Blueberry scones and a kitchen blooper

Hello sweet teeth!

My husband ASKED me to BAKE last week.  No, you do not understand how significant this was.  I imagine that a lot of men would be thrilled to have a wife/girlfriend/significant other who is obsessed with all things food.  I know that my husband appreciates and enjoys the things that I make, but my culinary adventures are often met with comments such as, “Who is going to eat all of this?”  Or “Why would you make graham crackers when you can just buy them?”  So, as I mentioned, when he asked me to bake something for him to bring to work, I was shocked and excited!  He requested something “breakfast-y” and since I had just purchased two pints of plump, juicy blueberries, scones it was!

With all of the seasonal summer fruit coming to its’ peak, I find myself with even more excuses to bake.  I like to take advantage of the produce that we are only able to enjoy for a few short months out of the year in this part of the country.

Blueberry Scones (adapted from Martha Stewart)

Scones

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 400° and line baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients
  3. With a pastry cutter, blend in butter until the largest pieces are the size of peas
  4. In another small bowl whisk eggs together with heavy cream
  5. Make well in center of flour mixture and pour in wet mixture (save bowl that eggs and cream were mixed in)
  6. Combine using a fork until dough just comes together
  7. Mix in blueberries gently using hands
  8. Place dough into floured round cake pan and pat down evenly (this allows easy shaping of the dough)
  9. Turn formed dough out onto floured surface and cut like a pie into 8 equal pieces
  10. Place scones on prepared baking sheet and brush with remnants of the egg and cream mixture
  11. Bake 16-18 minutes until lightly golden brown

Blend butter into dry ingredients

....until pea-sized pieces remain

Whisk together eggs and cream

Pour wet ingredients into well created in center of dry ingredients

Once dough comes together, gently mix in blueberries

Pat dough gently and evenly into prepared cake pan

Turn dough out of cake pan onto floured work surface

Cut into equal-sized pieces

Brush scones with remaining egg/cream mixture before baking

Bake until golden brown


Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  1. Blend powdered sugar and lemon juice until well-mixed (add more powdered sugar or lemon juice as necessary to thicken or thin glaze)
  2. Drizzle glaze over cooled scones using a fork

Pass the Earl Grey please!

**My kitchen blooper of the day**

I made two batches of these scones and I ran out of baking powder after the first batch.  Luckily, I have a corner market across the street and so I ran over (covered in flour as usual) and quickly replenished my supply.  Before I purchased the baking powder, I looked at the expiration date (2012) which got me thinking about how long I have probably had my current baking powder.  Although I bake very often, the powder I ran out of had been a backup that I found in the back of my baking cupboard.  Well, let’s just say I recommend that you check your expiration dates!  Look at the difference between the scones made with the expired baking powder and the ones with the newly purchased powder!  They all tasted wonderful but, I learned my lesson.

Made with expired baking powder

Made with new baking powder

This recipe is linked here

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Posted in Breakfast, Fruit, Summer | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Travail Kitchen and Amusements

Un.  Be.  Liev.  Ab.  Le.  That’s is how I would describe our meal at Travail Kitchen and Amusements.

I have heard about the wonders of Travail for over a year and I cannot figure out why it has taken me this long to experience them.  Travail is a small, quaint restaurant in Robbinsdale, MN (northwest of Minneapolis).

The ambiance is simple, utilitarian, nothing fancy.  Trust me, none of this matters.  You will not be dining here for the romantic atmosphere.  You will be there for the FOOD.

There is an open kitchen that takes center stage and if you are lucky, you might even get to sit up at the bar overlooking the kitchen and watch the masters at work.

The menu is very simple, like many things at the restaurant.  Simplicity is a beautiful thing, especially when it comes to food.

Each night, Travail features a 10 course tasting menu for 2 people that is an incredible value.  While everything on it sounded wonderful, we wanted to make our own tasting menu and sample all of the things that sounded too good to miss.  The servers are incredibly passionate about food and offer detailed descriptions of preparation, ingredients and accompaniments for each dish.

We started with the Figlets:  bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with goat cheese.  Enough said.

Along with the Figlets, we had this beautiful beet salad.  Red and yellow beets, sliced jalepeños, green apples, beet purée and beet powder.  Beet powder, you say?  Let the molecular gastronomy fun begin!

Blue cheese tater tots with truffle oil and homemade ketchup:  “fair” food at it’s best.

Course #4 (but who’s counting?):  housemade Agnolotti.  Agnolotti is stuffed pasta similar to ravioli.  Travail’s creation was filled with parsnips and goat cheese with an herb butter sauce, thinly sliced potatoes and parsnip foam.

Next up:  sea bass.  Served with crispy skin, minestrone broth, roasted summer vegetables and pancetta froth.

Now for surprisingly one of my favorite dishes of the evening:  homemade tofu covered in the most lovely curry coconut broth and served with thinly shaved carrots, zucchini and large pieces of broccoli.  The tofu had a beautiful texture almost similar to mozzarella cheese and the light curry flavor with the perfectly cooked vegetables was absolute perfection.

Possibly my favorite dish of the entire evening was the sweet potato soup.  Sounds simple enough, but the complex and warm flavors were amazing and the best part was the marshmallows on the bottom of the soup that slowly melted and oozed and gave the soup a lovely sweetness.  If I could swim in this soup all day and use the marshmallows as pillows at night, I would.

And for our final savory course, it was only fair to give the boy some meat.  Steak with fried polenta cake, brussel sprouts and mushrooms.  No complaints.

Enough savory already.  Time to Satisfy My Sweet Tooth!  Naturally, I insisted on the dessert tasting menu.  Don’t give me that look.  The previous eight courses were really quite small, and I told you to stop counting!

Dessert course #1:  lemon bars, cream puff with strawberries and very minty and refreshing mojito shots.

And then came a white chocolate tart with orange rhubarb coulis and elderflower ice cream.  At this point I was beginning to wonder if we were secretly part of a test audience for a new season of Top Chef.  Oh how I love food.

Second to last was the chocolate offering:  a chocolate mousse cake with chocolate wafers, mousse-stuffed cherries, cherry Dip N’ Dots and tarragon oil.  While I am a serious chocoholic, fruit with chocolate is not one of my favorite combinations, so this dessert was not my favorite (good thing we had 3 others so there was no need for disappointment during my favorite part of any meal).

Last, but certainly not least, came a light and refreshing melon soup with melon, grapefruit, blackberries, panna cotta and spec, all cooled by a fresh pour of liquid nitrogen.

(Insert “OOH’s” and “AAH’s” here)

In case you have not figured it out, Travail highly exceeded my expectations.  If you are a foodie who wants to geek out and be impressed by rare techniques and delightfully unique flavor combinations or you are just looking for a new restaurant to try, may I highly recommend Travail for your next dining experience?

Posted in Restaurants | Tagged | 2 Comments

Mint Brownies for the Big 3-0

I attended a 30th birthday party for a good friend last weekend.  Although the invitation said “no gifts” I couldn’t resist making my friend one of his favorite baked treats.  Gifts of food are always acceptable, right?

These brownies start out simply:  a recipe for dense, chewy brownies from the Baker’s chocolate collection.  While these brownies alone are lovely, the real magic for this recipe happens in what’s on top of the brownies.  Topped with homemade mint buttercream and a semi-sweet chocolate glaze, the combination is like a refreshing and rich “after-dinner” mint.

Mint Brownies (recipe adapted from Baker’s)

Brownies:

  • 4 (1 oz.) squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour

Mint buttercream:

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 8 Tbsp cream
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract
  • 5 drops green food coloring

Glaze:

  • 4 (1 oz.) squares semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Line 9X13″ pan with foil extending over the sides and spray with nonstick cooking spray
  3. Microwave unsweetened chocolate and 3/4 cup butter in microwave-safe bowl until butter is melted, about 2 minutes
  4. Stir until chocolate is completely melted
  5. Stir in sugar
  6. Blend in eggs
  7. Add flour and mix until well combined
  8. Spread batter into prepared pan and bake 28-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs
  9. Cool in pan

Buttercream:

  1. Blend butter with powdered sugar one cup at a time
  2. Add 1-2 Tbsp of the cream with each addition of powdered sugar
  3. Finally, add peppermint extract and food coloring (optional) and mix until smooth
  4. Spread buttercream onto cooled brownies and refrigerate for about an hour

Glaze:

  1. Microwave semi-sweet chocolate, 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup water about 2 minutes until butter is melted
  2. Stir until chocolate is melted completely and cool to room temperature
  3. Pour room temperature glaze over frosted brownies and spread evenly
  4. Refrigerate at least 1 hour
  5. Remove from pan by lifting brownies using foil 
  6. Cut into pieces sized to your liking and enjoy!

Prepared pan


Melted unsweetened chocolate and butter

Mix in sugar

Blend in eggs and flour

Make the mint buttercream

Frost the cooled brownies

Refrigerate frosted brownies at least 1 hour

Once refrigerated, pour glaze onto frosted brownies


The brownies went over well and I think they achieved my goal of Satisfying the birthday boy’s Sweet Tooth.

Posted in Dessert | Tagged | 6 Comments

Coconut Curry Soup

I love soup.  All kinds of soup, I don’t discriminate.  In the fall, I like to make creamy, puréed vegetable soups.  Asparagus cooked and blended with leeks with a dollop of goat cheese and croutons for garnish is one of our staple fall meals.  One of my husband’s favorite soups that I like to make in the winter is Baked Potato Soup.  Now that summer is here (finally!), I still can’t resist making soups.  And thanks to Minnesota weather, we still have some cooler days ahead and that means more days for me to enjoy soup!

With some soups, it can be difficult to cultivate a complex flavor profile without having all day to allow the soup to simmer.  This is not one of those soups.  Thanks to fresh, flavorful ingredients, you get instant flavor, making this soup a perfect weeknight meal:  simple, healthy and satisfying.

Coconut Curry Soup  (inspired by Martha Stewart Everyday Food Great Food Fast)

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp ginger, peeled and minced
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 large carrots, thinly sliced (matchstick-length)
  • 1 red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can light coconut milk
  • 2 tsp red curry paste (more or less to taste)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1/2 pound medium to large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 jalepeño, thinly sliced
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 lime
  • cilantro
  1. In large pot or enamel roaster, heat 1/4 cup chicken stock over medium heat.
  2. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Add 1/4 cup more chicken broth, carrots, peppers and any other raw vegetables you care to add to the soup (broccoli and snap peas work well).  Cook vegetables 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. In a small bowl, stir cornstarch into water until dissolved.
  5. Add remaining chicken broth, coconut milk, curry paste (more or less depending how spicy you like your soup) and cornstarch/water mixture to pot and stir.  Bring to a boil.
  6. Add pasta noodles and cook until al denté, 4-5 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium.
  7. Add raw shrimp and cook until opaque, about 2 minutes.
  8. Add juice of 1 lime
  9. Serve garnished with jalepeño, lime wedges, cilantro and green onions

Cornstarch and water mixture


Posted in Soup | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Magnolia Bakery, NYC

When did cupcakes become so popular?  You know what I mean.  I’m referring to the fact that until the past several years, cupcakes were for children’s birthday parties and maybe baby showers.  Today, there are bakeries that ONLY sell cupcakes, several TV shows dedicated to cupcakes, and many restaurants have the small sweet treats on their dessert menus regularly.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am thrilled.  I love cupcakes and enjoy seeing creativity expressed through exotic flavor combinations.

Personally, I give some credit for the cupcake craze to Sex and the City.  In one episode, Miranda and Carrie sit on a New York City street curb eating cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery.  Watching the glamorous characters sink their teeth into the lovely thick pink frosting while discussing their love lives made many fans want to sample the cupcakes themselves.  The official Sex and the City Tour in NYC highlights Magnolia Bakery as one of the stops.  After graduating from college, my dad took me on my first trip to New York to celebrate.  I am a huge Sex and the City fan and was ecstatic when he surprised me with tickets for the tour to see many of the locations made famous by the show.  Cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery were included on the tour and it was love at first bite of buttercream!

Today, Magnolia Bakery has several locations.  I have been to New York many times since that first visit and it is my favorite city to travel to.  On many of my visits, Magnolia remains one of my favorite stops.  Although the Bakery makes many types of desserts, such as whoopee pies, cookies and puddings, their chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with buttercream frosting are arguably their most coveted sweet treat.  In my opinion, the cupcakes have the perfect cake:frosting ratio which is 2:1.  The cake is light and moist and that combination with the creamy, velvety buttercream is pure bliss.  So light and lovely in fact that one cupcake is never enough. Not only are the sweets scrumptious, but the bakeries themselves are delightful with pastel decor and a retro, yet elegant feel.  They are what a sweet tooth’s dreams are made of.

My husband knows me so well.  We got engaged in New York and then he took me for a cupcake breakfast at Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street the morning after his proposal.  He always knows how to Satisfy My Sweet Tooth.

My family travelled to NYC this past Easter and one of the newer New York locations of Magnolia Bakery at Rockefeller Center was the perfect place for a midnight snack.

Magnolia cupcakes are iconic New York to me.  Next time you are in the City That Never Sleeps, stop for a small treat.  You will not be disappointed.

Posted in Dessert, Restaurants, Travel | Tagged , | 2 Comments

S’mores bars and Peter Pan Syndrome

I just returned from a weekend at my family’s lake cabin.  One of my favorite things to do at the lake is bake with my sister.  Of course I love all of the more traditional lake activities such as boating, grilling, bonfires, and golfing, but something about baking with Tinkerbell always guarantees a laugh-until-my-stomach-hurts fiasco.  She is particularly clumsy and messy when it comes to measuring ingredients and it is inevitable that we will both look like white ghosts covered in flour by the time we are finished.  Oh right.  I guess I should explain that my sister’s name is not really Tinkerbell (our parents are not that unkind).  When I am with my siblings, it’s as though I have magically become a teenager again in spirit and unfortunately, occasionally in common sense.  My husband has diagnosed me with “Peter Pan Syndrome”.  He says my sister is my Tinkerbell who sprinkles me with fairy dust and then I never want to grow up.  I cannot deny this and while I am unaware of any diagnostic tests used to confirm a person’s affliction with this syndrome, I do not care to find a cure.  I am perfectly happy in Never Never Land.

Tinkerbell has recently completed her first year of college and moved into her own house (living on her own for the first time- big girl!).  A few weeks ago she asked me if I would make her a cookbook so that she can expand her culinary skills and learn to make some of her favorite things.  She is part of my inspiration for this blog.  What a great way to teach her to cook from hundreds of miles away.

So on Saturday, Tink and I were in charge of dessert for our 1st barbecue at the lake of the season.  I told her to choose whatever she wanted to make and she proposed that nothing was more iconic for summer than s’mores.  So we kicked it up a notch and made our own graham crackers (aka g. cracks in Tinkspeak) for these decadent s’mores bars.  If these won’t Satisfy your Sweet Tooth, I don’t know what will……..

Graham Crackers

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour 
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt 
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey
5 tablespoons milk, full-fat is best
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Topping (optional)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Make the dough: Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

[Alternately, if you don’t have a food processor or electric mixer, you can cut the ingredients together with a pastry blender. Just make sure they’re very well incorporated.]                                                                                                                 *Remember we were at the lake, and while our cabin has most of the luxuries of a modern home, some kitchen equipment is lacking.  Therefore, I used my hands to make the meal which worked out just great if you do not have a food processor, decent mixer or pastry blender available.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract.

Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour, then turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Wrap it, then chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight. Meanwhile, prepare the topping, if using, by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and setting aside.

Roll out the crackers: Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick.The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary.  Trim the dough into desired shape for graham crackers. 

Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer.

Repeat with the second batch of dough. Finally, gather any scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and re-roll.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. 

Next, we made the cookie dough (recipe adapted from Always With Butter, although there did not seem to be much difference between this and your traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe other than the addition of cinnamon, so you could probably use whatever cookie recipe you have on hand).

S’mores Cookie Dough

  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 package milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows, plus 1/4 extra for sprinkling on top
  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Cream butter and sugar
  3. Add eggs and vanilla
  4. Sift together dry ingredients and mix into butter mixture
  5. Fold in chocolate chips and marshmallows

We then laid our homemade graham crackers in a single layer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet as closely approximated as possible.  

Place balls of cookie dough on top of graham cracker layer and bake for 8 minutes

Remove after 8 minutes and press individual Hershey bar segments into dough and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of mini marshmallows.  Bake for an additional 5 minutes, cut and serve.

Be patient ladies....

Such proud mothers of the little baked babies

Serve with ice cream. Just kidding! Isn't your Sweet Tooth Satisfied yet??

                             

Posted in Dessert, Summer | Tagged | 6 Comments

Rhubarb torte means summer has finally arrived

With summer finally here, one of the ingredients I cannot wait to bake with is rhubarb. You know summer has arrived when rhubarb is plentiful in the neighborhood gardens and farmers’ markets.  I love the beautiful pink stalks and find it’s tartness refreshing.

My favorite rhubarb recipe is naturally one from my mother.  It has a buttery shortbread crust with an almost custard-like filling.  I like to add whatever fresh berries I happen to have on hand to squeeze in as much fresh summer fruit as possible!

To top the torte, I prefer homemade ginger-infused whipped cream (traditional whipped cream with the addition of ground ginger) or vanilla bean ice cream.

Rhubarb Torte

Crust:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 5 Tbsp powdered sugar

Filling:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb (or combination or rhubarb and berries)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 350
  2. For the crust, blend all ingredients as for pie crust (dough will be coarse and dry)
  3. Pat into 9X11 baking pan
  4. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned
  5. Meanwhile, prepare filling:  beat eggs and mix in all other ingredients except fruit and nuts
  6. Fold in fruit and nuts
  7. Pour filling on top of baked crust and bake 30-35 minutes until lightly browned

Crust ingredients

Use pastry blender

Crust lightly browned

Beat eggs, mix in other filling ingredients

Pour filling on top of baked crust

Mmmmm....the tastes of summer

Posted in Dessert, Summer | Tagged | 6 Comments