a half percent milk, strained to make it thicker)

1/2 C sugar

1 1/2 C currants, washed and picked through to remove debris

1/2 tsp vanilla

Puree the currants in the food processor then run the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds and bits of skin. Stir the remaining puree into the yogurt. Add the sugar and vanilla and stir until blended.


Cover and chill. Process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Degustez!!



Grilled Pizza with Beet Greens and Heirloom Tomatoes

Serves 4


I can’t believe how well this turned out. I’m still sort of gloating in my mind over how delicious it was, even if Chris did say, “too bad there was no Italian sausage to put on here…” What’s even better, it helped me use up all the beet greens from the garden that I’ve been saving while on some kind of insane beet-eating quest this week. Seriously, I’ve had beets in some form or other for lunch everyday since Monday I think. Anyway, you could do this pizza with a huge variety of different toppings, obviously. What makes it special, I think, is the pesto, the combination of feta and mozzarella, and the fact that it’s grilled rather than oven-baked (always a plus when the temps are in the 90’s).


1 1/2 C white flour

1 1/2 C wheat flour

1 tsp dry active yeast

2 tsp kosher salt

2 Tbs olive oil

1 1/4 C water

Combine all ingredients in your food processor. Process for 30 seconds until mixture forms a ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until smooth. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours.


Several cups of beet (or other) greens (mine actually included the last of some garden spinach too)

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

olive oil

balsamic vinegar


feta cheese

sliced tomatoes

fresh basil

Mozzarella cheese (I used an Italian blend this time, with Asiago, etc.)

Start by washing and chopping your greens, then sautéing them in a little olive oil with the garlic. After they’re good and wilted and are starting to get dry, give them a splash of balsamic vinegar, sprinkle on a little sea salt and turn off the heat.


When the crust is ready you just need to decide what your grilling system is going to be. Some advocate preheating the grill, rolling out the dough, oiling it on both sides, then placing it directly on the grate. You cook it on one side for a few minutes, flip it for another few, and THEN put your toppings on. I actually didn’t know about this technique when I started tonight, so I used the vegetable basket for our grill, and spread the dough on it (after oiling it up good) like so:


I spread pesto sauce on it after pressing it into the basket. Look at this glorious container of farmer’s market termaters:


On top of the pesto I spread the greens, topped with a little feta (I always leave cheese quantities to your discretion—we tend to go easy), and then the tomatoes.


Tear up some fresh basil and sprinkle it over the tomatoes, then top with shredded mozz or Italian cheese blend of your choice. Fresh mozz would, of course, have been out of this world, but we were plum out.


I let the grill heat to about 450 or 475 before putting the pizza in, and cooked it for about 12 minutes, which was perfect. Here she is just as I’m about to remove and slice ‘er.


So stinkin’ pretty! And what’s better than cutting up homemade pizza on your patio and taking in the evening air?


This is the happiest plate ever. And the happiest belly. Mama will be happier when Sawyer doesn’t insist that she cut the skin off the peaches.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Brownies with Speculoos Pâte à Tartiner

Serves 8


This requires a little background, I believe. A pâte à tartiner is simply a spread, usually sweet, something you would put on bread or a crepe or a scone, for example. Nutella is probably the pâte à tartiner that Americans know best, but brace yourselves, fellow countrymen, because there’s an up and coming, snot-nosed hotshot called Speculoos Pâte à Tartiner ready to take its place. I first read about this on David Lebovitz's blog a few months ago when he discovered it at his local Monoprix. I was completely inspired and outrageously curious. Luckily a friend of mine was in Paris at that moment, so I shot off a quick email with the link to the story, and asked him, if it wasn’t too much trouble, to pick up a jar for me. My generous friend brought TWO jars back for me!


But let me backtrack: what is this stuff?? Maybe you’ve heard of a sublime little gingerbread cookie called Biscoff—you get them on airplanes sometimes in the states (after a little research I’ve discovered that it’s Delta Airlines that serves them regularly). image

Or you can find them at a lot of grocery stores in the fancy cookie section--they are European, after all. In France those cookies are called Speculoos, and the French have a passion for dipping them in hot spiced wine. Perhaps if you’ve seen the movie Amelie you remember a scene where the Glass Man gives Amelie “du vin chaud et des speculoos!” Or maybe not. Anyway, this pâte à tartiner is the soft liquid version of that cookies. It’s like Nutella, like I said, but Speculoos flavored! And it’s indescribable. Everyone that comes to the house these days gets a sample—“Wait, don’t go yet, I have something incredible for you to taste!” And they all marvel. No one knows quite what to do with it, since our country doesn’t have a long history of putting sweet spreads on bread beyond jam, and we don’t do much crepe eating normally. Most of the lucky samplers have agreed, therefore, that the best solution is to just stick your finger in the jar once a day, when you need just a little somethin’ sweet. I agreed, until I saw a recipe in Sunset Magazine for brownies with globs of Nutella in the center. I HAD to try this with the Speculoos Pâte à Tartiner. I know most people don’t have access to random other people who are returning from France and who can smuggle a jar home for them, so you’ll be glad to know that the American branch of the company, Biscoff, sells the spread.

1/2 C butter

1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

1 C sugar

1/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 C flour

1/2 C Speculoos Pâte à Tartiner (Ok, or Nutella…)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8 cups of a muffin tin (I used cupcake papers because I don’t trust my muffin tin, a cheap piece of crap, to release the things I bake in it). Melt butter in microwave, stir in chopped chocolate until smooth. Add sugar and cocoa and stir to blend. Whisk in eggs, vanilla and salt. Add flour and blend until smooth. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Make a small dent in the center of each and spoon in 1 Tbs of pâte à tartiner. Bake for 20-24 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, loosen, remove from pan, and transfer to a cooling rack.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Comparative shots: week 38

The weeks are winding down, and this mama is tuckered out. If I make it to week 39 there won't be a picture with Sawyer because he was born a week early--cross fingers! chant mantras! give offerings! Here he is, a week away from making his grand appearance:

Petit monsieur inutero, que j'ai envie de faire ta connaissance!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cake Balls from Cake Scraps

Servings depend on your leftovers


No, I didn’t make these for myself, but that didn’t stop me from eating loads of them along the way. No, a moment of celebration is due, not just for my friend Kristen, who is expecting a little boy a few weeks after me, and at whose baby shower these will (hopefully) be devoured, but also because with this project I have FINALLY finished using up all the wedding cake leftovers. These babies are a combination of the cake tops from the wedding cake layers and the chocolate frosting leftover from the vegan cupcakes. I think maybe Paula Dean (oh no, HER again!) first came up with the ideas for cake balls, but the person who has taken them to extraordinary heights is no doubt Bakerella; just click on ‘cake pops’ on her home page and prepare to be flabbergasted by her patience, longsuffering, and genius for miniature treats on a stick.

Chris and our brother-in-law were milling around the kitchen while I was in the initial stages of making these—“hmm, yum, what’s that?” "Those are cake balls." There was some not very stifled laughter, and the only thing that could have ensued with two dudes hearing “cake balls” did: lots of jokes about chocolate salty balls. If you missed out on this particular pop culture gem, now’s your chance to hear it. Discretion is advised; it is South Park after all.

Ok, enough tomfoolery; back to the cake balls. If you glance at Bakerella’s or Paula Dean’s recipe, you’ll see that they recommend a boxed cake mix and a tub of frosting, but to me the only reason to make these is when you have leftovers like I did, in which case you have to guess a little on the proportions. I just mushed in all together in a bowl and, in retrospect, should have added the frosting little by little, as they ended up being wet enough to make them difficult to work with. Bref, here’s how to precede when you don’t have exact measurements:

Pulse cake scraps in your food processor until they become cake crumbs. Combine them in a bowl with your leftover frosting:


Here’s mine all mixed up—pretty heavy on the frosting.


Roll the mixture into balls and place on a cookie sheet with waxed paper; freeze. I used my tiny scooper, then went back after they’d been in the freezer for 20 minutes and rounded them out by hand, cause the stuff was just too sticky to mess with at room temperature. But if you look at the pics on Bakerella’s site, you’ll see that hers are much more cakey and workable. It’s a question of taste, I imagine, because having to freeze them wasn’t a big deal, and now they’re SUPER moist, like rum balls, mmmm!


The next step is to dip/roll the frozen balls in melted chocolate—I used dark here, but you could of course use milk or while, or even poured fondant; whatever rings your bell. I melted about a package and a half of dark chocolate chips over a bain marie with 2 tablespoons of shortening (this thins the chocolate a little and makes it easier to coat the balls). Fish ‘em out with a fork, wipe the tines on the edge of the bowl a few times, and place them back on the waxed paper to harden.


The last step is to decorate them, if you wish. In my mind I pictured little squiggles made with melted white chocolate, but once I got into my cupboard I realized that I’d used all my white chocolate in a fudge recipe awhile ago. Oh well. So I made a quick milk/powdered sugar frosting, tinted it blue (for baby boy, of course), put it in a zip lock, cut the tip, and piped a few inept little designs on the balls.

Spinach and Beet Greens Quiche

Serves 8


Quiche is one of my favorite speedy meals, also great for freezer dinners and for using up wilty veg. The latter was my motivation this time—loads of spinach and beet greens were about to go to waste until I girded my loins and put two quiches together. Needless to say, one is in the freezer for after the tiny bundle arrives. My favorite all-time quiche recipe is from Mark Bittman—it’s supremely indulgent, no-fail, and very rich. I don’t use it every time—in fact that’s what I like about quiche. You can mix a few eggs, some form of milk (skim, whole, half and half, whatever), and some cheese, and it will always turn out delicious. But if you’re aiming to impress, I recommend following this one.


1 1/2 C flour (whole grain flours work well)

1 C cold butter cut into chunks

1/2 tsp salt

4-6 Tbs ice water


1 onion, chopped

1 bunch spinach, washed, rinsed and chopped

1 bunch beet greens, washed, rinsed and chopped

6 eggs

2 C grated Swiss cheese (Jarlsburg, Emmenthal, Gruyere are all good choices)

2 C milk or half and half

1/2 tsp salt

Combine flour, butter and salt in your food processor and process until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Slowly add ice water while processing until dough comes together in a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill one hour (I admit, I NEVER do this, but I’m sure it makes for an extra flaky and delicious crust). Preheat oven to 425. Roll the dough out to fit a 9-in pie pan or a 10-in tart pan (again, I’m such a lazy bastard, I always just press the dough in with my fingers, which makes for an ugly, ugly crust, but whose homemade aesthetic touches my heartstrings). Prick crust with a fork and bake for 15 minutes (lots of people cover it with foil and weigh it with beans…I find that this particular crust doesn’t really need that step).

In the meantime sauté the onion until translucent, then add greens. Sauté until they begin to wilt and onion begins to caramelize. Spread greens in your hot crust, like so:


Reduce the oven temperature to 325. Whisk together eggs, milk, cheese and salt (optional: a dash of nutmeg), and pour over vegetables. Note: this is not in Bittman’s recipe, but this time I added loads of fresh parsley, and it was delightful. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the quiche is set, but still moist. It’s ok if it still jiggles a little in the middle.


Serve warm or cold, with a smile.

Cornmeal popovers

Makes 10-12


We had these with our tofu scramble the other night…mmmmm.

1 cup milk

2 medium eggs

2/3 cup flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

The instructions say to do these in a muffin tin, but I opted for the toaster oven and soufflé cups, and made them a lot bigger than you would in a muffin tin. You get to choose. Preheat your oven to 450°. Oil or grease a muffin tin or soufflé cups. Put the pan/cups into the oven to preheat while you prepare the batter.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs. Add the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt. Beat very well, making a nice thick, smooth batter. Take the hot muffin tins out of the oven and distribute the batter evenly among the hot oiled cups. Return the pan to the oven and cook for 15 minutes. The tops will start to puff up at this point. Turn the oven down to 350° and cook for 15 to 20 minutes longer. Let popovers cool for a few minutes before removing from muffin tin or soufflé cups. Very tasty with a little honey.

Russian Beet Salad…or something like it

Serves 4-6


I’m starting to be up to my ears in beets. This is a good thing. I would probably eat beet roesti everyday, but lately it’s just been too freaking hot to want to turn on the stovetop or the oven. Slow cookers, of course, are a good solution, as are toaster ovens—they don’t let off too much heat, and they’re more energy efficient that using a full-size oven. Long story short, a Russian Beet Salad appeared in my mind a few days ago and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. But the question was: which Russian Beet Salad? I looked online and found about a thousand different versions, so I went to the source, my Ukranian friend Olga. Well, I guess I shouldn’t have bothered because I completely ignored her instructions, mostly out of lack of ingredients, but also the constant need to adapt foods to my husband’s “needs”—ie., his desire for substantive heartiness in all foodstuffs. Here are her instructions, if you want to be more authentic than I: “I put cooked beets, potatoes (cooked), carrots (cooked), pickles (lots), salt (to taste), sunflower oil (or similar oil but not olive).” Try as I might I just couldn’t get over the idea of using yogurt instead of oil (blame the internet for planting the seed in my mind). So without further ado, my bastardized version, which has maybe existed somewhere on the Asian continent in the past 400 years:

4 beets

1 medium russet potato

1/2 red onion, minced and soaked in water 5 minutes

1 hardboiled egg, chopped

2 Tbs minced fresh dill

1 dill pickle, minced

1/2-3/4 C plain yogurt

1 Tbs white vinegar

Salt, pepper to taste

Preheat toaster oven to 425 degrees. Wrap beets and potato in foil and pierce all over with a fork. Bake under tender—about 45 minutes for the beets and 60 for the potato. Let cool completely, then peel and dice. I’m totally enamored of how cooked beets literally do SLIP out of their skins. It’s a culinary cliché, but in this case it’s really true. Mix all ingredients and chill until serving time. I actually ate some of the leftovers today over a spinach and butter lettuce salad, with an improvised lemon vinaigrette, and it was really excellent.

Basil Tofu Scramble

Serves 3-4


In my world, there’s just nothing like tofu scramble. I have lots of variations that I do, which is part of what I love about it; you just can’t go wrong, flavor-wise. When you can get your hands on fresh herbs, however, you should keep the additions to a minimum and just let the harmonious green herbiness shine through. Any vegetables at all will do for tofu scramble, so below I’ve just written what I happened to use last night in this one.

1 pkg extra firm tofu

1 C panko bread crumbs

1/2 tsp salt

1 pkg baby bella mushrooms, sliced

3 green onions, sliced

1 zucchini, sliced

large handful of fresh basil

olive oil

Saute the onions, mushrooms, zucchini and basil in olive oil until soft; set aside.


Drain the tofu, pat dry, and half the brick horizontally, then cube. Mix the bread crumbs and salt in a shallow bowl. Toss the tofu cubes until coated, then combine in a frying pan with olive oil.


Let them brown for 3-5 minutes on each side before stirring. They should be nice and golden. When they’re done, add the vegetables back in and season to taste with additional salt, pepper or all-purpose seasoning salt.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cake scrap ice cream cake


Oh yeah! Thanks to my sister-in-law Sheri who had the brilliant idea of turning wedding cake scraps into an ice cream cake. Though I feel like I betrayed her vision a little by turning it basically into more wedding cake…with ice cream. Here’s the idea, in any case: put your cake scraps in the food processor and turn them into crumbs. Press them into the bottom of a pan (I’m using at 8x8 square here, but it obviously depends on your quantity of leftover cake scraps). If you have leftover fillings, you could layer them like I did here: raspberry filling, topped with vanilla ice cream (I softened the ice cream in the fridge for about 40 minutes before spreading it, and had previously frozen the raspberry layer for about the same amount of time), topped with lemon curd (I refroze after the ice cream addition for about an hour). After that press another layer of cake crumbs on top, and frost with any leftover frosting. When it came time to serve this last night I let it soften on the counter for about a half hour before trying to dig in—it would have been a futile exercise otherwise, but 30 minutes was just perfect. This particular ice cream cake is riiiiiiich. Or in the immortal words of Le Mechant Pat Hibulaire: “Riche! Riche! Richissme!!” So if anyone nearby wants a slice, PLEASE come to our house and take some; we’ve been up to our ears in cake practice rounds and leftovers for awhile now, so please help us out!

Comparative shots: weeks 35 and 36

The countdown begins; we’re now officially one month from delivery…in theory. Here are a few more belly shots to keep you interested while I try to convince my cervix to efface and dilate in a timely manner.

Sawyer F at 35 weeks…


And an impromptu pic that cousin Jenny happened to seize at our family reunion—little baby Asteroid Whitesnake at 35 weeks:


4 weeks out! SFG kickin’ the poo out of me at 36 weeks:


And Bilithor Maizewender kickin’ the snot out of me also at 36 weeks. It’s not your imagination that he’s bigger—doc says he’s measuring a week ahead.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

The great cake making exercise

The fruits of my week-long labors were finally harvested last night at my friend Katina’s wedding where, after a beautiful and moving ceremony, we rocked out at the Space Gallery in Denver and feasted on my first attempt at a wedding cake—a wobbly, 4-tiered flavor sensation that was 18 months on the drawing board before last night. A few thoughts about the experience: the learning curve was steep. If I ever do this again (it’s too early to say either way, but I’m definitely over licking the beaters for awhile), I will enlist an assistant, will experiment with cake recipes until I find one that is a little sturdier without compromising its moist deliciousness, will buy ready-made fondant instead of making it myself, and will have the air-conditioning in my car fixed. Beyond some of the challenges and the sheer amount of time that this project took (most of which was happy and meditative, and only a few hours of which were stressful and worrisome), it’s bordering on one of the most surreal undertakings of my life: there’s just something so hilariously Dada about cracking 30 eggs into a bowl, or melting 10 cubes of butter in a pan, or manipulating a cake that’s 16 inches in diameter.

Here’s a brief walk-through of how the week unfolded.

First we need some supplies: cake boards to put the tiers on and dowels to support their weight.


Oh, just one more acquisition to make: Kitchen Aid Pro! I’ve been wanting a proper mixer forever, especially since I burned out the motor on my hand mixer trying to make 6 batches of cookies at once, and a wedding cake on the horizon seemed to be just the excuse to finally get one. Serendipitously, it arrived on Tuesday, the day I started baking.


In addition to the cakes, the filling needed to be made. Here’s part one of the raspberry filling. In my prototype cake that I made for Katina ages ago the raspberry was more of an ooze than a filling, so this time I stabilized it with some gelatin. Otherwise it’s nothing but raspberries, sugar and a little lemon juice.


The other filling was lemon curd (I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with lemon curd). Here’s the pile (5lbs) of lemons that I reamed to make this curdy dream come true:


And here are the rest of the curd fixins in the pan: lemon juice, sugar, 10 CUBES OF BUTTER, and eventually 30 eggs.


Here’s a 12-in tier cooled, trimmed, and waiting on its cake board for further instructions. I have SO many cake scraps in my freezer from the trimming process—two HUGE freezer bags. Last time I made the luscious Lemon Coconut Cake Top Bread Pudding—what will these bits become?


Here are the ingredients for one 16-in layer—practically bursting out of the bowl.


And here is the 16-in layer about to go in the oven—my hand in front is showing you just how absurdly large it is. I laughed every time I even saw this pan.


Time to whip up some butter cream frosting—for this cake we decided to go with rosewater butter cream.


Time to start filling and frosting the cakes. Each layer is split horizontally for a filling—raspberry came first.


In between the two layers is butter cream, then the second layer is split in order to accommodate a smear of lemon curd. This is the 4-in tier, which the couple planned to freeze for their one-year anniversary.


Using my dough scraper to spread the raspberry filling on the 16-in layer.


This one was a huge challenge, and what made me realize that I needed sturdier cake next time if I was going to be making such a large tier. It all turned out fine in the end, but there were some scary moments of oozing, cracking and general auto-destruction of the 16-in tier.


And now to make enough frosting to cover this beast. I think this is five batches of butter cream. Hah! At this stage the frosting is kind of like glue—whatever is falling apart can hopefully be cemented back together by a sturdy butter cream prison.


All done! Get this thing in the fridge asap!


Here are all four tiers, frosted and chilling in the refrigerator. Last step is the fondant, and then the on-site assembly with the final decorations.


We had decided to do gum paste calla lilies decorations on the top of the cake and on the vegan cupcakes that Katina had requested for some of the guests. I watched a few tutorials in preparation for this and I think calla lilies are about the easiest flowers to make out of gum paste. All you need is a heart-shaped cookie cutter, some cones to dry them on, and a little patience. I tinted the gum paste a peach color, then used red Luster Dust in the centers for contrast and to match the red/pink of the bridesmaid dresses.


Chocolate cupcakes with almond custard and chocolate butter cream frosting, all vegan.


Here are the frosting decorations—little tiered swirls—calla lilies will follow.


All ready to go. Thankfully my friend Liz agreed to transport these in her air conditioned car so I didn’t end up with cupcakes swimming in a pool of butter cream.


Here’s the fondant going on the 12-in layer. So I’ve made this marshmallow fondant recipe scores of times with no problems whatsoever, but of course, the only time I would have any trouble would be the one time that I’m doing a cake that actually matters to someone, only on, like, the most important day of her life. (!!) For some mysterious reason, even though I sifted the powdered sugar, I ended up with all these little lumps in the fondant, and then it was all pockmarked and holey when I rolled it out. Whatcha gonna do? You just gotta roll with it. I warned the bride not to look to closely, and that was that. And once they dimmed the lights a little in the gallery you couldn’t see a thing.


And here she is, after a series of minor mishaps (like the gallery being locked when we arrived, the linens not arriving, and the cake stand totally not working at all). You can see that the bottom tier is burbling a little, but it’s standing and doesn’t look totally misshapen, so I was happy. And the bride and groom were thrilled, the guests thought it was delicious…over all a great success.


With the cupcakes nearby.


A few shots from the top.

IMG_7752 IMG_7753


Final thoughts: After last night, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to make a career of this. Standing around watching the catering crew freak out when the gallery was locked and then their linens didn’t arrive was the stuff reality shows are made of, and so stressful to observe—never mind the fact that I couldn’t set the cake up either until the linens arrived. The baking can be blissful, but delivery and set up was a recipe for multiple ulcers. If anyone needs a favor, I’d be happy to oblige with a cake, but I don’t think I’ll be applying for a business license anytime soon.