Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Bowl Full of Cherries

I’m a bit of an impulse shopper, and I’m horrible at shopping on the cheap. I mean, I look for deals, and try to get bargains, but sometimes I see something that I just have to have, and no amount of budgeting can stop me. Take the first ball of creamy, delicious burrata I ever saw make an appearance at a neighborhood grocery store… was I going to pinch pennies and miss out an opportunity of that caliber!? I think not. Instead, I threw down in the most extravagant way, and paid the price of a full entrée at a decent restaurant, for one ball of cheese. Did I feel a little guilty afterward? Sure. But on top of that guilt, was I beaming with pride, just like when Carrie drops five hundo on a pair of Manolo's that she’ll wear twice? You know it!


Unlike Carrie, I don’t max out my credit card with designer shoes, labeled clothes, or entry into trendy clubs… I break the bank on produce, condiments, fancy salts, and kitchen gadgets. Even if I try to refrain, my attempts are futile. A few weeks ago, Amanda and I saw the most-adorably-awesome-cherry-pitter-ever at Ballard Market, and I HAD TO HAVE IT. However, trying to look like a fiscally responsible adult in front of my coupon-queen of a sister, I held back, and made it out of the store without so much as a second look at the cherry-pitter-of-my-dreams. After we left, I just couldn’t get that damn cherry pitter out of my mind. A few days later, I had the biggest craving for cherries, and spent far too much on a bag of them at the grocery store. With a giant bag full of cherries that needed pitting, I guess I had no choice but to go back and buy the Cherry Chomper.


Did I spend way more than I should have on a cherry pitter that looked like a child’s toy because I thought it was awesome, instead of just getting a simple and cheap but effective run-of-the-mill pitter? Definitely. But do I care? No way! I was the envy of all the kids in the neighborhood last week! I sat on the balcony, in full view of the jealous 6 year old next door, selfishly cherry-chomping until the sun went down. As the bowl full of cherry pits quickly grew, the pit of guilt in my stomach disappeared. If you don’t think pitting pounds and pounds of cherries is a blast, that’s because you don’t have the Cherry Chomper!


After having my fun on the balcony, I was left with a stomach ache from too much sampling (also to make the neighborhood kids jealous), and a huge bowl full of pitted cherries. So I made Cherry Chocolate Chip Muffins!


A new muffin method entirely, I nixed batter and used the shortbread-like dough from this cake, and filled with freshly pitted cherries and mini bittersweet chocolate chips. Some of the muffins went to Evan’s parents, some went to my office, and a few were devoured on the spot.


I’d say I got my money’s worth. If you were lucky enough to get one of the muffins, plump with juicy cherries, studded with chocolate, and infused with a hint of almond flavor, you'd probably say so too.


Cherry Chocolate Chip Muffins
I'll probably tweak a little as I make these more. Might try putting the chocolate chips in the dough during mixing. Makes 12-16 cupcake sized muffins (use your best judgement).

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, for pan
½ cup almond flour/meal
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 eggs
1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
½ tablespoon almond extract
½ pound-ish pitted, halved dark cherries (enough for about 3-4 whole cherries/muffin)
½-1 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tablespoon turbinado/raw sugar

Whisk together almond meal, flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer, cream the sugar and butter on medium-high for 3 to 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla and almond extract. Add the flour mixture and stir until smooth dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, flatten into a 1-inch thick disk, and freeze for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375. Butter 12-16 muffin/cupcake cups (or use paper muffin cups). Divide the dough into 24 equal balls, and pat a ball in each muffin tin (if it seems like there’s too much, do more than 12 muffins). Put a spoonful of cherries and a chocolate chips. Distribute remainder of dough on top of the fruit in 2-3 small pieces/muffin, then sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until lightly golden and firm. Cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

She's an Oldie (But a Goodie)

Sorry I’ve been away! Between subbing on a softball team, running the epic Ragnar Relay and floating the Snoqualmie River, my time has been maxed out! It’s also been too sunny and beautiful to be indoors blogging, and I wanted to save MY 100th POST (!!) for something special. The timing just happened to work out perfectly, and something special popped up on the calendar right when I was in need of a good 100th-post topic.

What better way to celebrate my 100th post than by dedicating it to my best friend, big sister, and kitchen comrade for her birthday? And, even more, it isn’t just any birthday…it’s her golden birthday (27 on the 27th)! I was four on my golden birthday, so I sort of missed out on the significance… but I’m sure I had enough cake to make up for it (I probably had too much and got sick after, per the usual). Amanda will be having a lot of cake for her golden birthday, too. Specifically in the form of peanut butter ice cream cake deliciousness made by yours truly (I’ll post more on that later).


Since I left home for college, Amanda always made sure my birthdays were full of cake. From triple layer homemade German chocolate with coconut pecan frosting (an Amber birthday favorite) to an order of the famous coconut crème pie from Dahlia, she’s made sure my birthdays were indeed happy ones. I guess that’s because she knows how much I love cake. And because we both love to impress each other with our kitchen prowess. The best part is that we’re usually so excited to ‘surprise’ each other with birthday cakes, that we share ideas and discuss them in depth before getting to work, ruining the surprise completely. Maybe that’s because our favorite part about cooking is doing it together.


For our latest joint-kitchen endeavor, we got together and made 6 mini chocolate tarts to donate to an auction. We started with Amanda’s all-time favorite go-to recipe for chocolate-honey tart with a hint of lavender, and used the base to make fun new flavors that would impress any food-lovin’ birthday girl (or boy) out there.


In addition to the can’t-fail lavender, we made deliciously rich Chocolate Orange, spicy Mexican Chocolate with a good dose of cinnamon, creamy Hazelnut Latte mixed with flavored coffee creamer and studded with crunchy hazelnuts, herbaceous Salted Rosemary Chocolate that tasted (and looked) like Christmas, and Coconut Caramel, with chocolaty, coconutty goodness inside and out.


Just look at those lovely tarts! We should probably start a bakery or café together someday…I mean, we were made for this kind of thing. From the time we could pull a bar stool up to the kitchen counter, we've been a team in the kitchen. She was always the mastermind with the big schemes and plans and (bossy) orders, and I was the creative side-kick. From the start I whipped up dishes like deli ham rolled with peanut butter and cornflakes…and Amanda always had entertaining in her blood, making fruity flavored toothpicks and orchestrating elaborate games of 'bartender,’ wherein we mixed up favorites like chocolate coke with sprinkles.


Over the years, Amanda and I moved past chocolate cokes to chocolate tarts, and exchanged our Easy Bake Ovens for Kitchen Aid mixers. We’ve been through massive fights requiring apology flowers, and have dropped everything to lend a shoulder and mend each other’s broken hearts. We’ve shared everything from clothes and cake platters to inside jokes and vacations. Since I came along, we’ve gone from enemies (she threw a fit the day I was born, and John took her out for ice cream to calm her down), to sisters, to frenemies (hey, high school is rough), to pals, and now… to best friends.

Happy Birthday, Amanda! And yes, those running pants DO make you look FAST!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: B is for Bastille Day

B is also for my summer favorites: BBQ, Basil Plant, and Boyfriend.


And Biscuit on the Balcony.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

If Ya Can’t Stand the Heat…

…Stay outta the kitchen!


It’s hot, hot, hot here in Seattle, but trust me, I’m not complaining! After a cold, dreary, drizzly, cloudy June-uary, I’ll take the heat, even if it is record breakingly scorching! I love it, a lot. Not only can I finally put away my winter sweaters (in July) and pull out my ever-growing skirt and dress collection, but I also love lazy summer dinners. No one in Seattle has AC, so standing in front of a hot stove on a hot day is nearly impossible. This means lots of no-cook picnic style dinners, with components like baguettes, brie, and fresh sliced, salted tomatoes…and lots of grilling.


And, since I absolutely love grilling any and everything, I was stoked to see grilled fruit in foil packets in a recent Food & Wine magazine. My fruit-packet combo includes berries mixed with lemon, thyme, sugar, and honey. The berries plump up and get juicy, warm, and sweet on the grill. I spooned the bubbly warm mixture over vanilla ice cream, but it would also be amazing over grilled pound cake slices, or even grilled fish.

For a fully grilled meal, start with Grilled Caesar Salad!

Lemon & Thyme Grilled Berries
6 ounces fresh blackberries- rinsed
6 ounces fresh raspberries- rinsed
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon thyme, lightly chopped
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon butter
pinch of sea salt

Combine everything except butter in a bowl, and mix lightly. Stack 2 layers of aluminum foil, and top with butter pat. Fold up sides slightly. Pour fruit mixture into foil, and bring edges up, folding closed. Grill over medium flame for about 10 minutes. Spoon over ice cream, grilled pound cake slices, fish, or chicken. Or bread. Or… eat straight from the foil packet.

 
What was I eating one year ago?
Roasted Veggie Pizza (definitely too hot to roast right now!)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Red, White, and Blueberry

I spent America’s Independence Day at a party full of Englishmen. Evan and I went to a BBQ at the apartment of Tasha’s boyfriend, Ewan…a hilarious Brit with funny friends and a great view of Lake Union. We could practically reach out and touch the fireworks, it was that good.


Sometimes the 4th is uneventful, but with an unbelievable view of a fireworks show made possible by Seattle’s celeb chef Tom Douglas, great friends, lots of beer, and an excuse to whip up something delicious, this year we really gave Lady Liberty a run for her money. The ol’ gal didn’t look a day over 230, so I made her a special, patriotic birthday treat to celebrate the big day…and to impress my friends, obviously.


With fresh, organic blueberries from the farmers market, I made fun, pretty, and delicious mini blueberry shortbread tarts with lemon cream cheese filling and, of course, a slice of strawberry for color. They were amazingly adorable, fun to make, and sweet, fresh, and tangy all at once. Definitely an all American winner.


So, with blueberry tarts in one hand and fiery sparklers in the other, on a balcony full of Englishman (and above a balcony full of Canadians), we saluted the good ol’ U-S-of-A… while singing the only song about America the whole group knew all the words to… the American’s Funniest Home Videos theme song.


Red, White, and Blueberry Tarts

For Shortbread:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 325, grease 18 cupcake tins. In mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and creamy. Beat in vanilla. Add remaining ingredients and mix just until combined. Divide dough into 18 even sized balls, and place one ball of dough in each cupcake tin. Press the dough to flatten, and press up the sides to create a small cup. Freeze dough (in tins) for 10 minutes. Bake for 10 minutes, then lightly prick the bottom of each shortbread with a fork to flatten bubbles, bake for another 8-10 minutes, until light and fluffy, but not browned and burnt. Cool in tins on rack for 5-10 minutes, then remove and cool completely.

For Blueberry Filling:
4 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt

Whisk together cornstarch and a tablespoon or two of water, set aside. Place 1 cup of the blueberries in a saucepan w/half cup water and lemon juice. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer and stir for 3 to 4 minutes. Stirring constantly, add the cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Stir until combined, and remove from heat. Gently fold in remaining 3 cups berries, until coated, and let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.

For Lemony Cream Cheese Filling:
1 8-oz package cream cheese - softened
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 T powdered sugar
Juice from 1 lemon

Beat cream cheese until fluffy, add powdered sugar, sweetened condensed milk, and lemon juice, and beat until combined. Spoon into a pastry bag with a small tip, or a ziplock bag w/small cut in corner.

To Assemble:
Lemon zest
Strawberry slices

In each tart shell, pipe a small layer of cream filling and lightly sprinkle with lemon zest. Pile a tablespoon or more of blueberries into a mound, drizzle with more cream filling, and top with a sliced strawberry. Chill until serving.