Thursday, July 21, 2011

Watermelon Juice with Himalayan Pink Salt

I love watermelon juice- it’s my standard order at the local juice shop I frequent. With Texas producing particularly fine melons and it being the height of the season, I decided to make my own at home.

Watermelon juice really shouldn’t require a recipe, right? Kind of seems self explanatory. Juice a melon, pour into a glass, drink.

If only it were that easy. It took a lot of trial and error to hit upon the right combination but I think I’ve nailed it.

I’ve cracked the code. Or rather, I’ve found the key… limes, that is.

Watermelon Juice with Himalayan Pink Salt

I’m no physicist but I can tell you that the phase shift from fruit to juice changes some property of watermelon and almost renders its distinctive flavor unnoticeable in the resultant liquid. Unless you like bland watermelon juice, heed two very important points: 1) Do not remove the seeds when juicing the melon. Not to worry, any stray bits of seed will be strained out with the pulp. Watermelon juice tastes less watermelony without a little ground up seed in it. As a bonus, you won’t have to do the work of de-seeding the melon. 2) Sometimes fruit, much like vegetables, needs flavor enhancers to bring out its best qualities. Adding a little key lime juice and a tiny amount of natural sweetener did the trick. I think it goes without saying that the salt is imperative but if it does need saying, then feel free to read my argument in favor of salting watermelon.

approximately 5 pounds of watermelon with seeds, cubed
2-4 tablespoons of fresh key lime juice (I used 3 small key limes)
1-2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar, to taste
Himalayan pink salt, to garnish

1. Juice the cubed watermelon in a juicer or blender. If you don't have either of those appliances, it can be done in a Cuisinart if you’re patient and careful. I am neither and so I caused sticky watermelon juice to be slung from one end of the kitchen to the other. Avoid this mistake by only processing a small amount of cubed watermelon at a time. DO NOT fill the processing bowl more than 1/3 full.
2. When all of the watermelon has been processed, strain the liquid into a large pitcher (or two, depending on how much juice you wind up with) and add key lime juice and honey or agave nectar, to taste.
3. Fill a glass and sprinkle the juice with freshly ground Himalayan pink salt.
4. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chocolate and Zucchini Cake

I’ve discussed my CSA-related anxiety in detail here so I won't ramble on about it. Other than to say it struck again recently, but with a slightly different manifestation. This time it presented as, "Holy zucchini! What on earth am I going to do with these huge honkers?"

I'm not just being dramatic, although I have a tendency to do so. These babies were a couple of pounds apiece.
My anxiety over using up approximately 6 pounds of zucchini was exacerbated by the fact that I consider zucchini to be a slightly lackluster vegetable. It certainly doesn't inspire me to great culinary heights. Thanks goodness for Epicurious- I love that you can search by ingredient and find all manner of recipes in which to use it.

A search for zucchini turned up a few pages of possiblities with this chocolate and zucchini cake recipe at the top of the list. A little creepy, huh, the intuition of those search algorithms? It's like that search engine knew I was a baker and that I couldn't pass up a zucchini cake recipe.

It was exactly right, of course. Uncanny.
Chocolate and Zucchini Cake
adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier via Epicurious

If you’re familiar with Clothilde’s blog, chocolateandzucchini.com, or her same named book, you may have already seen this cake recipe. Now, I know that zucchini is not a typical cake ingredient but don’t let that deter you from making this cake. Really- you won’t even know it’s in there. The zucchini just adds body and a nice, slightly moist texture to the crumb. This cake really doesn’t need any icing- it would be absolutely terrific on its own. That being said, moderation is not my strong suit. As one who never leaves well enough alone, I just had to ice the cake. And since I was going through the trouble of icing it, I thought a little chopped, toasted walnut garnish would be nice, too.

cake:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temp + ½ tablespoon to grease pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules (I used ½ teaspoon ground espresso)
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled, grated zucchini (approximately 1 ½ pounds)
1 cup good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips

ganache icing:
8 ounces heavy cream
8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces or use chips

¼ cup chopped and toasted walnuts for a garnish, if desired

1. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit with a rack centered in the middle of the oven. Cut parchment paper to fit and line the bottom and sides of an 8- or 10-inch springform pan. Grease the parchment with butter. Use a little butter to adhere the ring of parchment wrapped around the side to the springform pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a medium sized mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter with a spatula or wooden spoon until creamy. Add the vanilla, espresso or coffee granules, and eggs. Mix well between each addition.
4. Measure out one cup of the flour mixture and set aside. Add the rest of the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine. Mix until the consistency is that of a thick batter.
5. Put the grated zucchini and chocolate chips in a small bowl and add the remaining cup of flour and toss to coat. Add to the batter and fold in with a spatula or wooden spoon until just combined.
6. Scoop the batter into the buttered cake pan. If needed, use a spatula to level the surface of the batter.
7. If using a 10-inch pan, bake for 40 to 50 minutes or, if using an 8-inch pan, bake 60-70 minutes. When the top of the cake looks shiny and set (like a brownie), test with a knife. The knife should be clean but not dry. There may be some melted chocolate from the chocolate chips.
8. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then unlatch and remove the sides of the springform pan. Remove the parchment ring wrapped around the side of the cake. Let cool to room temperature before icing.
9. While the cake is cooling, make the chocolate ganache. Pour the cream into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Put the chopped chocolate in a small, heat proof bowl. As soon as the cream reaches a simmer, pour it over the chopped chocolate and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes to melt the chocolate. Then, stir the cream and chocolate until the mixture reaches a smooth consistency. The ganache may need to sit for 30 minutes to an hour to set up to a thicker consistency before pouring over the cake but be sure it is still liquid when coating the cake so that it pours easily.
10. Once the cake has cooled remove the bottom of the springform pan and bottom parchment ring and place the cake on a cake round. (You don’t have to use a cake round but I find it easier when transferring the cake. You can make a cake round easily by tracing the bottom of a same sized cake pan on a clean piece of cardboard and then cutting it out with scissors.) Set the cake back on the cooling rack and place the rack over a sheet pan to catch the overflow.
11. Pour the ganache over the cake. I coated this cake twice, using one half of the ganache each time, to ensure a nice, thick icing. Allow the ganache to set up between each coating. After the second coat sprinkle on the toasted walnut pieces and set aside for 1-2 hours to allow the ganache to set up completely. *Do not place the cake in the refrigerator to set the ganache or it will sweat when you serve it and won’t be as attractive.* The cake should keep in a sealed container at room temperature for a few days.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Blueberry and Peach Sour Cream Cobbler

So, I had heretofore never made a cobbler. I now regret this fact, especially after tasting this cobbler.

I’d always associated cobbler with that particularly gloppy looking buffet dessert that is often found at restaurants I not very affectionately refer to as “troughs.” You know, that kind of “restaurant” that serves canned and re-warmed frozen food in chaffing dishes on a long bar covered with a Plexiglas sneeze shield. The kind of restaurant your uncle always seems to suggest on occasions when you’re obliged to dine with extended family. (Or maybe you don’t have one of those uncles. Lucky you.)

Even the homemade cobblers I’ve had never looked or tasted any better than the aforementioned trough glop. Canned peaches or cherries in a lurid colored, thick, congealed sauce with frozen pie crust slapped on top, even if assembled in someone’s home kitchen, doesn’t rate much better in my book.

Whenever I ran across cobbler recipes, even in well trusted cookbooks, I just never had any inclination to make one. Nigel Slater changed my mind when he, an Englishman, took on a quintessentially American dessert in The Kitchen Diaries, his yearlong journal wherein he chronicled what he ate with accompanying recipes. During the height of the summer fruit season, instead of a British crumble, which would have been the obvious choice, he chose to make an American cobbler. I extrapolated from this decision that there must be something special about his cobbler.

My hunch was correct. This is, indeed, a fantastic cobbler. The peaches and blueberries wonderfully complement one another and the hint of honey added plays up the ripe fruit flavors. Most importantly, it’s not the least bit gloppy as the recipe calls for very little flour and the crust, made with sour cream, is light as air.

If you’re still looking for a dessert recipe for the Independence Day holiday, may I highly suggest this Englishman’s take on an American classic?

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Peach and Blueberry Sour Cream Cobbler
adapted from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

This cobbler couldn’t be easier to make. Seriously. This is one of those keeper recipes for times when you need to throw something together at the last minute. Or, if you’re an inveterate planner and are never faced with last minute situations, this recipe can be prepped ahead of time. Store the washed and sliced fruit in the baking dish in the refrigerator - just add the lemon juice, honey, and flour when you’re ready to assemble the cobbler. The dry ingredients for the crust can be measured out ahead of time and set aside in the bowl but reserve cutting in the butter and mixing in the sour cream until right before popping in the oven. Easy- peasy, summer breezy.

Note: I subbed honey for the suggested superfine sugar in the fruit filling. Central Texas produces amazing wildflower honey, and since I was using Texas Hill Country peaches and blueberries, it seemed like the perfect accompaniment. I also subbed unrefined cane sugar for superfine sugar in the crust. Any type of sugar would work for either use- granulated, superfine, or otherwise.

fruit filling:
3 medium or 4 small ripe peaches, sliced
3 1/2 cup blueberries
juice of 1 lemon
1 - 2 tablespoons honey, add according to sweetness of fruit
1 heaping tablespoon all purpose flour

crust:
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 heaping tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoon cold butter, cubed
4 ounces sour cream

1 tablespoon sugar for sprinkling over crust

1. Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit with a rack centered in the middle.
2. Add fruit, lemon juice, flour, and honey to a 2 quart sized baking dish or pie dish and stir until fruit is evenly coated with flour.
3. Make the cobbler crust by adding the chopped butter and all dry ingredients to a medium sized bowl. Use a pastry blender or two knives to cut in the butter until the mixture has a fine, even consistency, similar to fresh breadcrumbs. (You can use a blender for this step but I think it’s just as easy and less mess to cut in the butter.) Mix in the sour cream and stir to incorporate into a dough.
4. Break off tablespoon sized pieces of dough and flatten slightly with your hands. Lay the flattened pieces over the top of the fruit in the baking dish. When finished forming the crust, sprinkle sugar lightly over the top.
5. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes. The cobbler is done when the crust is a light golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.