Archive for the ‘Intermediate’ Category

Vanilla Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Buttercream and Thai Ginger Salt

February 10, 2013

It’s potluck night!  We had a potluck birthday this week so I volunteered to bring dessert.  Cupcakes are easy to serve and easy to pawn off leftovers.  I had elaborate plans for the frosting so I opted for a vanilla cupcake.  Be aware that my elaborate frosting plans were all foiled by my lack of ability to read a recipe all the way through and see how much time it takes to make said frostings.  Stay tuned. At some point in the future you’ll see a Dulce de Leche frosting and a Salted Caramel frosting.  Hard to complain too much about chocolate though!

P1010063Vanilla Cupcakes 

I love cupcakes.  Love them, but I’m picky about them.  Finding a vanilla cupcake that’s worth eating all by itself is likely to be a lifelong quest for me, but this is as close as I’ve found in a while.  These are light, but not crumbly and they taste like vanilla instead of like nothing.  A good start.  Another nice thing about these is that the tops are flat so they’re easy to decorate if you’re so inclined.  The tops also have something of a crust on them so they can hold up weighty frostings and other decorations.  This may be the perfect party cupcake.

I also love buttercream frosting.  Who doesn’t really?  Again, I’m picky.  Frosting that’s all butter and powdered sugar doesn’t quite cut it any more.  This has plenty of both, but also chocolate, milk, liqueur and vanilla.  I substituted milk for the cream in the recipe and used Bailey’s instead of Kahlua.  I used what I had.  Worked fine.  I have to give credit here to Homestead Creamery.  They made the butter and it’s the best butter on the planet.  I don’t normally use it for baking, but I should always use it in frosting.  Such creamy yumminess. 

Baking is a science to be sure, but frosting is more of an art. For the baking part – be sure you put your eggs and butter out early so they come to room temperature before you use them.  For the frosting – I rarely follow measurements or directions when I make frosting.  Start with the right amount of butter and then add everything else to match your favorite taste and texture.  I tend to go lighter on the sugar than most recipes call for and a little heavier on the real flavorings  – chocolate, peanut butter, what have you.  The most important thing is that you can’t take liquid out so be sparing with it.

What makes these cupcakes extra special is the Thai Ginger salt.  Sweet creamy chocolatey goodness with just a hint of salt and a touch of gingery bite.  The salt was a Christmas gift from a friend.  Very cool.  I love getting unique kitchen stuff!  Kudos to Drizzles in Cape Charles, VA for putting some very cool stuff out there!

Good? Got raves from the potluck girls!
Easy? Not bad at all.
Good for company? Cupcakes are for sharing – mostly
Special shopping? If you can’t find ginger salt use kosher.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Buttercream and Thai Ginger Salt



1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 1 muffin tin with cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Whipped Chocolate Buttercream


1 cup good quality dark chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) room temperature salted butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon liqueur (I used Bailey’s)
1-2 C sifted confectioners’ sugar (to taste)


Put the chocolate in a large microwave safe bowl. Heat in the microwave 20 seconds at a time. Stir thoroughly after each interval until the chocolate is melted. Cool for five minutes. Add the butter, cream, vanilla, liqueur, and mix on medium speed until the mixture thickens. Finally add the confectioners’ sugar in small batches until the mixture holds a medium peak. Slather the icing over the cupcakes with an offset palette knife.
Sprinkle with salt before serving.


Pumpkin Soup

October 27, 2012

This month’s potluck was the first Fall potluck.  I signed up for soup.  Pumpkin soup is the obvious choice for October and had the added benefit of using a few items from my overfull freezers.  Part of the pumpkin was from 2011 and part from 2010. Gotta love a Food Saver. Then two bags of chicken stock.  So that’s four bags out of the freezers. A small dent in the cache, but a dent nonetheless.

A pureed soup is both easy and a pain in the butt.  It’s easy in that you basically just put all the ingredients in a pot and cook them until they get soft.  It’s a pain in that you have to run it through the blender in small batches.  It’s also easy in that there’s not exactly a recipe.  I used the pumpkin, a carrot, an apple, an onion and some wild ginger in with the chicken stock.  That’s what I had in the vegetable drawer.   Feel free to use vegetable stock if you’re going for a vegetarian soup.  It’s a pain in that you have to have a second pot to put the puree in as you work the batches through the blender.

Here’s the key to using fresh pumpkin.  Cut the top and scoop out all the gunk just like you do for carving your Halloween pumpkin.  Set the top back on slightly askew and roast it in a 350 degree oven until a fork goes in easily.  Once the whole pumpkin is roasted and cooled, the rind will basically fall away.  It’s much easier than trying to cut the rind away from raw pumpkin.

Pumpkin on its own is kind of a neutral flavor.  (If you’re using canned pumpkin be sure you get the plain pumpkin and not the pie filling).  When you add apple and carrot you add a little sweetness.  I also add a little brown sugar for that.  The ginger adds a little bite.  Wild ginger is milder than the ginger you get in the grocery store so you can add a little extra.  If you want a little extra bite throw in some cayenne.  You’ll feel the ginger on your tongue just a little and the cayenne at the back of your throat.  Then add a little salt for balance.  A little cream makes it taste and feel richer than you expect.

This soup was a hit with 3 of the 4 of us at potluck.  Our fourth generally doesn’t care for pumpkin.  The flavors are more complex than you might think.  And overall it’s pretty healthy.  Lots of good vitamins from the pumpkin and little enough cream that it doesn’t ruin the health benefit.  It makes a perfectly good meal all by itself in my opinion and it’s even better the next day.  The perfect Fall food.

For those of your getting ready for Hurricane Sandy and the accompanying “Frankenstorm” this would be great to have around!

Good? So good.
Easy? Kinda.
Good for company? Absolutely.
Special shopping? Nope. Just be sure to get a baking pumpkin.

Pumpkin Soup


3 C mashed pumpkin
3 C chicken or vegetable stock
½ large onion, diced
1 apple, cored, peeled and diced (I used Honeycrisp)
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 T minced fresh ginger
½ T brown sugar
¼ t salt
¼ t cayenne (more or less to taste)
¼ t white pepper
½ C heavy cream


Simmer pumpkin, apple, onion, carrot and ginger in the chicken stock until the vegetables are soft. Ladle a small amount of the vegetable mixture into a blender. Put the top on and hold down with a kitchen towel. Puree until smooth. Put the puree in a clean pot or large bowl. Repeat until all of the vegetables have been pureed. Add a little water if needed to get a smooth mixture. Be careful not to make the puree runny.

Return all of the puree to the soup pot. Stir in cream. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Hoppin’ John – Not Just for New Year’s Anymore

October 1, 2012

Recently a friend inquired about my “death row meal.”  I didn’t list Hoppin’ John, but I might have to add it to the list.  This has everything going for it today.  It’s cool and gloomy out so this is a perfect comfort food.  Black-eyed peas are in season so I got them fresh at the farmers’ market on Saturday when I got the turnips.  Of course when you get turnips at the farmers’ market they come with the greens still attached – bonus!  The pepper plants around here are still producing – another check mark for South of the James market.  Dinner scores high on the “buy local” scale.  It’s mostly veggies and rice so it scores high on the cheap scale too.  I used smoked turkey instead of ham hock so it’s not bad on the healthy scale either.  Hoppin’ John is a good luck food for New Year’s, but maybe it will bring a little luck to the beginning of October too.

If you take a look at my New Year’s version of this dish you’ll note that it takes a couple of hours to put together.  This is a Monday and not a holiday so I didn’t have 2 hours.  It’s hard to rush the pot liquor, but I decided that 45 minutes was long enough.  In that time I was able to get all of the stemming and chopping of the greens and the chopping of the peppers and onions done.  A few things worked in my favor too.  The black eyed peas were very fresh – just a few days out of the field.  The fresher they are the faster they cook.  And the turnip greens were a little wilty so they cooked quickly also.  I used white rice instead of brown so that’s half time there too.  I cooked the rice in the black eyed pea water so it was almost boiling when I started.  I know, now I’m reaching, but I was hungry!

One note about this.  If you’re going to bother to make the pot liquor and stem and chop greens do lots of them.  You can always freeze the leftovers or eat them plain at another meal.  Ditto with the black eyed peas if you’re using fresh ones.  Go ahead and cook them all.  Mash the leftovers for black eyed pea cakes or serve them as a side dish.

My only complaint about Hoppin’ John is that my kitchen is a disaster. It takes four pots to put this together:  one for the greens, one for the rice, one for the peas and one for the peppers and onions.  You can use that last one to combine everything at the end.  It’s a great combination of flavors (earthy, green, smoky, sweet and salty) and textures.  Serve it with a little sweet cornbread and plenty of butter on the side.  And, of course, a big pitcher of tea.

Good? This is a favorite food of mine so it’s much better than good.
Easy? Not exactly. There are lots of things happening simultaneously.
Good for company? Absolutely. Who doesn’t need a little extra luck?
Special shopping? Nope, if you’re lucky you’ll hit the farmers’ market jackpot like I did.

Hoppin’ John


1-1 1/2 gallons of water
1 smoked turkey wing
2 T salt
1/4 t cayenne
greens from one bunch of turnips, stemmed and chopped
2 T butter
1 C fresh black eyed peas
1 T olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
2 garlic gloves, minced
1/2 C cooked rice


In a large pot heat the water and turkey wing to a boil. Add 2 T salt and cayenne. Simmer 45 minutes. Add chopped greens and 2 T butter. Simmer until greens are soft. Remove the turkey wing and pull the meat from the bone. Chop the meat finely. Discard the skin and bone.

In a small pot cover black eyed peas with water and bring to a boil. Simmer until peas are tender, but not mushy. Keep warm.

In a medium stock pot heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add peppers, onions and garlic. Saute until tender, but still crunchy.

Use a slotted spoon to dish 1/2 of the greens into the peppers and onions. Repeat with 1/2 or more of the black eyed peas. Add the rice and chopped smoked turkey. Toss gently to mix. Serve with Tabasco.

Blue(berry) Velvet Cupcakes

August 20, 2012

I’ve been waiting 2 months to make these and they are worth every minute.  I have a friend who is a big fan of blueberries.  I bought extra berries at the farmers’ market in June so I would have them for his birthday cupcakes.  He’s also a big fan of red velvet cake and of cake that comes in cupcake form.  I decided that there had to be a way to combine blueberries and red velvet cupcakes.  This is what I came up with.  There’s some room for improvement, but they are darned good.

Those of you who know me know how picky I am about my red velvet cake.  Many bakeries put red food coloring in a yellow or white cake and call it red velvet.  Ugh.  Real red velvet cake has a dark and tangy flavor from the cocoa, buttermilk and vinegar that you put in it.  I’ll admit that the cocoa flavor in these isn’t as pronounced as I like.  I’m working my way through a container of regular cocoa so that I can get back to the Special Dark cocoa powder that I prefer.  For these I followed a Paula Deen recipe for red velvet cake, but instead of red food coloring I used the pulp from 3 cups of blueberries.  More tangy deliciousness. 

In order to get some blueberry flavor I had to use about 1/4 cup of blueberry pulp.  Since you only use about 2-3 T of red food coloring I had some extra liquid.  So, I added some extra flower to compensate.  It kind of worked.  The batter was a little thinner than I would have liked, but had the creamy, fluffiness about it that you expect in cake batter.  The cupcakes rose exactly like they’re supposed to and the tops were smooth and beautiful.  Unfortunately as they cooled they contracted more than most cupcakes.  That made the cake a little dense.  More the moist texture of a carrot cake or banana bread than the lightness of a normal red velvet.  But then, what’s wrong with banana bread?  Not much.

These are not easy.  A standard red velvet cake has a lot of steps.  This cake has all of those and you have to deal with the blueberries.  I froze some blueberries when they were in season early in the summer and thawed them for this.  I put them in my food mill to separate the pulp from the skins.  I had to do them in two batches and clean out the food mill in between.  It’s easy work with thawed blueberries. If you use fresh ones your pulp will be thicker, which might be nice, but you’ll have to work harder to work them through the mill.  Of course you could use a food processor, but you’ll end up with some pieces of blueberry skin in your cupcakes.  That’s not a great texture so the food mill is a better way to go.  If you don’t have a food mill, you can absolutely mash the thawed blueberries in a colander or sieve with the back of a spoon.  It just might take a little bit longer.

Now, the frosting.  Oh, the frosting.  God bless Paula Deen’s Grandmother Paul.  This is one of the top five frostings I’ve ever made and it’s wicked easy.  It starts out as a standard cream cheese buttercream:  cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar.  Nothing to it.  And then you whip in some melted marshmallow.  Heavenly.  It’s the lightest frosting I’ve made that still has that distinct cream cheese flavor.  No milk, no vanilla, no liquor.  Lots of yummy goodness.  It doesn’t stand up tall.  It more lays over the top like a blanket.  It does have a beautiful glossy shine. 

These are gorgeous and tangy and blueberry and sweet and wonderful.  Maybe I’m unduly influenced by the lack of desserts in my life lately, but I don’t think that’s it.  I think they’re really that good.  Definitely worth trying again to see if I can lighten the texture a little.  And if not, I’ll eat them anyway!

Good?  Unbelievably good.  And with all the antioxidanxt from the blueberries they’re almost a health food.
Easy? Not really.
Good for company? Most definitely.
Special shopping? Nope.

Blue(berry) Velvet Cupcakes


3 C blueberries, thawed
2 cups sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vinegar

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 C powdered sugar, or more to taste
1 cup melted marshmallows


Mash blueberries in a food mill or colander to separate the skins. Save the pulp. Discard the skins.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter, beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Mix cocoa and food coloring together and then add to sugar mixture; mix well. Sift together flour and salt. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Blend in vanilla. In a small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar and add to mixture. Pour batter into 3 (8-inch) round greased and floured pans or into 2 lined muffin pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes for cake or 15 minutes for cupcakes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from heat and cool completely before frosting.

Blend cream cheese and butter together in a mixing bowl. Add marshmallows and sugar and blend.

Tomato Onion Pie

August 12, 2012

I can’t believe this is my first tomato pie of the summer, but it is.  Criminal.  This is just the best stuff.  My motivation for putting it together was an invitation to “Lobsterpalooza” with some friends.  That’s right, a bunch of folks gathered around a table picking lobsters on a Saturday night.  It’s pretty hard to beat.  I wanted to take something worthy of the occasion.  There are a million ways to make tomato pie and pretty much any recipe you choose will be about the best thing you’ve ever eaten provided you get good tomatoes.  My hat is off to the folks at Rocking F Farm in Hanover County for  growing fantastic Hanover tomatoes and selling them at a very reasonable price.

Because I was cooking for 10 people I made this tomato pie in a casserole dish instead of a deep dish pie pan.  I used a store bought crust, one and a half of them actually, because Pillsbury is good at pie crust and I am not.  I’ve learned to live with that.  I started with an Emeril Lagasse recipe and made a few adjustments.  I left out the thyme because I don’t like it in this.  I used extra sharp cheddar instead of fontina because in my world tomato pie has cheddar in it.  I left off the Parmesan because I just didn’t need it.  I did like that this recipe uses less egg and mayonnaise than some without sacrificing any of the flavor.  And if you know me then you know that the key to the whole thing is that the mayo has to be Duke’s.

A few tips for making a good tomato pie.  Do not try to make this in the Winter.  It’s tomato pie so the tomatoes really matter.  Get good fresh ones.  They should be ripe, but firm enough that they slice easily.  Leave yourself plenty of time.  You pre-bake the crust.  The finished dish bakes for an hour and sits for another 30 minutes before you can cut into it and expect it to keep its shape.  Think lasagna timing.  The process is pretty similar.  You get all your ingredients together and put them in the pan in layers.  If you’ve made an actual pie then by all means cut it into slices.  If you make it in a casserole dish you can cut it into squares or serve it with a big spoon.  Just make sure you get all the way to the crust when you serve it.  Otherwise you’ll miss the flaky, buttery goodness at the bottom of the pan.

This pie has lots of cheese, sweet onions, fresh basil and just enough eggs and mayonnise to hold it together.  It doesn’t get much better than that. Two regrets:   one, in my haste to get out the door I didn’t remember to take a picture and two, I didn’t make enough to have leftovers to bring home.  It got rave reviews from the Lobsterpalooza crowd.  It’s hard to imagine a tomato pie that would get anything less than a rave.  Happy, happy summer food!

Good? So amazingly good.
Easy? Let’s call it intermediate. Lots of steps and lots of time.
Good for company? You’ll be the hit of any party.
Special shopping? Get farmers’ market tomatoes or, better yet, ones from your own garden!

Tomato Onion Pie


Note: These are the ingredients for 1 deep dish pie. I used half again as much to make a 9X13 pan full.
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup panko
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 egg
1 cup thinly sliced Vidalia onions
3 tablespoons chiffonade fresh basil
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out the pie crust on a lightly floured surface to fit a deep 9 or 10-inch pie pan. Place the pastry in the pie pan and crimp edges decoratively. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, then line with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges. Remove foil and pie weights, and return to the oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool.
Slice the tomatoes, discarding the stem and root ends, into 1/4-inch slices and lightly season with the salt and pepper.

Sprinkle about 1/3 of the bread crumbs in the bottom of the pie crust. In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise with the egg and stir until smooth. Place a layer of tomatoes in the bottom of the piecrust over the breadcrumbs, using about half of the tomatoes, then top with half of the sliced onions. Drizzle with half of the mayonnaise mixture, half of the basil, half of the cheddar and half of the mozzarella cheeses. Top with half of the remaining breadcrumbs then top with the remaining tomato slices, remaining onions, remaining cheddar and mozzarella, remaining mayonnaise mixture, and remaining basil. Top with the remaining bread crumbs and drizzle with the olive oil.

Place in the oven and bake until bubbly hot and golden brown, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Brownie Pudding

June 17, 2012

Brownie pudding – how fabulous does that sound?!  Turns out it’s pretty fabulous.  It’s the latest exception to my rule against eating pudding that isn’t really pudding (corn pudding, rice pudding – you get the idea).  I bet it’s even more amazing if you serve it warm from the oven.  I didn’t have that luxury today.  I needed the oven for the beef roast so I made the dessert yesterday.  Still, it’s awfully good.  And I did serve it with ice cream as recommended.  I’m glad I only made a half recipe or I’d be eating it for all three meals and a snack or two tomorrow!

As I’ve mentioned before there’s not a lot of room for substitutions or monkeying with the recipe when you’re baking, unless you’re much more skilled than I.  About all you can do other than change the flavor if chips if they’re called for is halve or double the recipe, and even that’s dicey sometimes.  I did halve this recipe specifically so there wouldn’t be leftovers.  The only other change I made was to use vanilla extract instead of scraping a bean.  I figured since the recipe allowed for framboise a little liquid wouldn’t hurt.

One of the nice things about this is that the butter is melted so you don’t have to remember to take it out to soften.  You do need to take the eggs out so they can get to room temperature, but if you get a little behind just set them near the oven as it preheats.  I recommend making this batter in a stand mixer.  You mix the eggs and sugar for a long time.  It’s completely doable with a hand mixer, but it’s nice to be able to walk away from it and do something else.  And here’s a tip on melting the butter.  Do it in the microwave in 15 second increments.  Stir in between each one.  You’ll be done when there’s still just a lump or two of butter in the dish.  As you stir that last bit will melt.  If you do it this way you it won’t get too hot and you won’t have to wait for it to cool before you add it.

One thing that makes this unique is that you bake it in a water bath.  Here’s my advice on that.  Put the water in in the larger pan BEFORE you set the batter filled pan down in it.  If you put the batter filled pan in first you risk splashing water into your brownie batter.  I recommend testing the water level with the empty pan before you add the batter.  That way you don’t risk over-filling the water pan.  And do this all as close to the oven as you can.  You don’t want to have to walk too far with your batter in the water bath.

The recipe instructs you to put a cake tester in close to the edge to test for doneness.  If you do that it will break the crust on top.  At least it did mine.  This is a thick, almost cookie like crust so it will be no small hole.  More like an ice breaking ship plowing through frozen waters.  If you know how your oven normally does in terms of time and temp when you’re baking just trust that.  On the other hand you’re going to have to break this up to serve it, so maybe it doesn’t matter that much.  You just don’t want the inside to dry out.  The inside is very soft and very rich.  If you like chewy brownies (instead of cakey ones) you’re going to love this.

Oh, one more thing.  You use more cocoa powder than flour in this.  Cocoa powder is much lighter than flour.  When you add the dry ingredients to the eggs and sugar the cocoa powder makes a big cloud.  Just be prepared to wipe everything down when you’re done!

I served it by breaking up the top crust and putting some in the bottom of each bowl.  I spooned some brownie pudding insides on top of each cookie crust.  I bought individual ice creams in 5-6 flavors so everyone got to choose their own combination of  brownie and ice cream and got to control the proportions.  I served some fruit for good measure.  Turns out that the first peaches and blackberries of the summer are an excellent accompaniment to soft brownies, brownie cookies and ice cream!

Good? Are you kidding?  Fantastic!
Easy? We’re going to call this intermediate. Precision counts.
Good for company? You bet. Desserts are meant to be shared.
Special shopping? Nope. I didn’t even have to make a store run.

This is the half recipe. I think you could bake it in an 8X8 brownie pan, but I used a small, glass Pyrex dish that measures 6 1/2 x 10.

Brownie Pudding


1 stick unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the dish
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cups sugar
3/8 cup good cocoa powder
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t vanilla
Ice cream, for serving


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter a 2-quart (9 by 12 by 2-inch) oval baking dish. Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until very thick and light yellow. Meanwhile, sift the cocoa powder and flour together and set aside.

When the egg and sugar mixture is ready, reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla seeds, framboise, if using, and the cocoa powder and flour mixture. Mix only until combined. With mixer still on low, slowly pour in the cooled butter and mix again just until combined.

Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared dish and place it in a larger baking pan. Add enough of the hottest tap water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the dish and bake for exactly 1 hour. A cake tester inserted 2 inches from the side will come out 3/4 clean. The center will appear very under-baked; this dessert is between a brownie and a pudding.

Allow to cool and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Flatbread with Shrimp and White Bean Hummus

June 10, 2012

After making the white bean hummus yesterday and wondering if the flavors would seem more balanced if I made the whole recipe I decided to give it a shot.  Gotta say, this recipe is a huge pain in the butt for something that’s essentially fancy pizza.  They want you to make the flatbread, make hummus, cook shrimp, caramelize onions and melt leeks.  Good Lord.  I bought the flatbread.  I made the rest though.  Glad I made the hummus yesterday.  You can do the onions and leeks ahead too if you want.  I did them this afternoon so at least I had a little time to relax before my guest showed up for dinner.  Of course some of my relaxation time went toward making dinner for tomorrow night, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear about that.

So, my advice is to do this in parts.  Make the hummus the day before.  The flavors will be better.  Caramelize the onions and saute the leeks early in the day.  Start the onions first.  The recipe says you can get them done in 12 minutes, but that only works in Epicuriousland.  In a normal kitchen it takes about 45 minutes.  While the onions are caramelizing you’ll have time to slice, rinse and saute the leeks until they’re soft.  Roast the shrimp just before you’re ready for dinner.  I did mine in olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Undercook them just a touch since they’ll be going back in the oven. 

I didn’t make subsitutions here.  I did leave out the lemon juice, but only because I forgot it.  I served the arugula on the side instead of on the flatbread.  Again, because I forgot.  I didn’t dice the onions or the leeks.  I like caramelized onions in ribbons and leeks in rounds so I cut them that way.  I think it’s prettier.  And I reduced the cheese by more than 2/3.  Use a good quality parmesan and you won’t need too much.  Still, the recipe remained in tact.  And it was good.

Good call on making up the whole thing.  The hummus didn’t taste nearly so sharp when served with everything else.  In fact, it was exactly right.  The onions are sweet and the leeks are green and the shrimp are actually just a touch neutral.  Yum.  I used flatbread instead of naan and saved myself a bunch of calories.  A friend and I split the flatbread you see above and had a little arugula salad on the side.  It was a filling dinner and left room for the yummy strawberry streusel that she brought!

It would be easy to cut this in smaller pieces and use it as a starter for some lovely Mediterranean meal.  The minus is that it has a lot of steps and takes a long time.  The plus is that you have enough of the toppings to get you through a couple of meals.  I’ll be eating this a couple of more times this week so parceled out it probably makes the time worth it.  You just have to be willing to put the time in to begin with.

Good? Definitely good.  And got a thumbs up from my guest also.
Easy? Not so much. It gets an intermediate. If I’d made the bread too it would be ‘difficult.’
Good for company? In a casual way. It’s kinda fancy, but not elegant.
Special shopping? Nope. Everything from the farmers’ market or the Kroger.

Flatbread with Shrimp and White Bean Hummus


For hummus:
5 to 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/8 teaspoons kosher salt
1 (15-ounce) can white beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon tahini
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

For caramelized onions:
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 medium Spanish onions, cut into medium dice
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For melted leeks:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, washed and cut into medium dice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To serve:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil for brushing flatbread
1 lemon, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced
1 pound small, sweet shrimp such as Caribbean Laughing Bird*, peeled and cooked
2-3 ounces Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about ½ cup)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup mixed micro greens, such as baby arugula


Make hummus:
Transfer garlic cloves to 6-inch square of foil, drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil, sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt, and wrap tightly. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Unwrap and let cool. DO AHEAD: Roasted garlic can be prepared ahead and refrigerated, in airtight container, up to 3 days.

Squeeze garlic cloves from skin into food processor. Add white beans, remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, tahini, rosemary, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt and purée until smooth, about 2 minutes. DO AHEAD: Hummus can be prepared ahead and refrigerated in airtight container up to 3 days.

Make caramelized onions:
In large, heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, melt butter. Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until slightly transparent and starting to soften, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and 4 teaspoons water and sauté, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 12 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper, then transfer to medium bowl to cool. DO AHEAD: Onions can be prepared ahead and refrigerated, in airtight container, up to 3 days.

Make melted leeks:
In large, heavy saucepan over moderate heat, heat olive oil. Add leeks and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper, then transfer to medium bowl to cool. DO AHEAD: Leeks can be prepared ahead and refrigerated, in airtight container, up to 3 days.

Assemble and serve:
Position rack near bottom of oven and top with pizza stone or heavy baking sheet. Preheat oven to 450°F for 1 hour.

Brush each flatbread with olive oil and spread with hummus. Scatter onions and leeks over and top with lemon slices and shrimp. Scatter with cheese, then sprinkle with salt and lemon juice.

Transfer 1 or more flatbreads to preheated pizza stone and bake in batches until toppings are warmed through and cheese has melted, 6 to 8 minutes.

Transfer flatbreads to large cutting board and top with micro greens. Using very sharp knife, cut into 6 thin slices and serve immediately.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse

May 29, 2012

This is the dessert I planned for a friends birthday.  She and I share a love of peanut butter pie and the opinion that there are many more bad ones than good in restaurants around town.  The plan was to make Black Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie.  Mostly that’s what I did.  The peanut butter mousse became chocolate peanut butter mousse and it was perfect – creamy, fluffy and wonderful.  The black bottom pie part fell pretty far short of perfect – runny, grainy and not very picturesque.

True confession time – I bought the graham cracker crust.  Some time ago I decided that life was too short for me to make my own pie crust.  I’m just not good at it.  But Pillsbury is, so I let them do it.  My other substitution is likely what caused part of the problem.  I didn’t have quite as much cream as I needed so I substituted about 1/2 C reduced fat (2%) milk – part in the chocolate bottom and part in the mousse.  When I poured the chocolate into the pie crust there was way too much chocolate, (I know, way too much chocolate?  What?) so I saved about 1/3 C for later.  As instructed I put the pie shell with the chocolate bottom in the freezer.  It never set up.  It was in there for an hour or so before I added the mousse and still runny.  Ugh.

On to the mousse.  I added the leftover chocolate mix to the melted peanut butter chips.  Yum.  The mousse was pretty soft when I put it in the pie crust.  Soft enough that it was easier to pour than to spoon.  It chilled for maybe 8 hours and by then the mousse was fine.  It set up perfectly.  Sadly when I tried to slice the pie the chocolate stuff ran all over the place.  Instead of nice slices on plates we ended up with bowls of mousse with graham cracker crust crumbled on top and chocolate sauce added on top of that.  It didn’t look nice, but it sure tasted good!

It was so good that the non-dessert eater in the crowd ate her entire bowlful and then had more then next evening.  Trust me when I tell you that’s high praise!  Next time I’ll use all cream and I’m sure it will be as pretty as it was yummy.  But if not, I feel confident that no one will complain about eating a bowl of this amazing mousse.

Good? So, so good.
Easy? Clearly not.
Good for company? Absolutely.
Special shopping? Nope.

I’m going to give you the mousse recipe here. If you want to make the Black Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie just hit the link and see the whole recipe.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse


1/3 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups chilled whipping cream, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
6 ounces (1 cup) peanut butter chips
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter (do not use old-fashioned style or freshly ground)


Combine chocolate and peanut butter chips, 1 cup of cream and 1 teaspoon of vanilla in a large microwave-safe bowl on medium heat at 15-second intervals just until chips soften, stirring often. Whisk in peanut butter and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla until smooth. Cool to barely lukewarm. Beat remaining 1 cup cream and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl until very thick but not yet holding peaks; fold into peanut butter mixture in 3 additions. Chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Swiss Chard and Ricotta Agnolotti

May 28, 2012

Last night I had a couple of friends over to celebrate a birthday.  I had already planned the peanut butter and chocolate mousse pie as a birthday gift.  Then the opportunitypresented itself to do the whole dinner!  Excellent.  I wanted something special, but given my relatively late start, that wouldn’t take too, too long.  I decided on agnolotti made from wonton wrappers.  I’m trying to make healthier choices so I chose a vegetarian filling.  Finally a use for the rest of the swiss chard, slightly past its prime.  And another use for the yummy ricotta that I made.  The stuffing was homemade and each dumpling filled by hand, but I didn’t have to make the pasta – special, but not all day, perfect.

The recipe I found called for spinach instead of chard, but that was an easy substitution.  Other than that I followed the recipe for the pasta.  Filling 36 wonton wrappers is not so easy, but I got better as I went along.  I ended up making about 42 to get 36 good ones.  For the first few I put the filling a little toward the front and then folded the wrapper toward me and pressed down the moistened edges to seal.  I found that the filling tended to get away from me and my fingernails punched holes in a few as I tried to seal them.  A more successful approach was to put the filling in the middle; put a little water all the way around the edges; pick up the whole wonton wrapper; and pinch the edges with both hands.  It also helped to put the filling in a colander and press out some of the extra liquid.  I put the finished ones in a big tupperware container and separated the layers with waxed paper.  If you let them overlap too much they’ll stick together and it will be hard to separate them without tearing them.

The cooking part is easy.  Boil a big pot of water and cook the agnolotti in batches.  Just a few at a time for about 3 minutes and then spoon them out with a slotted spoon.  Bring the water back to a boil and add a few more.  Lay the cooked ones out on a cookie sheet and cover them with a slightly dampened towel.  Put them in a a slightly heated oven to keep them warm until they’re all ready for serving.  Serve them in pasta bowls topped with tomato sauce and a little parmesan.

These are really yummy.  The chard has enough earthiness to it to balance out the creamy ricotta and tangy tomato sauce.  It also holds up a little better than spinach when it’s cooked.  It maintained some of its chewy texture which kept the filling from being too soft.    I served a plain green salad on the side with a honey citrus vinaigrette.  Dinner done.  Elegant and yummy.

Good? Very good.
Easy? No, time consuming and delicate.
Good for company? Pretty impressive I think.
Special shopping? Nope. Standard stuff.

Swiss Chard & Ricotta Agnolotti


8 cups fresh swiss chard leaves, stemmed
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 large egg white
36 won ton wrappers


Heat a large pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add chard; cover and cook 2 minutes or until chard wilts. Remove chard from pan. Drain.

Add 2 teaspoons oil to pan and place over medium heat until hot. Add onion and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Add chard; sauté 3 minutes. Place chard mixture in food processor; pulse 10 times or until finely chopped. Combine chard mixture, ricotta, Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and egg white in a medium bowl.

Working with 1 won ton wrapper at a time (cover remaining wrappers with a damp towel to keep them from drying), spoon 1 1/2 teaspoons spinach mixture into center of each wrapper. Moisten edges of dough with water; fold in half, pinching edges together to seal. Place filled won tons on wax paper in an airtight container; chill for 2 hours.

Cook filled won tons in batches in boiling water until they float to the surface (about 3 minutes); remove with a slotted spoon, and keep warm. Spoon tomato sauce over pasta.

Creamed Spinach and Mushrooms (lite)

May 7, 2012

It was a tough day here.  Managing a sick pup right now.  Fortunately yesterday I had already planned a steakhouse dinner for tonight.  Comfort food of the variety that I rarely indulge in.  And this tastes like a lot more of an indulgence than it really is.  Exactly what I needed.  Something that tastes like comfort food that I don’t have to feel guilty about eating.

From Saturday’s farmers’ market shopping I had 1/2 a bag of spinach, some shiitake mushrooms and a little asparagus left.  I peeled the asparagus for last night’s Flounder Wrapped Asparagus, but I couldn’t bear to throw away those lovely strips so I saved them for tonight and tossed them into tonight’s creamy mixture.  I made a few other adjustments as well.  I used low fat buttermilk instead of regular milk.  The buttermilk adds a nice tangy flavor and some richness so I reduced the amount of cream cheese.  And I used finely diced sweet onion instead of scallions.  I just don’t keep scallions in the house.

This is a simple dish, but it has a few steps.  You do have to saute the mushrooms and the spinach first.  Then you make the cream sauce in a separate pot.  It’s a simple white sauce with some cheese added.  Just be sure that you whisk the flour into the milk to create a slurry.  That makes it so much easier to avoid lumps in your sauce.  And do stir constantly.  If you don’t the flour will burn and the sauce will taste burned and bitter. Once you pull the sauce together you just dump the vegetables in and mix.  Honestly you could make about 1/2 this amount of sauce.  It’s good, but there’s too much of it, which didn’t occur to me until I’d already dumped the spinach and mushrooms into the pot.  If you’re unsure add the sauce to the vegetables a little at a time until you have the ratio you want.

Of course I have to offer some kudos to Greenway Beef for the steak.  It’s the most flavorful ribeye I’ve ever eaten.  Just amazing.  I could have cut it with a butter knife.  Nothing on it but some garlic salt and pepper and a little olive oil to keep it from sticking to the grill.  Thanks Clark family!

A couple of tips for pulling this meal together.  Take everything out of the fridge at the beginning – beef, vegetables, cream cheese and buttermilk.  That way things will be at room temp by the time you’re ready to use it.   Turn on the grill.  Do all your chopping, measuring and make the slurry.  Put on the steak.  Saute the spinach and mushrooms.  Turn the steak.  Saute the garlic and onions.  Pull the steak off the grill to rest.  Make the sauce.  There you have it.  By the time the sauce is finished the steak will have rested enough to cut it.  Everything ready together for serving and no time wasted.

This is as good as anything you’ll get at a place like Morton’s.  And you can control the salt, fat, portion size and calories – not to mention the cost!  Next time you feel like a steakhouse dinner give this a shot.  I bet you could even get your kids to eat spinach like this!

Good? Definitely.
Easy? Eh, probably short of ‘easy’ but not too bad.
Good for company? Yep.
Special shopping? Nope.

Creamed Spinach and Mushrooms


4 teaspoons canola oil, divided
8 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 (10-ounce) package baby spinach
1/3 cup finely chopped onions
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dash of nutmeg
1 1/2 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese


1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; swirl to coat. Add mushrooms; cook 6 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Remove mushrooms from pan. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add spinach; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Remove from heat.
2. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil; swirl to coat. Add onions and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Combine milk and flour, stirring with a whisk. Add milk mixture, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to pan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook 3 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly. Add cheese; stir until cheese melts and the mixture is smooth. Add mushrooms and spinach to milk mixture, and toss gently to coat.