Thursday, July 29, 2010

strawberry love cupcakes

These are pure strawberry love. The batter has berries scattered throughout and the glaze is made from pureed strawberries. I think the best way to describe these is to say they taste like how I expect other strawberry baked goods to taste, and yet so often am disappointed. Not here. No artificial flavors, no scary pink food coloring, just strawberries. Strawberry love. Is it going to far to suggest making these while dancing to Coldplay's "Strawberry Swing"?
These are my husbands absolute favorite. I made a batch for his birthday and I think he ate 7 of them. Me? I happily had several in lieu of dinner. They are light and even unfrosted are just sunshine. I would feel perfectly confident serving them with just a dusting of powdered sugar.
The cupcake recipe is from Martha Stewart. The glaze is from Giada de Larentiis book, Giada's Kitchen. I should say that I have used this glaze method for numerous cakes; substituting blackberries or raspberries in the berry puree. Gorgeous colors result.

Strawberry Cupcakes
makes 34 cupcakes

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg white
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups finely chopped strawberries

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk dry ingredients (both flours, baking powder, salt) in a large bowl.

2) Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition.

3) Reduce speed to low. Mix remaining wet ingredients (milk, vanilla) in a separate bowl (I find a large measuring cup to be perfect). Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with wet ingredients and ending with dry. Scrape sides of bowl. Divide batter among muffin cups, filing each 2/3rds full.

4) Bake cupcakes until testers inserted into centers come out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks. Cupcakes will keep, covered, for up to 3 days. 

Strawberry Glaze

1/3 cup frozen strawberries, thawed and drained (I use fresh)
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1) Puree the strawberries in a blender or small food processor. Sift the confectioners sugar and place in a medium bowl.

2) Pour the strawberry puree and whisk until smooth. Dip the tops of the cooled cupcakes into the strawberry glaze. (I don't do this- I just spread the glaze on with a butter knife.) Let the cupcakes sit or a few minutes for the glaze to firm up, then serve.

Monday, July 26, 2010

melon, strawberries & mint

My husband and I recently celebrated our 10th Anniversary. I feel very blessed that we continue to be crazy about each other. During our honeymoon, we stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast in Santa Barbara. Breakfast each morning was served in a sun drenched conservatory at the side of the house. There always seemed to be a thin slice of perfectly ripe cantaloupe on each plate. Whenever I have cantaloupe, I always think of those first mornings of our marriage.
Here is my favorite summer fruit salad. Fragrant cantaloupe, gorgeous strawberries, and a bit of mint to sparkle it up. This is less of a recipe and more of an idea: cube up a cantaloupe, slice a pint of washed strawberries, and shred about a tablespoon of mint. Gently toss it all together. To me, it is summer at its best, it is love at its best: unpretentious and sweet. Please share for breakfast with someone you love.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

rhubarb cake

I will start off by admitting this cake really isn't much to look at. It is kind of bumpy and awkward. Also, being baked in a 13 inch pan does not glam it up in anyway.
It is, however, complete brown sugar tart rhubarb eggy cake loveliness. I love rhubarb for that sour sugary zing. Last year when I was back home, we went to visit family friends and upon arrival I was greated by an 8 year old boy gnawing on a stalk of rhubarb that had been judiciously dipped in dark brown sugar. He kindly offered me a bite, which I politely declined, but admired his good tastes nonetheless. Lots of people where I grew up have a rhubarb patch and so this cake fills a little homesickness ache in me. Plus, I just think the color of rhubarb is too beautiful.
The premise of the recipe reminds me of a pineapple upside down cake. Although I have never made a pineapple upside down cake, I imagine it is made in a similar way: a buttery brown sugar topping is placed in the bottom of a baking pan, then fruit is scattered, and finally the cake batter is smoothed over all.
This recipe is courtesy of my grandmother who clipped it out of a magazine and passed it on to me. She scribbled my name on the top of it and every time I see her handwriting, I could just cry to think of all the love she has put into feeding me over the years. Recently I misplaced the recipe card for a few weeks and was beside myself. Finding it again, I am determined to share it and in some way extend that love.
The recipe itself was from one of those reader recipe contest, so I can tell you that when you too fall in love with this cake, send out good thoughts to Loraine Meyer of Bend, Oregon.

Rhubarb Dessert Cake

2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (or my personal favorite, a pool of heavy cream)

1) In a greased 13 in x 9 in x 2 in baking dish, combine butter and brown sugar. Top with rhubarb.

2) In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, water and vanilla; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened (please take care to not over mix). Pour over rhubarb.

3) Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.
 I realize that I regularly go on about recipes that can be made ahead. This is not really one of them. It is at it's best about 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven. It is a very simple recipe, so please do not let timing be a deterrent. I can guarantee your family or dinner guests or whichever lucky people you share this with will happily spare the time to enjoy this while oven warm.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

french potato salad

I could say that we eat this salad at least once a week in my house, but that would be a lie: it's more like two or three times a week. It is a definite favorite. About a year ago my husband and I moved into our first home and during the transition time (when I existed on minimal kitchen supplies, tools, and space while packing up our apartment and unpacking in our townhome) I think we ate this every other night for two weeks. It was usually accompanied by a BLT sandwich (perfect combination). During a time when everything in my life seemed turned upside down (and/or stuffed in a box I couldn't locate), it was such a comfort to have these vinegary salty potatoes.

I love love love potato salad but on a weeknight would be hard pressed to build a classic potato salad in time for dinner: boil potatoes, boil eggs, chop celery, etc... This potato salad: just a quick steam of potatoes tossed with an easy peasy vinaigrette and a little greenery crunch (parsley, scallions, chives, whatever you've got). It is served warm or room temperature, which means it's ready as soon as it's ready.

The recipe below is from Mary Englelbreit's "Queen of the Kitchen" cookbook. However, I recommend treating the recipe as a starting place and customizing from there. For example, I usually add a splash more vinegar than it calls for and recently have been adding chopped cornichons (small french pickle that packs a punch of flavor).

If my above protestations of love are not enough, might I add that my mother adores this salad and practically demands I produce it when she visits?

French Potato Salad

2 pounds waxy potatoes, about six (yes, a yukon gold is preferred here, but I have made it just as many times with a very non-glamorous russet)
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olice oil
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper

1) In a large pot, cover the potatoes with salted water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender, drain. (So, I do things a bit differently: I peel the potatoes first and chop into large pieces. Then put them in a pot with about an inch and a half of water, clamp a lid down on it, and let them steam away until fork tender. I don't know precisely how long this takes, but it is certainly not 30 minutes.)

2) Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar and mustard until smooth. Add the oil in a slow steady stream, whisking until blended. Add the scallions and parsley (or chives, thyme, etc. whatever herby bright thing you fancy) and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

3) When the potatoes are just cool enough to handle, slipe the skins and cut the still-warm potatoes into 1/2 inch chunks. Add the dressing and gently toss until the potatoes absorb all the liquid. Serve warm or at room temperature. (I should add the disclaimer that this potato salad does not take kindly to refrigeration.)