Monday, February 25, 2008

An Explosion in My Oven

I had an unexpectedly exciting day.

My intent was to share with you a yummy dinner from this weekend. I was going to write about a beautiful beef tenderloin that I served with a Port-Cherry Reduction sauce. The sauce was very decadent. But, my day derailed that plan.  I promise - I will share that recipe with you at a later date.

Instead, I'm going to tell you about the day that I had. I had a very easy project. I needed to bring a dessert to a meeting that I was attending this evening. Really, baking a dessert is an ordinary thing to do. But, then the extraordinary happened. I decided to bake an old standby, Gooey Butter Cakes made famous by Paula Deen. Gooey Butter Cakes are baked like you would bake brownies.  You bake them in a pan and then cut them into individual bars. I chose a new Pyrex casserole dish. I popped them into my preheated oven and proceeded to clean up the kitchen.

About 10 minutes later, I heard a crashing noise.  It startled me.  I looked around, and thought, "what was that?" It sounded like it came from my oven.  I tentatively opened the oven door.  I couldn't believe my eyes. The pyrex dish had EXPLODED! It didn't just crack, it exploded into a thousand pieces. Shattered glass was everywhere. Do you want to know what the best part is?  The very best part is that the gooey butter cakes were still very much gooey. Imagine gooey butter cake filling dripping through the oven racks. The sugar filling was dripping and burning on the bottom of the oven. It was a hot mess!

I quickly turned the oven off, but everything was so hot. I had to wait a bit for it to cool before I could remove it. It took me about an hour to clean that oven. And, I still needed to bake a dessert. Time was of the essence.  Thank goodness this recipe is so quick and easy to make.  I whipped up a new one and stuck in the oven.  Unfortunately, I completely missed the opportunity to take pictures. Where was my camera when I needed it? I wasn't even thinking about Cafe Nay Nay during this ordeal.  The picture of the exploded Pyrex in the oven would have been priceless.

The good news is that the second version made it through the baking process without any explosions. So after this experience, I knew I would have to share Gooey Butter Cakes with you. Now, about the dessert....

If you've ever watched Paula Deen, you may have seen her make these little gems. She actually serves them in her restaurant, The Lady & Sons, in Savannah, Georgia. I grew up in Savannah, so I have a special place in my heart for Paula. And, if you've ever tasted these sweet treats, you will be hooked. It is probably one of my most requested dishes. The beauty of Gooey Butter Cakes is that you can make many different variations. One word of caution, this recipe is full of butter and sugar. 

What to Drink:  When I take a bite of Gooey Butter Cake, the only thing my palate craves is a big glass of milk!  

Until we can visit again, raise a glass and Cheers to You!

Gooey Butter Cakes
by Paula Deen

One 18 1/4-ounce package yellow cake mix
1 egg
1 stick of butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ingredients and mix well. Press into a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Prepare filling.

One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick of butter, melted
One 16-ounce box powdered sugar
Semi-sweet chocolate chips, mini

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Add butter; beat. Add powdered sugar and mix well. Spread over cake mixture. Generously sprinkle the top with chocolate chips. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. You want the center to be a little gooey, so do not overbake.

1. For the holidays, add a 15-ounce can of pumpkin to the filling; add cinnamon and nutmeg.
2. Add a 20-ounce can of drained crushed pineapple to the filling.
3. Use a lemon cake mix. Add lemon juice and zest to the filling.
4. Use a chocolate cake mix. Add chocolate chips and nuts on top.
5. Use a chocolate cake mix. Add 3/4 to 1 cup of peanut butter and nuts to the filling.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Pavlova Tradition

This past week was full of excitement. Every time the year flips over, we have that one week in February that is especially festive, and it's not only because love is in the air. St. Valentine’s day was the most famous day, but it also contained special days for two of my favorite people, Frannie and her daughter. They both had birthdays last week, all around St. Valentine's Day. I must tell you, I love her daughter. She is my most favorite little girl in the whole world; and she turned eight years-old! It seems like yesterday when we were changing her diapers. Now, I get to discuss the wonders of Pavlova with her. How great is that? I just love her to death. So you can see, the 12th, 13th, and 14th turns out to be a marathon of parties! How divine.

I want to share with you the dinner we had for Valentines Day. We decided that we wanted a light dinner, something to trigger the thoughts and feelings of upcoming spring. A tropical salsa certainly conjured up visions of setting suns and warm breezes. Tropical salsa and fish....yummm. I spooned the tropical salsa overtop lightly pan-seared tilapia. It hit the spot. The salsa really makes the dish spectacular. Fresh pineapple, mangoes, and papaya add the sweetness. The contrast presents itself in the cilantro, jalapeno pepper, fresh lime juice, and roasted red peppers. Just look at the picture, it makes my mouth water.

Dinner was great, the wine was flowing, and conversation took us all over the world. The underlying buzz throughout dinner was everyone's thoughts on dessert. None of us could wait to have a bite of Pavlova! For those unfamiliar, Pavlova is a meringue dessert named after the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova. It is crispy on the outside but light and fluffy on the inside. The inside is heaped with slightly sweetened whipped cream, and then generously topped with fresh berries. Simple, yet elegant.

The Pavlova tradition took hold of us about 4 years ago and it has become a fixture of our Valentine celebration. I must credit, where credit is due...the Pavlova is Frannie’s creation, and it always comes out spectacular. Take a look at the beautiful colors of the fruit. This dessert is so light and airy. It was perfect. How could it not taste divine?

The taste of the Pavlova warms our heart, but to put the cherry on top is the excitement of an eight year-old. She LOVES Pavlova and was so happy to eat it. It was truly an enchanted evening.

What to Drink:Well, we certainly were celebrating, so it was only natural to have a sparkling wine as we were preparing dinner. We had a beautiful Schramsberg Brut Rose. During dinner, we chose a light Pinot Blanc from Robert Sinskey which worked really well with the fish. And for dessert, we paired the beautiful Pavlova with a dessert wine from Darioush.

Until we can visit again, raise a glass and Cheers to You!

By the way, check out the Foodie BlogRoll on the right of the page. It's a great place to find other food related blogs!

5 egg whites room temperature
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp distilled white vinegar

Pre-heat oven at 300 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with the parchment paper. Use a 9 inch cake pan as template to draw a circle on parchment. In an electric mixer, beat the whites until soft peaks form, gradually beat in sugar, and continue beating until the whites are stiff. Remove bowl, use a rubber spatula to gently fold in cornstarch, vanilla, and vinegar.

On the dedicated parchment circle, spoon ¾ of the meringue. Using a knife, make a cake-shaped mound. Then spoon the rest of the meringue around the edges to form a well.

2 cups of heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks to make whipped cream

1 pint strawberries
1 pint blueberries
1 pint raspberries

Bake for one hour and then turn oven off and let meringue sit in oven for 3 hours, or until oven is cold.

Transfer the meringue to a large cake plate. Fill the center of the meringue with the whipped cream. Place the berries on top.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A dessert that only a Mother could love...

When I first began writing my food blog, I had honorable intentions of sharing messes and successes with you. I didn’t realize the pain that I would endure having to divulge first rate blunders, with pictures no less!! So here goes…

Jamie and I were invited to the home of very dear friends for dinner. They are a lovely couple and when we get together we share the same passion and love for wine. They always prepare a wonderful meal, and we always manage to enjoy copious amounts of the most fantastic wine with them. This evening was to be no different. I only had one small task – to bring dessert. Now, how hard is that?

My first mistake was attempting a dessert that I hadn’t made before. A dessert that is all about its crust. But honestly, I’m pretty good in the dessert department – so I wasn’t worried. Famous last words…..

How hard could it be to bake a rustic berry galette? The very idea of a free form pie with a homemade crust sounded heavenly. So, I pulled out my trusty food processor and began to make the pastry dough. It was incredibly easy. So easy, it made me wonder, “why don’t I do this more often”?

The dough came together nicely, and I refrigerated it to allow the gluten to relax. Note, this was an important fact based on how the day unfolded. As I waited for the dough to chill, I prepared my mixed fruit - I sweetened blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. I basically rolled out the dough to about 1/8 of an inch. The beauty of a galette is that it is free form and doesn’t have to look perfect!! The assembled galette looked beautiful, with fruit heaped in the center. I was so proud of it, so I stuck it in the oven.

About 20 minutes later, I took a peek and my heart sank. My cookie sheet was full of berry juices seeping (more like running) out of my galette. I did not do a good job crimping the dough, I failed. It sounds simple, something I should have done with more care. Lesson learned.
The berry galette tasted good, so I wanted to salvage it. So I scooped it up and finished baking it in a casserole dish. BUT, I couldn’t take it dinner!! Not that dessert. I was in a pickle, I still needed a dessert and the clock was ticking.

So, in a pinch, I whipped up another pastry crust to make a mixed berry tart. The pastry dough was easy, I hope to never buy store bought again!! To reduce the risk of another free form galette, I took the easy road and pressed the dough into a tart pan. I was ensuring no seeping!! I didn't have enough time to go for dessert number 3. So, I prepared the fruit the same way and baked the tart.

I didn't have enough time to adequately refrigerate the pastry dough before rolling it. Normally, I would like the dough to remain in the refrigerator for about an hour. I only had 15 minutes. Because the dough wasn't completely chilled, the tart suffered a little shrinkage. The berry tart still came out beautiful and tasted great. By the way, I literally took the tart out of the oven, glazed the top, and off we were to dinner. The berry tart was still piping hot. I couldn't even take off the tart pan ring until we arrived at our friends house. I barely made it under the wire. Whew!

As for the sad sad original galette, all crumbling in a pie dish, I took it to my Mom’s house. She loved it. She didn’t even notice how pitiful it looked. It was a dessert that only a Mother could love. And loved it she did!

What to Drink: We had bottles of red wine with dinner, so it only seemed fitting to end the night with a port. We drank a 2004 Shafer Port. This is a wine that we bought at the winery, and it is not readily available. If you can get your hands on it, you must try it.

Until we can visit again, raise a glass and Cheers to You!

Mixed Berry Galette

Pastry Dough:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter, cut in 1/2-inch cubes, chilled
1 egg yolk
3-4 tablespoons ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt until mixture resemples coarse meal with some small pea-sized lumps of butter. Add the egg yolk and the ice water and pulse on and off until the mixture comes together but does not form a single mass. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and divide into 2 portions. Smear each portion once with heel of hand to distribute fat. Gather dough together using a pastry scraper, form into a ball, and flatten into a disk. Cover it in plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.

For the Berry Filling:

2 cups of blueberries
2 cups of blackberries
2 cups of raspberries
1 /3 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Lemon zest

Toss the fruit with the sugar, cornstarch, and lemon zest, careful not to bruise the berries.

Assemble and Bake the Tart:
Roll out the dough and press into a tart pan with removable sides. Place the fruit filling in the tart. Bake at 375 degrees until done, about 40 minutes.

Once the tart is done and cooled, I like to apply a fruit glaze to make the fruit shine. Simply take a jelly, such as Red Currant or Apricot and heat it up in a sauce pan with a tablespoon of water. Once the jelly has melted, simply brush on top of the baked tart with a pastry brush. Enjoy!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Something Gooey, something good

Well, last week was a good week. The best day was Wednesday because my hubby, Jamie, had a birthday. To me, nothing is better than baking for the people that I love. And, I had to bake him something good. He has such a sweet tooth; it isn't that hard to please him. But, I wanted to bake him something retro, not trendy, a little bit of comfort from our past – all of our pasts. So, I went digging into my recipe files. And finally, I found it.

As soon as I came across this recipe, I knew I had to bake it. What would be better than a gooey piece of pineapple-upside down cake? All at once, I wanted to taste the sweetness of the pineapple immersed in the brown sugar glaze sitting atop a moist cake. Yummy!

This recipe is quite simple and (no pun intended) was a piece of cake to bake. The results were outstanding. I can say that, because Jamie said it was the best pineapple-upside down cake that he has ever eaten. Wow! That was a compliment of the highest magnitude and it made me feel good. Don’t get me wrong, Jamie loves my cooking and he certainly loves to eat, especially sweets. It’s just that he isn’t very passionate about food. Poor thing, when he runs to the grocery store for me, for let’s say “fennel”, there is a side chance that he may bring home bok choy by mistake!! But at least he is willing to try. And I do love him for that!

So, when the pineapple-upside down cake made him happy, I knew I had to share it with you. Bake and enjoy!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Gourmet Magazine

For the topping:
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 cups 1-inch chunks fresh pineapple (about 1 pineapple)

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup milk
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, as an accompaniment

In a small bowl stir together well the butter and the brown sugar and spread the mixture evenly in a well-buttered 9 by 2-inch round cake pan. Pat the pineapple very dry between several thicknesses of paper towels and arrange it evenly on the sugar mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Into a bowl sift together the flour, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon. In another bowl with an electric mixer cream the butter with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately in batches with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and beating well after each addition. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly, and bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes, run a thin knife around the edge, and invert the cake onto a plate. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with the whipped cream or the ice cream.

What to Drink: Why a big glass of milk, of course!!

Until we can visit again, raise a glass and Cheers to You!!