Saturday, September 17, 2011

Blackberry Shortcake...and clotted cream

The original recipe I found was for Blackberry and Clotted Cream Shortcake, from BBC Good Food, one of my absolute favorite food sites. I have yet to experience clotted cream in the way I've wanted to for years. Not living in England is really a bummer. Not owning a Jersey cow is a setback, too. Also, not living anywhere within 60 miles of a specialty food store makes things difficult.

I used to have a friend in England (that sounded wrong... I think we are still friends...) who would patiently answer my nit-picking string of questions about all things English, including traditional Cream Tea, and her descriptions of clotted cream was enough to set me drooling. I mean, come on... LOOK at that scone! Doesn't the cream on that look more amazing than anything you've had in your life? Okay, maybe I'm obsessing just a little.

I decided to make my own when a friend offered me raw cream from their cow. Unfortunately, the cream was not the freshest and the results were... potent.

I tried mail-ordering some from English Tea Store *once, but it was mid summer, and they contacted me to let me know it would be an additional $30 to ship it in a chilled container so it wouldn't spoil. For ONE JAR. I cancelled my order.

Then finally, last year mom and I were on a trip and stumbled across Clotted Cream in a baking store, so I begged her to get it for me for Christmas. Sadly, the jarred cream really was more like hard butter than anything else.

So, here I am to this day, making Mock Devonshire Cream anytime a recipe calls for clotted cream. It's a recipe I came across in the book If Teacups Could Talk, and it really is very good for a cream filling. How like clotted cream it is, I honestly couldn't say. All I know is that I enjoy eating it by the spoonful, so it works for me. For now.

Now, on to the shortcake! I have a tendency to want rich, gooey chocolate things when I make dessert for an event, but this was a dinner for my parents. I know mom likes simpler desserts, most of her family are big fans of blackberries, and I wanted something easily converted to sugar-free for my dad's sake. I browsed my recipe box and knew this was a good one to try. And it WAS good!

The recipe was in metric measurements, and I recommend using them (see link above) if you have kitchen scales. I did my best to convert them to cups, but it will always be slightly different.

3 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp baking powder
10 Tbs cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten

16 oz blackberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
3 Tbs sugar (or to taste)
1 1/2 cups clotted cream or Mock Devonshire Cream
Powdered sugar to decorate, optional

  1. Heat the oven to 375. Tip** the flour into a mixing bowl with baking powder and a pinch of salt. Add the butter, rub everything together with your fingers to make a reasonably fine crumbed mixture, then stir in the sugar.
  2. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture, then tip in the buttermilk and egg. Gently work the mixture together until it forms a soft, sticky, dough.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, knead the mixture a couple of times and mould it into an 18cm (7 inch) round. Put the dough on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 mins until golden and risen and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle. Leave to cool.
  4. For the filling, lightly mash the blackberries with the sugar. Split the shortcake in two horizontally and spread the bottom half with the clotted cream***. Spoon the mashed berries over the cream, then top with the shortcake. Dust with icing sugar and serve in slices.

To make Mock Devonshire Cream, beat 3/4 C heavy cream until stiff, with a Tbs or so of powdered sugar. Fold in 3/4 C sour cream until thoroughly combined. YUM.

*This should not be a reflection on the company; I'm sure it's very hard to ship items that must be chilled. And if you've never checked out their store, DO. Their loose leaf teas are some of the best I've come across. You simply must try the Earl Grey Cream. It's unbelievably good.

** Yes, I copy/pasted the instructions for the most part because I'm a sap who loves British cooking terms.

*** I put the berries on first, because my mom loves soggy shortcake. I just had to let all the juices soak in. :)

Basil & Garlic Focaccia

This is my favorite quick Focaccia recipe. I'm sure it's not very traditional, and this particular batch turned out denser than I would have liked, but it's delicious, flavorful and doesn't take all day to make. Maybe it's name should be "Focaccia in a pinch"? Either way, it's delicious sliced horizontally for sandwich bread or in slabs to dunk in tomato soup. The original recipe is rosemary, to which I add garlic, which is a wonderful mouth-watering combination. Since I was serving this with a basil tomato soup, I switch the seasoning. Try it with whatever herbs you prefer, you really can't go wrong.

Basil and Garlic Focaccia

Based on a recipe from Epicurious.

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
  • 2 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Stir together 1 2/3 cups lukewarm (105 to 115°F) water and yeast in bowl of mixer and let stand until creamy, about 5 minutes. Add 5 cups flour, 1/4 cup oil, and table salt and beat until dough comes together. Turn out on floured surface and knead (you will need to flour your hands, too; it's a sticky mess at this point.) until soft, smooth, and sticky, 3 to 4 minutes.Be careful not to knead in too much extra flour, you want it to be a little stickier than you initially think is a good idea. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and turn dough to coat with oil. Let rise, covered with plastic wrap, at warm room temperature, until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Stir together rosemary, garlic and remaining 3 tablespoons oil.

Press dough evenly into a generously oiled 15- by 10- by 1-inch baking pan. Let dough rise, covered completely with a kitchen towel, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Make shallow indentations all over dough with your fingertips, then brush with herb oil, letting it pool in indentations. Sprinkle sea salt evenly over focaccia and bake in middle of oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool a while, then turn out onto a rack or bread board before cutting.

Chicken in Golden Sauce

This recipe has been a family favorite since I was a kid. It's aaaaaall about the sauce.

Chicken in Golden Sauce

Original recipe from 1970-something Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book

3 chicken breasts* (2 pounds)
1 Tbs lemon juice
1/4 C flour
1 tsp paprika
Dash freshly ground pepper
3 Tbs butter
1 clove garlic, halved
1/2 C white wine

For the sauce:
4 egg yolks, beaten
1 C heavy cream
1 Tbs fresh parsley, optional
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Remove skin (if desired) and cut chicken into serving size pieces. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Heat butter and garlic in a heavy pan over medium heat. While waiting, in a shallow dish such as a pie plate, combine the flour, pepper and paprika. Roll the chicken pieces to coat, and fry until brown on both sides. (It will not be cooked through at this point) Add the wine, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until chicken is tender. Remove the chicken, but keep it warm. To make the sauce, use the pan liquid to temper the egg yolks to help keep the sauce from separating (in my picture here the sauce had separated... still delicious though.). Add cream and parsley. Cook on low heat until thickened, then add lemon juice. Serve over chicken and mashed potatoes.

*We have made this with all cuts of chicken.

Fresh Peach Sweet Tea

Right now we have an abundance of late-season peaches in our fridge. They aren't the greatest quality, certainly not mouth-watering like the peaches we get in August. I would never cook with those peaches, they are best eaten fresh, with the juice running down your arm. The ones I'm dealing with now, while the flavor is fine, are not at all juicy and a bit mealy. What to do with all these peaches?

I wanted a special beverage for the dinner, and since I currently have about two pounds of loose leaf black tea waiting to be used (Bless you, dear friend who sent it to me!) it only made sense; Peach Iced Tea.

Here's what I came up with:

Fresh Peach Sweet Tea

Makes about 6 quarts

2 lb fresh peaches (about 6)
6-8 tea bags, or Tbs loose-leaf tea (I highly recommend loose-leaf)
2-3 C simple syrup*
8 C water

Put your water on to boil. While waiting, peel and slice peaches (as long as they aren't super mush, you can peel them with a regular vegetable peeler.) and put through a food mill or food processor. If you want you can then force the peach puree through a fine sieve.

When the water boils, turn off the heat, add your tea bags and allow to steep for 5 minutes. This will make a good strong tea without steeping so long it turns bitter.

This is my kind of tea bag. :)

Now, if you've forced the peaches through a sieve, you could now simply stir it into the tea. I wanted mine very smooth and not pulpy though, so I didn't sieve it. I put the peaches in cheese cloth and poured the tea over it, allowing all the peach juices to be brought out and the fibers left behind. Squeeze the pulp as dry as you can, there is really very little waste. Stir in as much or as little simple syrup as you like, keeping in mind that it's strong tea that will be served over ice, so you may want it a tad too sweet to start with. Enjoy!

* Simple Syrup is made simply by combining equal parts water and sugar in a sauce pan and bringing it to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Cool and use in any sweet drinks you want.

The Starter: Roasted Tomato Soup

A family friend raved about this soup long enough, I finally decided I had to try the recipe. I haven't made home-made tomato soup before, I'm always concerned that it will taste like eating... well, tomato. Which, in my book, is not a good thing. Tomato sauces are wonderful, but not plain tomato, and especially not raw. I know, I know... I've been told I don't know what I'm missing by all the tomato-sandwich fans I know, but hey, I didn't CHOSE the way tomatoes taste. They were nasty to start with!

Anyway, I'll move on. This soup has a wonderful blend of flavors, and is very low fat, not being a cream soup. I drizzled mine with a little home made yogurt or cream, mostly just for looks but it tastes nice too.

Fresh Basil... mmmm...

Roasted Tomato Soup

  • 3-1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 11 medium), halved
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 12 fresh basil leaves
  • Place the tomatoes (unpeeled), onion and garlic in a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan; drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Bake at 400° for 25-30 minutes or until tender, stirring once. Cool slightly.
  • In a blender, puree tomato mixture and basil in batches until blended and as smooth as you like.
  • When ready to serve, transfer to a large saucepan and heat through. Serve with croutons or herb bread.
Original recipe from Taste of Home.

I made a double batch, so I simply added 10 minutes to the oven time.

I served this soup with fresh focaccia, perfect for dunking.

Poor little blog!

I didn't give up on you, little blog, never fear! I am just not one who functions well while working full time. I either work, or do Other Things, I don't tend to do both. My job is seasonal, so after taking a few weeks to travel a bit and just glory in the beauty of late summer, I feel ready to really get back into cooking an blogging about it!

Last week my parents celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary, and I cooked a big meal for the family and a couple of friends. The upcoming string of recipes are the ones I chose for the meal. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rouxbe Online Cooking School

One of the problems that comes from living in a small town in the middle of no-where is then when you have a passion for learning something, you pretty much have to... do it on your own. (There are many, many wonderful things about small town life that out-weigh this, however!) I've dreamed of finding a cooking school workshop in one of the cities nearest me (an hour away) where I could go an stay for a week and learn as much as I could in a short time. In the past year I've done quite a lot of learning on my own, using books on technique* and the 'why' of food.

Today I was catching up on one of my favorite food blogs, and discovered that Kitchen Simplicity is now affiliated with this online cooking School, Rouxbe (clever, wot?). If you go to Rouxbe through KS's link, the cooking school will give you a free 14 day trial, opposed to their normal 7 day trial.

I watched their introductory video and one of the lessons they let you preview and I have to say... it looks like a very effective tool. A lot of basics are covered, but you can chose which lessons you want to do when. Home-made pasta, choosing cuts of meat, sharpening knives... things that for me at least are easier learned from watching than book descriptions.

So what are you waiting for? 14 days to soak up high quality cooking instruction at no risk. I'm getting ready to go on vacation so I won't start my 14 days yet, but I will as soon as I get back.

* Books that I have used and learned a significant amount from...
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1 & 2

From Julia Child's Kitchen
Mastering Knife Skills
King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion
KAF Whole Grain Baking
I'm Just Here For the Food
I'm Just Here for More Food

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

K.A.F. Muffin Pans

The picture below is of the muffin tins my family has used as long as I can remember. To give them fair credit, they have served us faithfully for many years... but perhaps not well. My mother has frequently expressed her... frustration with them while standing at the sink fussing and scrubbing out each individual cup, coated with a layer of baked on flour and sugar. And I more than once felt my blood pressure rise as yet another batch of muffins came out with the bottoms torn off. Paper liners helped a great deal, but I frequently forget to use them.

Then mom and I paid a visit to King Arthur Flour, and I eyed their exclusive line of baking pans. They claimed great things about them; even cooking, no stick, easy clean-up, lifetime warranty, made in the U.S.A.! Granted they are pricier than most pans you come across in the supermarket, but I am all for paying a little more for U.S. made and good quality. So, mom bought me the muffin tin for Christmas so we could test their claims.

Their claims are good.

My first batch of Blueberry Muffins turned out beautifully. They all seemed to rise evenly, as opposed to our old pans where some stood above the pan by two inches or more and others would be nearly flat. And then removing them from the pan... memories of gouging around the edges of each muffin with a table knife filled my mind as I simply lifted each muffin out of the pan.

No sticking. Whatsoever. And layers of baked on flour and sugar to scrub off, and what little bit was left on the top of the pan simply wiped away. Yesterday mom made her own batch of muffins using my pan and declared quite firmly after washing the pan that we ALL need our own set of K.A.F. pans now!

As you've probably figured out, I'm planning on investing in their baking sheets and bread pans next. Maybe I can wait until my next trip to the store to pick them up... but maybe not. And no, they aren't paying me anything to gush about their products. They don't have to!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Lemon Swirl Cheesecake

I served this for Christmas with my Mom's family. The crust made of Nilla Wafers was a revelation! I've never had cheesecake made with anything but graham cracker crusts, and frankly, there have been times when I scoop out the filling and sort of scatter the crust around the plate to make it look like the remnants were an accident. This crust however, is lighter and altogether more enjoyable. The cheesecake itself is flavored with lemon curd, then large dollops of more curd are lightly swirled through the batter for a beautiful dessert and strong, genuine lemon flavor. The original called for extra lemon extract, but I am not a fan of artificial flavorings. With this much flavor from the real thing, who needs it anyway?

Lemon Swirl Cheesecake

Homemade Lemon Curd
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces

Vanilla Wafer Almond Crumb Crust
1 1/2 cups vanilla wafer cookie crumbs
3/4 cup finely ground toasted almonds
2 tsp lemon zest
1/8 tsp of salt
7 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

Lemon Cream Cheese Filling
2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Reserved Lemon Curd (from above)

Prepare Lemon Curd: In a small saucepan, whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl. Drizzle in lemon juice slowly, whisking constantly. When all of the lemon juice has been added, return mixture to saucepan. Add butter and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until curd has thickened. Pour lemon curd into a small bowl. Set aside 1/2 cup of Lemon Curd. Press plastic wrap directly onto surfaces of the curd. Cool 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare Vanilla Crumb Crust: In a medium mixing bowl, use a fork to toss together vanilla wafer crumbs, almonds, lemon zest, and salt. Stir in melted butter. Press mixture evenly onto bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan or pie plate.
Bake for 12 minutes on bottom oven rack. Remove from oven and set aside while filling is prepared.

Prepare Filling: In a medium mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add in the sour cream, vanilla extract and all reserved lemon curd (except for the 1/2 cup set aside earlier). Pour into baked crust. Dollop remaining 1/2 cup lemon curd onto filling and swirl through filling using a small knife.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until center is just set. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Cool for 2 hours, then refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours, or overnight.

I served this with real whipped cream, barely sweetened, and a raspberry sauce I made last minute, which really complimented the lemon. I'm sure the lemon can stand up for itself, but I was looking for a little more presentation.

Raspberry sauce: 2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and mashed and brought to a boil with about 1/2 cup sugar (or to taste). Add a teaspoon or two of cornstarch and stir til smooth, continuing to cook until the sauce has thickened.

Serves 10.

King Arthur, Christmas and Life Callings.

This Christmas, my mom gave me a great treat by taking me to the far side of Vermont to the King Arthur Flour Baker's Store - Yes, an entire store full of baking and kitchen supplies, from specialty flours and grains, stand mixers, their own line of baking pans, herbs, flavorings, aprons... ...and even Himalayan Pink Salt. I read about it once, how the author of this particular book was baffled by the requirement of Himalayan Pink Salt in a recipe- and there it was before my very eyes!

We leisurely strolled through the store... and back through again... mom taking notes of some of the things that caught my eye, then while I went to the bakery to find and consume my first ever genuine croissant (oh my... oh MY.), mom went back and picked up some of the things I liked for my Christmas gifts. This works for mom and myself much better than her trying to secretly figure out what I would like and actually use. Let me just say, the pink salt was NOT on the list; however, the 2 1/4 teaspoon yeast spoon was. Honestly, if you bake a lot of yeast breads, like I do, and buy your yeast in jars, like I do, you'll be surprised at how often you use this little gadget. If you do neither, don't bother with it.

And speaking of gifts for cooks... mom found this picture today. This appears to be my ninth birthday, and I'm quite sure the double-ended rolling pin was a gift I'd requested. It would seem I've been crazy for cooking for some time now! I've moved on to a French rolling pin, but we still have this one. Sadly, just a few months ago the wooden handle gave way and it's now a one-ended rolling pin, but we still use it quite a bit for rolling crusts into pan corners.

With Nana, 1996

Christmas Goody Baskets

For my co-workers this year, I made cookies, candies and bars, wrapped them up in cellophane, tied them with ribbons and handed them over with a smile. It's so much easier than trying to think of something thoughtful, appropriate and un-embarrassing for the cook you work with who happens to be a 20 year old over-grown boy, or a waitress who is a mother of two, lots of fun but I really don't know her on a personal level. Everyone is ready and waiting to eat during the Christmas season, so this is the route I decided to go to show my co-workers I appreciate them.

Raspberry Almond Thumbprints and Fudge Brownies

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Chocolate Truffles

Most of the truffles I've made have been interesting. Making the filling, rolling the filling, trying to figure out just how to temper chocolate. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't; I do not claim to have mastered the art of tempering. Nobody every told me that classic chocolate truffles were one of the simplest things in the world to make. This is an outrage, so I am here to tell YOU!

Chocolate truffles are one of the simplest things in the world to make.

Now you know, so there's no excuse for you to never try them.

I started with a British recipe, and quite frankly, since I have my kitchen scale I really prefer the metric measure system. For your sakes though, I will put it up here with both system measurements as closely as I can figure it.

Chocolate Truffles

1 3/4 C (400 ml) heavy cream, room temperature
1 3/4 C (400 g) very dark chocolate.

Coconut, chopped nuts or cocoa powder

The original recipe called for 70% cocoa chocolate, but I used half 70% (hint: most 70% chocolate bars come in 100 gram bars. Handy!) and half dark chocolate chips because the sugar level would have been too low for me. Also, if you wish to use even lighter chocolate, reduce the amount of cream slightly or it may not end up stiff enough.

Here's what you do:
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or in the microwave with reduced power level so it won't burn. Using electric beaters or a whisk, gradually beat the cream into the chocolate a little at a time, fully combining each addition before adding more cream. Cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly, at least 2 hours.

Using a melon-baller or a small food scoop like the one from Pampered Chef, scoop out balls of the thickened chocolate and roll in coconut, chopped nuts or cocoa powder. Try to handle them with your finger tips, using your palms as little as possible. Also, rinsing your hands with cold water before you start might help keep them from starting to melt as you work with them. I would keep the truffles covered in the fridge until 1/2 hour or so before serving, or if you have a cooler room in your house that would do. Just know that they get very soft in a toasty warm room.

Lemon Bars

A classic.

So simple.

Highly addictive.

Try them if you dare.

Lemon Bars

Preheat oven to 375*

1 1/2 C flour
2/3 C confectioner's sugar
3/4 C butter, softened

Cream together and pat into greased 13"X9" pan. Bake 20 minutes until slightly golden. While its baking, prepare the filling.

3 eggs
1 1/2 C sugar
2 Tbs flour
1/4 C lemon juice

Whisk everything together until frothy. Pour over the hot crust, and return to oven to bake an additional 20-25 minutes until light golden. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Cut into squares to serve.

Speckled Biscotti

I've experienced biscotti in a number of places; coffee shops where they are individually wrapped in cellophane and so dry they shatter with every bite that isn't dunked, at a part where one of the guests brought a strangely sweet and nearly sticky biscotti (if it could be called that)... but I have yet to find anything named biscotti that I would chose to eat over this recipe. I came across it three years ago and return to it again and again for me favorite dunking dessert! Be it coffee, cocoa or tea (my choice) it'll warm the winter blues.

Pictured in a Christmas gift basket

Preheat oven to 350*

4 1/2 A flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 C sugar
2/3 C vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C lightly chopped pecans
1/2 C semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1/2 C dried cranberries, or dried berries of choice (cherries, blueberries, etc)

Sift together first four ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar, oil and eggs until blended. Gradually add flour mixture alternately with portions of the sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. This will make a very stiff batter. Add the nuts and fruit and stir in as well as you can before turning dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until the fruit and nuts are well distributed. Divide dough into 3 equal portions and shape into 14" 'logs'. These will be roughly 4" wide and 1/2" thick. The dough doesn't spread much during baking and you don't want to end up with short biscotti. Place logs several inches apart on greased baking sheets and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 300*. Let the biscotti cool on the pan 30 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board. Slice the biscotti diagonally in 3/4" wide slices. Return to baking sheets and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, until firm. Let cool on wire racks. Drizzle with melted chocolate, if desired.