Friday, February 26, 2016

Fairy Tales

We all have fairies in our lives, people who do things for us that make life that much sweeter, richer, and enjoyable - and, if we're lucky, we're able to do the same for them in return. With just a bit of thought and effort, even the simplest things become a special treat. A little everyday magic definitely goes a long way.

Now, it's true I don't drink beer often, but when the Beer Fairy delivered a six-pack of Brooklyn Lager one day, I was thrilled - it reminded me that I'd been wanting to experiment with just such a brew in my cooking and baking. It was perfect, and I couldn't wait to get started. The first thing I tried was adapting this cupcake recipe, and here's how it went:



Chocolate-Lager Cake with Tangerine Dream Frosting

For the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 Tablespoons butter, softened
4 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup Brooklyn Lager or other amber-style beer

For the frosting:
4 Tablespoons butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one tangerine (or a small orange)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8 or 9-inch round cake pan or deep-dish pie plate and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt until combined. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, then stir in vanilla extract. Starting and ending with flour mixture, blend in batches alternately with beer until you have a smooth batter. Scrape batter into prepared pan, spread out evenly and bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.

In a medium bowl, combine frosting ingredients and stir until completely smooth. Frost the top of the cake, spreading evenly out to the edges. You can serve right away, but the cake will slice more cleanly if you allow it to chill in the fridge for an hour. Cover and store any leftovers in the fridge as well.


Notes: The sweet, creamy frosting pairs wonderfully with the bitter tang of the cake. However, I felt the cake's texture was a bit dry, so in future I might try using a neutral-tasting oil like grapeseed or extra light olive oil in place of the butter. Use any flavorings you like in the frosting, or simply leave it plain. If you don't have or don't like beer, substitute with freshly brewed (and cooled) black coffee or tea.

Have you been doing any everyday magic in your kitchen? Please share in the comments!

>o<

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Lost in Translation

Foods often acquire funny names based on their appearance, sometimes silly, sometimes merely descriptive - and while those names pass into acceptance in their native tongue, they are often hard to swallow when you need to explain them in a different language. In the Lyon region of France, there is a traditional (and extremely delicious) cheese mixture called cervelles de canut, which has the unfortunate and rather gruesome translation of "silk-worker's brains". What probably started as a tasteless joke has now been memorialized for all time. The reference shouldn't stop you from making this dish, however, which is great as a snack or an easy appetizer, and comes together in just a few minutes. And if you're still feeling bothered by that name? Don't worry - it's all in your head ;-)



Garlic and Chive Dip

Ingredients:
15 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped chives (or scallions)
2-3 teaspoons champagne vinegar
2-3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Grate or finely mince garlic into a medium bowl, then add ricotta and mix. Drizzle in about two teaspoons of vinegar, add the chives and stir again until combined - the consistency should be thick but spreadable. Season with salt and pepper, then add a few Tablespoons of oil. Mix until everything is incorporated, then taste and adjust seasonings, oil and vinegar to your liking. Serve with raw veggies or crusty bread. Store any unused portion in an airtight container in the fridge; give it a quick stir before serving again as the dip will separate a bit as it sits.



Notes: My simplified version of cervelles is adapted heavily from Rachel Khoo and Dorie Greenspan's excellent recipes. Red wine vinegar is traditional, but I found the champagne vinegar to be delicious, and of course fresh lemon juice would be wonderful, too. Don't be too concerned with exact quantities or measuring the liquid ingredients precisely - just eyeball and adjust as you go!

>o<

Friday, February 12, 2016

Recipe Roundup: Sweet Madness

Looking for something sweet to tempt your true love this weekend - or simply to enjoy by yourself??? Give one of these scrumptious treats a go!

Glazed Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Scones: What could be better than starting the day with brown sugar and cinnamon?



Cocoa-Cherry Cream Cheese Thumbprint Cookies: The name says it all - and yes, it's all in there!



Chestnut-Chocolate Wafers: Chestnut puree gives these cookies a subtly sweet, sophisticated flavor that pairs perfectly with bittersweet chocolate.



Pistachio Bars: Both salty and sweet, these decadent little bars are great with a cup of coffee or tea for a little pick-me-up in the afternoon.



Individual Chocolate Cakes: A simple but effective showstopper, and they taste as good as they look!



>o<

Friday, February 05, 2016

All Thumbs

When I first made these thumbprint cookies last year, I almost immediately wondered if I could make a chocolate version. The easiest solution was substituting a portion of the flour with unsweetened cocoa. Since cocoa is drier than flour, I didn't want to use too much, but the result was still a good first step. The cookies have a nice hint of chocolate with the wonderful tang of cream cheese, and are still rich and tender like the originals. And if you don't finish them all in one sitting, no worries - they taste even better after a few days!



Cocoa-Cherry Cream Cheese Thumbprint Cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cherry preserves (stir to loosen if the preserves are very thick)

In a medium bowl, stir flour and cocoa together until combined. In a large bowl, cream butter, cream cheese and sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla extract, then blend in flour mixture until smooth. Cover dough and chill in the fridge for 45 minutes (don't skip this step, the dough is very sticky).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and line baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Using a one-Tablespoon scoop or measuring spoon, scoop dough and roll into balls, then place on lined sheets a few inches apart. Press down firmly in the middle of each with your thumb (I found that washing my hands with hot water, then drying them completely, made this easier as the residual heat helped reduce sticking). Fill each indentation with a scant 1/2 teaspoon of preserves, and bake for 12-16 minutes, or until slightly darker around the bottom edges, the tops of the cookies appear "dry" and the filling is bubbling a bit . Remove and let cool before moving. Once completely cooled, store cookies in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper, either in the fridge or a very cool spot in your home.


Notes: Fill these cookies with any jam or preserves you would like - I chose cherry this time since it's a classic with both chocolate and cream cheese, but I also wondered how a fine-cut orange marmalade or a lightly sweetened nut butter would work. Have a delicious variation of your own? Please share in the comments!



>o<