Friday, August 31, 2012

Mocha Frappuccino Popsicles

On this last day of August, although not the last day of summer, it seemed appropriate to share one last popsicle recipe.

The end of August always feels like the end of summer, since school is back in session and the stores are already stocked with Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations.  Although I'm sure there are still plenty of warm days ahead to still enjoy something cold like these frozen coffee treats.

I made these intensely coffee-flavored, with double strength coffee and even an extra hit of espresso powder, with just a little sugar and light cream to mellow out the coffee-ness.

A coffee lover's popsicle dream.

And I might even dare to say that they could very easily satisfy as a much less calorie-dense version of the oh-so-popular mocha frappuccino, which is practically a whole day's worth of sugar in one - admittedly, amazingly delicious - drink.

Very soon, I'll be bringing home pumpkins and apples, and baking loaf breads scented with cinnamon and cloves, but for today, there are still popsicles in the freezer...

Mocha Frappuccino Popsicles
printable recipe
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly brewed hot coffee, double strength
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light cream or half 'n' half
  • popsicle molds and sticks

Brew the coffee, and pour into a mixing bowl.  Stir in the chocolate, vanilla, espresso powder and sugar; stir until sugar is dissolved and chocolate is melted.  Stir in the cream.  Taste and add more sugar or cream if the coffee flavor is too intense for you.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, pour the mixture into 8 popsicle molds.  Freeze for 1 hour, then insert popsicle sticks and freeze until firm.

If you have an ice cream maker, a few minutes of churning will help break up the ice crystals and make the final popsicle a little smoother.  Before churning, refrigerate the mixture for two hours, then churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Spoon into popsicle molds, insert popsicle sticks, and freeze until firm.

Yields 8 popsicles.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Roasted Shrimp and Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

One of the things Jamie and I were looking forward to for our trip to Baltimore last month, was the abundance of fresh seafood to be had.  Since Baltimore is right on a harbor, we knew the seafood would be fresh, fresh, fresh.

Jamie's parents were there, too, so between the four of us, we were able to sample a little of everything.  We ate raw oysters on the half shell twice, sprinkled with lemon and horseradish.  We ripped apart a table full of snow crabs, pulling out the meat and making a general mess.  We peeled shrimp, flavorful with Cajun spices.  We sampled spicy seafood ceviche with squid, scallops, crab and avocado.

At the Water Taxi dock next to Fort McHenry, we peered into the murky water and saw dozens of blue crabs clinging to the wooden posts under the water.  Tiny mussels studded the posts at the water line.

For our last meal in town, we ate at the Rusty Scrupper and shared more oysters and some lightly seared ahi tuna with wasabi, then Jamie ordered broiled rock fish and I ordered mussels, steamed with a savory marinara sauce.  I had been craving mussels all weekend, and they were so much better than I had hoped.

On the last day, we squeezed in a quick trip down to D.C. - neither of us had ever been there - so we drove down and spent three hours walking to the White House, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial before we were out of time and had to drive back to the Baltimore airport for the flight back to Denver.  As if we hadn't had enough seafood, we grabbed a quick lunch at the airport - which I insisted on packing up in to-go boxes to eat at the gate since our flight was scheduled to leave in 25 minutes, but then ended up being delayed by 40 minutes.  Crab cakes for Jamie and a crab and shrimp sandwich for me.

We arrived home, our feet hot and tired.  And after all we'd sampled, I still wanted more seafood, as well as a light and healthy dinner that we wouldn't have to make ourselves.  So I ordered sushi, which our sushi restaurant in town delivers, and we satiated our seafood craving with salmon, tuna, yellow tail and squid sashimi, a spider roll and a spicy tuna roll.

That was it.  We'd finally had enough, and when I went grocery shopping the next day for the week, I made sure not to put fish on the menu.

Normally, our weekly dinner menu includes one night each of chicken, beef, shrimp and fish, and shrimp is always one of my favorites since it cooks so quickly.  We love it in shrimp tacos or tossed with pasta or in a spicy coconut curry sauce with rice.

For this pasta dish, I simply roasted the shrimp on a sheet pan with some cherry tomatoes, seasoned humbly with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme.  Tossed with spaghetti, egg yolks for a little richness, fresh greens, lemon, Parmesan cheese and more thyme, it was a delicious meal for being so deceptively easy to prepare.  When I'm ready to eat seafood again, this dish will be making frequent appearances on the dinner menu rotation.

But even as I was getting my fill of seafood, I still loved its fresh from the ocean, briny flavor, something that we just can't get in Colorado...

Roasted Shrimp and Cherry Tomato Spaghetti
printable recipe
  • 1 1/2 pounds uncooked shrimp, peeled and cleaned
  • 10 ounces cherry tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil,  divided
  • coarse Kosher salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • fresh thyme sprigs
  • 3/4 pound thin spaghetti
  • 2 cups mixed greens
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 400.  Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Place the shrimp and tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Scatter a few thyme sprigs over the shrimp and tomatoes.

When the oven and the water are ready, set the baking sheet in the oven and drop the pasta in the water.  Both should take approximately 7-8 minutes.

Scatter the greens over a large platter.  When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain all but 1/4 cup of the water.  Scoop the pasta and the 1/4 cup water over the greens.  Drizzle with the beaten egg yolks and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper, then toss to combine with the greens so the greens wilt slightly and the pasta is lightly coated in the egg yolk and oil.

The shrimp should be pink and the tomatoes warm through, but not burst.  Scrape the roasted shrimp and tomatoes over the pasta.  Sprinkle a little more thyme, the lemon zest and juice, Parmesan cheese and Italian breadcrumbs.  Toss once more, then serve.

Yields 4-6 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, August 26, 2012

If Life was a Slow Dance, and Orange Dreamsicle Cream Cake

If life was a slow dance, then I think I might have the chance to be the person I want to be and do all the things I hope to accomplish.  I would be more educated, I'd have done something heroic for someone, I'd be more fluent in French and Chinese instead of only half-heartedly studying them, I'd be thinner and more fit while still getting to bake every day (and taste what I bake), I'd have traveled to Europe, I'd have made a prototype of one of the many inventions that only exists in my imagination, I'd be making a real difference in someone's life.

But life pulls me along, faster than I like, forcing me to keep up and change and alter myself and make things work with what I have.  Reinvent my plans and dreams.  Altering dreams, even if just for the moment, is something I have a very hard time doing.

At the wedding in Baltimore last weekend, there was dancing, of course.  Dancing has never come naturally to me.  I blame this on the fact that there were no school dances in my youth, no dances at friends' homes, no dancing in my own home.  The closest I came to a dance was a church youth night at the town roller-skating rink, when they'd play the Hokey Pokey, and we'd all follow along, although eventually the pastor put a stop to that, too.  In my ultra-conservative upbringing, dancing was a sin, so I was never really around dancing until my 20s when I did a little club-hopping.  Club dancing, though, isn't really dancing either - flashing lights, smoke and booze, deafening music, grabby hands and a sweaty, crowded, grinding dance floor just wasn't my thing.

If every dance was a slow dance, like in the wedding reception of Father of the Bride, I'd get along just fine.  Anyone can sway back and forth to music while gazing into someone's eyes, even me.  But the slow dances are few and far between.

Then there's my lack of music education of all the 80's and 90's hits, something that Jamie still shakes his head in disbelief at when I don't know a particular song or artist that he feels was crucial to our formative years.  When everyone else was listening to Michael Jackson, and I don't even know who else, I was singing in school and church choir and listening to Faith Hill and Tim McGraw and Toby Keith in my best friend's car.  My favorite song was "Lady in Red", and my friend recorded it for me about 10 times on one side of a cassette tape so I could listen to it over and over without having to rewind (there was no CD player in our house yet...)

And so, as a result of a dance-less first 22 years of my life, I seem to be missing that "groove" needed to let loose and have a little fun on the dance floor at weddings.  I'm too self-conscious, and don't have any idea what to do with my hands and hips and feet.  Everyone else just looks so much cooler, even though half of them probably don't know what they're doing, either.  But what makes it work for them, is that unlike me, they don't care if they look ridiculous or not, and for most people, looking ridiculous is kind of the point.

I might like to learn how to dance something that has steps to follow, since at least then I would know what I'm supposed to do, but the free-style get-your-groove-on thing just makes me want to run to the sidelines.

The thing is, I'm generally fine with just watching everyone else; it's other people that seem to have a problem with it.  There's usually some well-meaning person who loves to dance and wants to see everyone having a good time, who is convinced that I'm not having a good time if I'm not dancing every dance, and drags me unwillingly out to the dance floor where I try to pretend I'm enjoying myself, but really just can't wait for a chance to sneak away.

Is there a part of me that would like to join in and be able to let go of that self-consciousness?  Of course.  Hopefully I'll have the guts to dance at my own wedding someday.

After attending weddings two weekends in a row, one as a photographer and one as a guest, I suspect that the Cupid Shuffle is going to be making an appearance at every wedding for years to come.  Even there, with instructions in the song, I feel lost - down down, do your dance, do your dance, to the right, to the right, to the left, to the left, now kick, now kick, now walk it by yourself.. down down, do your dance, do your dance...

Lately I've felt like my life has been a little bit of a dance, in which I'm just trying to figure out the right steps to make.  This has been a summer of change for me, and tomorrow, I'll be starting my new job and heading down a path that's completely unfamiliar to me.  I'm excited and nervous and hopeful and grateful, and I can't wait to see what happens.  Life isn't a slow dance, after all, and I've got to keep up.

Another big change is that my parents are moving away, as I write this, back to South Carolina.  Yesterday, we helped them finish packing up the house and said goodbye.  After 20-plus years in Colorado, they're going back to where I was born and spent the first 12 years of my life.  All of my family on my dad's side is on the East Coast, and it's where they want to retire.

We spent the day at their house yesterday, along with some of their friends from church, lugging boxes, carrying furniture, packing up odds and ends, sorting through dusty boxes of forgotten toys and dolls in the basement.  My allergies won't forgive me for that part.

On the truck, my dad asked someone to hand him a blanket to wrap around a piece of furniture, and someone grabbed a patchwork quilt from a pile of blankets, towels and rugs.

"Hey!" I said to my dad, "Mom's been looking for this for years!"  He did a double take at the quilt and realized I was right, it was the quilt she thought had been missing for such a long time.  I took the quilt and went into the house to find my mom.

"Mom, I have a going away present for you," I said, holding the bundle behind my back.  "Can you guess what it is?"

"Hmm, a pile of dead spiders from the basement?"she joked.  I held out the quilt and she gasped.  "Where did you find this?"

Her grandma, my great-grandma, stitched this patchwork quilt together so long ago, and through our childhood, it became known as "the sick quilt".  Whenever one of us would stay home from school with a fever, chicken pox, a cough...  my mom would use this quilt to make the couch into a bed, and somehow, it always maintained the perfect temperature, keeping us cool when we were feverish and warm when we were shaking with chills.

I don't think anything else could have made my mom happier yesterday.  It was a long day, over 12 hours of hard work to pack up 38 years of marriage.  A pot of  chicken, corn and bean chili, chips and a cake kept everyone sustained for lunch and dinner.

To celebrate this new adventure for all of us, I baked an Orange Dreamsicle Cream Cake, to take over to their house for all the people there helping them to pack up the moving truck.  I know it's a flavor that both my parents love - a while back they had a thing for these little packaged orange cupcakes - but of course this cake is so much better than those!  The technique I used to pipe the citrusy orange buttercream is called "ombre", a graduation of shades of color from darker to light.  Inside all those pretty swirls, which I didn't want to cut into until I took the cake over to their house, are four layers of incredibly moist, vanilla cream cake, filled with sweet orange marmalade.

Dreams are the stuff of our past, present and future.  Sometimes I feel like I've spent so much of my life dreaming, some of which have come true, and many of which haven't.  Maybe they will, and maybe they won't, but those dreams are what keep me going, reaching forward, and believing that good things are going to happen.  Maybe they won't be exactly what I had planned, but they'll be good nonetheless.  Life isn't a slow dance, and it's never going to stand still and wait for me to catch up.

...down down, do your dance, do your dance, to the right, to the right, to the left, to the left, now kick, now kick, now walk it by yourself.. down down, do your dance, do your dance...

Orange Dreamsicle Cream Cake
printable recipe

  • 1 white cake mix
  • 1 1/4 cups half 'n' half
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon butter extract
filling and buttercream:
  • 18-ounce jar of orange marmalade
  • 2 1/2 cups (5 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 5 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 5 tablespoons milk
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4-5 teaspoons orange extract (pure, not imitation)
  • orange (or red/pink and yellow) gel food coloring
Cook's Note:  This may sound like an exorbitant amount of butter for frosting one cake, but piping swirls, rather than spreading a thinner layer, uses much more buttercream.  I started with just 4 sticks, and ended up running out for the last row of swirls, then had to make more.  If you plan to simply frost the cake without piping all the swirls, you can cut the recipe down to 3 sticks butter, 3 cups powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons meringue powder, 3 tablespoons milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and 3 teaspoons orange extract.  As far as the calories go, eat a little piece, share the rest, and move on!

Bake the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray the bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray, line with a circle of parchment paper, and then spray the paper also.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all the cake ingredients on low speed for 30 seconds, then on medium speed for 3 minutes until well combined.  Divide batter evenly between the pans.

Bake for 25-29 minutes, until golden and the cake is pulling away from the edges of the pan.  Set cake pans on a wire rack, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely in the pans.

Prepare the Filling and Buttercream:

Scoop the orange marmalade into a small bowl and stir with a spoon to smooth it out.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat butter for one minute with whisk attachment.  Combine powdered sugar with meringue powder (meringue powder should not directly touch any liquid).  Add to butter and mix on low to combine.  Add milk, vanilla and orange extract.  Increase speed to medium high and whip for 4-5 minutes until impossibly light and fluffy, scraping as needed.  Set aside.


When the cakes are completely cool, turn out of the pan.  Using a sharp knife or cake leveler, level the tops of the cakes (save cake scraps for another use, such as cake pops/truffles).  Split each cake into two layers so you have a total of four layers.

Place a layer of cake on a cake board.  Spread with 1/3 of the orange marmalade.

Cook's Note:  A little trick I learned in cake decorating class, when using filling between cake layers that you don't want squeezing out into the frosting on the outside, pipe a "dam" of frosting around the edge, then add filling in the middle.  This will keep the filling from leaking out.  See picture below...)

Place another layer of cake on the first, pressing down gently so that it's level.  Spread with another 1/3 of the orange marmalade.  Repeat with the third layer of cake and the last of the marmalade.  Place the fourth layer of cake on top, finishing with the bottom side up.

Spread a very thin layer of buttercream all over the top and sides of the cake - it doesn't have to look pretty - this is your "crumb coat" to catch all the crumbs.  Place cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to set the crumb coat.

If frosting a simple layer of buttercream all over, tint the buttercream to your desired shade of orange, and frost the cake.

If making the "ombre" swirls (ombre refers to graduating degrees of color from dark to light), tint all the buttercream a very pale orange, using orange food coloring, or a combination of red/pink and yellow (I used a drop each of Americolor brand Lemon Yellow #107 and Soft Pink #132).

Fit a piping bag with a medium-sized open star tip (I used Wilton #22), and fill the bag.  Starting at the top center of the cake, pipe swirls of buttercream, starting at the center of each swirl and moving outwards, about 1 1/2 turns.  Create swirls all over the top of the cake, keeping them close together to avoid gaps.

If you have any buttercream left in the piping bag after finishing the top of the cake, squeeze it out back into the bowl.  Now, add a little more food coloring to tint the buttercream a slightly darker shade of orange.  Pipe a row of swirls at the top edge of the cake.  Repeat with the rest of the cake, tinting the buttercream a darker shade for each row.  With the leftover buttercream, I piped three roses for the top, using the Wilton #102 rose tip.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mint Chocolate Chip Mini Mascarpone Pies

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream has always been one of my favorite flavors, but I had a very particular way - okay, weird way - of eating it as a kid.

My parents preferred the Breyers brand for all ice cream, so that's what we usually had in the freezer, but the one problem with Breyers mint chocolate chip is that the ice cream isn't green.  And mint chocolate chip ice cream should be green, even just a pale green, like these mini pies, is better than just pure white.

So to make my non-green ice cream more interesting, I would suck all the ice cream off the chocolate pieces, spoonful by spoonful, leaving a pile of chocolate in the bottom of the bowl.  And then lastly, I'd eat that little soggy pile of chocolate.  My parents seemed to think it was strange - who knows why - but they generally let us eat our ice cream any way we liked.  Don't play with your food was more for dinner, but with bowls of ice cream, we were free to swirl it, smooth it, lick it, you name it, to our hearts' content.

I love the idea of easy, no-bake desserts for summer, so I came up with a mini no-bake pie that was reminiscent of mint chocolate chip ice cream.  The mini graham cracker crusts are available on the baking aisle, and I filled them with a minty mascarpone filling, folded with semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Add a couple drops of green food coloring, or a whole bunch.  Food should be fun, so I say, play with your food!

Mint Chocolate Chip Mini Mascarpone Pies
printable recipe
  • 6 individual, ready-made, graham cracker pie crusts
  • 8 ounces Mascarpone cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon mint extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped mint, plus extra sprigs for garnish
  • a few drops of green gel food coloring
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Set the pie crusts on a tray.  In a mixing bowl, combine the Mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, powdered sugar, mint extract, mint and green food coloring.  Whip with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth and combined.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the filling into each of the pie crusts, and garnish with mint and a sprinkling of chocolate chips.

The pies can be eaten right away, or refrigerated until ready to serve.

Cook's Note:  To make a full standard-sized pie, simply double all of the filling ingredients and spoon filling into a standard graham cracker pie crust.

Yields 6 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Watermelon Coconut Breeze and an Umbrella for a Sunny Day...

When the sun was hot and intense on a summer day in China, the sidewalks would be dotted with brightly colored, patterned umbrellas in green flowers, pink polka dots and blue and white stripes.  I loved the sight of them, since in the States, we only see umbrellas when it's raining.  And in Colorado, where it rains so infrequently, most people never even have an umbrella handy if they're caught out in a storm.

But while driving home from the grocery store today, a hot and sunny day, I saw a woman walking down the sidewalk, holding an umbrella to shield herself from the heat.  It was the first time I'd ever seen a woman embrace this practice in the States.

What was funny, is that the Asian women thought my friends and I were crazy for trying to darken our skin.  We'd put on our bathing suits, spread out towels on the grass behind the apartment building and bake in the sun trying to get a "healthy" glow.  I tried in vain to find sunless tanning lotion in stores there; all that was available were whitening creams, since Asian women admire pale skin.  Tanned skin is thought to look provincial.  And while I do like how I look with a kiss of sun on my face and shoulders, I've learned to embrace the fact that I'm white, my legs even ghostly white, that tanning isn't healthy and that sunless tanning creams are my friend.

And thankfully, those creams have come a long way since the 90s - when I was 17, I emerged from my bedroom one morning as orange as an Oompa Loompa.  I'd spent the evening before, unbeknownst to my mom, applying layer after layer of tanning cream, hoping to show up to school the next day looking like a beautiful, bronzed sun goddess.

Of course, I looked ridiculous.  Even the palms of my hands were bright orange.  And there was nothing I could do about it but go to school and endure the teasing.  That night, I took a pumice stone to my skin, trying to scrub some of the color off.  And if you've ever tried to pumice delicate, non-calloused skin, then you know how painful it is!  Several layers of skin later, I was still orange, and the only cure would be time.

Summer's coming to an end soon, but there are still plenty of hot days left for sipping icy drinks like this Watermelon Coconut Breeze, and relaxing outside after the sun's heat lets up in the afternoon.  And maybe the cute umbrella trend will catch on here, too.  A sea of bright umbrellas on a hot day would sure look pretty.

Watermelon Coconut Breeze
printable recipe
  • 4 cups chopped seedless watermelon, chilled
  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut water, chilled
  • juice of 3 limes
  • 2 tablespoons simple syrup, or other sweetener
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves
  • 2 cups club soda, chilled

In a blender, combine everything except the club soda.  Puree until smooth, then pour through a strainer into a pitcher.  Add the club soda.

Serve over ice, with watermelon wedges and sprigs of mint.

Yields 1/2 gallon.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, August 20, 2012

Strawberry Orange Scones

Up until two summers ago, I never enjoyed eating scones.  The ones I had tasted from coffee shops or grocery store bakeries were dry and crumbly, and a little tasteless, and at the time it didn't occur to me to try making a better one myself.

When we stayed in Florence, CO for my birthday a few years ago, Jamie took me to a place called Queen Anne in Canon City, where the owners serve an English tea before dinner, starting with scones...

The scones she presented us with were soft and moist, flaky and sweet, with plenty of jam and clotted cream dolloped over them.  After eating the scones, I was already full, and yet we still had a whole dinner ahead of us.

Traditional scones, originating in the UK, were dry and crumbly, before baking powder was available to the public, but with the introduction of leavening, the layers of dough rose more beautifully, more like a biscuit.

Scones, or biscuits, can be savory or sweet, and when I make drop biscuits to eat with soup on winter nights, I especially love adding cheese, onions and herbs.

I've tried a few recipes for scones, and especially loved the flavor of a lemon cream scone, but they flattened out while baking, instead of rising and holding their shape.  So in the end, I simply adapted my tried and true baking powder biscuit recipe that I've used for so many years, to make a sweet scone in pretty wedges.

While I mix up baking powder biscuits with olive oil, which works wonderfully, for these scones, I wanted to use chunks of cold butter, so that when the water evaporated from the butter in the oven, it would create steam, which in turn creates very light and fluffy scones.

I used dried strawberries, rather than fresh, because I didn't want the extra liquid from the water in fresh strawberries.  Orange zest and almonds complemented the strawberries beautifully.  A light egg wash gave them a pretty golden sheen, and the crunch of toasted almonds contrasted nicely with the flaky biscuit inside.

I love the scene in You've Got Mail where the girls from the bookshop are having tea, and the scene begins with Birdie saying, "The scones are lovely, dear."  Birdie hints at a romance she had years ago in another country, but won't tell Kathleen who it was...  I would love to spend an afternoon sharing tea and scones with someone over secrets and stories of long-ago love affairs, which, I suspect, is why the English came up with the idea of afternoon tea...

Strawberry Orange Scones
printable recipe
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and diced into cubes
  • 1/2 cup dried strawberries, chopped
  • zest of one orange
  • 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, sliced almonds
  • 3/4 - 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 425.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Sprinkle the butter over the flour mixture and use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter until the mixture is coarse and crumbly.  Stir in the dried strawberries, orange zest, and 1/4 cup sliced almonds.

Add the buttermilk, starting with 3/4 cup and adding more as needed, using a spoon or your hands to bring the dough together.  Dough will be very thick, but moist.

Lightly sprinkle the parchment paper with flour.  Turn the dough out onto the parchment, and sprinkle the top of the dough with a little more flour.  Gently press the dough into a circle, measuring 7-8 inches across and 2 inches high.  Using a sharp knife dipped in flour, cut the disk into 8 equal wedges.  Move the wedges apart, so they have 1-2 inches of space in between.  Brush off any excess flour.

Lightly beat the egg with the water, then use a pastry brush to brush over the dough.  Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons almonds.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown.  Serve immediately, with honey or jam.

Cook's Note: As with any biscuit-like bread, these are best eaten within a few hours, while they are soft and flaky.  They will be more dry and crumbly the following day.

Yields 8 scones.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Roasted Balsamic Onions and Goat Cheese, on the Balcony at Sunset...

The evenings have started to cool off earlier, almost as soon as the sun starts to set, and last Saturday was such a perfect evening with the most beautiful sunset.

A pot roast was doing its thing, but that was hours away from being ready, so while we waited, I roasted a head of garlic until it was soft and caramelized.  We spread whole cloves of that sweet, buttery garlic on slices of toasted rosemary bread and drizzled them with honey.  The combination of the caramelized garlic and sweet honey was one of the most amazing things I've tasted.

Then I roasted a sweet yellow onion until it was soft and the edges were browned and caramelized.  Something as simple and humble as an onion is completely transformed when its roasted.

We ate the onion with balsamic vinegar and goat cheese, a delicious treat.  I love any excuse to use one of the finishing balsamic vinegars we bought in Palisade, one a Strawberry Lemon Balsamic and the other a sweet Blood Orange Balsamic.

We lingered on our tiny, third-floor balcony, nibbling on the appetizers and sipping wine, and a light rain started to sprinkle.  The cool breeze swept up the scent of a summer that's cooling down and making way for fall.

And then, I noticed the sunset...

Roasted Onions with Balsamic Vinegar and Goat Cheese
printable recipe
  • 1 very large or 2 medium sweet yellow onions
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 4 ounces goat cheese crumbles

Preheat the oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with foil.  Peel the onions, then cut into large chunks; place on the baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Roast the onions for 25-30 minutes, until the onions are soft and the edges are caramelized.  Place on serving dishes.  Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with goat cheese.  Enjoy right away.

Yields 4 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lemon Coconut Cream Cupcakes

The house was filled with the sweet scent of cake and lemon and coconut the morning I baked these - there's no air freshener that can sweeten up a home like something freshly baked, cooling on the counter.  All those buttercream ruffles were almost too pretty to eat.  Almost.

The soft, white coconut cake was sweet and delicate, filled with tart lemon curd, and then topped with a fluffy lemon buttercream.  I decorated a few with buttercream ruffles, and then gave a plain swipe of buttercream to the ones I topped with sweet coconut.

I sat on the couch with my friend Katie and her pretty baby girl Macy, talking about photography, and we each sampled a cupcake with our cups of coffee, just to make sure they were good.  I had baked them for Jamie, but he wouldn't be coming home until the next evening.

Katie had asked me to assist her with photographing an upcoming wedding, so we were spending the day talking about the schedule for the day, the different types of lenses and the settings on her camera, which I was going to be borrowing.  With no professional photography experience, and no experience at all with using a DSLR camera, changing lenses and using a camera on its manual settings, I had so much to learn before the big day.

The morning of the wedding was warm and sunny, and we were up early to set everything up at the Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver.  And then the next eight hours were filled with photo shoots of the bride and bridesmaids getting ready, family portraits, the ceremony, guests, the cake cutting and dancing.  It was work, but also a lot of fun, and interesting to see a wedding through the lens of a camera instead of as a guest.

And although I didn't even know the bride and groom, I found myself tearing up more than once during the toasts at the reception.  The family was warm and welcoming, with so much energy on the dance floor.

Back home, I was so tired that I fell asleep on the couch for 2 1/2 hours, waking to the aroma of the pot roast Jamie had started cooking for dinner.  How wonderful is it to be with someone who starts dinner while I take a long nap, and then rubs my aching feet?

I haven't seen any of the photos from the wedding yet, but once they're ready, Katie will post a sampling on her blog, Kathleen Rose Photography.

Maybe it was all the wedding talk on my mind, but when I started decorating the cupcakes, I decided to cover them with ruffles of buttercream.  I thought that even the cupcakes looked bridal.

Lemon Coconut Cream Cupcakes
printable recipe

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 can (14 ounces) full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons lemon curd
  • zest of two small lemons
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons milk

filling and garnish:
  • 1 cup lemon curd
  • sweetened coconut flakes

Bake the Cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Line muffin tins with 24 paper liners.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all of the cake ingredients.  Mix on low to combine, then mix on medium speed for 3 minutes, scraping the bowl once.  Divide the batter between the muffin cups, filling them 2/3 full.

Bake for 15 minutes, until pale golden and a toothpick comes out clean.  Remove cupcakes from the pan and set on a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the Buttercream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix the butter, lemon curd and lemon zest for one minute.  In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder (meringue powder should not directly touch any liquid); add to the mixing bowl and mix on low to combine.  Add the vanilla and milk, then increase speed to medium high, whipping for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.

Fill the Cupcakes:
If you have a cupcake corer, great; if not, do what I do and poke the blunt end of a chopstick into the center of each cupcake, stopping halfway down, and swirl it around to create a half-inch hole.  Pipe about a teaspoon of lemon curd into the holes.

Frost the Cupcakes:
Pipe or spread the buttercream onto the cupcakes.  To achieve the ruffled look above, use the Wilton #104 rose petal tip fitted to a piping bag.  Hold the bag so the tip is vertical, narrow end up and wide end down, against the cupcake.  Starting at the middle, squeeze the bag with one hand while you turn the cupcake with the other (I'm right-handed, so I held the piping bag with my right hand and turned the cupcake counter-clockwise with my left).  Wiggle your hand a little (the one holding the bag) to create ruffles, and pipe in a circular pattern from the middle to the outside.  For the last ruffle on the outer edge, angle the tip at a 45 degree angle, with the narrow end pointing away from the cupcake.

Sprinkle cupcakes with the coconut, if you don't mind covering up the pretty ruffles.  Toast the coconut first, if desired.

Yields 24 cupcakes.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Rosemary and Thyme

There are so many schools of thought when it comes to roasting chicken.  Keep it basted, keep it dry, roast it at a low temperature, roast it at a high temperature, let it rest afterwards or not...  I've tried the low and dry method, and the chicken was fine, but not amazing.

Funny how when you start researching chicken recipes you find hundreds, if not thousands, swearing to be the last recipe you'll ever need, but how could so many different techniques yield equally delicious results?

So for dinner the other night, I decided to just do it the way it made sense to me.  And I will tell you, I will not be roasting whole chickens any other way than this from now on.  And I know that now I'm joining the ranks in claiming to have the last recipe you'll ever need, and I won't argue if you have a technique that makes what you consider to be a perfect roast chicken.  Food is so much about individual taste, after all.

But this was that fantastic.  The meat was succulent, flavorful and juicy, even the breast meat, and the golden brown, crispy skin crackled when I took the chicken out of the oven.  That's the moment where you can't help but sneak a little piece.  Tasting the first crackly bite is the cook's privilege.

I always make homemade stock whenever we cook anything on the bone, and our freezer is full of portions of ham, fish, lamb, beef and chicken stock.  So when you pull out the insides of the chicken, don't toss them in the trash; just drop them into your stock pot and set them aside until after dinner.  They'll add wonderful flavor to your homemade stock.  Even the leftover corn cobs went into the stock pot.

After rinsing the chicken, it's important to pat it nice and dry; this will help that golden brown, crispy crust to form on the skin.  Then after stuffing the chicken with lemon, onion and garlic and trussing the legs (I'm not an expert trusser, I just sort of tie it up so that everything is snug and tight), then I rubbed it all over with a mixture of melted butter, salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme and lemon zest.

When Jamie took his first bite, his eyes widened, he looked at me and asked, "How did you make this?"  I like those moments.

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Rosemary and Thyme
printable recipe

  • whole chicken (4-5 pounds)
  • 2 lemons, zested and then quartered
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion, cut into chunks
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 cups water

Preheat the oven to 450.  Set a wire rack in a roasting pan so that the chicken is not sitting directly in the pan..

Remove the insides of the chicken and discard, or reserve for making stock (I save everything for stock, even corn cobs).  Rinse the chicken well, then drain and pat completely dry with paper towels.

Stuff the lemon quarters (reserving the zest), garlic and onion in the cavity of the chicken.  Use kitchen twine to truss the chicken so that the legs are snug against the chicken.  Place the chicken on the rack.

In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme and reserved lemon zest.  Rub the mixture all over the chicken, making sure every part is coated.  Position the chicken on the rack, breast side up.

Insert an instant read thermometer into the chicken so that it is not touching bone; near the thigh is a good spot.  Set the thermometer to 165 F.

Place the pan in the middle rack of the oven and roast the chicken until the internal temperature reads 165 F; this may take about 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the chicken.  The meat, even the breast meat, will be succulent and juicy, and the skin will be golden brown and crisp.

About halfway through, you will notice that the butter dripping off the chicken onto the pan is starting to smoke - this is because butter has a very low smoke point and will start to smoke as it burns against the bottom of the pan.  This is what the water is for.  When the butter starts to smoke on the pan, just pour the water into the bottom of the pan which will stop the smoking, as well as create some steam which will moisturize the chicken, without softening the crispy brown skin.

After an hour of roasting the chicken, you can start some potatoes or other vegetables, and they'll be done by the time the chicken is ready.

Yields about 4 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen