A Harmony of Flavors

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Using Caprese Flavors in Tomato Tartlets

Last Sunday I made appetizers to present at an open house for a beautiful home for sale here in town. One of the appetizers I created was Tomato and Mozzarella Tartlets with Pesto. Obviously, for anyone familiar with a Caprese Salad, the main components are fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil. Once baked, these tartlets had not too much in common with a Caprese Salad, except for the ingredients. 

Tomato and Mozzarella Tartlets with Pesto, forefront
The other savory appetizers were raw items, since it is still summer and the tomato season has been in full swing. I filled cherry tomatoes with a Pesto Cream and I used lots of fresh herbs in making the Gorgonzola Cream I used in the fresh Belgian endive leaves. My basil has been growing like weeds, and I have made batch after batch of fresh basil pesto, which I freeze, so there is always some available in the long winter months. I wanted to make one appetizer that was baked, and my little Tomato and Mozzarella Tartlets with Pesto fit that bill.

The recipe is simple enough. I usually have pie dough in the freezer, making quick work of the tart shells. I dislike the mess involved in making pie dough, so when I do make it, I make my Never Fail Pie Crust, or my Even Better Never Fail Pie Crust. This recipe (made either way) yields enough for four 9-inch single pie shells or three 10-inch pie shells. Since I usually make 10 inch pies, I divide the recipe into 3 and freeze whatever isn't used. I happened to have 2 bags in the freezer so I used them to make the tart shells. All it requires is getting the bags of pie crust out of the freezer an hour or so before using so it thaws.

I did not measure the dough for the little tartlet shells, just eyeballing little chunks of dough to press into the molds. For this recipe, the little tartlet shells do not need to be blind baked (baked ahead of the filling), thankfully. In some cases, blind baking is a necessity, but again, this just drives me nuts, because it is nearly impossible to get a neat shell this way. The day before making the tarts, I pressed the dough into two tartlet pans, each with 24 wells. I placed the pans with the raw, formed dough back in the freezer. The next day, I chopped tomatoes and onion and cooked them with some garlic into a somewhat thick paste, allowed it to cool and added eggs and shredded mozzarella. To go with the caprese idea, I placed 1/4 teaspoon of fresh pesto into the bottom of each of the little frozen tart shells before placing the tomato mixture in. Parmesan seemed a logical topper, to create a pretty golden crust. 

Another thing often found in a Caprese Salad is balsamic vinegar. Sometimes it is sprinkled over as is, and sometimes it is made into a syrup. I went the route of a syrup, cooking down a cup of balsamic to about 3 tablespoons worth of balsamic syrup. I drizzled a little of this syrup over the tarts once baked. The pesto in the bottom was just enough to make the little tarts really pop with flavor.

Tomato and Mozzarella Tartlets with Pesto

makes 48


pie pastry for two 10-inch pies
1/4 cup fresh Pesto 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/3 cup finely diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper, if desired
1/2 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
3 eggs
1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup balsamic vinegar

Divide the pastry dough into small balls and press these into the wells of 48 mini tart shells. Freeze the little shells at least 1 hour or overnight.

Heat a large skillet and add the olive oil. Saute the onions and garlic until very soft and golden. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook on medium high for 15 or 20 minutes, until most of the liquid has cooked out, leaving a loose paste.  Allow the mixture to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 on Convection). Remove the tartlet pans from the freezer and place a tiny 1/4 teaspoon dollop of fresh pesto into the bottom of each well.

Pesto in frozen shells              |         filling and Parmesan topping in place        |                baked tartlets, cooling
Once the tomato mixture is no longer hot, add in the shredded mozzarella and eggs and mix well. Drop this mixture into the tartlet shells, on top of the pesto. Top each with a small pinch of the shredded Parmesan cheese. Bake the tartlets for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the filling is set and golden. Remove the tarts from the pans and set on a rack to cool.

Place the balsamic into a small saucepan and bring to boil, cooking until the vinegar has reduced to a scant 1/4 cup. Just before serving the tartlets, drizzle a little of this syrup over each tartlet.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beets in Chocolate Cake Oh My

Chioggia Beets, ready to go in the oven
What next? Beets used in chocolate cake may not be a new thing for many people, but for me the first I ever heard of it was last week when I was given many bags of beets from someone's garden. I love beets. Mainly, I would pickle them and either eat them that way or make my Grandmother's Horseradish with beets for Easter (or any time there is ham around the house). There is another way I have eaten beets in recent years, since finding a recipe in an ad in Food and Wine Magazine. It was one of F & W's Grace Parisi recipes called Lemon and Garlic Roasted Beets, and was created to pair with Folie a Deux's "Menage a Troix" red wine. The recipe does pair excellently with the wine, but just the beets alone are like candy to me; I just can't stop eating them. I made them a couple of years back using Chioggia Beets from the Farmers' Market. They were the prettiest things you've ever seen. Well, if you like beets.
 
Chocolate Beet Mini Cupcakes


So, you must get the idea - I love beets. Yet in all my years, I never heard of or thought of using them in cake. I don't know why, really. After all, we make carrot cakes and zucchini bread. Why not use beets? They would provide the same moistness as these other vegetables. I asked the woman for the recipe she used, as she said it was her family's favorite chocolate cake. 

That day I came home with all those beets, I first washed, trimmed and peeled all the largest beets, wrapped them individually in foil and baked them. Smaller ones were done at 55 minutes; larger ones took up to 75 minutes in a 400-degree oven. I pureed the whole batch and got quite a bit of pureed beets, for use in cake or for anything else. I kept a couple of cups, in separate freezer baggies in the fridge, to use for a cake. I looked up "Chocolate Beet Cake" on the internet and found many recipes, with many variations. As usual, I compared those recipes to my idea of a chocolate cake or another similar type cake using a vegetable and created a recipe of my own.

A Slice of Chocolate Beet Cake
I was going to be making appetizers for the Open House this past Sunday, and thought to add in a few mini cupcakes to the agreed-upon foods. It is often the case that someone requires a special diet. Around here it seems gluten intolerance is one of the biggest difficulties. Since the fillings I created for the cherry tomatoes and endive leaves were both gluten free, I thought to give this cake recipe a try using gluten free flours.  I have found that gluten free cakes and dessert loaves seem to be more moist in general, so I proceeded with this in mind.

The recipe is large enough to make a 2-layer (8-inch) cake or a 9 x 13-inch pan. I used slightly less than half the batter and made 24 mini cupcakes. The rest of the batter I baked in a 9-inch round cake pan. I am sure the batter could be divided into two 9-inch pans, but the cakes would be far thinner; less lofty. The cake and the cupcakes turned out absolutely delicious. Again, as with the Maraschino Cherry Cake I made for my husband's birthday, it seemed the cake was done before I noticed, and it was a little more dry than I wanted. Not as dry as the cherry cake, mind you. This one is really nice. It could, however, have taken a few minutes less in the oven. 

I want to make this cake again, using a few different ideas. I do not keep cooking oil in the house, except for olive oil. I would like to try using melted butter or melted coconut oil instead of creaming the room temperature butter. I would also like to try using more of the beets than I did. I went conservatively for this first cake, using only 1 cup of beets. More would make a moister cake, and as there was absolutely no "beet" flavor in this cake, I have more confidence going with a larger amount. Here is my recipe as it stands today:

Beet Chocolate Cake (Gluten Free optional)

makes two 8-inch round cakes, or one 9 x 13-inch cake

1 cup cooked, pureed beets (about 2 medium)
2 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (or use regular all-purpose flour)
Unbaked batter left                 |                Baked cake on right
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
(If using a GF flour blend
add 1 1/2 teaspoons guar gum, and 2 tablespoons of powdered egg whites)
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan over low heat melt together the 4 tablespoons of butter and the 2 ounces of chocolate. Once just melted, remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). Grease two 8-inch pans and line them with parchment. Grease the parchment. Set aside. IF using a 9 x 13 inch pan where the cake will remain in the pan, it is not necessary to line the pan.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. If making the cake gluten free, ass the guar gum and powdered egg whites to the bowl and whisk well to combine.

In a mixer bowl, cream together the 8 tablespoons butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add in the pureed beets and mix to combine. Add in the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Divide the mixture equally between the two 8-inch pans, or pour all the mixture into the 9 x 13 inch pan.

If making regular cupcakes, I estimate about 1 dozen. If making mini cupcakes, the minimum yield will be 48.

Bake the 8-inch cakes for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a few fudgy crumbs. The 9 x 13 will take a few minutes more. The mini cupcakes took about 12 minutes.

Allow the 8-inch cakes to rest in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out to cool completely before frosting.

For this cake I made a frosting using 1 part cream cheese to two parts butter and flavored it with green tea powder and a little pistachio flavoring. For this frosting the butter and cream cheese MUST be very soft, at room temperature, or it will not whip properly. The flavors were a wonderful match:

Pistachio Green Tea Icing

enough to frost top and sides of a two layer cake
Pistachio Green Tea Icing

2 sticks / 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 - 2 teaspoons Matcha Green Tea Powder, optional

a few drops of pistachio flavoring, optional
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 - 2 tablespoons heavy cream, as needed

In a stand mixer, beat the first two ingredients on medium or medium high for 8 minutes, until nearly white and very soft. Sift together in a separate bowl the confectioners' sugar, salt and green tea powder if using. Stop the mixer and add these dry ingredients all at once. Turn mixer on to very low speed for about one minute, until the dry ingredients are moistened. Add the flavorings. Increase mixer speed to medium or medium high and beat for 6 minutes more, adding the cream if necessary to make it spreading consistency.

This makes a very pale green colored icing. If more color is desired, add in a few drops of green food coloring. I grated a little more of the bittersweet chocolate to sprinkle over the icing.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lovely Appetizers for an Open House

Tetiana in entry of the beautiful home
My husband works with ReMax Preferred Choice here in town, as the business manager. Through him I am friends with the realtors there; the Broker-Owner Scott Grebner, Tetiana Althoff, Marissa Jondahl and David Novstrup. In the past months, twice I have made little appetizers to go with wine or other beverage at an Open House for a particularly higher end property. Yesterday I was again in attendance at an Open House, hosted by Tetiana Althoff, at a wonderful, large home here in town at 1620 Mel Ros Dr., Aberdeen, SD. It is priced at over $500,000. The idea with the open houses is to pair wonderful foods matching the upscale home, making the experience pleasant for potential buyers. 

All the foods at the Open House


Of all foods to make, my favorites are perhaps appetizers and desserts. They can be quite time consuming, due to the need for many of a thing, rather than one large dish. Still, they present such a lovely display. For yesterday's open house I made some Pesto Cream Filled Cherry Tomatoes, Creamy Gorgonzola & Herb Filled Endive leaves, Tomato Mozzarella Tartlets with Pesto, Gluten Free Spiced Sandies and Chocolate Mini Cupcakes (also Gluten Free, by choice). We also had two kinds of sliced cheese and crackers. Wine was available and soft drinks. I will be posting all the recipes I created for this event in the next days. For today I will post the recipes for the fillings used in the Cherry Tomatoes and the Endive Leaves. 
Filled Cherry Tomatoes & Endive leaves

Since it is summer, and fresh produce is everywhere, I felt that using some fresh produce would be wonderful. Though today the weather is barely going to scrape its way up to 70 degrees, it is still summer. My sister in law is growing all my herbs for me this year, and the basil has been abundant. I have a store of fresh pesto in the freezer, for the long winter months to come. One of my recipes for pesto yields about 1 1/2 - 2 cups. Just this past week's harvest alone gave me 2 1/2 recipes worth! Using pesto in foods becomes second nature. I found through experimentation that pesto mixes well with cream cheese and if basil and tomatoes are great together, so is pesto mixed with cheese to fill tomatoes.  I made a pesto cream and filled the little cherry tomatoes, using some tiny basil leaves for a garnish. I also used the pesto in the bottom of my Tomato Mozzarella Tartlets, in a play on the Caprese Salad flavors of tomato, mozarella and basil. But more on that recipe later on.



Two Interchangeable Fillings

I could easily have used this same pesto cream for the endive leaves, but instead used lots of other fresh herbs mixed with a little Gorgonzola and cream cheese. Each of these filling recipes was exceptionally good, and equally interchangeable. Either filling would have been great to top summer squash slices, carrot slices, bell pepper wedges, or any other fresh vegetable desired. 
Either filling on squash slices, carrot slices, celery, green pepper, endive leaves and tomato

These two fillings would also be great as a fresh vegetable dip, if thinned down with some cream or milk to a dipping consistency. I kept them thick and piped the fillings into the vegetables with a piping bag and tip. If you are not proficient with a piping bag, simply spooning the filling into the vegetable of choice would work as well. I believe everyone should learn to use a piping bag and tips, even if only in the simplest of ways. Disposable piping bags are available and they serve so many purposes, from piping butter stars for a fancy dinner, to piping dips and fillings, to frosting on little cupcakes. The cherry tomatoes I used were fairly small, about 1-inch in diameter, on average. If using slightly larger cherry tomatoes, you will need fewer. If only very small ones are available, you may use more, though emptying the centers will be far more tedious.

Both these fillings are gluten free!

Pesto Cream Filled Cherry Tomatoes

makes about 45 to 50


45 to 50 (1-inch) cherry tomatoes

FILLING:
4 ounces (1/2 cup / 113 g) Chevre or Montrachet goat cheese
4 ounces (1/2 cup / 113 g) cream cheese
2 ounces (1/4 cup / 60 g) good Pesto 
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed

fresh, tiny basil leaves for garnish, optional


At least 2 hours before filling and serving, prepare the tomatoes. Set the stem end of the tomato down, as this will give it a more stable base, making it less likely to tip over. Use a very small and sharp knife to cut off the rounded top end, suing finger or other small tool to scrape out all the seeds. Set the tomato with the cut side downwards to drain on a rack or paper toweling (or both). For this task I started using a small tomato corer, though even that was large for the size tomatoes I used. I have a very tiny baby spoon leftover from those days, which worked perfectly for scooping out the seeds. Do this for all the tomatoes used. Set aside to drain.

Stem end down  |  scoop out seeds  |   drain well   |   holding piping bag with filling  |  Filled Tomatoes
DO AHEAD: The filling can easily be made up to 3 days in advance, if time is pressing. Place the first 5 ingredients of the filling into a medium bowl and mix well with a spoon or with a small hand mixer. Taste for flavor, adding in pepper as desired. Use olive oil to thin just enough to be able to spread or pipe, but still keep its shape. 

When ready to serve, use either a small spoon to fill the tomatoes, or use a piping bag and tip. I used Ateco tip # 823, as this open star tip fit just inside the little tomatoes. Squeeze the filling inside until the tomato is full, and then a bit more over the top to make a nice presentation. Garnish with little basil leaves, or alternatively, dill sprigs, chopped chives or any herb desired.

Gorgonzola & Herb Filled Endive

Endive leaves with filling
Makes about 40 to 45

6 or 7 Belgian Endive

FILLING:
4 ounces (1/2 cup / 113 g) cream cheese
4 ounces (scant 1 cup / 113 g) Gorgonzola crumbles
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Sherry or wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil

more minced chives or dill for garnish

DO AHEAD: The filling may be made up to 3 days in advance, if needed: Place all filling ingredients into a medium bowl and mix completely with either a spoon or a small hand mixer. Store covered in the refrigerator until needed.
Belgian Endive (5 - 7 inches in length)

Belgian endive also comes in a red version, not available in every area. Cut off enough of the stem/base of the endive to separate individual leaves. This will likely mean cutting a small slice each time to allow each leaf to come apart. Each endive will yield an average of 6 - 7 usable leaves. Some may give more, and some less. It is best to separate the leaves just before filling, if possible, to prevent any browning. 

Pipe or spoon in a walnut sized dab of the filling at the base of the leaf. Garnish with herb of choice.



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Beet Harvest

Four bags of beets
My sister-in-law called me a few days ago to ask if I wanted a bunch of beets. One of the volunteers at the Museum has a huge garden and had an abundant beet crop. I love beets. 

We drove out there the next day and oh my! This woman certainly had a lot of beets. I wish I would have thought to weigh them! She had some really huge ones and on down to very tiny ones. There were two bags already picked, holding an average of 8 - 10 medium sized beets each. She picked and bagged at least 5 more bags while I was there. She had two varieties. Both are the deep red type, but one variety was the regular round kind, where the second were long and narrow, some up to 9 inches long. 

3 (10-ounce) bags of beet greens
I like beet greens also, and I have tried on occasion to buy beets with some greens that are not too wilted or outright brown. I make a soup at least once each Fall, using all the root vegetables available at that time: beets, rutabaga, turnips, carrots, parsnips. Getting the greens is a bonus. The woman gave me a few ideas for things to do with beets, including freezing them or pureeing and freezing. She said she makes a chocolate cake with pureed beets in it and I was very interested in that idea. The first thing I did when I got home was set all the beets on a surface to get a photo! The next thing I did was break off all the larger beets and take them to scrub and wash, trim and peel. I wrapped them individually in foil and baked them. Some were done at 55 minutes and others took as long as 75 minutes.


That day I had something else going on, so I let the beets cool and refrigerated them. Setting aside the greens from all those beets I baked, I washed them well and then chopped them before tossing them in a hot skillet until wilted. I bagged them in 10-ounce lots, like the boxes of frozen spinach you can buy at the store. Since I am accustomed to using 10-ounces in a recipe, I figured this would be the easiest thing to do. I had 3 bags, plus one that was only 6.5 ounces. I planned to use this bag, after picking a few more beet leaves from the remaining batch of smaller beets to make up the missing 3.5 ounces. 

A dear friend gave me a recipe for a "Spinach Pie" some years back. I made it as the recipe stated, but I felt the result was too dry and stiff. It had the addition of 3 tablespoons of flour, precisely for this purpose, but I didn't care for it. It also had artichoke hearts, red bell pepper and cheese. She is a vegetarian, so this fit her criteria. The pie has no crust, so no calories from that quarter! I have made this pie a few times, altering it as I went. This time I decided to come at it fresh, and using the beet greens set aside for this reason. The pie turned out just magnificent. The flavors are outstanding. I wondered if the beet greens would be too strongly flavored, but the reverse was actually true. It was far milder on that score, possibly just because of the freshness an healthiness of the leaves. The only thing about my version with no flour, is that it weeps out a lot of liquid in the pie plate. This makes no difference to me. And, though I do not need to avoid gluten, this pie is totally gluten free. Spinach will work perfectly also.

Beet Green & Artichoke Pie

Makes one 10-inch pie / 8 servings

10 ounces beet greens
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 - 2 jalapenos, minced
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimiento
1 (6.5 - 7 ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
4 large eggs
1 cup of cream or milk
1/2 cup sour cream
6 - 8 ounces shredded cheese of choice (Cheddar, Jack, or combinations)
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). Spray a 10-inch pie plate with cooking spray and set aside.

If the beet greens are not already cooked and wilted, rinse them well, leaving the water on the leaves and set them in a hot skillet. Toss them with tongs until they are completely wilted. Set them in a colander to drain and when cool enough to handle, squeeze them well. Chop the leaves and place them in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
 
My dinner:  Beet Green and Artichoke Pie

Wipe the skillet dry and add in the olive oil and onion. Saute the onion until soft and golden, about 15 minutes. Add in the garlic and jalapeno and toss for another 3 minutes. Add the ingredients of the skillet to the beet greens. Add in all the remaining ingredients, mixing well to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie plate. Bake the pie for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until set and golden.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Maraschino Cherry Cake for my Hubby

My husband loves maraschino cherries. He is a true cherry-holic. Most years when I've asked him what kind of cake he would like for his birthday, he asks for carrot cake. The recipe i use to make carrot cake is absolutely exceptional, true. For a time there, I was really getting sick of carrot cake. He wanted it for Fathers' Day and then his birthday and for any other celebratory occasion. Long ago, he would ask for white cake, which is also my favorite cake, and I loved that. 

This year he totally surprised me! He said he wanted either a cherry cake with white icing or a white cake with cherry icing. And by "cherry" he meant maraschino. 

Long ago I had found a recipe for a chocolate cake that used a whole 10-ounce jar of maraschino cherries AND the juice. Anyone reading this with an objection to the dye in these cherries - understand, he just doesn't care. I like them too. The difference is that I like them. Just "like". If it was me, I might buy a jar of cherries once every few years. If I have cherries around at all, they are fair game, and my husband will eat them all, along with the juice in very short order. They go in soft drinks (10 or more in a glass of coke, along with some juice), in his coffee and in anything else he thinks of. Not me. Too sweet. I might eat one or two if I have a jar around for something. I make Cherry Bon Bon cookies for him for Xmas, and a couple of the cherries are usually too smashed to use in the cookie, so those go in my mouth. I am no cherry-holic.

Now the thing is, neither of us is too overly crazy for chocolate. I know; heresy! Still, neither of us likes chocolate ice cream, and we will take a white or yellow cake over chocolate any day. Chocolate bars only once in a great while. I like dark chocolate, the darker the better. He likes milk chocolate. This is kind of how it is around here. In many ways we are like Jack Sprat and his wife. What I don't eat, he will and what he won't eat, I usually love. We only agree on a very few things in matters of food, and I am grateful for many of them, like the chocolate issue. Wine is another where we pretty much agree. We both like really strong, peppery, red wines. Whites only if the occasion really warrants it.
 
Maraschino Cherry Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

So back to that chocolate cake with the whole jar of cherries and juice. I made that one year for his birthday. It was an exceptionally good cake. But it was chocolate, and while the cake was good, the cherries were less noticeable, so it was only a so-so on the "how much he liked it" scale. It never occurred to me to try making a white cake with a jar of cherries. 

I sat down with a white cake recipe I love, altering it to where I could use some of the cherry juice and the whole jar of cherries. I made the cake on Sunday, cooled and wrapped it, then iced it on Monday. Monday was his birthday and I was making him a dinner of his own choosing. He asked for pork chops, sugar snap peas and oven roasted potatoes. 

After dinner, we had the cake and I was disappointed. It was certainly cherry, though mostly the cherries fell to the bottom of the cakes as they baked. But the part that was most disappointing was that the cake was relatively dry. I didn't think I over baked it. I tested the layers with a toothpick at 30 minutes and they still had some crumbs, so I set the timer for 3 more minutes. At that point the tester was clean. The flavor is good. But, the cake is more dry than it should be. It will be eaten, despite that. I may have to make another cake sometime soon to try again on the moistness aspect. But for now, here is the recipe; feel free to experiment:

Maraschino Cherry Cake

makes two (8-inch) layers

5 large egg whites (6 fl. oz. / 177 ml.)
1/2 cup milk (4 fl. oz. / 118 ml.)
1/4 cup cherry juice (2 fl. oz. / 59 ml.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (10 ml.)
3 cups cake flour (4.2 oz. / 119 g.)
1 1/2 cups sugar (10.5 oz. / 298 g.)
4 teaspoons baking powder (0.56 oz. / 16 g.)
3/4 teaspoon salt (0.14 oz. / 4 g.)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (6 oz. / 170 g.)
1  jar maraschino cherries (10 oz. / 283 g.)

At least 1 hour before making the cake, set a sieve over a bowl or measuring cup and drain the cherries. Reserve the cherry liquid. Shake the sieve a few times during the hour, to drain thoroughly.

Cut the cherries into quarters and set aside. Measure out 1/4 cup of the cherry juice. Save the remainder of the juice for another application. With cooking spray, grease two 8-inch round cake pans. Cut parchment to fit the bottom of the pans, then spray the parchment also. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). 

In a bowl, combine the milk, the reserved 1/4 cup of cherry juice and the vanilla. In another bowl or measure, whisk together the egg whites with 1/4 cup of the milk/cherry mixture, keeping the remaining 1/2 cup of milk/cherry liquid separate. 

In a mixer bowl combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Turn on the mixer to low and combine these dry ingredients. Turn mixer off. Add in the soft butter and the reserved 1/2 cup of milk/cherry liquid. Starting very slowly, turn the mixer on until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Increase speed and beat for another 1 1/2 minutes, until smooth. Add in the egg white mixture in three parts, beating about 20 seconds after each addition. Add in the cherry pieces and fold to combine. Divide the batter equally between the two prepared pans. Tap the pans on the counter to release any large air bubbles. Bake the layers for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 7 to 10 minutes before turning out on racks to cool completely before frosting.  If the cakes want to stick in the pans, run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan to release the cake. The bottom will release easily, with the parchment. Discard the parchment.

This cake is wonderful frosted with cream cheese frosting.  It is best to use a good cream cheese, such as Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Softer versions will make the frosting too soft, necessitating the addition of more confectioners' sugar to thicken.

Cream Cheese Frosting

makes enough to frost one 8-inch cake

2 sticks unsalted butter, very soft, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 cups / 1 pound sifted confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the butter and cream cheese into the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer and beat these ingredients for 8 minutes on medium speed, until almost white and very creamy. If the butter and cream cheese are not soft enough, the mixture will not achieve this creamy state.

While the butter is beating, sift the confectioners' sugar with the salt. Once the 8 minutes have elapsed, turn the machine off. Add the confectioners' sugar mixture all at once and begin to mix on very low speed for about a minute, until moistened. Increase speed and add in the vanilla and heavy cream. Beat for at least 6 minutes more. The frosting will have increased in volume and will be very light and fluffy. The texture will be very soft, but hold stiff peaks and any designs piped on.

NOTE: For added vanilla flavor, scrape the beans from 1/2 of a vanilla bean and add to the mixer bowl when adding in the confectioners' sugar.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.   

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chicken and Grape Salad Makeover

I have made versions of Chicken & Grape Salad for a long, long time. Generally throwing things together last minute, using whatever is at hand, this is a wonderful cool summer salad that eats like a meal. At its absolutely most basic, the ingredients are as simple as cooked chicken, grapes, and nuts, sometimes with celery or green pepper, and held together with mayonnaise. From there, one can personalize it as desired. 

Chicken and Grape Salad, with many additions
I had some rotisserie chicken left over from the night before. A rotisserie chicken is a great way to have this recipe come together quickly. I did not have any grapes. I walked to the grocery and picked up some grapes, along with a little package of fresh dill, one of the few herbs I do not have growing this year. While dill is not usually a part of this salad, I was considering adding in a little Feta cheese still left in the fridge, and dill seemed like the pairing flavor I was looking for. For nuts I used pecans. My preference, hands-down, would be walnuts, but my husband dislikes walnuts with a passion, so pecans it is! I had gotten a couple of bell peppers at the Farmers' Market this past week. One of them was a deep purple in color, and I thought this would lend nice contrast in this salad. Celery is one of my least favorite vegetables, but when mixed with a lot of other flavors, it is a good filler. 

The Feta cheese is certainly not a common ingredient in this salad, and neither are the craisins (dried cranberries). Even more uncommon is the jalapeno & cheese brat I added. This last was just because I wanted to taste this particular Frohling Cheese & Jalapeno Brat. I bought a package while shopping for the other ingredients because I had tasted some of the brats and summer sausages at the Brown County Fair this past Saturday. Frohling makes some wonderful deli meats and they are South Dakota based. One I tasted at the fair and particularly enjoyed was a Cranberry and Wild Rice Summer Sausage, and that was the one I was specifically looking for at Kessler's local grocery, but those were not in evidence that day. Meanwhile, wanting to taste the brats I bought, I cooked one. After tasting an end piece, I just cut up the rest and added it to my "Chicken and Grape" salad. The ingredient list just kept growing. My recipe ended up like this:

Chicken and Grape Salad

makes about 10 cups

3 cups cooked chicken, cubed
1 1/2 cup grapes, cut in halves
1 cup bell pepper, in chunks
1 cup pecans, broken
1 cup celery, sliced
1 cup cubed Feta cheese, 4 ounces
1 cooked brat or smoked sausage of choice, optional
1/2 cup craisins / dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped scallions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2/3 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the mayonnaise and lemon juice. Separately whisk together the mayo and lemon juice and pour over the ingredients in the large bowl. Toss well to completely combine and distribute the ingredients with the dressing. 

Chicken and Grape Salad
My husband and I have always loved this salad, even if made at its most basic, as mentioned above. All the extras just made it that much better. We both served ourselves what should easily have been one large portion, and we both came back for seconds. I would estimate that this should be able to serve 4 to 6 as a meal, or more if it is portioned smaller for a summer brunch or lunch dish. It could be scooped onto a bed of greens, or into lettuce cups or on an open-faced sandwich. 

In researching what others have used in this type of salad, salt and pepper are generally a part of the recipe. I find store bought rotisserie chickens as well as Feta cheese, brats and mayonnaise to be quite salty on their own. I am not one to add extra salt to a meal at table. I believe in seasoning properly while preparing the food. If an ingredient is already salty, I taste before adding any more salt. Salt is not in my ingredient list above for this reason. If you feel it is needed, please feel free to add salt at your discretion.

This recipe is gluten free unless your mayonnaise and or brats/smoked sausage have gluten in their ingredients. If you are gluten-intolerant, I am sure you will already have a favored mayo to use. The brat was optional anyway.



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Greek Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts for Dinner

Long, long ago, I made something similar to this, and it stayed in my memory. I remember the flavors being great. The most likely reason I never went back to make it again is because I dislike frying food. I really dislike the cleanup afterwards, with everything grease-spattered. Considering it has been at the very least 30+ years since the last time I stuffed chicken breasts and fried them, I thought maybe it was time to revisit this idea.

Clockwise from top: thyme, marjoram, oregano, rosemary
I had skinless boneless chicken breasts to use. My recollection from that last time was cutting a pocket into the meat. Basically, lay the breast flat on a cutting board and with a small, sharp paring knife, knife blade parallel to the cutting board, cut into the thicker side of the breast, keeping the opening small, but sliding the knife towards the top end and then see-sawing to the bottom end, creating a pocket. The most important thing is not to poke the knife out the other side, or even worse, through the top or bottom of the meat.

I chose Greek flavors to stuff the chicken, mainly because I already had a block of Feta cheese in the fridge. I thought about what else to use that would be Greek or Mediterranean and since my sister-in-law has all my herbs growing at her house, I took a walk over there and picked marjoram, oregano, thyme and rosemary. I particularly wanted marjoram for the flavors because of its somewhat more floral scent. If marjoram is not available, just use the whole amount of oregano. Along the way home, I stopped in the grocery for a lemon. Thinking of the possibility of using sun-dried tomatoes, I thought that oil packed would give more concentrated flavor. I considered capers, but left them out this time.
 
Greek Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Putting the whole thing into practice was relatively simple. I made the pockets in the chicken breasts and set them aside. I put a chunk of the Feta into the food processor to break it up finely, adding minced garlic to ensure it was evenly distributed. I did the chopping of herbs by hand. I had more than I needed, and since I was steaming fresh green beans to accompany the chicken, I added the leftover chopped herbs to the beans when they were finished. I used seasoned flour and egg to make the outer coating for the chicken; first in flour, then egg, then flour.
 
Chicken, frying

Actually frying the chicken took longer than I wished, but I kept the heat on medium low because I wanted the chicken cooked through but not burnt. I did not time it precisely, but I would estimate at least 15 minutes per side, before it reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees on my Thermapen instant-read thermometer. I realize how expensive this little tool is, but it is worth its weight in gold. Truly!

Ultimately, despite the mess all over the stove to clean, the chicken was most delicious. My husband again was thrilled with the outcome. My photos did not come out as I had wished, but hopefully they give enough of an idea of the great outcome of this dish.

Greek Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts

makes 4 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts 
2 ounces Feta cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh, minced rosemary leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh, minced thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh, minced oregano leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh, minced marjoram (OR use 3 teaspoons fresh oregano, if marjoram not available)
1 tablespoon minced oil-packed sun-dried tomato

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 egg
1 - 2 tablespoons milk or water
2 tablespoons oil, for frying, as needed

Pat dry the chicken breasts with paper toweling. With a very sharp paring knife, insert the knife tip into the thicker side of the meat. Slide the knife upwards first to the rounded end of the meat, being careful not to poke all the way through. With a gentle, back-and-forth, sliding motion, slide the knife blade to cut a pouch, extending down as far as comfortable into the narrow end of the chicken. Try to keep the original opening no more than 2 inches wide. Do this with all 4 chicken breast pieces and set aside.

Cut a 2" slit, slide knife blade upwards and down to make pocket
Place the feta cheese into a food processor with the garlic and lemon zest and process fine. Chop all the herbs and add them to the processor and pulse once or twice. Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the minced sun-dried tomato, stirring to combine. Divide the cheese and herb mixture into 4 portions. With one hand, open the pocket of one chicken breast and with a small spoon, insert one portion of the cheese herb mixture. Use a fingertip to push the mixture both upwards and downwards in the pocket. Press the edge of the pocket to close and press the surface gently with fingers to spread the mixture to lay smoothly inside. Do this with the remaining 3 chicken breasts and filling.

Combine the flour, salt and pepper on a plate. In a separate, wider container, mix together the egg and milk or water with a fork to combine. Dredge the chicken breasts first in the flour mixture, then in the egg mixture, then back in the flour mixture. Set them aside for at least 20 minutes to set the coating. If longer, place them in the refrigerator.

Heat a large skillet and add the oil. Place the chicken breasts smooth side down into the hot oil. Start with medium low and fry the meat until very golden, about 15 minutes. Turn gently and fry the opposite side until golden and the internal temperature is at least 160 to 165 degrees. Do not cover the pan to speed the cooking as this will make the coating soggy and the cheese will ooze out.

NOTES: If other herbs than used in this recipe are desired, I would recommend using 1 - 2 tablespoons fresh dill instead and 3 - 4 teaspoons chopped capers instead of  the sun-dried tomatoes. This will be my next experiment!



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 


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