Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trifles in a Cup

Cup Desserts are fun.  Not only are they fast, they can qualify as pure, real food when you pick the right ingredients.  More and more it is easy to find natural puddings and cookies and cakes made from good ingredients at the market.   These are the building blocks of the trifles.  With a little more time, you can make the puddings, cakes and cookies that form the bases of these splendid little treats layers with fresh or frozen fruits. 

Like a sundae bar, each person can make their own with cake, pudding and fruit ingredients laid out for easy assembly.  These look really attractive in clear, wide glasses so each guest can enjoy the layered parfait effect.  Small bowls are fine too. 

Here are three choices to present all together or as the season dictates. 

Strawberries are coming in now so the Strawberry Cheesecake-Shortcake Trifle is perfect from Memorial Day on.  The cheesecake mousse is a simple mixture of cream cheese, Greek yogurt and ricotta cheese sweetened with honey and flavored with lemon juice and vanilla.  The crumbled cookie base is shortbread.  Good quality, easy to find store brands are made from flour, salt, sugar and real butter, just like you would make.*  You can also use graham crackers. 

Frozen fruit works fine for these too so you don’t have to wait until later in the summer to try the Rice Pudding Cherry Chocolate Trifle.  If you make your own rice pudding, this is a divine way to use the last mouthfuls of a large baked pudding.  Alternatively excellent quality rice pudding is available at the super market in tub or individual serving sizes.

And Chocolate Angel Trifles are always in season.  Like rice pudding, chocolate pudding used here is available at the super market.  For a special dinner, you could make your own chocolate mousse.  (See blog entry on 9/17/2010 for Julia Child’s recipe with only six ingredients.)

Rice Pudding Cherry Crumble
Per person
4-5 amaretti cookies (graham crackers or vanilla wafers can be substituted)
½ cup rice pudding
½ cup cherries macerated in a teaspoon of honey or sugar and few drops almond extract.  (Fruit may be served warm.)
Garnishes: sliced toasted almonds, shaved dark chocolate (or roughly chopped)
Optional: Amarreto liqueur

  1. Start with a layer of cookie, 2-3 crushed amaretti at the bottom of a wide glass.   
  2. Follow with a tablespoon of fruit and some of the fruit juices.  If using liqueur, sprinkle a little on the cookies and fruit to help moisten the cookie layer.    
  3. Next, scoop on a few tablespoons of pudding. 
  4. Continue to layer until all the ingredients are used.   
  5. Garnish with shaved or chopped chocolate and almonds.

Chocolate Angel Cup
Per person
1-inch slice angel food cake, cut into bite-sized squares
½ cup chocolate pudding or mousse
1 tablespoon chocolate chips
Garnishes: toasted walnuts, mini-marshmallows
Optional: Chocolate sauce, whipped cream

  1. Start with the cake layer.  Line the bottom of a wide glass with cake squares.   
  2. Add a layer of pudding and any garnishes and mix-ins: chocolate chips, marshmallows, nuts.   
  3. Continue to layer until all the ingredients are used.   
  4. Top with chocolate sauce or whipped cream.

Strawberry Cheesecake-Shortcake Trifle
Per person
3 shortbread cookies
½ cup Cheesecake “Mousse” (see direction below)
½ cup strawberries macerated with a tablespoon of orange juice or a squeeze of lemon, a teaspoon of honey or sugar and few drops vanilla extract
Optional: whipped cream

  1. Start with a layer of cookie at the bottom of a wide glass or small dessert bowl.  Use at least one crushed shortbread for this layer.  
  2.  Follow with a tablespoon of fruit and some of the fruit juices. 
  3. Next, scoop on a few tablespoons of the cheesecake “mousse.” 
  4. Continue to layer until all the ingredients are used.   Finish with a layer of strawberries.
  5. Garnish whipped cream and a strawberry slice.

Cheesecake “Mousse”
Serves 2 generously, recipe can be doubled
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup sour cream or “Greek” yogurt
2-3 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Combine the cheeses and sour cream (or yogurt) together.  Whip with a fork to get a smooth and light consistency.   
  2. Mix in the vanilla and part of the honey.  Add more honey slowly, until you are happy with the sweetness.  The mousse is a contrast to the strawberries so if your berries are very sweet, hold back on the sweetness in the mousse. 

*To make your own shortbread, use the simple recipe that everyone swears by.  Click here for the link.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dipping Oils

My neighbor Lee is my bread man. Pizza dough, hard rolls, grainy whole wheat loaves, baguettes- it runs the gamut. Lee's travels bring him to many bread men and women who give him tips as he advises them on their machinery.

Recently Lee  and his wife Sue reminded us of the simple pleasure of bread dipped in flavored oil.  A wonderful pre-dinner treat with a glass of wine or a way to transform a loaf of bread into a special side for seafood or grilled dinners.

Lee's recipe involves "the first four herbs and spices that I pull from the cupboard" liberally scooped into a 1/2 cup of good olive oil and allowed to rest and absorb into the oil on the drive over to the party.  Yes, that fast. 

I'll give you some suggested herb and spice combos below but I want to point out the Lee's method has great merit.  Logically, the first four savory herbs you can reach are most likely ones you really like and use in foods you cook frequently.  Use enough of the herbs and spices to really flavor the oil.  If you are making this to serve in the next hour, try using 1 tablespoon total of herbs and spices per half cup oil.  If you have a few hours for the flavors of the herbs and spices to open up, use a bit less.  This is a very forgiving technique so feel free to experiment and find what pleases you.

For me that might be thyme, basil, black pepper and celery seed.  You may reach for oregano, cayenne pepper and crushed fennel.  Fresh chopped herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice are another alternative.  My sister-in-law Diana grates Parmesan cheese into her dipping oil.

Garlic and fresh parsley can turn any warmed loaf into tasty garlic bread.  Food Safety Note: if you are adding garlic to your dipping oil, discard it afterwards.  Garlic and oil grow bacteria easily even if refrigerated and it us best to start fresh with a small quantity of oil than keep leftovers. 

A Middle East herb mixture of sesame, sumac and thyme called z'tar (and spelled several ways in English) blended with olive oil turns store-bought mini pita breads into rounds worthy of a grilled lamb feast.  Brush z'tar oil on the tops of pita and warm in a low oven.  We recently threw some on the grill to go with a grilled chicken and grilled fruit. 

Don't miss out on dipping oils if you are going the no-bread route for a while.  These flavored oils taste lovely on salad greens with a squeeze of lemon juice.   Try them with vegetables for crudites or as a marinade for grilled vegetables and kebabs.

Post Script
After writing the first draft of this article, I ran across a wonderful "dry dip," a deconstructed herb dipping oil that is great with crudites.  It is from the book, 500 Low-Carb Recipes by Dana Carpender and called Dukkah.  Carpender credits her friend Lou Anne with bringing this Turkish dip to her attention.  So great to have friends to show us tasty things....

500 Low-Carb Recipes by Dana Carpender, copyright 2002 Fair Winds Press

1/3 cup almonds or hazlenuts
1/4 cup white sesame seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1/4 cup cumin seeds
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Toast the nuts and seeds in dry (empty) skillet over high heat for 1 minute.  
  2. Transfer to a food processor or mortar and pestle or coffee grinder (not used for coffee).  Crush the toasted mixture and add salt and pepper.  
  3. To serve, place the Dukkah in a bowl next to a bowl of good quality olive oil.  Serve with raw sliced vegetables.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Spiced Party Nuts

May is devoted to quick party foods that you can put out for guests or bring to a friend's.  Last week: olives.  This week: nuts. 

Most recipes for roasted nuts involve a bit of egg white to help the seasonings bind to the nuts.  I wanted something a little less messy but with similar adherence results. 

I use a 50/50 mixture of maple syrup and canola oil as the base for my spice blend.  This is the blend used in our house granola.  Roasted at the right temperature for just the right amount of time, these nuts lose their stickiness and crisp up the way granola coated with syrup, oil and cinnamon does.

Any nut variety works or you can use all one type of nut.  If you are using pecans, which roast much faster than most other nuts separate them to roast separately then mix in with the larger batch once cooled. 

Here’s the recipe:

Spiced Party Nuts

Makes 2 cups
2 cups mixed nuts, unsalted & raw nuts work best
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon canola oil

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. 
  2. Spread nuts out onto a rimmed cookie sheet or roasting pan.  
  3. Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl.  Taste—add more spices to suit your taste.  You and your friends might like more cayenne.  To sweeten add a pinch of table sugar.  
  4. Now, pour the spice coating over the nuts and toss to coat them very well.  
  5. Place nuts in oven and bake 10-12 minutes.  Use a spatula to turn/toss nuts midway through.  This will help prevent sticking.  
  6. Check the nuts after 10 minutes.  (Check pecans in 7-8 minutes.)  The nuts are ready when the coating has almost lost its stickiness.  As the nuts cool, the coating will continue to harden.  Store cooled nuts in an airtight container. 
Nuts may be prepared several days in advance, but hide them so loved ones don’t devour them before the party!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cocktail Party Olives

Your own quick-marinated olives will have a freshness no deli or salad bar offering can match.  This combination of citrus peel, fennel seed and a little heat can be customized for your menu by selecting fresh herbs that match the rest of the meal or made to stand out with an extra dash of red chili flakes.  Both green and black olives take to this treatment well.  I usually use olives packed only in brine but if I have a few remaining olives in a flavored jar, they can join the party too.   By heating the olives, you speed up the flavor process.  Alternately, you can marinate the olives overnight to get a subtler effect. 

Cocktail Party Olives
Makes 3 cups

2 14-oz cans olives packed in brine
1-2 strips lemon or orange peel*
½ teaspoon fennel seed
¼-½ teaspoon red chili flakes
1 large spring of fresh herbs like thyme, marjoram, dill or rosemary
1 tablespoon high quality olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.  
  2. Create a roasting envelope by lining a small roasting pan with a long sheet of foil with extra foil hanging over two sides.  Allow enough extra foil to close and seal packet over olives.   
  3. Drain the olives and place in foil-lined pan.  
  4. Add reaming ingredients and toss lightly.  Fold foil over olives and seal tightly.  
  5. Place olive sin oven and bake 15-20 minutes.  
  6. Remove and open foil.  Allow olives to cool to room temperature before serving.  
  7. If not serving right away, store in the refrigerator, covered.   Olives keep for 4-5 days. 

Elegant Life Leftovers: Tapenade
The yield for this recipe is three cups.  That might sound like a lot but they will go quickly.  You can cut the recipe in half for a small group or make tapenade with the leftovers.  To make tapenade, chop the olives finely by hand or in a mini food processor and add capers, anchovies and a bit of olive oil.  The proportions should be roughly 3 parts olive to 1 part each of caper and anchovy, but go with your own tastes. Add olive oil to get the consistency you like.  Thick and spreadable is nice.  You can also add a dash of sherry wine vinegar if it needs more acid but the capers should manage that area well.  Tapenades are another cocktail party guest—usually spread on bruschetta.  Or use it as a spread on sandwiches in place of mayonnaise or mustard.  This is really good on an Italian hero,  a roasted veggie pannini or a simple tomato open-faced sandwich.  Dot a reheated slice of pizza with tapenade to wake up the flavors.

* For a primer on how to get a perfect peel of lemon or orange, check out the post on this blog, "Bring Back the Twist" (4/25/2011).