• Deserts

    From the Archives: Beet Cake

    I’ve been horrified lately by the pictures on some of my oldest post, many of which feature outstanding recipes that get many hits from the search engines. My food photography skills have decidedly improved over the past two+ years, and so I’m dusting off a few old favorites as time permits to have a digital makeover for your viewing pleasure. This Chocolate Beet Cake was just as delicious as I remembered. It is very chocolaty and yet has a hint of something most folks can’t quite put their finger on unless you divulge the secret ingredient. Packed with vitamins and minerals, the beets not only add nutritional value to an otherwise indulgent dessert, but they also make it extremely moist.

    But now you’ll get the full beauty of this decadent cake with the new photos featured here.

    CHOCOLATE BEET CAKE

    • 1 C. margarine or butter, softened, divided
    • 1 1/2 C. packed dark brown sugar
    • 3 eggs at room temp
    • 2-3 oz. dark chocolate
    • 5 medium beets (2 C. pureed)
    • 1 t. vanilla extract
    • 2 C. all-purpose flour
    • 2 t. baking soda
    • 1/4 t. salt
    • 1/2 t. cinnamon
    • 1/4 t. nutmeg
    • confectioners’ sugar for dusting

    To make beet puree, trim stems and roots off beets and quarter them. Place in heavy sauce pan filled with water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 50 mins or until the beets are tender. Drain off remaining liquid and rinse beets in cold water as they’ll be too hot to handle otherwise. Slide skins off and place beets in blender. Process until a smooth puree forms. Let cool slightly before using in cake. I like to make the puree ahead and store it in the fridge, sometimes up to several days in advance.

    In a mixing bowl, cream 3/4 cup margarine and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Melt chocolate with remaining butter in the microwave on high in 20 second intervals, stirring each time until smooth. Cool slightly. Blend chocolate mixture, beets and vanilla into the creamed mixture. The batter will appear separated so don’t fret.

    Combine flour, baking soda , salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Pour into a greased and floured 10-in. spring form pan. Bake at 375 degrees F for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Cool completely before dusting with confectioners’ sugar.

  • Deserts

    Cranberry Champagne Sorbet

    Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear readers! This is my love letter to you…a bright pink scoop of Cranberry Champagne Sorbet. This is a truly over-the-top and colorful dessert that is made with couples in mind, but it certainly could be shared among friends too. Perhaps it’s not the best option for the kiddies though.

    Thanks to the alcohol in the champagne, the consistency of this frozen treat is silky smooth and not the least bit crystallized like many sorbets. But don’t worry; while you may get intoxicated by the fun of sharing spoonfuls with your sweetie, there’s not enough alcohol left in the mix after cooking to do any real harm. Do make sure to use a high quality champagne though as the flavor of the bubbly is rather prominent in the final dish. If you don’t like the taste of the champagne before it goes into the sorbet, you won’t like afterwards either.

    Now I realize some of you might not be as huge a fan of cranberries as I am. If that’s the case, you will want to be very generous with the sugar. Or you can try using strawberries instead if they are in season around you or you have some frozen from last year’s crop. I don’t recommend buying out-of-season berries as they are usual white and tasteless, really rather disappointing in the end. I personally adore the tart zing of this particular cranberry combination with a hint of cinnamon. It really gets my engines revving, if you know what I mean!

    It’s even more fun when a small rounded scoop is gently dropped into a glass of champagne and slowly sipped as the bubbles work their way into the frozen sphere. Really, it’s all rather very sexy.

    Love,
    Jennie

    Cranberry Champagne Sorbet

    Loosely adapted from Simply Recipes

    • 1 ½ C. champagne or sparkling wine
    • 2 C. white granulated sugar*
    • 1 T. light corn syrup
    • 3 C. fresh or frozen cranberries
    • 1 t. of lemon and or grapefruit zest
    • 1 whole cinnamon stick

    * If you are not overly fond of tart flavors, you may want to increase the sugar by a quarter cup.

    Put all of the ingredients into a saucepan. Bring to a vigorous boil so that the sugar completely dissolves and the cranberries burst. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick.

    Using a food processor or blender, carefully blend the mixture for 30 seconds. Using a fine mesh strainer, press the mixture through into a chilled stainless steel bowl. Chill completely in the fridge (will take several hours so you may wish to make the mixture the day before).

    Process the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacture’s directions. Transfer mixture to a storage container and freeze in your freezer until firm, at least 6 hours. If it’s not hardening up at this point, turn your freezer onto the coldest setting and it should quickly set.

  • Deserts

    Cranberry Heart Tarts

    Hum-a-na, hum-a-na, hum-a-na! Be still my beating heart! Indeed, Cranberry Heart Tarts garnished with Chocolate Covered Cranberries are worthy of much adoration and attention. This luxurious tart, in the perfect shape and color for serving up to your sweetie on Valentine’s Day, is perhaps the easiest dessert I’ve ever made. Assuming you’ve got some frozen cranberries on hand (they are not in season in February), I have to practically insist you make this tart.

    Back in college, I worked at the Allentown Farmers Market, a great under-cover year-round market that brought in lots of farmers and specialty food purveyors. I happened to help out at one of those specialty food stands and distinctly remember the onslaught of customers the weekend before Valentine’s Day desperately seeking boxes of our plump delicious chocolate covered strawberries. Mind you, they cost over a dollar a piece, a price this then poor college student who happened to know how to make her own at home for pennies thought was outrageous! Still, for the three years that I worked there, we sold out every single time.

    Chocolate and fruit do epitomize the food that might be served at a lovers’ tryst. Not wanting to ignore that association in my current quest for local seasonal sweet treats but lacking any strawberries, I decided I’d give coating cranberries in chocolate a go. They are wonderful – the sweet rich chocolate coating breaks over a burst of tart juice in your mouth. Like any perfect union, these two flavors compliment each other flawlessly.

    The wonderful thing about both the tart and the chocolate covering for cranberries is that the frozen ones work just as well as fresh, proving yet again that it’s only in your best interest to buy up pints and pints of the little red jewels when you see them at the market, even if you notice everyone around you starting to point and stare. Not that that’s ever happened to me. No, never. Although I think a few people might have noticed when I push, er, nudged that older woman to the side in order to reach the last pint on the back of the table…perhaps that was going just a bit too far.

    But in all seriousness, buying up loads of cranberries to freeze for later use during the cold dark days of winter is perfectly commendable. Just bring them home, wash and sort them (toss out the squishy ones), dry them and then lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet to freeze for an hour or so before bagging them up in sturdy bags to stash in the freezer until you need them. Frozen cranberries will store for up to a year and are best used frozen, not thawed, when you put them in a recipe.

    Cranberry Heart Tarts

    Adapted from Eat Feed Autumn Winter

    • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry (1/2 a package)
    • 2 C. fresh or frozen cranberries
    • 1 T. cornstarch
    • 3/4 C. plus 2 T. sugar
    • 1 whole star anise
    • 3/4 C. heavy whipping cream

    Preheat the oven to 400 F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

    Using a large heart-shaped cookie cutter (or you can free-hand it with a sharp knife), cut out 6 hearts. Use a sharp knife to score the pastry to create a heart within the heart, about a half inch from the outside edge. Place on the cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the hearts are puffed up and golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

    Turn the oven temperature down to 275 F. In a shallow baking dish, toss together the cranberries, cornstarch, and 3/4 cup of sugar. Bake for 35 minutes, stirring half way through to get the juice mixed with the sugar. Remove from oven and used a slotted spoon to seperate the cranberries from the juice.

    Place the juice and the star anise in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil for one minute and then remove from heat. Allow the juice to sit for about 10 minutes so the star anise can impart its flavor. Then remove the star and mix the cranberries and juice together again. Allow to cool completely. If you are preparing this recipe ahead of time, this is where you will stop for now.

    When ready to serve, combine the cream and remaining sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until it forms medium stiff peaks. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut around the inner heart of the pastry shells and lift it out, revealing a cavity within. Divide the cream among the hearts and top wtih the cranberries. If desired, garnish with chocolate covered cranberries (see below).

    (serves 6)

    To make chocolate covered cranberries, simply melt a few squares of high quality chocolate in the microwave on high for 1 minutes. Stir and microwave for another 15 seconds. Chocolate should be smooth and fluid. Be careful not to overcook it as it will become coarse and dry.

    Using a fork, quickly dip frozen or fresh cranberries in the chocolate. Place on a sheet of wax paper and allow the chocolate to harden. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

  • Deserts

    Ground Cherry Pie

    Wanna join a cult? Don’t raise your eyebrows at me! This cult is one you’ll want to be a part of, trust me. It revolves around a small golden orb that appears out of a papery vessel that fell out of the sky. Really! I swear! Alright, before half of you click the little “X” in the upper corner of the screen, I’ll stop being goofy. I’m talking about ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa): a crop that was new to me this year and one that’s got me smitten.

    I was very curious about ground cherries after my mom sent me an article on them out of a newspaper dedicated to farming topics in Pennsylvania. Purportedly, they have been a long-time favorite of the state’s “plain folk” (Amish and Mennonite), especially for pie making. That being said, I grew up in a valley full of plain folk and never once ran across these delicious little relatives of Solanaceae crops you may be more familiar with such as tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. I decided to give them the end of a row in my vegetable garden to see what they would do. Let me tell you, these are tough plants! I rarely remembered to water them because they were hidden by my giant popcorn stalks and while everything else in my garden succumbed to one variety or another of disease or insect, these babies remained lush and producing like mad!

    However, I was completely in the dark about how and when to harvest their little fruits encased in a papery husk not unlike tomatillos or goose berries or, even, Chinese lanterns (they are not the same thing though). With repeated testing over the season, I finally realized they’re ripening when the husk turns tan/brown. But the truly ripe ones are the ones that are….wait for it…wait for it… ON THE GROUND! Ha, I finally understood why they’re call ground cherries! They do have several other common names though, including husk tomato and husk cherry. Whatever you call them, they’re delicious!

    The article that inspired the planting said they tasted like a cross between a pineapple and a tomato. Like you are no doubt now reading this, I was pretty skeptical. But, honestly, that’s exactly what they taste like. I love eating them fresh in my morning yogurt. They have a little tang that perks up anything sweet. My plants have already produced about two bushels of fruit and have more blooms on them so there’s plenty more a-comin’. You’ll see a few recipes for them here in future posts this fall, but I figured I’d kick things off with the most traditional use: pie.

    Nothing could be simpler or more delicious than Ground Cherry Pie. I promise you once you get a slice of it, you’ll soon be joining the cult right alongside me. They are relatively expensive due to their limited availability, but you’re welcome to as many as you can carry in your shirt if you come to my garden. Assuming some of you might want to find something closer to home, check for these delightful underused fruits at your local famers market (in Philly, they can usually be procured at the Headhouse and Reading Terminal markets). When selecting ground cherries, try to avoid getting too many green husks as they won’t ripen very well. Most of the husks should at least be showing some signs of turning tan. Really ripe ones have papery husks and are firm when you squeeze the deep yellow fruit inside. Squishy ones are no good.

    So, consider this your intro/hazing to the wonderful world of ground cherries/husk tomatoes/husk cherries. Stay tuned for instructions on making jam, salsa and drying them for easy portable snacking, among other things. And if you don’t believe me that this fruit is spawning a cult, google it. You’ll see what I mean.

    GROUND CHERRY PIE

    Adapted from Allrecipes.com

    • 3 C. ground cherries*
    • Zest of one lemon
    • 1/2 C. (scant) packed brown sugar
    • 1 T. all-purpose flour
    • ¼ t. freshly ground nutmeg
    • ¼ t. salt
    • 2 T. water
    • 1 (9 inch) pie shell, unbaked
    • 4 T. all-purpose flour
    • 4 T. white sugar
    • 3 T. cold butter, cubed

    *If you find yourself a little short on enough ground cherries to fill the pie shell, you can add a chopped up fresh peach or two.

    Preheat oven to 425 F. Prepare pie crust if making your own.

    Wash ground cherries, toss with zest, and place in unbaked pie shell. Mix brown sugar, tablespoon of flour, nutmeg and salt. Sprinkle over cherries. Sprinkle water over top. Mix together 4 tablespoons flour and 4 tablespoons sugar. Cut butter in until crumbly. Top cherry mixture with crumbs.

    Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 375 degrees F and continue to bake for 25 minutes.

  • Deserts

    Dulce De Leche

    Finally!

    Today I get to tell you all about my homemade dulce de leche. I’ve been absolutely bursting at the seams with anticipation, chucking the last of the cranberry recipes at you. That’s not to say those weren’t worthwhile. Oh no no. It’s just that this recipe for the creamy dreamy caramely treat from South America can’t be kept under wraps for long.

    So do you have a minute for me to tell you a little story about how I came to be on a quest for the perfect dulce de leche recipe? I really hope so because it’s worth telling.

    It all started in April of this past year when I went to Argentina and Uruguay to celebrate my birthday. I read my copy of the Lonely Planet guidebook from cover to cover and then read Kiss and Tango: Dairy of a Dancehall Seductress just to get a sense of the culture I was about to soak up. In both the LP and Kiss and Tango, there were whole pages devoted to this sweet treat called dulce de leche, or “milk jam” in translation. I had some seriously high expectations for the stuff and looked for it the moment I got off the plane in Buenos Aires. Just at the airport convenience shop alone I found nearly fifty different types of prepackaged cookies and candies boasting a dulce de leche filling of some kind! I bought two or three and drooled in anticipation as I unwrapped the first one…

    Vanilla beans and pods float in whole milk from my family farm.
    It was terrible! Well, okay, maybe not terrible since it was a candy bar. But it certainly wasn’t worth pages of prose or even a mention in a postcard home. And so it was everywhere I went as I journeyed alone through Argentina and Uruguay for a few days. Then my friend Fred flew in from the States to join me for a week and we hopped on a plane to Iguazu Falls. Same story there – nothing but prepackaged disappointment. Okay, maybe there was some of the most amazing scenery I’d ever seen, but the dulce de leche was still nothing to write home about. After a few days in the tropical heat, we came back to Buenos Aires and split up for the afternoon, he to La Recoleta Cemetery and me to the San Telmo neighborhood in search of dog walkers and street artists.

    And then it happened. On a rundown little side street far away from any tourist traps, I found heaven. In the tiniest of mom-and-pop bakeries, rows and rows of alfajores (cookies), big and small, all bursting with dark, thick dulce de leche, promised to make amends for all the inferior prepackaged milk jam that had come before them. Of course no English was spoken, but I didn’t let it stop me as I pointed and cooed until I had what I wanted. That first bite…oh that first bite…it was worth an entire novel. The biscuit cookies sandwiching the dulce de leche were merely a vehicle for the sweet-but-not-sugary-creamy-like-the-best-fudge-you’ve-ever-had-deep-richness-of-caramel-with-a-hint-of-vanilla-goodness. Sigh….so good, in fact, that basic sentence structure fails me even now.

    Unfortunately I didn’t stock up on enough and when we jetted off to Mendoza early the next morning, I was all out of alfajores and my beloved homemade dulce de leche. I didn’t even bother to try and find any during our time in Mendoza. I didn’t want to risk contaminating that one beautiful and pure moment. (I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes by now at my lavish descriptions, but I swear it really was that good.) But it was time for Fred to have his own dulce de leche epiphany. He’d been enamored with the massive steaks all along our route so sweets hadn’t been a priority. An early morning trip to see the Andes had Fred on the hunt for breakfast in the bustling Mendoza bus station, where he found a bakery selling freshly made rolls, cut in half and spread with a thick layer of dulce de leche, put back together and rolled in powdered sugar. The huge grin on his face after the first bite said it all.

    Jars Start paying attention when it coats the back of the spoon Ladle with dulce de leche Prettily wrapped jars of dulce de leche homemade rolls for fred’s gift
    My three weeks tromping around Argentina eventually came to an end, as did my small stash of alfajores I got from the Buenos Aires bakery just before my flight home. But my determination to find good dulce de leche here in the States was just getting started. As you can probably guess, the packaged stuff here just doesn’t cut it. Nor did the recipes that called for a can of condensed milk that yielded a caramel flavor but lacked the intense creaminess I knew was possible. As Christmas rolled around and I thought about what I should give Fred for a gift, I just knew I had to figure out the dulce de leche “problem”. Scouring the internet for websites from Argentina, I finally found what seemed to be an authentic recipe that called for whole milk and no shortcuts.

    It worked beautifully. I couldn’t be happier. I almost cried when I took my first bite. Sigh…. There it was again, that same sweet-but-not-sugary-creamy-like-the-best-fudge-you’ve-ever-had-deep-richness-of-caramel-with-a-hint-of-vanilla-goodness. I made some homemade rolls, slathered them with it, and rolled them in powdered sugar for Fred.

    So, what makes this recipe different, and thus more on target with what I had in Argentina, is the use of whole fresh milk – as fresh as you can find (I got my from my family farm) – and the baking soda. The chemical reaction created by the addition of the soda is dramatic. In fact, please be careful when you do it… it’s very similar to those science fair volcano projects we all had as kids. But I strongly believe it’s this “explosion” that changes the properties of the ducle de leche in a way that brings the creaminess to its maximum. Just be prepared for it and stir, stir, stir!!!

    DULCE DE LECHE

    Adapted from www.allfromargentina.blogspot.com

    • 1 gallon whole milk, preferably raw and organic
    • 3 c. sugar
    • 1 c. Splenda or other sugar substitute (or use another cup of sugar if you want)
    • 2 vanilla beans
    • 2 t. baking soda
    • 2 T. water
    • generous pinch of salt

    In the biggest pot you have, combine the milk and sugar. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape out the beans with the back of the knife. Place beans and scraped out pods in the pot. Turn on the burner to medium heat and stir milk to dissolve the sugar. Turn up heat and bring to a rolling boil. While it comes to a boil, dissolve baking soda in the water. Set aside.

    Remove boiling pot from the stove (it’s best to put pot near sink for potential spillage) and fish out the vanilla pods. Add the dissolved baking soda, stirring vigorously as milk will expand rapidly to fill the pot. When the mixture returns to its original volume, return the pot to the stove and bring to a very brisk simmer – it may concern you that it will scorch, but it should be practically boiling. Continue cooking for about an hour until it turns a deep golden brown. It is not necessary to stir it, just check in on it occasionally.

    After the mixture has turned dark caramel in color, check it more frequently. The longer you continue cooking it after the color change, the thicker it will be. For a consistency similar to caramel, cook for another 10 minutes. For a thicker spread-like consistency, continue cooking for another 10 minutes. If you cook it even longer, it can turn into candy. Just remember that it will thicken up tremendously after cooling.

    Once you’re ready, ladle dulce de leche into sterilized jars. Boil lids in a shallow pan and clean off rims of jars. Seal jars with lids and turn upside down to cool. Jars may seal this way so they can be stored at room temperature. However, if they do not seal, dulce de leche keeps for a very long time in the fridge. Use as a spread on toast or rolls, add to brownie recipes, sandwich between sugar cookies, or stir into coffee.

    (makes 4-5 eight ounce jars)