Monday, March 28, 2011

Lemon Angel Food

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No, not the cake, although it is my hands down favorite. But angel like the ones with wings. It is a ministry at my church, The Angel Food Network, and although I am the first to admit I am not a terribly involved Catholic, I sign up every year to cook for people who are sick and events at church. I love to do this. My first assignment about 6 years ago was a woman who was my age who had kidney failure. She had endured a transplant as a teenager, and was back in dialysis and hoping to get strong enough for another transplant. I was a frequent follower of a kidney friendly recipe site and happily cooked for her and her teenage daughter. I would take Nic over and we would mow and clean up her yard, anything I could do to make things easier for her, I was willing. She passed away as a very young woman, and I was devastated to say the least. I find comfort knowing I held her hand along the way.

There have been many other assignments since then, and this week I am making a cake for an event at church. My choice. So after a lot of searching I decided on lemon. One of my favorite (if not terribly ambitious) baking books is called in the sweet kitchen by Regan Daley. I wish she was my neighbor. This book is a great resource for a baker and is full of unusual and different recipes. Simple and Seductive is how she describes it. So I settled on a lemon Bundt cake with a glaze. I know, nothing earth shattering, but perfect for spring. But no, I couldn't leave well enough alone. I decided to bake it as 2 layers 8" with a little lemon buttercream instead of a Bundt, because everyone loves frosting. How good does that sound? The bad thing is, I wouldn't get to taste it. So what the heck. I made a second cake using half the recipe (always a dangerous thing in baking) and made it for my family! I used a 7" cake pan so it was a little higher, and sliced it to make 2 skinny layers.

Lemon Cake
(adapted from Old-Fashioned Glazed Lemon Bundt Cake by Regan Daley)

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
grated zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 large lemon (about 2½ Tablespoons)

Grease two 8" cake pans. Using the paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy and pale. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.

Sift flour, soda and salt and add into creamed mixture in 3 additions alternating with the buttermilk. Don't over mix. Fold in zest and lemon juice.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake at 325° for about 20-25 minutes. Cool and pop out of cake pans to cool thoroughly.
The original recipe would have you pour a hot glaze over the warm Bundt. I made frosting.

Lemon Buttercream

12 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2½ cups confectioner's sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Fresh squeezed lemon juice as needed

Beat the butter until fluffy. Add confectioner's sugar and salt and add lemon juice until the right consistency is found for a fluffy buttercream. Frost as desired.

You will see on the top of my cake (at the top of the post) for home I adorned the top with some candied violets. These amazing little flowers are from Parma, Italy and taste just like a violet should. They are pretty expensive, so if you slice a piece and a non eater gets one, distract them and swipe it off their plate! I recycled a cake carrier from an event I helped with at school to transport my cake to church. My friends laugh as I load up all the plastic containers from grocery store bakeries. But since I don't buy that stuff, I don't have them! I am all about recycling! Success all the way around. It was bright and a delicate crumb thanks to the buttermilk. And I love that I can buy a small ½ pint milk carton of buttermilk for $.33. Wow! Thirty three little pennies. It's like the best deal in the supermarket. I find many times when a little buttermilk would be a great addition, but those large quarts are easily forgotten and go bad. So for just over a quarter, I always have a cup on hand. The buttercream was dangerously delicious. I especially liked it the day after when it was cold out of the fridge. Nothing like a little lemon to really usher in the flavors of spring. It would make delicious cupcakes for a spring brunch or Mother's Day. I think I am going to try and make a lemon version of sugar cookies. Those would be yummy for Easter! So, what are you waiting for....get in there and bake!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thank You, Grazie, Merci, Cheers

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I know, I sound like a broken record. But we just don't say it enough. Thank You. Those simple little words can make someone feel like all of their effort was worth it, that someone noticed their hard work, that someone appreciated a little something they did. Thank you in my family is huge. Grandma and Grandpa have made it very clear, that those Christmas and birthday checks will come to a screeching halt if a thank you note fails to appear. I think that is a great policy. Even as my kids approach adulthood and spend less and less time at home, I still keep stacks of thank you notes handy for holidays and birthdays, and send a good amount of them myself.

As my daughter began Senior year, she came home with the paperwork for the Europe trip. This is a big deal. She and her friend had talked for the last 3 years about this trip, and I had every intention of going along. As I looked through the paperwork, the price, and the itinerary, I thought having been to 3 of the 4 destinations already, I could find something better to spend the money on. So we sent the paperwork in for Christina. As the trip approached, we found out only 10 girls were going and 3 very brave chaperones. Now don't get me wrong, these are nice girls. But 10 days with 10 teenage girls who will be without social media, getting up early and walking a lot of could get a little hairy. But the chaperones, they could not have been more suited for the job.

I really never worried about Christina traipsing around Europe. I knew the Dean was in the lead, and she told them to start walking before they left because their little feet would be tired. And the girls will tell you this woman can book it! Next was the guidance counselor who knows these girls so well as she helps them all prepare to go to the college of their dreams (Thank You for that too!) and the French teacher, who I wish had quizzed my 4-year French student all over Paris and made her chat it up with the locals! I know they were in complete control....and I am so thankful.

So I write thank you notes. And if you're me, you make thank you cookies. For the time in London, Cheers (their slang for thanks),
for the romp in Paris, Merci,
for the rainy days in Rome and Florence, Grazie,
and for bringing my sweetie home safe, Thank You.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Dirty Little Secret

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So here it is, my confession. I hate cleaning pots and pans. The insides are always clean, but I really hate scouring the exteriors, so I don't. Or shall I say, I didn't. Trust me, from this point forward, I am scrubbing.

Let me say first however, that I am meticulous about some odd places in the house. My washing machine and dryer sparkle, always. No old soap scum, no dust, I wipe them down all the time. And my fridge. I have been known to clean it out thoroughly in the middle of the night when I just can't sleep. You will never find anything moldy in there. I can go thru an entire box of toothpicks cleaning all sorts of odd places, and I can disintegrate an entire box of those magic scrubber things. But the pots and pans, I basically have ignored the exteriors.

We are moving this year, and I know I have a great house. I have been debating about the pot rack and most real estate people I know said get it down. Every cook I know said keep it up. My house will sing to someone who loves to cook. So if I am to keep the pot rack up, I have to clean the copper. I found a scouring copper powder and went to work with pathetic results. It took off the tarnish, but the black stuff did not budge. So I walked away.

Then one dreary day, I started Googling, (this is a dangerous habit, it can suck up an entire day and find you in your jammies, still, at 3 in the afternoon). I found many ideas, most for basic tarnish. I know all about lemons and salt and ketchup. But I was beyond tarnish, I am talking cooked on oil, food whatever. Looking at it, well, I am pretty embarrassed. But I know I am not alone, and if you are lucky enough to find a garage sale copper pot that looks hopeless, well, here's hope. So I whipped up a concoction of salt, copper cleaner, vinegar, and steel wool. Now, my copper is the real deal. Not lacquered, not tin lined (I have a few of these but I didn't use this solution on them) and all stainless steel lined. I basically dumped a bunch of copper cleaner granules, some salt a little vinegar and made a paste. The tarnish, what little there was disappeared instantly. Then I attacked the black with the steel wool, very fine grade. This was a very big project. I scrubbed for hours, and have the blister to prove it. But the results are amazing. Now, steel wool will etch the copper, but here's the thing. These are not for display, I cook in these pans everyday. Etching, scratches, and a little patina are part of the process. I can deal with that. If you have lacquered copper and use my method, you will likely cry when you see what happens to cheap copper. If you are sitting on a set or a few pans of Mauviel, then hop to it. It will take a lot more than steel wool to ruin a $300 pan. I even tackled the insides which were clean, but not sparkly, but now have a high shine from the steel wool and some dry Cascade. Here is before... and after. Wow! My pot rack glistens. I still have a few pots on top of the cabinets and in the cupboard that could use a little scrub. But the worst of it is over, and will never be an issue again! So if you are looking for a house in the Memphis area, here's a kitchen any cook would love!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Today is Pi

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So, since it is the 14th of March, you know, 3.14...Pi, well then Pie! Clever, right? I thought what the heck. The sun has been hiding all day, I have been working since 7a.m., and my kitchen needs a delicious smell to make me think spring. I haven't made a pie in awhile and I bought the hugest basket of strawberries from Costco. I know that they are going to get rotten before I can eat them all, and I was a little disappointed in the taste, they weren't all that sweet. So pie is perfect, as well as my morning smoothie to use them up. I came across a rather expensive package of rhubarb at another market and decided to add a taste of Iowa. I am using a recipe from Epicurious that I of course tweaked to fit my needs. If I followed their recipe, the rhubarb alone would have been $15. Gulp. So needless to say I used far more strawberries than it asked for. Here's how I did it.
3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
10 tablespoons (about) ice water

In food processor, pulse flour, sugar and salt. Then add bitter and shortening and pulse until it looks crumbly. Add the ice water a few Tablespoons at a time, pulsing until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill about an hour.

Pie Filling

½ pound or 2 cups rhubarb in ½" thick slices
5 cups sliced strawberries
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Gently mix this all together. I let it sit for about 15 minutes to get good and juicy. I also added a few more Tablespoons of corn starch because my berries were a little soft to start. Roll half the dough to fit a 9" pie pan. Fill with berries and rhubarb and roll out the remaining dough. Cut dough into strips and lattice the top. Make a wash of an egg yolk and water and brush the crust and dust with sugar. Bake at 400° for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and continue to bake for about 15 minutes more. The filling should be bubble and the crust golden. Cool to let the filling thicken a bit before serving.

You may notice that I use this super cool board to roll out my dough. It has a lip so you can push that rolling pin and the board doesn't move. One side is plain and the side you see here is marked with pie sizes, a crust recipe and some other measurement details. It is heavy, but I love mine and use it for anything I am rolling out. Yes, I bought it at that store...Also, I didn't get my pie baked until late in the day, and it was a sunless day at that. So my not so great photos are of the pie before it was baked. If I remember I will take a picture of a slice tomorrow. But trust me, it is totally edible!

So, what are ya waiting for? Get in there and bake!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Primavera, Printemps, Spring!

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Some dainty daffodils...

Primavera, Printemps, Spring! Call it what you like, but it is burgeoning in the Memphis area. The daffodils are the precursor to all that gorgeous spring weather, and the first have opened in my yard. That means we celebrate. I am going back in the 80's. I know, I know, it gets a bad rap. I lived it, graduated from high school, college, got married and had my first baby (on the last night of the 80's!). It was an epic decade for me, and I am a nostalgic kind of girl. Heck, I cry at airports, watching American Idol and sometimes even the dang news. I pine for the simpler ways, those days of little stress, and I loved the food. Some crazy orange centered daffodils

The 80's was when I learned to cook. I made stuffed Cornish hens for my roommates, dabbled in vegetarianism, ate my first avocado. I ate my way around London, Seattle and Miami. I remember many food moments.

Once, my dad came to Iowa City to visit me and we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant and I ordered Pasta Primavera. It was an amazing dish, a perfect example of the 80's, fresh vegetables, pasta and a cream sauce. It wasn't heavy, the colors were amazing, and it has stayed with me for years. So in honor of the first daffodils of the season, we make Primavera. Where else would I look for a recipe than the Silver Palate and the New Basics? These gems are the bibles of 80's cooking. They are packed with recipes and so much information about ingredients and cooking. My books are falling apart, are written in and stuffed with little scraps of papers and cards. I found 2 versions, one with creme fraiche and the other with a simple olive oil based sauce. I decided to merge the 2 and make my own with a little ricotta and cottage cheese (trust me)! Don't get me wrong, I would probably love a full cream version, but we do need to keep things a little lighter, and ricotta is a personal favorite. The cottage cheese is kind of a crap shoot here, not sure how it will do. I never buy the 4% fat, although it truly tastes the best. I despise the 2% and find the 0% fat is perfectly palatable, and it seems to melt when I put it on my omelet. So I decided to go with the non fat. I will say that the 4% would probably make the sauce richer. But we ate it all, no one complained a bit.

Primavera Has Sprung Pasta
Linguine or other flat pasta
1 cup assorted colorful peppers cut in strips
½ red onion sliced thin
½ zucchini, sliced
½ yellow squash, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup non fat cottage cheese
½ cup part skim ricotta
½ cup shredded parmesan
½ cup half and half
salt and pepper
Grilled Shrimp (optional)

Saute all the veggies in olive oil and a pat of butter. Cook on medium low so the veggies don't get brown. Salt and pepper liberally. When they are still a little al dente, remove from heat.
In a blender mix the cottage cheese, ricotta and half and half. Blend until smooth.
Cook the pasta to desired doneness. Drain pasta and put back in pot, add cheese mixture and shredded parmesan and stir well. It will separate a little but keep stirring until the noodles are well coated. Place the creamy noodles in the bottom of serving dish and cover with the colorful vegetables. Pass additional grated parmesan and the grilled shrimp. Deeelicious!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mardi Gras Pizza

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So Mardis Gras is upon us. Finally. It's been the winter that never ended. Thankfully we haven't had snow in a month, but it seems like my stretches of spring weather come to a grinding halt with a dreary, rainy 45 degree day, like today. But Mardis Gras, Ash Wednesday and Lent are the precursors to Easter and the warm weather and sunshine. Although I will admit, we have run the AC twice in February. Go figure.

I love a Muffaletta, a famous New Orleans sandwich with ham, salami, cheese and the famous olive salad. I made it into a delicious pizza last spring, much to the happiness of my family. The link is here, Muffaletta Pizza. And honestly, I really want to make that again for Mardis Gras. My favorite flavors on a pizza....but we need to try something new, right? In the post from last year, I gave my favorite pizza crust recipe, but I have found these great dough balls at the market, and am sold. First of all they are very reasonably priced, they come in whole wheat, and they are soooo convenient. I decided to make this pizza a little more jambalaya-like, with andouille, okra, onion and shrimp.

12" Mardi Gras Gumbo Pizza
1# Andouille Sausage
¼ red onion, chopped
½ cup chopped peppers (I used multicolor but green would be fine)
½ cup sliced okra ( I used frozen)
½ cup chopped raw shrimp (cleaned)
Pizza Sauce
Assorted Cheese (I use mozzarella and provolone)
Chopped green onions
Pizza Crust

Saute andouille sausage in a little olive oil. When the sausage is cooked thru, remove from pan and drain extra grease. Saute onions and peppers until golden, add okra and cook until thawed and tasty. Remove veggies and add chopped shrimp to pan with some Cajun seasoning (Penzey's is delicious) and a little beer (hey, you should be drinking one about now anyways) to release the browned bits from the pan. Cook through. Layer pizza dough with sauce, the andouille, veggie and shrimp mixture. Top with shredded cheese. I sprinkle the cheese with a little Penzey's Cajun spice mixture and green onions. Bake in a very hot oven, I crank mine to 450°. We decided after eating the whole pie, that the shrimp rocked, and next year we are skipping the andouille and going with a shrimp and okra cajun pizza. And darn if I couldn't talk anyone into eating that little crawfish on top!

So, it is Mardis Gras, and tomorrow we fast, so why not have dessert? In keeping with the New Orleans theme, I decided to skip the King Cake and go for the Banana's Foster.

Banana's Foster
4 Tablespoons butter
¾ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
4 bananas
¼ cup dark rum

Melt butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a fry pan. Add bananas and cook until they are a bit caramelized. Remove pan from heat and add rum. Mix until well combined and then carefully tip to flame (or ignite). When the flame dies down. Serve over vanilla ice cream. Serves 4. The original Banana's Foster recipes I came across call for banana liquor, but if you read my post on Dark and Stormy's it would come as no surprise that I am allergic to this too! But this simplified version is equally as delicious.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Anna's Closet

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There is something fantastic when tragedy leads to triumph, when grief gives way to hope. In 2005 a young girl who was a junior at my daughter's high school was killed in a car accident, her name was Anna. A story was passed on to Anna's mom about a girl who borrowed a dress for a formal from Anna. The orange dress looked fantastic on the underclassman, and Anna insisted she keep it. Her generous spirit lives on in a fundraiser called Anna's Closet. This is my daughter's Senior year, and the last time she will participate in this great fund raiser.

Throughout the year, the committee requests donations of dresses from girls at other schools, celebrities and alumni. All the dresses are sold at a one day sale for $10 each. The money raised goes to Emmanuel Center in Memphis to buy books for their after school program and the dresses that don't sell will be donated to the Center so that girls who might not be able to afford a dress for Prom or other event can have one.

What a great idea. Most formal dresses are a wear once and done type of purchase. Teenage girls seem to think that everyone remembers what they wore last year. I can't remember what I wore last week! This year they have hundreds of dresses. For $10 each, a girl could buy a few to hold on to for the next couple of events. Some of the dresses still have price tags on them! Who does that? Buys something and never wears it? Me? Oh yea, maybe once (or twice). This year they even had a bridal store donate dozens of pairs of shoes. Can you imagine buying a new pair of shoes for $10? Last year the line to get in the sale was easily a half mile long. Crazy shoppers looking for a bargain. As gas edges closer to the $4 mark, who wouldn't want a $10 dress?

So naturally, in the planning meetings for this fundraiser, someone mentions they need cookies and before you can say "Boo!" someone I gave birth to said "My mom will bake the cookies". I love that kid. Last year I didn't get much lead time. This year they decided they wanted cookies for the silent auction the night before, and only 4 dozen instead of 15 dozen. That sounds like a lot more fun to make to me! Of course when icing came to cookie, I discovered how unfashionable I am. I dabbled on a few dress cookies with icing and sanding sugar. The hands down favorite were the soutache stitching orange on orange that are at the head of the blog. Certainly the prettiest, but also the most likely to lead to arthritis. I tossed in a few silver stars, I figured not everyone wanted a big cookie. Who are those people?And since I had a little dough left, I made a few 50th Birthday cookies for my friend who hit her milestone this week. Another fun day in the kitchen. I am hoping to get some savory food made this weekend, man cannot live on sugar alone. But hey, it tastes good, so get in there and bake!