Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Wedding Cake, Birthday Cake and other great food

The Wedding Cake
Hello again. Just me, the stranger. I have so many intentions to get back into the swing and write blog posts more often and somehow it just doesn't happen.

Aside from still unpacking things in the new house, I had a wedding cake to make for July 6th. My niece -in-law got married in a small town here. Their cake was a dummy of Styrofoam, except for the tiny top tier, but the cake was immense and I nearly gave up with trying to get the fondant onto the largest tier, at 24 inches square! I am not a large bakery with huge equipment for rolling fondant. As it was, there was only one way to get the finished cake, on its board out of our house. I am glad it occurred to me to measure before decorating! The only door it could be taken through was the front door, so trying to decorate in the kitchen was out. That said, I still had to do the rolling of fondant in the kitchen and then cart it to the dining room to put in place. This made that huge tier even more difficult to finalize.
Birthday Cake
After two attempts to carry the fondant in one piece - all 12 pounds of it - with it oozing down, tearing and breaking, I nearly gave up, in tears. I thought to try it out in 4 separate quarters, and this did finally work out, but just barely. The places where the fondant joined curled as they dried and separated a bit. I put scroll work over that part and carried on. After that huge tier, the others, even the next one at 17 inches, were a breeze.
We got the cake out to the car with no mishaps, despite Mercury being retrograde, and up to the hall and in place the day before, minus the top tier. It was in the 90s here and the hall had no air conditioning! I decided it would be best not to put the real cake in that heat until it had to be.
The wedding was just beautiful, the bride and groom just gorgeous. The bride's dress was so very pretty and unlike any I had seen. The heat was the one unfortunate factor, though it didn't ruin anyone's day. And the following day, with all my cake decorating equipment still all over the place, I made a birthday cake for a dear friend here. After that mammoth cake, this simple, round, 8-inch cake was so simple as to be laughable. It did turn out as I wanted, and she was happy, so all is well. And now, for the first time in two months, all the cake stuff is put away, out of sight. Whew!
I have been sort of gradually getting back into making new recipes. Recently I made some cookies that were just so tasty. They were Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Cookies. They could probably use a little tweaking of the recipe, but they were absolutely delicious, cinnamon-y and chewy. I got some zucchini at the local Farmer's Market with the intention of making Zucchini Lasagna. I've made it many times before, but never written down my recipe.

Zucchini Lasagna

Zucchini Lasagna
Zucchini Lasagna

Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan; 8 servings
Per serving: 425 calories, 13 carbs, 1 g. fiber

15 ounces part skim ricotta
¼ cup fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ ounces freshly grated Parmesan, divided
2 (12 ounce) jars roasted red bell pepper, drained & pureed
2 cups spaghetti sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound lean hamburger
1 medium onion, chopped, about 1½ cups
1 bell pepper, chopped, about 1 - 1½ cups
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 can (13.25 ounces) mushroom stems and pieces, drained
8 ounces part skim mozzarella, shredded
2 - 4 small to medium zucchini

In a medium bowl, combine the first 5 ingredients and half the grated Parmesan; set aside. Drain the roasted red peppers well and place in a food processor or blender to puree; they need not be completely smooth. This will make about 2 cups. Add 2 cups of the spaghetti sauce to the pureed peppers along with the cornstarch and stir to combine; set aside.

Making Zucchini Lasagna 
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and fry the hamburger meat until well browned. Add the onion and sauté together for 5 to 7 minutes. Add in the green pepper, garlic, dried herbs and salt and sauté another 5 minutes. Add in the mushrooms and the reserved red pepper and spaghetti sauce mixture and heat through; set aside off the heat. Preheat oven to 375 (350 on convection).

Using a mandolin slicer set to less than 1/8-inch thickness, slice the zucchini lengthwise to create an approximation of lasagna noodles. Spray a 9 x 13-inch oven-safe pan with cooking spray and layer zucchini slices in a single layer in bottom of pan. Top the zucchini with half the reserved ricotta mixture, spreading gently. Top this with a third of the meat sauce. Layer on half the shredded mozzarella. Repeat this process: zucchini slices, ricotta mixture, meat sauce and mozzarella. Top with one more layer of zucchini slices and the remaining meat sauce and sprinkle the reserved grated Parmesan over top.

Bake the lasagna for about 40 to 50 minutes, until it is bubbling and the zucchini slices are cooked through (test with a knife). Remove from oven and allow to stand for at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

NOTES: This recipe can be made without meat and become a vegetarian dish, if desired. Instead of frying the meat, sauté the onions and green pepper together, add the garlic toward the end. Add in the mushrooms if desired and then the red pepper/spaghetti sauce mixture and heat through.

Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Cookies

Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Cookies

Makes about 6 dozen 3-inch cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon butterscotch flavoring
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 fresh apple, peeled, grated, rough chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped or broken
1 cup cinnamon Flav-r-Bites (King Arthur Flour website)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (if using convection, set temperature to 325).
In a stand mixer cream together the butter and the sugars. Add in the flavorings (if butterscotch flavor is not available, use all vanilla) and the eggs and mix well. It is easy to prepare the apple if it is peeled, then grated on a large holed grater. Using a large knife, roughly chop across the long grated strands to break them up. Add the apples to the mixer bowl and beat to combine. Whisk to ether the flour, salt, soda and baking powder and all to the bowl on low speed to just moisten, then higher speed to combine. Add in the walnuts and cinnamon flav-r-bites and mix to combine.

Drop dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets using either two small spoons or a cookie scoop, placing them about 2-inches apart. Bake the cookies for approximately 12 minutes, until puffed and brown around the edges. Allow the cookies to remain on the pans for 2 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

NOTES: The King Arthur Flour website carries Cinnamon Flav-r-Bites. I love adding them to scones as they give a wonderful burst of cinnamon flavor. With that in mind, I thought they would also be fabulous in cookies. Cinnamon mini-chips would also work well in these cookies, but the pure flavor in the little bites is hard to duplicate.

Peach Crisp with Coconut Almond Ice Cream
Yesterday was my dear sister-in-law's birthday. She loves peaches, and requested Peach Crisp as her dessert rather than cake. I decided to try an ice cream, based on a recipe I saw calling for a quart of milk heated with honey and poured over almonds and strained. I thought that was a huge waste of almonds, plus I am not over fond of using milk. I created a recipe, which I revised 3 times before I even made it, but it turned out most delicious. I called it Coconut Almond Ice Cream, though it has no dairy (or eggs) in it at all. For this I soaked 1 cup of raw almonds overnight in a 2 cup measure, filled to the 2 cups with water. Yesterday morning I drained the almonds and placed them into my Vita Mix with one (13.5 ounce) can of Coconut Milk and about 6 ounces of coconut water. I blended the almonds to a fine powder and strained them out with a nut milk bag, squeezing well to get every last bit of liquid out of the almonds. I rinsed the blender container and returned the strained coconut almond milk to the container with a half cup of honey and a half teaspoon of almond extract, blended for a few seconds to thoroughly mix, and then refrigerated the mixture for the next few hours.

I have an old DAK "Gelatissimo" ice cream machine. I don't use it very often, but now and again it is very handy. I set the ice cream maker to start just as we sat down to dinner, so it would be done and not too hard when it came time for dessert. I will say that though it didn't have the creamy smoothness of some commercial ice creams, it was rich and most delicious. Best of all, it went just splendidly with the Peach Crisp. A real match made in heaven!

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 and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.