Blueberry lavender ricotta pound cake.

Tags

, , , ,

That’s a big name for a little cake! Let’s pretend that every word in the title of a recipe adds an extra kick of flavor to the finished product, because that’s certainly true for this cake. When I found a container of fresh ricotta in the refrigerator a few days before vacation, I started researching baked goods. I’ve been dreaming of the perfect ricotta cake for months and it just sounded like the best possible idea. I found this recipe for a pound cake flavored with orange and almond, but that’s not quite what I wanted. A few tweaks and a cup of blueberries later, I present my blueberry lavender ricotta pound cake. I left a loaf for our fabulous friend, who took great care of our pets while we were in Maine, and can now say that it also makes a wonderful gift!

Ricotta adds some beautiful moisture and texture to the cake without making it heavy. It is vaguely reminiscent of a cheesecake, but the pound cake title is much more appropriate. I was deliberately light-handed with the lavender, to prevent a soapy flavor, and I think it was a great choice, the perfect accent for sweet blueberries. Serve a slice of your cake with coffee or tea, with ice cream and extra berries for dessert, or lightly toasted for a decadent breakfast treat.

blueberry & lavender ricotta pound cake

Blueberry Lavender Ricotta Pound Cake (makes 2 loaves)

  • 12 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 c. whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. culinary lavender
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon)
  • 1 1/4 c. + 3 T. flour
  • 1 T. cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 c. fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray two 8″ x 4″ loaf pans and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, ricotta and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Mix in the lavender, lemon zest and lemon juice.

Sift together the 1 1/4 c. flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on a very low speed, add the dry ingredients to the bowl in small amounts. Stop the mixer as soon as the dry ingredients are mixed in.

In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with the remaining 3 T. flour. Use a large wooden spoon or spatula to fold the blueberries and any loose flour into your batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Bake for 40-50 mins., rotating the pans after about 20 mins.; the cakes are done when they begin to pull away from the sides of the pans and a knife comes clean from the center. Cool on a rack for at least 20 mins. before attempting to remove from the pan.

The blueberry lavender ricotta pound cake will keep, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for up to three days and in the refrigerator for slightly longer. Bring to room temperature before serving, for best results. Although I haven’t tried freezing the cakes I imagine they would freeze well.

Roasted Mediterranean vegetable salad.

Tags

, , , , ,

I love the combination of zucchini and tomatoes. One of my go-to summer meals is a casserole of sliced zucchini with tomato sauce and various seasonings, draped in melted cheese. I like both zucchini and summer squash sauteed briefly and tossed with tomato wedges and fresh herbs, drizzled with olive oil. And recently, I tried a lasagna using sliced zucchini instead of noodles, with a thick marinara and lots of fresh ricotta. It’s safe to say that any meal I plan with zucchini is likely to have fresh or sauced tomatoes somewhere within– but it’s still a good idea to keep trying new combinations of the two complimentary ingredients. For this salad, I decided to experiment with a mix of tender roasted vegetables and raw, fresh ingredients and serve everything cold. My instincts were right; this salad feels fresh and summery but benefits from the sweetness cherry tomatoes get when cooked. It is reminiscent of caponata, a cousin of Greek salad when crumbled feta is added, and just plain tasty. Using a mix of yellow, orange and red cherry tomatoes and equal amounts of summer squash and zucchini makes it stunning to look at, as well. Use any color bell pepper you like to play up the rainbow effect.

Your roasted Mediterranean vegetable salad can be a side dish for just about any meaty entree you make. Try it served on a bed of barley or lentils for a heartier option; add cubed roasted chicken or salty feta for a boost of protein. You can make it ahead: I recommend reserving the dressing to add until just before serving. Here’s another versatile, colorful, delicious side dish to take advantage of all the summer bounty from your garden or farmers’ market. Enjoy!

roasted Mediterranean vegetable salad

Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Salad (serves 6-8 as a side)

  • 1 lb. zucchini or summer squash or a mix, cut in half lengthwise and then into half-moons (about 3 medium or 2 medium-large squash)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, preferably mixed varieties
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. dried mint
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup diced bell pepper
  • 1/4 c. olives, pitted (I used a mix of Nicoise and lemon-stuffed green), halved if large
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 2 T. red wine vinegar
  • 5 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 oz. crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Plan to roast the vegetables the day before you eat the salad, or at least several hours in advance. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the cut zucchini and/or summer squash in a shallow 2 qt. casserole dish, or similar, and add the cherry tomatoes. Drizzle 1 T. olive oil over the vegetables and sprinkle with dried mint, dried oregano, salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Roast for 30 mins.; remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap or transfer to a container with a lid and cool completely in the refrigerator, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Add the bell pepper and olives to the cooled roasted vegetables. In a small bowl or jar, whisk or shake together the honey, vinegar and 5 T. olive oil. Just before serving, or up to an hour in advance, dress the vegetables; you may not need all of the dressing, so start with half and add more to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley; serve with crumbled feta, if desired.

Leftover salad will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 days.

“Sunrise” galette, with peaches & strawberries.

Tags

, , , , , , ,

I used to think of strawberries as a spring fruit, peaches as a late summer fruit, and never the two shall meet. Thank goodness for everbearing varieties which give us another strawberry crop later in the summer! They allowed me to make this lovely galette. I couldn’t help but be reminded of sunrise when I was mixing up the fruit filling: yellow from the nectarcots, a range of shades of orange from the peaches, red from the strawberries. It looked like the sky on a “sailors take warning” summer day.

The best thing about galettes is the ease of putting one together. If you need a quick dessert or a way to finish up a few cups of ripe fruit, it’s a great option. Use your favorite pie crust here; for me, that means the classic crust from First Prize Pies, though I’d like to try this cream cheese crust someday soon. I think it would be incredible with strawberries and peaches. Remember that most recipes make enough for a double-crust pie, so plan to halve the recipe, freeze the other crust– or make two galettes! In the filling, I borrowed one of the best tricks I learned from Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book and added bitters to the fruit. Though optional, it’s a way to balance the tart fruit and sugary sweetness and just give your galette a little something extra. I used rhubarb bitters; you use any you have on hand or what sounds good to you. Similarly, I had a handful or perfectly ripe nectarcots to use but know they can be a difficult fruit to find; replace them easily with yellow plums, apricots or extra peaches. Just think: a little bit of slicing, a few crimps of crust and a half hour in the oven is all that stands between you and an edible sunrise.

"sunrise" galette with peaches and strawberries

“Sunrise” Galette with Peaches & Strawberries

  • 1 9″ pie crust
  • 2 c. strawberries, hulled and sliced (about 1 dry pint)
  • 2 c. ripe and fragrant peaches, pitted and sliced (2 -3 medium peaches)
  • 1 c. nectarcots, pitted and sliced (from about 3 whole)
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. bitters (optional)
  • 1/3 c. sugar*
  • 2 T. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • whole milk for the crust
  • demerrara or raw sugar to garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. I like to use a 10″ pie plate; it prevents all the delicious juices from running out and burning, and preserves the shape of even the juiciest of galettes. If you don’t have a plate that large, or plan to remove the galette to a platter to serve, you can also use a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Roll out your crust to at least a 12″ circle and make sure it is evenly thick. Circular is helpful but not vital; this is a rustic dessert. Set aside about 12 pieces of beautiful fruit for the top. Combine the rest of the fruit in a large bowl with the lemon juice and bitters, if using. Whisk together the sugar, flour and kosher salt and sprinkle it over the bowl of fruit; toss gently until you can no longer see dry flour. Pour your filling into the prepared crust, leaving a 1″ (or slightly larger) border around the edges. Fold the crust in over the filling, making sure that overlapping pieces are not too thick; ruffled folds are beautiful, but consistency is key. Leave a circle of visible fruit in the center. Brush the crust with whole milk to promote even browning. Arrange the reserved pieces of fruit in the center space; dust the entire galette with demerrara or raw sugar for a little sparkle, if you like.

Bake the galette for 25-30 mins., until the crust is golden brown. Remove and cool for at least 15 mins. before serving. Leftovers can be kept covered at room temperature for a day or so, or refrigerated for up to three– but it’s always best the day you bake it.

*If your fruit is especially tart, you can go up to 1/2 c. sugar. I like some pucker in my filling, which is what I get when I use the 1/3 c. called for in the recipe. Alternately, if you have the sweetest fruit of the year, 1/4 c. sugar may suffice.

Apricot jam with raspberries & Chambord.

Tags

, , , ,

Apricot preserves are my favorite to make. I find apricots easy to work with: you don’t have to peel them, the pits/kernels come out easily, and they’re juicy and sweet but not particularly messy. Ideal! I tend to buy a case each summer when I find one for a reasonable price; this year, I waited a little too long and only found a half case (10 lbs.), but the fruit was glorious. Fragrant, flavorful, beautiful, unblemished– I only had to decide which jams to make.

In the past, successful apricot preserves have had additions of vanilla bean, lavender, almond liqueur, habanero pepper, orange blossom water or lemon verbena, or have been left plain. This year, I made a batch of plain, some with chamomile and rose as a variation on the floral accents I like so much with apricots, and this gorgeous jam with fresh raspberries and Chambord. The color may be the best part. It is bright tangerine orange, studded with rosy berries, sweet and good. I purposefully waited until the jam was nearly ready to jar before adding the raspberries; I wanted to see the berries studded in the apricot jam rather than have a homogeneous mixture. Though I often use liqueurs as an optional ingredient and suggest replacement options, I am not going to do so here. The Chambord rounds out the flavor and highlights the raspberries without overwhelming the delicate apricots. The jam will be good, but not the same, if you leave it out. And this is a jam worth trying– I would have to say it’s one of the more sophisticated jams I’ve made, as stunning in the jar as it is complex when tasted.

Could you mix the berries in with the apricots right from the beginning? Absolutely. The fruit will break down some no matter what you do. Should you get a few pounds of apricots and make some of this jam this summer? Absolutely. Your family, friends and taste buds will thank you for the effort.

apricot jam with raspberry and Chambord

Apricot Jam with Raspberries & Chambord (makes about 6 half-pints)

  • 6 c. apricots pieces (about 3 lbs. whole fruit)
  • 2 c. sugar, divided
  • juice of half a lemon (at least 3 T.)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. butter (optional)
  • 1 c. fresh raspberries
  • 2 T. Chambord*

Day 1: Combine the cut apricots, 1 c. sugar and lemon juice in a non-reactive container. Cover tightly and macerate overnight (or as long as 3 days) in the refrigerator. I do not recommend skipping this step.

Day 2, or when you’re ready to cook: Clean your jars and start your water bath. Transfer the macerated apricots to a large jam pan or Dutch oven, making sure to get all the juice and any undissolved sugar as well; add the additional cup of sugar, salt and butter, if using. (Butter helps to cut down on foam accumulating on top of the boiling fruit.) Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the jam is almost done. For me, that means the bubbles are “lazy” and less frequent, the surface of the jam appears glossy and the consistency is noticeably thicker. If you hold up a spoonful of jam, it should drip off slowly in a thick sheet instead of quickly in drops. Cooking times vary depending on weather, stoves, pans, etc., but expect at least 15 mins. and very possibly longer. Add the raspberries and continue to stir, being careful not to break up the berries any more than they will anyway. Cook for another few minutes; add the Chambord, stir and remove from the heat.

Ladle the hot jam into hot, sterilized jars; wipe the rim of each jar carefully and affix the lids. Process the jars in a water bath for 10 mins.; remove to a clear, towel-lined counter and allow to sit untouched overnight. Check that each jar is sealed; refrigerate unsealed jars immediately. Properly sealed jars will keep in a cool, dark cupboard for up to a year.

This is intended to be a loose-set jam. If you’d like a firmer consistency, there are instructions in the Pomona’s pectin box for adding some to any fruit jam.

*Chambord is a black raspberry liqueur that should be readily available wherever spirits are sold. I’ve even recently seen “travel” bottles with just a little more than what you would need for this recipe– though by all means spring for a larger size. You could make some truffles, too.

Flatbread with peaches and feta.

Tags

, , , , , ,

I debated posting this because it’s such a simple recipe, but it really is too good to keep to myself. Cooking with peaches used to mean cobblers, pies and preserves, but now my first thought is savory– because peaches are my new favorite topping for pizza or flatbread. They have sweetness, juiciness and acidity like tomatoes do, but with a little something else that I love. Paired with creamy fresh mozzarella, a little bite of minced garlic and salty feta cheese, peaches will make your pizza night the most popular on the block. Recently, I’ve been making small flatbreads with IndianLife naan (I like the spinach and garlic flavors here) because they’re so quick and easy– they bake up in about 20 mins. or can even go on the grill. Instead of naan, if you like, you can use any flatbread base, or even fresh pizza dough. Adjust the baking time if you’re working with raw dough, or a larger flatbread.

If you want to take this idea even further, try adding ham or prosciutto to your pie. Arugula and basil add a nice bitter green bite if you want to further contrast the sweet peaches. Honestly, I like the basic version best, and will eat it as often as I can while peaches are in season. For a quick lunch or a fun summer dinner, it’s hard to find something more unexpectedly tasty than flatbread with peaches and feta.

flatbread with peaches and feta

Flatbread with Peaches and Feta (makes four 6″ flatbreads)

  • 4 IndianLife naan flatbreads, or similar
  • 2 fresh, ripe peaches, washed and cut into thin wedges
  • 2 small cloves of garlic, minced (a scant 2 tsp.)
  • pinch of kosher salt (optional)
  • 4-6 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded (I like BelGioioso brand)
  • plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • crumbled feta to garnish (1-2 oz.)
  • good quality extra-virgin olive oil to garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the naan flatbreads on two baking sheets, lined with parchment or foil if you wish. Arrange the peach slices in a single, even layer on the naan. Sprinkle the minced garlic over the peaches, about 1/2 tsp. per naan. Sprinkle sparingly with salt; omit salt if your feta is especially salty. Divide and arrange the mozzarella cheese over the top of the peaches. Bake for 15-20 mins. until the cheese has melted and is bubbling gently. Additionally, you can broil the baked flatbreads for 2-3 mins. to brown the top, if desired. Remove from the oven and top each with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle each flatbread with olive oil, about 1 tsp. or so apiece, and garnish with crumbled feta. Cut and serve immediately.

If you prefer, these toppings will make one 13″ – 16″ pizza; just use pizza dough instead of the naan flatbreads. Adjust the oven temperature to 425 and bake for 18-23 mins. If you’re adding ham, put it on after the garlic, before the mozzarella. Prosciutto, basil and arugula should go on after the flatbreads have been removed from the oven.

my current favorite flatbread base: IndianLife naan

Grilled salad turnips.

Tags

, , , , , ,

This may not be the most sensational, squeal-inducing recipe you’ve seen today; I think it takes a special person to get really hopped up for turnips. I guess I must be that person, because these grilled turnips are the dish I crave more than any other this summer. We have some at least once a week, with a few variations I will mention later, and I’ve started to worry about the length of the salad turnip season. But let’s not be negative. While they’re around, get yourself a bunch or three of the pearly white turnips called Tokyo or Hakurei in many markets, simply salad turnips in others. They are not woody, stinky and tending toward bitter like the turnips you may associate with winter stews and Thanksgiving dinner, but cool and crisp, wonderful raw and even better on the grill.

You read that right, I grill my turnips. The best results have come in foil packets: the vegetables get brown and caramelized on the bottom and steam to perfection on the top, resulting in a tender, sweet, wonderful side dish. Whenever we have a reason to fire up the grill, I throw some turnips in foil; even cold the next day, they are a refreshing addition to salads of all kinds. Now let’s talk about those variations I mentioned before: you can add diced garlic scapes (or chives, or thinly sliced shallots), and I highly recommend that you do. You can add a cup of small or halved cremini mushrooms, preferably in addition to the garlic scapes. You could replace the salt & pepper with shichimi togarashi or World Spice’s Osaka seasoned salt. If you want a dairy-free option, replace the butter with olive oil, just make sure you get the garlic scapes and/or shichimi togarashi in there for flavor. These are just a few of the ways I’ve made grilled turnips this summer and you can bet I’ll keep experimenting with other options.

I used to fall into the trap of thinking of turnips as “boring” and referring to them as “humble”. No more, my friends: grilling takes turnips into a new, modern, dare I say exciting realm. I am terribly bummed out about the burn ban in Washington campgrounds this summer, for obvious dry, hot, scary reasons, but also because I was so looking forward to eating campfire turnips! I’m tempted to book another trip if the ban is lifted. Until then, I’ll have packets on the grill at home as often as I can; let me know you’re coming and I’ll make enough for you, too.

Grilled salad turnips with garlic scapes

Grilled Salad Turnips 

  • 2 bunches of salad (Hakurei) turnips (about 1 lb.), washed, roots trimmed, greens removed*, halved or quartered
  • 2-3 whole garlic scapes, cut in small pieces (or 1 small shallot, sliced)
  • 1 c. small or halved cremini mushrooms, cleaned (optional)
  • 2 T. cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces (or same amount of olive oil)
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • generous freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt (or shichimi togarashi)

Tear off a piece of aluminum foil about 1 foot wide. Put the garlic scapes in the center of the foil. Pile the turnips (and mushrooms) on top of the scapes. Dot with butter and sprinkle vinegar over the top. Season with salt & pepper, or shichimi togarashi. Meet the long ends of the foil in the middle and fold over three times (or more if necessary) to seal the packet. Crimp in the sides to close. Place the foil packet on a medium-hot grill** on direct heat for 5 mins., then rotate the packet 180 degrees and cook for another 5 mins. Move to indirect heat and cook for 8-10 mins. Remove the packet from the grill and keep it closed until you’re ready to serve. (It will hold for 15-20 mins.) Open carefully, being mindful not to burn yourself on escaping steam, and serve immediately.

Grilled salad turnips

*If you are lucky enough to find bunches with the greens still attached, don’t throw them away! Turnip greens are so good sauteed or steamed; you could make a really nice warm salad with them, your grilled turnips and other seasonal vegetable. And turnip greens are good for you, packed with vitamins K, A and C as well as folate, fiber, calcium and more. If you don’t want to make a salad, serve them as you would any other cooked greens– for instance, you could make some empanadas.

**All grills are different. I use a small hibachi-like model and these are the times and temperature that work for me. If your grill is particularly powerful, the cook time may be different for you.

Family traditions: Mom’s blueberry muffins.

Tags

, , ,

My Mom makes the best blueberry muffins in the whole wide world. This is an incontestable fact, because I have never tasted anything so delicate, buttery and perfectly sweet in my life. Rather than being a muffin studded with berries, hers are a portable way to eat blueberries held together by muffin batter. They don’t need butter or jam, turn out every time, and will keep if (by some miracle) you don’t eat them all the day you bake a batch.

Mom's blueberry muffins: blueberries held together by muffin batter!

We have a family cookbook I have alluded to a handful of times; my gurka recipe is included, as is rutmousse. In the cookbook, on the page for this blueberry muffin recipe, there’s a note about how my Nana would start baking muffins whenever her brother Karl pulled into the driveway for a visit. I just finished reading a sweet little book called Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, and it made me so nostalgic for the tradition of having coffee and sweets while visiting. My grandparents always seemed to have visitors, folks who dropped by to sit on the porch or in the living room and just talk. I loved being included in those chats, even if I was quietly listening on the periphery. I feel like we don’t spend enough time just sitting and talking with each other– everything is scheduled, or electronic, or over cocktails in a loud bar. One of my goals for this year and going forward is to fika more often. Come on over, I’ll put the kettle on and make some blueberry muffins. Maybe semlor, perhaps a nice coffee cake. Who’s in?

If you are able to get the tiny, intensely flavorful wild blueberries common in Maine in late summer, please use them here. They elevate the muffins to a new level. If I can get my hands on enough Washington huckleberries this summer, this is the first recipe I’ll make with them. Bottom line, use berries with some flavor; bordering on sour is okay, mealy and watery is not ideal. If you don’t have fresh blueberries, use the same amount of unthawed frozen berries; the flavor will be right but you may need another few minutes of cook time. By all means, make a batch of these beautiful blueberry muffins soon, while the blueberries are in their peak season. Then, invite some friends over for a visit.

Mom's perfect blueberry muffins

Mom’s Blueberry Muffins (makes 8 oversized or 12 standard)

  • 8 T. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 c. white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 c. flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 1/2 c. blueberries, preferably fresh
  • raw sugar to garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour, or line with papers, 8 oversized muffin cups or 12 standard cups.

Cream the butter, sugar and eggs together with a mixer until they’re light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl to make sure everything is well-incorporated. Sift together 1 3/4 c. flour, baking powder and salt; combine the milk and vanilla in a measuring cup or small bowl. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture and finishing with milk, while the mixer runs on a low speed. Turn off the mixer as soon as the dry ingredients are no longer visible.

In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with the remaining 1/4 c. flour. (This helps prevent them from sinking to the bottom of your muffins.) Use a large wooden spoon or spatula to gently fold the blueberries, and all of the flour in the bowl, into your batter. Use a spoon or scoop to portion out the batter evenly and top each muffin with a light sprinkling of raw sugar if you want.

Bake the muffins for 25-35 mins. Rotate the pans after 15 mins. and check for doneness with a skewer or knife tip after 25 mins., adding 5 mins. to the timer as needed until they’re done. Remove the muffins promptly and cool slightly before serving. These blueberry muffins are wonderful warm from the oven, also delicious at room temperature. Wrap tightly and put into an airtight container to freeze for up to 3 months, or store leftover muffins in a tightly-covered container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

A summery Black Forest cake.

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Cherries and chocolate. A classic duo for a reason, as the delicate bitterness of good chocolate is an almost perfect foil for the deep sweetness of a dark red cherry. Earlier this year I made a sour cherry pie with a chocolate crust, and these cookies are always a hit. Cherry Garcia is #2 on the list of bestselling Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors after holding the top spot for a decade. And, of course, there is Black Forest cake. Luscious, brooding, decadent black forest cake; done traditionally, it features dark chocolate cake, boozy cherries to fill and barely sweetened whipped cream icing. I remember a birthday when my husband labored for two days (not straight, but still) to make me a Black Forest cake from scratch, only to have it collapse under the weight of the cherry filling. It was still delicious. That collapsed birthday cake, and the fact that it’s late June and heavy, complex cakes are not in my rotation, made me dream up this combination, a summery Black Forest cake.

When I think of berries and other juicy summer fruit in desserts, I often think of cobblers and buckles. When cake gets involved, my mind usually goes to angel food. So airy and yet substantial enough to soak up those tasty fruit juices without making an utter mess, angel food cake also gets points for being the easiest cake I know that feeds an army. You let the mixer do all the work, then take credit for the glory. To stay on the Black Forest theme, I made a chocolate angel food cake; the recipe was only very slightly changed from this one I found on allrecipes.com.  A tip about egg whites, since you’ll need a good amount here: they keep beautifully in the freezer. Whenever I need an egg yolk for a recipe, whether a custard or homemade mayonnaise, etc., I add the egg white to a container I keep in the freezer, marking the number in the container each time it changes. When I have a good amount saved up, I make meringues or frittata, or angel food cake, after thawing the egg whites in the refrigerator overnight. I can’t believe how many egg whites I used to waste before I started this system! Give it a try.

Store egg whites in the freezer! Just mark the top every time you add another.

Now let’s talk cherries. A few weeks ago I bought a 20 lb. box of sweet red Bing cherries and had quite a few left over after making my jam. We were happy to snack on them for a week, but I still had so many I started thinking about recipes that used a lot at one time. When the Black Forest dessert idea came to me, I researched some recipes for saucy cherries and found one from David Lebovitz for cherries in red wine syrup that I adapted for my cake. Now, if I was being traditional, I would have used kirsch as the boozy ingredient, and I could have probably used the beautiful red wine syrup as it was written, but another element I wanted to introduce to this dessert was almond. Cherries and almond go very well together, as do chocolate and almond, so I knew it would be a good fit, and it is! I used amaretto liqueur instead of almond extract for two reasons: it provides the almond flavor I wanted, as well as another dimension of sweetness, which can be cloying on its own but is tempered nicely by lemon juice and balsamic vinegar here. You could replace amaretto with an equal amount of kirsch (or even water if you don’t care for almond or cooking with alcohol) but I wouldn’t. The almond flavor rounds out the chocolate and cherries nicely. The saucy cherries would also be fantastic over ice cream or worked into a brownie sundae. (I’m totally stealing my own idea and doing that.)

To round out the Black Forest dessert, I made a simple whipped cream with just a little bit of sugar. Use any whipped cream or topping you like in its place, or a little vanilla ice cream. I thought about draping the entire cake in cherries and then slicing pieces; that would have been dramatic, indeed, but would have left me with a pretty decent amount of soggy leftovers. (If you’re serving a crowd and expect to eat most of the cake, double the filling recipe and give it a go!) Instead I decided to serve each wedge of cake with a generous portion of saucy cherries and a dollop of whipped cream– a perfect early summer dessert. It has the decadence of a Black Forest cake but felt light and summery, just as I imagined.

My husband and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary last weekend with a quick day trip to the beach, a nice dinner we cooked together and bowls of summery Black Forest cake. It was such a good weekend; my happy memories will forever include this dessert, and it may just become an annual tradition.

Summery Black Forest cake: chocolate angel food cake, saucy cherries and whipped cream

Summery Black Forest Cake

For the cake: 

  • 2 c. egg whites (from about 12-14 large eggs)
  • 1 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 T. cornstarch
  • 1 c. + 3 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

For the cherries:

  • 1 lb. pitted sweet red cherries, halved or quartered
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 c. + 1 T. water
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 T. amaretto liqueur

For the whipped cream:

  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 T. sugar

To make the cake, start by preheating the oven to 325 degrees. Have ready a 10″ tube pan and DO NOT grease the pan. It will wreck your cake. You can put a ring of parchment in the bottom if you want to remove the cake from the pan to plate and serve.

To the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Beat on high speed until stiff; this takes about 5 mins., maybe longer. With the mixer still running, add the sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.

While the whites are beating, sift together the powdered sugar, cornstarch, flour and cocoa powder. After adding the sugar, turn the machine off, remove the bowl and find the largest flat spatula or wooden spoon you have. Add about 1/4 c. of the sifted mixture to the egg whites and fold in the dry ingredients: hold the spatula straight up and down, stab it to the bottom of the bowl, turn it sideways and lift the egg whites up and over the dry ingredients. This preserves all the volume you just beat in with the mixer. Keep doing that until all the dry ingredients are mixed in, a little at a time. Scoop the mixed batter into the pan and use your spatula to even the top. Bake for about one hour, until the cake springs back when touched instead of leaving the imprint of your finger.

cooling the cake, upside down, on three jars of jam

To cool the cake without losing volume, find three items of the same height and space them in a rough triangle on a flat surface. I use jars of jam; my Nana always used those metal rectangular boxes spices used to come in. Carefully invert the cake pan onto your risers and leave it alone to cool completely, at least an hour. Run a butter knife around the edge of the cake and then push the cake and metal insert out of the pan. I serve from there, but you can also run the knife around the center spire and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Do the latter especially if you’re planning to cover the cake in cherries and serve.

chocolate angel food cake

While the cake cools, make your saucy cherries. To a 3 qt. saucepan, add the pitted cherries, sugar and lemon juice and allow to sit for about 20 mins. to macerate. Add the balsamic vinegar and 1 c. water to the pan, stir, and place over medium high heat. Bring to a light simmer while stirring frequently. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch with the remaining 1 T. water. When the fruit begins to simmer, add the cornstarch mixture and salt and stir. Bring the cherries back to a simmering boil, lower the heat and stir for about 3 mins. The cherries should thicken slightly and become glossy. Stir in the amaretto, then remove from the heat to cool. You can serve the cherries warm or at room temperature.

saucy cherries with amaretto

In a medium mixing bowl, whip the cream until it begins to thicken; add the sugar and continue whipping until it reaches the consistency you like. Be careful not to overwhip; you’ll have pieces of butter in your sweetened cream. To serve your summery Black Forest cake, place a slice of chocolate angel food cake into a bowl, top with a generous amount of saucy cherries and dollop with whipped cream. You will probably have some cake left over; double the recipe for the cherry sauce and whipped cream if you expect to serve the whole cake. Leftover chocolate angel food cake is also good plain or with fresh berries.

Strawberry cobbler with cream cheese biscuits.

Tags

, , , ,

My husband went crazy over this strawberry cobbler. After his first serving, with plenty left to eat, he asked me when I would be making more. That made me smile. Truthfully, I would be happy to make more, and may need to if I want another bowl– he pretty much took care of the first cobbler on his own.

strawberry cobbler with cream cheese biscuits and whipped cream

During strawberry season, I buy a half flat of berries every Saturday. That pattern caught up to me last week, having come home with 20 lbs. of cherries, a 4-pack of blackberries, figs, peaches and apples, too. I didn’t really feel like making jam, so I sliced up a bunch of my strawberries and made cobbler. I’ve actually been playing with this idea for months; I ran across a recipe for cream cheese biscuits and instantly thought how good they would be in shortcake or another strawberry dessert. I modified the recipe I found to make a drop biscuit topping I think is absolutely perfect in this cobbler. It turns out that the cream cheese flavor is a little more understated than I anticipated, but the biscuits are so tender and good! I’m going to use them in other fruit cobblers and maybe try that shortcake before the strawberry season is done.

My Nana used to make a baked “summer pudding” with mixed fruit– whatever needed to be used up, most often strawberries, peaches and wild blackberries– and drop biscuits. My memories of that saucy, comforting dessert shaped how I put this dish together. In my mind, this is closer to her pudding than the cobblers I make with blackberries or blueberries. I think the difference is best described by the soupiness (a good thing!) and tartness of the fruit, and the ratio of strawberries to biscuit. The strawberries are not as thickened as they might be in a pie, and I love that. It’s a dessert which demands a bowl and spoon. The fruit is very simply flavored with cinnamon, sugar and a touch of black pepper. Black pepper with berries, especially strawberries, does not taste “hot” or savory but lends a touch of interest that accents the natural sweetness and acidity of the fruit. The relative simplicity of this cobbler means that it’s wise to make sure your fruit is ripe and sweet; watery or underripe fruit is not what you want. (However, I remember a summer pudding or two with some slightly “winy”, overripe fruit that worked just fine.) I’ve given a range of sugar because every batch and variety of berries is different. Start with the lesser amount of sugar and add 1/4 c. at a time until the berries suit your taste. As with any good summer pudding, feel free to add some other kinds of berries to the mix.

The local strawberry season is precious and short, so take full advantage and make some cobbler while you can. I hope the strawberries in your area have been as perfect as they are in western Washington this year; if so, this is going to be an unforgettable treat. If my husband gets his way I’ll be making another cobbler soon, while the berries are ripe and plentiful.

strawberry cobbler with cream cheese biscuits

Strawberry Cobbler with Cream Cheese Biscuits

  • 5-6 c. fresh, ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced (about 3 generous pints)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 – 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper (about 6 turns of the grinder)
  • 1 c. cold water, divided
  • 1 T. cornstarch

For the biscuits:

  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, cold, cut into small cubes
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
  • 3/4 c. whole milk
  • 1 tsp. white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 T. sugar to garnish (raw or demerara sugar if you can)
  • whipped cream or ice cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. You’ll want to use a large, deep skillet (12″ or larger) or Dutch oven that can go from the stovetop to the oven for this cobbler.

Add the sliced strawberries, lemon juice and 1 c. sugar to the skillet you’ve chosen. Stir to combine, then use a potato masher or fork to crush about half of the fruit. I don’t use an immersion blender because it is too powerful; you want to release juice but not make soup. Leave some of the berries uncrushed for texture. Allow the mixture to sit for about 20-30 mins. to macerate. You can make the biscuit topping while you wait.

To make the biscuits, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt to a large bowl and whisk together. Add the cold cream cheese and cold butter to the bowl and use a pastry cutter (I like this one) or two knives, or two forks, or your hands, to work the cream cheese and butter into the dry ingredients. Stop when you have pea-sized pieces evenly distributed and don’t overwork that dough. Combine the milk and vinegar in a small bowl; mix your soured milk in just until you can no longer see dry flour. The dough will be lumpy, which is just fine.

Now back to the fruit: put the skillet with macerated berries over medium heat. Add the salt, cinnamon and black pepper and taste for sweetness. Add more sugar if you find the berries too tart. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch with enough of the cold water to make a slurry, about 1/4 c. Add the rest of the water to the berry mixture and stir while the fruit begins to simmer. When you see the first lazy bubbles in the berries, add the cornstarch mixture and continue to stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens slightly and looks glossy.

Remove the skillet from the heat and dollop the biscuit mixture evenly over the top. Each biscuit should be similar in size to ensure even cooking; it’s okay to portion out the dough before putting it into the berries if you want. I get 7-8 biscuits from this amount of dough. Space the biscuits evenly and then sprinkle the extra 1-2 T. sugar over the top. Transfer the skillet carefully to your preheated oven.

Bake for 35 mins. The cobbler is done when the biscuits are cooked through (though they should be quite moist in the center, they should not be doughy) and golden brown. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired. Store leftover cobbler in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Greek orzo salad.

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

This colorful orzo salad is one of my go-to dishes in the summer. Inspired by the Greek salad served at my favorite restaurant, Lola, it’s delicious, easy to put together, hearty enough to stand alone as a light lunch and equally good as a side dish with chicken, steak, shrimp, etc. You can eat it warm or cold, and customize it to your preferences, or what’s in your pantry when you want to make some. This combination of vegetables is my favorite, but when cherry tomatoes are in season, I always throw in a handful of those. I also like to add pepperoncinis, sliced or whole, for some heat and tang. No fresh herbs on hand? Replace the fresh basil and mint with 3/4 tsp. dried oregano or dried basil. If you’re cooking for a gluten-free guest or family member, brown rice pasta can be substituted for the orzo; even lentils or cannellini beans work really well. For the cheese, if you’re using it, diced fresh mozzarella is a delicious replacement for feta. If you’re looking for a fresh, flavorful, quick summer salad, you can’t do much better than my Greek orzo salad.

Greek orzo salad with bell pepper, cucumber & Kalamata olives

Greek Orzo Salad (serves 4-8)

  • 1 c. uncooked orzo
  • 4 large basil leaves and 2 mint leaves, cut into chiffonade
  • Half of a bell pepper, any color, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • Half of a garden cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 12 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 2 T. balsamic
  • 5 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • feta to garnish (optional)

To cook the orzo, bring 2 qts. of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo, return to a boil, cover and lower the heat; cook for 10 mins. Drain and rinse, then put into a bowl with the basil and mint and toss to combine. Set aside to cool at room temperature for about 30 mins., unless you plan to eat the salad warm.

Prepare the vegetables next. You may have noticed that I didn’t provide exact measurements for the vegetables; one of the best parts of this salad is that it easily accommodates a range. Use what you have, or what you like. Add the vegetables and olives to the cooled orzo and use a fork to break up any clumps, then to mix.

In a small jar with a tight lid, mix the Dijon mustard and honey into a thick paste. Add the balsamic vinegar, cover, and shake until the honey and mustard have dissolved into the vinegar. Uncap the jar carefully, add the oil and salt, recap and shake vigorously until combined. (If you have a different olive oil for salads than the one you cook with, use it here. I like this one.) Pour the dressing over the orzo and vegetables– you can start with half first and add more to taste– and toss to combine.

If you’re using feta as a garnish, crumble it over the top of the salad just before serving, or put a bowl out with the salad for guests to add if they wish. Leftover orzo salad will keep in the refrigerator for about three days.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,833 other followers