Monday, April 30, 2012

Raspberry Angel Food Cake for Bake Together

I’ve been thinking about this cake all month and have been excited for the moment I could get in the kitchen and bake it.  This month, Abby Dodge shares her terrific Angel Food Cake for April’s Bake Together recipe, along with some tempting variations.  Yes, angel food cake ... that airy, eat-way-more-than-you-intend-to cake.  My family has been known to devour an entire angel food cake in one sitting, pulling off one pillowy hunk after another.

For my version, I mashed fresh raspberries to dollop in the batter, reserving some of the juice to mix into whipped cream to frost the cake.  Mixing up an angel food cake is a gentle process – you want to keep it as light as possible.  And I love the way angel food cake cools, suspended upside down on a wine bottle to keep the cake tall and majestic.

This is the first time I’ve baked an angel food cake and I can safely say I will not be buying a store-bought one again.  After sneaking a small bite of the cake, my plan to wait for my family to come home went out the window and I had to sit down and enjoy a slice immediately. Softly textured, snow white, studded with raspberries and slathered in blush pink whipped cream ... definitely the food of angels!

This stunning cake would be lovely for a Mother’s Day brunch, a summer birthday, or just because.  I can tell you it is divine eaten straight from the pan, and is heavenly with berries and cream.  I can’t wait to bake it again!

Raspberry Angel Food Cake
Adapted slightly from Abby Dodge’s Tangerine Angel Food Cake
Serves 10-12

1 cup cake flour
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
11 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
1 cup fresh raspberries, mashed lightly and juices reserved
2 cups whipping cream, chilled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pull out a 10 x 4–inch angel food cake pan (do not butter or grease the pan). Have a wine bottle ready to hold the pan in a level, upside-down position for cooling.

Sift the flour, 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar and salt together three times (Abby says “no joke – THREE times”) onto a piece of parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium-low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, increasing speed to medium, and beat until whites are opaque and climbing about half way up the bowl (the tracks from the whisk will be beginning to hold their shape) forming very soft peaks. Continue beating while slowly and continuously adding the superfine sugar. Beat on medium high until the whites are thick, shiny and form medium-firm, fluffy peaks. (The peaks should droop over gently.) Do not over beat. You want to leave some room for those whites to expand in the oven. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Beat just until blended, about 10 seconds.

Sift 1/4 of the flour mixture over the beaten whites. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the whites. Repeat with remaining flour mixture, one quarter at a time.

Using the spatula, spoon 1/3 of the batter into the cake pan and spread around the bottom.  Gently dollop 1/2 of the mashed raspberries on top of the batter.   Spoon the next 1/3 of batter on top, then dollop with the remaining raspberries.  Spoon the last 1/3 of the batter on top and smooth. Bake until the cake is light golden brown and the cake is springy when touched, about 40 minutes. Immediately invert the pan onto the neck of the wine bottle and let cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the chilled cream until soft peaks form.  Add the reserved raspberry juice (about 1/8 cup), 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Beat on low until mixed.

To remove the cake, rotate the pan, gently tapping the bottom edge of the cake pan on the counter as you turn it until the cake loosens from the pan. If necessary, run a long, thin knife between the cake and the pan and around the inside of the tube to loosen the cake. Slip the cake from the pan and gently lift it up from the center of the pan and arrange on a flat serving plate.  Frost the cake with the whipped cream, or serve the cream on the side with slices of cake.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lemon Crumble Bars and a Sweet Visit

While on our road trip last week, I didn’t have a chance to cook very much other than preparing a few simple meals in the little RV kitchen like scrambled eggs, burritos and spaghetti. I felt like I was playing house!

After four days of eating on the road, though, we were delighted to roar into Boulder, CO (remember the broken muffler pipe?) and be welcomed by our dear friends, Elaine and Greg, their two beautiful daughters ... and an amazing meal. Greg started us off with lemon drop martinis on their deck, where the scent of blooming lilacs filled the air.

We then sat down to grilled salmon and veggies, roasted potatoes, and salad with Parmesan and toasted pine nuts – all heavenly, I must say. For dessert, Elaine baked some luscious lemon bars with a creamy filling, shortbread crust and crumble topping. A perfect treat to end the meal!

It warmed my heart to see our two families gathered around the table together. Elaine and I met when we were in 9th grade. I had just transferred into our local junior high school and Elaine was a welcoming friend, brimming with kindness and confidence. We began passing volumes of notes to each other in the hallway, and since then ours is a friendship I cherish. Standing in Elaine’s kitchen last week, picking bits of crumble out of the pan together and chatting ... sigh, just like old times.

I’m excited to be home again in my kitchen, which to be honest, is not much larger than the RV’s and I love every inch of it. Elaine graciously gave me the lemon bar recipe and I couldn’t wait to bake a pan to share with you. I tweaked the recipe just a bit to include some rye flour, my current favorite I turn to when baking these days.

Lemon Crumble Bars
Makes 12
Adapted slightly from Creme de Colorado Cookbook, The Junior League of Denver, Inc.

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 teaspoons lemon zest
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup rye flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup oats

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8x12 baking dish.

Stir the condensed milk, lemon juice and lemon zest together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together until creamy. Add the flours, baking powder and salt. Sprinkle in the oats and, using your fingers, mix until crumbly.

Press half of the crumbs onto the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Pour the milk mixture over it and spread evenly. Scatter the remaining crumbs over the top and gently press to create a topping.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until it is set and begins to brown. Let cool and chill for a couple of hours before cutting. You can prepare the bars a day ahead.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Strawberry St-Germain Cocktail and a Toast to Time

Nine days and 3,002 miles in an RV – our spring break family road trip! The destination was Boulder, Colorado. My older son, Sam, is looking at colleges and University of Colorado is on his list. We’ve always wanted to do an RV trip and this was an ideal opportunity to rent one and set out on an adventure.

New sights and experiences, meeting cousins, seeing friends, family time – this trip had it all, especially time for talking, reading, laughing and savoring the four of us together on the road.

I marvel at all we saw ... the blinding white salt flats in Utah

and the vast, stark beauty of the Wyoming plains.

Other than the RV muffler pipe breaking somewhere in Wyoming (easily repaired at a muffler shop) and a speeding ticket in Boulder (not in the RV!), all went smoothly.

I returned home feeling a warm glow from all there is to celebrate – time spent with family and friends, a sunny spring evening, the sweet smell of jasmine that welcomed us as we came up our front steps. I felt like toasting life – time for a cocktail!

As the weather warms, my bottle of St-Germain (elderflower liqueur) migrates to the front of our liquor cabinet. Its floral, citrusy flavor pairs beautifully with champagne for a sparkling drink to sip – always a favorite of mine. Some pureed strawberries add a kiss of pink and hint of berry flavor.

Cheers to cherished memories and to time spent together!

Strawberry St-Germain Cocktail
Makes 2

4 teaspoons strawberry puree (I whizzed 3 large strawberries in the food processor until smooth)
2 ounces St.-Germain liqueur
Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
2 strawberries for garnish

Pull out your 2 favorite champagne coupes or flutes. Add 2 teaspoons of strawberry puree and 1 ounce of St.-Germain to each glass. Pour champagne into each glass until filled. Garnish with a strawberry, clink glasses and sip away.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Asparagus and Carrot Ribbon Salad for a Spring Evening

Asparagus tastes of spring – it’s just so green! I’m still celebrating its arrival and am always excited to share new ways to enjoy these elegant stalks.

Last spring I discovered peeling fresh asparagus into ribbons. In the past, I had steamed, roasted or grilled asparagus but had never used it uncooked. When I saw the pretty ribbons you can create, I was hooked and began creating new salads with it.

This salad combines fresh herbs, carrots and olives - some of my favorite ingredients! A bit of feta would be welcome, too. It’s a quick, colorful salad to pull together, especially on a busy spring evening when you’ve just come home from a track and field meet.

Fresh asparagus (preferably fat stalks) and a vegetable peeler are all you need for the ribbons. Lay a stalk flat on a cutting board, hold it securely at the bottom and, starting with the end you are holding, use your vegetable peeler to shave layers off until only a thin strip is left. After you admire your beautiful pile of asparagus, dig around in your crisper drawer and have fun!

Asparagus and Carrot Ribbon Salad
Serves 4

1 pound fresh asparagus, thick stalks
2 large carrots
1/3 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in half
1/2 small red onion, cut in half and sliced into half- moon slivers
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Lay a stalk of asparagus on a cutting board. Starting at one end, use a vegetable peeler to peel off long ribbons of asparagus. Continue until all the stalks have been “ribboned”. Peel the carrots in the same way so that you have long ribbons. If the ribbons are quite long, you can cut them in half to make eating easier.

Combine the fresh herbs in a large serving bowl. Add the olives, red onion, asparagus and carrots.

In a small bowl, stir together the agave nectar, red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic and crushed red chile pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently. The salad and dressing can be prepared a couple hours ahead and tossed together just before serving.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Roasted Rhubarb-Tomato Jam

Spring is an inspiring time! The longer days, warm sunshine and fresh air energize me immensely and I find myself lost in thought at times, considering new ways to cook old spring favorites.

We had a rhubarb patch in our yard when I was growing up in Massachusetts, and seeing the enormous rhubarb leaves unfurl was always a welcome sign of spring. My mom would head out the porch door with a kitchen knife in hand and cut the crimson stalks to fill incredible rhubarb custard pies. I can’t wait to bake some of those soon!

We tend to create sweet dishes with rhubarb, such as strawberry rhubarb pie, treating it like a fruit when really it is a vegetable. (Yes, it is “officially” a fruit, according to the US Customs Court in Buffalo, NY. Or at least it was in 1947.) Rhubarb’s tartness balances out sweet berries and early summer fruit deliciously. With its pretty pink hue and bright flavor, it’s no wonder that rhubarb began starring in crisps and cakes.

But what about taking rhubarb in another direction? Say, drizzling it with olive oil and roasting it. And it never hurts to toss some sliced red onion and tomato on the pan, too. As the mixture roasted and softened and the kitchen smelled heavenly, a savory jam began to form.

I kept the spice simple – just some allspice and kosher salt – to allow the rich rhubarb flavor to shine. The resulting jam is a blushing bowl of tangy, tart taste. I served it alongside salmon (for a very pink meal!), and if you are barbecuing it would be terrific to accompany grilled chicken.

Roasted Rhubarb-Tomato Jam
Makes 1 1/4 cups jam

2 pounds of fresh rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 red onion, roughly chopped
6 roma tomatoes, cut into quarters lengthwise
Olive oil to drizzle
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss together the rhubarb, red onion and tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil. Pop the pan into the oven and roast for 45-60 minutes, giving the mixture a stir a few times. When the rhubarb, onions and tomatoes have softened and are browning (some singed edges are good, too) remove from the oven.

Scrape the mixture into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until combined and no large chunks remain.

Pour the mixture into a medium sized saucepan and stir in the cider vinegar, allspice, brown sugar and kosher salt. Cook the mixture over medium heat and give it a few stirs for about 10 minutes, until it thickens a little and the flavors combine. Taste for salt, brown sugar and allspice and add a little more if desired.

Cool and store in a covered jar in the fridge. Serve with fish or chicken, or to jazz up a cheese platter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Chocolate Espresso Macaroons

Dense, rich, intensely chocolate ... some of my favorite words, especially when describing a cookie. In this case, it’s a Chocolate Espresso Macaroon.

Classic macaroons contain of a short list of simple ingredients: nuts or coconut, sugar and egg whites. After that, there is quite a range of choices to create different types of macaroons. What kind of nut? Dip in chocolate? Add some almond extract? Whip the egg whites? I’ve made (and eaten) a wide variety of macaroons and can tell you my absolute favorite is made with coconut, chocolate and espresso.

A lot of chocolate goes into these Chocolate Espresso Macaroons, and espresso powder elevates them to a whole new level of indulgence. Toasting the coconut adds an extra kick of flavor, too.

I make macaroons on the big side. They are light due to the whipped egg whites and lack of flour, so it’s easy to devour one (or two). Moist, flavorful and deeply satisfying, they are perfect for Passover and all year round.

Chocolate Espresso Macaroons
Makes 21 large cookies

14 ounces (about 3 cups) chocolate, roughly chopped (I recommend 70% cocoa content)
4 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 teaspoons instant espresso powder, mix with 2 teaspoons warm water to dissolve
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut, lightly toasted

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Melt the chocolate pieces in a medium saucepan over very low heat, stirring and keeping a close eye so that it doesn’t burn. When most of the chocolate is melted, remove from the heat and keep stirring until the chocolate is smooth. Set aside to cool a little.

Beat the egg whites in a medium sized bowl until they are white and begin to hold soft peaks. Slowly add the sugar, espresso mix, vanilla and kosher salt and beat until blended. Pour the melted chocolate in and stir to mix. Add the coconut and mix completely.

Scoop the batter (I use a small ice cream scoop) into large mounds on the prepared baking sheet. I fit 12 scoops on the baking sheet for my first batch, and 9 scoops for my second. Bake the macaroons for 18 minutes, until they are shiny and slightly cracked. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then remove to a cooling rack and bake the remaining macaroons. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Deviled Eggs: Pretty in Pink

I must say, these are the prettiest deviled eggs I have ever made. When I saw Ashley Rodriguez’s Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs, I fell in love with their charming pink tint. And then Food52 shared a recipe with a secret ingredient to make an egg filling extra smooth and creamy. Well, I needed no further inspiration to combine the two recipes and start hard-boiling some eggs!

Deviled eggs are perfect for this time of year. Our backyard hens are laying again after their respite during the dark winter months and I am positively gleeful to gather beautiful eggs from the nesting boxes every day.

For the Passover meal, it is traditional to put an egg on the Seder plate to symbolize new life in the spring season. We then eat hard-boiled eggs before the main meal begins (this helps hungry children stay focused) and sometimes I serve deviled eggs as an option. These deviled eggs are an ideal choice!

The filling is indeed velvety due to the addition of a bit of butter - the secret ingredient. The whites are blushed pink from taking a soak with some homemade pickled beets. (The resulting beets were quite delicious in a salad with feta cheese – a delightful little extra treat.)

My family happily devoured a platter of these luscious eggs and is patiently awaiting the next batch. Soon, I promise!

You can find the Pickled Beet Deviled Eggs (for the pink egg whites) here and the Food52 Deviled Eggs (for the egg filling) here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Matzah Almond Roca

Passover is my favorite holiday – I love its timing with the spring season, the telling of the Passover story of the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt, the eight days of creative cooking, and the celebration of freedom. Each year, I clean and remove leavened foods from our kitchen in preparation for the holiday. When the Israelites escaped from Egypt there was not enough time to wait for the bread to rise so we commemorate this by abstaining from leavened foods. Which leads me to matzah ...

Over the eight days of Passover, we will eat a lot of matzah. We slather it with cream cheese and jam, spread tomato sauce and mozzarella on it for pizza, stuff it with feta and mashed potatoes and fry up sandwiches, and crumble it with eggs to make sizzling matzah brie (served with maple syrup it’s like pancakes). Let me tell you the best way to enjoy matzah, though: Matzah Almond Roca.

Simply stated, Matzah Almond Roca is unbelievably addictive. Crisp matzah is coated in rich, buttery toffee and topped with a layer of chocolate and a sprinkling of almonds. The matzah helps off-set the sweetness, allowing you to enjoy even more.

This has been our family’s favorite Passover treat for almost 20 years (the recipe is stained and torn and comes from a cooking class at the synagogue). We keep a stash in the fridge all week, perfect for sneaking nibbles or downright indulging in. Even if you don’t celebrate Passover I recommend you pick up a box of matzah and give this a try!

When planning my Passover menu, Matzah Almond Roca is first on my list to make (ahead of the brisket, gefilte fish and flourless chocolate cake). And when Passover ends and we have leftover matzah, well - there’s no better way to empty that box.

Matzah Almond Roca
From a synagogue cooking class

4 squares of matzah
8 ounces (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, plus extra to butter the foil
1 cup brown sugar
12 ounces of chopped chocolate (your choice of milk or dark)
1/2 cup unsalted almonds, toasted and roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and butter the top well. Lay the 4 squares of matzah in a single layer on the foil (you’ll have to break a couple to make them fit).

In a medium sized saucepan, melt the 8 ounces of butter with the brown sugar over medium heat. Bring it to a simmer and stir. It should be bubbling but not a rapid boil. Let it cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times, until it thickens and is golden brown. Pour the toffee evenly over the matzah spread so it is coated. Pop the pan in the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove and immediately sprinkle the chocolate pieces over the toffee topping. When the chocolate has softened a bit, spread it evenly with a knife. Scatter the chopped almonds over the top. Place the baking pan in the freezer for 1 hour.

When completely chilled, break into pieces and store in a covered container in the fridge.