Monday, July 28, 2008

What would you bake for your own birthday?

Ok, so my birthday was at the beginning of the month. But in my family, July birthdays are a plenty. So instead of having a separate party for each person, they get grouped together all on the same day, somewhere in the middle of the month. This year, we decided that everyone would bring something to the party. Since I was arriving later than everyone else, I decided to bring dessert. Dessert being, of course, the cake. So, I thought, what kind of cake would I want for my birthday?

My Mega Cupcake, of course!
(approximately 10"diameter x 12" high)
I went back and forth trying to decide what flavor to make the giant cupcake. After much inner debate, I settled on Lemon Poppy Seed. A happy cake flavor for a happy giant cupcake. What better way to say happy birthday?!
Lemon Almond Poppy Seed Mega Cupcake w/ Lemon Almond Cream Cheese Icing
Truth be known, this is actually my second attempt at baking this cake. The first is a whole separate story. The original Mimosa Mega Cupcake (an adult version of the easy soda pop cake) that I had baked the night before had turned out ok but not (at least I thought so) the way I would have liked. (The Mimosa Mega Cupcake was actually devoured at work the next day and got rave reviews!) So, at 5am the next morning, knowing this was my last chance, I scrambled to find a recipe that I knew couldn't fail. Elinor Klivans to the rescue! I frantically paged through her book, "Cupcakes!" to find a recipe that I knew everyone would like and that called for ingredients that I already had (well, mostly) in my cupboards and fridge. I re-baked the giant cupcake with the Lemon Poppy Seed recipe. I had to make some last minute changes for ingredients that I had run out of but the Lemon Poppy Seed was definitely a hit. A little last minute decorating with fresh raspberries and green mini marshmallows on the cream cheese icing, and my birthday Mega Cupcake was complete. Light and fluffy on the inside with tons of lemony goodness.
As I said, I did have to make some substitutions during baking because I had run out of a few things and I was doing this second cake at 5am the day of the party (not a chance I was running out to the store again). Either way, the cake came out tasting and looking beautiful!
Lemon Almond Poppy Seed Cake
(Adapted from Elinor Klivans' Lemon Poppy Seed cupcake recipe in "Cupcakes!" The original recipe makes 1 regular cake or 12 regular cupcakes. I had to double this recipe to fill the giant cupcake pan. Below is the recipe for 1 regular sized cake, with the substitutions I made.)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt{or 1 tablespoon lemon juice+enough milk to make 1 cup}(original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of buttermilk. I substituted a combo of yogurt, lemon juice, and milk in my double-sized recipe. Don't laugh, it worked just fine!)
Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until smoothly blended, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is blended and the batter is creamy, about 1 minute. Mix in the almond, lemon zest, and poppy seeds. On low speed, add half of the flour mixture, mixing to incorporate. Mix in the yogurt to blend it. Mix in the remaining flour mixture until it is incorporated and the batter is smooth.
Fill the prepared cake pan about 3/4 full with the batter. (If using the giant cupcake pan, set the pan on a cookie sheet to make it more stable on the oven rack.) Bake until the top feels firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (You will need to use a long wooden skewer to do this with the giant cupcake.) Cool the cake for about 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. To release the cake from the pan, place the wire rack on top of the pan and, while holding both the rack and pan securely, invert the rack and pan, let the cake rest on the wire rack. Let cool completely before icing.
Lemon Almond Cream Cheese Icing
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces fat free cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, cream cheese, almond, and lemon juice until blended smooth. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, beat until blended and smooth after each cup.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Save an industry, eat tomatoes! A recipe challenge.

In the past two months, we in the US have seen tomatoes disappear from our grocery stores, vanished from the menus of our favorite restaurants, and filled our landfills with millions of fresh, juicy, goodness. Why?

Because the US Food and Drug Administration, on June 7, 2008 declared that three varieties of tomatoes had been contaminated with the deadly Salmonella bacteria. Let it be known, that the FDA has now cleared all types of tomatoes currently on the market and declared them safe to eat. But is is too little, too late?

In the days and weeks after the FDA warning of a salmonella outbreak, grocers across the country were forced to trash crate after crate of fresh tomatoes, restaurants were forced to remove fresh tomato based dishes from their menus, and prudent shoppers confused as to which tomatoes were declared unsafe (canned and jarred tomatoes were never declared a risk) stopped buying tomatoes altogether. What has resulted is sickening to the tomato industry, pun fully intended!

The truth is, the FDA has actually never found the root cause of the recent salmonella outbreak. In fact, after thousands of tests on tomatoes, and now jalapenos and cilantro, the FDA has not found a single salmonella bacterium of the same type as that connected to the outbreak.

"If they're going to do that kind of economic damage to a commodity group, then they should have a very firm foundation for making that determination," says Tom Nassif, the chief executive of the Western Growers Association.

By issuing warnings to the national public without having anything concrete to base their suspicions on has devastated the entire tomato farming industry. Farmers whose crops were still on the vines and just ready to be harvested when the announcement was made, instead were forced to plow under their fields and destroy millions of dollars worth of tomatoes that were not able to be sold. Truck loads of already harvested, yet undelivered tomatoes sat rotting. Somewhere between $100 to $250 MILLION has been lost to an entire industry because of the FDA's gaff. And they are well aware of the damage they have caused.

"The fact we cannot prove they were contaminated is going to stay with us forever," said David Acheson, FDA food-safety chief. As a personal note, gee it's swell that the FDA feels guilty about the debacle. But in the mean time, tomato growers are losing, at the very least, their entire seasons revenue, at most- there's no telling. After more than 18 months, spinach growers are still trying to recover from their own salmonella scare. And now, fearful shoppers are avoiding other fresh fruits and vegetables.

How can growers survive such devastating and irresponsible FDA reports? For one thing, the tomato industry is fighting back, demanding the agency be required to actually find a piece of contaminated fruit or vegetable before issuing such wide sweeping warnings. They are also demanding compensation to the growers, packers, and other industries greatly affected by the FDA warning.
And what can we do to help? Simple, buy tomatoes! Return to farmers' markets and load up on the fresh locally grown produce. Visit our favorite restaurants and savor our favorite fresh tomato-based dishes! Find all those tomato recipes that we've collected, and always meant to try, and actually make them!

For my part, I started with making my favorite pizza. A crispy delight of fresh tomatoes, basil, and goat cheese. Future recipes include a tomato tart, vodka penne with fresh tomatoes, a salsa study, tomato jelly, and a four-cheese omelet with fresh pico de gayo.
The Recipe Challenge:
I challenge all you lovers of the juicy red fruit (yes, tomatoes are a fruit, not a vegetable) to come up with your very best tomato recipes and share them with us. And while we're add it, let's add spinach, cilantro, and jalapenos to the challenge (all ingredients need not be in the same recipe). Leave a link to your recipe in the comments section here on this post to share. Or better yet, post your recipe on tastespotting and tag it "Tomato Challenge". Your prize for the best recipe... bragging rights and the satisfaction of supporting the family owned produce growers that provide us with fresh ingredients every day.
Tomato Basil and Goat Cheese Pizza
(serves 6-8 according to dough package, or serves just me according to my love for pizza!)
1 tube pizza dough (or dough from you favorite pizzeria)- thawed but chilled
4 plump large Roma (or favorite variety) tomatoes- sliced
1/2 c fresh basil- chopped
1 medium red onion- sliced into rings no thicker than 1/4 inch
1 c pine nuts- toasted
2/3 c fresh basil and pine nut pesto
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/ tbsp dried fennel seed
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper- to taste
In a dry skillet over low to medium heat, lightly toast pine nuts until you just begin to smell them. Remove from heat and spread out on a paper towel to cool. Heat oven to 350F degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pizza dough to your desired thickness, repairing any holes. (Round or square doesn't matter.) Press 1/2 cup of pine nuts into dough, spreading evenly. Brush the dough and pine nuts with extra virgin olive oil. Spread pesto evenly over dough. Lay out slices of tomato to completely cover the dough. Layer on red onions. sprinkle with oregano, fennel seed, and remaining pine nuts. Salt and pepper to taste. Crumble fresh goat cheese over the entire pizza. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Transfer pizza to a pizza stone or un-greased pizza pan/cookie sheet. Bake until dough is a golden brown on the bottom and cheese has softened and browned slightly. Time will vary according to the thickness of crust. Serve hot with your favorite beer or wine. (Although cold pizza for breakfast is money!)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How Corny Can You Get?

I love that you can see all the cheese and corn kernels. It gives it more rustic look that makes everything look so much more appetizing.

Judging from the title of this post, I guess I can get pretty corny!

Cheesy Cornbread Goodness!

I was actually referring to a yummy little treat that I whipped up for breakfast the other day. A cheesy cornbread that I served with chorizo and eggs. I don't usually keep bread in my house because I'm a breadaholic and would eat every last crumb before the day is out anyway.

Is that a crumb on that plate?!

So on this particular morning, when I was craving a slice of toast to go with my eggs I rummaged through my tiny cabinets and came up with a box of cornbread mix. Now I could have made this recipe from scratch, but if you have the mix already, why not? It took about 5 minutes to mix up and was done in no time at all. How did it turn out? Well, just about as good as this cheesy cornbread goodness looks!

I baked these cornbread goodies in individual ramekins for easy serving.

The recipe was pretty easy, considering I started with a boxed mix. But that makes it so great for breakfast. There's not a whole lot to have to think about in the morning before your coffee.

Cheesy Cornbread

1 box prepared (Fat Free) cornbread mix

1 1/2 cups water

2 tbsp frozen corn kernels- thawed

1 tbsp roasted red pepper- chopped

1 1/2 cups Mexican 4-cheese blend-finely shredded

In a large mixing bowl, combine cornbread mix and water and mix on high until well incorporated. Fold in 1 cup of cheese blend. Divide mixture into 4 medium-sized ramekins. Top with corn, red pepper and remaining cheese. Bake at 350F for 8-12 minutes or until golden and a toothpick in stuck into the center comes out clean. Serve hot.