Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Prosecco-Lime Jelly with Nectarines and Blueberries

Finally, it's the home stretch for my finger and this incredibly bulky bandage/splint that I've been wearing around for the past two weeks--the bandages come off tomorrow! (and permanently, I hope).  And, at last, I'll be able to cook and bake and wash dishes again in the kitchen, shower without a plastic bag over one hand, hold my camera, properly take notes in class and not have them look like a kinderg√§rtner's chicken scratch, play vibraphone and piano--all of these little things for which we totally take our hands for granted.  (And, not to mention, walk around without having people stare at my bandaged-up middle finger. Even the proprietress at a local Chinese bakery today stared at my finger while I was fishing out change and asked accusingly, "What did you do to your hand?" --oh, the Chinese sense of privacy!)

Anyways, whilst I await anxiously these last hours prior to my finger's freedom, I wanted to share a recipe that I made a few weeks ago--just in time for you all to use up the last of the summer fruits before they disappear altogether from the markets!  This is such an incredibly simple and yet super sophisticated recipe that I stumbled upon when I was browsing for random recipes online, and it's a great way to enjoy fresh fruit with just a little bit of a twist: prosecco-lime jelly with white and yellow nectarines and blueberries.

This dessert really takes eating fresh fruit to a whole new level.  Here you have crunchy summertime nectarines and succulent blueberries encased and suspended in a delicately-jiggly, just-tart-enough, and just-sweet-enough prosecco-lime jelly.  The jelly melts in your mouth and just lightly coats the fruit with ephemeral whiffs of white wine and hints of lime reminiscent of the last lingering moments of summer we're having now that September's right around the corner.  And having the jelly truly transforms the experience of eating fruit, too: I made some small, portable servings and took them to the office, watching as people were fascinated and enchanted by the magical combination of fruit hovering in the surrounding jelly.

Now, I'm off to contemplate what the first dessert I should make after regaining use of my right hand is.  Suggestions???

Read on for the recipe...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lemon-Oregano Shortcake with Blueberries and Lemon-scented Quark

I absolutely love it when people gift me home-grown fruits and vegetables and herbs.  I have something of a black-brown thumb, and the only things I've ever managed to keep alive are mint, lemons, and--under threat of my mom's admonishment--orchids.  So, because I can't produce my own bountiful crop, I love it when people share theirs with me.  But, I have to admit, when this big bag of dried home-grown oregano landed in my hands (a gift from one of R's aunts), I was a bit perplexed.  I mean, what am I going to do with all of this oregano?

Oregano is definitely one of the herbs that I utilize the least. Beyond oregano in your basic spaghetti sauce and chili, I've never given oregano much more thought, instinctively preferring rosemary or thyme or even sage instead (btw, did this song just pop into anyone else's head? Obviously Simon & Garfunkel didn't know what to do with oregano, either! ).  But after scratching my head for a few weeks and seeing all of these fresh blueberries over-running the local farmers' markets, I figured that I could put a spin on one of my favorite classic lemon-thyme and strawberry combinations with lemon, oregano, and blueberries.  And I was right-- these lemon-oregano shortcakes with lemon-scented quark and blueberries were dead on delicious.

[Note: Quark is a German cheese, reminiscent of cream cheese yet oh so much creamier! I use it for both savory and sweet applications.]

The dried oregano gives these shortcakes an incredible fragrance that complements the sweetness and--dare I say it?--plainness of the lemon and blueberries, adding just that perfect extra touch to make you take one bite and come back for a second.  The creaminess and sharpness of the lemon-scented quark and the delightful bursts of blueberry piled on top really work with the ultra-flaky lemon-oregano shortcake underneath, too.  And, this dessert is so incredibly fast and easy to make (a welcome change after last week's time-consuming s'mores cakelettes!), making it the perfect, everyday dessert for breakfast or tea-time.  Yes, this one goes fabulously with tea.

This very blue and yellow dessert actually comes at a rather serendipitous time for me, today being the start of school at the institution I'm visiting this semester, whose colors just so happen to be blue and gold!  Ah, don't you just love it when your desserts and food perfectly reflect your life?

Anyways, I still have most of that huge bag of dried oregano left--for sure I'll be making some more of these shortcakes as soon as my finger heals and for as long as blueberries are in season.  But, please share! how would you use dried oregano?

Read on for recipe...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Figs, fall fruits, and my poor finger

As those of you who know me in person or follow me on Twitter may know, I had hand (finger, to be exact) surgery early this past week and have spent the rest of the week at home convalescing and slipping in and out of consciousness.  (At the very least, I've been catching up on those precious sleep hours before school starts!)

Typing with one hand is difficult enough, but what really kills me is that I can't *do* anything, either research for school or being in the kitchen or being behind the camera.  I mean, I have complete confidence that I could bake simple things with one hand, but it's doing the dishes afterwards that necessitates two!  :-)  So instead, I've been enjoying the fresh fruits of the season au natural--and what the perfect time to do so!  From some of the sweetest late-season strawberries to exotically subtle South African ice peaches to succulent and delicately rich figs, I've been savoring doing almost nothing to my fruits and just enjoying simply the incredible flavors of the pre-autumn season.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy seasonal fruits is to add them to my morning yogurt, and this is what I've been having this past week: green and purple figs, toasted pistachios, thick, Greek yogurt, and a quick sprinkling of dark brown sugar.  Here's hoping that a few figs a day keep the doctors at bay!  :-)

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!  (as I will probably be sleeping mine away.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gimme S'more Cakelettes

As promised: gimme s'more cakelettes!  Oh man, I am so excited about these little individually-sized cakes because they turned out super yummy.  Like, lick-your-own-plate-and-then-reach-over-and-lick-your-neighbor's-plate yummy.  They do take up quite a few steps and components, but let me tell you right now that they are well worth it.  Trust me.

Of course, no s'mores cake would be perfect without baking homemade graham crackers first, which are far deeper and complex in flavor than those store-bought crackers that taste uncannily like the cardboard they come packed in.  In homemade graham crackers, you can actually taste all of that honey and molasses and brown sugar goodness, and they're a must when you're trying to translate the humble s'more into a cake.  Plus, graham crackers are a fantastic snack to have around anyways!

Armed with good graham crackers, let's move on to the cakelettes!  Allow me to break this down for you.  The entire thing is made up of five different layers, packing in all of the graham cracker, chocolate, and marshmallow essence of s'mores that I could into cake form.  At the bottom is a graham cracker genoise, made from powdered graham crackers.  On top of the genoise sits the bulk of the cake: a thick layer of dense, velvety, and rich chocolate souffle cake.  Served at room temperature, the chocolate souffle cake nearly resembles the texture of warmed and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate.  Then comes a thin layer of Italian meringue, topped by an actual graham cracker that is covered with dark chocolate ganache: that's already double the chocolate of a regular s'more, if you're keeping count!  Finally, the whole package comes enveloped in a cloud of sweet and fluffy Italian meringue, seared and browned on the outside into a perfectly and satisfyingly sticky marshmallow-like package.

In addition to capturing the right s'mores flavors in these cakelettes, I also tried to maintain the same smush-iness that you get in eating an actual s'more, too.  With the top layer of chocolate-ganache-covered graham cracker, you get the satisfaction of smashing the crisp graham cracker into the bottom meringue and chocolate layers when you plunge your fork into these cakelettes.  These aren't supposed to be tidy little cakes: they're supposed to evoke the same all-over-your-fingers goodness that you get from real s'mores!  (If you'd like a cleaner cakelette, you can leave the graham crackers out to soften for a day, and they'll be easily cut-able.)

These cakelettes went over as a huge hit at the dinner party where I served them--I kind of wish I'd made more!  Incidentally, too,--and this was completely unplanned--the day I made them also happened to be National S'mores Day.  But really, it would be a shame to save these cakelettes for just one day out of the year!

Read on for the recipe...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lobster Lobster Mac'n'Cheese, and a menu in "Fun"

This past week, I finally had my first dinner party in the longest time ever.  It used to be a more common occurrence for me to have people over, but in the past year or so, I've just been too busy, and a lot of my good friends have moved further afield--too far, unfortunately, to just drop by for a dinner party (i.e., airfare would need to be involved).  But, at last, I was able to invite my lab over for dinner, and it was wonderful to be able to sit down to a nice and proper meal and just get to know everyone and chat about things outside of work and research.  (Our lunch meetings usually revolve around whatever campus food we can scrounge up and lots of statistics talk, so this was a pleasant and welcome change, I think!)

[prep work]

Anyways, after not having had a dinner party for a while, I was a bit rusty at everything.  I used to be really good at timing and menu planning and organization, but this time around, it all took a bit longer than it used to--you really have to be "in shape" and in practice to throw a party!  In the end, though, I'm really happy with the menu and how everything turned out, so I thought I'd share the menu with you here along with a recipe for the main course: lobster lobster mac'n'cheese.

The inspiration for this menu comes from the head of our lab, who is known for always saying things like, "It doesn't matter how hard we have to work, as long as we have FUN."  or, more generally, "the goal this summer, whatever else we do, is to have FUN."  Always said with an emphasis and drawn out "fuuuun." (though her idea of fun must also involve lots of statistics and writing and discussion, because we actually do lots of work, too.)  So, this menu is a FUN -inspired menu, with re-interpreted traditionally "fun" or comfort foods.  I also wanted to take full advantage of the incredible fruits and vegetables that are currently in season, so I ended up incorporating fruit all throughout the meal--from the appetizer through dessert.  If you haven't already noticed, I absolutely love playing with mixes of sweet and savory (e.g., here, here, here, or here), so this turned out to be especially FUN for me!

the "Fun" menu

Ginger Strawberry Lemonade
ginger beer, strawberries, lemonade, sparkling water

BBQ White Peach Pizza
white peach, slivered red onions, smoked gouda, bbq sauce, herb crust

Crab and Corn Soup
with local Brentwood corn

Plum and Blue Cheese Salad
purple and green plums, cave-aged raw milk blue cheese, toasted soy beans, herb mix
with honey Dijon mustard balsamic vinaigrette

Lobster Lobster Mac'n'Cheese
lobster, lobster mushrooms
in a lightly spicy sharp cheddar, fontina, and gruyere mac'n'cheese

English Peas'n'Candied Carrots
English peas, green onions, candied carrots

Thyme Roasted Gravenstein Apples
Gravenstein apples tied with fresh thyme

Pomegranate Hibiscus Strawberry Popsicles
pomegranate and hibiscus juices, with floating strawberries

"Gimme S'more" Cakelettes
graham cracker genoise, chocolate souffle cake,
homemade graham cracker, dark chocolate ganache, Italian meringue

[the sides]

The menu was quite massive, and suffice it to say that, true to form, I made way too much food for the number of people (it's a Chinese thing, okay?)!  But, it was all delicious, IMHO.  (of course, I'm biased, right?)  The ginger strawberry lemonade is one of my favorite drinks for when I'm doing research or studying, so I thought it would be fitting to share it with the rest of my lab.  One of my favorite parts of the meal was the BBQ white peach pizza, but I'm saving that recipe to post at some later point in time--plus, it was completely devoured almost immediately out of the oven, so there was nothing left to photograph!  The crab and corn soup is based off of one of my favorite comfort foods--corn soup--, which, incidentally, is also the first thing I ever learned to cook.  The plum and blue cheese salad came about because there's this beautiful, hand-made, cave-aged, and raw milk blue cheese available at one of my local markets that I absolutely adore, and I just really wanted to incorporate it somehow into the menu!

As for the main course, I thought that the lobster lobster mac'n'cheese--with both fresh lobster and lobster mushrooms was a clever little combination.  It's super cheesy, ever-so-slightly spicy from added Sriracha, and boasts a wonderfully crispy panko-and-gruyere crust--then, when you get to the bites with bits of mushroom and lobster meat, extra yum ensues.  The peas and carrots side were a perfect accompaniment to the cheesy creaminess of the mac'n'cheese.  With fresh peas, especially, you get a burst of freshness that helps to lighten up the main course, as did the bit of crunch from the candied carrots.  The thyme-roasted apples were a recipe from a recent issue of Donna Hay that I'd been wanting to try, and they came out fantastically spiced with thyme flavor and soft and sweet.

Finally, for dessert, I wanted a combination of something light and summery (opting for these pomegranate hibiscus strawberry popsicles) and something rich and chocolaty-- Here's a quick preview, but you'll have to come back next week to read more about these little cakelettes!  Let's just say that they'll leave you wanting s'more... I promise.  ;-)

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

[flowers for the table]

Read on for recipe...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ambrosia Mojito Popsicles + Pomegranate Hibiscus Strawberry Popsicles

My house has been officially hit by the popsicle craze.  I kid you not.  As I type, there are five different flavors/types of popsicles sitting snugly in my freezer.  I just don't know how to stop.  Even though we've had one of the mildest (read: not hot) summers on record here whilst the rest of the country is broiling in summer heat, I've been addicted to popsicles.  Then, when I remembered how ridiculously easy and simple they are to make, I've basically wanted to put all of my foods into frozen-on-a-stick form.  Thankfully, I haven't yet gotten to the savory foods, but I think my trusty roommate may put her foot down before I reach that level of pop-driven insanity.

Today I have for you two types of those five flavors of popsicles currently inhabiting my freezer: ambrosia mojito popsicles and pomegranate hibiscus strawberry popsicles.  Both of these are basically the purest incarnation of the popsicle form: fruit or fruit juice blended with a tiny bit of sugar and water.  So simple and yet so refreshingly good.  And none of that ice cream-making, egg yolk churning fuss--just freeze and forget!  (My kind of dessert/meal when I'm terribly busy with non-food stuff, as has been the case for the past few weeks.)

You know that it's melon season when you can't escape a grocery store or farmers' market without catching a strong whiff of the sickly sweet juices from all the melons that are piling up.  More so than in past years, I've been noticing this season an upswing in all of the different types of melons in the markets--it's as if the heirloom craze in tomatoes has caught on in melons!  For instance, as I was stumbling about the local farmers' market searching for cantaloupes for this popsicle, I came across ambrosia, which the seller informed me are just like cantaloupe in their orange flesh and spider-webby rinds but are actually slightly sweeter.  Hence, ambrosia mojito popsicles!  (though if you can't find ambrosia, cantaloupes should do just fine.)

I really liked how these popsicles turned out, with layers of pure ambrosia puree and lime and mint juice.  I didn't add anything to the ambrosia flesh at all, choosing instead to let the unchanged flavor of the fruit shine through.  For sweetness, the middle lime and mint layer provides all of the sugar you might need in a dessert, and it's so satisfying to lick both layers at once, getting the balance of fruity flavors, tart lime, and minty sweetness.

The pomegranate, hibiscus, and strawberry popsicles came about when the lovely people at POM Wonderful sent me a case of pomegranate juice to play around with!  (the grad student in me was very excited about free food. ;-P)  Of course, given my current ice-pop state of mind (can Alicia Keys please write a song about that for me?), the first thing I had to do was freeze pomegranate juice.

As a contrast to the ambrosia mojito popsicles, I really wanted to emphasize the darkness of the pomegranate juice in these pops, so they are spiked with earthy and robust hibiscus juice, made from dried hibiscus blossoms, giving them an even richer and darker flavor.  Then, buried inside are small pieces of fresh strawberries, just to give the popsicle a bit of textural surprise and to take full advantage of the fast-disappearing summer berries.  Don't you just love how these popsicles are this luscious deep red?  I can assure you that they taste as juicy as they look!

Anyways, this has been sort of a long post, so I think I'll stop here and go see if I can't make a dent in those popsicles sitting in my fridge...  (So I can make more, duh. ;-P)

[full disclosure: POM Wonderful did send me a case of POM juice for free, but I wouldn't post about it here unless I actually love the stuff, which I totally do. In fact, their teas make up most of my study brain food.  I guzzle the stuff whenever I have papers to write (which, given my profession, is basically all the time), and all of my glassware at home is old POM tea glasses from when their teas first came out and came in these awesome reusable glasses.

Make sure to check out some of my other pomegranate recipes!]

Read on for recipes...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What to do with pea pods = Pea-pod and Pecan Pesto (An Addendum)

I know, I know--this is supposed to be a dessert blog, and here's yet another savory dish!  But I promise, we'll return to sweet-tooth-satisfying desserts come next week.  For now, though, I really wanted to share with you my ingenious (if I may say so myself ;-P) solution to not wasting all of those pea pods from which peas are shelled, just in case your heart aches as mine does when you have to throw them all into the compost bin.  Here it is: pea pod and toasted pecan pesto!

I really love experimenting with non-traditional pestos, and when I saw a heap of green sitting in front of me after shelling my peas for this week's pancakes, pesto was the first thing that popped into my mind for using them up.  Then, thinking through the idea, the creaminess of pine nuts from a traditional pesto just didn't seem like quite the right accompaniment for the fresh, springtime taste of the pea pods, so instead, I opted for something nutty and slightly sweet: toasted pecans.  I also threw in a handful of home-grown mint leaves to enhance the brightness of the taste of the pea pods and because peas and mint are a tried and true awesome combination.  The rest of the pesto is actually quite straight forward: a punchy parmigiano, a healthy pour of fruity olive oil, one garlic clove for a bit of kick, and salt and pepper to taste.

The resulting pesto was surprisingly light and fresh with just enough depth from the garlic, cheese, and toasted pine nuts to balance out the crispness of the pea pod taste.  And, it was quite unexpected to boot, which I find to be a refreshing change from traditional basil-pine nut pestos.  I served mine with gnocchi, and then the next day had it slathered on pieces of French baguette.  For some reason, though, I can't get past the fact that this pesto would go really well with lamb, but I don't really cook meat, so someone please try this pairing and let me know how it goes!  Be forewarned, though, that you should really, really like peas before you try this pesto, because you really get a concentrated flavor of peas from the pea pods.  Note, also, that this recipe only works with sugar snap peas; unfortunately, English pea pods are still meant for the bin.

What are some of your favorite non-traditional pesto experiments that have turned out really well?

Back to desserts next post!  Have an excellent weekend!  (Though I have a trip to the SF Farmer's Market planned, the rest of my weekend is unfortunately devoted to paper-writing--ah, the woes of being an academic--so please have my share of fun for me!)

Read on for recipe...

Monday, August 2, 2010

PotW: Garlic-Chive Goat Cheese + Whole Wheat Rosemary Pancakes + Fresh Peas

[last Pancake of the Week: Sweet Corn Cherry Pancakes with Sour Cream]

This savory pancake recipe comes from the pancake tasting menu that I made in Los Angeles a few months ago, and it has its original inspiration in Los Angeles, too--all starting from this garlic-chive goat cheese spread.

^My best friend, in Malibu, post garlic-chive goat cheese picnic

Every once in a while, I head down to LA to visit my best friend who's there studying Important Medical Stuff.  Every time I'm there, without fail, she asks me to make this goat cheese spread, which we "invented" during my first Thanksgiving visit back in 2008. (OMG, 2008 sounds like so long ago!)  And I totally know why she does--because it's GOOD.  Like, on everything.  We slather this garlic, chive-y, creamy goodness on basically everything that we can get our hands on, from crackers to leftover Persian lamb wraps.  It even tastes better by the beach. (Because, really, what doesn't? ;-P)

So when it came time to come up with a savory pancake to accompany all of the sweet ones on the pancake tasting menu during this past visit, I reached for the foremost thing sitting in her fridge that I could think of: our tub of garlic-chive goat cheese spread.  The rest of the pancake idea fell right into place with all of our loot from the awesome Wednesday morning Santa Monica Farmers' Market: rosemary and sugar snap peas.  (Thankfully, also, we've been having a really long pea season this year on the West Coast.  I'm still seeing loads of fresh peas at the farmers' markets in my area!)

While this isn't the first time I've put rosemary in pancakes, it is the first time I've paired them in a savory pancake dish, and I love the way they, along with the robustness of the whole wheat, worked out, providing a wonderfully herb-y undertone to the whole dish.  The garlic-chive goat cheese spread packs most of the punch and flavor here.  Finally, fresh, crispy sugar snap peas lightly steamed and tossed in a bit of olive oil and salt add the perfect textural crunch and snapiness to lighten up the creamy goat cheese and dense whole wheat pancakes underneath.

Note that the recipe provided for the garlic-chive goat cheese spread below might yield more goat cheese than you'll need for the pancakes.  But, don't fret!  Grab some crackers or a baguette or a Persian wrap (I know, some will call me sacrilegious!) and your leftover goat cheese will disappear before you know it.

Read on for recipe...