Sunday, September 27, 2015

Grilled Shishito Peppers

Shishito Peppers and other thin skinned peppers like Spain's Padron Pepper are easy to grill on an open fire, charcoal grill or a grill pan on your stove top.  All the rage as an appetizer, sprinkled with coarse salt to accompany a cold beer, these also make a simple, pure side dish to grilled steaks or a topping for a burger.  The key is to use high heat to blister the skin and get a light char.

If you have some thin-skinned peppers, whether hot or sweet, in your garden try them grilled like this. Even if the variety is not thin-skinned, home grown peppers tend to have a thinner skins since these varieties are not bred for travel to supermarkets. 

We skewer the peppers whole using the double-skewer method that keeps narrow items like small peppers and asparagus from rolling between the grates and into the coals.  The peppers get a light coating of vegetable oil and cook once the steak is off the grill and resting.  Keep an eye on your peppers since these tender mouthfuls cook quickly.  Turn as the skin blisters, remove and salt lightly before serving. 

It is OK to eat these with your hands. 

To get the effect on a stove top, use a very hot grill pan.  Place the oiled peppers in the pan and turn as they blister  remove, salt and serve immediately.

On open coals (or a bonfire) use a long skewer or a "frank fork" to keep you cool and unblistered while the oiled pepper cooks over the open flame. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Croissant Strawberry Shortcake

Presentation can make a simple, pure dessert shine.  For example, supermarket croissants can be split open like butterflies to make open-faced strawberry "shortcake" desserts.  This is lovely because the croissants are not sugary sweet and will let the lingering summer berry flavor star.

To cut a croissant into a convincing butterfly, use a long bread knife to cut from the inner part of the curved pastry.  Stop cutting about 3/4 of an inch from the far edge to create a small hinge.  Open the croissant and warm the butterflied croissant in a toasted oven.  We toast them just enough to brown the edges and crisp the cut edge of the pastry's layers. Serve topped with a 1/2 cup of yogurt, a tablespoon of strawberry jam and 1/2 cup fresh, sliced strawberries. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Farmers Market Nectarines

Nectarines are overflowing their baskets at farmers' markets and its hard to resist this true taste of summer as the days grow shorter.  With an abundance of ripe fruit in the house we needed something fast that would compliment stone fruits at their peak.  Try this for breakfast or a snack-- sliced nectarines with good quality ricotta cheese drizzled with honey.  Whole grain bread goes with the ensemble perfectly.

If you have fresh basil in your garden, add a sprig to your breakfast plate.  Basil loves nectarines and so will you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Peanut Butter Mousse Cupcake Filling

Pure peanut butter mousse is not only possible but very simple, making it a top choice to fill or frost cupcakes.  The secret ingredient is ricotta cheese which lends volume and helps create a spreadable consistency.  Ricotta adds a subtle complimentary taste to peanut butter and vanilla flavors.

Filling cupcakes may sound difficult but all it really takes is the patience to wait for the cupcakes to cool.  You can frost the cupcakes immediately after filling them.  Use a apple corer to pull a small plug of cake out of the top of each cupcake. Hang onto the plugs to reinsert before frosting.   You can also dig a little hole using the handle of a teaspoon.  Fill using a small spoon or better yet, place the mousse in a plastic sandwich bag, seal and snip off a corner to use as a pastry bag to fill the little cakes.
A plastic baggie makes a great piping bag.

The vanilla (yellow) cupcakes are from an all natural mix that replaces about half of the liquid with ricotta cheese.  The cupcakes taste great and have improved structure for holding fillings. Use your favorite mix or from scratch recipe for 12 cupcakes.

Make the mousse while the cupcakes bake.  Frost with a simple chocolate ganache of chocolate chips and cream.  The technique is included below.

Peanut Butter Mousse
Yield 1 cup, enough for 12 cupcakes or 4 servings

1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1 teaspoon coconut oil*
1/2 cup ricotta cheese, whole milk preferred
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey or golden syrup

*skip if using regular peanut butter which already contains an oil

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Use a whisk to create a smooth texture, whipping for about 30-45 seconds.  
  2. Taste and adjust for sweetness.  You can add more honey or a pinch of salt to bring out a bit more sweetness.  
  3. Use immediately and store any leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator. Use within three days.
NOTE: The cupcakes must be refrigerated since the filling includes dairy.

You can also eat it as a mousse in a small cup with some dark chocolate shavings.

Chocolate Ganache
To make a chocolate ganache to glaze your cupcakes, place 1/3 cup good quality chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl with enough cream or whole milk to barely cover the chips.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds.  Remove and stir to finish melting the chips into the warmed cream. Cool for 3-4 minutes and spread on cupcakes.  The chocolate ganache will set within a few minutes to a smooth and glossy finish.