Monthly Archives

September 2009

Pearberry Sorbet

September 19, 2009

You may have thought that after the extensive talk of the Valley Junction Farmer’s Market, I would have exhausted everything there was to say about a three-block stretch of vendors selling produce. That is, in part, correct. But while waiting for the stands to open, we ducked into a little shop on Main Street with the words COFFEE + ICE CREAM boldly emblazoned across the storefront. Coffee and ice cream…how could we not?

Turns out, this little shop sold more than just coffee and ice cream, it was home to the most amazing, refreshing dessert I have ever tasted. Okay, this may not be the only time I have said the phrase “most amazing dessert I have ever tasted,” but please do not hold it against me. It’s the only way I know how to stress how wondrous it really was. The object of my desire? Pear Italian Ice. Soft and creamy, sweet but not sickeningly so, this was homemade sorbet at it’s finest.

While I am sure to return for another taste of this Italian ice when time allows, I knew that finding a version I could make myself was necessary for when cravings strike, or budgets are tight (and when ISN’T that the case?!) My Pearberry Sorbet is not an exact replication; it now bears my own unique take.

I began by slicing, and freezing, three pears which were still a bit crisp. Once the slices were frozen, about 4 hours, I removed them from the freezer and put them in a blender with one cup of frozen mixed berries, 1/2 cup of ice water, and 6-8 ice cubes. To add a touch of extra sweetness without any additional calories, I tossed in 1/4 cup Splenda.

Fair warning, it takes a bit of time to fully blend this mixture; it’s super thick! Even a great blender may take a bit of coaxing to process until smooth, but hang in there because it’s worth the effort. That is really all there is to it. Frozen fruit, ice, a bit of water and Splenda and you have a dessert that is not only refreshing but healthy as far as desserts go.

I chose to serve it immediately after blending, but if you want your sorbet a bit firmer, the freezer is your friend. You can place it in a plastic container and freeze for as long as desired. Get creative with this dessert. I can imagine how delicious a version using mango, kiwi, or pineapple would be. Maybe that will be next on the list. ūüôā


Zucchini Parmesan

September 19, 2009

Yesterday, I made a trip to the farmer’s market in Valley Junction. There’s something about wandering through a bustling farmer’s market that I find therapeutic. Typically I avoid large crowds like the plague. But living in Iowa, I have learned how very important it is to savor the last few weeks of warm weather before mother nature’s mood turns frosty.

Weaving through the stands and trucks lining Valley Junction’s Main Street, I had the sudden urge to eat vegetables, and lots of them. For a moment, while looking at a crate of heirloom tomatoes, I thought I could live life a happy vegetarian. That moment came to an abrupt end when I smelled the wafting aromas of tacos and fajitas being sold down the street.

But as wonderful as it all was, my purpose is not to give a complete review of the Valley Junction Farmer’s Market. I intended to talk about dinner tonight: Zucchini Parmesan. Vegetables in my kitchen are usually prepared with nothing more than a bit of butter or olive oil, salt, and pepper. Zucchini demands a different treatment. Long adored by Italian cooks, I felt the best way to do this squash justice was to coat slices in Parmesan cheese and layer it with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.

*2 medium zucchini – thinly sliced into strips
*2 large eggs – lightly beaten
*1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
*1 cup marinara sauce
*1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

*Preheat oven to 375F.
*Dip slices of zucchini in beaten egg, then coat in Parmesan cheese. Layer half of coated zucchini slices in 8×8 baking dish. Evenly spread half of marinara sauce over zucchini, followed by remaining zucchini, remaining marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese.
*Bake in oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until zucchini is tender. During last 3 minutes of baking, switch oven to broil. Remove from oven. Allow to rest 5 minutes, then cut into slices.

Though this dish could easily stand on its own, I supplemented my Zucchini Parmesan with boneless, skinless chicken breast for a bit of protein. After cutting the chicken breast into slices, I cooked them in a skillet with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until no pink remained, about 6 to 8 minutes.

So for those of you who live in a state where warm weather weekends are coming to an close, get out to your local farmer’s market and be inspired by the last bit of summer produce.



Cupcakes a la Madeline

September 15, 2009

To me, the cupcake is a thing of wonder. When done correctly, it resonates of all that is right about desserts. Easier to master than an intricate layer cake, these individual cakes are more forgiving than most cakes ever dreamed of being. And if you mess one up, your entire bunch hasn’t gone to waste.¬†

Cupcakes represent the way I think cooking and entertaining ought to be. Simple, almost childish food served in a special way that makes it fit for even the most extravagant of occasions. I’ve often thought about what I would serve if I were asked to cook for a group of celebrities or dignitaries. My conclusion? My mom’s garden salad, chunky tomato soup, homemade lobster mac and cheese, and cupcakes! How fun¬†to be able to eat something so reminiscent of childhood in a grown up setting.¬†¬†

These are cupcakes as God intended them to be. Oversized, devilishly sweet jewels that beg you to take just one more bite despite the fact that you are already beyond your quota in sugar for the day, or maybe the week! The key to achieving this state of perfection is to balance the decadent sweetness of the icing with a cake that is rather un-sweet. To serve a sweet cake with a sugary frosting is the unforgivable sin of cupcakes, because after a bite or two, it leaves everyone feeling sick. And who wants their guests to leave with only the memory of how terribly stuffed and awful they felt?

Because they are so special to me, each of my original cupcakes gets christened with a name. Lola, Eve, Maria, Madeline…you get the idea. The star of today’s post is Madeline, who was created for an American Cancer Society event to benefit breast cancer research. Appropriately pink, these strawberries and cream cupcakes were a big hit.¬†

Madeline Cupcakes¬†(adapted from Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes)¬†
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk 
2 tsp. strawberry extract
2 tsp. red food coloring

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners
3. Mix flours together and set aside
4. With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar; gradually add in eggs, one at a time.
5. Add in flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with four. Mix in extract and food coloring.
6. Spoon batter into muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Many have since asked me where I got the liners for these cupcakes. While they can be made by hand with parchment paper, if you are thinking of producing a large quantity, I would strongly suggest buying them online. I bought a large box online through Kitchen Crafts. I hope you enjoy these cupcakes as much as I do. Here’s to making life a little sweeter.¬†


Monday Is For Coffee

September 14, 2009

I had no intention of leaving my blog unattended for this many days, but as is typical, life sometimes goes by much too fast! Now that I am back to the weekday routine, I decided that a perfect post for Monday was one about my all-time favorite drink. I have been remiss in posting about that which this very blog derives its name… espresso of course!

While reading my daily dose of news and searching the internet this morning, I happened upon a post about the best boutique coffee shops in America from Forbes. I was, to say the least, intrigued. Although I rely regularly on Starbucks for my coffee fix, I much prefer local, boutique shops to the standard Starbucks or Caribou. Something about coffee seems to demand authenticity and creativity. Perhaps that’s why I find the little coffee shops so endearing. Each has a specific personality of its own.

The only shop on this list that I had actually visited myself was Barnie’s Coffee. With ten stores in the Orlando area, it isn’t a completely unique experience, but it’s a local favorite that only exists in Florida, so I suppose that is close enough! If any of you have been to the others on the list, I would love to hear what you thought. I’m always looking for new places to go when I travel, coffee shops being one of them.

The link below will take you to the Forbes article and the subsequent slide show. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Best Boutique Coffee Shops in America


Steel Cut Oats

September 9, 2009

This post, due to a crazy schedule, will be a bit shorter than most, but I wanted to take time to pay tribute to my mom’s favorite breakfast food. While not a blogger herself, she did seem to think she should have input into the editorial content of THIS blog. Photo credits on this post even go to her, because in her enthusiasm for me to post about her beloved steel cut oatmeal, she took photos of her own breakfast.

Now, as a disclaimer on my end, I am not a huge consumer of steel cut oatmeal. Not because I have any complaints about flavor or texture, in fact I enjoy both quite a bit, but because of the time it takes to make them properly. When I reach for a bowl of oatmeal, it’s usually the regular rolled oats, made in the microwave. But when I am home, my mom always seems to have a pot of steel cut oatmeal on the stove, usually enough for leftovers as well. In my opinion, that’s they only way to make them because they take about 30 minutes of stovetop cooking before they are ready, and leftovers save time on busy days.

What makes this particular version different than other types of oats, like quick cooking or rolled oats, is the taste and texture. In my estimation, it’s a texture much closer to cooked barley than traditional oatmeal. Hearty and with a bit of a crunch, it makes a small amount of oatmeal somehow feel like more. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the taste. When you cook steel cut oats, it’s often recommended that a bit of salt is added. This gives them an undeniably delicious nutty flavor.

My favorite traditional way to eat oatmeal of any time is to cook up a serving, about 1/2 cup dry, and once cooked, add in a teaspoon of brown sugar, a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, a splash of milk, and a tablespoon of peanut butter (preferably the natural kind). The peanut butter is your secret weapon to creamy and delicious oatmeal every time.

While traditionalists may argue that sweet is the only way to go, I would contend that steel cut oats make a perfect platform for a savory breakfast as well. Add in a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese, some chopped fresh herbs such as parsley or basil, a dash of salt, and a touch of butter and you have the perfect dish to serve with bacon, sausage, or eggs. I wouldn’t recommend this version for regular oats. Something about the texture would just seem wrong, but that’s the beauty of nutty steel cut oats.

Here’s to breakfast any time of the day!