Thursday, May 31, 2012

Orange Blossom Honey Cheesecake and Ice Cream, with Grand Marnier White and Dark Chocolate Truffles

Memorial Day happened to fall the day before Jamie's birthday, so with a long weekend to enjoy, we drove to Colorado Springs, just an hour south of Denver, for a little mini trip.  On Saturday, we went to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which is America's only mountain zoo.  It's smaller than the Denver Zoo, but has a unique layout with the way it climbs up the side of a mountain, giving visitors a bit of a workout while walking through.

A ski-lift-style sky ride took us over the zoo for an aerial view, and we sailed right over the tiger pit.  And a giraffe-feeding platform brought us closer to a giraffe than I had ever been.

At the top of the mountain, accessible through the zoo, although only by car and not by foot, is the Will Rogers Shrine, built by Spencer Penrose in the 1930s to honor Will Rogers, who died in a plane crash.  A winding staircase leads up through various rooms, containing old photos of Will Rogers, to the top where you have an 8,000 foot-high view of the zoo and Pike's Peak region below.

Below the shrine were stone steps leading to a chapel, where the Penroses and Will Rogers are buried.  Spencer Penrose was a lover of animals, and was apparently given a bear as a gift in 1916, which began his collection of exotic animals, which he housed at his ranch.  Eventually as his collection grew, he founded the zoo as a safe home for his many animals.

Somehow I think Jamie would not have wanted a bear as a birthday gift!

For his birthday dinner on Tuesday, I wanted everything to be perfect, but it seems I'm a little jinxed in the kitchen when it matters - remember how I messed up the Lemon Raspberry layer cake for my Dad's birthday / Mother's Day?

Before dessert, I had planned what I hoped would be a delicious and elegant birthday dinner of creamy summer squash and carrot soup with basil oil and crostini, roasted tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and goat cheese, and Ahi tuna steak with zucchini mango salsa and a balsamic orange reduction sauce.

The basil oil was simple to make - I just blended a large handful of basil with 1/4 cup olive oil, then let it steep for a day in the refrigerator before straining it.  It tasted fantastic drizzled over the soup, even though the soup itself was disappointing.  The flavor was good, but the texture was grainy rather than creamy, so I must not have pureed it very well.

The tuna was tender and flavorful, and Jamie grilled it on his new Himalayan salt block which lended a subtle saltiness to the fish.  The zucchini mango salsa was fresh and light.

For dessert, I had spent quite a bit of time dreaming up a trio of cheesecake, ice cream and truffles...  Orange Blossom Honey Cheesecake, which I had planned to drizzle with White Chocolate Ganache, and top with Dark Chocolate Truffles, flavored with Grand Marnier and dipped in white chocolate.

And lastly, Orange Blossom Honey Ice Cream, with, of course, a shot of Grand Marnier on the side.

As sometimes happens to my grand plans, I ran into trouble.  A LOT of trouble.  First, I baked the cheesecake, which emerged from the oven looking absolutely perfect, but when I removed the foil, I saw to my dismay that water from the water bath had leaked through the foil, turning the bottom half of my cheesecake and crust into mush.  I almost cried.  And then I baked a new cheesecake all over again.

When I was ready to make the white chocolate ganache, which I've never made before, I thought it would work similar to dark chocolate ganache, which I've made many times.  So I heated the cream, poured it over the white chocolate, stirred in a little liqueur, and waited.

And waited some more.

After way too much waiting, I still had a bowl of very runny, white chocolate sauce, not ganache.  I thought that maybe if I poured a thin layer over the cheesecake and refrigerated it, it might start to firm up.  But that never happened, and so I ended up scraping it off the cake (you might detect a few little drips in the pictures below), and made dark chocolate ganache instead.

If there's a secret to white chocolate ganache, I'm determined to figure it out.  Not today, though.

The dark chocolate almost made me cry a second time when I microwaved it, only for a few seconds, to help speed up the melting process, and it "broke", which is what happens when the fat separates from the solids and it takes on a gloppy, greasy look.  But trying not to panic, I heated a tiny bit more cream, and slowly drizzled that in while stirring.  To my amazement, that fixed the ganache perfectly and it came right back together into a smooth and creamy mixture which I immediately spread over the cake before anything else could go wrong!

Topped with the truffles, it really was a delicious cheesecake, as I think orange and chocolate tastes wonderful together.

Jamie looked at the six candles in six truffles and asked me, "Am I turning 6?  I thought I was 38!"

Try fitting 38 truffles onto a 7-inch cheesecake, though!

In spite of all the hiccups, or maybe because of them, it was a fun and memorable day.

Grand Marnier White and Dark Chocolate Truffles
printable recipe
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao), finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur
  • 3-4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
  • sprinkles or colored sugar

Place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl.  In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium-low heat, just until it begins to bubble.  Remove from the heat.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 3 minutes.  Stir with a spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Stir in the Grand Marnier.

Refrigerate the ganache for about 2 hours, until it's firm enough to roll into balls.  Scoop about 2 teaspoons of chocolate and roll between your hands into a ball; place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining chocolate.  Place in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Melt the white chocolate according to the instructions on the package.  Dip the dark chocolate balls into the melted white chocolate (a toothpick or cake pop stick might make it easier).  Place on a baking sheet with a clean piece of parchment paper.  Sprinkle each truffle with sprinkles or colored sugar.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving, and refrigerate any leftovers.

Yields about 10-12 truffles.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Orange Blossom Honey Ice Cream
printable recipe
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange blossom honey
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (juice from 2 oranges)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur (optional)

In a large saucepan, combine the milk, orange zest, sugar and honey.  Bring to a simmer over medium low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the remaining ingredients.

Pour into a container, cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Strain mixture to remove the zest, then freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions of your ice cream maker.  Transfer to a container and freeze until firm, 4-6 hours.

Yields about 1 1/2 quarts.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Orange Blossom Honey Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate Ganache
printable recipe

  • 3/4 cup crushed honey graham crackers (about 1 "sleeve")
  • 1/2 cup almond meal flour (or raw almonds, toasted and very finely crushed)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  • 1 pound (two 8-ounce boxes) low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup orange blossom honey
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons orange extract
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

  • 2 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur

  • This recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a 9 or 10-inch spring form pan for a larger/standard-sized cheesecake.  Baking time may need to be increased a little.
  • If using almonds instead of almond flour, toast the almonds first by spreading on a baking sheet and baking at 350 for 8-10 minutes until they are very fragrant.  Crush in a food processor.

Getting Ready:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Wrap a small spring form pan (7 inches in diameter, with 2 1/2 inch-high sides) with 2 layers of heavy foil (the foil will prevent the water from the water bath from leaking into the cake).  Spray the inside bottom and sides of the pan with non-stick spray.

Prepare the Crust:
In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers, almond flour, sugar and salt.  Drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs and toss with a fork to moisten.  Press the crumbs into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan.

Freeze crust in the pan for 10 minutes, then bake for 10 minutes.  Set aside while you prepare the filling.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300.

Prepare the Filling:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese for 3 minutes until smooth and creamy.  Add the honey, sugar, vanilla, orange extract and zest, and beat for 5 minutes until light and smooth.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Beat in the sour cream and heavy cream.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat for several more minutes for a very light and airy batter.

Pour the batter over the crust and smooth out the surface.  The pan should be full almost to the top.

Place the spring form pan into a baking dish or roasting pan.  Pour boiling or very hot water into the baking dish so that it comes halfway up the sides of the pan.  Bake for 1 hour, to 1 hour and 20 minutes, until the top is a pale golden brown, a crust has formed on top, and the cake has risen slightly;  the cake will still seem jiggly if you shake it, though.  Turn off the oven, and let the cheesecake sit in the warm oven for 1 more hour.  Transfer to a wire rack on the counter and cool for 1 hour.  Place in the refrigerator and cool for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Make the Ganache:
Place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl.  In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium-low heat, just until it begins to bubble.  Remove from the heat.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 3 minutes.  Stir with a spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Stir in the Grand Marnier.  Let ganache sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes, until thickened slightly to the right consistency for spreading/pouring on top of the cheesecake.

While the ganache is thickening, take a sharp knife and run it around the edges of the cake to loosen the crust from the pan.  Remove the sides of the pan.  Serve the cake on its metal base, or if you're careful, you can slide a large spatula under the crust to transfer it from the base to a serving plate or cake pedestal.

Pour the ganache over the cake, letting it run down the sides if you like.  Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to set the ganache before slicing.

Yields 6-8 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Funfetti Cake Batter Birthday Pancakes with Lemon Glaze

Yesterday was Jamie's birthday, and we both had the day off work, so I wanted to make a special birthday breakfast for him.  I can't think of a more fun way to start a birthday than with these fluffy buttermilk pancakes, flavored with Funfetti cake mix, drizzled with lemon glaze and flecked with sprinkles.

Even though we're all grown up, we still make a big deal of each other's birthday, because when else do adults have a special day just for them?

As I was thinking of a recipe for these, I realized that since I was substituting half the flour with cake mix, I would need very little added sugar as well as less leavening, since cake mix contains both.  And I was very pleased with the resulting taste and texture of the pancakes - light and fluffy, a hint of cake, and pretty sprinkles all throughout.  The lemon glaze enhanced the flavor nicely as well, and it was a wonderful variation from maple syrup.

I'm envious of pancakes that have that perfectly even, golden brown crust on them with no dark or light areas - mine never look like that.  But as long as they taste great, that's what matters!  Jamie had no complaints.  (Update:  Since I wrote this, I've been thinking that although I've always thought pancakes should be mixed until just moistened, just like muffins, I may try mixing them much more thoroughly next time to smooth out the lumps, which I think may give them that more evenly browned, more perfectly round, prettier "pancake look".  I'll let you know how it goes the next time we have pancakes!)

And I'm sure you'll forgive my not-so-great photos - I didn't stage them like I usually do since it wouldn't have been nice to make him endure 10 minutes of food styling and then eat cold pancakes on his birthday. :)

Funfetti Cake Batter Birthday Pancakes
printable recipe

  • 1 1/4 cups Funfetti cake mix
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup low-fat (2%) buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
lemon glaze and garnish:
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1-3 tablespoons milk
  • colored sprinkles
  • whipped cream

In a medium bowl, combine the cake mix, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, milk, melted butter and vanilla.  (If the butter clumps up, don't worry - as the pancakes cook, the water in the pieces of butter creates steam which creates nice little pockets of air for fluffy pancakes.)  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until moistened.  Set batter aside to rest for 10-15 minutes while you preheat your griddle.

Using a scant 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake, cook the pancakes on a greased griddle over medium heat until golden brown on each side; keep the pancakes warm on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 120 degree oven while you finish cooking all the pancakes.

For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until smooth, and add enough milk to reach your desired consistency.

Drizzle the glaze over the pancakes and top with whipped cream and sprinkles.

Yields about 20 pancakes.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sweet Potato Chips and Homemade Spicy Kosher Dill Pickles and Jalapenos

Since our trip last summer to Paonia, Colorado - beautiful wine country in the southwest area of the state - I've been wanting to make my own pickles.  The urge struck me after we finished the jar of "Good and Evil" pickles we bought from a local farm there, sweet pickles with a spicy hit of jalapenos.  It didn't take us long to finish those pickles, and I've been craving them ever since.

Friday night I impulsively invited one of my girlfriends over for dinner, along with her baby girl, as her husband was going to a baseball game that night.  We grilled cheddar-stuffed BBQ burgers with caramelized onions, topped with some of the BBQ sauce I recently made, sweet potato chips with thyme and cloves, and pickles.  I had no idea if pickle making would be easy or not since I've never pickled anything, but the grocery store carries little packets of pickling mix, and I thought that was the best place for a beginner like me to start.

Basically, I just followed the instructions on the packet of Kosher Dill pickling mix, bringing water and vinegar to a boil, mixing with the packet contents, and pouring over my cucumber and jalapeno slices, letting them sit in a bowl for the required time, then transferring them to a jar to chill out in the fridge until dinner.  Using "pickling cucumbers" would have required a special trip to the Asian market, since our grocery store doesn't carry them, but I didn't worry about that and just used regular cucumbers, sliced into chips.  A sliced jalapeno, seeds removed, gave it that spicy kick that I'd been craving.

It was so easy and quick, and I loved how spicy and fresh they tasted.  Since we were planning to eat them right away, I didn't bother with canning them, but the packet has instructions for the canning process as well.  The instructions also said that the flavor was best after 3 weeks, so I'll be interested to see if the flavor changes over the next few weeks as they sit in the refrigerator.

Jamie loved the pickles so much, he's been eating them with everything.  Next time, I might experiment with adding a few more spices of my own.

For our sweet potato chips, Jamie has made sweet potato chips before by frying them until they were nice and crispy, but I wanted to try baking them this time to see if I could get them as crisp.  Before I continue, I'll just tell you, it's not the same.  Some of the chips did have crispy bits to them, but it's not like that crunch you get from a fried chip.  If any of you have had success with this or other methods, then I would sure love to hear your feedback and how you got them crispy from baking instead of frying.

I sliced them fairly thin with a mandolin, although possibly not thin enough - the thinner ones did seem crispier in the end.  Olive oil spray did a nice job of evenly coating the potato slices without too much or too little oil.  And a generous sprinkling of coarse salt, cracked pepper, dried thyme and ground cloves gave them a wonderful flavor.

After baking them at 325 for about 25 minutes, the edges had curled up and they were cooked through, looking like they would be crisp, as you see in the picture below, but they just weren't crunchy.  I turned off the oven and let them sit in the dry heat to try to help them dry out more and hopefully crisp up, but in the end, we just ate them anyway, even though they weren't quite what I was hoping for.

The next day, I took the rest of the sweet potato slices that we hadn't cooked yet (2 sweet potatoes yields a LOT of thin slices), and quickly fried those in a few inches of oil at 365 degrees, drained them on a wire rack and sprinkled them with salt, pepper and paprika.  Jamie said, hands down, those had a much better texture and crunch.  I would say I have to agree.

Spicy Kosher Dill Pickles
printable recipe
  • 1 packet (1.8 ounces) Kosher Dill Pickle Mix
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 4 large cucumbers, sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • 2 jalapenos, seeds removed, sliced 1/8 inch thick

In a saucepan, combine the Kosher Dill Pickle Mix, water and vinegar.  Bring to a boil.

Place the cucumber and jalapeno slices in a large bowl; pour the hot pickling liquid over the vegetables.  Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cucumber and jalapenos to two glass jars, then pour the pickling liquid into the jars all the way to the top.  Place the lids on, refrigerate and enjoy!

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sweet Potato Chips
printable recipe
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed, dried, and very thinly sliced
  • olive oil spray
  • coarse salt
  • cracked pepper
  • paprika and garlic powder or thyme and cloves

Preheat the oven to 325.  Spray 4 baking sheets with the olive oil spray and sprinkle with the seasoning of your choice.  Place the potato slices in an even layer on the baking sheets, spray potatoes with olive oil spray and season the tops of the potatoes as well.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until edges curl up and potatoes are golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack before serving.

Heat 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in a large, flat-bottomed pan to 365 degrees.  Working with just a few slices at a time so that you don't lower the temperature of the oil, fry the potatoes for approximately 2 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.  Transfer to a wire rack to drain and immediately sprinkle with seasoning.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, May 25, 2012

Popcorn Peanut Cookies with Red Grapefruit Soda

Summertime is for county fairs and carnivals, popcorn, funnel cakes, lemonade stands and cookies.  And maybe even a deep-fried candy bar if you're feeling like laughing in the face of healthy choices that day.  I tried a deep-fried Snickers bar once, and only once!

It seems strange that it already feels like summer out, when it seems that spring only just arrived to stay, but here it is, with all its fresh seasonal fruit, corn on the cob and juicy watermelon.  I cannot wait for peaches.

I'm also incredibly excited that I found a farm near us that allows customers to pick their own produce (only a select few, but still), and I've been waiting, very impatiently, for the e-mail announcing that berry picking is open to the public.  I just received an e-mail this week that the first crop of strawberries is available for picking, but only in the morning for a few days a week through May, so I'm hoping that Jamie won't mind a little strawberry excursion on his birthday next week, which we both happen to be taking off work.

Their second strawberry season will come a little later this summer, but I want to make fresh strawberry ice cream and shortcake from strawberries we picked sooner than that

The thought of summer fair food and hot sunny days inspired me to make a batch of cookies with peanuts and popcorn.  Unusual, but a wonderfully salty and sweet cookie with crunchy bits of the popcorn and peanuts.  The dough is the basic dough of a chocolate chip cookie, so there's that familiarity to it as well, even with its unique add-ins.

Since we don't buy microwave popcorn and don't own a popcorn maker, I make popcorn the old-fashioned way, in a saucepan with a little oil, scooting it back and forth across the burner to keep from burning the popcorn once it starts popping.

When I was a kid, my mom would make popcorn the night before and fill bags of it to put in our school lunches the next day for an inexpensive snack.  Which actually kind of turned me off popcorn for a while, since stale, unseasoned, day-old popcorn isn't exactly appetizing.

But this past winter, Jamie and I got on a popcorn kick as a late night snack on Sundays, and my favorite way to make it was to pop the kernels in a little olive oil, then sprinkle the popcorn with a little more olive oil, salt, pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  So much healthier than its movie theater cousin, and tastier, too, in my opinion, although Jamie has a weakness for those buckets of buttery, salty popcorn during movies.

Saturday was hot, and Jamie was working outside on his car, so I made a cold drink to take down to him, along with peanuts in the shell and some freshly baked cookies.  All in a cute little basket.  How very Martha Stewart of me, right?

The drink was something my sister suggested, and she had made something similar with one of her girls lately.  Freshly squeezed grapefruit and orange juice, with club soda and simple syrup.  I made mine with red grapefruits, navel oranges, lemons, club soda, sugar and mint.  It was so refreshing, I could have drunk the whole pitcher of it.

My sister and I used to sneak snacks into movies all the time, since we couldn't afford the extra $30 we'd have to cough up for candy, popcorn and drinks, so sometimes we'd stop at the grocery store to buy pints of Ben & Jerry's or boxes of Hot Tamales and Junior Mints and then hide them in our purses when we went into the theater.  The shy, good girl in me was always somewhat afraid that they were going to catch us and give us some horrible punishment, although I'm not sure what that would be since it's not like we were doing anything illegal.

So one day Laura decided she just had to have a bean burrito from Taco Bell.  For whatever reason, she wasn't carrying a purse, so she thought she could hide the burrito in her pants.  But this was the 90's, and we were in the midst of our grunge phase (my own personal favorite outfit was a wife-beater tank top, my favorite baggy orange pants with drawstrings at the ankles and a bandanna tied over my hair like a doo-rag).

Her jeans were way too loose to wedge anything inside and not have it slide right down her pant leg, so she tucked the burrito inside her underwear.  I think you might suspect how this story is going to end...

We got into the theater and picked our seats, with Laura looking pretty uncomfortable.  She turned to me and whispered, "Heather, I think the wrapper broke and beans got in my underwear.  And they're burning me!"

She disappeared into the bathroom and came back a few minutes later, minus one bean burrito and one pair of underwear.  Which some poor cleaning person likely found in the bathroom trashcan that night and thought, Yeah, I'd rather not know.

Maybe one of these days I'll sneak some of my olive oil Parmesan popcorn and grapefruit soda into a movie...  just not in my underwear!

Red Grapefruit and Mint Soda
printable recipe

  • juice of 2 red grapefruits
  • juice of 2 navel oranges
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar (or unflavored simple syrup)
  • 4 cups (about 1 liter) club soda
  • handful of fresh mint leaves, torn

In a 1-quart pitcher, combine all ingredients, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Serve over ice, garnished with a slice of citrus and sprig of mint.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Popcorn Peanut Cookies
printable recipe

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup salted peanuts
  • 2 cups plain popped popcorn

Note:  I think these cookies are best warm from the oven or the same day they're baked, so I would suggest keeping the dough in the refrigerator and only baking small batches at a time, or whatever you plan to eat that day.  The dough will keep in the fridge for at least a week.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Scrape the bowl down and beat in the egg and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in spoonfuls, mixing on low until combined.  Stir in peanuts and popcorn; batter will be very thick.

Refrigerate dough for at least two hours, until well chilled.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Place rounded spoonfuls of chilled dough 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper.  Bake for 8 - 8 1/2 minutes, just until pale golden.  Cool for 2-3 minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool until the cookies are set.

Yields about 3 dozen cookies

From Curly Girl Kitchen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Caramel-glazed Doughnuts filled with Chocolate Cream

It was another of those weeks where the weekday weather was sunny, warm and inviting, and then the clouds rolled in on Friday for a gloomy, chilly weekend.

The overcast day seemed to invite a few moody photos, like the one I took of this lonely sugar bowl.  It was the middle of the afternoon, but the cloud-covered sky offered little light through the window, creating deep, dramatic shadows.

I actually wore boots and a coat out to dinner on Saturday night (this was several weeks ago, since I've had this post in the queue, patiently waiting its turn) - Jamie was so sweet to take me out for sushi and a movie to celebrate my 1-year "blogiversary".  It rained throughout the evening, which made me happy, even though I'm excited for sunny summer days outside.  We desperately need the moisture.

On Sunday while Jamie worked on a project for his car, I started mixing up dough for doughnuts.  Doughnuts with a chocolate cream filling and caramel glaze.  I knew those would make him happy.

Doughnuts just might make him more happy than flowers make me!

The chocolate cream filling was fluffy and rich, more chocolatey than sweet, and would also be amazing piped on top of cupcakes.  The sweet caramel glaze was the color of warm cappuccino.  In hindsight, they would have looked pretty with a few sprinkles or a drizzle of chocolate.  But they were pretty anyway.

The pleasure for me is in the process of mixing and kneading the dough, watching it slowly rise, seeing the rounds of dough puff up and turn a deep golden brown in the hot oil, and then dipping them in sugary frosting.

It's a wonderful way to spend a day indoors when the sky is gray.  And when the scent of fresh doughnuts wafts from the kitchen, I think that everything is right with the world.

This afternoon the sky clouded over, and a cool wind started blowing in rain drops, which grew more and more steady as I drove home.  By the time I pulled onto our street, it was pouring rain, and I was so glad to be home.   It was Jamie's turn to plan the menu this week, and coincidentally, he planned lamb stew for dinner tonight.  How did he know it was going to rain and become so chilly when the forecast called for temps in the 90s today?  A drizzly evening, thunder and comforting lamb stew for dinner...  what a happy coincidence.

Basic Yeast Doughnut Recipe
Click here for recipe in previous post.

Chocolate Cream Filling
printable recipe
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon milk

With an electric mixer, combine all ingredients on low, then beat on medium speed for 4-5 minutes until thick and fluffy.  To fill the doughnuts, poke the narrow end of a chopstick into one end of the doughnut, about 2/3 of the way through.  Swirl it around a little to create a space inside for the cream.  Pipe cream into the doughnut.

If glazing doughnuts also, first fill with the cream, then dip in glaze.

Yields enough to fill about 2 dozen doughnuts, depending on how much you use in each  (I only made a dozen doughnuts and had leftover filling).

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Caramel Glaze
printable recipe
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add the brown sugar and corn syrup.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat, whisk in the salt, milk and vanilla, then the powdered sugar, whisking until smooth.  Dip the filled doughnuts into the glaze, then set on a wire rack to set the glaze for 15-20 minutes.

After the glaze cools, it will thicken more, so you can gently rewarm it on the stove to thin it out again.

Yields enough glaze for about 2 dozen doughnuts.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Blue Milk for a Curly-Haired Girl, and Strawberry Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Muffins

One hot and humid summer day in South Carolina, a little girl with curly braids, streaked blond from the sun, was playing with her Barbies on the brick porch in front of her house.  A garden hose at the top of the porch created a refreshing waterfall cascading down the steps into a plastic bowl (that's a swimming pool in Barbie world) so that the Barbies could splash around in the cool water.  Her Strawberry Shortcake doll got to play, too, the water bringing out the sweet, strawberry scent of her freckled skin and red hair.

The girl looked out across the yard where her older sister was playing with a friend by the dogwood tree in the corner, next to the ditch.  It was her favorite tree, except for maybe the one in the backyard with the rope swing, where she liked to sit under the shade of its flowering branches, read books, brush and braid her dolls' hair and snuggle with her cat, Oreo.  Sometimes Oreo would do naughty things like bring a dead rabbit or a bird home, and then she would purr and rub against the girl's ankles, wanting praise for her successful day of hunting.  Oreo couldn't understand why that made the girl cry.

She had already asked her sister if she could play with them, after all, they did everything together.  Shared a room with twin beds covered in gray and white cat bedspreads with matching curtains, whispered secrets under the covers when they were supposed to be asleep, designed clothes for their Barbies from scraps of fabric their mom gave them, convinced their little brother to let them dress him up in their baby clothes and brush his wavy brown hair.  Although, eventually he started getting impatient with the game of being their living doll, and the girl was forced to pay him a nickel in exchange for playing with his hair.  It got too expensive for her, so she gave up on the game.

They were both scared of the way their clothes looked hanging in the closet at night; for some reason there were no doors on the closet, and the clothes looked like whispy, white ghosts in the moonlight.  They were afraid of the oven light, glowing like a lone, red eye at the end of the hallway when they got up at night to go to the bathroom.  The hardwood floor was a danger zone, and they'd hop from the bed, to the braided rug, to the carpet in the hallway to avoid stepping on it.  And they shared a love of teasing their cousin during sleepovers by putting a rubber snake under her pillow.  But their favorite trick was pushing their twin beds together so the three of them could sleep together, then making their cousin take the middle so that she would fall in the crack between the mattresses.

And when the girl's older sister started kindergarten, she was broken-hearted at being left behind.  She didn't realize how thrilling it would be someday to have their bedroom to herself when her sister left for college, even though that thrill was shadowed by her sister's absence.

So on this particular day, she couldn't understand why, after asking to play with them, her sister told her, "No."  No reason given, no fight predicating the request, nothing she had done to annoy her.  Just no.

After watching them dejectedly from the porch for a few minutes, she wandered into the house, the air-conditioning hitting her face like a cool breeze, teasing the curly strands of hair clinging to her damp neck.  She moped around the front room, watching her mom sew seam after seam at her sewing desk.  Her mom was always sewing for her business, and the gentle whir of the machine, the snip of scissors on thread, silk and lace and cotton sliding across the desk and the hiss of steam escaping the iron were comforting sounds.  Comforting in their sameness.  Comforting in always knowing where to find her mom and in always knowing what she would be doing.

Sometimes she got to try the clothes on, too, if her mom was sewing for another little girl her age, so that she could make sure they would fit correctly.  And with the leftover pale blue satin fabric from one of her sewing jobs, her mom had made her a dress that made her feel like a princess with its lace-covered buttons and tiny puffed sleeves.

After she and her brother and sister were all in school, her mom got her nail technician license and started working part-time during the day, which was very upsetting to her, even though her mom still took them to school each morning and picked them up every afternoon.

"I want to know that you're home when I'm in school, doing mommy things!" she told her with a tremor in her voice.  "What if I need you and you're not there?"

She remembered the week when she had the chicken pox, how her mom had taken care of her, rubbing her itchy spots with Vitamin E oil, placing cool, damp washcloths on her feverish forehead and bringing her all the Cherry 7-Up and cinnamon toast she wanted, and thought melodramatically that from now on, she'd probably have to take care of herself.

Her mom looked up from her sewing, recognizing the pouty lower lip that the little girl had mastered so well.  The tears brimming under her eyelashes were real, though.

They went into the kitchen with its wood-paneled walls, and she sat down at the table while her mom got her a glass of cold milk.  She loved that kitchen, with its perfectly positioned counter that provided a great space for a fort between the counter and the back of the couch.  She loved that her mom didn't get impatient with blankets draped over that space and pillows and books strewn underneath.

Sometimes she got to help her mom mix up one of her favorite desserts, raisin spice cookie bars with cream cheese icing, although she needed a stool to reach the bowl.  Her little brother got his baths in the kitchen sink.  A few of the drawers and cupboard doors had yellow frowny-face stickers on them, which meant dangerous things like knives or cleaning supplies were inside, and they weren't to open those cupboards.  And on her first day of kindergarten, her mom gave her clues which led her to finding her new, pink and blue Smurfette lunchbox hidden inside one of the cupboards.

Her mom brought her the glass of milk with a straw, and she was surprised and excited to see that it was tinted with blue food coloring, an extra special touch.

"Why is it blue?" she asked.

"Blue milk for my blue little girl," her mom said.

And that made her smile.

Her sister and friend came inside, hot from playing outside and wanting something cold to drink.  "Wow, can we have blue milk, too?" they asked, as soon as they saw her glass.

"No," my mom told them.  "Today, that's just for Heather."


About the muffins...  sweet, juicy strawberries, tangy cream cheese filling, vanilla, creamy icing, half muffin and half cupcake...  do I really need to say anything more?  :)

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Muffins
printable recipe

cream cheese filling:
  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or seeds of 1/2 a vanilla bean)
muffin batter:
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or seeds of 1/2 a vanilla bean)
  • 3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray then line the pan with 12 paper liners.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese filling ingredients until smooth and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla bean paste and buttermilk until well combined.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined.  Fold in the strawberries.

Fill the muffin cups 1/3 of the way full with the batter.  Spoon a dollop of the cream cheese filling into each, then cover with the rest of the batter.
Bake muffins for 18-22 minutes, until the top is golden and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes before icing.

Beat the icing ingredients until smooth, then spread on the tops of the muffins.  Top with a fresh strawberry slice.
Yields 12 large muffins.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen