BUTTERMILK BISCUITS & ZIPLOC-BAG OMELETS

I love breakfast.  A nice, leisurely, tummy-stuffing, weekend breakfast (or maybe brunch, depending upon your sleeping habits).  There’s really just nothing like it; something savory with something sweet, a big steaming mug of coffee, the scrape of fork against plate where the syrup was.  Sigh.  Now I’ve gone and made myself hungry.

biscuit & omelet

Going out for breakfast or brunch is one of my favorite indulgences; I have favored spots in every city I’ve lived in.  I dream about the huevos rancheros at Baby Barnaby’s & the cheese grits at Brother Juniper’s, but when push comes to shove, I’m actually much more likely to make a big breakfast for myself.

No changing out of your pajamas, no standing in line with your stomach growling, no having to hear “Actually, we’re out of bacon.”

Having friends over for brunch can be a really economical way to entertain, much cheaper than throwing a dinner party.  Plus, everybody loves breakfast!  It’s comfort food at its best.  Throw in some mimosas or Bloody Marys and everyone’s happy.

Okay, enough about that, I know you’re thinking “what the heck is a Ziploc-bag omelet?”  It’s basically the best magic trick I know, making individual omelets in Ziploc bags.  Totally solves the problem of how to fix eggs for a group, since this person doesn’t like mushrooms and this child can’t stand onions.  Plus, it is SO much fun to do—great to do with kids, though we’ve definitely made them with all adults and they had a good time, too.

It’s not just the novelty, though; the omelets actually taste great, and without having to add any fat to cook them.  I’m sure someone out there is terrified by the thought of cooking food in plastic.  If that’s you, you probably shouldn’t try this.

Biscuits are also fun to do with kids—you’re going to get the counter messy anyway, so why not let them enjoy?  Two of my favorite kiddos in the world, Isabella & Antonio, whom I’ve known since they were each tiny babies, are always my biscuit souz chefs when I visit them or they visit me.  We use funky cookie-cutters (lobster or cactus-shaped biscuits, anyone?) to liven up things even more.

There are a million ways to make biscuits in this world; this happens to be my way. I’ve been experimenting with homemade biscuits for as long as I can remember and let me just say, these are really, really good.  I’m from Tennessee; I know a good biscuit when I meet one.

Have great weekend, ya’ll.  And eat something good for breakfast.

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

ingredients: buttermilk biscuits

4 T each, butter & vegetable shortening (don’t soften the butter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1 T sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup buttermilk

extra 2 T butter, melted

oven: 425°
pan: heavy baking sheet, jellyroll pan, or cast-iron skillet

Place the shortening and butter inside a large bowl.  Add in dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, sugar, & salt—and, using your fingers, smush (yes, that’s a technical term) until you have a crumbly mixture, with large pieces.  The pieces shouldn’t be too small or too uniform—just no big chunks of fat.

Pour in the buttermilk and mix very gently with your hands (try to remember to take your ring(s) off; I always forget!).  The mixture will seem wet and as if there’s no way it could ever become biscuits.  Do not panic and do not overmix.

Turn the loose mixture onto a heavily floured surface, coating the dough once with flour on both sides before patting it out very gently to about a half-inch thickness.  Even though the dough still may not look completely together, trust me.  That’s how you want them—if you work with the dough too much = hard biscuits.

Using a biscuit cutter (if you are a good Southerner & have one, unlike me) or an upside-down water glass, cut out biscuit rounds from the dough, placing them close together on your baking sheet or in your skillet/pan.

Cobble together scrap pieces to do a second, and if needed, third round of biscuit-cutting.  Brush the tops of the biscuits with half of the melted butter and place them in the oven.

Bake for 15-20 minutes; at about the 12 minute mark, your biscuits should have risen nicely but will look a little pale.  Brush with the remaining melted butter and finish baking.

Serve warm (of course) with more butter, honey, jam, sausage, pepper gravy, etc.  Or, if you are my father-in-law, ribbon cane syrup (ew).

ZIPLOC-BAG OMELETS
(thanks to our friends Vicky & Lois for sharing this years ago!)

This is so simple that I can’t even rightly call it a “recipe”—it’s more like a formula or a magic trick. Every time I do it I’m halfway afraid it isn’t going to work, but it always does!

ingredients:

eggs (2 per person, or perhaps just 1 for tiny eaters) add-ins
Ziploc bags (sandwich-size)
a Sharpie or permanent marker

any omelet add-ins you like:

shredded cheese (cheddar, fontina, mozzarella, Monterey jack)
crumbled/chopped meats (ham, sausage, bacon or a meatless substitute)
chopped veggies (peppers, mushrooms, onions, green onions, spinach, asparagus)*
seasonings (fresh or dried herbs such as basil or thyme, hot sauce, etc)
salt & pepper

First, get a tall pot of water (the kind you’d use to cook a big batch of pasta) filled with water and bring the water to a boil.

To assemble the omelets, first have everyone claim a Ziploc bag & write his/her name on it.  eggs in a bagThen, using a bowl to help the bag “stand up,” crack two eggs into each one.

Instruct everyone to seal their bags and then smush up the eggs with their fingers.  Kids, naturally, l-o-v-e this part, so they’ll happily manage this step for everyone.

Then, have everyone open their bags back up and throw in whatever accoutrement they desire—just make sure not to overload!  Think in finger-pinches, not handfuls.

Once everyone’s loaded up their omelet-to-be, seal the bag and mix it all up again.

One last step, and this is important (the kids may need help with this one).  Unseal the bag so you can force all of the ingredients down to the bottom, then press the air out through the top and re-seal.

You should have a concentrated band at the bottom of your bag, and no, it won’t look very appetizing, but don’t worry!  I promise you this will taste excellent.

Bring your pot of water down to a simmer—don’t use a rolling boil or your eggs (and bag) will overcook.  Drop the bags into the water, one at a time—they’ll kind of bob up at the top, but that’s why you pressed all of the ingredients down to the bottom. going in the water!

You may need to kick the heat back up on your burner to compensate for the addition of the bags, but at this point, set a timer for exactly thirteen minutes and go about your business.

When that timer goes off, carefully fish the bags out of the water and onto a kitchen towel.  To serve, simply open each bag (there will be steam, so watch little fingers) and slide the omelet onto a plate.  Enjoy!

*If you decide to use asparagus, I recommend pre-cooking it in a little water, either over the stove or in the microwave.

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: COLD-BREW ICED COFFEE

People! This is so unbelievably easy and delicious, you must make it NOW. No, seriously, because when you do, you will take one sip and promptly kick yourself for not trying it sooner.

homemade iced coffee goodness

Cold-brew iced coffee is a world of difference from throwing some ice cubes into formerly hot, regularly-brewed coffee. The long “brewing” process extracts all the levels of flavor from your coffee but leaves out a good deal of bitterness. I recommend springing for a pound of “nice” coffee beans when making cold-brew, as the complexity will really shine through.

Plus—added broken economy bonus!—it is so much cheaper to make iced coffee at home than to buy it at your friendly neighborhood coffee-pusher. Even if you spend $10-12 on your pound of beans, that pound will generate at least 2 dozen servings of iced coffee before you’re through. Fifty cents a cup?  So save some money and liven up your morning…I’m telling you, there is nothing better for the Friday morning commute than a tall travel-mug full of cold, caffeinated deliciousness.

COLD-BREW ICED COFFEE coffee beans

This recipe produces a concentrate, meaning that the finished product is designed to be diluted with water and/or ice before milk, cream, sweetener, are added. I, for example, like mine mixed with creamy vanilla soy milk & a little sweetener.

That being said, if you are a caffeine junkie like, ahem, someone I live with, dilution may not be necessary.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups water (use bottled or filtered if you want extra-good stuff)

2/3 cup ground coffee

(don’t buy pre-ground; either grind at home to a medium/coarse grind or request a barista to do the same)

Combine the two ingredients—I like to use a large liquid measuring cup or something similar, with a spout, to make pouring the next day easier. You’ll want to use a spoon or spatula to stir in the grounds; it’s a little messy, but don’t worry, this is not an exact science.

Cover the mixture with a plate or plastic wrap and let sit on room temperature overnight (or for a good long while). If you have a French press, use it as you would for hot coffee. If not, line the opening of a wide-mouth jar with a coffee filter and pour through. You may need to repeat once or twice to remove all of the grounds.

Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Keeps for…well, I don’t know how long, because in my house, it’s always gone in a week!

morning coffee to-go

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A BIRTHDAY & A WELCOME

Hello fine people!  I do so hope you are doing well and keeping cool out there as July winds itself up into August (to ask the proverbial rhetorical: when did that happen?)

I have two VERY EXCITING pieces of news for you today!  First, my Blue Jean Spouse & sweet love, Jill, is celebrating her birthday tomorrow.  Can I just say, I’m so achingly grateful that she came into the world and I’m tremendously proud to share my life with her.  Happy birthday, honey!

gala

Second, and there’s even a fun tie-in here, I am so pleased to announce that we have a new addition here at Blue Jean Gourmet!  My best friend’s brother, Anders, has agreed to be our guest sommelier, sharing his wine expertise with us monthly (read his full bio here).  He’ll post on special topics and tie-in with what we’re cooking around here, but he’s also happy to answer any wine questions you may have.  So please comment away!

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love wine of all kinds, the world of wine can be a little intimidating and needlessly snobby.  Anders, while he has the credentials and knowledge, is a totally approachable, down-to-earth guy and I think he will fit right in around here.  He’s even created his own clever Wine Rating Scale so you don’t have to fuss with boring points.  Not to mention, he’s totally handsome, right?  Anders

(I’m allowed to say that; I’m his sister’s best friend.)

So, enough from me already—I’ll turn you over to him.  Have a lovely weekend, everyone, and I’ll see you on Tuesday, when our regular, recipe-posts will resume.


Greetings to all of Blue Jean Gourmet’s faithful and happy birthday Jill!

Normally I would talk about how to take wine drinking (and tasting) to the next level in my first post.  But seeing that it is Jill’s birthday and given Jill’s proclivity for sparkling wine, Nishta asked me to touch on the subject.  So here goes…

Sparkling wine is a very special type of juice.  Originally it was actually the bane of winemakers in cooler climates.  For centuries, winemakers trying to make dry wines were puzzled by bottles that kept developing bubbles and often exploded in their cellars.  What they didn’t realize was that when they laid their wines down to spontaneously ferment over the winter, the cold temperatures of Northern France and England were halting the process and leaving excess sugar behind.  The winemakers would then bottle the wine which would later restart fermentation in the spring, creating CO2 and carbonating the wine.

Eventually some of our wine-consuming predecessors developed a taste for this frothy wine and savvy producers figured out ways to make stronger glass, better ferment the wine, and even remove the dead yeast cells from the bottles after an intentional second fermentation was completed.  As a result, today we enjoy crystal clear sparklers that seem to embody the spirit of celebration and whose combination of effervescence and high acid make them formidable pairing wines.

For Jill’s birthday, I want to focus on a sparkler that I find especially compelling because simply- it is darn good for the amount of money you have to shell out.  The bodacious bubbly in question is Cava; a Spanish wine that can be made in any of six different wine-making regions but typically comes from the Penedes region in Catalonia (about 50 kilometers from Barcelona).

The secret to Cava’s success is that it is required by law to be produced in what is known as the Traditional Method (just like Champagne).  This means every bottle has to go through its second fermentation in the bottle you buy it in rather than in a different bottle or in a massive tank.

This process has important implications on the size, longevity and abundance of bubbles as well as the potential for yeasty notes in the final product.  It’s these yeasty notes and fine bubbles that define high-end Champagne and can be found in Cava for sometimes as little as one-tenth of the price.  If you are wondering what exactly “yeasty notes” encompasses- they are flavors and aromas of bread, biscuits, brioche, etc. combined with a slightly creamy mouthfeel.

Some pairing ideas for dry white Cava: grilled shrimp with lemon juice and garlic, sushi or sashimi, fried oysters, crackers with Gouda.  Or, if you are an East-Coaster like me, try it with lobster and butter.  Cheers!

1+1=3 Brut NV                                              ~$15.99 Retail 1+1=3BrutNVCava

My first impression of the 1+1=3 is that when I sat down taste it 10 minutes after it had been opened and five minutes after it had been poured, is that it had already stopped bubbling, lame.  After putting to my nose my mood shifted as it displayed nicely subtle aromas of almond paste and clover.  It had a strong lemon flavor and a healthy acidity. Overall I wasn’t blown away and I was never the best student of arithmetic but I’m pretty sure 1+1=2.

Anders’ Rating: What Else is on the Shelf?


parxetcuvee21Cava

Parxet Cuvee 21 NV                                     ~$10.99 Retail

The Parxet was also not bubbling when I sat down, but showed some yeasty characters upon inspection with my nose.  Aromas of toasted brioche melded well with a very lemony palate.  To my surprise it became quite pleasantly frothy in my mouth, despite being previously devoid of bubbles.  It showed a racy acidity and a nuance of raw almond that lingered on the finish.

Anders’ Rating: Class for the Coin


Gramona Gran Cuvee 2004                         ~$19.99 Retail  GramonaGranCuvee2004

Hooray! Bubbles from the beginning! Awesome aromatic intensity- what was that?  Browned biscuit, amaretto cookies and pineapple on the nose? Yummy. The palate didn’t disappoint with a nice weight, creamy mouthfeel and flavors of pineapple and mandarin.  A good length too!  If you can spare the 20 greenbacks I would certainly give it a try. It kept me guessing as new flavors kept emerging.

Anders’ Rating: Top Notch


aria-pinot-noir-bottleSegura Viudas Aria Pinot Noir Brut NV    ~$12.99 Retail

The Segura was by far the champ when it came to bubble longevity, the CO2 just wouldn’t relent.  A strikingly floral and fruity nose of rose petals, red raspberry and tangerine.  I was surprised to get conspicuous blueberry on the palate, complemented by a generous honey note.  Seemed much sweeter than I actually think it was, probably could have used a little more acidity.  However, really fun and complex, my only caveat is that if you don’t like fruity and floral this probably won’t be your thing. It was absolutely stellar with smoked salmon and I am drying to try it with Tuna Maguro.

Anders’ Rating: Class for the Coin

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BERRY-CHAMPAGNE GRANITA

I know “granita” sounds like a type of dog that widowed Italian heiresses carry around in their Prada handbags, but it’s actually just flavored, shaved ice—think a subtler version of those snow cones you grew up loving in the summer.

And when you throw in some champagne, like I did, granita becomes a very grownup snow cone.

granita

What’s so great about granita is that

a) there are about a million different flavor combinations you can make
b) it’s almost impossible to mess up
c) you can make granita ahead of time
d) no fancy equipment require; just a baking pan & a fork.

The basic formula is to combine fruit with other flavors and freeze the whole mixture in a flat pan, popping in the freezer every hour or so to scrape it the granita with a fork every thirty minutes or so, creating fluffy crystals of goodness.

scraping granita

While the recipe below is pretty tasty, feel free to use it as a baseline for your own inspired granita ideas—Smitten Kitchen recently posted a lemon granita, for example, and John over at The Alphabet Cook has a recipe for traditional espresso granita.

Sonya, our badass Blue Jean Gourmet photographer, is a big snow cone fan, so she deserves credit for inspiring this recipe.  As soon as I get back to Houston, I’ll be making her my latest, Peach Margarita Granita, and I bet I can convince her to take a few pictures of the process so I don’t have to keep that recipe to myself.

BERRY-CHAMPAGNE GRANITA
serves 4-6

Simple syrup, one of the ingredients called for here, is a great things to make and keep on standby in the refrigerator.  Often used to sweeten cocktails and sauces, simple syrup gets its name because it’s terribly easy to make.  Just bring equal parts sugar & water to a boil and then simmer for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has thickened a bit.  Cool before using.

ingredients:

1 cup each:

raspberries
strawberries
champagne (if you’d like to make this non-alcoholic, use water or ginger ale)

½ – 2/3  cup simple syrup (adjust according to your palate & the sweetness of the fruit you are using)
a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice

pan: 13 x 9 metal or glass cake pan

Wash the berries, hulling & slicing the strawberries.  Blend both berries together along with the simple syrup, & lemon juice until smooth.  Strain the liquid to remove seeds—this should yield just over 2 cups of liquid.

Stir the champagne into the berry mixture and then pour into the pan.  Stash in the freezer, being careful to lay the pan flat.

After thirty minutes, check the mixture.  You should have a layer of ice crystals on top–using a fork, rake the outer edges in towards the center, then return the pan to the freezer.  Continue to check every thirty minutes for a total of 2 hours.

Once the granita has finished freezing, you can store it in a plastic container in the fridge indefinitely.  Serve it up in a pretty glass or bowl with a dollop of whipped cream, a garnish of fresh fruit, or all by itself.

granita

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BLUEBERRY BOY BAIT

I confess: I have been selfish too long. I have kept these adorable dog pictures all to myself, but fear not! Today I rectify my mistake.

Behold, our Peanut Butter Dog Treat Giveaway winners:

Ares

That’s Ares, Christy‘s sweet puppy!

buster

meet Buster

maple

and Maple!  Both Canadian pups who live with Cheryl of the Backseat Gourmet.

I’m very pleased to report that all three recipient pups very much enjoyed their treats and strongly encourage you to make some for the beloved canine(s) in your life.

Now onto people food! This one could actually easily be part of the Summer Classics Series, because hey? What’s more summery & classic than an baked good with blueberries in it?

The thing is, though, and one of the reasons I LOVE THIS RECIPE is that it tastes just as good with frozen berries. Yup, true story. Especially if you buy lots of blueberries now, when they are cheap & delicious, freeze ‘em yourself, and use them all the winter long for smoothies, jam, & well, this.

blueberry boy squares

It’s got a funny name, too, right? According to Cook’s Country magazine, the original recipe dates back to 1954, when fifteen-year-old Adrienne Powell submitted it to a Pillsbury Baking Contest. She won second place and ostensibly man suitors, since the recipe is named for its effectiveness in capturing teenage boys’ attention.

Dare I suggest that its swoon-inducing effects are not, in fact, limited to the teenage boy variety? I say, whomever you may be trying to bait, this may be the way to do it.

I consider this one of my ”go-to” recipes for when I need to bake something big & comforting on short notice. It’s been handed over to friends who had a baby, friends who lost a baby, a colleague who lost a parent, new neighbors who moved in down the street.

Eat it as breakfast or as dessert, or (my favorite) as an afternoon snack with tea. I guarantee it tastes better than any blueberry muffin you’ve ever had, and so easy to make. Blueberry Boy Bait…getting the job done since 1954.

BLUEBERRY BOY BAIT

If you’re using frozen berries, don’t thaw them first or their color will bleed unappetizingly into the cake.
for the cake: blueberry boy bait & crumbs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 T baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

3 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

½ cup blueberries

1 tsp. flour, for the berries

oven: 350°
pan: 13 x 9 inch, greased & floured

Whisk the first 3 ingredients together & set aside. In a mixer bowl, cream the butter & sugars together on high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until just incorporated.

Reduce the speed to medium & alternately add the wet (milk) and dry (flour mixture) ingredients:

a third of the flour mixture
half of the milk
a third of the flour mixture
half of the milk
last third of the flour mixture

Don’t worry about exact amounts, the point is to alternate, producing a much smoother batter than if you added everything at once.

Toss the blueberries with the teaspoon of flour before folding them into the batter—this will help keep them from all sinking to the bottom of the cake. Spread the batter into baking pan.

for the topping:cinnamon sugar

½ cup blueberries

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ tsp. cinnamon (I often use a whole teaspoon because I am a cinnamon freak)

Scatter the blueberries on top of the batter. Combine the cinnamon & sugar and sprinkle that on top of everything else. Inhale. Mmm, cinnamon sugar. Smells good now, will smell even BETTER during & after baking. Get excited.

Bake until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake, approximately 45-55 minutes. Cool in the pan before serving up the thick squares. Stores well in an airtight container for the better part of a week!

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BLACK BEAN SALSA

Before I do anything else, allow me to show you a magic trick.

cilantro
Ladies and Gentlemen, right here before your very eyes—one bunch of cilantro, ends trimmed, placed upright in a glass with a bit of cold water.  Doesn’t look like much, you say?  Not very impressive, you say?

Well.  Little do you know!  Arranged this way & covered with the very plastic bag it came home in, I can keep cilantro fresh & useable for a month!  I am not exaggerating!  It IS magic—I love cooking with cilantro (obviously, I am not one of those people for whom it tastes like soap) but I hated having to throw it away after it became wilted & spoiled too quickly.

No longer, my friends!  We can all thank my dear friend Ari’s mom Georgia (yes, she is as awesome as her name) for this tidbit.

Now, onto the recipe at hand…I love black beans.  They’re cheap.  They’re yummy.  They’re versatile.  AND, they’re good for you.  Summertime bonus!

black bean salsa

This little concoction is great for a potluck/casual party, or just for dinner.  It tastes just as good the next day, with the exception of the avocadoes, which turn an unappetizing, slimy brown.  Ew.

So if you’re planning for a big crowd, make this as-is—there won’t be any left, I promise.  But if you’re making for a smaller crew / want to take some for lunch later in the week / need to mix this ahead of time, I recommend combining everything BUT the avocadoes first.

Then, reserve whatever portion you’d like to have for later & store it in the fridge until you’re ready to add avocadoes & eat up!  I like this dish a little more towards room temperature than cold, so you might want to take it out a bit before you plan to serve.

(If I may be so presumptuous as to suggest—it’s real, real good with blue corn tortilla chips.  I’m especially partial to Garden of Eatin’.)

BLACK BEAN SALSA corn off the cob

2 cans black beans (plain, no flavoring or added salt)

3 of the prettiest tomatoes you can find

3 ripe avocados

2-3 ears fresh corn

2 limes

a handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

optional: half a jalapeño, seeded & minced

Drain & rinse the black beans in a colander—shake well to rid of all liquid.  Shuck the corn & cut the kernels off into a large mixing bowl.  Add the black beans to the corn, then cube the tomatoes and add them as well.

Add the juice of both limes, cumin, salt, & jalapeño, if using .  Stir everything together & sprinkle in cilantro.  If serving immediately, add cubed avocados & fold gently.  Taste & add salt if needed.

Serve with chips or as a side.  Also excellent with grilled fish or meats.

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BLACKBERRY UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

I am a sucker for road-side produce.  You know, you’re driving along (especially this time of year), and suddenly you see a spray-painted piece of particle board, declaring “FRESH PICKED CORN” or “STRAWBERRIES” or “OKRA.”

blackberries in a bowl

Or, you know, “BLACKBERRIES.”  When I drove to San Antonio from Houston a few weeks ago, to visit my dear friend Arianne (of key-lime-pie loving fame), I stopped about 45 minutes outside of town to buy some insanely good peaches and these ripe, Rubenesque blackberries.

What I love about this cake is the way that it works equally well for dessert as it does for breakfast. Throw it in the oven at the start of dinner, and it will be warm and ready to serve by the time your meal is finished. Bake it Sunday night, set it next to the office coffee pot, and endear yourself to all of your coworkers on an otherwise grumpy Monday morning. It would also make a lovely housewarming gift, hey-you-just-had-a-baby offering, or potluck contribution.

Frankly, I think this cake is the main reason my friend John puts up with our old, incontinent dog for whom he and his wife Courtney (an important BJG taste-tester/inspiration/dish-washer) often dog-sit.  It may actually be the only reason he puts up with me, come to think of it.

The finished cake will keep, wrapped well in saran wrap & foil and refrigerated, for about a week.  But if John is any indication, there’s no way it’s going to last half that long.

blackberry upside-down cake

Special equipment & ingredients:

• A kitchen mixer is most helpful but not required—if you do try it by hand, make certain your butter is extra soft.
Parchment paper is one of the greatest inventions known to man, and well worth the $2.50 investment. Find it on the same aisle as Saran Wrap.
• If you grew up in the south like me, you are already familiar with the wonders buttermilk can do in pancakes, biscuits, waffles, & cornbread.  If you’ve never cooked with buttermilk before, I urge you to try it this time–a small bottle will run you less than $1.  If you must substitute, stir a bit of lemon juice into some regular milk & let it sit for a few minutes before using.

BLACKBERRY UPSIDE DOWN (AND RIGHT-SIDE-UP) CAKE
adapted from Gourmet Magazine’s “Everyday Meals”

pan: 8-inch round

oven: 400 degrees F

goes nicely with: a scoop of vanilla ice cream, homemade whipped cream*

ingredients:

2 cups fresh blackberries (use an extra ½ cup if you like lots of fruit) sugar-coated blackerries in pan

½  cup sugar, plus 2 Tablespoons extra for sprinkling

1 cup all-purpose flour

½  tsp. baking soda, NOT powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ stick unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup buttermilk (shake it before you pour!)

Use the bottom of your cake pan to trace two 9-inch circles on parchment paper. Cut out the circles and place them inside the pan (use a little butter if they won’t stay put). Lightly butter the sides of the pan and the top circle of parchment. Spoon in a bit of flour and shake to coat the pan.

Rinse & dry the berries.  Pour them into the cake pan; try to get them to fit in just one layer. If you’re feeling crafty, go ahead and arrange the berries into pretty concentric circles. If you’ve better things to do with your time, don’t worry, the cake’s still going to taste good! Sprinkle the blackberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar; set pan aside.

For the batter: cream butter & sugar together until light & fluffy (if using a mixer, run on “high” for about two minutes). More gently mix in the egg & vanilla (switch speed to “low”) until the mixture just begins to come together.

Here, a classic baking technique: alternately adding the wet & dry ingredients. So in one measuring cup or bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, & salt. In another cup or bowl, measure out your buttermilk (shake it up first!). Now, you always want to start and finish with the dry ingredients. So your process will go like this:

a third of the flour mixture
half of the buttermilk
a third of the flour mixture
half of the buttermilk
a third of the flour mixture

Just eyeball the amounts—it doesn’t matter if you exactly halve the buttermilk or not—the important thing is just not to dump it all in at once. Don’t over mix! Stop mixing when the batter has just come together.

Using spatula or large spoon, drop even clumps of batter over the blackberries until they are all hidden. Bake the cake for approximately 30-35 minutes—I recommend you test the cake at minute 25 using a toothpick. You want the toothpick to come out of the center of the cake with a few crumbs clinging to it.

If your cake takes longer than 35 minutes, don’t panic. If the top (which is actually the bottom!) of the cake starts to look a little too brown, just carefully cover it with foil.

Remove cake from the oven and run a butter knife around the inside of the pan. Now you get to flip it! Set a big plate or platter on top of the cake pan. Using pot holders, grab the pan with the plate on top and flip it all in one motion (it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid–you gotta do it fast!)  The cake will release from the pan—peel the parchment rounds off the top and enjoy.

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A BLUE JEAN PSA–TAKE TWO

Ya’ll.  Please go buy this kitchen soap.  (It’s even on sale!)

coconut-lime-verbena soap

Come home and wash your hands.  Repeat.  It’s okay, you can repeat, because this stuff is so moisturizing and lovely that it won’t wear out even really sensitive skin like mine.  But even if you don’t repeat, the fresh, subtle scent will stay with you all day.  No, they’re not paying me to say this, although that would be nice.  It’s just that my friend Romy keeps this in her guest bathroom and I finally decided to buy some for myself and now I’m in love.  And when you’re in love, you just can’t keep it to yourself.

So, thanks.  You can go back to your lives now.  Be sure to come back tomorrow, though, for blackberry upside-down cake…oh yes oh yes oh yes.

GINGERSNAP-MASCARPONE TART

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there sure is a lot of pretty fruit out there—berries of all sorts, stone fruits like plums, nectarines, cherries, & peaches,  tropical goodies a la pineapples & mangoes—it’s actually rather (or rawther, as Eloise would say) hard to go wrong in the produce section this time of year.

So in the interest of cutting to the chase, allow me to present you with one of my favorite vehicles for enjoying summer fruit: the (virtually) bakeless tart.

peach tart with mascarpone filling

Ain’t it purty?  Tastes good, too.  What you see there is a crust made of crushed-up, storebought gingersnaps (and a little buttah, naturally), a filling comprised of mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, sugar, & vanilla, and a topping of virtually any fruit you like.

Super-versatile, straightforward, crowd-pleaser.  Oh, and you can make the crust & filling ahead, too.  People, get excited!

What works so well here, I think, is that the mascarpone brings a slightly unexpected flavor—much more subtle than American cream cheese, mascarpone is its Italian cousin which can be readily be found near the mozzarella & feta in even mainstream grocery stores’ deli cases.   By thickening and sweetening the cheese just a little, this filling becomes an excellent foil for the fruit, showing it off and offering it a creamy complement.

And the gingersnap crust?  Well, that just speaks for itself, right?

gingersnap crust

There are myriad variations on the theme here—instead of flavoring the mascarpone with vanilla, try an orange liquor or Kahlua or Amaretto.  If you just can’t abide gingersnaps, swap in another crunchy cookie, chocolate or vanilla.

Though sweet Texas peaches (oh, sweet Texas peaches) are pictured here, I recently made this tart topped with a mound of sliced strawberries which had been gently bathed in a little balsamic vinegar.  A lovely ending to a sweet summer’s dinner.

GINGERSNAP-MASCARPONE TART
serves 8-12

What’s pictured above is a double-recipe of filling, which actually yielded more than I needed to fill the tart.  So I cut it in half the second time around and found a more moderate amount of filling to be more to my liking.  Of course, feel free to do what you think you’ll like best!

pan: 9-inch tart pan w/ a removable bottom is ideal, but a 9-inch pie pan will work just fine

oven: 350°

crust:    1 (8 oz.) box crunchy gingersnaps (yielding 2 ½ cups of crumbs) gingersnaps

4 T unsalted butter, softened

Use a food processor, if you have it, to blitz the gingersnaps to smithereens, then add the butter and process until well combined.

To make the crust by hand, simply transfer the snaps to a Ziploc bag & break them up with a rolling pin or mallet.  (An excellent way to let out one’s frustrations!)   Mix in the softened butter by hand.

Once you have buttery crumbs, press them into the pan, being sure to work up the sides at least halfway.  Bake for just 5 minutes, to solidify the crust.  Cool.

filling:    1 (8 oz.) tub mascarpone cheese

½ cup powdered sugarwhipped mascarpone

½ cup heavy whipping cream

½ tsp. vanilla or other flavoring

Using a stand mixer, whip the cheese on medium until smooth.  Add powdered sugar, then the heavy cream.

It will take a few minutes for the cream to thicken the mixture—increase the speed as you go, until the consistency is similar to whipped frosting.

Mix in the vanilla or other flavoring, then spoon over the gingersnap crust, smoothing the surface.

At this point, you can cover the whole thing and store it in the fridge.  Just before serving, top with the fruit of your choice & enjoy!

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LEMON SQUARES

If I believed in super-long blog post titles, this one would be “LEMON SQUARES: HOW TO WIN FRIENDS & INFLUENCE PEOPLE.”

lemon squares
For realz.

When I was in graduate school (in the achingly gorgeous desert land of Tucson, Arizona), I had a nonfiction writing workshop once a week.  Every week.  For two years.

Of those Lord-knows-how-many workshops, I estimate that I brought baked goods to class seventy-five percent of the time.  And of those times that I brought baked good to class, lemon squares took up a disproportionately large share.

I became famous for my lemon squares.  Their presence was often (and still is!) requested at workshops, parties, meetings, as presents, etc.  I can’t prove that it’s true, but I believe my lemon squares won me some goodwill with colleagues who might have otherwise written more scathing critiques of my manuscripts or been all-to-eager to shred my narratives to pieces.

Now, you may want to know, what is my lemon square secret?  What mystery ingredient have I conjured to take these humble little shortbread-crust-bottomed, custard-and-powdered-sugar-topped suckers to the next level of deliciousness?

Well, nothing, really.  Mine is a really basic recipe, one that my hands will practically make for me at this point.  There’s nothing particularly magical about them, but they’ve never failed me.  Perhaps it comes down to this: the gesture of baking something from scratch, of feeding others something you took time to make with your own hands, and make well, is magical.  It breeds relatedness and good feeling.  It’s just a kind thing to do.  (Especially in grad school, when everyone’s poor & hungry).

So, even though these are not red, white, & blue; even though they do not utilize the plump berries and sugar-crystalled watermelon of the season, I humbly offer you my lemon square recipe and urge you to bake some up.  Walk a plate over to your neighbors.  Take some to work on Monday (when everyone will be grumpy about having to be back at work on Monday).  Or just add them to the Fourth of July potluck pile and watch them disappear.

ARIZONA LEMON SQUARES lemon squares up close
makes 16 modest or 9 generous squares

oven: Preheat to 350.

pan: 8 inch square (double recipe to fit into larger, rectangular pan)

To make your life easier, line the pan with foil and then spray it well with cooking spray.  You can just spray the pan, but you’ll have to scrub it afterwards.

crust:    1 ½ cup flour

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

¼ cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

I always throw these ingredients straight into the pan and crumble them with my fingers—no need to mess up a bowl!  When you’ve got a pebbly-looking mixture, press down so the crust covers the bottom of the pan and a little bit up the sides.  Smooth down with the bottom of a small glass or bowl, if you like.

Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until it’s just getting brown.  While the crust is baking, make the filling.

filling:    2 eggs  sliced lemons
2 lemons*
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt

Zest the lemons first (I like a lot of zest, so I use both), then chop the zest finely and set aside.  Juice the lemons next—you’ll may only need one lemon to reach the desired 2 T.  Add juice to zest.  Throw in the rest of the ingredients, adding the eggs last.

Beat everything together either with a whisk or a mixer (I’ve done both, and this is really one recipe where you don’t have to get your Kitchen Aid dirty).  Mix until everything’s frothy and thick, about 3 minutes.

When the hot crust comes out of the oven, pour the filling on top.  Bake another 20-25 minutes or until the top is just turning brown and is set in the middle.  Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes, then dust with a generous amount of powdered sugar (sometimes I do two passes with the powdered sugar to get a thick layer).

Cool completely, or as long as you can wait before cutting into squares.

* When I can find them, I use Meyer lemons, which make for exquisite lemon squares.  Just dial down the sugar to ¾ or even ½ cup, since Meyer lemons are not as tart.

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