Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Long Time Favorite Cake is Back

First off, I hope everyone enjoyed a lovely Valentine's Day. It doesn't matter if you sat at home with someone you love doing nothing at all spectacular, or whether you went out and splurged big time, or if you chose to catch up on some "me" time. The idea is that you enjoyed the day, however it was celebrated. 

My husband and I were invited out to dinner at the local Moccasin Creek Country Club by two people fast becoming very good friends. Since my husband and I generally stay at home rather than try and fight crowds, and I cook something really special for dinner, it has been about 26 years since we last braved a night out on Valentine's Day. That made yesterday's evening a true delight. As much as I love to cook, it is a tremendous joy for the cook to have a night out! I thank Ty and Ann Hanson with all my heart for having us as guests.

A night off was not in the cards for the cook at the country club, Jake Collins. He was on duty manning the kitchen, and produced a most excellent menu for a large crowd. Considering the tremendous amount of dishes that needed to be served at the same time, he made miracles happen. We know Jake from the past four years of Winefest Renaissance, benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen. This year marks the fifth annual Winefest Renaissance (which appears to be called "Renaissance Festival," this year), to be held on April 8th.

Fresh Apple Pecan Date Cake
Fresh Apple Pecan Date Cake
So, on to the cake. This cake recipe is one that I have been making for about 33 years or so. Originally I cut the recipe out of the "Orlando Sentinal" newspaper's Thursday food edition. It called for using cooking oil in the batter, and raisins. I prefer to use melted butter, for the flavor, and do not care much for cooked raisins, so I switched the raisins out for chopped dates. It was the most amazing cake, outside of a Carrot Cake, for lovely flavors and moistness beyond compare. My version of this cake is called Fresh Apple Pecan Date Cake. The recipe I have used for carrot cake is also, coincidentally, from an Orlando Sentinel newspaper clipping and from around the same general time. I will have to post it!

Fresh Apple Pecan Date Mini Cupcake
Fresh Apple Pecan Date Mini Cupcake
Interestingly, in all the years I have been making both these cakes, I had never gotten any good photos of them, so last year I made it a point to make the cakes and take photos. Last year, however, was one crazy thing after another, between cataract surgeries for both my husband and me, and then various medical procedures and crises for my husband. It kept us on our toes. I didn't get to write many blogs. I do have a bit of a backlog of recipes to eventually get into this blog. 

I have also made this Fresh Apple Pecan Date Cake recipe to use as mini cupcakes with great success, as seen in this photo left. Tiny little two-or-three-bite mini cakes are cute as can be and delicious when set out on an appetizer type party spread.

Fresh Apple Pecan Date Cake
Fresh Apple Pecan Date Cake

Fresh Apple Pecan Date Cake

Serves 12 to 16

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups sugar
4 cups fresh apples, peeled, grated
2 cups pecans, chopped
1 cup pitted dates, chopped
2 eggs
1 cup butter, melted (or use melted coconut oil or cooking oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir in apples, pecans, and dates. Add eggs, melted butter and vanilla. Beat at medium speed with electric mixer for 3 minutes.

Pour mixture into two greased 8 or 9-inch pans, a greased bundt pan or greased muffin pans or papers. If making in an 8-inch round pan, I spray the pan with cooking spray, then trace around the pan onto parchment paper, cut out the parchment rounds and set them into the pans and re-spray the parchment with cooking spray. This ensures that the cake definitely WILL NOT stick to the bottom!

Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 50 - 60 minutes for a bundt pan. For 8-inch cake pans, check at about 35 - 40 minutes and every 5 minutes thereafter, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes and then invert onto cake plate. For cupcakes, check after 15 to 20 minutes. For mini cupcakes check after 12 minutes.

Ice with Cream Cheese Icing, or sprinkle with powdered sugar and decorate with extra pecans.

 

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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest  at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies. 
 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Appetizers and an Open House

Tetiana & Scott with the Appetizers
Tetiana & Scott with the Appetizers
I wrote last week about creating some new appetizers, with the intent to make them for an upcoming Open House for Re/Max Preferred Choice here in town. Tetiana Althoff, Broker Associate, held the open house at 12936 Prairiewood Drive, with Scott Grebner, Broker-Owner, in attendance.

The recipes for three of the four appetizers I made were posted either in this blog or as the bonus recipe in my February Newsletter. The only recipe I had not posted yet was the Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers, and oh my, they were so delicious. All four of these appetizers were wonderful, if I do say so myself. All four are cheese-filled, so if cheese is not your thing, then these wouldn't be for you. Cheese just tastes so good. From the little mini strawberry cheesecakes to the Spanakopita Cups, they were all delightful.

The Four Appetizers Served
The Four Appetizers Served, clockwise from top left: Spanakopita Cups, Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers, Strawberry Mini Cheesecake Tarts in Chocolate Shell and Buffalo Chicken Rolls
When Tetiana holds an open house at one of the realty's high end homes, she occasionally asks me to make appetizers and she will bring an assortment of wines. One of the wines this time was an Australian red blend called "19 Crimes." I can attest that this lighter red went well with all the appetizers, even the cheesecakes! Other wines were Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. She tries to have something available for most tastes. 

Filled Mini Sweet Peppers just before baking
Filled Mini Sweet Peppers, just before baking
MAKE AHEAD IDEAS: The Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers are a wonderfully easy appetizer to make ahead and bake just before serving. If pressed for time, make the filling up to 3 days ahead. For freshness, it is probably best not to cut, remove seeds and stuff the peppers until the day before the event. I did this last part and set the peppers on the baking sheet I would use to bake them, then covered them with foil before refrigerating the whole pan. Just on the off chance that the foil might stick to the cheese filling, I lightly sprayed the foil with non-stick spray before covering them. Once baked, while they are lovely warm or at room temperature, and yet they are still just as good once chilled.

Of the four appetizers, the ones that hold up best once baked are these Mini Stuffed Peppers and the Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes. The Buffalo Chicken Rolls are best if rolled and chilled the day of the event, as the tortillas begin to get soggy. The filling can be made a day or two ahead. It doesn't affect the taste, but only the texture. Similarly, with the Spanakopita Cups, the fillo cups begin to get soggy after a day, though the flavor is fine. It takes no time at all to fill the fillo cups if you own a little 2-teaspoon cookie scoop to fill them. It took less time to fill the 30 fillo cups than it took to heat the oven!

Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers
Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers

Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers

Makes 40 - 50 half-peppers (from a 1-pound bag) 

4 slices thick-sliced bacon, or 6 - 7 slices regular bacon
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces soft goat cheese, Chevre or Montrachet
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 ounce freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about ⅓ cup)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
1½ teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (1-pound) bag mini sweet peppers

In a nonstick skillet, fry the bacon until just almost crisp. Remove the bacon to drain on paper toweling. Pour off most of the bacon grease, leaving about 2 teaspoons in the pan. Return the pan to the heat, and on low, cook the shallot and garlic until they begin to caramelize slightly, stirring often, for about 15 to 20 minutes.

While the shallots are cooking, place the three cheeses in a mixing bowl and beat well with a hand mixer until well combined and mostly smooth. Add in the Worcestershire, egg, rosemary and black pepper and mix again to combine. Mince the drained bacon until quite fine (some of the peppers are very small, so no large chunks), then add the bacon to the mixing bowl. Once the shallot/garlic mixture is beginning to caramelize, add these to the cheese mixture and mix again to combine all the ingredients. * Do Ahead: This mixture can be made up to two days in advance and refrigerated. When ready to fill the peppers, remove the filling from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for ease in filling the peppers.

Cut all the mini sweet peppers in half, lengthwise. Endeavor to keep the stem end on, even cutting down the center of the stem if possible. This makes for a very pretty presentation. There are few seeds in most of the little peppers, but there are some. A small knife works well to make a tiny cut just inside the pepper's stem end, to remove the seed section and pull out any larger membranes. *Do Ahead: If time is pressing, this can be done the day before the event. Fill the peppers and smooth the top with a table knife or a spoon. Set them onto a baking sheet, then cover with foil and refrigerate. 

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees, then bake the peppers for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they just start to brown on top. The goal is to "set" the filling without totally cooking the peppers. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest  at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes and Buffalo Chicken Rolls

Yum!

A friend and realtor, Tetiana Althoff from Re/Max Preferred Choice, asked if I could create some appetizers for an Open House for a high-end home in town this coming Sunday at 12936 Prairiewood Drive.
Strawberry Cheesecake Tarts with Chocolate Pie Shell
Strawberry Cheesecake Tarts with Chocolate Pie Shell


Of course, appetizers are probably the largest list of foods in either my blog or website, so I could have so easily gone there for inspiration. Yet, I did not, for the same reason that I am relatively prolific in creating new recipes: mainly, that I love trying new recipes or tweaking old ones. I sat at my computer searching online for inspiration, because there is an awful lot of inspiration out there these days. I came up with at least 8 different ideas, some just sort of tweaks of others, but still. And one idea gradually seeped into my brain after seeing a photo somewhere of a chocolate graham cracker with some cheesecake "dip" and a bit of canned cherry pie filling on top.

The idea began when I thought of replacing the chocolate graham cracker and making my chocolate pie pastry, or some variation thereof. Okay. Then, I thought no problem on making a cheesecake filling. Yet once I got down to it, I realized I still had some pulverized freeze-dried strawberry powder in a little container, so I went the route of flavoring the filling with that. I originally thought of using the cherry pie filling for the top, but once I used strawberry powder to flavor the cheesecake, it seemed odd to then use cherry on top. SO.
 
Freeze dried strawberries made into powder
Freeze dried strawberries made into powder

The only complaint I have about these little tarts is the fact that the strawberry flavor was very hard to detect. It didn't harm the flavor at all - these little things are addictive! - but I plan to add more when making them for this coming weekend. One 1-ounce package of freeze dried strawberries, pulverized and sifted to remove seeds, results in a scant ¼ cup of strawberry powder. I only used 2 tablespoons of the powder in this first try, so I will be using at least 3 tablespoons in the next batch I make. This will leave about 2 teaspoons to make the little heart stencils on top.

Of course, if I have not previously made a recipe, I do need to test it out before using it for anyone else. And of course, being Superbowl Sunday, my husband was elated to test out my creations during his game watching. I toyed with the thought of putting a little chunk of fresh strawberry on top once they were ready to serve. I didn't have any on hand though. Instead, I cut a little heart out of a piece of paper and used it as a stencil. I set the cut out on top of each little cheesecake tart in turn, and sifted the strawberry powder on top. Carefully removing the paper, it left behind a perfect little deep pink heart.

Heart stencil on top of cheesecake tarts
Heart stencil on top of cheesecake tarts
These came together easily with only what I already had at home. Granted, everyone may not have the freeze dried strawberries, but aside from a yummy snack, they are great for coloring and authentic flavor.

Making and fitting the chocolate pastry shells
Making and fitting the chocolate pastry shells
The chocolate pie shells were ease itself. Just mix the dough (no added liquids) and it is so easy. I rolled little balls, pressed them flat to about a 3-inch diameter and fitted them into the mini tart wells. The cheesecake batter was also simple and the use of a little "ice cream scoop" (about 2 teaspoon capacity) made filling the shells a breeze.  

filling the chocolate shells
Filling the chocolate shells

Strawberry Cheesecake Mini Tarts with Chocolate Shell


Strawberry Cheesecake Mini Tarts with Chocolate Shell
Strawberry Cheesecake Mini Tarts with Chocolate Shell
Makes about 30 tarts 

CHOCOLATE PASTRY:
1 cup all-purpose flour, less 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup unsalted butter (4 tablespoons)

CHEESECAKE FILLING:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
⅓ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
1 (1-ounce) package freeze dried strawberries

Making Pastry: Measure the cup of flour into a mixing bowl. Remove 2 level tablespoons of the flour and return to the original bag or container of flour. Add the 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the scant cup of flour in the mixing bowl and stir to blend. Add the cream cheese and butter and cut in as for pie pastry. Gather the mixture with hands to bring all the stray crumbs together into one ball. Cut into 30 equal pieces and roll each piece into a small ball. Take one ball on the counter (no extra flour is needed) and press flat with your hand, or roll with a rolling pin into about a 3-inch diameter circle. Peel the round from the counter and set the circle over a well in a mini tart pan, pressing into the well and against sides. Repeat with all the balls of dough. Set pans in the refrigerator while working with the cheesecake portion of the recipe.

Making the Cheesecake:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. First make powder from the bag of freeze dried strawberries. Sift the powder through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any whole bits and all the seeds, discard the seeds. You should have approximately 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons. Set the 2 teaspoons of powder aside if making the stencil for the top.

In a mixing bowl, with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add and beat in the sugar and sour cream, then add the egg and vanilla and beat in. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and 3 tablespoons strawberry powder. Add to the cream cheese mixture and beat until no streaks remain.

Remove a tin of the mini chocolate shells from the refrigerator and fill each chocolate shell with about 2 teaspoons of the cheesecake mixture. Bake the mini cheesecakes for about 10 minutes, or until set.

Set them aside to cool slightly before stenciling the tops. I used a plain white square of paper, drew on a little heart about ½-inch diameter, then cut the heart shape out. If the cheesecakes are too hot, the paper will stick to the top, so they should be slightly cooled before stenciling. Set the paper over top of a little cheesecake and use the fine mesh sieve to tap a bit of the remaining 2 teaspoons of strawberry powder over the heart cut out. Gently lift the paper, tapping excess powder back into the bowl before placing it onto the next cheesecake. Repeat for all the mini cheesecakes. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Once I made these little gems, I was looking to make something savory and easy, so I made some Buffalo Chicken Rolls. This type of recipe is all over the place on the internet, but generally made with cream cheese only. I am one who loves blue cheese and so is my husband, so I added blue cheese crumbles to the mixture and these were absolutely delightful. My husband said they were at the high point of his heat tolerance level. To me, they were perfectly but lightly spiced. I used rotisserie chicken which made it very quick and easy.

Buffalo Chicken Rolls


Buffalo Chicken Rolls
Buffalo Chicken Rolls
makes about 24 to 27 (plus ends left for the chef!)

1 cooked chicken breast, finely chopped (about 1½ cups)
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces Buffalo Wing Sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's)
½ cup blue cheese crumbles
¼ cup chopped scallions
3 (6-inch) flour tortillas

In a bowl, mix together well all ingredients except the tortillas. Divide the mixture evenly between the 3 tortillas, spreading the mixture to the edges. Roll the tortillas, without pressing too hard on the filling. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 2 days. Slice off ends that will not make a proper roll, then slice across into ½ inch slices to serve.

 


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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest  at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Please Enjoy My February 2017 Newsletter

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A Harmony of Flavors February 2017 Newsletter
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Happy Valentine's Day, Friend.

This month begins a busy time for A Harmony of Flavors. Starting with creating some new appetizers for a Re/Max Preferred Choice Open House on February 12th, at the end of the month will mark the first meeting to precede the annual Winefest Renaissance, sponsored by the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen, SD on April 8th, this year. A Harmony of Flavors will be making appetizers to pair with selected wines for this event, just as we have for the past 4 years.

Last month, in my premiere Newsletter, I attached a bonus recipe. While it was not a new or original recipe, there are so many things that can be done with pound cake. One of them is using leftovers to make a bread pudding, one of my favorite desserts! On January 21st, I blogged about using the leftovers from my pound cake (under the title "Because We all Need Another Dessert") and made a recipe for bread pudding, which was spectacular. Read about that here. Being softer, the cake made the pudding more "pudding like" and with less texture than when made with a French bread. It was delightful.

Please check "A Harmony of Flavors" website and "A Harmony of Flavors" blog site, continually being updated with new recipes. There is a lot to choose from!
CLICK HERE for a Bonus Recipe!
From 2013 . . .

I took a few ideas and put them all together to create some really spectacular cupcakes for my best Valentine, my Husband! I grant you, these were a labor of love, and certainly not for those so pressed for time. Still, they are doable, and they were spectacular. The flavors I settled on were Pistachio Cream for the filling, and Strawberry Rosewater for the Icing. The cupcakes themselves were hearty, and flavored with Sweet Potato and Cardamom. Altogether a magnificent looking mixture that carried through on flavor. Divided over two blog posts, click these links: "A Valentine Labor of Love" and "Filled, Frosted Cupcakes." This is a recipe worth revisiting.
Has Anyone Heard of Peppadews?

Peppadews are little peppers so unique that the name is registered! Only discovered in 1993 in South Africa, they are only a tiny bit spicy, and wonderful used both in salad type dishes or filled, as I did a couple years ago. My cheese filling is delicious, but any number of possibilities for fillings abound. Anything used as a filling would have to be very fine, or finely minced. The little peppers are no bigger than a cherry tomato and difficult to fill. Read more . . .
After living in Guatemala for 12 years, I had fallen in love with the cuisine there and came back to the States having learned a lot of their cooking and methods. When my oldest daughter turned 40, I created a cookbook/memoir for her with all the recipes I had for foods from Guatemala. She was 10 years old when we moved to the US, and remembered both the food and the language best of my 4 children. The fact that she returned there for a couple of years later on, meant she stayed in touch with all things Guatemala. While I had not made all the foods I listed in that cookbook, some were still on my to do list. I tried once many years ago, to make Guatemalan style Chiles Rellenos, but it was not the best effort. I was not happy with the results, and somehow never got back to that recipe until last month. This time, they were perfectly as I remembered them. All that was missing was the really fresh, homemade, patted out by hand, corn tortillas cooked on a comal. Sigh... Read more here . . .
Fenugreek as Herb, Spice and Vegetable

I love finding new spices or herbs to work with, eagerly searching out anything new (to me).

Fenugreek just happens to wear many hats. As seeds (used as a spice), I most often use them in Indian cooking. Their immediate scent is of maple syrup, though they are rather bitter. The Indian cuisines also use the herb of the fenugreek plant, both as fresh leaves (vegetable) or dried (herb). I have not had access to the leaves of the fresh herb, but the dried leaves are available in Indian or International markets, marketed as "Kasoori Methi." Read a little in my website, here, or much more in my blog article titled, "Fenugreek as Herb, Spice and Vegetable."
Happy Valentine's Day 2017. I hope you will visit all my sites and try some new (or old) recipes, learn something new about an herb or spice or other subject, or maybe just daydream. However it is accomplished, I endeavor to provide articles of interest. Not everyone cooks these days, due to time constraints. I did cook meals for my family back when I had 4 youngsters and worked 2 jobs, so I know it can be done, though it requires some real attention to detail. Many of my recipes are created now that I am retired and have extra time on my hands, yet many are easy and quick.
Please forward this newsletter to any friends who may find my stories, articles and recipes of interest. Subscribe to this Newsletter by hitting the Subscribe Button below. Follow me on Facebook, check out my A Harmony of Flavors website, and A Harmony of Flavors blog. Find all my food (and lots of other) photos on Pinterest at AHOFpin.
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