Saturday, May 30, 2015

Salad Caprese To Go

Individual Salad Caprese is the perfect side to bring to gatherings if you just know you are going to forget the serving utensil.  The stiff romaine lettuce leaf underneath allows diners to pick up a single serving with their hands and move on down the buffet.

Salad Caprese requires only a few ingredients and begs to be served when tomatoes and basil come into season. 

Individual Salad Caprese
Yield- 10 servings

10 Romaine lettuce leaves
3 ripe tomatoes, medium size
1 ball mozzarella cheese (fresh recommended)
handful of fresh basil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil or vinaigrette dressing
salt and pepper
optional: roasted red pepper (try a variation with red pepper and no tomatoes when tomatoes are not yet ripe), baguette slices

  1. Lay lettuce leaves on a serving tray
  2. Lay alternating slices of tomatoes and mozzarella on each leaf. Tuck a few basil leaves in between the layers.
  3. Cover and refrigerate until read to serve
  4. Just before serving, drizzle with olive oil or dressing and finish with a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper
  5. Serve as is or with sliced baguette or country loaf
Use medium sized romaine leaves that have a little backbone.  These salads can even be eaten without a fork.  Smaller leaf versions are a nice option for passed hors d'oeuvres.  Use the inner leaves of the lettuce to collect enough or break larger leaves in two. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fruit Kebabs

Fruit salad is a fun picnic food that can be made more transportable and user friendly by making it into kebabs.  No serving spoons needed and no problem if no one has remembered to bring forks. 

Thirst quenching and not bad with a brownie or cookie, fruit kebabs survive transport without oxidizing and look as appetizing as they taste by using a few simple techniques. 
  • When shopping for fruit, be sure to pick up a lemon or two.  Squeeze lemon juice over your cut fruit and rub the plate with the squeezed lemon to protect your fruit.  
  • Cut fruit into large bite-sized chunks so they do not break off the wooden skewers.
  • Thread pineapple chunks on first.  They coat the entire skewer with an acidic base that will prevent fruit from browning at the skewer core.  Fresh pineapple will hold its shape better than canned.
  • Select ripe yet firm fruits with a wide color variety.  Here bright green kiwis add a new color group to the platter.
  •  Use lemon zest and mint to garnish the kebabs.  
For these kebabs we used:
2 cups cubed pineapple
2 medium-large nectarines
4 apricots
2 kiwis
2 cups strawberries
16 wooden skewers

If it is difficult to find several fruits in season, pick two fruits and alternate.  Red strawberries and yellow pineapple cubes, green kiwis and pale orange peaches, purple grapes and creamy white pears (really nice with some soft cheese alongside).  Don't for get the lemon!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tres Leches Cake for Sarah

Our next portable dessert for picnics and potluck dinners is a Tres Leches Cake, the famous "three milk" cake of Mexico.  This cake is easy to make and only requires a few ingredients.  If you are really short on time, you can serve the cake without the leches with sliced fruit.  It tastes like a giant, cloud of a lady finger.  But try to take the time to let the sweet milks soak in to make this classic dessert.  We topped ours with fresh strawberries for a very international strawberry shortcake variation.

To travel with Tres Leches Cake, leave the cake in its pan swelled by the soaking liquid.  Smear on whipped cream and pack your rinsed strawberries on the side.  Cover the cake and hit the road. Add the finishing strawberry touches once you've arrived. 

Tres Leches Cake for Sarah
Serves 6-8
Two small cake pans (7-8 inch diameter) or one large 9X13

For the cake:
4 eggs
½ t vanilla
½ cup sugar
1 cup + 2 T cake flour (or 2 cups all purpose flour)

For the tres leches filling
½ can sweetened condensed milk (6-7 oz)
½ can evaporated milk (6-7 oz)
4 oz whole milk (or cajeta, a sweet milk cooked until caramelized)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups whipped cream (use about 1 tablespoon sugar for every cup of cream)
1 pint strawberries, sliced

  1. Separate egg whites from yolks.  Place the egg whites in a large bowl.  Place the egg yolks into a medium bowl.  
  2. Beat egg yolks on medium high until they are pale yellow and thickened, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla and beat another minutes.   
  3. Beat the egg whites on medium for 4-5 minutes, until they form soft peaks. Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, while beating on medium-high until stiff peaks form.  
  4. By hand, using a wide spatula, stir half of flour into the egg yolks.  
  5. Add egg yolk mixture to egg whites in larger bowl.  Gently fold together, adding remaining flour by scattering flour over batter, a spoonful at a time.  To fold, using the side of your spatula, cut down the middle of the batter then turn the spatula to comb along the bottom of the bowl with the flat side. Lift and turn the batter over onto itself.  Repeat this gentle action to incorporate the lighter egg white mixture into the denser egg yolk mixture.  The result is a very light, foamy batter.  
  6. Pour the batter into prepared baking pans and bake 13-15 minutes until the top is light brown and the cake is starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Cake can be cooled at this point and the filling liquid added the next day.  It is also nice to fill the cake while it is warm—not hot.  Let cool at least 15 minutes.  Prick cake with a fork and pour filling all over cake.  Soak, refrigerated, at least one hour before serving.  Top with  whipped cream and strawberries.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Banana Split Cake

There are lots of banana bread and banana cake recipes out there, but Ina Garten's Old-Fashioned Banana Cake ,with the zest of an orange, is tops around here.  We skip the frosting and use it to make our twist on a banana split. 

This is the first of this May's portable desserts.  To plan ahead for Memorial Day, this month I'm posting some springtime desserts that travel well to picnics, the beach and neighborhood potlucks.

Banana Split Cake is on the list because it can be baked ahead (even frozen), packed for travel with pre-cut fruit, sauces and ice cream on the side and assembled by guests to suit their tastes.  It fits whether you are living in a region that has seen good, ripe strawberries or are still relying on frozen ones. Here's what you'll need:

Banana Split Cake
Serves 8-10

One recipe Old-Fashioned Banana Cake
1 quart fresh strawberries or 1 bag frozen strawberries 
Juice of 1/2 orange (or 1 lemon)
1-2 teaspoon sugar or honey
8 ounces chocolate sauce*
8 ounces caramel sauce (or cajeta)
1 pint vanilla ice cream 
optional: 5-6 rip bananas, 1 cup roasted, chopped nuts, whipped cream

  1. Bake the cake and allow to cool completely.  Wrap well for travel. Cake does not need to be refrigerated but can be frozen.  Defrost cake the nigh before your picnic.
  2. Prepare the strawberries.  If using fresh strawberries, slice them in large chunks and place in a microwavable container with top loosely on.  If using frozen strawberries, place whole berries in container.  Pour juice and sugar over strawberries and microwave on medium 1-2 minutes, until fruit softens.  This step can also be done ahead.  Cover cooked strawberries and refrigerate. 
  3. When ready to go, pack cake, fruit, sauces and ice cream in a cooler (ice cream on ice).  Don't forget a good knife to slice the cake and some serving spoons for the strawberries, sauces and ice cream.  Cut the bananas on the spot.
 * Jarred sauces are pretty good but making your own chocolate sauce is easy too.  Add 3 ounces whole milk to 2/3 cup of dark chocolate morsels and microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir and microwave 15 seconds more if not fully melted.  Mixture will look milky at first then turn into a glossy sauce.  Add a few drops of pure vanilla extract to finish your sauce.  Some people around here also add the barest wink of salt.