Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Perfect Valentine's Dessert - Pavlova


Want to impress your sweetie this Valentine's Day? How about trying your hand at this beautiful pavlova? It's easy to make, infinitely adaptable with a variety of fruits and flavors, and the perfect combo of creamy, crunchy, and fruity.

My inspiration for this post has been brewing since New's Year Eve. I went out with my husband and relatives to ring in the New Year at Ten Bistro in Peachtree Corners.  I had to pinch myself when I saw "pavlova" listed on their dessert menu. I don't think I've ever seen it on a restaurant menu and I was super excited! And it was so good, I almost hated to share it. The rest of the meal was delicious too....we'll definitely be heading back there again soon.
Consequently, I've been day-dreaming about that pavlova and wanting to make one at home. Pavlova just feels special and Valentine's weekend is the perfect time of year for baking up this delight.

Pavlova was said to be named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, during her tours to New Zealand and Australia in the 1920's. It is simply a baked meringue that is crispy on the outside and light on the inside. Generally it is topped with cream and fresh fruit, often berries, mango, kiwi. You often see it served on holidays and during the summer, but it is part of the culture of New Zealand and Australia and often eaten in homes year-round {sounds good to me!}.


Meringue is not hard to make, although I think some folks find it scary. Here are a few simple tips that will help you whip it up properly.
  • Use an electric mixer and make sure the bowl and the whip is very clean.
  • When you separate your eggs, be sure not to get any yolk in the whites. Sometimes you can scoop out a little yolk with your egg shell, but if you have a lot of yolk in there, it's best to start over.
  • Don't add your sugar too soon, wait until the whites reach a soft peak.
  • Whip until the meringue is stiff, but don't overwhip, or the mixture will be grainy.

Ok, are you ready to get started? Really, you have to try a pavlova at least once in your life. It is amazing! 
My pavlova is topped with a rosewater and mascarpone whipped cream, berries, and chopped pistachio. Rose pairs really well with raspberries and pistachio. If you aren't a fan of rose flavor in your food {and not everyone is}, you can simply omit the rosewater and use the vanilla flavoring. 


Pavlova with Rosewater and Mascarpone Cream, Berries, and Pistachio
Serves 8
{Makes one 9-inch or two 4 1/2-inch pavlovas}

Meringue:
4 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup caster sugar {this is superfine sugar and preferred over regular granulated sugar}
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon white vinegar {I used white wine vinegar}
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream:
1/2 -3/4 cup mascarpone 
3 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons to 1 Tablespoon rosewater {optional}
1 2/3 cups heavy cream, chilled
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste 

Mixed fruit: berries, mango, kiwi, etc.
Chopped pistachios

Preheat oven to 275F. Set your oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Place a piece of parchment on a half sheet pan. Using a pencil, draw out either one 9-inch circle or two 4 1/2-inch circles. Flip over parchment, so pencil is on the bottom, but can still be seen.

Make meringue:
Set up a stand mixer and make sure bowl and whip is spotlessly clean. Place the egg whites in the bowl and begin to mix on medium speed, just until you reach soft peaks. Soft peaks mean that when you lift the whip out  and turn it upside down, the peaks are still soft and barely hold their shape.

Meanwhile, mix the cornstarch together with the sugar in small bowl and mix the vinegar and vanilla together in a separate bowl.

Once whites have reach a soft peak, begin to add the sugar/cornstarch mixture, a few tablespoons at a time. As you add more sugar, begin to turn up the speed a bit at a time. As you are adding the last portion of sugar, you should end up on highest speed. Continue to whip until you reach stiff peaks.
Stiff peaks mean that when you pull out the whip and turn it upside down, the mixture is thick, stiff, and holds the peak firmly. It should look glossy.

Turn off the mixer, remove the bowl and whip, and then sprinkle in the vinegar/vanilla mixture, gently folding in with a rubber spatula.

Place the meringue in the center of the circle{s} on the parchment. Spread out from the center to the edges of the circle. Put the meringue in the oven and shut the door. Immediately turn the heat down to 250F. Bake for one hour to one hour and 15 minutes. Do not open the door of the oven during baking time. The meringue will be lightly tan, dry on the outside, and hollow sounding when tapped. It may have some cracks, which is ok. 
Turn off the oven, leave the door slightly open and let the pavlova sit in the oven till completely cooled.

Make the cream:
Set up a stand mixer with the whip. In a small bowl, stir together the mascarpone, confectioners' sugar, and rosewater. Place the heavy cream in the mixer bowl and add the mascarpone mixture. Whip on medium low, just until blended. Add the vanilla bean paste and then whip on medium until the cream is soft and spreadable. Be careful not to overmix the cream or it will become stiff and grainy. Set the cream in the refrigerator till you are ready to use.

Assemble:
Place the cooled meringue onto a large plate or platter. Spread the cream on top, leaving a 2-inch border around the edge. Toss on berries/fruit and sprinkle with nuts. Slice into wedges to serve.

{Happily Edible After note}
Get creative with your pavlova. For example, you could make or buy lemon curd and mix it into your cream to make a lemon cream. You could use coffee flavoring in your cream and do berries with shaved dark chocolate on top {maybe even put some espresso powder in your meringue}. You could get all tropical and do a coconut-flavored cream with tropical fruits and toasted coconut. Lots of possibilities!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Warm Quinoa Salad with Butternut Squash, Kale, Cherries, and Meyer Lemon Dressing


Last week I got inspired. By one of my favorite local healthy eating chefs, Megan McCarthy of Healthy Eating 101. She was teaching about Superfoods and made this quinoa (pronounced "KEEN WAH") salad that was so simple and so totally crave-able. 
I loved it.
I woke up the next day and dug out the bag of quinoa that had been taking up space in my pantry for too long. I kind of forgot how much I like quinoa and how good it is on so many levels.

Cool quinoa trivia: 
  • Quinoa has been around like 4000-5000 years and was first cultivated in the Andes by the Incas.
  • Two North Americans stumbled upon it and brought it over to the US {Boulder, CO} around 1980.
  • We still get most of our quinoa from South America, mainly Peru and Bolivia.
  • Quinoa is technically a seed {from a leafy plant related to spinach}.
  • It is a superior source of protein and is high in antioxidants, fiber, Vitamin B, and phytonutrients. 
  • It's gluten free and easy to digest.
  • Easy to cook: just rinse it well and simmer 1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid till liquid is absorbed. Done!

 


I chose the rest of my ingredients wandering around my grocery store's produce department. It's fun to walk through there and let your imagination wander. All the colorful, beautiful fruits and vegetables are lined up like nature's medicine cabinet!
I picked out some of my very favorite things for this recipe: butternut squash, kale, dried cherries, roasted pumpkin seeds, and avocado {which I ended up not using as it was not nice looking when I opened it up}. And Meyer lemons are in the store right now.....had to grab a few of those for some fresh, bright flavor.



This turned out so delicious. Quinoa....how could I have forsaken you for so long?? Never again. 
Quinoa is like a big, blank canvas of nutty goodness - you add the color and taste with fresh herbs, dried fruit, nuts, veggies, lean meat....whatever inspires you. 
Plus, it's equally good warm, room temperature, or chilled. 
Now....go get your quinoa ON!!

Warm Quinoa Salad with Butternut Squash, Kale, Cherries, and Meyer Lemon Dressing
Serves 8-10 

1/2 of a medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed
Splash of olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups quinoa {I used a mixed blend}
3 cups filtered water

1/2 bunch of lacinato kale, shredded
3/4 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds 
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon

Dressing:
5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Place the squash on a sheet pan lined with a Silpat or parchment. Toss the squash cubes with a bit of olive oil and season with some sea salt and pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes or until just tender.

Meanwhile cook quinoa. Rinse the quinoa and drain. Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a medium pot, then turn heat down to low, cover and simmer till the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender. This is about 15-20 minutes generally. Fluff with a fork.

While the quinoa cooks, prep the kale. Rinse leaves well and dry them. Cut out the tough stem from each leaf. Stack leaves and slice into thin strips. Set aside.

Make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together. Place the dried cherries into the dressing to sit and soften.

While the quinoa is still warm, stir in the kale, squash, cherries, dressing, roasted pumpkin seeds, and lemon zest. Season with more sea salt and pepper as you like. Serve.



Sunday, January 10, 2016

Blueberry Pancakes - Grain and Dairy Free


Hello there.
Happy New Year. Hope you are sailing right into January with your wits intact. December was a doozie for me.....super busy, lots of work, and a some stressful days. Thank goodness for Amazon and ordering presents on-line. I'm glad to welcome January in.
This past weekend, I was happy to have a slow Saturday morning where I could enjoy these paleo blueberry pancakes.
I'm not following any diet, just so you know. I don't really have a lot of New Year resolutions regarding eating, except to enjoy cooking at home more and eat healthy with some occasional treats.
Life is too short to me to be constantly dieting. Sure, I could stand to drop a few pounds, but I really am more invested in how I feel. Eating things that make me feel good, energetic, and happy.
Occasionally, I like to try to cut back on the flour and refined sugars....so this pancake recipe was a nice change from the usual. 
I also got to use up some coconut flour that's been hanging around in my fridge.
These were quite tasty and although a bit fragile to turn in the skillet, they come together pretty nicely.

Paleo Blueberry Pancakes
adapted from Primally Inspired

Serves 2 (about 3 pancakes each)


2 eggs
1/2 cup of coconut milk (I used canned)
1/4 cup of plain unsweetened almond milk
1 Tablespoon raw honey
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon flax seed, ground
Pinch Himalayan salt
Pinch of cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup of blueberries

Coconut oil or frying
Butter or ghee
Pure maple syrup 

Whisk the eggs with the milks, honey and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside. Stir in the coconut flour, baking soda, flax seed, salt, cinnamon, and lemon zest to the liquid mixture. Stir until well combined.
Let the pancake mixture sit for few minutes....if it seems too thick, add a bit more almond milk.
Heat up a large skillet over medium heat and add a bit of coconut oil. Pour about 1/4 cupfuls of batter into the skillet and let cook for a couple of minutes, until you see tiny bubbles all over the top and the bottom looks golden. Flip carefully. {Best not to cook too many at one time, as it is more difficult to flip them}. Continue cooking for about a minute longer until both sides are golden brown.
Serve with pure maple syrup and butter or ghee if you like.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Inspired Dining at Kennesaw's Fuji Hana Thai Peppers

Siam City Roll
From the moment I stepped into Kennesaw's Fuji Hana Thai Peppers Restaurant, I had a feeling I was in for a treat.
The restaurant is elegant with stylish white leather booths and a spacious oak sushi & cocktail bar. The ambiance is relaxed and cool and I couldn't wait to try the menu offerings. The restaurant serves authentic Thai and Japanese food, including sushi. I am a fan of all of it and since I live in the "burbs" of Atlanta, I am always thrilled to discover a restaurant in the OTP that has some serious culinary chops. Sometimes you find the best and most compelling food where you least expect it. Word!






Neo Tokyo Roll


























Dirty Vegan Roll























We started off our meal with some fantastic sushi, including these tasty rolls, "signature micro makimono" {basically smaller versions of special rolls}:

Siam City Roll — Tuna, Tilapia, ground roasted rice, mint, topped with white tuna, jalapeƱo, tobiko, with a chili, lime and fish sauce emulsion

Neo Tokyo Roll — Seasoned fresh Tuna rolled and flash fried topped with a Spot Prawn and Kani Wasabi Salad with a buttery aioli

Dirty Vegas Roll — Sweet and spicy Eel, avocado and cucumber topped with spicy, creamy Tuna and spicy aioli


Honestly, it was hard to choose my favorite, they were all amazing, lip-smacking good. They each were so different and paired with unique sauces. I can seriously go to town on some good sushi, so I am looking forward to going back to try more sushi rolls here! My husband loves sushi, so I can't wait for him to join me next time.



Our gracious host and chef/owner, Nick Chompoonich, treated us to a sake sampling along with our sushi. I really know very little about sake and Nick schooled us a bit about how it's made, the difference between hot and cold sake, and how the complexities of sake change depending on production. Like wine or beer, different types of sake pair well with different foods. 
I enjoyed the sake....it was surprisingly light and floral. Would love to learn and try more.

The restaurant has recently added big noodle bowls to their menu and we got to try the Yellow Curry Noodles {Kuay Toeo Khag} with beef, yellow curry, coconut, coriander, cardamom, and turmeric. It also had hard boiled eggs and delicious noodles. I hope they keep this one on the menu.....it was super yummy and had an exotic taste that was unfamiliar to me. So good. Thanks for surprising me chef.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cardamom Shortbread Cookies with Coffee Glaze

 

I'm always looking for an excuse to bake cookies. Holiday season is just one good reason to bake up a delectable batch of buttery shortbread. Easy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness that everybody loves.
I found some holiday cookie tins in the closet and well, that was another good excuse. Perfect for my "bake-and-take" mantra. Bake them, eat a few, and give the rest away.
If you know me, you know I am obsessed with cardamom. I really love it so. I take the little green cardamom pods every morning and crunch them up with a back of the spoon. The black seeds pop out and I mix the seeds and pods into my coffee grinds, to spruce up my morning cup with some exotic flavor.
I even bought myself some cardamom and coffee lotion the other day....yes, cardamom and coffee scented lotion. It makes me feel like I'm baking and drinking coffee even when I'm not. How much better can life get people? I can eat and drink my beloved spice and even wear it!



This might be the only blog post I've ever done where perhaps my recipe was inspired by a beauty product....but here you go.
I love shortbread on it's own, but the glaze on these beauties just adds a little something special. And another way to infuse the cookies with cardamom flavor. Yum.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Southern Bakery Tour - Back in the Day Bakery, Savannah


I've been wanting to write about bakeries for a long time. Not just because I am a baker or because I have a devotion for scones, caramel, and anything pie-like.
Because bakeries bring me this particular sort of joy. I think about them a lot. I map out the bakeries before I travel to a new city
or an old place. Hanging out at a bakery brings this immense feeling of comfort and welcome. The smells bring back such good memories to me. Growing up baking cookies with my mom after school.....working in bakeries and pastry kitchens in my 20's and 30's.
It feels like home to me. It is home. It's community. A gathering place.
Working in pastry is a wonderful life, but the production is not always so romantic. It's not like baking at your leisure. 
It's hard work and repetitive work. 
But it's soulful work and can be very satisfying. 
Having been there myself and having a number of friends who live the pastry life, I have a deep respect for professional bakers. 
I am passionate about really good bakeries and I can't wait to share about more of them with you. Life is such a sweet adventure.




Recently, I visited Back in the Day Bakery while in Savannah, Georgia. The bakery was founded in 2002 by Cheryl and Griffith Day and is located at the corner of Bull and West Fortieth. They make everything from scratch, including breakfast pastries, artisan bread, cookies, cupcakes, pies, bars/brownies, and lunch sandwiches and salads. They've also got a full espresso bar including house made syrups, like sorghum brown sugar.
The bakery's motto is "Slow Down and Taste the Sweet Life". Bingo. I'm all over that.
Oh, and they are James Beard "Outstanding Bakers"Award Nominees for 2015. Very, very cool.

They have a very pretty cookbook (actually two of them) and you know I couldn't resist adding one to my collection. I got their New York Times bestselling The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook.
How about these lovelies? Peach Cobbler Muffins, Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting, Apple Brown Betty with Rum Custard Sauce, Lavender Shortbread, Pancetta Fontina Bread Pudding. Mmmmm....they are all in there.



So when you visit a bakery, you have to choose. I don't like it, but it's true. While I'd like to get one of everything and have my own personal dessert party, some restraint is good. These are the two that spoke to me....the sweet pink cupcake and the "Drunk Blondie". Both were so good. 
Beyond all the goodies at Back in the Day, the space is super cute. Vintage chic, airy, light, friendly, and full of flowers. I loved hanging out there. I remember thinking, if I had my own bakery, this is how I would want it to look. The bakery was full of customers and I'm sure they just keep coming back for more.

I made my second recipe from the cookbook this week...the Creole Brownies {first one I tried was the Lovely Lemon Loaf and it was amazing}. Let me just say that I am typically a bigger fan of blondies than brownies. But the fact that the recipe promised a fudgy result with a chicory coffee infused ganache, kinda got my attention. So here they are...deep, dark, and delicious.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Banana Mini Bundt Cakes with Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Buttercream



So, I made these. They are pretty good. 
Ok, who am I kidding? They are amazingly good. Full of 
sweet-salty, peanut butter goodness and banana bread love. 
Elvis would be proud.
You can never go wrong with the banana and peanut butter combo, but this Salted Caramel Peanut Butter from Skippy kind of takes it to a whole other level. 


Let's talk banana bread. It never fails when I want to make it, my bananas are not ripe. They should be really ripe, so you get a sweeter and more fragrant bread {and they are just simply easier to mash up}. My method is usually to put them in a paper bag with a couple of apples overnight. Here's another solution that's even quicker from Food and Wine magazine.



These sassy little banana bundt cakes are even more delicious, once you top them with peanut butter buttercream. I could just eat this buttercream by itself.... so creamy and delicious. It would also be marvelous on a chocolate cupcake or sandwiched between two chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies. 

Hey, did you know it's Peanut Butter Lovers Month in November? All the more reason to find ways to celebrate and savor more peanut butter. 
Of course I like to bake with it, but I also get my PB joy by adding it my breakfast oatmeal or smoothie. So many ways to enjoy it with all the new items on the market, including powdered peanut butter, flavored peanut butters like maple and chocolate, and even single serving packets that you can carry in your purse or keep in your desk.

Love peanut butter and taking pictures? You seriously need to celebrate with the #myPBjoy Instagram contest this month! You can win free stuff....and who doesn't like free stuff?

Here’s how #myPBjoy works:

  1. Eat peanut butter – by the spoon, paired with a snack or combined into a favorite dish!
  2. Snap a photo and Instagram it using #myPBjoy
  3. Win PB prizes when you follow @peanut.butter.lovers on Instagram. Southern Peanut Growers will randomly pick one winner each week of November beginning Nov. 9, who will win a mixed bag of exciting new PB products.

I love how these banana cakes look with the mini bundt shape, but you could certainly use this recipe in muffin pans {regular size or mini muffin} or a traditional loaf pan. Enjoy y'all.

Banana Mini Bundt Cakes with Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Buttercream
Makes about 9

Cakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons powdered peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
1/2 cup roasted chopped peanuts
3 ripe bananas
2 eggs, beaten
7 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 plain Greek yogurt

Peanut Butter Buttercream {you will end up with extra buttercream - I froze mine}:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup of creamy peanut butter {I used salted caramel}
3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease mini bundt pan well. {You could use butter, but I used pan spray}.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, powdered peanut butter, sugars, baking soda, salt, and chopped peanuts.

In another bowl, mash the bananas well, but leave some chunkiness. Stir in the eggs, butter, vanilla, and yogurt and blend gently.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and stir together till just combined. Place batter into bundt cups to fill up about 3/4 way. Bake in oven until just done, about 22-25 minutes. {Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick or skewer down the center of the cake - it should come back clean}.

Allow bundt cakes to cool in the pan for about 5-10 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

While cakes are in the oven, prepare the buttercream frosting. 
Place butter and peanut butter in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat the butter and peanut butter together until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.
Add in half of the confectioners' sugar and mix in on low speed. Add the other half and mix again. Turn up  the speed to medium and beat until well combined, smooth, and fluffy.

Place the buttercream in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe onto your cooled cakes.


Disclaimer: Although I received compensation for this post from Southern Peanut Growers, all opinions expressed and the recipe/recipe photos are uniquely mine.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Caramelized Pears with Brown Sugar Bacon and Dulce de Leche Ice Cream


I don't normally eat dessert for breakfast. But then this happened.
I made this when the light was streaming in my kitchen window in the early morning. I couldn't resist. And neither could Jay. 
We gobbled it up. 
Technically this is a dessert recipe. But if you want to eat it for breakfast, I won't judge.


When a dessert has contrasts....I am interested. I love the interplay of soft with crunchy, silky with crispy, warm with cold. Of course, that means I get excited about cobblers, crisps, homey pies and such, served with ice cream or gelato. It's got streusel? 
Oh yeah, I'm in.
I had these pears that were almost past their prime and I got the idea to caramelize them, throw in some salty/sweet bacon, and top with dulce de leche ice cream. 
Hey, if you don't do bacon, leave it out. Add some toasted pecans or almonds instead. Don't do dairy? Use vegan butter and a non-dairy ice cream instead. 
Lots of options, so make it your own. It's so easy and so darn good. This would be a great do-ahead dessert for a fall dinner party.

Oh, and today is my mom's birthday. Happy Birthday Mom. 
I love you and am glad we share the thrills of food and cooking.