Mother's Raspberry Spring Thaw

Anyone who knew my mother would agree- nobody was a better home cook with the exception of perhaps her mother. In fact my grandmother and her sister owned a bakery in Detroit many years ago. And when Grandma came to stay with us…oh my…. those pastries after school! And her homemade noodles AND her pie crusts. Melt. In. Your. Mouth.

Years later, after we moved to Florida, my mother found some extra time on her hands and she became totally addicted to cooking classes; it makes me smile when I think of it because she probably should have been giving them not taking them! Anyway, Mother never lost her love of the culinary arts and my sister and I inherited her interest.

Pretty much right in the middle of her cooking class frenzy, this recipe made its initial appearance on our table. I think it was originally called Strawberry Spring Thaw- but Mother made it once with raspberries and loved it so she renamed it. Sometimes it’s such fun to make these really old fashioned desserts- they don't even try to be cutting edge- they stand alone- the best of the best. This is one you can make with a hand tied behind your back ( and a nice strong mixer) in no time at all. And freeze it way ahead of serving.

Raspberries are divine right now so use fresh but you can substitute frozen if you want. You could also use strawberries. If you use raspberries and don’t like the seeds, you could puree and then strain them. I don’t find the seeds bothersome in this recipe so I skip that step. Here's the thing: the crunchy nut topping makes this dessert.. I can’t get enough of it; luckily, it’s a generous amount.

When ready to put in the freezer, I use a springform pan but a rectangular pan would be fine. I’ve always thought it was a super ending for a ladies luncheon ( or Valentine’s Day) but it’s also great fun at 4th of July barbecues… serve it on a pretty white plate and add some blueberries for a pretty red, white and blue effect.

Raspberry Spring Thaw

1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 pints raspberries or one 10 ounce package frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whipping cream, whipped

In a large baking pan stir the melted butter, brown sugar, flour and nuts with a fork. Bake at 400° for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool. After about 10 minutes, crush the pieces with a fork to make a nice crumb consistency.

Beat whites to soft peaks, gradually adding 1 cup sugar. Add berries, lemon juice and vanilla. Beat on high speed until triple in volume. Fold in the whipped cream.

Spread all but 1/2 cup of the crumbs in a pan of your choice, top with raspberry mixture, sprinkle with remaining crumbs and freeze. ( To puree raspberries, process in processor and force through a sieve. If you sieve, use 2 pints fresh raspberries or two 10 ounce frozen packages.)


Good Things Come In Small Packages

Is sea bass one of those fish we're not supposed to eat? It’s confusing. And no wonder. First it was the “in” fish; then environmentalists got the word out about overfishing and sustainability. As a result, many chefs banned it from their menus. Now once again it's on menus everywhere AND in Gourmet magazine where I found this recipe so I'm guessing it’s OK to eat. Right?

I do love fish- any kind – cooked any old way, but I’m always on the lookout for unusual recipes. And I am not much for sauces, especially when I am watching calories. I want something simple, fast, lo-cal and delicious- yet something spectacular enough to serve to company. That’s the trick. Elegant enough for company without appearing like a skimpy diet dinner.

Well, here's a winner. Gourmet’s May 2009 issue has one of their “quick kitchen” recipes called Sake Sea Bass in Parchment. It looked like such a fun presentation and after reading the ingredients I didn’t see how it could go wrong. (Unless someone’s going to tell me I bought illegal fish from Whole Foods- which I greatly doubt.)

Since I found this recipe I've made it again and again. It's addictive. It’s perfect for dinner serving one or two as well as great fun for company. Just add a salad, a veggie and you’re done. Lovely.

Sake Sea Bass In Parchment
(Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, May 2009)

1/2 cup sake
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated peeled ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
6 (6 ounce) pieces skinless sea bass fillet (about 1 inch thick), any bones removed
1/2 cup sliced scallions
6 (12 to 15 inch) squares white parchment paper and kitchen string

Preheat oven to 400°. Put a baking sheet on the bottom rack.
Stir together the sake, soy sauce, ginger and sugar in a bowl.
(If fish fillets are more than 4 inches long, fold the ends under.)
Place a fish fillet in the center of each piece of a parchment square and season very lightly with salt. Working with one fillet at a time, sprinkle each portion of fish with scallions and then spoon some of the sake sauce over the top, holding two corners of the parchment paper to stop liquid from spilling out.
Gather the corners of each piece over the fish to form a pouch, leaving no openings and tie tightly with string.
Repeat with the other portions.
Place on the hot baking sheet and bake until fish is cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cut the string, open carefully and enjoy! Serves 6.


Fun With Granita

Most of us like to end a meal with something sweet. A cake. A tart. Pudding. Ice Cream. But for those of you who are willing to wander into the icy terrain of granitas, you're gonna love this post.
Here's why: you just can’t beat it for a summer treat. It’s Italian. It’s gorgeous. It can be sweet. It can be savory. It can be peppery hot, tart or just about anything in between. Use any fruit as a base – add some sugar and wine or liqueur for flavoring; how about cranberry with vodka? Lemon infused with rosemary? Spoon berry granita into melon halves. Chocolate granita served with cookies. Serve it in your prettiest glasses- martini, margarita, even glass coffee cups, if you have some.

And you can’t beat a savory granita. How about: a spoonful of wasabi granita on top of fresh oysters…. cucumber granita dropped into gazpacho…shrimp cocktail sauce granita served with shrimp. Always so simple to make, anyone can do it- it’s the flavors you decide to combine that make your granita individual.

Here are the basic instructions. They are the same for sweet or savory:

Pour your mixture into a 13"x 9" metal baking pan. Cover with cling wrap and place in a freezer. Freeze until icy around sides, but not solid (about half an hour). Using a fork, stir icy portions into middle of pan. Return to the freezer. Repeat this step, stirring edges into center every 20 to 30 minutes, for about 1 1/2 hours. Using a fork, scrape granita into serving glasses or bowls. Use your choice of garnishes.

Some of my sweet granita favorites:

Coffee Granita: (If you have house guests, leave out the cognac and serve this for a breakfast first course with a spoonful of whipped cream.)

Ingredients: 2 cups warm espresso; ½ cup sugar; 2 tablespoons cognac; 1 teaspoon lemon zest.

Method: Dissolve the sugar in the warm espresso, add remaining ingredients and freeze according to basic instructions. Garnish with a mint leaf and some shaved chocolate.

Chocolate Granita: (For the chocoholic)

Ingredients: 4 cups water, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, 2/3 cup sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use MarieBelle) . Optional: 1 tablespoon amaretto, kahlua or cointreau.

Method: In this recipe, heat the water and stir in the other ingredients until dissolved. Cool first and then freeze using the basic instructions. I like a bit of whipped cream on top of this one.

Blood Orange Granita: (The color divine, the taste ambrosial.)

Ingredients: 3 cups blood orange juice; 1 cup water; 1 cup sugar

Method: Heat the water and dissolve the sugar. Add the blood orange juice, bring to room temperature and freeze according to basic instructions.

Pineapple/Buttermilk Granita: (An unusual but delicious change of pace.)

Ingredients: 2/3 cup sugar; 2 cups buttermilk; 3 tablespoons minced fresh mint; one 8 ounce can crushed pineapple, with juice.

Method: Add sugar to the buttermilk and stir until dissolved. Stir in the mint and pineapple and freeze according to basic instructions. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Savory Tomato Granita: (An ultra chic first course for any summer meal)

Ingredients: 2 pounds ripe tomatoes; 1 teaspoon salt; 1 tablespoon sugar; 1 garlic clove, finely chopped; 1 teaspoon black pepper; 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar; 3 or 4 basil leaves, chopped.

Method: Chop the tomatoes and place in a bowl with all the other ingredients except the basil. Let macerate all day or overnight. Blitz in a blender in batches and then strain through a fine sieve. Add the chopped basil leaves and freeze according to the basic instructions.


A Lovely Slice of Plum Cake

It’s about time for another cookbook recommendation and you’re gonna love this one. Helen over at Tartelette recently mentioned a book called Sweet Seasons by Richard Leach. Because I loved the recipe Tartelette chose for her post ( A Ricotta Cheese Tart in a Strudel Ring... which I am going to make as soon as I can find my pastry rings....) I went directly to Amazon, found the cookbook, bought it used and have been drooling on its pages ever since.

I bet I marked 7 or 8 recipes…. talk about impossible to choose which one to tackle first! But plums are a favorite so I decided to give the Plum Cake with Jasmine Ice Cream a try.

I think the great thing about this cookbook is you can make any part of the whole; Leach’s beautifully presented desserts have many components and the Plum cake was no exception.

Most of us aren’t pastry chefs, so it’s really not necessary to make the entire dessert. Just pick the main part- or any part you can’t resist. I ended up making just the plum cake portion. It turned out beautifully, tasted divine and was as pretty as the photo in the book. Nearly.

This was the first time I had ever used semolina flour in a cake recipe but it definitely makes the cake light and tender with just a bit of heartiness. I found it at Whole Foods Market although I imagine most health food stores would carry it. My regular supermarket, however, did not. And you could skip the making the ice cream if you want and just buy some vanilla. But I have to admit the Jasmine Ice Cream was just the right touch.

So….I picked a winner from Sweet Seasons on my first attempt. (Or more likely, they are all winners.) Hang in there- it looks complicated, but it’s not.

Warm Plum Cake with Jasmine Ice Cream
(Adapted from Sweet Seasons by Richard Leach)

For the Cake

1 cup semolina flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
4 egg whites
1 cup milk
grated zest of 1 orange
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
2 red plums, pitted and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350° and butter and flour a 9” by 3” loaf pan. Mix all the ingredients except the butter and plums in a mixer until blended. Add the butter and plums and pour into the loaf pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown, firm to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean. (It took mine slightly longer than this.)Unmold the cake and allow to cool. When ready to serve, cut into slices and reheat in a 325° oven for a couple minutes.

For the roasted plums:

10 ripe plums
1 ½ cups granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 250°. Cut the plums in half and remove the pits. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread out the sugar. Place the plums, cut side down, on the sugar. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn the plums over and bake an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove the plums, cool slightly and remove the skin. Set aside. ( I left the skin on a couple to use for garnishing the cake.)

For the Plum and Orange Sauce:

5 plums, pitted and cut into eighths
½ cup water
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
zest of ½ an orange

Combine ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Strain, cool and set aside.

For the Jasmine Ice Cream:

4 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup jasmine tea
zest of one orange
12 egg yolks

Place the cream, milk, sugar, tea and orange zest in a pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 20 minutes. Place back on the heat and bring to a boil. Meantime, beat the egg yolks in a bowl . In one motion, pour and whisk the cream mixture into the egg yolks. Strain, chill and then process according to your machine’s instructions.

To Assemble the Dessert:
Place some of the plum and orange sauce on a plate. Top with 2 roasted plum halves and then the warmed slice of plum cake on top of the plums. Cut one of the plum halves in slices for garnish. Serve with a spoonful of the Jasmine Ice Cream.
Serves 8.


Roasted Edamame Salad

Well, once again I am on a get-healthy kick so I’m on the lookout for some new salads. I’ve gotten incredibly bored with my old basic luncheon salads; I have a couple favorites I’ve already posted – but any new ones have to be comparatively simple to make. Who has time to take a couple hours just to make lunch? For one person? It has to be a salad you can make ahead at the very least AND it needs to satisfy the basic foodie in me too. I’ve been trying one after another; yesterday I made Giada’s Israeli Couscous salad. Uh uh. Not for me. Maple syrup in a salad? It looked so good with the almonds, apples and dried cherries and the reviews were excellent. But I thought it perfectly ghastly. Something about the sweetness with the fresh herbs maybe? Even writing about it today makes me cringe a bit.
Soooo…. after weeks of experimenting I decided on one I just know is going to become one of my favorites: Roasted Edamame Salad.
My introduction to edamame was years ago in New York City at a restaurant called Match. They brought a big steaming bowl of perfectly seasoned edamame in their pods and it was such fun to pop them out and nibble. They had some kind of lobster salad I loved too, but I guess not too many other people shared my fondness for Match because it went under ages ago. Now I wish I had asked someone there what seasoning they used on their edamame. With a little begging I may have gotten an answer. Oh well, too late now.
In Boca Raton we have a charming Japanese Museum and Gardens called Morikami. They have a restaurant called Cornell Cafe and steamed edamame is on the menu. The seasoning doesn’t hold a candle to Match, but it’s a charming little cafe just the same. And they serve a killer ice cream dessert called mochi. Traditional daifuku mochi is a Japanese confection made from sweet glutinous rice paste and normally filled with sweet azuki bean paste but in Morikami’s case they serve yukimi daifuku which is mochi filled with ice cream- green tea, chocolate or mango. It’s dusted with something like cornstarch or maybe confectioners sugar. Oddly enough, Tea and Cookies discussed this very thing in a recent post. Well anyway, I hope you’ve tried it, because it’s fantastic. And if you haven’t, it’s worth a search.

Okay, now back to the important stuff: Roasted Edamame Salad. Delicious, chewy and all the colors make for a lovely presentation. It would make a great picnic salad too- it travels well, and is best served at room temperature. On the other hand, I have made it, had it for lunch, refrigerated it and served it for dinner and then again the next day. It was still wonderful. Not many ingredients and amazingly simple to make considering the wonderful flavors that result.

Roasted Edamame Salad(Recipe courtesy Alton Brown)

Ingredients:2 cups edamame (I use frozen, thawed)
4 ears of corn, uncooked, kernels cut off the cob
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 minced garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup diced tomato
1/4 c. fresh basil, minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 400°. Mix first 7 ingredients and place on a baking sheet.  Roast about 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Place in a bowl and cool in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Add the remaining 3 ingredients. Correct seasoning. Serves 2-3, depending on appetites.


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