Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cheesecake Bites-Nutty Nirvana Nuggets

This is one of those recipes that is all tattered and spotted with chocolate and caramel.  One that gets tucked into a cookbook for months and then you stumble across it and remember how easy and delicious it is. I don't remember who gave me this recipe, but I thank them silently every time I make these.  Today  I was organizing my cookbooks and this recipe fell out of one of my books, just begging to be baked .  A simple cookie crust, a nutty pecan and caramel layer then topped with a cheesecake batter. Bake it and glaze it.  It takes more time to line the pans !  And half the fun of applying the glaze is all the chocolate you get to lick off your spatula and fingers when the dipping is finished. Serve this and your friends and family will think you slaved for hours in the kitchen.  It's not that you are trying to fool them -really you aren't , but you will take your little bows and graciously acknowledge yes thank you -yes they are delicious and addictive.  

Wouldn't it be nice if life were so easy to deal with.  Maybe if we all made something delicious for our neighbor or someone at work, or a stranger on  the street it would bring a smile to their face and they would do something sweet for the next person, more smiles, more paying it forward-a nicer sweeter world.  I can dream can't I?  Make a batch of these and share with someone who doesn't expect it, and then watch the smile on their face.  Bon Appetit my sweets.

Chocolate Caramel Pecan Cheesecake Bites
Makes 24-36 depending on how small you slice them

1 1/4 cups finely crushed chocolate cookie crumbs
1/4 cup unsalted butter-melted

20 caramels, unwrapped
1/4 cup heavy creme
1/3 cup toasted chopped pecans
8 oz softened creme cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg-room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sour cream

Chocolate Glaze
2 cups of your favorite chocolate chips or chopped chocolate-I used bittersweet because it's my favorite
1/4 cup of unsalted butter

Heat oven to 350°F. Line 8-inch square baking pan with double thickness of aluminum foil, extending foil over ends of pan. Spray foil with no-stick cooking spray. Combine all crust ingredients in small bowl. Press onto bottom of prepared pan.

Combine caramels and creme in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) 1 minute; stir. Continue microwaving 30 seconds; stir until smooth. Pour over crust in pan. Sprinkle with pecans. Refrigerate while preparing cream cheese mixture.

Combine cream cheese and sugar in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Add egg and vanilla, beating just until combined. Stir in sour cream. Pour over caramel mixture.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until just set 2 inches from edge of pan. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Loosely cover; refrigerate at least 4 hours. Lift cheesecake from pan using foil ends. Cut into 36 squares.

Place cooling rack over large piece of waxed paper on counter. Combine chocolate chips and shortening in 1-quart saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth (4 to 5 minutes). Pierce each cheesecake square with fork. Spoon chocolate over top and sides of each cheesecake square, letting excess chocolate drip back into pan. Place onto cooling rack. Let stand about 20 minutes or until chocolate is firm. Store refrigerated.

PS. Voting for Project Food Blog Round 2 ends September 30th at 6:00PM PST, vote here, please !

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Project Food Blog- Challenge # 2 Comfort Zones and Inspiration

For Project Food Blog Challenge 2 my recipe for this post is : take inspiration from a group of cooks in Africa, add the passion of an extraordinary photographer, mix in a touch of research , stir with laughter from a sweet Ethiopian Grandmother, add a pinch of serendipity and a large cup of willingness to try new things and ta da ..a delicious bowl of Doro Wat.

But first a few words : CONGRATULATIONS to my fellow bloggers who have advanced to this round ! I am so excited I've just been bursting with joy and sharing my good fortune with anyone who will listen ! Thanks to my readers,friends and family who always support me.

And now back to Round 2-Stepping out of our comfort zones . The official challenge prompt is : Ready to tackle a classic dish from another culture? Pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or are not as familiar with. You should include how you arrived at this decision in your post. Do your research then try to pull off successfully creating this challenge. Try to keep the dish as authentic as the real deal, and document your experience through a compelling post.

When I first read this challenge I knew exactly what cuisine I was going to tackle out of my comfort zone. African cuisine-why ? A couple of weeks ago I read Appetite, the blog by the fabulous photographer Penny De Los Santos. Specifically, the posting and photos of African women and the street stalls of Bamako, West Africa. Looking at that blog and reading about the time it took to prepare a beautiful meal,  all I could think of was how much I wanted to be there cooking along side them and learning how they do what they do,tasting and seasoning slowly over the entire afternoon. What little I learned of life in that village, was that it's not an easy life, but you could feel and see the love and joy that went into the cooking by those women. And that is what inspired me.  Thank you to Penny De Los Santos for her extraordinary talent and the passion that can be seen and felt in her work- an inspiration for the rest of us.

So I headed to the Internet and found the web site The Congo Cookbook-African Recipes . What caught my attention immediately was the Doro Wat, one of the best known dishes in African cuisine. It's a spicy chicken dish made with seasonings unique to African cuisine. When I read the ingredients and Googled images of the dish I knew it was going to be my dish for this post. The ingredients unique to this dish were not going to be found at my local Metropolitan Market !  Berbere-a spicy pepper mixture; Niter Kibbeh, a spicy clarified butter, and the African version of flat bread-Enjera. So I started searching for Ethiopian grocery stores in Seattle. Here I am more than half way around the world from the center of that culture and guess what ? There is a large Ethiopian Community in Seattle . And guess what else ? There are several fantastic Ethiopian grocery stores within 20 miles of where I live ! I picked Zuma, mainly because of all of the write ups about the store and cafe.

The Niter Kibbeh, spicy clarified butter, is the yellow container in the forefront

Saturday morning , armed with the address,  I headed out in search of Zuma and the ingredients I needed to complete this challenge. When I pulled up to the address, I knew it was going to be an adventure. The storefront was a pale washed out yellow building with a door missing the screen but a nice little sign that said "Ethiopian Ingredients and Gifts". It looked like what I imagine I would find wandering the streets of a village in Africa. I was about 10 feet from the front door and the smells hit me-exotic spiciness with a hint of curry or cardamom -or something I just couldn't put a name to. A slight acridness,vinegary-not unpleasant when mixed with the other aromas that were coming out of the store.
Inside I found 2 little tables with small menus for the cafe and behind the counter a woman dressed in a lapis blue dress with a matching wrap around her head. She didn't hear me at first, she was watching something televised from Africa on her laptop behind the counter. Sitting on her lap was a little boy with bright brown eyes and a smile that made you just want to hug him forever. He spotted me first but didn't say anything as I searched the few shelves inside for the ingredients I needed. Challenge #1, other than the soda in the cooler all, the rest of the ingredients and supplies were labeled in Ethiopian. I walked over to the counter to ask the woman, who turned out to be the little boy's grandmother, where I could find Berbere, Niter Kibbeh and Enjera. She smiled at me and I knew immediately she didn't speak English. I pointed to my list of ingredients hoping they translated to the same in Ethiopian. She kept smiling and talking to me in Ethiopian, so smiling back at her I tried the little boy.  His name was Matias and he was 5years old. Challenge #2, explaining to a 5 year old what I was trying to make and what I was looking for. He didn't understand my explanation of Doro Wat but he knew where the Niter Kibbeh was. I grabbed a container of that and in the meantime his lovely grandmother was calling her daughter on the phone. She  passed the phone to me after what I guessed to be a description of what was going on inside the store with her,me and Matias ! The woman on the other end of the phone described the burnt red color of the Berbere and where it could be found-success #2,right on the shelf in front of me ! After asking her about the Enjera and discussing what the price of everything would be, I was directed to pass the phone back to her mother. Matias's grandmother went into the kitchen where another Ethiopian woman was cooking and came out with what I knew was the Enjera ( thankfully I had Googled that image too ! ) She wrote down my total so I could understand it and then challenge #3-while she knew how much to charge me, she wasn't so sure about returning correct change. We laughed a lot. Matias showed us he could count and I got my right change, all of my ingredients and a wonderful experience . I walked out of the store knowing that when it was time to cook Ethiopian again, I would head right back to Zuma.

Enjera, or Injera, a fermented flat bread made with Teff Flour

If you follow my posts, you know I'm big on Serendipity and the belief that with every action there is a reason and lesson to be learned. I'm grateful for this challenge.   It's opened my eyes up to a cuisine I knew very little about and still have lots to learn. It also gave me that little moment in time with Matias and his grandmother that I never would have experienced but for this challenge.

I encourage  you to  try this recipe  if you can find the ingredients.  If you can't find the ingredients head over to Serious Eats for a recipe for Niter kibbeh ; and to Whats4Eats for a Berbere spice recipe , and for Enjera stop by Food.com .Bon Appetit or as they say in Africa,  Smaaklike ete ! Lekker eet !

Doro Watt

Juice of one lemon
2 teaspoons salt
1 chicken (about 3 pounds), cleaned and cut into serving-size pieces
2 (or more) onions, finely chopped
4 tablespoons niter kebbeh (or butter)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced
1 piece fresh ginger root -- cleaned, scraped, and chopped (about a teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon berberé -- or -- 1 - 2 tablespoons of a combination of cayenne pepper and paprika (if berberé and niter kebbeh are not used)
1 small tomato, chopped or a few tablespoons tomato paste or tomato sauce (optional)
1 cup chicken stock, water, or dry red wine

Note: The addition of wine and tomatoes are not traditional Ethiopian additions but have become common to this dish.

In a glass bowl, combine the lemon juice , half the salt, and chicken pieces. Let chicken marinate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Cook the onions over medium heat for a few minutes in a dry (no oil) pot or dutch oven large enough to eventually hold all of the ingredients. Stir constantly to prevent them from browning or burning; reduce heat or remove the pot from the heat if necessary.

Add the niter kebbeh or butter to the onions, along with the garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cardamom, nutmeg, remaining salt, berberé (or cayenne pepper and paprika), and tomato. Stir and simmer for a few minutes. The onions should be soft, tender, and translucent, but not browned.

Add the chicken stock, water, or dry red wine. Bring the mixture to a low boil while stirring gently. Cook for a few minutes, then reduce heat.

Add the chicken pieces, making sure to cover them with the sauce. Cover and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes — or until the chicken is done — turning the chicken a few times.

After the chicken has been cooking for 20 minutes, gently add the hard-boiled eggs and ladle sauce over them.

Serve hot. The only traditional way to serve doro wat is with a spongy flat bread called injera, which can only be properly made with difficult-to-obtain teff flour. And by the way , Zuma does carry teff flour, but in bags too large for my personal use !

Closeup of Enjera-it's so pretty !

And to end this challenge, my family and I just finished the Doro Wat and Enjera, needless to say I have turned my whole family into lovers of Ethiopian Cuisine !  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pecan Pie Bars - Little Pieces of Pecanlusciousness !

If you want to walk into a dinner party and walk out at the end with everyone asking for your recipe-then bake these and take them to your next party !  They are so easy to make and so very very good to eat-people will be talking about them for days and emailing you for the recipe for weeks.   It's like when you are wearing your favorite little black dress-simple sweet classic and you want to just add a little pizazz, not too much just a little-so you wear your little red stilettos or maybe you just wrap that little red cashmere scarf around your neck.. Simple but wow the effect it will have-just like these-people don't ohh and ahh over the presentation and thank you for slaving for hours over them but I promise you after the first bite all you will hear is omg these are crazy incredible.  And no leftovers-seriously at a dinner party of about 16 people, I made a tray 12x17" of these -and they weren't the only dessert,but they were the only dessert that disappeared  by the end of the evening !   They are like little miniature pecan pie bites and if you love pecan pie you will go nuts (ha ha) over these.  Again hats off to Rebecca Rather THE PASTRY QUEEN I found this in her Royally Good Recipes From the Texas Hill Country's Rather Sweet Bakery.  You can find the original recipe here or follow my adaptation below.

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely ground pecans

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 12x17 inch baking pan with butter or cooking spray.  In a mixer with the paddle attachment,beat the butter on medium speed about 1 minute.  Add the sugar and beat for about 1 minute until fluffy.   Add the flour and salt while mixing on low speed until evenly incorporated but still crumbly.  Tear off small pieces of the mixture and scatter them over the baking pan -sprinkle the finely ground pecans over this and then press the mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes until it reaches a dark golden brown color. Remove from the oven but leave the oven on at 350F

8 large eggs
6 cups firmly packed golden brown sugar
1/4 cup bourbon (optional but I highly recommend you add it )
6 tablespoons unsalted butter-melted
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
2 cups pecan halves

Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl or mixing bowl until blended.  Stir in the bourbon, butter,vanilla,flour and salt. Stir in the coconut and pecans.  Pour the filling over the crust spreading it evenly-don't worry it will come up to the very rim of the baking pan.  Bake until set, 25-30 minutes-just watch it carefully -it's easy to go from golden to burned !  Cool thoroughly-and I mean thoroughly unless you want a sticky mess on your hands while trying to cut it.  Take the dog for a walk and let it cool down at least 30 minutes-an hour is even better.  Cut into 3 inch diamonds or squares.  I kept one out for myself just to see how it fared in storage and after a week wrapped in plastic wrap in the frig it was still delicious ! Chef Rather recommends freezing them for up to 3 weeks.  Bon Appetit ! 

PS.  To CM- hope you are enjoying the cookbook ! I'm going to try the Bourbon Pumpkin Tart with Streusel Topping for Thanksgiving !

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ripe Tomato and Apple with Rosemary Jam

This last week I have been pre-occupied with recovering from an accident-non injury , thank goodness.  It's disconcerting the effect something like that can have on your life.  You are just driving along,mentally checking off your to do list on the way home from work and you see that car coming up behind you very very quickly and in that split second you know you are going to get hit and there is no where to go and nothing to do but brace yourself.   I don't know what is worse-seeing it coming or not seeing it coming.  Hope I don't have to think of it again.  But anyway I've been dealing with insurance adjusters,claims adjusters,damage estimators, how about someone to estimate the precious time I have lost getting estimates.  Yes I know it could have been worse,neither one of us were injured, both cars were drivable and we both had insurance.  So yes I am grateful for the little things ! Why does it have to take an accident to jar you back into reality and to make you realize you really have to cherish each little moment because you never know when that moment is going to be taken away from you.
 When I got home after crying a little, and leaving a message for J on his voicemail (he was hiking in Yellowstone) the first thing I did was head for the kitchen-it's my relief for everything that can go wrong in life.  In my little kitchen I find comfort, I find joy and I find that peace that had been taken away for a brief moment.  And in this instance I had a basketful of tomatoes , not quite enough to make a good supply of marinara sauce but a good enough supply to try out a new tomato jam recipe.. Remember I told you about Christine Ferber and the book Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber ?  I made the vanilla fig jam last week.  Today I decided on the Tomato Jam with Apple and Rosemary.  It is just too delicious for words.  I was eating it from the jar as soon as it cooled and now I can't wait to make that perfect poached egg and have a side of the tomato jam with some toasted bread.  If you have an abundance of tomatoes try this jam-the sugar adds just the right amount of sweetness without overpowering the taste of freshly harvested organic tomatoes and the rosemary adds that earthy taste that makes you feel like you are just biting into a freshly picked tomato from the garden.  Bon Appetit.

Ripe Tomato and Apple with Rosemary Jam
adapted from Christine Ferber
3 pounds ripe grape tomatoes
1 1/2 pounds apples
3 3/4 cups sugar
Juice of 1 small lemon
10 small sprigs of rosemary ( approximately 4-5 leaves per sprig)

Slice the tomatoes in half. The original recipe calls for blanching the tomatoes,removing the skin and seeds but those are my favorite parts so I skipped the blanching and skin and seed removal .  Peel the apples, cut them in half, core them and slice them thinly.

In your preserving pan combine the tomatoes,slice apples,sugar, lemon juice and the rosemary.  Bring to a boil. Then remove from heat, cover with parchment paper and refrigerate overnight.
The next day strain the mixture and take the syrup only and bring it to a boil,skimming the foam.  When the syrup reaches 221F on candy thermometer then add the tomato mixture back into the syrup and bring back to a boil  Bring to a boil on high heat,skimming and boil for about 5-10 minutes, stirring gently until it feels thickened. Check for the jam set, and when ready put into the sterilized jars immediately and process in your boiling water bath according to canning guidelines.

 I couldn't wait to taste this on some toasted bread-it is fantastic.  It makes me wish I had a little Bed & Breakfast so that I might surprise my guests with this !

And while I have your attention, stop by Foodbuzz and vote for me in the Project Food Blog contest.  Click here and when you get to my profile click on the little grey heart above my photo to vote for me !

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Project Food Blog- Challenge #1 Because it's there !

Baby I love to Bake and Blog !

So I've entered this contest with some trepidation. I'm not a competing type of person- I like to do challenges to test myself-to stretch myself-to make myself do something I normally wouldn't do and most of all to learn. So why have I entered this competition ? Because it's there -that's it, that's all. Yes I would love to win and will throw my heart and soul into doing just that-because after all it's 10,000 $ and who couldn't use that type of money these days. But throwing my heart and soul into things is just the way I am-ask any of my friends or loved ones . When I take on something I don't do it half way-yes it's the type A overachieving spirit in me but it's also my philosophy about life in general. You only truly go around once and you better make it fabulous the first time around because there are no do overs. Is each day 100+ percent, no it's not, some days are -100%, but that's normal. In my heart and with each day I strive for enjoying each moment to the hilt-whether it's picking tomatoes just before sunset or rushing to put the last of the cinnamon rolls in the oven as surprise for co-workers. I want to love life fully and I want that to show in everything I do. And that's why I think I should win-I think my blog and my sharing that zest and love for life is evident in my baking. And make no mistake-I am primarily a crazy baking blogger-my blog is mostly about sweet things-after all I am in search of sweetness ! I grew up in a dysfunctional household (didn't most of us ! ) and the most peaceful joyous times I remember were cooking and baking along side my grandmother, my mother and her sisters. Learning how to wrap aluminum foil around close pins so that my Aunt Helen could make her perfect little ladyfingers; my mom teaching me how to turn the city chicken as it fried in the pan so that it was perfectly brown on all sides; watching my grandmother roll her halupki rolls so plump and full and folded perfectly while mine were bulging at the seams; and the Holidays-baking my first nut roll and having it come out perfectly browned, and moist and sweet,cutting cold dough cakes with the pastry wheel for my mom into perfect little squares and watching how effortlessly she scooped just the right amount of filling onto them and folded them so gently -like putting babies in their blankets. I could go on and on but I won't because I have years of stories to tell-you'll just have to visit me at my blog to hear them.
I love to write and share my baking and cooking and eating adventures with friends-and that is how I think of this blog-my front porch for my friends. They stop by , have a cup of coffee and listen and share in my day. Whether I've just made some custard filled Canelles, or a steaming batch of halupki-I try to tantalize them with my pictures and share my life with them through my writing.

Really I do want to win,but whether I do or not it's okay because I'll continue to blog from heart as long as someone is listening.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fig Jam with Vanilla ala Christine Ferber

Is it really the end of summer ? That's what a great number of food bloggers keep writing. It does feel like fall here in Seattle. The mornings start out grey and damp and when I look out the window I see grey skies, dark green foliage and everything else seems to either be some shade of brown or some shade of green. But then by noon the sun comes out and colors my world. Why didn't I see the deep purple of the lavender still in bloom or the hot pink of the last of the geraniums and look at the bright orange pepper in the garden. Is it because the skies are grey that I expect everything to be grey ? Hmm have to work on that view of my world. The days are still warm and sunny and the air is cool and crisp-I love this time of year and I love to bake at this time of the year. I do have a huge conflict though -this little battle wages -go out into the sunshine, work in the garden, walk the dog or just sit out on the deck with a good cup of espresso and finish that book.. While the other little voice beckons with thoughts of freshly baked bread or chocolate fudge brownies or a simple brown butter pound cake with a side of ...oh yes a side of fig jam with vanilla.

The same fig jam that is begging to be made and put up, so that sometime during the real grey of a Seattle winter I can pull it out and eat it by the spoonful fondly remembering today's sunshine and blue skies and the cool breeze blowing gently through my hair.

I found this recipe in Christine Ferber'sMes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber. A beautifully written cookbook with exquisite photography. Christine Ferber is known internationally for her jams and jellies. Just browse through the recipes in the cookbook, Apple jelly with Rose Petals;Raspberry and Litchi with Rose Water; Wild Blueberry with Pinot Noir and Licorice; Apple with Caramel; My Grandmother's Pear Jam with Vanilla, Pine Nuts and Walnuts; Ripe Tomato and Apple with Rosemary-the list is endless. Alice Waters , one of my favorite Chefs and someone I greatly admire said : "Christine Ferber's book preserves an understanding of fruit that has become rare in this world." Yes fellow cookbookaholics this is another one for your library or your wish list !

I could blog all year on the tasty recipes in here -I'm sure you'll be seeing many more. But today figs were on sale at the market so I picked up a few pounds and remembered this recipe. It's a simple one, all you need are figs,lemon and sugar. And now I have 5 pretty little pints of the loveliest fig jam flavored with just the slightest accent of vanilla. This is going to be so divine on some toasted bread with a cup of espresso and a good book. I'm heading out to the front deck to bask in today's sunshine..enjoy my little figgie friends.

Fig with Vanilla
adapted from a recipe by Christina Ferber

2 1/4 pounds (1 Kg) of small black figs
3 3/4 cups(800 grams) granulated sugar
Juice of 1 organic lemon
2 vanilla beans-split lengthwise

Rinse the figs in cold water and dry them. Remove the stems and cut the figs in half. In a non reactive bowl combine the fruit,sugar, lemon juice, vanilla beans. Cover with a piece of parchment paper and let the fruit macerate for 1 hour.

Pour the fruit mixture into a preserving pan-just make sure it's a non reactive pan-stainless steel or ceramic works if you don't have the expensive copper preserving pan . Bring the mixture to a simmer. After it reaches the simmer stage pour it back into the bowl and cover with parchment and refrigerate overnight-mine sat for 3 days and absorbed all that wonderful vanilla aroma. After removing it from the refrigerator put it back into the preserving pan and bring it to a boil. Skim and continue cooking on high heat for 5-10 minutes stirring gently until it begins to thicken. In the meantime sterilize your canning jars following these directions.

After cooking the jam on high for the 5-10 minutes remove the vanilla beans and return the jam to a boil. Check the thickness-I just take a teaspoon full and place it on a plate-leave it for a few minutes and check the thickness by running my finger thru it-this jam I wanted to be a little more like a really thick syrup ( to use on ice cream and cakes ) so I didn't cook it to jam consistency. Put the jam into jars and seal . You won't find pectin in Christina's recipes-she relies on the fruit and acids and you won't find instructions on boiling water baths. You can find information on proper canning techniques here at Ball, the go to source for all things preserved .

In the forward to the book, by none other than Alain Ducasse, he says: "My favorite? Every one of them. It makes no difference whether I'm having preserves on toast or just dipping my finger in the jar, I enjoy them all with the same voluptuous pleasure." Alain, I second that as I'm dipping my finger in the little bit of syrup I couldn't fit into the canning jars --mmm, sweet and sticky with the aroma of vanilla . Bon Appetit.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Muchas Leches Cake Part 2 or The Party is Over !

All I can say is you have to make this cake at least once in your baking/cooking career.  And after your family and friends taste it they won't let you stop with baking it just one time-they will storm your kitchen for this cake-trust me .  Isn't it always so much fun to walk into a party and your family and loved ones ooohhh and ahhh over your creation ?  And then isn't even better when it tastes unbelievably incredibly delicious ? Yes this cake is a keeper and one that will always be a top of the list go to for parties and special occasions.  If I put it on the bake at least once a month list J and I would be as large as a small hippo ! 

About the cake- it's so light and when that first bite hits your taste buds-you smell the almond and then the whipped cream coats your tongue, but wait what is that-ahh dulce de leche caramel  cuts through that whipped cream and everything just settles into taste bud nirvana ! Caution this is not a cake for a 2-4 people gathering-unless you all want to sign up for Weight Watchers after the party-it easily serves 12-18 depending on how generous you are with your slicing. 

My sister's party was a great success, we had fabulous food-what do you expect ? She is my sister after all !  Add to that delectable sangria courtesy of the sangria king-Jorge, warm wonderful company and beautiful weather-just a perfect Sunday afternoon with friends and family.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Emergency Post-Reach out and Help a Fellow Blogger

If you are reading my post then go to this post and read Erika's story and the tragedy that occurred 2 weeks ago.  I've read that posting and her subsequent ones and have been so moved by her spirit I just knew I had to do something immediately. You can help by donating at Paypal-thanks to fellow bloggers who set up this account as a  way to reach out and help. Do what you can, even stopping by her blog The Ivory Hut,  to lend your support and prayers.

Go to Jamie's blog, Baking Addiction, scroll down and click on the Paypal Donate Logo to help Erika and her family.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Foodista International Food Bloggers Conference 2010

International Food Bloggers Conference 2010

I have fallen so far behind with things this month I almost feel like I need an assistant to tidy up behind me. That way I could just lounge around and eat bon bons all day ! And after the International Food Bloggers Conference all of those bon bons would be from Theo Chocolate. I'm a long time fan of Theo's and currently addicted to their fig and fennel chocolate with almonds ! Working on a tart recipe to try and incorporate those fabulous bars into it !

But I've wandered from my main subject which was to let you know how incredible the conference was. Thank you to Foodista for bringing together so many creative people under one roof. It was like going home to the mother ship. This was my first blogger's conference and I wasn't sure what to expect other than a room full of people who loved food. What I found was a room full of some of the brightest,friendliest and creative people I have ever encountered. Everyone was anxious to meet and greet and compare notes on generating traffic to our blogs,photography,food styling and just about anything and everything about food.

The cocktail party was a great opportunity to meet fellow foodies from all over the country.  And an even better opportunity to eat -I mean really what would you expect at a food bloggers conference.  There was lamb, and steak banh mi, delicious cod sliders ,cupcakes, wine, chocolate and one of my all time favorites of the week-end bacon peanut brittle-note to myself -experiment with this for Christmas gifts-I mean who would expect bacon in their peanut brittle ?  I was too pooped to hit the wine party afterwards and headed home with my swag bag from Sur La Table-thank you for the goodies !  The next day was full of so much information and I learned a lot from all the speakers.  Two highlights for me were James Oseland,Editor in Chief of Saveur-he was full of so much positive energy and excitement about food blogging and his slide show matched that energy.  And the 2nd most inspirational speaker was Penny De Los Santos, award winning photographer and fellow blogger.  Her photos were beyond inspirational-each one had such feeling and passion and to hear her stories , I was filled with so much awe-I want to be her when I grow up !

You can catch up with the presentations and photos over at the IFBC website-take some time and check it out -there's some great information over there.

I met so many wonderful bloggers, check out their blogs-they are some creative, funny and sweet ladies.  And I thank them for sharing some of their time with me.  I can't wait for 2011 !

Muchas Leches Cake with Sugared Almonds

This weekend has been a Pastry Queen kind of week-end.  And by Pastry Queen I mean the one and only Rebecca Rather of Rather Sweet Bakery and author of The Pastry Queen: Royally Good Recipes from Texas Hill Country's Rather Sweet Bakery.  I love her cookbooks, they are beautifully written with gorgeous photos and easy to follow directions.  I have never gone wrong with anything that I have baked or cooked from them. . I have wanted to make this cake for a long time and it's just been one of those recipes on the back burner.  You know what I mean.  You intend to make it and then you get sidetracked with 10,000 other things but it's still there in the back of your mind.  Well this weekend's weather has been so beautiful, just perfect for baking,sunny and cool with that crisp smell of autumn in the air.  Bake me..I could hear the cake whispering...I'm that lucsious looking sugar almond covered whipped cream frosting ,Dulce de Leche drenched vision of scrumptiousness.  Bake me...pull that cookbook off the shelf and bake me....I gave into the siren song and made the most incredible cake I have ever baked.  I am a chocolate fiend and nothing tops it as far as I am concerned but after making this cake ,sorry cacao, this cake just knocked you off your pedestal and has won a place in my heart and in my baking repertoire.

I haven't even tasted it yet-it's the guest at a party on Sunday so I can't even cut into yet !  But tasting everything that went into it as I baked, all I can say is it's freaking incredibly delicious.  From the practically flourless cake batter-seriously -14 eggs-and 4 cups of blanched almonds, do I need to say more ? 

Then the soaking liquid-homemade Dulce de Leche-made from organic condensed milk (Rebecca provides the instructions for making your own on Pg 94), evaporated milk,condensed milk ,cream of coconut, whipping cream and vanilla ,all whisked together in concoction that should be bottled !  It's hard to describe the subtle coconut undertones with the caramel snap from the dulce de lece and the creamy sweetness from the milk and whipping cream.  I'm going to make another batch of this soaking sauce- I have an idea for a riff on cupcakes with it. As I layered the cake and brushed on the soaking liquid I couldn't help but keep running my finger along the edge of the plate-right where that sweet caramel flavored sauce was dripping and begging to be licked.

And don't even talk about the whipped cream icing.  Cover or fill any pastry with whipped cream and I'll follow you anywhere !  Don't let this recipe overwhelm you.  Yes it has several steps and take some preparation but it flows together very nicely. 
If you are making your own Dulce de Leche-do that even before you start the cake-it will need some time to cool down. While the cake is baking you can put together the soaking liquid.  Then slice the cake into the 4 sections Rebecca's recipe calls for.  Once the slicing is done, then make the whipped cream frosting.  And definitely use a cold mixing bowl when whipping the cream-just pop your bowl and whisk into the freezer for about 5 minutes-it helps the whipped cream set up so much quicker and smoother.  After you soak your first layer and while waiting for the cake to suck in all the lip smacking sauce, you can start preparing your sugared almonds.

I'm dying to cut into this cake.  The cake itself is very light with a beautiful crumb and smells and tastes of fresh almonds.  It's in the refrigerator now , still whispering to me, come and taste me, I'm a delicious almond cake soaked in a Dulce de Leche sauce,covered in whipped cream and finished off with sugared almonds- I promise you moments of scrumptious ecstasy..come and taste me...
 I don't know if I can resist it's temptation thru the night.

You can find the recipe and instructions here at Google Books.  I've had the Pastry Queen Cookbook in my library for some time now and it's definitely one I recommend you add to yours !  You can buy it here.

Check back tomorrow for follow up photos and tastings after the party !