Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Polkadot Umbrella

The rain has been falling steadily since yesterday afternoon.  Our storms usually move in fast, a rush of thunder and hail that stampedes through, leaving a mess of leaves and ice in its path.  But just as quickly, the sun rays are streaming through the clouds before the sky has even stopped dripping.

But these slow drip drops, this grey, drizzly day, the chill that had me reaching for a sweater this morning, is unexpected in the middle of summer.  I wish I was home, with a book, a blanket, and hot tea.  But I do love the rain, and if I must go outside, at least I have my polka dot umbrella.

One Year AgoRainbow Cake
Two Years AgoPink Champagne Cupcakes
Three Years AgoStrawberry Breakfast Bread Pudding

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Black and White Russian Icebox Cake

When I mix a White Russian, I love to add the cream ever-so-slowly.  The sharp line dividing the alcohol and cream is so beautiful, and I stare at that for a minute, before giving the glass a little shake so that the two begin to swirl together.

Espresso becomes dark amber which turns into caramel, and then the whole glass is the color of milk-infused coffee.

White Russians are my favorite cocktail, and Jamie's too, for that matter.  In Vegas, my girlfriends desperately tried to supply me with the ingredients for my drink by collecting coffee creamers to mix with the Kahlua and vodka later that evening in our hotel room.

They are smooth, creamy and sweet, and dangerously easy to drink.  The curves and edges of the partially mixed cocktail inspired this cake, a Black and White Russian Icebox Cake.  There are six layers of scratch chocolate cake soaked in vodka and Kahlua, three layers of homemade chocolate espresso pastry cream, three layers of fresh vanilla whipped cream and a generous sprinkling of shaved chocolate.

The cake gets better and better as the days go by, and every cold, creamy slice is as dangerously delicious as its namesake.

One Year AgoGrilled Peaches with Goat Cheese, Honey and Almonds
Two Years AgoS'mores Ice Cream
Three Years AgoStrawberry Bruschetta with Mascarpone and Aged Balsamic

Black and White Russian Icebox Cake

chocolate cake:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons Vodka
  • 3 tablespoons Kahlua
chocolate pastry cream:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
whipped cream:
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (or 1/2 vanilla bean)
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Baker's Note:  While you could substitute store bought chocolate cake or unfrosted brownies, instant chocolate pudding and cool whip, I really hope you don't.  Such shortcuts would not be doing justice to this magnificent cake.

Bake the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, whisk together the dry cake ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients (except for the alcohol) and whisk until smooth.  Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  (The alcohol will be drizzled over the crumbled cake later.)

Make the Pastry Cream:
Combine the milk and espresso powder in a saucepan.  Bring to a gentle simmer over medium low heat, just until the milk starts to steam.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, corn starch and cocoa powder; it will be very thick.  Ladle a cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking to incorporate and to temper the eggs.  Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan.  Whisking constantly, bring to a boil, until very thick like pudding, then remove from the heat.

Whisk in the chocolate until smooth, then the butter, a piece at a time, and the vanilla.  Pour the pastry cream into a bowl through a fine mesh strainer to remove any bits of cooked egg.  Cover with plastic wrap resting right against the surface of the cream, and cool completely in the refrigerator for several hours.

Whip the Cream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream, powdered sugar and vanilla on medium high speed until thick and the cream can hold its shape.  Refrigerate until needed.  Finely chop the chocolate and set aside.

Cut the cake into 6 equal pieces.  Combine the Vodka and Kahlua in a small bowl.  Set out your bowls of chocolate pastry cream, whipped cream, and chopped chocolate.

Line the bottom of an 8-inch spring form pan with a circle of parchment paper.  Take a long strip of parchment paper and line the inside of the sides of the pan; the paper should come up two inches higher than the sides of the pan, since your cake will be taller than the pan.

Take 1/6 of the cake and crumble it up with a fork.  Sprinkle the cake over the bottom of the pan and press it down into an even layer.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the alcohol.  Carefully spread 1/3 of the chocolate pastry cream over the cake, being careful not to lift up your spatula and pull up the cake crumbs.  Add another layer of cake and alcohol over the pastry cream.  Spread that layer of cake with 1/3 of the whipped cream.  Sprinkle the whipped cream with 1/3 of the chopped chocolate.

Repeat all the layers again with cake, alcohol, pastry cream, cake, alcohol, whipped cream, chocolate, and then again with cake, alcohol, pastry cream, cake, alcohol, whipped cream and chocolate.  In total, there are 6 layers of cake soaked in alcohol, alternating with 3 layers each of pastry cream and whipped cream with chocolate.

Refrigerate the cake for several hours (this cake actually gets better as the days go by, so the leftovers are fantastic).  Remove the sides of the pan.  Carefully peel off the strip of parchment paper from around the sides of the cake to reveal the beautiful layers.  If you like, you can slide the cake off the metal base of the pan onto a cake pedestal.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Serve cake with a White Russian, of course.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, July 28, 2014

We Travel with Cake

There's nothing sexier than watching your husband-to-be bake your birthday cake.  He made the cake completely from scratch, and even frosted it without my help, other than a little verbal guidance on how to fill, stack and crumb coat the layers.  His first cake.  I still look at these photos, in awe of how good it looks.

After packing up the car for our trip that weekend, I set the cake carefully at my feet, under the cool air conditioning, for the four-hour drive to Paonia, where we would be staying for three nights in the guest house at Stone Cottage Cellars.

And when we arrived, the cake was as perfect as when we left.

We're the kind of people who travel with cake, because, really, what could be better than homemade chocolate birthday cake with wine on a warm summer night, while watching the sun set over a vineyard...

One Year AgoStrawberries, Oranges, Cheesecake and Creamsicles
Two Years AgoBlueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie
Three Years AgoOreo Truffles

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Brownies

At a cute little coffee shop down the road from where I work, I met a friend to talk and catch up on life.  For me, wedding plans and cookbook dreams.  For her, working on building up her business again and losing one of her dogs.

A few years ago, Akasha, my beautiful white Persian cat developed respiratory heart failure.  My mom and I brought her home when I was in junior high and she was just a year or two old then, shy and nervous around everyone except me.  She lived to be almost 19, and after having spent almost 18 years with her, letting her go was the most heart-breaking decisions I'd had to make as an adult at that time.  It felt like nothing would ever be the same again with her gone.

It was a hot day, and I sipped unsweetened iced coffee with cream while checking e-mail and waiting for my friend.  A white bakery box sat on the little cafe table, hiding the fudge brownies with their swirls of pink buttercream that I had made for her.

In the Harry Potter books, they eat chocolate as a remedy in tough situations, and I believe that chocolate helps, even on the toughest of days, even if it's just a little comfort.

One Year AgoChocolate Chocolate Muffins with Lemon Curd
Two Years AgoChocolate, Strawberries, and Birthday Cake
Three Years AgoMini (no-bake) Berries 'n' Cream Tartlets

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Brownies
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325.  Line a square 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over two sides.  Spray with non-stick spray.

Toss the strawberries with the 2 tablespoons sugar and set aside to macerate for about 15 minutes.

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan.  In a bowl, combine the 1 cup sugar, cocoa powder and salt.  Pour the butter in and mix together with a wooden spoon.  Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.  Stir in the strawberries, including the juice.  Stir in the flour just until moistened, then the chocolate chips.

Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly into the pan.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.  For easy removal from the pan, lift the parchment paper by the overhang to remove the brownies from the pan, set on a cutting board and cut into squares.

Yields 9-12 brownies

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Salmon with Crispy Skin

Salmon is something I never tire of having for dinner, and I could eat it several times a week if it weren't so expensive.  As it is, we usually have salmon once a week, and it's always one of my favorite meals.

Recently, we've been trying to master the crispy skin technique.  It's not that fun scraping all the scales off the skin with the back of a knife, but the reward of that salted, crisp skin that's almost like a salmon potato chip is worth the extra effort.

We've experimented both with cooking the salmon skin-side-down in a searing hot pan, as well as skin-side-up under the broiler.  Although we have had success with the pan method, especially with a few tablespoons of coconut oil in our cast iron pan, the skin sometimes tends to stick to the pan which might be rectified with a better non-stick pan.  But the broiler method has seemed to work the most consistently for us, so that's the recipe that I have included today.

After getting home last night from a three-day weekend away, I have so many photos to share.  Soon...

One Year AgoIce Cream Birthday Cake
Two Years AgoNaughty Cookie Bars
Three Years AgoA Birthday Weekend and Wine Tasting in Colorado

Salmon with Crispy Skin

  • 1 1/2 pounds of salmon
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper, garlic and smoked paprika

Lay the salmon down on the butcher paper, skin side up.  Use the edge of a chef's knife to scrape the scales in the opposite direction, until the salmon is clean of scales.  Without the scales, the skin will have a silvery diamond pattern.

Rinse the salmon under cool water, then wrap in a clean, dry kitchen towel.  Squeeze gently to remove as much water as possible from the salmon.  The salmon needs to be dry in order for the skin to get crisp.  Cut the salmon into 4 portions (scissors work best for cutting through the skin) and place it skin side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Rub the skin with a small amount of olive oil (about half a teaspoon per portion) and season both sides with salt, pepper, garlic powder and smoked paprika.

Place an oven rack directly underneath the broiler and turn the broiler on to high.  Set the pan on the rack.  Broil for 5-7 minutes until the skin is browned and crisp.  Serve immediately.

Yields 4 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lemon and Lime Cream Cupcakes

Over the course of the weekend of my bachelorette party in Vegas, the girls had all sorts of fun surprises planned, one of which was a list of questions that they had secretly asked Jamie to answer for them a few weeks before, and then asked me the same questions to see how well our answers matched up.  As it turned out, most of our answers were so similar, that the girls were convinced he had shown me the list.  But he most definitely had not!

Two of the questions were, "what is Heather's favorite dessert?" and "what would Heather most like to lick off you?".  His answers were lemon cake and lemon buttercream, respectively.  He knows me so well!

And before your thoughts turn in a naughty direction, there was no licking of lemon buttercream during the making of this recipe, other than off the cupcake.

I had planned on making just lemon cream cupcakes.  But as it turned out, I forgot to buy lemons, and only had half as many as I needed.  But I did have a few limes, so by accident, these became lemon and lime instead of just lemon.

White cake mix really makes an amazingly light cake, and it's the perfect starter for citrusy cupcakes.  With plenty of zest and juice from the lemons and limes, and lots of cream, the cupcakes are bright without being too heavy or rich.  I filled them with lemon curd, although lime curd would work just as well.  And fluffy lemon lime buttercream with flecks of zest throughout.

The flowers are fondant, which I cut out with a little cutter and quickly painted by mixing a few drops of vodka with luster dust.

Since I had cored the cupcakes to fill them with lemon curd, I had a little bowl of cupcake centers left, so I pressed those into a glass, alternating with layers of leftover buttercream, for a little cupcake trifle for Jamie.

It was all very PG, I promise.

One Year AgoRhubarb Oatmeal Bars
Two Years AgoIce Cream Parlor Cupcakes
Three Years AgoFive American Girls in a Chinese Kitchen

Lemon and Lime Cream Cupcakes

Cupcakes and Filling:
  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (2 small lemons)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (2 small limes)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 1 jar lemon (or lime) curd
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 3 tablespoons cream
  • 1-2 teaspoons lemon extract

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan/s with 24 paper liners.

Bake the Cupcakes:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat all the cupcake ingredients (except for the lemon curd) for 3 minutes.  Divide batter between the liners.  Bake for 14-15 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool cupcakes completely on wire racks, covered loosely with clean kitchen towels.  When cool, use a cupcake corer to remove the center of the cupcakes.  Spoon the lemon curd into a piping bag and pipe the curd into the center of each cupcake.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter with the lemon and lime zest until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder.  With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar by spoonfuls.  Add the cream and lemon extract and whip the buttercream on medium high for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy.  Pipe the buttercream onto the filled cupcakes.

Yields 24 cupcakes

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sunday Nap

After our air conditioning was fixed, and the house was finally starting to feel cool again, I closed my eyes and waited for Jamie to come home from his trip.  It was too hot to bake anything over the weekend, so I took full advantage of the opportunity to read and sleep all I wanted.  It was wonderful "me" time.

Photo taken with an iPhone standard camera app and the "Earlybird" filter.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sour Cherry and Blueberry Crumb Pie with Cream Cheese Crust

I've been dreaming of hot, dry fields of berries, and orchard trees laden with fruit and buzzing with bees.

Bare feet on cool grass still damp with morning dew.

Glasses of wine, sipped slowly beneath an apricot tree.

Biting into a peach that's hot from the sun, juice dripping down my chin.

I miss the trips we've taken to local farms to pick fruit and berries, and can hardly wait for our trip to Paonia in a few weeks.  Until then, though, I have to satisfy myself with what we have here, as uninteresting as it is to shop at the grocery store when orchard country is just a little too far out of daily reach.

After baking the blueberries and cream cake, there were plenty of fresh blueberries leftover, so I combined them with sour cherries for a sweet tart pie with a crumbly oat topping.  Jamie couldn't wait for the next day, so we cut into it while it was still warm, and topped it with ice cream.

We ate pie on the balcony of our condo while watching the fireworks for the 4th of July.

These are the days of summer that I love.


One Year Ago:  Mini Roasted Rhubarb Pies with Buttermilk Pastry
Two Years Ago:  Mounds Ice Cream Bars
Three Years Ago:  Cherry Rhubarb Shortcakes

Sour Cherry and Blueberry Crumb Pie
cream cheese crust:
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese, cold
  • 2-3 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 pound sour cherries, pitted
  • 1 pound blueberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
crumb topping:
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold 

Preheat the oven to 425.  Line a baking sheet with foil.

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt.  Cut the butter and cream cheese into chunks and scatter it over the flour.  Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter and cream cheese in until pea-sized pieces remain.  Scatter the ice water over the mixture, then use your hands to pull the dough together into a ball.  (do not add more water; the dough may seem dry at first, but eventually it will come together)

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick, then fit into a deep dish pie pan.  Fold the edges under.  Refrigerate while you get the filling ready.

Place the fruit in a large bowl, and toss with the sugar.  In a small bowl, whisk together the corn starch, flour, water and lemon juice to create a slurry.  Pour over the fruit and toss to coat evenly.  Sprinkle with the cinnamon and salt.

Pile the filling into the crust, and set the pie on the baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes while you prepare the topping.

Combine the topping ingredients in a bowl and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter in until coarse and crumbly.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

After the pie has baked for 20 minutes at 425, reduce the temperature to 375.  Sprinkle the fruit with the crumb topping.  Bake the pie at 375 for an additional 35-40 minutes until browned on top and the filling is bubbling.  Cover the edges with a pie shield, if needed, to prevent over-browning. 

Set pie on a wire rack and cool for at least 5-6 hours or overnight before cutting.

Yields 8 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Shortbread Brownies with Ganache and Dulce de Leche

These brownies are essentially candy bars for grown ups.

There's the crisp, buttery shortbread cookie base, the dark chocolate, chewy fudge brownie in the middle, the blanket of bittersweet chocolate ganache on top and a drizzle of dulce de leche.  Finished with a touch of coarse sea salt.  Sounds like a candy bar to me.

This summer is disappearing in a hurry, and as much as I would like to enjoy the slow hot days, I also can't wait for September to come, and to see all the wedding planning come to life on our wedding day.

After the wedding is over, though, our family gone back to their homes, and the last crumbs of cake eaten, I'm sure I'll be wondering, where did summer go?

One Year AgoChocolate Dipped Cherry Chip Cream Pops
Two Years AgoCoffee in the Afternoon, and a Cake for Goodbye
Three Years AgoPasta with Steamed Mussels and Lobster

Pecan Shortbread Brownies with Dulce de Leche and Ganache

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces cream
  • Dulce de Leche
  • coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 325.  Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over both sides.  Spray with non-stick spray.

Make the Shortbread:
In your food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, salt and pecans until combined.  Add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, then the egg yolk, and pulse until the mixture resembles moist cornmeal.  Dump the crumbs into the pan and press firmly against the bottom of the pan.  Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.

Make the Brownies:
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder and salt.  Pour the melted butter over the cocoa mixture and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth.  Add the vanilla, and the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg; batter will be thick.  Stir in the flour, just until moistened.

Remove the pre-baked crust from the oven.  Dollop the brownie batter over the hot crust and use a non-stick spatula to spread it out, being careful not to tear the crust.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist, sticky crumbs clinging to it.  Cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the ganache, finely chop the chocolate and place in a small bowl.  Pour the cream into a small saucepan and warm gently over medium low heat just until it simmers around the edges.  Pour over the chocolate and let stand for 3 minutes, then stir with a spatula until smooth.  Pour the ganache over the brownies and smooth out with a spatula.  Let stand for about an hour, or until set (placing them in the fridge for a few minutes will speed up this step).

Remove the brownies from the pan by lifting them out by the parchment paper overhang.  Set on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut into bars.

Scoop the Dulce de Leche into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip and pipe over each brownie.  Sprinkle with the coarse salt.

Yields about 25-30 brownies

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, July 6, 2014

June Instagram and a Bachelorette Party in Vegas!

It was a busy June!  I've fallen behind a little on baking lately with everything happening, although I did manage to turn out a few sweet treats here and there.  As you know, I had a photo of mine published on the cover of a cookbook, and then my girlfriends took me to Las Vegas for the weekend for my bachelorette party!

We stayed at The Paris, stayed up way too late, slept way too little, and had so much fun.  We even ate at Gordon Ramsey's steak house!  I have such a crush on him, but it seems he didn't get the memo, because he didn't make an appearance that evening.

I have the most wonderful sister and friends anyone could ask for.  As for all the little details of our weekend, well, I'll never tell.  After all, what happens in Vegas...