The hot sun was shining down on me hard the day I first tasted it. About fifteen people deep in line I waited my turn impatiently. One by one, people walked away gleefully with their treat and I inched closer to the table. Finally it was my turn. There was no moment of hesitation when I said firmly “Watermelon & Basil!”
The rampant holiday eating and cooking continued the day after Christmas. My brother and I hosted a dinner for a few of our friends.
no knead bread, preserved lemon butter
roasted walnuts in the shell
chestnuts in warm sage oil, prosciutto
sweetbread nuggets, honey mustard
roasted cauliflower, coriander, paprika, anchovies
warm peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, whipped cream
I was luckily chosen to take part in this month’s Foodbuzz 24 event. A beer pairing meal was on my agenda. It’s been a few years since I did my first one so I researched around a bit to gather ideas. I kept things simple and rounded up a few of my beer loving friends and presented a six-course beer pairing menu.
St. Bernardus Wit
I recently presented my engaged couple friends with a special dinner in honor of their upcoming wedding. I started them off with an Arpege Egg, the genius recipe of Chef Alain Passard of L’Arpege in Paris. I had this at Manresa last year and fell in love with it. It’s basically a coddled egg yolk topped with tangy whipped cream and maple syrup. The combination of the flavors are amazing will brighten up your tastebuds for the meal.
I made a birthday dinner for my shellfish-centric pescatarian friend. I absolutely love vegetables and shellfish so this would be no glitch at all. The first course was a refreshing heirloom tomato gazpacho made with a mixture of heirloom tomatoes blended up with Perisan cucumbers, red peppers, garic, sherry vinegar and unfiltered extra virgin olive oil. Before serving I garnished the soup with diced tomatoes, red and green peppers, cucumber, chives and a final drizzle of meyer lemon olive oil and sherry vinegar. I loved the sweetness of the tomatoes and the tang of the vinegar in the chilled soup.
I decided to cook two of my close friends a nice birthday dinner this year instead of buying them a gift. This would be perfect timing since I had just fully moved into my very own apartment yesterday. Today was the dinner. Talk about breaking in the apartment right? I told each friend of the plan and told them they could bring one guest to celebrate with them. I cooked, they ate, we drank. I feel totally settled into my apartment now.
My friend Erika was celebrating her birthday today and I wanted to make her something delicious and pretty. Cupcakes always seem to bring a smile to people’s faces and are fairly easy enough to make that even I can do them. My next pantry project is to use up the huge container of poppy seeds I bought two years ago when I needed just a pinch to garnish scallop carpaccio. I love lemon poppy seed cake so I decided to do a cupcake version of it. Meringue frosting would add a unique twist to it and look beautiful. Then I thought why not stuff it with lemon curd? In the end this cupcake became a perfect smashup of lemon poppy seed cake and lemon meringue tart.
I used Joy of Baking’s vanilla cupcake recipe as the foundation and added the bright lemon flavor to it. The lemon curd was store bought to save some sanity on my part. I had a little taster of the cupcake and it was delicious! I loved the lemon flavor of course and the crunchy poppy seeds added a great texture and also a nice visual effect once the cupcake liner was peeled off prior to devouring. But he toasted meringue frosting was the cherry on top though. Aerated, glossy, and nicely browned just on the edges.
Lemon Poppy Seed Cupcakes with Lemon Curd & Meringue Frosting
makes 12 regular cupcakes
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) buttermilk
2 tbsp lemon zest
juice of half lemon
3 tbsp poppy seeds
about 1/2 cup of lemon curd
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a mixer cream sugar, butter and lemon zest. Add eggs one by one until incorporated.
In another bowl whisk flour, baking powder, poppy seeds and salt.
Add half of the dry mix, then buttermilk, then remaining dry mix and lemon juice. Mix just until the ingredients are incorporated.
Line cupcake pan and divide batter evenly.
Bake for 18-20 minutes and then cool on a rack.
Once cupcakes are completely cool stuff each cupcake with a generous teaspoon of lemon curd. I used the cone method from Cupcake Bakeshop by the talented Chockylit.
Now make the meringue by beating the egg whites. When it gets foamy add cream of tartar and slowly start adding the sugar. Beat until hard peaks. Use your favorite piping tip to apply the meringue to the cupcake. I used a #4 open star tip and then broiled it just enough to get the ridges nicely toasted.
Often when my parents have relatives or friends visiting they ask me to cook dinner for them. My immediate answer is usually maybe since I would have to give up a chunk of my leisure hours to undertake the project. But then my mind gets churning with ideas and I start thinking of menus. There’s no turning back at that point. Plus since my parents would be paying for the ingredients I have an opportunity to be a bit more extravagant than usual [although trying to convince my parents they must have Champagne and caviar on their menu hasn’t come to fruition]. My great aunt and uncle were visiting recently and here is what I cooked for them and my parents…
Gougere – Lillet Blanc
I’m not an avid consumer of mint related confectionaries or mash-ups of chocolate and mint, especially chocolate chip-mint ice cream. The combination is not bad but definitely not great. The pharmacy green-hued chocolate chip-mint ice cream was also a big turnoff whenever I hit up ice cream shops in the younger days. However during this holiday season I ran into a sweet treat that actually inspired me to make mint ice cream. That would be Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Joe Joe’s.
These candy cane-studded filled oreo knockoffs were calling out to me to be crushed into ice cream like an oreo mcflurry. Last time I had that was about eight years ago (scary!) and I remember how good the oreo chunks and bits were in the soft ice cream. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough oreos in the mix. There would be none of that nonsense in my version. And since I surprisingly found these minty Joes Joe’s rather enjoyable I ran with it and decided to make a mint flavored ice cream. At least if I still wasn’t feelin the mint ice cream deal I knew Boy would be there to finish the pint since chocolate chip-mint is one of his favorite ice cream flavors. But the ice cream turned out rather delicious – creamy, generously cookie studded and refreshingly minty. And most definitely not green. I added some dark chocolate chips in there too. Best served with the Candy Cane Joe Joe’s on the side for some extra oomph.
Finally, pumpkin pie ice cream sandwiches! I say finally because there were long overdue. I was planning to make them around Thanksgiving but finally got around to them last week. I made a custard base of equal parts whole milk and heavy cream, regular sugar, brown sugar, and a few egg yolks. Then I added pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spices. I used canned pumpkin puree from Trader Joe’s but next time I think i’ll make my own kabocha puree for yummier results.
I wanted the sandwiching cookies to taste a bit like graham crackers. I made a chewy sugar cookie base and added vanilla, cinnamon and honey. Oh, and I also substituted 1/4 cup of wheat flour for all-purpose flour. I scooped the dough with an ice cream scooper for size consistency (all hope would be lost if I tried to make same-sized balls with a spoon) then dipped one side in turbinado sugar and baked them sugar side up. Man these cookies were bomb! I totally underestimated the potential of American sugar cookies.
Now sandwich the pumpkin pie ice cream between two graham sugar cookies and you got yourself a nice sweet treat.