Wednesday, August 29, 2012

mushroom marsala bruschetta




I love bruschetta…and crostini!  It's so tasty - and the perfect lunch, light dinner, or appetizer!       A lightly toasted, crisp, crusty bread, with a melding of delicious flavors stacked upon it -  the toppings are literally limited only by your imagination.  I recently read a delectable recipe using figs, gorgonzola and honey…oh my goodness, hold me back! ;)  I'm definitely trying that soon!

Traditional bruschetta is toasted over coals, a grill, or an oven, brushed with garlic, then topped with chopped tomatoes and basil, and drizzled with olive oil.  Crostini meaning "little toasts", is topped with any of the same lovely ingredients you would stack on bruschetta, only using little pieces of bread, usually a sliced baguette.



the lovely ingredients:  cremini mushrooms, gorgonzola, walnuts, butter, fresh parsley and thyme,
olive oil, marsala, and crusty whole grain bread



My lovely daughter, Kelly, came to visit a couple weekends ago.  She lives only a half hour from me, but with our busy schedules, we're unable to enjoy each other's company as often as I would like - it's usually by phone or text. She loves the biking and running trail near my home, so she decided to go out for an afternoon run before we went out for dinner.  I knew she would be gone for a couple hours, so decided to surprise her and prepare a nice late afternoon appetizer / light dinner for when she returned, rather than going out like we had planned.  My thoughts went directly to bruschetta.  I had all the ingredients, except the crusty bread, which I ran out to buy. We could enjoy the tasty bruschetta, with a bottle of wine, sitting in my pretty pastel colored backyard adirondack chairs, and catch up on everything.  Those poor adirondack chairs never get the use they deserve, so this was the perfect opportunity.

All my lovely ingredients gathered together, I went about quickly preparing the mushroom marsala bruschetta, before she returned home.  I decided to photograph along the way, so I could share this great recipe with my readers, who I appreciate so much!  Kelly returned home to the plate of four incredibly delicious mushroom marsala bruschetta sitting on the plate above.  It turned out to be a wonderful evening together over lots of talk, laughter, eating, and wine! :)

Enjoy this easy to make, great blend of flavor on your favorite lightly toasted, crusty bread with friends this weekend.  I may have to join you, and create it again myself!

Until next time…mangia!  xox

Carol






Mushroom Marsala Bruschetta
Yield:  4 - 5 large slices or 8 - 10 small slices

Ingredients:

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces cremini or baby bella mushrooms sliced (I used cremini)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 cup sweet or dry marsala (I used dry)
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons toasted chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
4 - 5 slices large crusty bread or 8 - 10 small slices
1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese crumbles

Create the Bruschetta:

Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the mushrooms, and cook over medium heat until they are tender and lightly browned.  Add the thyme, salt and pepper, and marsala.  Cook over medium-high heat until the wine begins to reduce and thicken.  Remove from the heat and add the butter, walnuts, and parsley.

Toast the bread slices under the broiler until lightly browned on both sides.  Place the bread slices on a platter and spoon the mushroom mixture unto each slice.

Sprinkle the cheese crumbles on top of the mushroom mixture and serve!

Carol's note:
I thought it would be nice to feature this recipe after my tiramisu cupcakes.  If you happened to have bought a bottle of Marsala for the cupcakes, you can put it to good use with this savory appetizer as well!  And coming next, another sweet recipe you can also utilize the Marsala with.  I hate any lovely ingredient going unused! :)

Recipe adapted from Italian Food Forever.

Friday, August 24, 2012

tiramisu cupcakes with mascarpone frosting




TGIF!!!  Seriously.  Time for a cupcake using the ethereal mascarpone!  When I introduced a cup of mascarpone nearly 6 weeks ago, my first post was such a hard decision.  I knew I wanted to use a recipe with my blog's namesake mascarpone, but which one?  I have so many mascarpone recipes in the planning stages, but my first post came down to two.  The divine Blueberry and Lemon Mascarpone Tart won out over the tiramisu cupcakes, but for only one reason - it was blueberry season!  What better way to showcase one of the luscious fruits of the season, than to combine it with lemon and mascarpone.  My tiramisu cupcakes were waiting patiently in the wings ready to proudly show off!






The Tiramisu Cupcake with Mascarpone Frosting, is an individual little delicacy adaptation of Italian Tiramisu, and will be the centerpiece of any special occasion!  The extra egg yolks make this delicious, vanilla bean sponge cupcake able to withstand the generous layer upon layer soaking of the coffee-marsala syrupy goodness.  These delicious cupcakes can be served at room temperature; however, when chilled, there is something  remarkable about them!

Yes, they do take a little extra tender loving care to create over your everyday cupcake, but it is so well worth it! Consider it as tiramisu 101 - the elementary stage before someday creating the delectable tiramisu!

The blanketing of mascarpone frosting, and dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder is so delicious, delicate and refreshing, you will want to use it on more than just this tiramisu cupcake.  In fact, this weekend's baking in my kitchen (along with a savory treat) is going to feature chocolate mascarpone frosting, and I can't wait!

I hope you have lots of fun creating - and eating, these scrumptious cupcakes!  Have a great weekend!

Until next time…mangia!  xox

Carol






Tiramisu Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting
Makes 15 - 18 cupcakes
Read through the recipe before beginning.  It will make each stage so much easier!

Ingredients:

for the cupcakes:
1 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
3 large whole eggs plus 3 egg yolks, at room termperature
1 cup granulated sugar

for the coffee-marsala syrup:
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly brewed very strong coffee or espresso
1 ounce marsala (I used an Italian dry Marsala)
1/4 cup granulated sugar

for the mascarpone frosting:
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting

Create the cupcakes:

make the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  Heat milk and vanilla-bean pod and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat just until bubbles appear around the edge.  Remove from heat.  Whisk in butter until melted, and let stand 15 minutes.  Strain milk mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl, and discard vanilla-bean pod.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk together whole eggs, yolks, and sugar.  Set mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water, and whisk by hand until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm, about 6 minutes.  Remove bowl from heat.  With an electric mixer on high speed, whisk until mixture is fluffy, pale yellow, and thick enough to hold a ribbon on the surface for several seconds when whisk is lifted.

Gently but thoroughly fold flour mixture into the egg mixture in three batches; stir 1/2 cup batter into the strained milk mixture to thicken, then fold milk mixture into the remaining batter until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until centers are completely set and edges are light golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

make the coffee-marsala syrup:
Prepare the syrup while the cupcakes are baking.  Stir together coffee, marsala, and sugar until sugar is dissolved.  Let cool and set aside.

make the mascarpone frosting:
Prepare frosting after you have finished brushing your cupcakes with the syrup, since you will need to use it immediately.  With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk heavy cream until stiff peaks form (be careful not to overbeat, or cream will be grainy).  In another bowl, whisk together mascarpone and confectioners' sugar until smooth.  Gently fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture until completely incorporated.  Use immediately.

Finishing touches to your Tiramisu Cupcakes:

Pierce the top of the cupcakes with a toothpick, so the coffee-marsala syrup soaks in.  Brush tops of cupcakes evenly with coffee-marsala syrup; repeat until all syrup has been used.  Allow cupcakes to absorb liquid for 30 minutes.  Dollop frosting onto cupcakes; refrigerate up to overnight in airtight containers.  Dust generously with cocoa powder just before serving.

Carol's note:
The cupcakes can be served chilled, or at room temperature - both ways are delicious!  My personal opinion is chilled.  Use the mascarpone frosting on any of your favorite cupcakes when you're looking for a refreshing, airy and not too sweet topping.  It is delightful, and very easy to make!

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes.



coffee-marsala syrup ingredients:  hot espresso, sugar and a shot of marsala

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

the best ever bran muffins




What is it about certain foods evoking a memory that you can remember the exact details that  surround the particular food?  Your mind trails off to when you last ate it, the event you were celebrating, the location, or - in my case, a happy memory from long ago.






As a child, my father would go out very early on August Saturday mornings to buy The Racing Form to study the horses running that day at Saratoga Race Track.  He would always return home with his Racing Form, and a white paper bag filled with bakery fresh bran muffins.  My mother would have a cookie sheet ready, cut the bran muffins in half - and with cut sides up, slip them under the oven broiler so they were lightly browned, with a crispy top!  My three siblings and I would watch the pat of butter my mother added, melt beautifully into the lightly browned nooks of the hot bran muffins, and dive in!  Delightedly eating our Saturday morning treat, I can still see a hot bran muffin sitting on a plate in front of my father, with his steaming coffee next to it - as he studied the Racing Form on his lap.  To this day, when I go home to Saratoga, there are always bran muffins sitting next to the toaster oven!  (By the way, the jockey silks tea towel seemed so fitting for my photos, while thinking of Saratoga! :))






I was long overdue to bake a batch of my best ever bran muffins, and share this wonderful recipe with my readers!  Over the years, I'd tried so many bran muffin recipes, including every recipe on bran cereal boxes - bran buds, bran flakes - always trying to re-create those true, authentic bakery bran muffins from childhood. None of the recipes ever lived up; that is, until I found Nancy Silverton's - Pastries from the La Brea Bakery, featured by David Lebovitz a few years ago.  My search ended.






Toasted wheat bran, simmered and pureed raisins, and freshly grated orange zest, are some of the lovely ingredients that make this real bran muffin the best ever - not to mention its moistness and delicious flavor! Using mainly whole grains and very little sugar, but still the perfect sweetness, make this a wholesome muffin as well!

With a touch of fall looming in the air, there is something comforting about a freshly baked muffin and a hot cup of coffee.  Why not give these a try - I'm confident you will never use a bran cereal box recipe again!

Until next time - mangia!  xox

Carol






The Best Ever Bran Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups (125g) wheat bran
1 cup, plus 1/2 cup (190g total) dark raisins
1 cup, plus 1/2 cup (370ml total) water
1/2 cup (120g) buttermilk or plain low or non-fat yogurt (I use buttermilk)
a few swipes of fresh orange zest
1/2 cup (105g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil (I use canola)
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup (65g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (35g) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking solda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Create the muffins:

1) Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).  Line a 12-cup muffin tin (1/2 cup size indentations) with paper liners.

2) Spread the wheat bran on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for six to eight minutes, stirring a few times so it cooks evenly.  Let cool.

3) While the bran is toasting, heat 1 cup (135g) of the raisins with 1/2 cup (120ml) of the water.  Simmer for ten minutes, or until the water is all absorbed.  Puree the raisins in a food processor or blender until smooth.

4) In a large bowl, mix together the toasted bran, buttermilk or yogurt, 1 cup (250ml) water, then mix in the raisin puree, orange zest, and brown sugar.

5) Stir in the oil, egg and egg white.

6) Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and sift directly into the wet ingredients.  Stir until the ingredients are just combined, then mix in the remaining 1/2 cup (55g) raisins.

7) Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, making sure the batter fills the tin, and is mounded slightly in each one.  Because muffin tins can vary in size, if your tins are larger, make fewer muffins.

8) Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the muffins feel set in the center.




Wednesday, August 15, 2012

peaches with rosemary-mascarpone whipped cream



Last week I walked into my office and there sitting on my desk, was a copy of the food section of The Washington Post.  Before I had a chance to peek at it, my sweet friend, Trish, was standing at my door, excited about the recipe she had found.  "You will love this, Carol!", she said enthusiastically!  Since being in the planning stages of a cup of mascarpone, I adore how my co-workers are always on the look-out for recipes they think I'll enjoy trying. Of course, they also know they are my taste-testers, so that may have just a little something to do with it!  {smiling}

Trish couldn't have been more right about me loving this one!  Light brown sugar macerated peaches lying gently upon a mound of rosemary-infused mascarpone whipped cream, atop a light, crisp pizzella - an Italian waffle cookie. What's not to love?  A totally no-cook recipe, which takes no time at all - and can I just say, it is absolutely divine!




Trish offered to bring me fresh cut rosemary from her garden, so the following day sitting in a water filled glass, was a 3 foot cutting of rosemary.  I burst out laughing when I saw it, looking like Snoopy's Christmas tree proudly displayed on my desk.  Coming from its thick stem were lots of young, light green, tender shoots, perfect for infusing the cream and garnishing the finished delicacies.




The incredible combination of flavors, with very little preparation, makes this recipe delightful!  Although homemade pizzelle are the greatest, you will be using store-bought for this creation.  You can choose any flavor you wish, or that your grocery store carries.  Vanilla, almond, lemon or anise, are among the more popular flavors. I tried both vanilla and anise, and still can't make up my mind which I loved more with the peaches and mascarpone - maybe for me, the anise! :)

I'm confident you are going to adore this Italian twist on the classic American peaches and cream!  Give it a try this weekend while peaches are at the peak of their season.  You will be happy you did!

Until next time…Mangia!  xox

Carol




Peaches With Rosemary-Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons coarsely chopped rosemary, plus rosemary sprigs for garnish
3/4 cup whipping cream
1-1/4 pounds peaches (about 3) pitted and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1/2 cup mascarpone
6 store-bought pizzelle

Create the peaches and rosemary-mascarpone whipped cream:

1)  Make ahead:  combine the rosemary and cream in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  (The rosemary needs time to steep in the cream to impart maximum flavor.)

2)   Place the peaches in a medium bowl, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of light brown sugar, toss well and let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes, while preparing the mascarpone whipped cream.

3)  Combine the mascarpone, the remaining 2 teaspoons of brown sugar in a medium bowl, stirring to mix thoroughly.

4)  Pour the cream through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer, discarding the chopped rosemary.  Beat the cream at high speed until it forms soft peaks.  Gently fold the cream into the mascarpone mixture.

Finishing touches:

To assemble:  set a pizzella in the middle of each plate.  Spread some of the cream mixture on each pizzella, then top with peach slices, fanning them decoratively if desired.  Drizzle with any juices from the macerated fruit, if desired, and garnish with rosemary sprigs.

Recipe adapted from the food section of The Washington Post.



Saturday, August 11, 2012

parmigiano-reggiano and cracked pepper biscotti



I adore biscotti!  It is one of my favorite cookies!  There's really no particular reason - maybe because it's not too sweet, maybe because it takes longer to eat "just one", maybe because there are so many flavor combinations, maybe because it's an Italian cookie…whatever it is, I love biscotti!  It is my best-loved choice to give as gifts, too. Friends seem to cherish when I present them with a glass jar filled with biscotti.  I think it's because so many steer away from baking biscotti, thinking it's difficult.  Actually, it's very easy.




This was my first time creating a savory biscotti, and it definitely won't be my last.  When I came across this recipe, it was described as a "beer and wine" biscotti.  It could not have been more aptly named; however,  to that perfect description, I'm adding - an excellent choice to serve with fruits, an antipasto and salads…along with the beer and wine, of course!  :)

My local grocery store's gourmet cheese department freshly grates parmigiano-reggiano daily, so that's what I purchased for the biscotti, but you can also grate your own.  Having it freshly grated; however, definitely adds the robust, savory flavor this is meant to have.  Although optional, I added some additional cheese to the top for the first baking, and even an extra grinding of black pepper, just because!


biscotti - "twice-baked"


After baking the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Cracked Black Pepper Biscotti, I served it with fresh sliced peaches and a delicious, chilled seasonal craft beer, Festina Peche, by Dogfish Head.  It was a fantastic combination, and was eaten (and drank) all up while watching the Washington Nationals win another game.  Go Nats! - sorry, had to give a plug to my favorite baseball team!  :)




Give this savory biscotti a try…I think it will become something new and fresh for your summer food menu - and I'd love to know what you think.  Have a beautiful weekend!!!

Until next time…mangia!  xox

Carol




Parmigiano-Reggiano and Cracked Black Pepper Biscotti
Makes 22 - 32 biscotti, depending on thickness they are cut.

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup, firmly packed, freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1-1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted {optional}
additional grated parmigiano-reggiano and/or ground pepper for topping the biscotti {optional}

Create the biscotti:

1)  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.  (I like using parchment; after the first bake stage you can easily lift it right off the pan.)

2)  Combine the butter, sugar, parmigiano-reggiano, ground black pepper, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.

3)  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl after each addition.

4)  Stir in the flour and the nuts (if using them).

5)  Transfer the sticky dough to the prepared baking sheet, dividing in half as you do so, and plop it down so that they're about 2" from each short edge of the pan.  You want to leave plenty of space between them.

6)  Using your wet fingers, shape each piece of dough into a log about 9 1/2" long, and 7/8" thick.  If you've used nuts, the log will be about 3" wide; with no nuts in the dough, it will be about 2 1/2" wide. Do your best to smooth the tops and square off the corners.  Wet your fingers to do this, if necessary.  If desired, sprinkle the tops of the logs with additional grated parmigiano-reggiano.  (I used the additional parm on top of the logs, and also ground a little extra black pepper.)

7)  Bake the logs for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they're beginning to brown around the edges.  Remove them from the oven, and carefully lift them off the pan to a work surface.  If you've used parchment, simply lift the parchment off the pan and set it, biscotti and all, on your work surface.

8)  Reduce the oven temp to 325 degrees F.

9)  Using a sharp serrated knife, carefully cut the biscotti into 1/2" - 3/4" wide slices.  It helps to start cutting not on the top, but at an outer edge; this seems to lessen any crumbling.  For long biscotti, cut on the diagonal; for shorter biscotti, cut crosswise.

10)  Set the biscotti, on their edges, back on the baking sheet; no greasing or parchment is necessary.  Space them fairly close to one another so you can get them all onto the same pan.

11)  Return the biscotti to the oven, and bake them for 30 minutes.  Lower temperature again to 300 degrees F, and continue baking for an additional 20 - 30 minutes, or until they feel dry and are just beginning to brown.  If you pinch the center of the biscotti, it may feel just slightly soft; that's ok, as it will continue to firm as it cools.  (This is a longer second baking stage than your usual sweet biscotti, so don't be alarmed.)

12)  Remove the biscotti from the oven, and let them cool right on the pan.  If you're not sure if you've baked them enough, turn off the oven, crack the door open several inches, and let the biscotti continue to dry out right in the cooling oven.

13)  When biscotti are completely cool, store them airtight at room temperature; they'll stay fresh for a few weeks.

Adapted from King Arthur Flour with slight variations.



Thursday, August 09, 2012

lemon poppy seed pound cake with lemon-lavender glaze




It was the Saturday before Valentine's Day and my mind was set on creating some beautiful heart shaped lemon tea cookies, with a lovely lemon-lavender glaze, that I had spotted online.  They were so unique, I just had to make them!  I imagined how I was going to dress them up in individual cellophane bags with a pretty pale lavender checkered ribbon, and set one on each of my co-worker's desks on Valentine's Day morning.

I went out on my merry way, with a smile, thinking how this was going to feel like putting those adorable little Valentine's cards on each one of my classmate's desks as a young schoolgirl.  After going to every supermarket in Northern Virginia, I couldn't find culinary lavender anywhere!  I drove home extremely frustrated and decided to check the internet and start calling around, since I had already wasted over half my day driving from place to place.






Several phone calls later led me to an herb store that suggested a local lavender farm that was literally 10 minutes from my home.  Huh?  Why did I not know about this?!?  A beautiful lavender farm right around the corner!  At this point it was 6:00 p.m., on a dark, cold Saturday evening in the middle of February, and I was listening to the phone ring at a Lavender Farm, whose seasonal time is normally  June and July.  Surely this would be another dead end.  An answering machine came on, and sounding rather ridiculous telling my story to the answering machine, I hung up with very low expectations of hearing back.

I couldn't have been more wrong!  Within the hour, I had a return call from the lovely owner of Seven Oaks Lavender Farm.  She had exactly what I was looking for, and offered to meet me first thing on Sunday morning at the farm's little shop, so I could pick up my culinary lavender buds for the tea cookies.  Seven Oaks Lavender Farm obtained a new, very grateful, loyal customer that early Sunday morning - and that's where my new love of using the fragrant ingredient, lavender, began.  By the way, my cookies turned out beautiful, and I'll feature the recipe, freshly baked, at a later date.






Fast forward to the first Saturday in June.  I was one of the first customers to arrive at the lavender farm, camera in hand, to catch the bright, early morning sun.  What an absolutely lovely experience!  The light breeze was blowing the aromatic scent of lavender throughout the air.  Rocking chairs, picnic tables to enjoy breakfast or lunch, baskets piled high with flower shears, and the beautiful vibrant shades of purple, surrounded me.  After taking lots of photos, cutting a basket full of Provence lavender, and buying some lovely gifts, I headed home. What a splendid morning it was!












A couple weeks ago, the pound cake was created!  This scrumptious lemon poppy seed pound cake is very traditional - with a pound of all  the main ingredients.  As always, I like to suggest reading through the entire recipe before beginning to bake.  It always makes the process flow much easier.  You will need a kitchen food scale to be sure you have good measurement weights, and if you don't have one, buy one - you will never know how you managed without one! I have the Oxo Good Grips food scale, and love it!  I used a Bed, Bath and Beyond 20% off coupon and bought it a few years ago, and use it constantly.

I love lemon anything, all year, but especially in the summer.  This cake is summer citrus and fragrance at its' best! It's simple and versatile.  Put together a bowl of fresh, chilled, seasonal fruit, this divine cake, and enjoy it with friends on a weekend afternoon - out on the deck or by the pool.  Perfect!

Until next time…mangia!  xox

Carol






Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake with Lemon-Lavender Glaze

Ingredients:

for the pound cake:
1 lb. unsalted butter
18 oz. superfine sugar
18 oz. eggs (weighed with shell, about 8)
1 lb. cake flour (all-purpose can also be used)
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
zest from 2 lemons
2 tablespoons triple sec / orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)
1/2 cup poppy seeds

for the glaze:
1 tablespoon culinary lavender (if you can't find it locally, you can purchase from the Seven Oaks Lavender Farm)
juice of 2 lemons
1 cup confectioners sugar

Create the pound cake:

Have all ingredients at room temperature.  Preheat oven to 340 degrees.  Butter your pan (or spray with baking spray) and line the bottom with a ring of parchment.  Set aside.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together at least once.  If you are using all-purpose flour, sift twice.

Separate the eggs.  Place the whites into a medium/large (spotless) mixing bowl and the yolks into a smaller bowl. Beat the egg whites until light and foamy, slowly add 2 oz. of sugar, continuing to beat until they can hold their own peaks, but are not too glossy.

Beat butter in a large mixing bowl until pale and fluffy (20-30 seconds) then add remaining 16 oz. sugar.  Cream butter and sugar.  This will take about a minute.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with a fork to break them up.  Pour egg yolks in a slow and steady stream into the creamed butter while beaters are running.

Sift the flour into the bowl and, using a large spoon, gently fold the flour and butter together.  Add the lemon zest and orange liqueur and fold into the batter.

Fold the egg whites into the batter.  Be gentle but thorough and fold the spoon from the bottom of the bowl up and over.  You will lose some volume but do not worry; you should have trapped enough air pockets in the batter for the cake to rise.

Add the poppy seeds and stir lightly through the batter.

Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour 15 minutes.  The cake will rise above the cake pan, split along the top and brown.  Test by inserting a tooth pick into the top of the cake.  If it comes out clean, the cake is baked.  Cool for 5-10 minutes in pan and then invert onto a wire rack.  Use another rack or a plate and carefully turn the cake over again so that it is right side up.  Don't worry if the top flattens or curls when doing this - it adds character!

Create the glaze while the cake is cooking:

Put the lavender in a clean bowl, squeeze the lemon juice over it and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Allow to cool and infuse for 5 minutes.

Add the confectioners sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Taste.  You can add more lavender or lemon juice to taste.  You can strain through a sieve or leave as is, and drizzle over the warm cake.  (I wanted the pretty culinary lavender buds on my cake, they are completely edible, so did not strain them.)

The cake will stay fresh and delicious covered with saran wrap for at least 5 days.  This lovely pound cake was adapted from The LoveBite.

Carol's notes:
I find mixing the lemon zest into the 16 oz. of sugar before creaming with the butter, keeps it from clumping together if adding at the later stage.  I have been doing this with all my recipes recently.  Try it, you may like it too!

The trick to pound cakes, is to get some air into the ingredients, so sifting is important.

Although the lavender adds so much to the glaze, it is always optional, and the pound cake will be just as yummy without it!






Wednesday, August 01, 2012

a glorious summer pasta




It's August 1st.  Are you kidding me…already?  August has always been such a memorable and cherished month for me.  Growing up it meant 4 weeks of historic Saratoga Race Track, selling lucky pencils for 5 cents - with a hot tip on the daily double (what a great deal!), hot summer days spent with friends at Saratoga Spa Pool, popsicles sitting with my siblings on our front porch, I could go on and on.  This date; however, is even more special, it is my best friend's birthday! ...and I'm so blessed, that my best friend is also my sister.  Donna and I are Irish twins, and for the next 11 days, we are the same age until I become one year older.  Happy Birthday to my dear sister, Donna!  I knew she would love this recipe, so this is for you, Don!  Cheers!






My summer tomato obsession continues from the beautiful heirloom tomatoes and the succulent caprese salad, on to the sweetest, juiciest cherry tomatoes, also of the heirloom variety, and an incredible summery pasta!  I can only be thankful that this recent craving of mine, is a healthy one…otherwise, my bathroom scale would be going crazy.

I found this glorious summer pasta recipe a couple years ago from Alexandra's Kitchen, printed it out, and tucked it away in my "have to try" recipe file.  When I finally got around to making it, there has been no stopping me since, and I couldn't wait to share!  It is one of the most delicious pasta dishes, with a divine summer feeling and freshness; hence, the name. This creation is just as delicious cold, as it is hot off the stove…and a nicely chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio is the absolute perfect compliment.  I can imagine savoring this wonderful pasta, dining alfresco in a charming garden or sunny vineyard!

The original author tells what a huge hit it was every summer, served as a first course by the restaurant she worked at - as soon as the sweetest, most flavorful cherry tomatoes from the local farm came in season.






Right about now, you're probably thinking there's no way you're going to take hours out of your day to prepare this pasta, no matter how good it is. The best news yet...it is literally the simplest creation ever!  With a short preparation time of rinsing your ingredients, and cutting your cherry tomatoes in half, the hardest part is the 8 - 9 minutes watching your orecchiette pasta boil!  The cook time in your sauté pan is literally under 2 minutes.

Once you try this, I'm sure, like me, it will become one of your favorite go to summer recipes, whether it's for an evening meal after work, or a weekend dish to impress your friends!






All we need now is a delectable dessert, or a nice afternoon cake while sitting on the deck…so next post, I will bring you something sweet!!

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for all the wonderful feedback I've been receiving.  I sincerely appreciate it, and am humbled by it.  Thank you so much!

Until next time…mangia!  xox

Carol






Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Basil Pesto

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 generously as an entrée

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. orecchiette pasta
kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 oz. cherry tomatoes cut in half (I used 10 oz.)
2 tablespoons basil pesto (see Carol's note below)
fresh basil (see Carol's note below)
shavings of parmigiano-reggiano (optional, but definitely nice!)
fresh ground black pepper

Create the glorious summer pasta:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a pinch of kosher salt.  Add pasta and cook till al dente, about 8 - 9 minutes.  (Package instructions will say longer, but the pasta will continue cooking as its tossed with the other ingredients so it's best to undercook it a little bit.)  Drain pasta.  Do not rinse.

Heat evoo in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the cherry tomatoes into the sizzling pan and cook for 30 seconds.  Add pasta and pesto.  Cook 1 minute, stirring to coat pasta with the pesto.  Turn off the heat. Working quickly, add the mozzarella.  Stir to incorporate.  Add the fresh basil and remove from the heat.  You're done!

Divide pasta among plates or pasta bowls and sprinkle each with fresh shavings of parmigiano-reggiano.  Crack the pepper overtop and serve.  Yum!

Carol's notes:
While pasta is cooking, have all ingredients measured and ready to go into the sauté pan, since you'll be working very quickly.  As mentioned earlier, once the pasta is cooked, the entire recipe takes less than 2 minutes!

I used Wegman's Italian Classics basil pesto imported from Italy.  It is so good!  Feel free to make your own, or use a good quality purchased basil pesto.

If you have small tender basil leaves, leave them whole; otherwise, chiffonade the basil.  A visual chiffonade how-to is found here.