Sunday, June 26, 2011

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes

Last night was my dear friend Chris' birthday party.  Chris is the author of Delicious, a collection of some of his best and most requested recipes, and I was asked to make some cupcakes, so they had to be really good.  Since Chris is a big fan of strawberries and chocolate, I decided to re-imagine one of my favorite cake recipes in cupcake form.

The cake in question was called Strawberry Surprise Cake from the legendary pastry chef Alice Medrich and her equally legendary chocolate shop, Cocolat, in Sausalito, CA.  Sadly, Cocolat is no longer in business, but this dessert remains in my repertoire some 20+ years after I saw it published in Bon Apetit magazine in the late 1980s.   The cake consists of an orange poppyseed cake, filled with layers of strawberry buttercream, frosted in Grand Marnier buttercream, and then robed in dark chocolate ganache.  The surprise is that it looks like a chocolate cake until it is sliced when the "strawberry surprise" is revealed.

This cake has long been a favorite in my house, but it is one of my most difficult cakes to prepare.  As a result, I don't make it too often.  But now that I have updated it into cupcake form, its execution is much much easier and it has lost none of its truly decadent flavor!  I am happy to share my version of this recipe with you and hope you will try it.  Though it has a lot of different steps, its not that difficult, particularly if you pay close attention to the temperature of your buttercream and your ganache.

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes
makes 2 dozen

Orange Poppy Seed Cake:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp poppy seeds
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, MUST be room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
finely grated zest from 2 large oranges.

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium sized bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds, whisk to combine thoroughly.

In a measuring cup combine milk and vanilla.

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine sugar and orange zest and process until orange has been completely incorporated into the sugar (this step traps all of the essential oils of the orange zest in the sugar).  Combine orange sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the eggs to the butter sugar mixture, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.

Add 1/4 of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Next add 1/3 of the vanilla milk and mix until incorporated.  Repeat, alternating between wet and dry ingredients until everything is combined.  Scoop 1/4 cup of batter into a lined cupcake tin and bake for 20-22 minutes until cakes are done and the top springs back lightly when touched.  Cool cupcakes completely.

Grand Marnier Buttercream:
3 egg whites room temperature
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
3 sticks unsalted butter room temperature
1/4 cup Grand Marnier

Make  buttercream by combining egg whites and 2 Tbsp sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip egg whites gently on medium speed while preparing syrup.  Combine 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small pan and heat over high heat until mixture boils.  Continue to boil mixture to soft ball stage (238 F; about 10 minutes).  With mixer still running, add hot syrup to egg whites.  Gradually increase speed to high and continue to beat until mixture is like marshmallow fluff and room temperature.  Reduce speed to medium and add softened butter 1 Tbsp at a time, scraping down sides occasionally.  Once all butter is added and buttercream is smooth and fluffy, add Grand Marnier and whisk in until incorporated .

Strawberry conserve:
1 cup strawberries finely diced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups chocolate chips

Place  cream in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add chocolate and stir gently until chocolate is melted and ganache is glossy.  Cool to room temperture.  (You will have a lot of ganache leftover, but you need to make enough to be able to easily dip the frozen cupcake tops into the ganache.  Leftover ganache can be kept, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for one month.)

Cupcake Assembly:
Pierce each cupcake with a knife making a incision in the top.   In a clean bowl combine, 1/3 of the grand Marnier buttercream with the cooled strawberry conserve and whisk until blended.  Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a metal tip and pipe 2Tbsp strawberry buttercream into the center of each cupcake.

In a clean piping bag fitted with a metal tip, pipe remaining Grand Marnier buttercream onto the top of each cupcake.  Transfer cupcakes to freezer for one hour to prpare for dipping in ganache.

Once completly frozen, dip the top of each cupcake into the room temperature ganache, then place on a baking sheet.  Once all the cupcakes have been dipped, return cupcakes to refrigerator for one hour to ripen the ganache.

Before serving, allow cupcakes to warm to room temperature and garnish with slices of fresh strawberries.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lemon Sorbet

Happy Summer! Emma came home from Washington on Tuesday, just in time for a simple summer solstice celebration.  I thought I would make a simple meal by throwing some steaks on the grill and serving them with some fresh-picked green beans and sauteed mushrooms.  And for dessert, this home made lemon sorbet with fresh fruit and meringue cookies!

I absolutely LOVE this lemon sorbet.  It is very tart and smooth and ice cold, perfect for a day like today.  It is extremely easy to make and is one of those 5-ingredient wonders that tastes so much more than the sum of its parts.  I like to serve it with whatever fresh fruit looks good.  Today we are having raspberries, but blueberries, strawberries or watermelon are all excellent accompaniments.  I even like this sorbet with a little chocolate ganache drizzled over the top (Tastes like my favorite lemon truffle from See's candies!).

Lemon Sorbet
makes 1 quart

2 cups fresh-squeezed lemon juice (8 large lemons)
grated zest from 3 of the lemons
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup heavy cream

Remove the zest from 3 of the lemons and place in the bowl of a food processor with the sugar and process until zest has been incorporated into the sugar.  Add the lemon juice, water and cream and process briefly until sugar is dissolved.  Transfer to an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's directions.  Place processed sorbet in a container in the freezer for 2-3 hours to ripen ( If the sorbet is still kind of runny, don't worry, it will set up in the freezer).  Serve with fresh fruit and meringue cookies.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Best Baked Beans EVER

This last weekend was father's day and since my girls are off living life large in the big city and weren't home to slave in the kitchen to prepare my father's day feast, I had to do it myself.  Rotten kids, how DARE they have a life?

I'm kidding of course, I love my girls and am happy they are out discovering the world, and I love it when I get to go in the kitchen and just cook for ME (well, and for Doug, and our friends Chris and Al who came over to play cards, but I cooked what I wanted, so in MY mind it was for ME).  I decided I would make one of my all time favorite things in the world, baked beans.

You other dads can have your steaks and chicken barbecue.  I want baked beans.  And not just any baked beans, I want these slow-cooked luxurious baked beans.  They take about 16 hours from start to finish, but the end result is, in my opinion, a culinary epiphany.

Originally, this recipe comes from Food Network's Alton Brown (Good Eats).  I love Alton Brown.  He reminds me of 1980's new wave darling Thomas Dolby (She Blinded Me With Science).

Everything I have ever made from Alton Brown's show has been exceptional, but these beans are just amazing.  To top it off, though this dish takes 16 hours, you only spend about 15 minutes actually working in the kitchen, the dish just cooks by itself, and doesn't need you to interfere with its culinary alchemy.

I present to you here, my version of Alton Brown's baked beans, the recipe is nearly identical, but I have omitted some of the "hot" spices like cayenne pepper.  These beans are great with hot dogs or burgers, or just by themselves with a little steamed rice.   Happy Father's Day to ME!

Best Baked Beans Ever
serves 8

1lb dried beans (I like roman beans, but Alton uses navy beans or northern beans)
6 cups boiling water

1 lb bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large onion chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tsp salt
3 cups vegetable stock (or chicken or ham stock)

Place dried beans in a large bowl and cover with 6 cups boiling water.  Allow beans to soak for at least an hour, or overnight (8 hours).

Preheat oven to 250F.  Drain beans, reserving one cup soaking liquid.

In a large cast iron pot with a heavy lid, cook bacon, onion, jalapeno over medium high heat until bacon is partially rendered and onions begin to get soft (about 10 minutes).  Add beans, tomato paste, brown sugar, molasses, salt and stock and reserved soaking liquid, stir until mixed..  Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover with lid and place in a 250F degree oven.  Bake 6 hours without disturbing.  Remove lid and bake 2 additional hours without disturbing.  Serve hot.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lebanese Kibbeh

Kibbeh with garlic yogurt sauce, hummus, baba ghannouj, pita bread, olives and veggies

Last night I decided to make a batch of kibbeh to go along with the hummus and baba ghannouj I made on Sunday.  These delightful little treats are like crispy meatballs filled with pine nuts and onion.  They are so very crave-able.

I have to admit it has been a very long time since I made kibbeh.  I was taught by the fiance of one of my best friends way back when I was in graduate school.  She was from Lebanon, and made these all the time, but I could never quite get them right until she taught me.  They are not terribly difficult, but are a little bit time consuming.  I think they are well worth the effort as they can be eaten hot or cold, which makes them a perfect choice for sweltering summer days.  With the garlic yogurt sauce they are hard to stop nibbling on!

Kibbeh are traditionally made with ground lamb since ground beef is relatively rare in the middle east and lamb is plentiful.  We have the opposite situation in the United States, ground beef is ubiquitous and ground lamb is a luxury.  I like them made either way and present my recipe using ground beef.  If you are using lamb, just substitute it for the ground beef.

Lebanese Kibbeh
makes 24

Kibbeh "dough"
1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat
1 1/2 lbs ground beef (or ground lamb)
1 cup finely diced onion
3 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Kibbeh filling
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 lb ground beef (or ground lamb)
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

vegetable oil for frying

Place the bulgur wheat in a medium-sized bowl and cover with several inches of cold water.  Allow the bulgur wheat to absorb water for 20 minutes drain and squeeze to remove excess water.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel chopping blade combine hydrated bulgur wheat, ground beef, onion, salt, cumin and pepper.  Pulse to combine and gradually increase the time processing the meat mixture until it pulls together to form a very smooth meat "dough".

Remove "dough" from food processor and refrigerate while preparing filling.

To prepare filling, in a medium skillet, toast the pine nuts over medium high heat until golden.  Remove pine nuts from skillet.  Add ground beef, onion and spices to hot skillet and cook until meat is browned and broken into small pieces.  Add pine nuts to meat, stir to mix and remove from heat.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

Assembly and cooking:
Preheat deep fryer to 350F.
With wet hands, divide chilled meat "dough" into 24 equally sized balls and place on wax paper.  Now, with damp hands, pick up each ball and cradle in the palm of your hand and poke your finger into the center of the ball making a tablespoon sized hole.  Scoop 1 Tbsp of filling into the hole, then reseal the ball by pinching together carefully and gently roling the ball into the traditional egg (or football) shape.  Place on wax paper. Repeat until all the balls have been filled and rolled.

Uncooked kibbeh, filled and rolled into the traditional egg shape, ready for the fryer...

Fry the balls several at a time for about 4 minutes until crisp and golden.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve hot or room temp (or even cold) with garlic yogurt sauce.

Golden crispy kibbeh fresh from the fryer!

Garlic Yogurt Sauce
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 large clove garlic minced
1 1/2 tsp salt
minced fresh herbs (mint, dill, oregano, parsley) optional

on a cutting board, mince the clove of garlic then sprinkle salt on top of the garlic.  With the edge of your knife, press the salt into the garlic and smear acros a small area of the board. Repeat until salt and garlic form a smooth paste.  Add garlic/salt paste to yogurt and mix well.  Add fresh herbs (optional).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hummus and Baba Ghannouj

Baba Ghannouj (left) and Hummus (right)

The hot summer weather is here and at times like this I just want to eat light cool foods.  My favorite cuisine for hot weather is middle eastern food, and in the summer, I always have plenty of homemade hummus and baba ghannouj in the refrigerator.

Making your own hummus and baba ghannouj is super easy and really quick.  If you can boil water and run a food processor, you can make these dishes.  The best thing about making your own hummus and baba ghannouj is that they are incredibly inexpensive and it makes a ton!  Plus no food preservatives!

I usually make baba ghannouj (egg plant dip)  when I make hummus and then serve with warm pitas and lots of fresh vegetables.  This is the perfect thing to eat on a swelteringly hot humid summer day.  Its cool and loaded with tons of intricate nuanced flavors. 

Amazingly, there are only 6 ingredients in both hummus and baba ghannouj!  DELISH!

makes about 6 cups

1 lb dried chick peas
3 large cloves garlic
2 Tbsp salt
5 cups water
1/4 cup Tahini
juice of 1 lemon

In a large pan combine chickpeas, garlic, salt and water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until chickpeas are tender (about 1 hour - 1 1/2 hours).  Allow to cool to room temperature.

With a slotted spoon transfer chickpeas and garlic to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade.  Add about 2 1/2 cups of the cooking water and process until smooth (if still to thick add more cooking water and process to desired consistency.  Add tahini and lemon juice and process until well incorporated.  Season with additional salt if needed.  Keep refrigerated.

Variations:  Once the hummus is made, you can add anything you'd like to it and process in the food processor.  Things like roasted red peppers, pickled artichokes, green onion, spinach, red pepper flakes etc. are all excellent!

Baba Ghannouj
makes about 2 cups

1 large eggplant
1 large clove garlic
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp Tahini
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.  Pierce the eggplant several times with a sharp knife to make steam vents (you don't want to spend the rest of the day cleaning exploded eggplant out of your oven do you?).  Wrap the eggplant completely in aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour.
Stabbing the eggplant before roasting...

...and after roasting!

Remove eggplant from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.  Unwrap eggplant and cut in half lengthwise.  Carefully peel off the skin.  Place eggplant into bowl of food processor and combine with remaining ingredients. Process until smooth.  Keep refrigerated.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Potato Gnocchi with Grilled Baby Vegetables and Goat Cheese

Doug and I went to the Durham farmer's market the other day searching for inspiration for dinner.  I love Durham's farmer's market... it is small enough to be intimate, but large enough to find truly remarkable produce, meat, cheese and baked goods.  There is always live music and the whole thing has the air of a festival.

We came home with several bags of just-picked fresh basil, some baby zucchini and crook neck squash, and some amazing chevre goat cheese from Celebrity Farms, a local goat dairy in Siler City, NC.


One of my all time favorite foods is potato gnocchi, light fluffy pillows of potato dumplings boiled and then browned in butter.  If I am ever on death row, gnocchi will probably be my last meal.  Gnocchi are incredibly versatile and can be tossed with pesto, a cream sauce, a heavy meat ragu or this ratatouille-like sauce. 

Homemade gnocchi are a labor of love, but are INFINITELY superior to the commercial variety available in the store.  The commercial types tend to be dense and rubbery.  Homemade gnocchi are paradoxically dense and light at the same time.  The secret to a good potato gnocchi is to keep the potatoes from becoming water logged.  For this reason I only use potatoes with a dry flesh, like russett potatoes, and I steam them with the skin on.  You can boil the potatoes, but the skins must remain on, and you must be careful to remove them from the hot water the moment they are tender.  Steaming the potatoes takes a little longer, but they are always perfect and never water logged.

I recommend using the best goat cheese you can find for this dish, and crumbling atop the gnocchi immediately before serving, then let your guests stir it into the dish where it will melt and create a tangy light sauce. 

Keep serving sizes rather small since this is a deceivingly hearty dish.  They can always go for seconds (and usually will !).

Potato Gnocchi with Grilled Baby Vegetables and Goat Cheese
serves 6-8

Potato Gnocchi
3 pounds Russett potatoes
2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg
pinch of salt

Steam potatoes in their skins until they are tender ( a knife pushed into the center offers no resistance).  Cool potatoes completely and then peel.  Push the potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill (mashing the potatoes will result in lumpy gnocchi). 

 Ricing the potatoes

Place potatoes in a large bowl, and sift flour over the top of them. Add nutmeg and salt.  Make a well in the middle of the potatoes and add egg to well.  With a wooden spoon, begin stiring potatoes and flour into the egg, a little at a time , as if you are making a pasta dough.  Continue to stir potatoes until egg is mostly incorporated. 

Making the dough...

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead the dough by hand until it is smooth and dry.  Divide the dough into four equal portions and roll each portion out to form a long "rope" of dough about 1/2 inch in diameter.  Cut gnocchi into 1-inch lengths.

 Rolling and cutting the gnocchi...

Bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil.  While water is heating, place a large bowl of ice water next to the pot.  When water is rapidly boiling, add gnocchi in 3 batches.  When the gnocchi float to the surface, they are done and need to be removed from the pot with a slotted spoon or skimmer and placed immediately in the ice water to halt the cooking process.
Once all the gnocchi are boiled and chilled in the ice bath, drain the gnocchi, toss with olive oil and place in large ziploc bags, and refrigerate until until ready to use.

Note: This makes a LOT of gnocchi and you will probably only use half of it.  Once boiled, the leftover gnocchi can be kept in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, of frozen for 2-3 months.

Tomato sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
4 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp honey
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper

In a medium-sized skillet, heat olive oil briefly.  Add tomatoes and garlic, thyme and honey and cook over medium high heat for 10 minutes until tomatoes have begun to break down.  Add white wine and cook an additional 15 minutes over medium high heat, uncovered until slightly reduced.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Grilled Baby Vegetables
4 baby zucchini, cut in half length-wise
4 baby crookneck squash, cut in half length-wise
1 vidalia onion, cut in half
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat grill.  Toss vegetables with olive oil salt and pepper.  Grill vegetables until lightly charred and just tender.  Remove from Grill, allow to cool for 5 minutes, then coarsely chop vegetables.

 Grilling the babies!

Finishing the dish
4 Tbsp butter
grated parmesan cheese
crumbled goat cheese (chevre)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

In a large non-stick skillet, melt the butter.  Add half of the prepared gnocchi and saute over medium high heat until gnocchi is lightly browned (you will need to gently toss the gnocchi during this process to evenly brown them).  When gnocchi browned, add tomato sauce and grilled vegetables to skillet and gently toss.  Add chopped basil and toss.   Serve with parmesan cheese and goat cheese.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Melon with Baby Greens and Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Prosciutto-wrapped fresh melon has got to be one of my favorite summer-time treats of all time.  When I was in Italy it was melon season and it seemed every trattoria and cafe served this simple dish.  I think I must have ordered it for every meal!

It used to be difficult to find prosciutto ham, but not any more.  It seems like nearly every grocery store carries it now.  The salty silky ham is sliced so this you can actually see through it!  Wrapped around melon it becomes transcendent,  the saltiness of the ham balancing perfectly with the sweetness of the melon.  Here I serve it atop a bed of baby greens dressed in a sweet honey balsamic vinaigrette with lots of freshly cracked black pepper. The honey in the dressing really brings out the natural sweetness of the melon.

I  buy the melon already cubed in the produce section of my grocery store...saves a lot of time (and I can get a variety of different melons without having massive amounts of leftover melon).

I like to serve this with a slice of grilled ciabatta bread brushed with olive oil and a little garlic. YUM.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Melon with Baby Greens and Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette
serves 4

4oz. thinly sliced prosciutto ham
Melon cubes (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon)

1/2 lb mixed baby greens (I like spinach radicchio, arugula and endive)
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp honey
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 -2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch of salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Cut prosciutto slices in half lengthwise and wrap around 1-inch cubes of your favorite melon (I like to use a mix of melon from the prepared section of the produce dept.).

In a medium-sized bowl combine balsamic vinegar, honey, mustard, pepper, salt and olive oil.  Whisk until dressing emulsifies and thickens.  Place baby greens in a large bowl, add dressing and toss to coat leaves.  Immediately plate salad on chilled plates and top with prosciutto-wrapped melon.  Enjoy!

Strawberry Basil White Wine Spritzer

The weather in North Carolina has tken a turn toward the hot and humid.  With temperatures in the mid 90's and the humidity hovering around 90%, it feels more like August than early June.  This kind of heat made us crave a clean and refreshing signature cocktail for the Tiki 2011summer season.

We were inspired by the abundance of fresh strawberries and basil at the Durham farmer's market and this quick and simple cocktail was born.  It is clean and light and loaded with flavor.  It's not too sweet and not too dry and tastes like a sunny afternoon.  Made with macerated strawberries and a basil infused simple syrup, this has cocktail has a little upfront work, but then everything can sit in the refrigerator until you are ready to start drinking.  Mama Ozzy highly recommends you give it a try!

Strawberry Basil White Wine Spritzer

1 lb fresh strawberries coarsely chopped
2/3 cup granulated sugar

Basil-infused Simple Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

White wine (Chablis or Pinot Grigio)
Club soda
Crushed ice

Macerate the strawberries by combining them with sugar and covering and allowing to refrigerate one hour, stirring occasionally.

Prepare the simple syrup by combining granulated sugar and water in a small sauce pan and bringing to a boil. Remove from heat and add basil leaves.  Allow basil to steep in hot syrup until cooled to room temperature.  Strain most of the basil leaves out of the syrup (I like to leave some in for color).

In a large glass filled 2/3 full with crushed ice, combine 2-3 Tbsp macerated strawberries (and their liquid), 2-3 Tbsp basil-infused simple syrup.  Fill glass 2/3 full with chilled white wine.  Fill the rest of the glass with club soda, stir and serve.