Monday, June 25, 2012

Car Trip Trail Mix

A recent trip to Vermont reminded me of the pleasures of trail mix.  Yes, its great for a hike but it's also a good snack to get you through the divide between lunch and dinner when you are too busy to stop but need something that can sustain you for just a little while.  Long car trips, an extra hour at the beach, a late dinner are all good times to reach for trail mix. 

You can buy packaged trail mix on the road but making it yourself gives you complete control over the flavor, saves money and allows you to source the most pure and fresh ingredients. Who knows how long that bag of GORP has been sitting at the gas station?

The proportions are roughly 2/3 nuts and seeds to 1/3 dried fruit.   I like to have at least two types of either nuts or seeds.  Some recipes add chocolate but beware in warm conditions.  I hold off until  colder weather to include chocolate chips in my mix. 

The trail mix in the photo includes almonds, sunflowers, pepitas, dried cherries and dried apricots.  Cut large pieces of fruit with kitchen sheers rather than a knife.  Simple and less rippage.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake Roulade

A sliceable strawberry shortcake that can stand up to refrigeration. 

The cake tastes like the freshest ladyfingers you’ve ever had and the strawberry whipped cream filling is dotted with lightly poached strawberry slices. A pure strawberry syrup adds a deep stripe of ruby red. 

The cake portion is from the jelly roll recipe in Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book (2005 and other editions).  The whipped cream is stabilized with gelatin, the method professional bakers use to help the cream stand up to refrigeration without weeping. 

This is a small cake but many standards but will satisfy 4 people with ease.  If you are serving more, rather than double the recipe, make two cakes and bake them side by side.  Flipping and rolling up the cake is easily managed in the single recipe so it’s better to make two regular ones versus one large one. 

Strawberry Shortcake Roulade
Serves 4
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
(Confectioners sugar for coating dish towel)

Special Equipment
Jelly roll pan or 1/2 sheet pan with rimmed sides (15” x 10” x1”), parchment paper, small fine meshed strainer. clean kitchen towel

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. 
  2. Place egg whites in a large mixing bowl and egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl.  Allow to stand at room temperature while you prepare pan and dry ingredients.  
  3. Grease baking pan and line with parchment paper cut to fit inside long edge of pan and hanging over shorter ends by two inches on each side.  Grease and lightly flour parchment paper lining.  
  4. Combine flour and baking powder in a small bowl. 
  5. Add vanilla to egg yolks and beat with an electric mixer on high for about 5 minutes, until mixture is thick and lemon yellow in color.  Gradually add 1/3 cup sugar while continuing to beat on high.  The friction will dissolve the sugar.  The mixture is ready when you can rub a bit between your fingers and feel no sugar granules.  Set aside and wash beaters in hot soapy water to remove all egg yolk (which will prevent whites from achieving good volume).  
  6. Beat egg whites with electric mixer at medium speed until soft peaks form.  Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar continuing to beat until stiff peaks form.  Stiff peaks stand up on their own when the beaters are pulled away.  They do not flop over as they do at the soft peak stage.  
  7. Gently fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites.  
  8. Next sprinkle flour mixture over batter and fold in until combined.  Batter will be thick.  
  9. Spread batter into prepared pan.  Use a wide rubber spatula to smooth and even out batter.  
  10. Bake at 375˚F for just 12-15 minutes.  The cake is done when it springs back from a light finger touch.  
  11. Remove cake from oven and immediately run a knife around edge to loosen.  Lay kitchen towel down flat next to pan. Using the strainer, sprinkle an even coating of confectioners sugar on towel matching the size of the baking pan.  Flip the cake over onto the towel and peel parchment paper away.  From the short end, roll up cake in the towel and place on a rack to cool in its rolled shape.  Cool for 1 hour.   
Cake can be made a day ahead.  Cover lightly with pastic wrap.  No need to refrigerate at this stage.  Unroll cake and remove towel to add filling.  Re-roll and chill.   

Strawberry Whipped Cream Filling
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
1 Tablespoon cold water
2 cups fresh or thawed strawberries
2/3 cup whipping or heavy cream
2-4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Stir powdered gelatin into cold water.  Set aside 5 minutes.  
  2. Meanwhile, hull and slice strawberries.  Microwave strawberries on medium temperature until slightly cooked and tender, about 90 seconds.  Remove and strain.  Reserve strawberry juice.  
  3. Heat gelatin in  a small pan or microwave until just melted.  Remove and cool.  
  4. Beat whipped cream  until beginning to thicken.  Keep beating and gradually add sugar to taste.  Add vanilla.  Stir in gelatin.  
  5. Fold in strawberries, reserving a portion to use as decoration. 
  6. When cake is completely cool, unroll and remove towel.  Spoon strawberry whipped cream onto cake within an inch of its edges. Gently re-roll cake and refrigerate at least an hour.   

Use a serrated knife to cut slices cleanly.  Serve cake with a syrup made from the leftover strawberry juices cooked with a few teaspoons of sugar or honey.  If there is not much juice, add a little orange juice to the mixture. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

TV Dinners in Their Purest Form

There are times when a pre-cooked meal is the best option for dinner. A family with a busy week, a smart dieter's lunch plan, a neighbor convalescing can all use something pure and good standing by in the freezer.

There are more choices that are natural and a bit more exotic than the ones we ate on TV dinner folding tables.  There are also easy ones you can put together while you are cooking dinner by doubling your recipe.  These have the advantage of simplicity, customization and minimal processing. 

The dinners pictured here were made from 4 pounded chicken breasts braised in a light broth, 2 cups of cooked rice and 2 large heads of broccoli cut in florets an lightly steamed.  The rice and chicken nestle with a bit of pan gravy and the broccoli got a squirt of soy sauce.

Cool complete in the refrigerator before freezing to prevent condensation forming.  Freeze in plastic containers to reheat in the microwave or aluminum ones to reheat in the oven (generally 325˚F for half hour).  Avoid tomato based sauces if freezing in plastic since the sauce will stain and damage the container when reheated.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Vegetarian, with a Side of Meat

There are a lot of meals that, when deconstructed, suit a wide range of eaters.  When vegetarians come to dinner, a meat-based meal is often subtracted from to create a vegetarian option.  With more of us eating as vegetarians for part of the week, it now makes more sense to turn that meal plan on its head.  Start with a vegetarian base then add a meat, chicken or fish serving to provide an omnivore protein option.

Here's a simple weeknight recipe we made recently when both vegetarians and meat cravers sat at our table.  Beans and pasta are a classic combination in Tuscan cuisine.  Don't be surprised if your meat eaters dig into the beans as well, so make plenty.  Leftover beans can be pureed with broth to make soup or mashed with more herbs, olive oil and feta or goat cheese to make dip.

Penne with Broccoli, Parmesan And...
Serves 4

8-10 ounces penne rigate (or other fork friendly pasta shape)
2 heads broccoli
3 tablespoons high quality extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sliced black olives
olive oil

Vegetarian option:
1 14-oz can white beans (1/2 cup per person), drained and mixed with
1/4 teaspoon dried basil, thyme or rosemary (triple amount if using fresh herbs)

Omnivore option:
3 ounces cooked chicken breast per person
1/4 teaspoon dried basil, thyme or rosemary (triple amount if using fresh herbs)

Extra Parmesan cheese, olive oil and red pepper flakes or herbs for the table

  1. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil.  Add 1 tablespoon salt to water.  
  2. Cut broccoli into florets and toss in boiling water for 4 minutes.  
  3. Remove with a slotted spoon to large, wide serving bowl.
  4. Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions, approximately 8-10 minutes until al dente.  
  5. While pasta cooks, saute chicken or heat beans with herbs.  
  6. Drain pasta and add to serving bowl. 
  7. Toss pasta and broccoli with olive oil and cheese.  Add olives.
  8. Serve family style in wide bowls and pass beans and chicken for diners to add as they wish.  

This post is in celebration of Brooke and Wilson who's wedding dinner will be joyfully shared by an assortment of diners.  In addition to pasta, Brooke and Wilson start their vegi-carni meals together with stir fries and pizzas to make satisfying and delicious repasts.