Monday, August 29, 2016

Blackberry Rhubarb Cheesecake with Pistachios

It was the beginning of summer when I made this cheesecake, when the trees were just barely blossoming and the early dewy mornings were still cold with the leftover chill of winter.  And now that summer is almost over, the evenings here in Colorado tend to be cool and drizzly, which I love.  Although the days are still unbearably hot for my 8-month pregnant self.

For two years now, the rhubarb plant in our backyard has faithfully produced plenty of bright red stalks of tart rhubarb all summer long, which I freeze to use throughout the year.  And for this lovely pink cheesecake, I used up the last of last summer's rhubarb and the first of this year's blackberries.

The creamy cheesecake filling is a little tart and a little sweet, full of the bright, summery flavors of rhubarb and berries.  I garnished it with salted pistachios and fresh flowers, and there was the perfect balance of salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy.

I'm so looking forward to fall, more than I usually do for one very important reason this year.  But for just a few more weeks, it's just the two of us, and it's still summer, with warm pink sunsets giving way to cooler nights.  This pretty cheesecake even tastes pink.

Blackberry Rhubarb Cheesecake with Pistachios

Blackberry Rhubarb Puree.
  • 1/2 pound rhubarb, diced
  • 3 ounces blackberries
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
In a saucepan, combine the fruit, sugar and cinnamon.  Simmer until the fruit is softened and the liquid evaporated.  Puree in a blender until smooth, then strain out the seeds.  Refrigerate until chilled.

  • 1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
  • Rhubarb Blackberry Puree, chilled
  • Pistachios, for garnish  

Preheat the oven to 325.  In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers and salt.  Drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork until moistened.  Press against the bottom of an 9-inch springform pan.  Bake for 12 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant; set aside to cool completely.

Pour 1/4 cup cream into a microwave-safe dish.  Add the gelatin and whisk with a fork to combine.  Let stand for 5 minutes; it will be thick and clumpy.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds to completely dissolve the gelatin.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups cream with the vanilla at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, gradually adding the powdered sugar as the cream thickens.  In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the cream cheese, gelatin mixture, and fruit puree to the cream and beat until smooth and thick with no lumps, about 2-3 minutes.  Immediately spread over the cooled crust, smooth out the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 4-6 hours, or overnight.

Garnish with chopped pistachios.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chocolate Chip Almond Cream Cheese Scones

Fluffy homemade biscuits are a favorite in our house, whether they're made into a breakfast sandwich with an egg and bacon, drizzled with honey, topped with butter and jam, or served alongside soup on a cold night.  I've made the same biscuit recipe over and over, and somehow, it only gets better every time.

Scones are nothing more than a variation of biscuits, and I adjusted my biscuit recipe to replace the butter with cream cheese and almond paste to make these scones.  They're flaky and tender, and just sweet enough.

The dark chocolate chips and dusting of sugar on top make these more of a dessert than breakfast, but regardless, they made a fantastic breakfast.

My due date is 5 weeks from now, and I can hardly believe it!  I told my husband that one of the first breakfasts I want to make this fall, post-baby, is biscuits and gravy, with lots of mimosas.

Chocolate Chip Almond Cream Cheese Scones
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, cold
  • 8 ounces almond paste
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips
  • 2/3 - 3/4 cup cold, whole milk or buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Use a pastry cutter to cut in the cream cheese and almond paste until crumbly.  Stir in the chocolate chips, and then stir in the milk until moistened; the dough should be barely moist, and fairly craggy.

On a lightly floured surface, gently pat the dough out to 1 inch thick.  Cut into 2 or 3-inch triangles.  Place on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 13-15 minutes.

Melt the remaining two tablespoons butter in a small bowl and brush over the tops of the biscuits as soon as you take them out of the oven, then sprinkle with the sugar.  Serve immediately.

Yields 8-9 scones

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Almond Poppyseed Cake

My coworkers are spoiled with cakes and sweet things.  When I arrive to work Monday mornings with a cake carrier, there is a collective cheer for what everyone now calls "breakfast cake".

A few had asked if I'd ever made an almond poppyseed cake, and I was only too happy to take the suggestion and test a recipe, since almond cake is one of my own personal favorites.

The cakes don't usually last too long past lunch, and then there's the last, lingering piece that no one wants to be so selfish as to take, so gradually, bite by bite, it disappears until there's nothing left behind but a few cake crumbs and dabs of buttercream.

This one proved to be quite popular, with the soft, moist poppyseed cake, sweet almond pastry filling and fluffy buttercream.  It's a good thing there are so many lovers of cake at my office, because if this one was sitting around my house, I wouldn't be able to resist.

Almond Poppyseed Cake

  • 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • Almond pastry filling (12 oz can)
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 3-4 tablespoons cream or milk
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons poppy seeds
  • almonds, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease three 8-inch cake pans with non-stick spray.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add the eggs, coconut milk, oil, poppy seeds and almond extract and whisk vigorously for about two minutes.

Divide the batter between the pans and bake for about 22-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Set the pans on a wire rack, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until smooth.  With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder and mix to combine.  Add the milk, extracts and salt, and increase the speed to medium high; whip for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.  Stir in the poppy seeds.

Stack the cake layers, filling with the almond pastry filling.  Frost all over with the buttercream.  Garnish with sliced toasted almonds.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, August 8, 2016

Before and After: The Kitchen

It's been nine months since I posted the first of my "Before and After" series of the work we've done on our home, the first being the renovations in our living room.  And finally, finally, our kitchen is finished, too, and I'm so excited to continue the series.

When we bought our house a year and a half ago, I could see that the kitchen had good potential, and was a great size, but the style was just so not me.  My Pinterest board is full of pretty white kitchens that welcome you in, and this one did the opposite for me.

Here are the photos from the real estate listing.  The black granite tile was not only masculine and depressing, but the grout trapped all the crumbs on the island and was impossible to keep clean.  Tan walls throughout the whole house.  Orange, builder-grade oak cabinets and a chintzy looking island.

After we moved in, it looked like this for a while.  We closed on the house just a couple weeks before Christmas in 2014, and then spent our Christmas vacation painting the entire interior.  Paint is one of the least expensive changes that we could make that would have the biggest impact.

We painted over all that tan with a light gray called Gray Palisade throughout most of the house, with a few other shades of gray here and there.  Even the yellowed interior doors and every bit of trim got a scrubbing and a fresh coat of white paint called Swiss Coffee.  Imagine the time and commitment it takes two people to paint a whole house.  We were exhausted.

Here's a little side-by-side of the kitchen when we moved in, and what it looks like today.  Quite a change, isn't it?

Through all these home improvements, a tight budget has always been forefront in every decision we've made.  We do the work ourselves and we salvage and reuse where we can.  The first step towards a sunlit white kitchen had to be tackling the cabinets, and that meant more painting, since we were not going to be tearing them out and buying new cabinets.

It was a miserable project, and we started on the wrong foot by using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.  I have used that brand of paint successfully on our living room mantle, which I painted with Graphite, and the result was beautiful, but the white chalk paint simply wouldn't adhere to the cabinets.  An hour after painting, and the paint was peeling and flaking off horribly.  We sanded them down and tried again, with the same results.

At last, I gave up on the idea of chalk paint, sanded them one last time and covered them with primer before painting them with the same semi-gloss paint we used on all the trim.  All in all, it took three weeks of sanding, priming and painting, more sanding, more painting, and lastly a few coats of polycrylic so that they could be easily cleaned.  Silver hardware dressed them up nicely, too.

Of course, white cabinets have to be wiped down now and then since splatters show up more easily than on plain wood or dark cabinets, but with the coat of poly, they are easy to keep clean.

The biggest expense in the kitchen was the new counter, and it was the only thing that we had to have installed for us, since they come on site to measure and cut the massively heavy slab of granite.  We visited a local tile and granite supplier where we chose a slab of white granite called Cotton White, although of course it still has flecks of many other colors in it.  To prep for the counter installation, we first ripped the black tile backsplash off the walls, along with the drywall behind it.  Jamie put up new drywall, and then they arrived to pull up the old tile counter and install the pretty white granite.

It already looked so much better!  Besides the counter, we also got rid of the old stainless steel sink and replaced it with a white cast-iron sink, made affordable by going with the top-mount option, which I actually prefer to under-mount anyway.  A new black iron faucet dressed it all up beautifully.

The next project was the backsplash.  We decided on a classic white subway tile, and it was my first time tiling, but I have to say, I think I did a pretty damn good job - with my husband's tutelage.  For a little contrast, we used a light gray grout for the tile.  This was definitely a money saving project, since subway tile is very inexpensive, and we used a borrowed tile saw.

And for my collection of cake stands, Jamie built these two shelves to join the cupboards over the sink.  Don't they look so beautiful with the back-lighting from the window?

Not forgetting the island, we bought an unfinished piece of walnut which Jamie sanded and rounded the edges, then stained and sealed for a beautiful butcher block counter top.  We painted the island and Jamie installed trim and decorative corbels to fancy it up.  I painted all of our kitchen stools to add splashes of color.

We also decided to pull down the microwave and cupboard over the stove and install a self-venting hood instead.  The trade-off, of course, is losing a small bit of cupboard space, as well as now needing to set a microwave on the counter or somewhere else, but I just love how the hood updates the look of the kitchen.

The appliances in this house are older, and not really the best, and yet, it simply isn't in the budget to replace them all, so the only one we have replaced so far is the dishwasher, which was too small and ineffective.  I would eventually like to move the black refrigerator to the garage as a backup and get something new for the kitchen.

The gas stove/oven took some getting used to since I'd always had electric before, and the gas oven works unreliably, at best.  Always 50-75 degrees off, it makes cake baking a challenge, but I can deal with it.

At this point, I was honestly okay with the oak floor in the kitchen, mainly because I was just so tired of all the work, and I thought we should try to keep it if possible.  But since we planned on putting down flooring on the whole main level, of course it all had to match.  So, the options were, try to match what we had and put that in the living room and front room.  Or, get unfinished wood for the remainder of the main level, sand down the kitchen floor, and stain it all to match.  Or, just replace it all.

In the end, after weighing the costs of each option, and the labor involved, we decided on new bamboo flooring for everything.  I desperately wanted to try to finish it before last Christmas when our family visited, but it was just way too tight of a timeline, so we were only able to complete the living room before Christmas, and the rest had to wait.

Another change that we decided to make, which had to happen at the same time we finished the floors, was that railing in the kitchen.  Above, you can see how it looked when we moved in.  My idea was to take down the railing, build a matching step on the other side, and then build a counter of some sort in the middle to add more storage.  This would give two entrances into the kitchen, with one conveniently right next to the patio door leading to the back yard.

In the next photo, you can see that at that point we had ripped out the carpet in the living room and put down flooring in that room only, as well as built the second step, and this is where we had to leave things for a few months, until we were able to begin again after the holidays.

It was around January or February this year that we got rid of the railing completely and began the demo of the kitchen floor.  It was an insanely hard day of work, and I had just found out I was pregnant.  All I wanted to do was sleep.

At the same time, we had to rip up all the carpet in the dining room and front room, since the wood was going to continue from the kitchen into those rooms.  It was dirty, exhausting work, and to finish the kitchen, dining room and front room, it took us a good 3-4 weeks, since we only had weekends to do the work, just to get the flooring cut and installed.  Jamie put his portable table saw that I gave him for Christmas to good use.

But look at it now!

I drew up a sketch of the new counter, or buffet, if you prefer, and Jamie built it completely from scratch, with moveable shelves on either side for cook books, more cake stands, and my bins of flour and powdered sugar, and a wine rack in the middle, which he made from scraps of wood from the original kitchen floor.  Impressive, isn't it?

The top is made from inexpensive planks of wood, sanded smooth and stained to match the floors and butcher block island top, finished with heavy-duty carriage bolts.

Although there's plenty of room in the kitchen for an eat-in table, we have a big dining room table, so I sold the round white table and four chairs that were in the kitchen (we need the money for baby things), and moved a desk in front of the window instead.

I love having a few antiques in the house - although not so much that they take over - like the blue metal shortening can I use as an end-table in the living room, the yellow Coca-Cola box, which holds fruits and vegetables, and the old wooden apricot box that catches any clutter we have sitting around the kitchen.

Before we looked at counter options, I had my heart set on white marble.  But then I found out the maintenance, and expense!, and realized it simply wasn't going to happen.  Formica, and other faux options just weren't going to do anything for the resale value of our home, so it came down to granite or quartz, and as you know, we chose granite.

Since we couldn't have marble counters, we've found ways to add little hints of marble here and there - a cutting board from Home Goods, the little corner trim pieces at the window over the sink, the mortar and pestle, and my lazy susan for cake decorating.

And since the floor flows right from the kitchen into the dining room, here is a peek into our dining room, with the table Jamie built, and our mismatched thrifted chairs...