ANNOUNCING: Change is part of life, and apparently, it's part of blogging, too. As of September 5, 2013, I'm merging The Virtual Goody Plate with Disco Mom Takes on the World and whatever else may henceforth spill from my fingertips (and kitchen), into one great new blog. I hope you'll join me there in exclaiming, "THIS IS AWESOMELAND."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sweet Cherry Granita

Granita (noun): A cold treat created from sugar, liquid, and flavorings - frozen or semi-frozen, then scraped or shaved to create an icy crystalline texture. Related to the American snow cone but the ice is more like flakes than pellets. And it's Italian so it's more chic.

Totally great on a hot day. Totally popular at our house. I could barely get a few pictures taken.Cherry pitting is a tedious task but we made it a family affair. And we found out the hard way that it's best to double check that your pitter has done a good job before you whiz them in the food processor. It's not that fun picking out pit bits.

But in the end, the granita was so, so delicious and I'm glad we used fresh cherries. Truly fabulous with a little cream, and of course a cherry, on top.Sweet Cherry Granita (print recipe)
2 pounds cherries, stemmed and pitted -OR- 3 bags (12 ounces each) frozen cherries, thawed
1/2 cup sugar
1 T fresh lemon juice
Whipped cream or mascarpone cheese, optional, for serving

1. In a blender or food processor, puree cherries, sugar and lemon juice until sugar is dissolved and mixture is smooth. Pour into an 8-inch square baking dish. Freeze 6 hours, scraping with a fork every hour* (mixture should be icy and fluffy.)

2. To serve, scoop 1/2 cup granita into serving dishes and top with a small dollop of whipped cream or mascarpone cheese. Serve immediately. Makes 12 servings

*After the first several scrapings, this can be wrapped and frozen for up to 1 week; scrape again before serving.
Recipe from Everyday Food Magazine, June 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer Berry Pie

It is that time of year. I have written you a berry haiku.

Berries' siren song
Bursting, juicy melody
Guess it's time for pie

So here you go.

Summer Berry Pie
(print recipe)
Graham Cracker Crust:

9 graham crackers (5 ounces), broken into rough pieces
2 T sugar
5 T unsalted butter, melted and warm

Berry Filling:
2 cups raspberries (9 ounces)
2 cups blackberries (11 ounces)
2 cups blueberries (10 ounces)
1/2 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
1 T juice from 1 lemon
2 T red currant jelly
2 cups sweetened whipped cream

1. For the crust: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a food processor, process the graham crackers until evenly fine, about 30 seconds (you should have 1 cup crumbs.) Add the sugar and pulse to combine. Continue to pulse while adding warm melted butter in a steady stream; pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer the crumbs to 9-inch glass pie plate; use the bottom of a ramekin or measuring cup to press the crumbs evenly into the bottom and up the sides, forming a crust. Bake the crust until it is fragrant and beginning to brown, 15 to 18 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely while making the filling.

3. For the filling: Combine the berries in a large colander and gently rinse (taking care not to bruise them.) Spread the berries on a paper towel-lined rimmed baking sheet and gently pat dry with additional paper towels.4. In a food processor, puree 2 1/2 cups of the mixed berries until smooth and fully pureed, about 1 minute. Strain the puree through a mesh strainer into a small nonreactive saucepan, scraping and pressing on the seeds to extract as much puree as possible (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups.) Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl to combine, then whisk the mixture into the puree. Bring the puree to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon; when the mixture reaches a boil and is thickened to the consistency of pudding, remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and set aside to cool slightly.

5. While the puree is cooling, place the remaining berries in a medium bowl. Heat the jelly in a second small saucepan over low heat until fully melted. Drizzle the melted jelly over the whole berries and gently toss them together until the berries are glazed. Pour the slightly cooled berry puree into the cooled crust and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Distribute the glazed berries evenly over the puree and gently press into the surface. Loosely cover the pie with plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled and the puree has set, about 3 hours (or up to 1 day.) Cut the pie into wedges and serve with whipped cream.
Recipe from Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bacon and Gruyère Muffins

Maybe it's time for something a little different. Savory. Unexpected. Something with bacon.
These have the craggy look of a biscuit, but the tender crumb of a muffin. Gorgeous pockets of melted nutty Gruyère cheese and yummy big bits of smoky, salty bacon make an elegant but very satisfying breakfast package. Serve 'em with eggs, fruit and cocoa. Or grab one for a breakfast-on-the-go. Whatever you choose, these are just the thing. Everything's better with bacon.
Bacon and Gruyère Muffins (print recipe)
8 thin slices smoked bacon
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 T sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
4 T unsalted butter, melted*
1 cup milk
2 T sour cream or plain yogurt
3/4 cup finely diced Gruyère or Swiss cheese (about 3 to 4 ounces)

1. Preheat oven to 400. Grease 11 standard muffin cups with butter, spray or paper liners. In a frying pan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon slices until crisp, 6-8 minutes, turning as needed. Using tongs, transfer to paper towels to drain. Let bacon cool, then crumble. Set aside.

2. In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

3. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, melted butter, milk and sour cream until blended. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and stir just until evenly moistened. The batter will be slightly lumpy. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the bacon and cheese just until evenly distributed, no more than a few strokes. Do not overmix.

4. Spoon the batter into each muffin cup, filling it level with the rim of the cup. Bake until golden, dry and springy to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Unmold the muffins. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 11 muffins

*For added bacon flavor, hello, replace 2 T of the melted butter with 2 T of the bacon fat.

Recipe from Williams-Sonoma Muffins

Monday, June 20, 2011

Skillz, part 1

This is Heather. Say, "Hi, Heather."
Heather is a professional cake decorator (yes, that big bowl of spaghetti is a CAKE!), and luckily for me, my friend.
As we all know, I am a baker, not a decorator. It's really all about taste for me. But upon seeing Heather's amazing stuff, and some of the other really impressive goods on Frosting for the Cause, it occurred to me a few basics might do me good. So I collected a few other interested novices, and got Heather to teach a two-part class at my house. (We paid her; she's a professional, you know.)

Part I: Cupcakes
Heather showed up with a box bigger than her of all our supplies, plus six cupcakes each, tubs of buttercream, and land knows what else. We each got a big fat honking packet with everything we could ever want to know, donned our aprons, and began.

First she showed us how to make decorator's buttercream - so it tastes good but is the right consistency for what you want to do, be it piping, flowers, spreading, shells, etc. We all took furious notes, overwhelmed already.

She talked us through how to do these three kinds of cupcake icing: (smooth top, smooth twirly, twisty twirly - these are my own terms. Obviously.)

Then we got down to serious piping. I learned how to use a coupler for the first time. Amazing. Here are some of my practice boards: stars
Dots, rosettes, shells
More shells, flowers. Are you impressed?
Here's how the table looked at this point. As for us students, well, we were beyond overwhelmed. Past awe. Slack-jawed numb by now, really.We practiced a lot. Some of those moves are super tricky, especially the shells, man! Turns out most of those little things have a right way (what we were learning) and a "lazy" way. And Heather does not teach lazy!

Everyone was supposed to take their practice cupcakes home but most "conveniently" left them at my house. The next morning I got out my kit of sprinkles and let the girls go crazy.
(This one's my favorite.)
We took them to a church primary activity, where they got properly devoured.

Next time we are doing cakes and buttercream roses. We will learn how to properly frost a cake (finally!), with a crumb coat first and all that like they do on Ace of Cakes. Our homework is to make our own buttercream for the class and to make some decorator flowers that we learned last week. I need to go get some gel food coloring for that. Heather said roses take about 50 minutes to learn so that will be half the class right there! No fondant this time; that is another class and most likely another supply list.

So don't get your expectations too high for future visuals - learning is one thing, remembering and doing, another. But I've got a pack of tips (and couplers!) and I know how to use them. A little.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Watermelon-Jalapeño Popsicles

It was a real toss-up whether to make these or the Peach-Vanilla Cream Pops for FROZEN night. These were the last frozen treat I was making before I made my final decision. As soon as I tasted the tantalizing heat and summer-drenched sweetness of this concoction, I knew I had my pop.

I made little sample-sizesr for Dessert Club in an ice cube tray. An easy way is to fill the wells, lay plastic wrap on top and stick your toothpicks or popsicle sticks through to hold them up straight. Mostly.The jalapeño's seeds are removed, but even so these are "too spicy" for my kids - depends on their tolerance. One friend at Dessert Club "does not do jalapeños." So these weren't for her. I would say I have a medium heat threshold, and I LOVED these - add the seeds if you're a heat-seeker.

Why pectin? It's a clever little popsicle ingredient - in this case it keeps all the other ingredients incorporated evenly; without it, they would separate. You can get liquid pectin at your grocery store by other canning supplies - at mine it is with the Gladware and plastic wrap. In some, near the baking supplies. It is usually a small box of 2 or 3 mylar pouches.

As far as summer treats go, this is about as healthy, easy and satisfying as it gets. Each 3-ounce pop has only 76 calories and 0.1 grams of fat. And it has that magical property of satisfying both sweet and savory cravings, which for this late-night snacker is like pink gold. Watermelon-Jalapeño Popsicles (print recipe)
3 cups fresh watermelon cubes, chilled
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 T light-colored corn syrup
1 T liquid pectin
1 large jalapeño pepper, halved, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 tsp grated lime rind

In a blender or food processor, combine watermelon, sugar, lime juice, corn syrup, pectin and jalepeño. Process until pureed. Stir in lime rind. Pour into 8 (3-ounce) ice pop molds. Freeze at least 6 hours or until firm.

Recipe from Cooking Light, June 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Salted caramel is delicious. Not exactly salty (unless you get just the right bite.) But salt in the right proportion has the unique property of improving and intensifying flavors. And that, I think, is what makes salted caramel so special. Caramel sometimes runs the risk of being too sweet, so a little salt holds it in check and makes it fabulous at the same time.

Though I desperately wish I was, I'm not a food writer; sometimes I wonder why I even try, when folks at epicurious can say it like this:

It might seem odd to describe something cold—ice cream—as sultry, but there is no denying genuine come-hither appeal. Based on a traditional candy from Brittany (and a favorite flavor pairing among French and American chefs), the combination of salty and sweet exerts an almost primordial pull, and cream, milk, and eggs provide lush, luxurious texture.

Dessert Club member A.M. almost made a salted caramel cupcake for cupcake night (but trumped it with the French toast bacon cupcake that I loved.) So for frozen night she went for it, and won. It was rich, sweet, and completely hit the spot.Salted Caramel Ice Cream (print recipe)
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such as Maldon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs

Heat 1 cup sugar in a dry 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.

Add 1 1/4 cups cream (mixture will spatter) and cook, stirring, until all of caramel has dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, bring milk, remaining cup cream, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.

Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, then add half of hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard coats back of spoon and registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, then stir in cooled caramel.

Chill custard, stirring occasionally, until very cold, 3 to 6 hours. Freeze custard in ice cream maker (it will still be quite soft), then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up.

Recipe from Gourmet magazine, August 2009

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dessert Club - F-F-F-FROZEN!

It couldn't have been more perfect. "Frozen" night took place after the first day - to my knowledge - we hit 100 degrees. It was a hot, hot day. I turned my AC down extra low as folks arrived with coolers, ice cream bowls, insulated dishes, and trays of melting frozen goodness. Husbands back home, who typically look forward to leftover plates with drooly anticipation, knew tonight there would only be puddles. "Frozen" night was the perfect way to start summer.

The Lineup:
Peanut Butter Pie with Oreo Crust

Strawberry Swirl

Frozen Chocolate Wind with Raspberry Ravioles (an over over-the-top experiment in molecular gastronomy - I'm sorry, did you think we were just messing around?)

Brazo de Mercedes
Watermelon-Jalapeno Popsicles (mine, recipe to come)

Banana Slushies
(so cool and refreshing - frozen slushy in a cup, add Sprite, break up with a spoon, enjoy)

Cinnamon Ice Cream with S'mores Sauce

...and the winner is:
Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Just for fun we each voted twice and for the first time, every single dessert got at least one vote as a favorite. Also at least one person told me this was the first time she's liked every single treat in the spread. That's impressive - usually there are some you like, some you don't. But Frozen night was different. Special. Fabulously COLD.

The winner received this wonderful Zyliss ice cream scoop from Sur La Table - the heft is awesome! And a jar of Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Sauce - fabulous!

Also. Check out this article on "The New Tastes and Shapes of Frozen Treats" - totally inspiring. What will you be freezing this summer? Perhaps...fudgesicles?

And. That picture at the top? Erasers. You can get some of them here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Peach-Vanilla Cream Pops

I love it when the picture says so much more than I could. Look at that color. That is the color of fresh peaches pureed with cream (and a little Greek yogurt.) And those are the exotic black specks of a real vanilla bean, hand scraped and meticulously added to a simple syrup. These are what I call grown-up popsicles. Not because kids don't like 'em - mine gobbled them up and fought tooth-and-nail over the last one - but because they are fresh and a little unexpected. A perfect cool treat for summer.

Peach-Vanilla Cream Pops (print recipe)
Makes about 8 to 10 popsicles

1/2 cup plus 2 T sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
4 cups sliced peeled ripe peaches (about 4 medium), or 16 oz. frozen sliced peaches, thawed
1/2 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup Greek-style yogurt

1. Place sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add them to the pan; add bean. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Transfer syrup to a small bowl; chill. Discard vanilla bean.

2. Puree syrup and peaches in a food processor until smooth. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium pitcher or pouring liquid measuring cup; strain, pressing on solids to extract about 2 1/4 cups puree. Whisk in remaining ingredients. Divide among molds. Cover; insert ice-pop sticks. Freeze until firm. Dip bottoms of molds into hot water for 20 to 30 seconds to loosen pops. Remove pops from molds and serve.

Recipe from Bon Appetit, June 2011

One year ago: Ranch Hamburger Buns
Two years ago: Coconut Milk Pudding Rolls

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Coconut-Lime Berry Cake

Well, summer is definitely here in Virginia, so you can start expecting ice cream, popsicles, cool drinks, and summer fruits and flavors around here. Although chocolate is always in season.

This cake has everything I like all thrown into one 9x13 pan. Plus, without melty frosting, it is great to take to picnics. Which is exactly what we did.

We have some neighbors that have started the tradition of a dunk tank party every June. Isn't that the coolest darn thing you've ever heard of? These are also the same people that rode a zip line from their wedding to their reception, in full wedding garb. Adventurous, to say the least. I wanted to bring a dessert that wouldn't deteriorate in the heat, so this fruity but sturdy cake was just the ticket. The hostess later emailed me - people were asking for the recipe! - so I am moving this summer lovin' sweetie to the front of the queue!Coconut-Lime Berry Cake (print recipe)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cup plus 1 T all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 cup packed sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup plus 1 T sugar, divided
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tsp finely grated lime zest, plus 2 T lime juice (from 1 to 2 limes)
3 cups mixed berries, such as raspberries, blackberries and blueberries (about 1 pound)
3 T orange juice

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour (or spray) a 9x13 baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together 1 3/4 cups flour, baking powder, salt and coconut. In another large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 cup sugar on high, scraping down bowl as needed, until light and fluffy, 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, and beat until combined. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions buttermilk, and beat until combined. Stir in lime zest and juice. Pour batter into dish. Smooth top with a small offset or rubber spatula.

2. In a medium bowl, toss together 1 T flour, 1 T sugar, berries and orange juice. Scatter berry mixture over batter. Bake until cake is golden at edges and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on wire rack 20 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or room temperature. Refrigerate leftover cake, wrapped in plastic, up to 5 days.Recipe from Everyday Food, May 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

Frosting for the Cause: Pistachio-Cardamom Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

This is a day I've been anticipating for several months - my turn to post my story and recipe on Frosting for the Cause.

Have you seen the button on my sidebar? Have you gone over on occasion to see what is being posted? I've been astounded by the company kept over there. Incredible stories of "everyday" people. And absolutely top-notch recipes.

So today my own humble contribution is up. It's one of the only times I've run test batches to perfect a recipe, but I wanted something special, and different, for "Frosting." I hope you like it.
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