Friday, July 18, 2014

Almond scones...and almond peach shortcakes

It is pretty well established that I love things made with almond paste - cookiescakescupcakesbreadscroissants, you name it!  And now, I get to add scones to the list.
Almond scones made with almond paste
It wasn't until last November that I made scones for the first time.  I converted/educated myself and my family by trying that recipe and we've been enjoying those orange-chocolate-vanilla bean scones fairly regularly ever since.  My husband and I never thought we'd be oohing and ahhing over scones but we've been doing just that when we eat those.  So needless to say, I pay far more attention to scone recipes now and when I spotted one for almond scones on Food52 - ones that use almond paste - I've been itching to try it!
I love the deep, aromatic, sweet flavor that comes from almond paste.  The best part might be the chewiness it lends to things, scones included, as I've now discovered.  

These scones have grated almond paste distributed within them.  Grating almond paste on a box grater is a technique I learned recently while making the tri-color cookie cake.  It seems to be a great way to disperse the almond paste evenly into the batter. 
Freeze canned almond paste for 15 minutes and grate it easily using the large opening
Thanks to that almond paste, the scones bake up with a signature almond flavor, with a center that's a little bit chewy.  That chewiness is my favorite part and the thing that keeps me going back for more!  I do love all things almonds and I'd gladly eat these almond scones any day.

Peach shortcakes with almond scones

I thought I'd make these scones go double-duty and I used them to assemble some shortcakes.  Just like I used some of those lighter buttermilk biscuits to make strawberry shortcakes a while back, I decided to take these almond scones to make simple peach shortcakes (let's take advantage of some good peaches while they are readily available)! 
It's as easy as slicing open an almond scone and filling it with some slices of slightly-sweetened ripe peaches (I tossed them in a little sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice).  You could even add a small splash of liqueur (like amaretto) if you like.  Spoon the juices right over and let it seep into the scone...the scones were made to absorb that extra moisture.
A little whipped cream and your almond scone for breakfast (or afternoon tea) subs in for dessert. How fun is that!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

All that corn...

I've got fresh corn on the brain lately.  All year round, I keep frozen corn (and peas) in my freezer and I love heating some up to eat with my lunch.  But this time of year, it's all about the fresh stuff. Since I live in New Jersey, you know there's plenty of "Jersey fresh corn" to be had and no excuse not to take advantage of it.
Of course, I love the simplicity of just eating corn-on-the-cob and I may throw together a succotash if I have some other fixings around.  But walking around the farmer's market and seeing the mounds of fresh corn all around had me wanting to find some different ways of cooking with it.

So I spotted a little recipe for fresh corn cakes in the latest issue of Cooking Light magazine (real time cooking again!) and that's what I decided to make with some of the corn I picked up at Sunday's farmer's market.  I used the yellow-and-white variety...I know that white kernels are supposed to be sweeter but I love the cheerfulness of the bright yellow ones and bi-color corn seems to be the best of both worlds to me.  
Silver dollar corn cakes: made with cornmeal, buttermilk, and plenty of fresh sweet corn
These little silver dollar corn cakes are easily made with cornmeal, some flour, a little baking powder, buttermilk, and the star of the show: fresh corn kernels.  Some scallions add a little color and savoriness and I tossed in a little paprika and white pepper to balance out some of the sweetness.  And speaking of sweetness - I could hardly believe there was just a teaspoon of sugar in my batch of about a dozen-and-a-half corn cakes!  It was so sweet, thanks to that delicious fresh, sweet corn.

This reminds me that fresh corn - at their peak like this - is good even eaten raw, maybe tossed in a salad.  I served my silver dollar fresh corn cakes for Sunday night dinner with some pork tenderloin and roasted fingerling potatoes.  
Dinner last Sunday night

Friday, July 11, 2014

Chocolate pavlovas with ice cream

It's that time of year again when I'm preoccupied with thoughts of ice cream, and different ways of eating and presenting it.  Ice cream and frozen treats are one of the best things about summer!
Remember how I've been boasting about being more productive and timely lately in cooking/baking recipes that catch my eye thanks to a little organization and menu-planning that I started doing this year?  Well, for all that, there are plenty of old recipes ripped out from magazines or bookmarked from websites that still await.  You could say these chocolate pavlovas were five years in the making.  The recipe that inspired this comes from an old Jan. 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living that I kept.  I don't know if I used to be more sentimental or if past content was better than it is now but I have a handful of old magazines I can't seem to part with...and that's unlike me since I love throwing things out!
The gorgeous chocolate pavlova in the Jan. 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living that inspired my far-less-gorgeous mini ones for ice cream
Once in a blue moon, I take out one of those old magazines and remember why I kept them.  With ice cream on my mind, I decided to make a few small pavlovas inspired by the one in the magazine and use them as a base for some ice cream instead of the chocolate and whipped cream featured in the original.

I didn't want/need a giant pavlova so I divided the recipe in half and "stretched" it into three 4-inch chocolate pavlovas, just what I needed for an afternoon summer treat for the three of us.  I was thinking of them as little serving plates or saucers for the ice cream.
I stretched a bit too much (or maybe I should say "too thin")...I tend to forget that lofty mounds of meringue spread and thin out after baking.  So my pavlovas were flatter than I envisioned.  I probably baked them a bit longer than I should have, too.  The very centers were still nice and chewy - with chocolate flavor that's distinctive yet light - but the edges were drier and harder than I was aiming for.  This is what I get for messing with recipes sometimes, but no regrets.  

A few minutes into eating this, we were breaking the pavlovas up with our hands and making a mess of it.  It was a tasty mess though so no one complained.  If you're a fan of contrasting textures like I am, you might enjoy your ice cream this way too.   
On the general subject of pavlovas and meringuesFrancois Payard makes a roule cake with these meringue curls on top that are soft as pillows!  My pavlova and meringue-making (and even eating) experience is very limited but I'd sure love to know how to make those...they literally melt in your mouth.  Every time I see, make, or eat any kind of meringue, I talk about those and I just may be holding all others against that standard.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Miso garlic noodles with mushrooms

Can you hear that?  No?  That's okay because I don't hear anything either!  My recently whiny, noisy computer has been replaced with a new - blissfully quiet - one.  We finally made the switch to mac after talking about it for years...I'm loving it so far though it takes a little getting used to.
Spaghetti with mushrooms in a miso-garlic sauce (with olive oil instead of butter)
The computer upgrade is just one of several projects happening on the home front right now. It's all good though and I'm happy to be busy in a good way.  Despite how much we may be running around, going out, or attending to things at home, quick-and-easy meals are never far from my mind.

I've been wanting to try cooking with miso for a long time now.  A few weeks ago, I spotted a small container of yellow miso at Trader Joe's; it was inexpensive and had a long expiration date so I decided to pick one up thinking that seeing it in the fridge will get me motivated.  It worked and I started by making a very simple miso garlic pasta with mushrooms.  I made it for a quick lunch after picking up some gray oyster mushrooms at the farmer's market in the morning.  Any mushroom, or a medley of them, would work well.  While most miso pasta/noodle recipes I've seen use butter, I generally prefer to cook with olive oil so I tried it that way and it turned out great!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lighter coconut chicken curry

I love a good curry - the spice, the burst of flavors, and the sauce that goes so well with a bowl of rice.  It is pure comfort food for me and I like to eat it all year round.
Spicy with a bit of sweetness from light coconut milk, sweet potatoes, and peas
In the past, we'd head to a restaurant for our curry fix, but now, I mainly make it at home.  You don't need me to tout the benefits of cooking and eating at home.  This recipe is an example of that.  It's lighter than your typical takeout curry and still packed with flavor.  This particular curry is spicy but also a little sweet thanks to not only coconut milk but the sweet potatoes in it.  I am a certified sweet potato fanatic so I love using them in just about anything.  I'd never had curry with sweet potatoes before this and I've discovered that I really enjoy it so I have yet another way to eat sweet potatoes now!

For me, eating a bowl of curry always feels a little decadent but I can readily enjoy this lighter version.  The use of light coconut milk in this recipe cuts down on the fat significantly.  I absolutely adore coconut milk and I really like using the lighter variety.  While it may not be as rich and thick, it still provides plenty of that amazingly aromatic coconut flavor so it's a compromise I'm more than willing to make.  And letting the light coconut milk cook and reduce makes for a thicker sauce and intensifies the flavors in the finished curry.
Of course, this is easy to make!  Ninety percent of the time, I'm all about quick-and-easy cooking! So while it's summer and hot out, this doesn't require a lot of time standing over the stove.  You can make this in under half an hour and serve it right up with some rice for a satisfying dinner.  As with all curries, the other benefit is how great it is as a make-ahead.  The flavors get a chance to meld and intensify and leftovers are all the better.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Raspberry buttermilk cake

This simple raspberry buttermilk cake recipe posted by Smitten Kitchen was recommended to me a while back and I've been wanting to make it ever since.  I filed it away in the back of my mind and when I walked into Whole Foods the other day and spotted a sale on organic raspberries and remembered the buttermilk I had in the fridge at home, it was my chance.
I suspected this simple cake would be good and it truly was.  In short, I could sum it up by saying this is just a wonderful everyday cake and a great one for summertime.  The buttermilk cake base itself is a great canvas for whatever seasonal fruit you might want to drop within.
The cake is moist and tender, light, and not overly sweet or rich.  A little lemon zest might be considered optional but I think it adds a great extra level of flavor.  As the raspberries bake, they intensify and the result is a candy-like smell and taste that makes this a great afternoon treat or a lovely summertime dessert after dinner.
I may be a chocoholic but I do enjoy a little variety.  And I love everyday cakes like this one that are a bit lighter and no-fuss to put together.  It's all the better when you can play around with the ingredients a bit.  I foresee blueberry and strawberry buttermilk cakes in my future.    

Monday, June 23, 2014

Caramelized banana split

I'm going to be forced to be concise today.  As I type this, my computer is moving at a snail's pace and making funny noises; I'm just hoping to complete this post before it crashes completely.  It's just one of many things going on lately.  This past month has been a full one - filled with good things like birthdays, family gatherings, school activities, and weddings, as well as some not-so-great things like dealing with home maintenance issues (let's just say Roto Rooter was involved). 
With so much going on, this dessert was a belated Father's Day treat for my husband.  The little one (he might be 9 now but I'll still be calling him my "little one" for a while) helped me make this caramelized banana split and it was a hit with my banana-dessert-loving husband.

It's really simple to make by slicing up a slightly under-ripe banana, coating the pieces in some brown sugar and caramelizing them in a little bit of butter.  Top it with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and toasted almond slices.  And I don't know about you but I can't envision anything called "banana split" without ice cream so I added a scoop of neapolitan ice cream alongside.
It's a fun, tasty, as well as quick-and-easy dessert to whip up for anyone who love bananas.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Oreo mint-chocolate-chip ice cream cake...and a birthday shout-out

My son is officially *9*!  I'm a bit shocked just thinking about it! 
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY" to my little guy!!
(I think he's now officially earned big guy status!)

I think a birthday is the ultimate reason for celebration and all the more so when it's a child's special day.  So it's time for another ice cream cake!  I've gotten into the habit of making some sort of ice cream cake for my son's birthday in the last few years.  They're easy to make (I keep it simple), delicious (because we're talking ice cream so you just can't go wrong), and perfect for summer - or near-summer - birthday boys and girls.
Oreo cookie crust, plenty of mint chocolate chip gelato and whipped cream frosting
I stick to basic flavors my son enjoys.  This year's ice cream cake is made with an Oreo cookie base, topped with homemade mint chocolate chip gelato, and iced with whipped cream.  It may be just a 6-inch cake but I packed a good quart of gelato/ice cream in there!  My boy likes ice cream and plenty of it!
Knowing that I'm not exactly deft at cake decorating, I was a little concerned about frosting the ice cream cake.  I used stabilized whipped cream, or whipped cream with some bloomed gelatin added, to make sure it would hold up and not separate.  I managed the stabilized whipped cream and I got through the frosting.  No one will say my homemade cakes don't look homemade!  The main thing is the birthday boy approved!  He took a look at my concoction after school and wanted to dig into it right away because "it looked so good" (yay!).  In fact, we actually did slice into this homemade birthday cake a bit early.  Since dad has to work late on the actual big day, we started the cake-eating early.
To be honest, it feels like we've been in birthday celebration mode for a while.  I think children's birthday celebrations always seem to stretch at least a week or more!  This year's celebration included an early birthday party two weekends ago with a group of buddies.  This year, my son opted for a noise-infused gathering: think bumper cars, arcade style games, capped off with pizza and ice cream cake.  Having a party outside of the house sure makes for easy clean-up!  The party venue doesn't allow you to bring any food except for a cake or cupcakes.  My son wanted the ice cream cake they serve there but I couldn't resist bringing a little something extra, even if it was totally unnecessary. I thought I'd bring mini cupcakes, and the birthday boy settled on yellow cupcakes with his favorite chocolate frosting.  I was surprised by his yellow cake selection but I suspect the cake was secondary to the frosting!  Here are some of those cupcakes...the one with the gold stars was special for the birthday boy:
Meanwhile, I think June rivals December for "busiest month of the year" status.  It's been a crazy month or so and I'm sure many of you can relate!  The school year wraps up very soon and I'm looking forward to a slower pace.