Frozen Fruit Phobia

Imagine yourself wanting to make a raspberry sauce.  You toss a couple of mostly thawed bags of raspberries into the pot with some cornstarch and sugar.  The raspberries almost immediately begin to break up.  You use a spoon to stir, bringing up berries from the bottom.  You are looking for any stray ice chunks to break up.  Those ice chunks are usually darker in color..and hey that looks like a darker bit.  A really darker bit…like black.  And sweet Jesus could those be legs?!?  No…. of course not.  How could it be, let me look just a little closer. Those ARE legs.  Oh.  My.  God.
That was the conversation I had inside my head.  What came out of my mouth was slightly less articulate.   I wimpered slightly and backed away from the pot.  I kept whispering “legs..there are legs.”  A bit like a horror movie, I would point, whimper something inarticulate and shudder.  It was a ginormous beetle hanging out in my frozen raspberries.  More than an inch long.  I sealed it in a container from the recycle bin with the berries.  After all, if cockroaches can survive nuclear winter, surely this monster could survive being flash frozen?  Not worth risking it.  I kept having visions of the legs starting to twitch.  Know all that I am shuddering a bit just typing that.  I was going to feed that to people.   Imagine if it had been black berries, and I hadn’t spotted the bug?  YUCK!!

I wrote an email to the company, letting them know that bugs do not equal satisfaction, at least not in this woman’s kitchen.  They kindly wrote back offering a refund and gift certificates for more of their products.  Um no.  No, thank you.  I realize that could happen, it was probably just a freak incident of mutant black bug sneaking its way into my frozen berries.  I took a post-bug hiatus from working with frozen fruit for six months.   A couple of weeks ago, I caved.  The guys at work had been whining for a blueberry cheesecake.  Late fall in Wisconsin is not ideal berrying time, so I had to face the frozen isle.  I made them the Ultimate Cheesecake, using thinned out blueberry jam to create blueberry swirls.  I topped the whole thing with bug free blueberry topping.  The topping would go well with a variety of desserts, like pound cake or the cheesecake I made.  I can thankfully add that no giant bugs emerged from the depths of the pot and was nightmare free.

Blueberry Topping

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces frozen blueberries, thawed
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice from ½ a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a thick bottomed saucepan.
  2. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
  3. Cook until the berries break down.  I didn’t want them broken all the way down, there should still be round berries in the syrup.  This should take less than 5 minutes.
  4. Allow the sauce to cool, cover and refrigerate.
  5. Serve over the top of your favorite dessert and enjoy!

bb

Gingerbread Pudding

Fall is finally upon us and with it, cooler weather.  No longer do we (and by we I mean I) look at our kitchens as one of the levels of hell that Dante inexplicably neglected to mention.   Time once again for cheesecakes that take hours in the oven and cookies and breads.  Time for chili and roasts and soups and stews.  Almost time for apple everything and more pumpkin spiced products than is decent.  Time to get everyone fat for winter, also time for me to get jogging so I look thinner than all the people I am fattening up!

I have a friend who used to email me a “National Food Day” email.  One day she sent me an email for National Indian Pudding Day.  I had no idea what on earth that was, let alone what it did to deserve a day of its own.  My research tells me that it is a New England dish, and that the Indian refers to the cornmeal from which it is made.  Cornmeal was once called Indian meal (please no hate mail).  As far as getting its own day, no idea why, perhaps it was what Paul Revere stopped and ate on his ride.  I found a few recipes in my research and there seems to be several different versions with several different spice mixes.  As I thought of ginger as soon as I read the molasses, I decided to make mine as much like a gingerbread cookie as possible.  Indian pudding is not a beautiful dish when it comes out of the oven.  No one will look at it and demand to put it on the cover of a magazine.  Some things are meant to be eaten, not become the equivalent of a food selfie.  Just spoon some into a bowl, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, close your eyes and enjoy!

Gingerbread Pudding

Ingredients:

  • Slightly more than 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter, unsalted or salted and skip adding the salt listed below
  • ½ cup dark molasses
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 275º F and butter a 1 ½-2 quart baking dish and set aside.
  2. In saucepan, add the cornmeal and slowly (at first) stir in the milk.  You don’t want lumps.  I use a whisk throughout as my stirring, mixing implement.
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly,  once the boil is reached, cook for 3 minutes.
  4. Reduce heat to its lowest setting and cook for 15 more minutes, stirring often.
  5. Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients.
  6. Once thoroughly combined, put the pudding into the buttered baking dish
  7. Bake for 2 ½-3 hours.  The center will look firm, but will still quiver a bit when shaken.  A dark crust will have formed on top of the pudding.
  8. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream

As most people I know don’t make a lot of puddings of this type,  I am adding reheating instructions.  Refrigerate any leftovers.  They can be reheated in the oven if you cover with aluminum foil at the same baking temperature for 45 minutes.  Somethings are just better reheated in the oven (like pizza) and avoiding the microwave all together.

Not all comfort food is beautiful.

Not all comfort food is beautiful.

Chocolate Mousse Cups

No drooling on the screen please.

No drooling on the screen please.

I know I had you at Chocolate, right?  Don’t worry too much about the calories on this one, you will earn them.  Yes, I know it is me saying it, and I promised to make you chubby so I don’t have to diet quite so hard….but this time, I mean it.  This recipe dirties an incredible amount of dishes.  It is also quite whisky…but worth it (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  I felt like a genius after making these, until I tried to transport them.  They do not travel well.  One corner turned and they became an ugly pile of rich chocolate deliciousness that I needed photographic evidence to prove myself with.  In the future, I will make them at home and gorge myself on them before the dirty dish guilt kicks in.  For the cups, I cheated because I ran out of dishes, and just bought Athens Mini Fillo Shells  (I swear I included the link so you know I know how to spell).  I also used whipped cream out of a can, don’t judge me.

Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons coffee (if you hate coffee, use liqueur or water)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 large, room temperature eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 3 additional tablespoons of coffee (or water)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup additional sugar (are you beginning to see where all of the dishes are coming from?)
  • 1/2 cup cold heavy cream
  • 1 ounce chocolate for grating

Directions:

  1. Heat a couple of inches of water in a saucepan just until bubbles start forming on the bottom of the pan.  In a heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate, butter, vanilla and 2 tablespoons of coffee (or substitute).  Please bowl in hot water, turning down the temperature to keep the water from boiling.  Stir until the chocolate is melted.  Remove from heat.
  2. In another heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks, 3 tablespoons coffee (or water) and 3 tablespoons sugar until completely combined.  Please bowl in hot water and whisk constantly until mixture is thick and puffy.  Remove and whisk into chocolate combination.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  3. Pull out the stand mixer.  Beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form.  Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar.  Increase speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form.
  4. Add 1/4 of the egg white mixture to the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining egg white mixture into chocolate until completely combined.
  5. In another bowl, or after you wash the last bowl (sigh), beat heavy cream on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.  Or, it someone bought you an over-sized stand mixer (like me), just whisk like mad.  It actually took less time to whisk the cream to soft peaks.  You just need to keep the bowl fairly cold.
  6. Thoroughly fold the cream into the chocolate.
  7. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Add whipped cream, chocolate shavings and phyllo dough and enjoy!

Dirt Cups and Envy

dirt cup

This week I made dirt cups for the first time.  I admit that this is in no way shape or form baking or cooking (just mixing really), but it will make others fat so it slides in on a technicality.  The experts…read those that have had it before…liked them.  I will include the recipe at the end of the post.  I doubled up and did a two layer version with chocolate and vanilla.  I had some chocolate left over at the end that I could have put in some cups by themselves.  As noted in the picture above, I decorated with gummy butterflies and called it a day.

For this post I would like to explore envy instead of recipes.  First, if you are the type of foodie who also enjoys cooking, you will recognize product envy.  Right now my teeny, tiny kitchen is without an electric food processor or blender.  While visiting my dear friend Julie recently, I had the opportunity to use her Ninja to crush cookies into crumbs for a crust.  While I very much enjoy using my meat tenderizer to beat cookies into submission, I occasionally want to not spend a half an hour doing so.  I must, having used the Ninja for a nanosecond to do the same job, add an electric toy to my Christmas list.  The problem is deciding which one.  Do I want a Cuisinart food processor or a Ninja processor/blender?  Maybe a KitchenAid?  For my product junkies out there, which do you recommend and why?  I can see me using it a lot to pulverize things for crusts, but am willing to experiment with sauces, dough and whatever else.

The other green monster this week was the cake that my cousin Kaylie made for her mother’s birthday.  Now Kaylie is a wonderful pastry chef (apparently making other people fat is genetic), and has mad crazy baking skills, but she will be the first person to tell you that she is not a fan of decoration.  And then she produces lovely cakes like the one below…(sigh) and I can’t even frost a cake without punching it on accident.  It just doesn’t feel fair.  I consider it a success to place a gummy bug on some crushed sandwich cookies and she wishes she could do better than lovely pink roses.  Perhaps I need to take a class or two just so I don’t actually die of decorating envy.  I am starting to feel the same inadequacy that I felt when I remembered that I couldn’t try out for cheerleading because I was incapable of doing a cartwheel (oh the shame of the uncoordinated).

cake

Anyways, enough envy for this week, here is the recipe for the dirt cups, I doubled the recipe to make 24 cups and used 9 ounce plastic cups.

Dirt Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 package Oreo cookies
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups milk, cold
  • 2 packages (3.5 ounce-each) of instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 (12 ounce) container Cool Whip, thawed

Directions:

  • Pulverize the cookies until they resemble dirt (not dust, dirt, slightly crumbly)
  • Blend  the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla until light and fluffy
  • In a large bowl whisk together the milk and pudding mix for about two minutes.  Let stand for another two minutes.
  • Fold Cool Whip into pudding mixture until completely combined.
  • Take a quarter of the pudding mixture and blend (on low) with the cream cheese mixture to lighten it.  Then fold in the remaining pudding mixture.
  • Divide evenly into 9 ounce cups and cover the surface with the crushed Oreos.  Decorate with gummy bugs, worms or silk flowers.

Ode to Ganache

Ganache is, according to the folks at Merriam-Webster, derived from the french word for jowl and so fits perfectly in with my desire to ruin the figures of all skinny people.  You cannot beat a rich chocolate for ganache for decadent yum factor.  It is versatile for your needs, make it a little thinner and you have a glaze, chill it in a different way and you can make truffles, whip it after chilling and you have an amazing chocolate frosting.  The best part, it is so easy that anyone can make it.  It does not require hours of fiddling or tempering or whipping in a counter-clockwise direction at exactly 12.5 miles per hour while standing on one leg and singing an aria from Aida.  Even I, humble failure at all things related to toppings, can manage not to mess up ganache.  Speaking of all things failure related…one of the best uses I have found is to top off cheesecakes with it.  The ganache hides those embarrassing cracks that occur when you can’t be bothered to provide a water bath.  It covers all but the worst of the cosmetic issues that a cheesecake can come up with and does so in a way that makes you look like a dessert genius.  The recipe below is my standard for cheesecake cover-ups, pun intended.  I have used it on Boston Cream Pie Cheesecake, Turtle Cheesecake, Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cheesecake…the list goes on.  Just remember, the higher the cacao percentage, the more intense the chocolate flavor.  I like to use 60% or higher.  Let me know if you would like yet another cheesecake recipe and I will add the chocolate or the chocolate covered strawberry recipe next.  If you get the chance, you can also tell me what you would cover up with ganache.

Ganache:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips/finally chopped pieces

Heat cream on low temperature until it begins to simmer, do not let it boil.  I like to look for it to start producing a hint of a bubble or two just on the edge of the saucepan.  Remove from heat and add chocolate.  Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir until uniform in texture and color.  For my cheesecakes, I then allow it to cool for an hour before pouring over the top of the cheesecake and chilling for at let an hour to allow the topping to set.

Lake of Chocolate Goodness atop the Chocolate Cheesecake

Lake of Chocolate Goodness atop the Chocolate Cheesecake