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!

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Pumpkin Bandwagon

Congratulations to Starbucks for the creation of Pumpkin Spice Mania.  You can find that flavor available in nearly everything from beef jerky (okay I am judging-yuck), M&M’s, beer and donuts to candles and air fresheners.  In fact, since 2008 the number of pumpkin spice products has risen well over 200%.  I had a horrifying moment at the gas station the other day when I thought I saw pumpkin flavored Snickers.   After a few seconds of beginning the “They have gone too far” rant in my head I realized they were pumpkin shaped Snickers.  The real surprise there was that it shocked me to think such a thing was out of place considering how many product lines are trying to cash in on trend.

Now normally I like to think that I avoid trendiness.  I make pumpkin spice cupcakes in March, because I am a rebel.  That is right, there is no telling what I will get up to-look out world!  To my shame, I now have to admit to hopping on the bandwagon.  In my defense, it was a special request from a friend of mine and it turned out lovely.  For those of you who saw the pictures on Facebook and asked if I delivered…here is the recipe.

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake:

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter,melted
  • 16 ounces (2 blocks) of cream cheese, softened
  • 16 ounces (2 blocks) low-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 can (15 ounce) pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ nutmeg
  • 1 dash ground cloves

Directions:

  1. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the melted butter in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed.  Press the mixture into the bottom and partially up the sides of a 9″ springform pan.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325º
  3. In a large bowl beat the cream cheese, ¾ cup sugar and vanilla on medium speed until completely combined.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each just until combined.
  5. Remove 1 ½ cups of the batter and reserve.
  6. Add the pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ¼ cup sugar to the remaining batter and blend to combine.
  7. Pour ½ the pumpkin batter into the springform pan.  Drop spoonfuls of ½ the plain batter in a random pattern.  Repeat with remaining batters.
  8. Swirl with a butter knife to create the marble pattern.
  9. Place pan on the rack positioned in the lower third of oven and bake for 1 hour, 15 minutes or until almost set.
  10. Turn the oven off and crack open the door, leaving the cheesecake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven and allow cheesecake to come to room temperature.
  12. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

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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.

Biscuit Nostalgia

Way, way back in the middle ages, when I was a teenager working at Hardees, I was the biscuit girl.  I would wake up at 3:30 am in the morning and go in and make biscuits.  Getting up so hellishly early may have seemed like a crap job, but from my perspective, I would get done early enough to enjoy the rest of my day.  I would make the biscuits by hand in a giant bowl: add the dry ingredients, cut in the shortening by hand, add the ice-cold buttermilk and then use my short little arms to mix away.  Don’t worry, I washed up first.  My hands would ache with the cold from the buttermilk.  You would think, after such a glamorous adventure, that I would hate biscuits, but I loved them, even as a surly teenager.  I had not attempted to make them as a surly adult until now, but I always order them at restaurants.  Minus the gravy.  I do not love sausage gravy.  Please feel free to send all the hate mail you want.  This surly adult eats her biscuits with butter and honey.

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One of the secrets behind a great biscuit turns out to be the mixing by hand.  Go ahead and use a spatula if you must, I will not judge because I too hate having crap all over my hands, but it really is the best way.  The recipe below is for a small batch of biscuits, enough for one meal, which is good, as they are best fresh from the oven.  As indulging in a tray of biscuits as supper seems like a bad idea, I made a chicken as a side dish:)  Enjoy!

Buttermilk Biscuits:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter, plus 1 tablespoon melted
  • 1 cup buttermilk.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 450º
  • In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and cut in the cold butter until it looks like coarse meal.  I always think it looks like sand.
  • Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the buttermilk and mix just until combined.  The dough should be very wet.
  • Place the dough on a floured board and, using your hands, fold dough four times.  You will probably want to flour your hands..unlike what I said earlier about the spatula, a rolling-pin is a big no-no at this point.
  • Press the dough to 1 inch thick and use a round cutter (or a cold glass if you don’t have a round cutter) to cut out the biscuits.  You can gently put the scraps together to make more-the purists will tell you it isn’t as good, but why waste the dough?
  • Place the rounds on a cookie sheet, or even better, a baking stone and bake for 10 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.
  • Remove from oven and brush the tops with melted butter.

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!