Thursday, December 28, 2017

ChezCindy: Pavlova Meringue Cake with Cherries and Berries

This impressive looking dessert is so easy to make, you could turn this into a family activity for a party or a fun Friday night, even involving the young children to help.  You will need 2 hours to make the cake, but most of the time is inactive with the cake baking in a low oven.  During those 2 hours you can eat dinner, play games or watch a movie.  When you are ready for dessert, simply add the whipped cream and fresh fruit and eat at once.  

A Pavlova cake is named in honor of a Russian ballerina, with the billowing meringue meant to resemble the tutu skirt worn by a ballerina.  The meringue is so pretty it also reminds me of fresh fallen snow.  The meringue cake is slightly crisp on the surface, soft and marshmallowy on the inside.  Dolloped with whipped cream and fresh fruit for a yummy satisfying sweet treat.  You can use other fruit choices, such as strawberries or blackberries and blueberries.  Once the cake is assembled, it is meant to be eaten right away.  It will not store overnight.  So plan on serving this to a large group.  

Pavlova Meringue Cake
6 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of kosher salt
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Fruit Topping
Whipped Cream

Powdered sugar for dusting

To make the meringue cake:  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper.  Draw an 8-inch circle on the parchment, turn over the parchment so that the circle faces down on the baking sheet.

Working with the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until foamy.  Gradually add in the sugar, beating on medium-high speed for about 10 minutes until firm glossy peaks form.  Whisk in the vinegar, vanilla and pinch of salt.  Remove the bowl from the stand and sift the cornstarch over the whipped egg whites, gently folding it in.

Using a large spoon, scoop out the meringue into the center of the circle onto the prepared baking sheet.  Spread out in swirling fashion, keeping it within the circle.

Place the sheet pan into the oven, immediately lowering the heat to 225 degrees.  Bake for 60 minutes.  The meringue should be crisp on the surface, with the center being just bit a bit softer.  Turn off the oven, prop open the door just a few inches, leaving the meringue in the oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool completely.  The meringue cake can be left at room temperature for a few hours before assembling into the Pavlova.  

Fruit Topping
8 ounces sweet cherries, pitted
6 ounces raspberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon corn starch
1 tablespoon cold water

Combine the fruit and sugar into a small bowl.  After 30-45 minutes, the juices will have run out from the fruit, creating a fruit and juice mixture.  Drain the juices into a small sauce pan, keeping the fruit in the bowl.  In a separate small bowl, combine the corn starch and cold water to make a slurry.  Place the pan with the juice over a low flame on the stove top.  Stir in the slurry a teaspoon at a time to thicken the juice, adding only enough slurry until the juice is slightly thickened.  

Whipped Cream
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Using a hand held mixer or a stand mixer, add the cream to a large bowl.  Begin beating the cream, adding in the sugar.  Beat until soft peaks form.  

To assemble the Pavlova:  Place the meringue cake onto a serving plate.  Spoon the whipped cream into the center of the meringue, swirling decoratively.  Using a slotted spoon, arrange the fruit over the whipped cream.  Drizzle the fruit with the thickened fruit juice.  Dust with powdered sugar.  Serve immediately.  

Sunday, December 24, 2017

ChezCindy: Sweet Treat! Chocolate Bark

Chocolate Bark with Dried Fruit and Nuts

This sweet treat is easy to put together, yet it carries an element of sophistication and fun at the same time.  Making "homemade" chocolate candy treats seems like something only an experienced home cook would do.  But this is as easy as melting chocolate.  For this recipe, I use dried fruit and nuts for my chocolate bark.  But the recipe is versatile, allowing you to switch out the fruit and nuts to match the occasion or your preference.  I have made the bark with crushed graham crackers and mini marshmallows;  swirls of hazelnut chocolate spread and sea salt; chopped pretzels and peanuts; or with swirls of white chocolate and crushed candy canes.

Because I bake so often, I always have various bars of chocolate in by pantry.  In this recipe I use 12 ounces of 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate by Ghirardelli.  For a sweeter chocolate treat, use semi-sweet chocolate or a blend of both.  

A search on "chocolate" on my site will bring you to many favorite recipes, including this one honoring pastry chef Alice Medrich.    My Chocolate Hero

Chocolate Bark with Dried Fruit and Nuts
12 ounces dark chocolate 60% cocoa
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup chopped nuts

Chop the chocolate into small pieces.  Add the chocolate to the top of a double boiler pan, or to a heat-proof bowl set over a pan filled with a small amount of water, being sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.  Place the pan over medium low heat.  Stir the chocolate as it begins to melt, stirring until it becomes fully melted and appears smooth and creamy.  Remove for the heat.

Place a large sheet of parchment paper onto a sheet pan.  Pour the chocolate onto the parchment paper, spreading it thinly to form the shape of a rectangle.  Sprinkle the top of the melted chocolate with the dried cranberries, chopped apricots and chopped nuts.  Set aside for 2 hours until firm.  Cut the bark into pieces.  Store at a cool room temperature.  

Monday, December 11, 2017

ChezCindy: Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Asian chicken lettuce wraps are quite popular as an appetizer at favorite restaurants.  But they are very easy to make at home.  The lettuce wraps are a fun interactive party dish to serve for a few guests or a large crowd, or to your family on any weekday for dinner.  Most people are likely to be familiar with how to put them together. You just set out the lettuce, shredded carrots and cilantro next to the bowl of cooked seasoned chicken, much like you would for tacos.  

Be sure to have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you start cooking.  Once you start cooking, things move fast and it is done within minutes.  So, dice, chop, mince and measure before you turn on the heat.  And speaking of heat, I call for just a half teaspoon of hot chili paste.  Increase or decrease to your preference.    

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps
2 tablespoons oil
1-pound ground chicken
1/2 cup finely diced onion
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup shredded carrot
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sambal hot chili garlic paste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Bibb lettuce for serving.  Grated carrot, thinly sliced cucumber and radish, and cilantro for garnish.  

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add the oil to the pan, swirl to coat.  Add the diced onion to the pan, stirring occasionally, cooking for about 3 minutes.  Add in the minced garlic and the grated carrot, stir to combine, cooking for 2 minutes.  Add in the ground chicken, breaking into small pieces, stirring until lightly browned and cooked through.  Add in the brown sugar, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, chili paste and black pepper.  Stirring to combine until heated through.

Spoon the chicken into the lettuce "cups", garnish with grated carrot, sliced cucumber and cilantro.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

ChezCindy: Classic Potato Latkes

I recently demonstrated how to make latkes at my library cooking class.  What a hit these were!  But then, who doesn't like fried potatoes?  I was not familiar with latkes before I decided to make them and began researching for my theme of  Recipes for Potato Side Dishes.  Once I realized how easy latkes are to make and how delicious they are, I wondered how these savory treats had evaded my palette for so long.

Latkes are potato pancakes traditionally eaten for Hanukkah.  They are fried in oil to commemorate the Hanukkah miracle of one day's oil lasting for eight days.

 Classic Potato Latke
1 pound of russet potatoes, 3 medium sized
     peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, cut into 3 equal pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

3/4 cup vegetable oil

Prepare a sheet tray lining it with paper towels and a wire rack set on top of the paper towels.  This is where the cooked latkes will be placed to cool.

To make the latkes:  Using a food processor* fitted with the grating blade, shred 2/3 of the potatoes, followed by 2/3 of the onion.  Transfer to a large kitchen towel.  Fit the food processor with the chopping blade.  Finely chop the remaining potatoes and onion.  Transfer to the towel with the shredded potatoes and onions.  Gather the towel tightly around the potato mixture and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.   

Transfer the potato mixture to a large bowl.  Add the egg, 2 tablespoons of flour, salt and pepper.  Stir until well blended.  If the mixture seems too wet, add the remaining tablespoon of flour.

In a large cast iron or electric skillet, add enough oil to cover the bottom to 1/4 inch depth.  Heat the oil to 365 degrees.  Drop 1 tablespoon of potato batter into the pan, gently pressing the mound to flatten slightly.  Continue to fill the pan, allowing space between each potato mound.  Cook until the edges turn crisp and brown.  Flip to continue cooking on the second side.  Transfer the latkes to the prepared tray onto the wire rack.  Sprinkle with additional salt.  

Traditionally, latkes are served with applesauce or sour cream but are quite delicious without either.
Serve as an appetizer, or a side dish with your meal.   

*Use a standard box grater if you do not have a food processor.