Friday, July 18, 2008

Summertime Lunches

I think I've already mentioned just how much I love tomatoes and basil. They make summer food absolutely fabulous. Eggplant is a close second for favorite vegetable, but it's not quite eggplant season in Michigan, so I haven't had a chance yet to blog about its virtues.

Like most teenagers, I tend to sleep in for a quite a while during the summers, so late breakfasts and light lunches become the norm. The past two weeks have been good ones for food, but the following two dishes are two of the highlights.

First, is my absolute favorite salad of all time, the Italian caprese salad, simple but delicious. These lovely stacks of tomato, fresh mozzarella and ribbons of basil (my basil! My plants are all grown up!), drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a little touch of olive oil are perfect for a late lunch on the deck.

On days when I'm in the mood for a bit more, I like to transfer my caprese salad to toasted slices of baguette, with a little more olive oil and balsamic. On this particular day, I also topped the baguette slices with tomatoes and marinated artichoke hearts, plus more balsamic vinegar. Those ones would have been better, actually, with a bit more balsamic and perhaps some lemon, but were still delicious.

Another Delicious Bread Bible Success

Last weekend I started craving biscuits and was actually well-rested enough that I decided to get up at a normal hour on Sunday to attempt a batch of buttermilk biscuits. This recipe is actually listed as "Butter Biscuits" and has the Bread Bible's usual precise, detailed instructions. As baking projects go, this one was pretty quick; I was able to make the dough, roll and cut the biscuits and pop them in the oven in just under 30 minutes. Fifteen minutes later, I had these beautiful, rich and fluffy biscuits for breakfast.

Of course, as usual I was missing a piece of reccomended equipment (a biscuit cutter with serrated edges...or a biscuit cutter in general) but I have lots of cookie cutters. As in, a huge Ziplock bag full. One of my favorite childhood traditions was that of picking out a new cookie cutter each year and making big batches of rolled sugar cookies with my mom. One particularly memorable year, I chose a star-shaped cookie cutter. My sister chose a foot-shaped cookie cutter. Not a paw-shaped cookie cutter, or a festive hoove-shaped cookie cutter, but one shaped like a very small human's foot.

Anyways...for the biscuits I used my pine-tree cookie cutter, as it too has serrated edges (kind of like a biscuit cutter, right?) and consequently my biscuits are rather large. And, you know, tree-shaped. But they were also absolutely delicious, a perfect start to a lazy Sunday morning.

My Lucky Little Sister

My younger sister is at Interlochen this summer; she plays viola, and is up there for a whole 6 weeks for the High School Orchestra session. Always somewhat of a picky eater, we promised to send her lots of edible goodies and flagrantly disregard the note on the bulletin forbidding perishable care packages. Along with oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, I made these beautiful "Moonpies" for her during her third week away. This recipe is out of "Cooking Light" the other cooking magazine to which my mom subscribes. Although cookie sized, they really are more like little cakes, with a sweet marshmallow filling.
The batter was absolutely beautiful, with possibly the nicest texture of any cake or cookie batter I've ever made. It had these beautiful holes, and the silkiest texture, really more like pudding than batter, but still nice and light. It tasted pretty darn good too...

While the small cakes didn't puff up all that much, they were nice and light, despite the rich batter. I think in the future I'll try making these as cupcakes, as the two small cakes together were a bit much-ish...I had trouble finishing even one of my sandwich cookies.

However, I had some issues making the marshmallow cream filling. To begin with, I didn't have any unflavored gelatin, and decided to try first to make it using powdered fruit pectin. Total failure. It didn't set up sufficiently, and thus despite quite a bit of beating, the cream never thickened. So I set off to Kroger's and bought a nice box of unflavored gelatin, and finally broke down and bought a candy thermometer. Prior to this occasion, I'd always just guessed as to whether or not a liquid was ready to pour/ready for frying, but I will admit that the thermometer made it a whole lot easier the second time around. And it was just fun to watch the temperature of my boiling syrup rise. With the gelatin, the cream thickened quite nicely, though it still took my poor 27-year-old KitchenAid handheld mixer quite a while to beat it to the proper consistency. There, however, I faltered. It certainly looked too liquid to pour, but my recipe specifically reccomended that I pour the cream onto the cakes immediately, else the cream would solidify and become impossible to shape. However...I needed to have waited just a couple minutes, as the liquid cream was rapidly absorbed by the cakes, instead of forming a puffy layer in between. They ended up rather unattractive, but still absolutely delicious.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Michigan strawberries are here!

My parents returned from a road-trip to the west side of the state last week, and brought with them two beautiful cases of fresh strawberries! While we did freeze quite a few of them, planning future pies, cheesecakes and smoothies, we also saved a couple quarts to devour this week.

I love strawberries. Along with tomatoes, they are my absolute favorite summer fruit. I mean, I love peaches and there's nothing like a fresh, juicy tangerine, but strawberries and tomatoes still rule supreme. The first night, I sliced a handful over my chocolate ice cream. The next day, I had a bowl of them plain, sliced thinly, eaten along with a glass of milk. And then I made a sponge cake. Well, kind of. It was really in between a sponge cake and a pound cake, but it made for perfect strawberry shortcake. I know there are those who think of strawberry shortcake as the kind with biscuits, or small cakes of a more scone-y texture as the base. But I prefer the spongy version, so it soaks up a little bit of the strawberry juice, and is easily sliced and spread with Cool-Whip (or real whipped cream, if you prefer).

The recipe I used is from, from an old issue of Bon Appetit, and thus I have no qualms about posting a link to it here. I don't actually have a 9-inch cake pan, so I used one 8-inch cake pan and three small, heart shaped cake pans. Ta da!