Saturday, June 28, 2014

Confections of a Foodie Bride: Fresh Strawberry Cake

I used to ask for strawberry cake for my birthday every year.  The recipe my mom used was passed down from my grandmother, after all!  Well, that was until I realized that this "homemade cake" was a combination of a white cake mix, strawberry Jell-O, and frozen boxes of strawberries.  And my grandmother most certainly did not concoct the recipe for that neon pink cake.  I was a bit distraught until I came across a way to make a strawberry cake from scratch.  Novel concept, right?  It's not a bright neon pink, but it's still magically delicious.

Fresh Strawberry Cake
Adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride blog

For the strawberry puree:
24 ounces very ripe strawberries, hulled
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the cake:
¼ cup whole milk, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2¼ cup cake flour, sifted
1¾ cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup unsalted butter (1½ sticks), at room temperature

For the frosting:
1 (1-pound) box powdered sugar (about 3½ cups)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Rough chop the strawberries, lightly toss with the sugar, and let sit for an hour or so until nice and juicy. Add ¼ cup water and then simmer in a small sauce pan for 5-10 minutes, until the berries are soft.  Pour the warm mixture into a food processor, and process until smooth.  Pour the puree back into the sauce pan and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly, to thicken. This step should yield 2 cups puree. Cool puree until ready to make the cake batter.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare two 8- or 9-inch round pans: spray inside with baking spray with flour (or use some sort of grease/flour combination).  If making cupcakes, spray two 12-cup cupcake pans with baking spray with flour or use paper cups to line the pans.

In small bowl, combine ¾ cup of the strawberry puree and the milk, egg, and vanilla, and mix with a fork until well blended. In the bowl of stand mixer, add the sifted flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and mix to combine. Continue beating at slow speed and add softened butter. Mix until combined and the mixture resembles moist crumbs. Add the wet ingredients and beat at medium speed for about 1 minute or until evenly combined. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl and hand beat for 30 more seconds.

Note: The batter will not get any pinker in the oven so if you're disappointed in the color from your berries, maybe consider adding a drop or two of pink or red food coloring.

Divide the batter evenly among the pans and smooth the tops. Bake for about 20 minutes for 9-inch pans, 25 minutes for 8-inch pans, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (time will vary). Let the cakes rest in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn them out onto wire racks. Let the cakes cool completely (about 2 hours).

For the frosting, mix the powdered sugar and butter together. Add some of the strawberry puree, a spoonful at a time, until the frosting reaches spreading consistency.  You will not use all of the remaining strawberry puree.

Makes one (8- or 9-inch) 2-layer cake or 24 cupcakes

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chile Cheese Grits

I love cheese grits.  And it seems like everywhere you go these days, that's what they're serving.  But some of them just aren't up to snuff.  Note to Yankees: Sprinkling cheese on top of grits does not make them cheese grits.  It makes them grits with cheese on top.  I like mine creamy, cheesy, and a little bit salty, especially if they're being served alongside something sweet at breakfast.  Which means they need to be cooked in part water, part milk, and the cheese needs to be melted in.  A little green chiles for heat, and you've got grit perfection.

Chile Cheese Grits

2 cups water
2 cups whole milk
1 cup coarse, stone-ground white grits
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, finely shredded, plus additional for the top, if desired
1 large egg, beaten
1½ teaspoons sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a 1-quart baking dish or 6 individual ramekins.

In a large heavy pot, bring the water and milk to a boil.  Sprinkle the grits into the mixture, stirring constantly, and return to a boil.  Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the grits are just tender, about 30 minutes.  Off the heat, stir in the butter and cheese, then stir in the egg.  Season with the salt, black pepper, and garlic powder, then mix in the green chiles.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish(es) and sprinkle with additional cheese, if desired. Bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour, until bubbling, puffed, and the top is golden.  Let the grits cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Martha Stewart: Classic Cherry Pie with a Butter Crust

My dad loves cherry pie.  The strange thing?  I don't ever really remember having it when I was a child.  I think maybe it's just a bit too complicated to be in the regular rotation.  Oh, and sour cherries are pretty much non-existent in this part of the country.  I almost fell over when I saw some in the frozen food aisle at Central Market.  I also knew I needed to make this pie for Father's Day.

Why, oh why, did I have to be this old before experiencing this pie?  This thing is amazing.  It's tart and sweet and buttery and crisp and all of the beautiful things a pie should be.  I seriously considered licking my plate.  Curse you, Central Market, and your frozen cherries!

Classic Cherry Pie with a Butter Crust
From Martha Stewart

2 pounds fresh sour cherries (or drained thawed frozen), pitted (about 6 cups)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pâte Brisée
All-purpose flour, for surface
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon heavy cream, for egg wash

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Make the filling: Toss together cherries, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla extract, and almond extract in a bowl.

Make the crust: Roll out 1 disk pâte brisée to a ⅛-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate. Pour in filling; dot top with butter. Refrigerate while making top crust.

Roll remaining disk pâte brisée to a ⅛-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut out 4 or 5 holes using a ¾-inch round cookie cutter. Place on top of pie.

Trim bottom and top crusts to a 1-inch overhang using kitchen shears, and press together to seal around edges. Fold edges under; crimp as desired. Freeze for 20 minutes.

Brush crust with egg wash. Bake pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet set on the middle rack, with a foil-lined baking sheet on bottom rack to catch juices, until pie is bubbling in center and crust is golden, about 1 hour 45 minutes. Transfer pie to a wire rack, and let cool before serving.

Pâte Brisée
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ to ½ cup ice water

Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. Drizzle ¼ cup ice water evenly over mixture. Pulse until mixture holds together when pressed between 2 fingers (dough should not be wet or sticky). If dough is too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse.

Shape dough into 2 disks, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Les Recettes du Petit Déjeuner: Strawberries Romanoff

If you ask people what the best thing at la Madeleine is, they might say the tomato soup.  They might say the linzer cookies.  Heck, they might even say the croissants.  But I'm putting my money on the strawberries.  If you're in the peak of strawberry season, you can't find a better dip for those luscious berries.  And it's not just for breakfast.  A summer evening with a glass of wine works just as well.

Strawberries Romanoff
Adapted from Les Recettes du Petit Déjeuner: A Breakfast Cookbook from the Chefs of la Madeleine

1 pound fresh strawberries
½ cup full-fat sour cream
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon cognac or brandy

Rinse and hull the strawberries.  In a small bowl, mix together sour cream, brown sugar, and cognac or brandy. Stir until combined and the brown sugar has melted.  Serve as a dip with the strawberries.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Emeril Lagasse: Champagne Punch

For my sister's baby shower, she only had one real request.  She wanted Champagne punch.  Now, what a pregnant woman wants with Champagne punch, I don't know, but anyone who has been around pregnant women knows better than to argue with them.  And they also know they had better find the best darn Champagne punch recipe there is.

Luckily, Emeril came to my rescue again.  I swear, the man has the best recipes.  And how could this not be fabulous?  Look at that liquor list!  This goes down so smoothly, it's almost magic.

Champagne Punch
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

1⅓ cups fresh lemon juice
1 cup superfine sugar
½ cup Grand Marnier
½ cup Triple Sec
½ cup cognac
½ cup fresh orange juice
2 bottles chilled dry Champagne or sparkling wine
Orange or lemon slices

Combine the lemon juice, sugar, Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, cognac, and orange juice in a non-reactive bowl and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the Champagne and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.

Pour into a decorative bowl or pitcher. Garnish with orange or lemon slices. Serve in Champagne flutes, wine glasses, or punch cups.

Makes 12 to 16 servings

Friday, June 06, 2014

Bon Appétit: Smoked Chicken Salad

I have been looking for what feels like forever for a decent chicken salad recipe.  You would think this wouldn't exactly amount to Homer's Odyssey, but you would be surprised.  I'm not a big fan of fruit in my chicken salad (grapes?  pineapple??), so any sweet-ish recipe is out.  Plus, I'd like my chicken salad to have a little flavor to it, instead of just being some mash of mayonnaise and boiled chicken.  Luckily I came across this little gem.

You definitely get some flavor in this recipe.  The chipotle chiles add spice and interest, but if you're not a big fan of spicy food, you might want to cut them back a little.  I also like all the different colors and crunches going on.  I was tempted to just keep adding different veggies (green onion?  green bell pepper?).

Smoked Chicken Salad
Adapted from Bon Appétit magazine, December 1998

6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons chopped canned chipotle chiles
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1½ cups finely chopped smoked chicken (about 12 ounces)
½ cup finely chopped yellow bell pepper
½ cup finely chopped seeded tomato
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
¼ cup finely chopped parsley leaves
⅓ cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Mix first 4 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Mix in chicken, bell pepper, tomato, onion, parsley, and pecans. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.