Monday, July 25, 2011

Grilled Vegetable Gazpacho

For my birthday this year, I treated myself to a subscription to Cooking Light magazine.  I'm always on the lookout for healthy, tasty recipes and I love the idea of a magazine full of them, cover to cover!  Well, after two months of waiting, I FINALLY got my first issue.  In fact, I got my first TWO issues within a matter of days.   I'm still winding my way through them, and have lots I want to try but the one that jumped out at me right away was for a grilled vegetable gazpacho.  The weather here in Northern California hasn't been particularly hot, but a cold soup still sounded great.  So this recipe is inspired by one from the July 2011 issue of Cooking Light.

Grilled Vegetable Gazpacho
Makes 5-6 servings

3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced in half
1 onion, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
1/4 cup olive oil
2 slices French bread
1 bell pepper (red, orange or yellow)
1 jalapeño pepper
juice of 1 lemon
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
2 crushed garlic cloves
2 cups thinly sliced pickling cucumbers
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions (about 2 stalks)
3 Tbsp fresh chopped cilantro

Preheat grill to medium high.  Brush cut sides of tomato, slices of onion and French bread with olive oil. Grill bread until toasted on both sides.  Place peppers on grill and grill until blistered, turning as needed.  Place onions on grill and grill for 10 minutes each side.  Add the tomatoes to the grill, cut side down, after flipping the onions.  Remove seeds from peppers (leave the jalapeño seeds if you want extra kick.)

In a blender, combine bread, grilled vegetables, two tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, half of the lemon juice and garlic.  Puree until smooth.  Add a little water if the soup is too thick.

Combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, remaining lemon juice, 1/4 tsp salt, sliced cucumbers, scallions and cilantro.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with a scoop of cucumber mixture.

Although traditionally a cold soup, this gazpacho is great served either hot OR cold.  It can be made a day or two in advance and chilled until ready to serve.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Spiced Blackberry Jam

I just love blackberries. I remember when I was growing up in Maine, they grew abundandtly (and still do) and you could pick them just about anywhere.  We had a campground that we always stayed at in the summer and the campsites were lined with raspberry, blackberry and black raspberry bushes.

One of the things I really wanted to make this summer was blackberry jam.  My grandmother did a lot of canning and made blackberry jam and it's always been one of my favorites.  It's just a little bit more tart than other berries and just so, so good.

Other than knowing that my grandma's jam was amazing, I just don't have the recipe for it.  So I searched a bit until I found a jam recipe than sounded good.  I finally found one at

Spiced Blackberry Jam
(adapted from

8 cups blackberries
4 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
freshly grated nutmeg
Juice of 1 lemon
1 packet liquid pectin

First off, prepare your jars.  This recipe made nearly 7 half pints for me.

Mash the blackberries.  If you want a seedless jam, you'll need to mash them up and put them through a fine strainer to remove the seeds.  I like the seeds in my jam, so I left them in.

In a large stock pot, add the berries and the sugar and bring to a simmer.  Add in the spices and lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Stir frequently to prevent burning and sticking.  Once the jam starts to thicken, add the pectin and return to a boil for 5 minutes.  I used my candy thermometer to monitor the temperature.  When it reached 220, I did the cold plate test (take a plate or bowl that's been in the freezer and put a dollop of jam on it.  When it gels, it is ready) and it was perfect.

Ladle jam into prepared jars, wipe rims, cover and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

I love the flavor of this jam.  The cinnamon and nutmeg give it just a nice little kick.  I don't think I'll be sharing this particular batch with anyone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summertime Dessert Series: Triple Berry Clafouti

Aren't these just gorgeous?  They are perfect and slightly tart.  My mouth is watering just writing this

My little munchkin and I spent an hour in the blazing California sun, in order to gather what amounted to about six pounds of beautiful, tart blackberries.  These berries are destined for all sorts of delectable treats.  Since we also had some beautiful raspberries to use up and I picked up another big tub of blueberries at Costco, I decided to try a dessert I have wanted to make for awhile, but hadn't gotten a chance to do: a clafouti.

Fresh from the oven!

According to Wikipedia, a clafouti is "a baked French dessert of black cherries arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. The clafoutis is dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm."  This is obviously a deviation from that, but the idea is still the same.  This recipe is adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and calls for a mixture of 3 cups of berries.  I did a cup each of blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.

Triple Berry Clafouti
2/3 cups whipping cream
1/3 cup soured milk
3 eggs
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup each blackberries, blueberries and raspberries

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with cooking or baking spray.

Mix berries together in the pie plate.  Combine all ingredients except the berries in a medium mixing bowl and whisk until smooth.  Add in a dash of salt.  The batter will be very thin.  Pour the batter over the berries in the pie plate.

Bake for 50-55 minutes (I baked mine for 50 minutes and it was perfect) or until the top is puffy and lightly browned.

Serve warm with either a light dusting of powdered sugar or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

This is nice for a summer dessert or brunch.  It tastes best when it is fresh from the oven!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Key Lime Curd

I recently lucked in to finding a two pound bag of tiny key limes for a mere $1.50.  That is a great deal, but a LOT of little limes to find a use for.  Right away, I decided to make a batch of lime curd, especially considering that I had a lot of left over egg yolks after the egg white intensive sponge cake I posted about the other day.  I've got a few ideas up my sleeve on what to do with the lime curd, but I haven't gotten there, yet.  For now, here is the lime curd recipe:

Going back a few months, I made some very nice lemon curd.  That recipe worked so well for me that I used it again here, substituting the lime for lemon in the recipe.

Key Lime Curd
6 large egg yolks 
3/4 cup lime juice
1 Tbsp grated lime zest
1/2 cup Splenda sugar blend (1 cup sugar if using regular sugar)
1 stick of butter, cut up
a few drops green food coloring (optional)

Combine the egg yolks, juice, zest and sugar in a medium saucepan and whisk together until smooth.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thicken and coats the back of a spoon (about 8-9 minutes.)  Remove from heat and start stirring in the butter, one piece at a time, ensuring that each piece melts completely before the addition of the next one.  At this point, you can add a few drops of green food coloring.  I added it because I wanted to be able to distinguish the lime curd from the lemon curd in my refrigerator.

Pour the completed curd into clean containers.  You can process canning jars to make it shelf stable, but I have heard that it doesn't keep for too long.  I chose to just refrigerate it.  I hope to use it up soon enough, anyway! (hint: I plan to pair it with some cherries very soon...)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summertime Dessert Series: Lemon-Lime Sponge Cake with Lime Seven Minute Frosting

Ah, summer.  I just love summertime desserts.  They are cool and refreshing and a great way to forget about the heat.  At least for a little while.  And here in the California Bay Area, have we ever got some summer heat!  After a cold and rainy Spring, Summer has come on and brought us temperatures in the 90s and 100s. Perfect weather for a nice, cool dessert.  I'm going to try to post a cool summertime dessert every week and this week I'm starting with this Lemon-Lime Sponge cake with cool lime Seven Minute Frosting.

I started with a recipe for a daffodil cake from the now out of print Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. It's a hand me down from my mom, and one of my favorites.  There is a color picture index with a picture for EVERY recipe.  Some of the recipes are a little outdated (Eggs En Gelee or Fish Mousse, anyone?)  But there are some great classic recipes and it's one of the first places I usually look.

So, the Daffodil cake recipe is an orange lemon flavored cake, topped with an orange lemon icing.  I decided to go a different way with the cake and made a lemon lime sponge cake and topped it with seven minute frosting, one of my favorites, a fluffy cooked frosting.

Lemon-Lime Sponge Cake
1 1/4 cup egg whites
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla extract (instead of extract here, I scraped one vanilla bean)
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup cake flour
4 egg yolks
2 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp lime zest

If you look REALLY closely here, you can see the vanilla bean flecks

Preheat oven to 375F.  In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat egg whites, cream of tartar, vanilla and salt on high speed until soft peaks form.   Sprinkle in sugar, two tablespoons at a time, while continuing to beat at high speed, until sugar dissolves and stiff glossy peaks form.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and add flour gradually, beating until just blended.  

In a separate bowl, beat yolks at high speed until thick and lemon colored.  Fold in half of the egg white mixture, along with the lemon and lime zest.  Drop alternating spoonfuls into a 10 inch tube pan.  Bake 35-40 minutes.

After removing fro the oven, invert cake and cool in pan for 1 hour. Placing it upside down on a wine or beer bottle works well for this.  While the cake cools, it's time to move on to the frosting.

I've seen several recipes for seven minute frosting, but this is the one that I used for this cake.  It is from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, another of my favorite cookbooks.  "Seven Minute" is a misnomer, though, as it takes a bit longer to make.

Lime Seven Minute Frosting
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
2 egg whites
1/4 cup cold water
2 tsp vanilla extract
zest and juice of 1 small lime

Combine all ingredients except vanilla in either a large, heat resistant mixing bowl, or the top of a large double boiler.  Set over simmering, but not boiling, water on low heat, making sure that  the bowl does not touch the water.

Beat with an electric beater until the frosting stands in peaks. This should take 5-7 minutes.  Remove from heat and continue to beat for a few more minutes, until frosting stiffens and stands in smooth, fluffy peaks.  Beat in vanilla, along with lime juice.  After frosting cake, sprinkle zest on top of cake.

I took this to a dinner at a friend's house and it got great reviews.  The hint of lemon and lime was perfect.

This post is linked at Sweets for a Saturday

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Independence Day Cake

Happy Fourth of July!

This is one of my favorite holidays.  I'm wildly patriotic and love to celebrate.  I love the cookouts, the fireworks, spending time with friends and family.  And I greatly enjoy coming up with creative desserts to share with a red, white and blue theme!

Someone recently pointed me in the direction of a blue velvet cake.  The blue hue was striking and I thought, "that would be awesome for a July 4th cake!"  And so this is what I came up with.  The blue didn't come out exactly as bright as I had hoped, but it is still a pretty blue.  I didn't have the royal blue food coloring, so I used Cars Blue, left over from someone's birthday cake last year.  But like I said, it was still pretty blue, and the taste was great.  Like red velvet, only blue.  I paired it with a classic white cake, white buttercream frosting and strawberries.

I found the original recipe for the blue velvet cake here.

Blue Velvet Cake
2 cups sugar (I used 1 cup Splenda for baking)
1 cups (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp royal blue food coloring
1 small dab violet food coloring
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease 2 round 8" or 9" cake pans, cut parchment paper to fit, and then grease parchment (I always use Baker's Joy and get great results.)
Using a mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each.  Mix cocoa powder and food coloring in a small bowl and add to the sugar mixture.
In a separate bowl, mix flour and salt together.  Add flour mixture and buttermilk to the sugar mixture, alternately.  Mix in vanilla.  In another small bowl, mix baking soda and vinegar. Add to cake batter.
Divide batter between the prepared pans and bake for 20-30 minutes.  Remove from oven when a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pans 15 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Classic White Cake (recipe from Better Homes and Gardens)
4 egg whites
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
Crumb coating
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup white shortening
1 3/4 cups sugar (I used 1 cup of Splenda for baking)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups buttermilk (or soured milk-add vinegar to sour the milk)

It's worth noting here, and I only just realized this, that I only used ONE cup of sour milk because I was reading the WRONG recipe.  *smacking head on the keyboard*

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease 2 round 8" or 9" cake pans, cut parchment paper to fit, and then grease parchment.  Sift together dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.  Beat shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for about 30 seconds.  Add in sugar and vanilla and beat until creamy.  Add egg whites, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.  
Add four and milk to butter mixture, alternately, beating on low speed until just combined after each addition.  Divide batter into prepared pans.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool in pans 10 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Freshly frosted
Buttercream Frosting (recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)
I needed 1 1/2 of this recipe to frost this cake, this is a single recipe

1 cup shortening
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 lb powdered sugar (about 4 cups-although, I actually weighed it this time)
4-5 Tbsp milk

WIth an electric mixer on medium speed, beat shortening and vanilla for 30 seconds.  Add about half of the powdered sugar and beat well.  Beat in 2 tablespoons of milk.  Add in remaining powdered sugar and beat well.  Add in as much of the remaining milk to reach the desired consistency (I ended up using 5)

Assembling the Cake

Wash and pat dry 1 pint of similar sized strawberries, along with one large strawberry.  Berries should be ripe and firm, not mushy at all.  Set aside.

Place two wide strips of wax paper on your cake stand or cake taker. Removing these later will give the bottom of the cake a very clean finish.  I chose to layer the cakes white, blue, white blue.  On each layer,
spread a generous amount of frosting and place next layer.  When all layers are in place, frost entire cake with a thin crumb coating.  Allow cake to set for about ten minutes and then continue frosting the cake with the rest of the frosting.  There should be enough for a nice thick layer.

Once the cake is frosted, gently remove the wax paper strips from beneath the cake.  You should have a nice clean finish.  Now it's time to add the strawberries.  Hull and slice the similar sized berries in half and arrange all along the bottom edge of the cake.  Take the large strawberry and using either a knife or an egg slicer, slice it almost down to the hull, fan out the slices and place it on top of the cake.  And you're done!

I hope you all have a fabulous July 4th weekend, wherever you are.  And take a moment to appreciate that, despite not being perfect, America is still a pretty great place to be!