1.29.2009

Roasted Eggplant Spread

We’re on a countdown to the Super Bowl. The one time you can be a couch potato with impunity. Also, it’s the one event where Americans can eat their favorite foods without guilt. Men take the lead at this party, and their tastes have set the tone for the snacks as well as the entertainment. Would you believe this is the second biggest snack day of the year? Second only to… you guessed it… New Years. There are going to be lots of parties in lots of homes so whether you are having one, going to someone else’s, or just watching the game at home with your family this a big day for food- all kinds. And for your buddies who aren’t into football, the Super Bowl is a great excuse to get together with friends at the end of the very boring month of January. Sometimes it’s fun just watching the half-time show and mega-bucks commercials.

This is definitely a portable food event. A buffet is the only option; nobody wants to be sitting down at a table to eat when they'd rather be screaming at a television set or two. I wanted to catch you before you hit the grocery store and give you a new recipe to try - not one of the heartier snacks like Buffalo wings, pizza or chili - but a dip. Not only is this a really good dip, but (dare I say it?) a healthy one, too. Don’t get me wrong, I like the old standbys: clam dip, spinach dip, crab dip and 7 layer dip. And while I know eating smart and healthy just isn’t in the cards for Super Bowl parties, it might be fun to offer a refreshing new dip that is not only flavorful but healthy too.

Listing those old dips just now brought to mind a funny old TV episode. Do you remember that 1993 Seinfeld show in which George Costanza is confronted at a funeral reception after dipping the same chip twice? We laughed, but honestly, didn’t it make you hesitate just a little the next time you saw a dip at a party? I even put a small spoon in my nut dishes now.

Luckily, my recipe is more a spread than a dip- so if you stick a small cocktail knife in the dish, everyone will spread it on- no double dipping. I like to serve it with some toasted pita triangles. Make it on Saturday- then the flavors will have had time to meld. The men in my family especially like this because it’s spicy and the women like it because it’s basically a veggie, it’s unusual and a snap to make. All you need is a food processor; the only thing that takes a little time is the peeling and cubing- which really takes no time at all. Roasting gives the vegetables tons of flavor and then you just dump it all in the processor. You really need to try this- I kid you not.



Roasted Eggplant Spread
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Ingredients:
2 medium eggplants, peeled
1 red bell pepper, seeded
1 red onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons chopped parsley (save a few sprigs for garnish)

Method:
Preheat oven to 400°.
Cut the eggplant, red bell pepper and onion into 1 inch cubes. Mix the garlic, olive oil, cayenne, salt and pepper and toss with the vegetables. Spread on a non-stick or silpat-lined large baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes. Toss several times while roasting so the vegetables are evenly browned and tender. Cool slightly.



Pour all the vegetables into a food processor, add the lemon juice and tahini and pulse until blended. Add the chopped parsley and blend briefly. Put the eggplant mixture into a pretty bowl, garnish with a sprig of parsley and serve with toasted pita triangles.



1.24.2009

Gingerbread Trifle: Café Maxx

No, no- this is not a post reviewing restaurants, but simply about one particular restaurant. Our favorite. We have been eating here since they opened in the 80’s; Café Maxx has just about the best food in South Florida (and could easily hold its own in New York City); as well, their wine list is extraordinary. In the beginning, we couldn't even get a reservation and actually gave up trying for a while.

The innovative chef/co-owner here is Oliver Saucy and years ago I took a cooking class or two from him when he and his partner Darrel had opened East City Grill directly across from the beach in Ft. Lauderdale. My mother always loved cooking classes and enjoyed lunching afterwards so this was a treat for her; we also loved being entertained by the antics of the beach crowd – let’s face it- this is Elbow Room country. So we went often, with or without cooking classes; such fun. We even made the drive down for dinner off and on. It was a sad day for us when it closed- the hotel where they were located went condo.


Chef Oliver and Darrel Broek also own Café Maxx; I think the official name is Darrel and Oliver’s Café Maxx. It’s located in a strip mall on East Atlantic Blvd. in Pompano Beach. You’d drive right by it if you didn’t have a GPS. (Check out details at http://www.cafemaxx.com/.) They’re open 364 days a year. It’s closed on some off-the-wall day like Labor Day. That also means it’s open Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day (along with the eves). Very busy here all the time but it gets really crowded on those particular days. It makes one wonder if holiday cooking is going out of style but then I remember this is Florida: perpetual vacationland.

Anyway….my daughter and I celebrated New Year’s Eve there this year. Per usual we had a lovely wine, delicious dinner (I’ve got to stop her from ordering rack of lamb every single time.) and, although we couldn't possibly fit in another mouthful, we had a peek at the dessert menu. And there sat Gingerbread Trifle. I couldn’t resist. I knew it wouldn’t be what we expected-they put such an ingenious touch on everything here, so we absolutely HAD to share one.

And I was right: it wasn’t what we expected. Oh, it was trifle all right, but the gingerbread had an unusual flavor and was toasted, there was some sort of spicy black cherry sauce layered in with the pastry cream and some sugared pistachios were sprinkled on top. Absolute ambrosia. Be fun to find out if everyone loved it as much as we did.

For the first time ever I twisted Darrel’s arm and persuaded him to get me the recipe. (I wonder who their pastry chef is? Big talent there because they also have this dense chocolate thing both my sons adore and an almond apple tart tatin to die for.) So- with the ( 3 page!) recipe in hand, I made the trifle at home this week and it was just as good as I remembered- better maybe. I’m going to share this little piece of heaven with you; save the recipe for the holidays next year- I guarantee a smash hit. All ages.

It’s an odd sort of gingerbread batter, so don't be surprised, but it works. I was lucky to get fresh black cherries this week, but if you can’t, you could try the canned- just drain them. While cooking, I was thinking of ways to make this in advance for a busy holiday meal. The cake you could bake and freeze, ditto the black cherry mixture. You could do the pastry cream the day before along with the pistachios. Then toast the gingerbread cubes and put it together before serving. Ready? Here it is:

Gingerbread Trifle
From Café Maxx, Pompano Beach, Florida





Components:Cubed gingerbread- toast before servingVanilla Pastry CreamSpiced Cherry SauceWhipped CreamCandied Pistachios

The Gingerbread:
Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
6 eggs, room temperature
3.6 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
14 ounces melted butter
1 1/2 cups half and half cream, room temperature

Method:
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter two loaf pans and sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs.
Combine the melted butter and half and half. Beat the sugar and eggs until very thick. Add the dry ingredients. Add the butter mixture to the flour. Mix. (It will be a very runny batter.) Bake for about 45 minutes.

The Vanilla Pastry Cream
Ingredients:
3 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 ounces butter, cold, diced
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs, room temperature
2 yolks (save one of the whites for the pistachios)
1/4 cup cornstarch

Method:
In a saucepan, heat the milk and sugar.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks and cornstarch well. Temper the milk into the eggs and return to the heat. Whisk briskly until the mixture has thickened. Quickly, remove from heat and pour into a mixer bowl, using the paddle attachment. Add the diced butter and vanilla and beat until somewhat cool. Put into a container and cover with plastic wrap, making certain the plastic wrap touches the custard top. Refrigerate until ready to use.

The Spiced Cherry Sauce
Ingredients:
1 bag of fresh black cherries
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
1 star anise
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water

Method:
Pit the cherries and put all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.
Cook about 20 minutes. Cool, put into a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.

The Candied Pistachios
Ingredients:
1 egg white
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 to 2 cups pistachios

Method:
Preheat oven to 350°.
Whisk the first three ingredients together, add the nuts and toss. Lay out on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake until you can smell the nuts.
To Assemble the Trifle:
Cut the gingerbread into 1 inch cubes and toast. Layer the pastry cream, spiced cherry sauce and gingerbread in a glass dish. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with pistachios.

1.21.2009

Short Ribs

Brrrrrr. It’s cold. And as a result, I’ve been thinking about making short ribs for dinner tomorrow night. That should warm things up. Rarely have I felt the urge to make a stew-type dish since I moved to Florida, but this is the perfect time to do it. We’re supposed to have really cold weather (well, for us) for several days.

My mother used to make short ribs all the time but never wrote the recipe down, nor did I ask her for it- odd, because I love all her other recipes and still make them often. So I called my sister to see if she had ever written it down; she said no- besides, it turns out she has her own recipe- sweet and sour- which does not tempt me at all.

So I searched my cookbooks, talked to friends, went online and narrowed it down to a few recipes. Have you noticed short ribs are on menus everywhere? Maybe that's where I got the idea. I found them in the glossy food magazines and they’re in just about every cookbook I looked at- even my newest ones. Now that I think about it, my son ordered them a couple weeks ago when we were out for dinner. They seem to have transcended the seasons- they're not just for cold weather any more.

At the end of the day yesterday I was mulling over my pile of short rib recipes, watching the Barefoot Contessa with half an eye when she announced she was making short ribs for 2 friends. Do you believe it? One of my favorite chefs making a dish I was just about to try myself. They looked really good, too. So I printed out the recipe and this morning I went out and bought all the ingredients.

Ina Garten (who is the Barefoot Contessa) baked the short ribs in a hot oven to caramelize them but all the other recipes I found browned them in a pan. I am going to try her way which looks to be easier and much less messy. Another recipe in my pile suggested making them one day, refrigerating them overnight, removing the fat that has solidified on top and reheating them, saying they are better the next day anyway. Which I can easily believe, because most stews are like that. ( I plan to freeze any leftovers tonight.) To avert the too-much-grease problem, Ina suggested trimming the fat off the short ribs before caramelizing them in the oven, then she skimmed the excess fat from the top of the dish at one point.

When they came out of her oven, I could almost smell them they looked so good. I think they would be super with mashed potatoes but Ina, clever girl, served them with a cheesy corn bread that I would have made if company were coming. But this experiment is just for me (and you) and I sure don’t need cornbread! I’d end up eating it all myself. If you want to try it, go online and download her cornbread recipe- it’s called Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread; however for this particular short rib dinner, she left out the jalapeno and the scallion. One thing the cornbread would do is add some color to your plate. I would be a little fussier about my presentation if I had company coming, so forgive me.
P.S. Did I forget to mention how they turned out? Fragrant, tender and full of flavor.

Short Ribs
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

Ingredients:
6 beef short ribs, trimmed of fat
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
4 cups celery, large dice
2 carrots, peeled and large-diced
1 small fennel, trimmed, core removed, large-diced
1 leek, cleaned well and large-diced, white part only
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (750 ml) bottle burgundy (which I used) or other dry red wine
Fresh rosemary sprigs
Fresh thyme sprigs
6 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Method:
Preheat your oven to 400°.
Place the short ribs in a pan lined with foil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 15 minutes. Remove and reset oven to 300°.
Heat the olive oil in a large oven proof pot and add the onion, celery, carrots, fennel and leek and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring once in a while. Add the minced garlic and cook for another couple minutes. Pour the wine over the vegetables and bringing to a boil, cook them until the liquid is reduced by half- about 10 minutes, although it was a little less when I did it. Add 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Tie the rosemary and thyme together and put it in the pot.
Take the roasted short ribs, place them on top of the vegetables. add the beef stock and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Cover and bake in the oven for 2-3 hours or until the meat is very tender. (It took me 2 hours and 45 minutes.)
Remove the ribs (be careful, they will easily fall apart) and put them on a plate. Remove the herbs and skim any excess fat from the top. Cook over medium heat about 20 more minutes to reduce the liquid. Put the ribs back in and reheat.
Serve with cornbread or the old fashioned way, with potatoes.
Serves 3.

1.15.2009

More Soup

I seem to be all hung up on hot soups right now. Probably the bone cold weather we’re all having. Yes, I live in Florida, but it’s plenty cold here right now too- things are relative. Our 50° is the north’s 20°. Although anything relative to the north’s minus 40° probably will never happen in Florida. But we did get cold enough for snow in the mid 70’s; really- I was there- I was driving the kids to school. Still, our homes just aren’t as well insulated as the northern homes are- the cold sort of oozes in around windows and doors.


My son and his family in Michigan are right in the middle of this wretched weather, although for some odd reason, he never complains to me about it- neither does my daughter who lives in New York City. I do know my son would love to move to Florida if he could do the following: 1. Sell his home and 2. Find a job down here. If these two things happened (unlikely in Michigan’s economy- well, in everyone’s economy right now.) he would be down here in a flash. I also know his daughter would like to graduate with her high school class in Clarkston and that will happen in 2010 so it’s coming fast. When his friends express surprise at his wish, they forget he was raised here from the time he was 9, so it seems like home to him. And his brother is living down here too.


Michiganders (and the far north in general) turn out some of the best soup-makers around. When I lived there, I had an enormous repertoire of hot soups and my sister, who lives there still, has homemade soup nearly every day for lunch. I am still watching my weight after my splurges over the holidays so I have been searching for low cal, healthy soup recipes.


Several months ago I was watching Nigella Lawson on some channel or other and she threw together a soup that looked delicious, comforting and low cal. I printed it out but have not had the chance to try it until this week. I had a couple lunch guests coming for a meeting and decided to try it; we only wanted a light meal so I thought this would be perfect. The point of the recipe is to use whatever you happen to have in your refrigerator; of course, Nigella just “happened” to have Udon noodles ( I found them in our Whole Foods store.) and also had bok choy, ginger, bean sprouts and mushrooms handy. I don’t keep those items on a regular basis so had to make a trip to the store; but I think her point was you could substitute other noodles for the udon noodles, or regular mushrooms for shiitake- just use what you have. Nigella can turn even soup-making into a sexy event- cooking while in her bathrobe and giving a sly wink and grin when she takes a mouthful.
If you get a "snow day" perhaps you could give this soup a try. Hopefully you will have some of the ingredients in your pantry; if not, improvise! It's the flavor of the broth that counts so stock some star anise and ginger.
It barely takes any time at all to make this soup and the star anise gives it a slight licorice flavor; you certainly can omit it if you like, but I find it an unusual and delicious addition. I served it along with some toasted whole wheat pita pieces sprinkled with sesame seeds. The entire lunch had an Asian flair. Everyone smacked their lips in delight and asked immediately for the recipe.



Udon Noodle Soup
Adapted from Nigella Lawson, Nigella Express






Ingredients:
6 ounces udon noodles (dried, from a packet)
3 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 star anise
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3/4 cup bean sprouts
3/4 cup sugar snaps (zucchini or any fast cooking vegetable you happen to have)
3/4 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 heads baby bok choy, finely sliced
2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro leaves (optional)


Method:
Place the stock, brown sugar, star anise, ginger and soy sauce in a saucepan. When the soup comes to a boil, add the noodles. Once these are nearly done (read the noodle package for instructions- udon noodles take about 4 minutes)) add the bean sprouts, mushrooms, sugar snaps and bok choy. These vegetables will be done in 3 minutes. Pour the soup into two bowls and top with cilantro, if desired.

1.12.2009

Prince

My daughter has a cat that is borderline certifiable. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do. It’s not that he’s unfriendly, just that he marches to his own drummer- and not the way most cats do. When she puts makeup on, he climbs a corner wall nearby, hangs there precariously and watches her. When she goes to the loo, he goes to the loo. Once, when taken for a meet and greet with a man who accepts cats for temporary boarding, ( for, among others, Dan Ackroyd,) she was told her cat “ does not play well with others”. After watching Tracy taking a bubble bath for a while, he decided it looked interesting, decided to join her and leapt in. (It was never repeated.) When she has to go out of town, he sits in her suitcase so she can’t pack. When she comes back, he's excited when she walks in, then suddenly remembers he's supposed to be mad at her and proceeds to snub her the rest of the day. In other words, he thinks he’s human.

When my kids were younger, we had several cats at different times so I am familiar with the ways of felines. Trust me, this one is different. He never used to be but one day last year Tracy took him to a fancy grooming service. When she went to pick him up, they had shaved him. He was almost embarrassed about it. And never has been the same since as far as I am concerned.

Her cat’s name is Prince. Not because he is one, or ever was, because I know for a fact he came from a back alley someplace- no breeding at all. But Tracy adores Prince, the singer, (who actually calls himself “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince” for some reason unknown to me) and so she named her cat after him. I doubt he would be pleased to hear it.

Just after Christmas, we were window shopping in Palm Beach and saw a funky cat doormat outlined in red in Barzina, one of our favorite shops. Gretchen, the owner, travels the world looking for fascinating things to stock her small shop; turns out the doormat is from Vietnam and she carries them in four different animal shapes. They are unusual, inexpensive and funny so we bought one for my daughter’s front door. There is a slight opening under her door and Prince is forever pushing his toys under the door and out into the hall. We thought the doormat would bring a smile to the faces of company as well as prevent the cat’s toys from shooting down the hall outside her apartment door. True to his personality, Prince took one gander at the mat, pounced on it and declared it was his personal possession. And so, no surprise, the mat remains inside the apartment, which was not quite the point; now it has to be moved aside to exit the apartment and the cat’s toys are still ending up in the hallway.
When Tracy’s away, Stu, a very kind neighbor who loves Prince
( he has many fans just like the real Prince), comes over twice a day, feeds and plays with him and in general gets him stoned on catnip. I guess this is comfort food for him. When he doesn’t have Tracy, at least he has Stu and catnip. Dontcha wish comfort was that easy for the rest of us?

All of which got me to thinking about what gives me comfort. Do we all crave special foods which make us feel better or safer or comfy from time to time? When we're worried, ill or far from home we all want the equivalent of Mother or a favorite blanket. For me it’s always things like puddings, custards or warm soup. For others, it’s mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, ice cream, and even chocolate.

I have recipes from my childhood for all my favorite comfort foods, but if I have to pick one, especially if I feel really wretched and need something quickly, it’s Mother’s egg drop soup. It can’t be simpler to make and you probably have the makings in your kitchen right now. Or if you don't you should have. It’s rather pathetic to fall back on clichéd chicken soup, but it’s the truth. Luckier still would be if you had homemade chicken broth in the freezer. We always did. My grandmother made it with (brace yourself) chicken feet. I told that story to someone years ago and have been razzed about it ever since. I thought of her the other day when I saw a package of them in the grocery store. I wonder how many people look at them and say Ewwwww! I mean they do look like little hands. But they make super tasty stock and are worth the extra effort. If you can find them in your market and you’re game to try them, just make certain they are well cleaned to begin with, then boil them briefly, drain them, cut off the claw tips and throw them in with your chicken parts.
So to begin with, here’s my basic chicken stock recipe-it’s really, really good and makes 6 quarts.

Homemade Chicken Broth

Ingredients:5 pounds assorted chicken feet, bones, necks and wings
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 celery ribs with leaves, roughly chopped
3 carrots with tops, roughly chopped
2 leeks, green parts only
15 sprigs fresh parsley
10 sprigs fresh thyme
8 sprigs fresh rosemary
8 sprigs fresh dill
2 bay leaves
15 peppercorns
6 sprigs parsley
1 large clove garlic, unpeeled, cut in half crosswise

Method:
Rinse feet and bones in cold water. Place remaining ingredients in a large stock pot, add bones and cover with cold water. (About 7 quarts or so) Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer for 3 1/2 hours. Strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander, pressing down on the bones and discard the solids. Chill the stock overnight. The next day, remove the surface fat. Pour into individual containers and freeze or use immediately. Do not refrigerate for more than 1 day.


( And hey! Nobody’s going to tell on you if you use canned chicken broth. It’s just not as good- and be sure to buy the low sodium. )

So now when you have a rainy day, are snowed in, feel lonely, have a cold, have the flu, need comfort food, or just plain love quick hot soups, here is Mother’s recipe for egg drop soup. It will only take a couple sentences and while my diet is not something I usually think of when in need of comfort, this one is only 81 calories a serving. Perfect.



Mother's Egg Drop Soup

Ingredients:
4 cups chicken broth or stock
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 a green onion, minced (optional)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Method:
Bring the 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil. Add the white pepper and green onions. Cook for about another minute.Very slowly pour in the eggs in a steady stream. To make shreds, stir the egg rapidly in a clockwise direction for one minute. To make thin streams or ribbons, gently stir the eggs in a clockwise direction until they form.
Sometimes, as a change of pace, you can add some flour to the beaten eggs to make a paste and then drop into the boiling broth and make tiny little dumplings.




1.05.2009

Ina's Fruit Salad

I'm a pretty faithful Food Network watcher- mostly Ina Garten and Giada De Laurentiis. Ina is a classy woman with classy recipes and Giada is a young, innovative Italian chef. I use and adapt their recipes on a regular basis.

Some of the other shows have me puzzled. I mean who would really use a recipe Guy Fieri makes? I watched him once and that was it for me. Whatever he was making was colorless and the ingredients were spicy hot. Nothing wrong with spicy, but a grey blob on the plate? I think food should look good as well as taste good. I like color on a plate. Maybe it's an age thing but I would hate to think so- Giada is young too and I love her ideas. Perhaps Mr. Fieri has the personality the cooking public wants to watch. I think I read someplace he was a Food Network Star winner; I have never watched that show but I wonder what the judges' criteria for the winner is?

I want recipes that fit my life. That I can serve my friends and family with confidence. I have cookbooks I depend upon too, plus recipes from friends and family.

Maida Heatter is, as far as I am concerned, the all-time greatest dessert chef. All her recipes are easy to follow- some are complicated, some are quick and easy. All are thoroughly researched, tested and explained in minute detail. You cannot mess up even the most involved Maida Heatter recipe if you follow her exact directions. I have every one of her books and use them constantly. She and her husband actually had a restaurant in Miami Beach many years ago and her father was Gabriel Heatter, the famous broadcast newsman. What a fascinating life she has led; wouldn't you love to have her as a dinner partner?

Various Junior League cookbooks are chock full of good ideas too; some are better than others but I have listed a few of my favorites opposite this column.

My mother had a fabulous cookbook collection which I went slowly through book by book. I don't think my children have the time nor the inclination to go through any huge collection of mine so I have really pared down my cookbook collection by entering all of my favorite recipes from old cookbooks (and all of my mother's favorite recipes) on my computer. In fact, I have a pile of recipes I have cut out, printed out or heard about sitting right on top of my printer, waiting to be tested. There are some super food programs out there and most are simple to use. Now I try a new recipe and if we like it, I enter it immediately into my food program. I just don't have the space for all those cookbooks anyway- and if you can't find an old recipe, type it into Google. It's amazing what you will turn up.

Back to Ina: I was watching one of her shows before Christmas and she made a fruit salad with Limoncello and served it with a luscious sauce. I perked up because we love fruit salads but there are just so many things you can do with fresh fruit. My answer, up until now, has been this: years ago I came across a recipe in the newspaper for something called Coconut Curd. I tried it the next day and began serving it with my fruit salads. It perks up the mundane fruit salad and nobody can figure out what it is which is fun. It might also be fun to combine the two followiing recipes in various ways and make it your own.

Coconut Curd

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
3 1/2 ounces grated coconut
1/2 teaspoon vanilla


Method:
Sprinkle gelatin over cold water for 15 minutes. Stir over hot water until dissolved. Heat milk, cream and sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add coconut, gelatin and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Stir until gelatin is dissolved.
Pour into square cake pan that has been rinsed with cold water, but not dried. Refrigerate. When set, run knife around the edge of the pan, dip the pan in hot water for 30 seconds, and invert a plate over it. Either cut into small squares and serve in fruit salad or cut into diamond shape and serve with tinned litchis or mandarin oranges, both drained.

******************************************

I keep wandering off the subject of this post: Ina Garten. She made a heavenly salad with Limoncello on her Food Network program. Just the normal fruits one would use to which the Limoncello adds some zest; but the topper is the sauce she makes to go over the fruit. It's ambrosia. I served it Christmas morning with our brunch. I promise you, it will be on my menu every brunch I serve.



Fruit Salad with Limoncello
Adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa

Ingredients:
7 ounces Greek yogurt (recommended: Fage Total)
1/3 cup good quality bottled lemon curd
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups sliced strawberries ( 1 pint)
1 cup blueberries ( 1/2 pint)
1 cup raspberries (1/2 pint)
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoon Limencello liqueur
1 banana, sliced
Fresh mint sprigs

Method:
For the lemon yogurt topping: stir together the yogurt, lemon curd, honey and vanilla until smooth. Set aside. You can leave it at room temperature, or make it ahead and refrigerate; but bring it to room temperature before serving.
Carefully toss the strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, sugar and Limencello. Allow to stand at room temperature for at least 5 minutes. Fold in the banana just before serving.
I serve it in pretty glass bowls with some lemon yogurt on top; put the sauce on the table as well as everyone always wants more. Garnish with fresh mint sprig.

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