With spring just around the corner, I am looking forward to warmer days ahead and pulling my bicycle from the dark corners of my home's basement. Bicycling is my favorite form of exercise in the spring, summer and fall, but during the winter months, I will head to a local health club -- occasionally -- for a workout. And what I've realized is -- when I'm there -- I am the only person exercising while reading food magazines... the only one (Do you also find that hard to believe?). Before I head out the door, I go through my stacks of Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and old Gourmets, picking out several to read while sitting on a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill. And when I'm back at home, if I am not reading food magazines or cookbooks, I am on my computer looking for food-related websites that inspire. One site that I've recently come across is Kayotic Kitchen in the Netherlands and found Kay's recipe for Pink Peppercorn Hot Chocolate irresistible.
And silly me. I thought that since I was also giving my husband a serving of the Pink Peppercorn Hot Chocolate, I would double the recipe. That meant I melted 14-ounces of bittersweet chocolate to stir into 3 1/3 cups of warmed milk. After my first sip, I quickly realized that I did not want a 6-ounce cup of the hot chocolate, but a demitasse instead. It's like drinking a bar of chocolate. But it is so unbelievably good! Of course, I also doubled the recipe for the Pink Peppercorn Syrup. Next time, I will triple the amount of syrup I make, and add even more pink peppercorns to the mix. It has a wonderfully delicious, spicy-cinnamon flavor, and I found myself pouring a lot of it into the hot chocolate, which gives it a nice little kick. I keep both the chocolate and syrup stored in the refrigerator, and each day heat up enough for my little demitasse shot of heaven... my little treat!
I will send you directly to Kayotic Kitchen where Kay will walk you through the recipe... recipe for Pink Peppercorn Hot Chocolate HERE.
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It's over. The months of planning and anticipation. Finished. The wedding was beautiful! Many of you mentioned you'd like to see photos. My camera was banned by my family. I'm not quite sure why. Some photos on this page are from the photographer, a few from cell phones, and once back home for the morning-after-breakfast, finally my camera.
One of our top requirements for this wedding, was that the food be exceptional. I think we accomplished that -- Heavy hors d'oeuvres at the reception from Fabulous Catering. Our wall-of-cakes from James Beard nominee Michelle Gayer's Salty Tart. We (I mean, I) went a little crazy, ordering 11 cakes. But with varieties like Pear with Burnt Caramel, Chocolate Mocha, Apple Spice, Lemon Curd, Surly Chocolate, to name a few, plus the tiered vanilla wedding cake with passion fruit curd filling and vanilla bean buttercream frosting, how could we not?
No... your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Those are pigs on top of the wedding cake.
Bagged Homemade Marshmallow guest favors made by the Mother-of-the-Bride (a.k.a. me).
I am thrilled that I took my own advice, and made the Sunday morning breakfast for 30+ easy.
• • • • • • • • • • • • •
• bagels (purchased) with flavored cream cheeses (made by me)
• chocolate and almond croissants (from a fabulous Vietnamese bakery in St. Paul)
• smoked salmon with red onion, tomatoes, and capers
• fresh fruit
• Daniel Boulud's Fresh Fruit Punch
• Starbuck's coffee
Flavored Cream Cheeses
• 2 bunches green onions, white part only, thinly sliced
• 1 teaspoon whole milk
• 8 slices bacon, diced, and cooked until crisp
• 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
• salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine onions, milk, and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Stir in the bacon and salt and pepper. Refrigerate. Remove 30 minutes before serving.
STRAWBERRY CREAM CHEESE:
• 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
• 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries
• 4 tablespoons powdered sugar
Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Refrigerate. Remove 30 minutes before serving.
CINNAMON SUGAR CREAM CHEESE:
• 16 ounces cream cheese
• sugar, to taste
• cinnamon, to taste
This one, the amounts are up to you. Blend all together in the bowl of a food processor.
Daniel Boulud's FRESH FRUIT PUNCH
The New York Times Magazine | November 1, 1987
• 3 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
• 3 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
• 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1 1/2 cups finely diced very ripe pineapple flesh
• 1 1/2 cups finely diced ripe bananas
• 4 tablespoons grenadine
• 4 tablespoons sugar
1. Combine the ingredients in a blender. Blend as thoroughly as possible. This can be done in batches.
2. Place a strainer over a large bowl and pour the mixture, as blended, through the strainer and into the bowl. Press the solids to remove as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids and refrigerate the liquid until cold. This recipe serves 8-10. I doubled the recipe and served the punch with champagne for mimosas!
Yes, she was at the party... in her dress.
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When we moved to St. Paul, Minnesota some 26+ years ago, there was a French bakery in our neighborhood named Napolean's. It was good. Really good. Actually, no...I'd have to say it was exceptional. So exceptional, that even though it's been gone now for some 20 years, I still think about it whenever I pass by its incarnation (of which there have been many). To this day, there has not been a bakery in St. Paul that even comes close to producing the same quality of French pastries.
One winter when my daughter was about 4 years old, we had a huge snow storm. Suffering some cabin fever, I was desperate to get out and decided to go to Napolean's for a cappuccino and a treat, with promises to my daughter of hot chocolate. Of course, with the heavy snows, there was no way I was going to get in a car and drive. The chances of getting stuck were too great. I bundled up my daughter and myself, put her on a sled, and pulled her the approximate mile to Napolean's. After trudging through knee-deep snow with frigid, whipping winds, we arrived, only to find that it was closed -- due to the weather. (It never occurred to me to call first... duh!) The pastries and coffees served at Napolean's were worth risking life and limb (or at least frostbite).
One thing I always purchased on a visit to Napolean's was a cappuccino. But the cappuccino made there didn't consist of just espresso and steamed milk. There also happened to be a big chunk of chocolate at the bottom of the cup; plus... whipped cream on top! A café mocha, actually. And, it was divine!
It's what I've been making recently at home. Not every day, of course. Only when I feel I need a little treat.
• big chunk of chocolate
• double-shot of espresso
• hot steamed milk
• sweetened, whipped heavy cream
Serve with croissant aux amandes if possible
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A couple of weeks ago I spoke with a friend who lives in southern Missouri. Each and every phone call we have, our conversation includes our gardens -- our vegetable gardens to be exact. Whatever is happening in my friend's garden 500 miles south, will also happen in my own garden -- a month later. That is, however, unless it's 2012... the year of weirdness.
How weird you ask? Well, we have never eaten dinner on our patio in March. On March 14th of this year, we officially opened the patio and dined comfortably in 70+ degrees. That was until we were forced to return indoors because of... mosquitoes! I have never seen a mosquito in March. Remember, I live in Minnesota. A normal winter usually knocks them out until June.
My friend in Missouri mentioned that her asparagus was almost ready for picking. I told her how I've tried several times to plant asparagus in my garden, but it always dies off. She said she has the same trouble with rhubarb. Hard for me to believe. Rhubarb is the weed in my garden. My plants are enormous. They multiply. I end up giving bagfuls of rhubarb away to friends. I NEVER make a rhubarb tart until mid-May because my plants aren't large enough to use before then. That is, unless it's spring 2012...
See what I mean? I have eight plants this size. I am scrambling this year to use it up -- quickly. It's already going to seed!
And, you understand, I can't eat a rhubarb tart every day, so I've been making rhubarb syrup... so, so EASY! And with the rhubarb syrup -- gin and rhubarb cocktails.
A refreshing little drink for those lazy, summer days just around the corner. Invite a friend, relax, and enjoy the day! I did.
• 2 cups sliced rhubarb
• 1 cup water
• 1 cup sugar
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until the rhubarb has broken down. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in a jar in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Gin & Rhubarb Cocktail
:: The recipe below will make one cocktail.
• 1 ounce rhubarb syrup
• 1/2 ounce lime juice
• 1 1/2 ounces gin
• 1 ounce seltzer -- plus additional seltzer, optional
• lime slices, for garnish
1. Combine rhubarb syrup, lime juice, and gin in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. (I usually am making more than one cocktail at a time and multiply the ingredients in a pitcher, add ice, and stir). Shake for 10 seconds and strain into a glass. Top with the selzer water (I dilute mine with additional seltzer). Serve with lime slice.
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Refreshing -- this is what I love to guzzle when the weather is hot... and believe me, it has been hot!
WATERMELON BASIL WATER
• 3 cups watermelon cut into tiny cubes
• 12 cups spring water, chilled
• 10-12 basil leaves, julienned
Combine all of the ingredients in a large container and chill 24 hours. If you prefer your drink a bit sweeter, stir in some simple syrup (equal amounts of sugar and water that are brought to a boil in a small saucepan, then cooled -- keep refrigerated).
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This past weekend we had dinner with our small group that comprises what we refer to as "gourmet" -- the same three couples that get together every few months, as our busy schedules allow, to eat exceptional food and get caught up on each others' lives. As usual, this meal did not disappoint. I was assigned the appetizer -- a pizza on the grill loaded with sweet and salty goodness. The recipe by Todd English combines fig jam, prosciutto, Gorgonzola cheese, and fresh rosemary. I added dried figs, a gift to me last Christmas from the friends and neighbors hosting this dinner. I was surprised at how moist the dried figs were when I sliced them open. I had assumed I would need to rehydrate the fruit, but that was not at all necessary. We were served a refreshing "cocktail" to sip along with the pizza. Made with watermelon, lime juice, loads of fresh mint, and tequila, it was easy to down this drink quickly (a little too quickly) on a day hovering around 90˚.
We ate dinner in the garden where we were surrounded by herbs, flowers, and vegetables.
The main dish was Salmon and Pea Risotto with morel mushrooms that Paul, another member of our group, picked and dried this past spring. I don't think I have to tell you how good this was.
…Fig and Prosciutto Pizza…
adapted from a recipe by Todd English
• Pizza dough (recipe here
), divided into 4 balls• 1 clove garlic, minced• 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary• Salt and freshly ground pepper• 1/2 cup fig jam• 1/4 pound Gorgonzola
cheese, crumbled• 4 ounces sliced prosciutto • Dried sliced figs, or
halved fresh figs1.
Make the pizza dough; keep covered and chilled in the refrigerator until ready to use2.
In a small bowl, combine the minced garlic, rosemary, and salt & pepper to taste3. Prepare the grill. (I grill my pizzas on low heat, using a gas grill.) Remove
2 balls of dough from the refrigerator. I used to roll each ball of dough on a floured surface, but now I just take the ball of dough in my hands and start turning and stretching, letting the weight of the dough form the disc. When the dough is about 8-inches in diameter, place it on the grill. Repeat with the second ball of dough; place the cover over the grill When the bottom of the dough is a golden brown, flip, and begin adding the toppings.4. Spread the surface of the dough with a thin layer of the fig jam. Sprinkle 1/4 of the garlic-rosemary mixture evenly over each pizza; top with 1/4 of the Gorgonzola cheese. Take 1 ounce of the prosciutto and tear into pieces while scattering over the pizza. Add either dried sliced figs, or fresh figs, cover the grill and continue to "bake" the pizzas until they are puffed and golden brown. Remove to a cutting board and slice into pieces. Repeat this process with the remaining 2 balls of pizza dough.
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There is no reason anyone should be drinking a poor quality, less than seriously delicious, hot chocolate. Oh... don't get me started. This post will end up running off the page! I am always amazed at the inferior hot chocolate being sold in many cafés and coffee shops. I like my hot chocolate rich, bitter, and thick. That's not asking a lot, is it? I was recently sipping a hot chocolate at the Lodge at Pebble Beach in California. I heard that a round of golf there costs an astronomical $495, and because of that, I wasn't surprised that a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream, a homemade marshmallow and Grand Marnier sells for ten dollars (I drank mine sans liquor, thank you). But please... it was made with Hershey's chocolate syrup !?@!# I just don't have any tolerance for bad coffee or bad hot chocolate (especially if it's expensive).
It's not hard to combine the ingredients for good drinking chocolate and have it at the ready. And yes, the chocolate you use is like anything else in cooking and baking; you want to use the best ingredients you can. It really does make a difference.
Homemade Hot Chocolate via Serious Eats | 15 December 2011• 2 (4-ounce) bars 100% cacao baking chocolate• 1 cup Dutch process cocoa powder* 1 cup sugar* 2 tablespoons cornstarch• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt1. Place chocolate bars in the freezer until completely frozen, about 10 minutes. Remove from freezer and break into rough pieces. Place in a food processor with the remaining ingredients and process until completely powdered, about 1 minute. Transfer to an airtight container and keep in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months.2. To make hot chocolate, combine 2 tablespoons, or more, with hot milk. To thicken further, return to low heat and and simmer for 30 seconds, until thick and smooth. 3. Garnish with whipped heavy cream, peppermint marshmallows, or orange marshmallows.
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I have spoken of my love for orange and chocolate before. It all started when I was a little girl and began eating my orange sherbert with a drizzle of chocolate sauce. If I am making a chocolate cake, I often brush the layers with an orange syrup before assembly. Having a little stash of candied orange peels dipped in bittersweet chocolate for a sweet treat doesn't happen near enough, as far as I'm concerned. Oh yes... I love orange and chocolate! And when I planned on serving hot chocolate to my family this Sunday morning for breakfast, I thought an orange flavored marshmallow melting on top would be just the ticket.
• Confectioners' sugar
• 3 1/2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
• 1/2 cup cold orange juice, freshly squeezed
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 1/2 cup light corn syrup
• 1/2 cup hot water
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 large egg whites
• grated zest of 1 large organic orange
• 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier
1. Oil the bottom and sides of a 9-by-9-inch baking pan; dust the bottom and sides of the pan with powdered sugar
2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold orange juice; set aside to soften.
3. In a 3-quart heavy saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high and boil mixture, without shirring, until the mixture registers 240˚F on a candy thermometer. Remove pan from the heat quickly and immediately pour into the gelatin, stirring until the gelatin is dissolved.
4. Using the stand mixer, beat on high speed until very thick and nearly tripled in volunme. In another bowl, with a hand mixer or whisk, beat the egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Slowly beat the white, the orange zest and the Grand Marnier into the sugar mixture until just combined. Pour the mixture into the baking pan as quickly as possible. The marshmallow mixture begins setting up immediately. Smooth the top and dust with Confectioners' sugar. Place a piece of wax paper over, but not touching the marshmallow mixture, and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.
5. Run a thin knife around the edges of the pan and invert. Place a thin metal spatula between the marshmallow and the pan to gently pull the marshmallow out onto a Confectioners' sugar dusted chopping board. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the marshmallow into 6 strips. Cut each strip into 6 cubes, dusting with more Confectioners' sugar along the way. Store the marshmallows in a tin.
MAKES 36 LARGE MARSHMALLOWS
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I have yet another bumper crop of rhubarb this spring. We've been eating our share of rhubarb tarts and rhubarb compote with crème anglaise, but I'm also thinking ahead to summer. Nothing's better on a hot summer night than a big glass of icy rhubarb slush.
I have previously made a rhubarb slush using vodka and then topping off the glass with a soda such as ginger ale or key lime. But this time around, I eliminated the vodka and added rum and vanilla to the slush; sparkling water to the glass. I think this is the way to go from now on.
By the way... it's pretty good even if it isn't a hot summer night.
RUM RHUBARB SLUSH
• 8 cups diced rhubarb
• 5 cups cold water
• 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved
• 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
• 3 cups sugar
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
• 2 cups golden rum
1. In a large pot combine the rhubarb, water, strawberries, lemon juice and sugar. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the rhubarb is tender. Remove from heat and strain liquid, pushing on the solids. Take the solids and purée in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add to the liquid and whisk until all of the processed solids are thoroughly incorporated into the liquid. Stir in the vanilla and rum.
2. Pour the mixture into a freezer container and freeze. Fill a large glass with the slush mixture and top off with sparkling water.
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I can't believe that when I shot this photo it was near 70˚ and we were outdoors enjoying drinks on the patio before moving inside for dinner. We're well into May and there's been talk of snow! Up until now we have been enjoying above normal temperatures. April was so warm and sunny that I was feeling guilty about not having my vegetable garden planted. Now, however, I'm very pleased that I was slow (or lazy?) in doing so.
Here's to many more days on the patio!
~ Sangria ~
adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse
• 1 (750-ml) bottle red wine
• 1/4 cup brandy
• 1/4 cup orange flavored liqueur (preferably triple sec or Grand Marnier)
• 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
• 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1/2 orange, thinly sliced, preferably organic
• 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced, preferably organic
• 1 unwaxed apple, cored and cut into thin wedges
• Ginger Ale, chilled (approximately half of a 1 liter bottle)
Combine everything but the Ginger Ale in a large pitcher. Cover and chill completely, 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve, add the Ginger Ale.
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