August 30, 2010

Monday Sweets: Lime Cupcakes

These lime cupcakes almost ended a friendship. A love of dessert and other similar foods was much of why Colleen and I  first bonded in the dorm. Since then, any food difference beyond the few we originally identified threatens such bond, or at least it does so in our sarcastic jabs. In this case, that threat was the lime dessert I was to make for weekend retreat because she does not favor lemon/lime desserts.

I'd pick a chocolate pie over lemon any day, but in August heat a fruity cupcake sounded more refreshing than standard but delicious chocolate or vanilla. I could have made my strawberry, peach, or orange cupcakes but instead followed a little inspiration from the July/August Cooking with Paula Deen to try lime!
BUT I was careful not to make them lime-y, for as little doubt that I had that Colleen would dislike any dessert I made, my pleaser complex and personal distaste toward super-citrusy desserts reigned. The cakes were distinctly lime-tasting but not overpoweringly so, and icing had just a tinge of citrus.

Colleen did in fact eat multiple of these cupcakes and liked them much better than she was expecting, but our dessert bonding that weekend was stronger over our chocoholism in the new chocolate chip cookie recipe I tried.

August 26, 2010

Dinner: Grilled Veggie Pasta

Marinated summer veggies on the grill. Colorful red pepper, zucchini, red onion, and mushrooms. I could make a meal of just those beauties.

But in order to make it a "real" meal, I served it with the simple, fresh flavors of penne pasta, Parmesan, and fresh basil. The addition of a grilled chicken breast was optional depending on how much you like meat. Leftovers are fantastic cold; I chopped some chicken to toss into the pasta for lunch the next day.

I recommend chopping the veggies in advance so that all you have to do to prep is grill, cook pasta, chop basil, and put it all together.
Also, this picture isn't all that pretty, but it was pretty darn attractive in person.

August 23, 2010

Books and Bites: Lemon Cake with Chocolate Frosting

When you read a book with lemon cake in the title and on the cover, of course you have to make one like it for proper discussion of its text. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is about a girl who can taste the feelings of whoever prepared the food she eats, and she first discovers her gift when she tastes sadness in the lemon cake with chocolate frosting her mother made. Our book club concluded that the writing and characterization were strong, the concept amusing, and the plot overall very sad but most notably quite strange.

What I enjoyed most about the book was the author's descriptions. I need to learn to talk about food like this: "Warm citrus-baked batter lightness enfolded by cool deep dark swirled sugar." That description fit my cake quite well, which is good considering I was mimicking the cake in the book.

I wouldn't have put lemon and chocolate together, but it worked. Really, you can't go wrong with chocolate frosting on anything. Recipe-wise, I stuck with the basics: Southern Living lemon cake and the chocolate frosting from the cocoa box. It was so delectable that I ate the giant slice I cut for pretty photograph purposes.

I don't know that I'd make lemon cake again because citrus desserts aren't my favorite, but this cake made me really want to make a basic white cake with almond extract iced with the same ah-mazing chocolate icing.

August 20, 2010

Recipe: Caesar Power Salad

First thought: Make Caesar salad with lefover romaine lettuce and the fabulous Cardini's dressing; add some rotisserie chicken for super-fast dinner. (Side note: If you have never tried Cardini's Caesar, you must. The company's namesake created the salad, after all.)

Second thought: Be more adventurous. Scour the internet for Caesar variations.

Results of brainstorming: A filling dinner Caesar that was a bit more funky (in a good way) than normal. Red pepper added more color and veggilicious flavor than the normal light green-cream variety. Super salty pancetta contributed a flavorful Italian flair. Almonds made for crunch in place of croutons. Cannellini beans varied the texture and added some fiber. Parmesan, romaine, and Caesar dressing kept it classic.

August 18, 2010

Food Thoughts: Food from Home

The ending of a story on melons in the June/July Saveur left me thinking about the how we treasure foods that we associate with a place or experience, especially that of home.

A young man told the writer that he had bought one of his kharbouza melons, a 10-12 melon native to Afghanistan that is rare in the U.S., and told him about giving it to his grandfather:
"I took it home to Fremont for my grandfather. Every summer he gets together with a bunch of other old Afghani men and they recite the Koran, the whole thing. It takes three days. It was the third day, and they had just reached the last words when I walked in and said, 'Grandfather, I've brought you a kharbouza melon.' All the old men jumped up and shouted, 'It's a miracle! God has heard us!' And then they cut the melon and shared it among themselves, and they sat on the floor reminiscing about home."

What food reminds you of home?

August 16, 2010

Monday Sweets: Strawberry Smoothie Ice-Cream Pie

Why We Made the Pie:
My mother told me to, or rather asked me to after staring at its picture for a few months. I agreed when I was searching for a dessert to serve friends at the end of a potentially million-degree day on the lake.
Why We Liked the Pie:
Prettiness of colorful layers. I oohed and ahhed when we popped it out of the spring form pan.
Refreshing fresh fruit (banana, strawberries, and blueberries) mixed with vanilla ice cream. I used Mayfield's.
Waffle Cone Crust. This way you get the flavor and crunch of the cone with less mess.
Deceptively simple preparation—mix fruit with ice cream and layer. It just required many steps of mixing and freezing, which didn't seem as time consuming when I was hanging around the kitchen at the lake whilst chatting with friends, enlisting friends' help, and snacking.

Why I Might or Might Not Make Again:
The other 9 taste testers at the lake for the weekend liked it, and we had fun discussing which layer we thought best (banana might have won). Given my biased against super fruity desserts, I'd personally rather have either a smoothie or a slice of mint chocolate chip ice cream pie. I do, however, like that ice cream pies keep much longer than your average dessert, just like any ice cream.

August 10, 2010

Recipe: Tomato Pie

I came across this tomato pie recipe just after I'd eaten a delectable one at Kerby Lane Cafe in Austin, so of course I had to try making it myself. Baking layers of fresh tomatoes topped with cheese in a buttery crust created a meal whose wondrous taste we spent half our dinner conversation discussing.

The base of the pie is the kind of tomatoes that are unbelievably colorful and juicy this time of year.

Layer those guys with sauteed onions and what would have ideally been fresh basil (although dried basil worked when the real stuffed had all tragically wilted) and salt and pepper, and seal it all in with gruyere and parmesan. That plus a side salad equals a meal so very full of fresh veggie flavors.

Oh, and I made my first-ever homemade pie crust, which I found to be quite a beautiful thing. True, it took extra time, but a five-ingredient food processor action followed by rolling it out wasn't all that bad. It was plenty worth it for that buttery, flaky crust that you can only get in the homemade version (all-natural crusts from Whole Foods crusts the second best though). I failed to follow the instructions for pie weights and such and just baked it plain, so it  shrank down from the edges but wasn't too bad. Next time I will try the pie crust fitting tips I produced at work this week.
But what really inspired me to go scratch was wanting to add basil to the crust like my tomato pie at Kerby Lane. Yet another reason it's worth the effort.

August 9, 2010

Monday Sweets: Strawberry Icebox Cake

I've been a little obsessed with strawberry desserts this summer. First a magazine cover convinced me to make Strawberry-Orange Shortcake Tart. Then I put my local strawberries on freshly-baked-by-not-me pound cake. And then I found that strawberry cake and cupcakes are festive for girly occasions. Strawberries also topped my Lemon Poppyseed Pancakes and Goat Cheese Cheesecakes.
Although I like variety in my new recipe experimentation, a no-bake desserts tweet from The Kitchn sold me on trying these luscious layers of graham crackers, whipped cream, and strawberries drizzled with a chocolate ganache. It reminded me of the graham crackers soften and meld with creaminess in a chocolate eclair dessert, and I have long preached the beauty of a whipped cream and strawberry combo. (For prettier pictures, check out The Kitchn's photos.)
Not only did it require zero additional heat on scorcher of a day, but it also tasted as good as it looks to me and better than it looked to my mother, who mentioned her opinion no less than five times (thanks, Mom). Filled with flavors of simple goodness, it's rich but in a light-and-fluffy sort of way. It was also very pretty before it was cut.

August 4, 2010

Three Things: Pink Eyed Peas

I haven't played with local produce much this summer, which makes me sad, so when my summer of weddings concluded last week, I stopped at my favorite produce stand after work, picked up some pink-eyed peas and other veggies, and entered culinary creativity mode.

1. Boiled Pink-Eyed Peas
I just boiled them plain because I wanted to mix them with other veggies, but if you want them to actually have decent flavor, try some onion and garlic in the mix.

2. Pink-Eyed Pea Succotash Salad
Peas+Corn+Tomatoes+Onion+Garlic+Lemon Juice+Olive Oil+Salt+Pepper
This is a loose cousin of the traditional hot bean-and-corn medley that is succotash. I love how veggies have so much fresh flavor that they just require a tad bit of oil and vinegar (or lemon juice) to make a lettuce-free salad. We ate it with grilled chicken for dinner, and then I chopped some of the chicken and mixed it with the salad for lunch the next day.

3. Pink-Eyed Pea Salsa
Peas+Prepared Salsa
I like to mix pink-eyeds (or black-eyeds) into salsa to add texture and taste. It also makes it heartier so that I can eat chips and salsa with a salad and feel like I had a full meal.

August 2, 2010

Monday Sweets: Profiteroles with Coffee Whipped Cream

Each month when I put Southern Living recipes online, there's that one recipe that stares at me for days and screams, "I look so tasty! You just have to make me!" This June recipe screamed the loudest yet this year, and after reading Elizabeth Bard's prose on how delightful she found profiteroles, it officially went onto my Fourth of July pastry menu.

Profiteroles are puff pastries filled with whipped cream or ice cream. This rendition was stuffed with coffee-flavored (Kahlua!) whipped cream and topped with hot fudge.

15 family members raved about their tastiness. One of my aunts kept saying how she doesn't usually like dessert but loved how light this was, and by light she means texture (in calories, it is not). Another aunt was slightly puzzled by the name and asked me no less than four times over a couple of days to repeat the magic word: profiterole (pro-fit-a-roll). All plates were cleared, quickly.

I wasn't so sure if making a puff pastry from scratch would end in disaster. Boiling butter and water was easy. It got more daunting when I had to beat in eggs one at a time, and six eggs for my double recipe was a lot. Each time the batter would turn lumpy and scare me, but as I stirred with all my strength, it would eventually become smooth, at which point I would sigh in relief.
I couldn't help but check the oven as my spoonfuls on mushy butter dough puffed into these cute, crisp balls. I was pleased.

You can make the pastries in advance and store them in a container. This is the only way I would consider serving them to guests. Regardless, be prepared that assembling the three-part presentation takes some time; thankfully, I had some sous chef cousins to assist.

You can buy fudge sauce in a bottle, but I was in the mood and had the time to make it from scratch.