31 May 2009

Butter Rum Cupcakes with Ginger and Hibiscus


In the Pacific Northwest, May has been the most gorgeous month this year. For weeks now the sun has broken free of the clouds and lingering mist quite early in the morning and the temperatures have remained warm outside into the evening, something that happens rarely here, even in mid-summer.

This weather has been perfect for setting herbs and vegetables in the garden, for cooking out on the grill and, best of all, for ice cream! I love to eat ice cream when it is warm enough outside that something besides my body temperature is taking the brain-freezing chill off the cold ice  cream and making it soft enough to run in luscious drips down the side of a cone or cupcake liner. It is then that I can really taste the sweet creaminess of the flavor and enjoy the sensation of its gentle coolness as it touches my tongue and dissolves.


Thinking of ice cream and enjoying the weather I was excited to read that Cupcake Project and Scoopalicious are doing an Ice Cream Cupcake Round Up again this year. It has been a treat to sit on my back deck with a frosted glass of iced tea dreaming up flavor combinations. Finally though, I had to set down my tea and get to work on actually making them.

The first step was to go to QFC to choose from their extensive selection of ice cream brands and flavors. While it would have been fun to make my own ice cream I don't have an ice cream machine to help me out. Besides, with the selection I found at the grocery, I really don't mind so much. There were so many to choose from I could hardly decide on which amazing flavor I wanted. Finally I chose three, all from Snoqualmie Gourmet, Ginger, Espresso Chip and Coconut Run.

When I got them home I set about trying all three. The Coconut Rum gelato was my hands down favorite. The others were good too but the texture of the gelato was exquisite and the flavor was fun. It was just right for this gorgeous weather. It reminded me of soft warm breezes, sparkling seas, beautifully garnished drinks and those lush tropical flavors which were on my mind as I worked out the rest of my cupcake.

I wanted to add a little spice to the soft luscious flavor of the well-crafted gelato. I thought of Ginger Cookie Sticks and their strong ginger bite. In a cake form with a shot or two of dark rum I thought the flavor would be perfect.

For an icing I thought of the sauce I use on Bread Pudding. I have suggested that it would be a great ice cream topping so I thought this would be a good opportunity to try it. Instead of the bourbon I used in the Bread Pudding sauce I would try it with dark rum. I thought the sauce would add a strong languid butter rum sweetness that would help define the dominant notes in the tropical flavor combination.

To top it off I added Dried Sweetened Hibiscus Flowers from Trader Joe's. These were an impulse purchase some weeks ago. These unusual flowers have a rather funky star shape that seemed to me a bit like a five legged octopus, all fascinating but a little scary. The flavor is a tropical tart-sweet sensation and the texture is less sticky than most candied fruits. It is definitely different and interesting, not to mention lovely. I also cut some small flower shapes from flat pieces of candied ginger to pick up the golden tone of the butter rum sauce and to accentuate the hibiscus flower.

I think it turned out well. These Butter Rum Cupcakes are quite pretty in my new silicone cupcake liners. The Ginger Rum Cakes are dense and flavorful and the Coconut Rum gelato adds a luscious lingering creaminess to the texture. The Butter Rum Sauce is also delicious, though it gets a little stiff in the freezer. When I make these again I will consider serving the topping warm over the frozen ice cream cupcakes and adding the garnish at the last minute.



Ginger Rum Cakes

½ cup butter, melted
1/3 cup dark rum
¼ cup grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
3 eggs
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, finely chopped

1 - 2 pints Snoqualmie Gourmet Coconut Rum Gelato (one pint for every 12 or so cupcakes)

Butter Rum Sauce (recipe below)

Dried Sweetened Hibiscus Flowers (for garnish)
Candied Ginger Slices (Cut into shapes with a tiny decorative cutter)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, rum, fresh ginger and vanilla. Set aside.

In medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, pepper, ginger and cinnamon. Whisk to thoroughly combine dry ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the brown sugar and molasses until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the flour mixture slowly, beating just until combined.

Add the butter mixture and beat until incorporated.

Stir in the finely chopped  crystallized ginger.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners filling each about one-third full to allow room for the ice cream after baking.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes, or until done. (When done, the top will spring back when lightly touched.)

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

When the cupcakes are cool, place them in the freezer for several hours.

When the cupcakes are ready place the ice cream out on the counter for a few minutes to soften slightly. Scoop the ice cream on top of the brownies into the cupcake liners. Smooth the ice cream to fill the liner, mounding slightly on the top if desired.

Place the cupcakes back in the freezer until the ice cream is firm.

To finish the cupcakes drizzle with Butter Rum Sauce(recipe below). and return to the freezer again until firm.

Garnish with Dried Sweetened Hibiscus Flowers and Candied Ginger shapes.


Butter Rum Sauce

¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons whipping cream
2 tablespoons rum
Pinch of salt

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.

Add the remaining ingredients, whisking until well combined.

Simmer, whisking often, until thickened, approximately 3 minutes.

Cool slightly and serve.

Enjoy!

24 May 2009

Coconut Banana Yeast Bread


Ever since I made Java Monkey Muffins a few weeks ago I have been thinking about the taste of banana bread laced with the flavor of coconut and a hint of ginger. I have been wondering why I haven't happened across more recipes with that flavor combination. Suddenly, to me, it seems like a natural and obvious synergy of flavors.

Of course it's possible that during all those years I carefully avoided recipes containing flaked coconut I overshot the goal and simply declined to notice recipes that called for coconut in any form. I guess we all make mistakes! But now I am making up for lost time as I adapt recipes that will let me use up the large bag of Bob's Red Mill unsweetened shredded coconut I bought when I was making Cashew Ginger Granola several months ago.

My latest recipe discovery that combines banana, coconut and ginger is adapted from a recipe that came with my old DAK bread machine, the one that looks like R2D2.



The recipe in the book was for Banana Wheat Bread. The dough used honey, vanilla and bananas for flavoring. I added coconut milk instead of water and fresh grated ginger. I set the machine on manual so that I could shape the loaves and sprinkled the unsweetened coconut on top before baking. The flavor turned out to be subtle and delicious and the texture of the bread was just what I hoped for, soft and almost creamy. It is good sliced warm, or toasted. I think it will also make a great base for my next banana, coconut, ginger inspiration: Coconut Banana Bread Pudding.




Coconut Banana Yeast Bread

1 Tablespoon (or one package) yeast
3 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 ripe bananas, (sliced for the bread machine or mashed if mixing by hand)
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

melted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Add all ingredients to a bread machine. Set the machine to 'manual' so that you can take the dough, when ready, and shape the loaves yourself.

(Or if you don't enjoy the company of a little R2D2 or other bread machine in the kitchen:
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Heat the coconut milk, honey and butter over low heat until warm, 115 to 120 degrees. Add mixture to the dry ingredients, along with the egg, mashed bananas, grated ginger and vanilla and stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turn once. Cover with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until double, approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Continue as follows.)

When the dough is ready, punch down and divide into two equal pieces. Cover and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

Form each portion into a loaf, or other desired shape. For log shaped loaves roll dough on a lightly floured nonstick mat into a 12 x 8 inch rectangle. Roll tightly from a short end to form the log. pinch the seam closed and place the loaf seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Pinch ends and tuck under.

Cover loaves and let them rise until nearly double (approximately 1 hour).

Just before baking, brush loaves with melted butter and scatter unsweetened shredded coconut on top.

Bake in 375 degree oven 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden and the coconut has browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes two loaves.

21 May 2009

Hummus


Things We Take for Granted

I think I was first introduced to Hummus as a young adult. At that time I thought of it as a somewhat exotic dip. It's newness was exciting. As a child I never ate it or even heard of it, but as I grew older my culinary horizons broadened and I eagerly sampled and savored the flavors of places far from home. Hummus was one of my favorite discoveries.

Over time hummus became a part of my life, a healthy staple that I came to take for granted. Though it is easy to make I no longer always make my own. These days hummus is easy to find ready-made at almost every grocery and some brands are quite good. Whether I make it myself or not I love knowing it is there, in the fridge, a healthy, nurturing spread of chickpeas and sesame that on a piece of pita or naan will sustain me when I am distracted by other things and can’t stop to focus on properly appreciating a meal.

But then, not long ago, my son called from college to tell me that he had just made some amazing hummus with a friend from the Middle East. He described the process as I took notes. His sense of excitement in his discovery helped me to realize that I had come to take hummus for granted, and that it was time I became mindful of the blessing of making it at home. So I recreated the recipe from his description and in the process became reacquainted with what I have loved about hummus all along.

Becoming Reacquainted

You start with chickpeas. These lovely little beans have a dense texture and a lovely nutty taste. They have always been one of my favorite legumes. Add to that the sharp flavor of garlic mellowed by roasting into a thick paste and a good splash of fragrant olive oil. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the mixture. Process these into a paste, add a pinch of salt and you are almost there.

Next add the tahini, something I never heard of until I began to browse through health food stores after I had children. It is a paste, or butter, made from sesame seeds, a flavor I think of as rich, fragrant and exotic. The seeds and legumes together form a whole protein. Stir this in along with a little cumin and perhaps a splash of tabasco. The result is a wholesome and delicious spread, one of life's simple pleasures.


"Shirley Valentine"

This little story about hummus seemed just right for this month’s Dinner and a Movie round-up. For May, Susan from Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy chose the movie "Shirley Valentine." It is a fun movie that I had never seen before. Shirley is a housewife in her 40’s. Though she and her husband were once in love their marriage has gotten stale and she feels she is taken for granted. Since no one else is listening she has begun to talk to the kitchen wall. She realizes her life has become rather small.

When she is invited to accompany a friend to Greece she takes the opportunity to fulfill her dream of travel. While she is there she becomes reacquainted with life and has to decide whether or not she really wants to go home? Can her marriage be reignited by getting back to the basics the relationship was founded on?

I won’t spoil the ending but pour a glass of wine and serve some hummus with triangles of toasted pita bread and watch it for yourself. I think you’ll be glad you did.


Hummus

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 cloves roasted garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Juice from 1 lemon
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
A splash of tabasco (if desired)


Reserve a few chickpeas for garnish. Place the rest of the chickpeas along with the roasted garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth.

Add tahini, ground cumin and tabasco (if desired) to the chickpea mixture. Process just until incorporated.

Scoop the mixture into a small serving bowl. Garnish with reserved chickpeas and a dash of ground cumin or paprika if desired.

Serve with triangles of pita bread, pita chips or pieces of flatbread.

Enjoy!

19 May 2009

Fried Almonds with Rosemary



Labels

Ever take that Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Keirsey Temperament Sorter test? If not, you probably should, just so you know what people are talking about when they start explaining themselves in terms of 'I's and 'E’s or 'P’s and 'J’s, as in "I'm an INTJ. What are you?" After answering several pages of multiple choice questions, the Myers-Briggs test will give you a four letter badge, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter a one word label, such as "Artisan" or "Rational," by which to describe yourself. These will tell you how you view the world and, better yet, suggest reasons why others view it differently.

I took the test again a few weeks ago on a women’s retreat with forty other women. We used the Keirsey model to narrow our groupings to combinations of two of the four Myer's-Briggs trait dichotomies and formed small groups from our four distinct types.

What did I learn? Nothing new really. Just an affirmation that I am, as some might say (with varying expressions on their face), a bit special. Out of forty women divided into four groups there were only two of us who were NTs (a combination of Intuitive vs Sensing and Thinking vs Feeling.) In Keirsey lingo we are known as Rationals, problem solvers who trust logic, prize technology and seek efficient solutions. To make us even more special the other person was opposite me on the other two traits measured by the Myers-Briggs test. Even in a world where we can measure everything and find a box for everyone to be grouped in, it turns out I am still a bit different.

Playing Games

But I hate boxes. I never feel comfortable squeezing into them. As my Rational label suggests I have never been completely comfortable with coloring outside the lines so these tests leave me with little room to be who I think I am. Being an NT works for me in some ways. I can be very analytical. I once worked as a CPA. Now, however, I work as an artist and writer so I might expect to find that I had wandered into the “Artisan” box. But, no. I still test strongly as an "NT" or "Rational".

OK. I can look at this as a game, something to think about and amuse ourselves with for the weekend. Someone has to go in every box to validate the game. I really don’t mind playing along. I will just keep some things to myself. I do trust my intuition and I like to know how things will turn out but that doesn’t mean I don’t try new things or work out a problem, or a recipe, using sensory data. In fact, as an artist and cook, I thrive on the imformation I gather through my senses.


No one playing the game has to know how I swoon at the scent of fresh rosemary as I brush against it in the garden or cut small fragrant branches to tie into a rosemary brush. They don't need to know how I savor the texture of marcona almonds and the way they feel against my teeth as I bite into them, firm yet giving. They don't have to understand the way the taste of salt on my tongue takes me back to my childhood and the many ways my Dad taught us to use the salt he sold for healing, softening, cleaning, or preserving.

No, people can see me as pragmatic and skeptical if they want to. Meanwhile I’ll just be over here, quietly working on my little food blog, savoring the sensual joys of cooking for family and friends.

The Pleasure of Herbs

And, speaking of rosemary, here is a particularly simple and sensual recipe using rosemary and almonds. I remembered it when I saw Marcona Almonds seasoned with Rosemary at Trader Joe’s. I bought a bag and took it to a meeting where I was providing refreshments. Everyone loved them.

I think it is great fun to find such interesting products readily available at Trader Joe’s and they are great for those days when you need a quick convenient snack. Still it is a fabulous sensory experience to cook these at home. The fresh rosemary is wonderfully fragrant as the almonds are frying. And the warm almonds, that are ready in minutes, are delightfully flavorful along with the skillet crisped fresh rosemary leaves. If you have almonds on hand and fresh rosemary in your garden this recipe will be quick, easy and an absolute pleasure to prepare.


Fried Almonds with Rosemary
Adapted from “My Kitchen in Spain” by Janet Mendel

2 cups unskinned whole almonds (or plain marcona almonds)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat.

Add the almonds and rosemary. Cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and toasted, approximately 1 – 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and sprinkle with sea salt.

Breathe in. Smile.

Serve and enjoy!

16 May 2009

Cinnamon Coffee Cake


This is a recipe from McCall's Great American Recipe Card Collection. If I remember correctly, these cards were collected over time, arriving in the mail in installments. Each installment filled another section of my Aunt Hen's large plastic recipe box that she received with her subscription.

The recipe card has the year 1973 printed on it. It is no longer kept with all of the other recipes in a neatly organized file but belongs in a folder in my kitchen file drawer when it isn't thumbtacked to a cork board inside my kitchen cabinet, indicating that I have specific plans to make it. This card has been mine for almost 30 years now.

Like the dear bunny in "The Velveteen Rabbit", this card has grown shabby. It is stained and creased and worn. Time has turned it yellow and experience has spattered batter on the front picture and spilled something else, maybe vanilla, on the back. Still it is well loved, regarded and remembered. It holds the secret formula for a coffee cake we have consistently treasured in my family since the beginning. Perhaps in posting it here it can even become REAL. As the book says, "When you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter."

My family has used this cake with a few candles on top as a birthday cake, with a big nut baked inside as a King Cake and, for a while, we made it almost every Sunday, without variation, for an after church brunch. To newlyweds on a tight budget this coffee cake was a real treat. Warm out of the oven it is fragrant, soft and delicious. Later in the day it is a little firmer but still wonderful.

Last week my husband wanted a cake to share at work. Of course, this is the one he asked for. Cut into sixteen small pieces it was gone in an instant. Really, it's that good!

Sunday Special Coffee Cake
adapted slightly from McCall's Great American Recipe Card Collection

Topping

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, softened

Batter

1 1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Prepare the topping by combining 1/2 sugar, 1/4 cup flour and 2 teaspoons cinnamon in a small bowl and then mixing in the 1/4 cup softened butter with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

For the batter:

With a whisk, combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg until frothy. Add 3/4 cup sugar and 1/3 cup melted butter blending until smooth.

Add the milk and vanilla, whisking until well combined.

With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture until smooth and well combined.

Pour the batter into a prepared 9 inch square baking pan. Scatter the topping evenly across the top. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until done.

Cool a bit on a wire rack, then cut into pieces and serve warm.


Enjoy!

13 May 2009

Lemon Pasta with Snow Peas

Looking for a new summer side dish? There are times when I get so bored with serving the same old side dishes with every meal. Steamed broccoli with a dash of tamari sauce, wilted spinach with garlic and lemon, or even canned corn in a pinch.

And then there is rice. Sometimes it seems like I serve rice as a side dish every time I cook fish or pork or tofu or ...well I serve rice alot. I want something substantive to fill up my hungry family but while I want it to be appealing to everyone I don't want it to be bland.

Recently I found this simple but interesting recipe. It combines pasta and green vegetables with the unexpected and summery sparkle of lemon. The taste is fresh and I cut back on the amount of added fat to make it a bit lighter than the original. In fact the next time I make it I think I will add a splash of cooking liquid and skip the butter to make it lighter still.

This bright lemony pasta dish is an especially good complement to the full rich flavor of the Bourbon Pecan Salmon I posted about not long ago. In fact the original recipe came from the same article.


Lemon Pasta with Snow Peas
adapted from a recipe in the 12/21/04 issue of Family Circle magazine

1 pound multigrain angel hair pasta
1/2 pound cleaned snow peas (or tender sugar snap peas)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon grated lemon rind
3 Tablespoons freshly squeezd lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon-pepper (or freshly ground pepper)

Cook angel hair pasta as directed on the package. Add the snow peas to the pot 2 minutes before the pasta has finished cooking. Drain the pasta and snow peas when done.

Combine butter, olive oil, lemon rind, lemon juice and lemon pepper in a small bowl. Toss with the pasta and snow peas.

Serve and enjoy!



Note: Shelled edamame can be used instead of snow peas. This makes it an even easier recipe for me to throw together on a weeknight. I often have a bag of shelled edamame in the freezer so for me it is an easy substitution that can save me an extra trip to the grocery. I also like the taste of the edamame with the lemon sauce as the edamame seems to absorb and highlight some of the flavor. Made with edamame the leftovers keep well in the refrigerator and still taste great for a lunch or snack the following day.

11 May 2009

360° Pizzeria


Early summer keeps trying to break out in the Portland area. Of course it is still being held in check by generous doses of the usual cloud cover, but even now thought the forecast for today is all about rain, the sun is threatening to peak through.

At times this tension plays out with some delightful results. One afternoon last week steel gray clouds gathered in the eastern sky as sunbursts punctuated the western horizon. The combination made for a powerful drama of light and dark as the sun-tinged colors of the landscape sang against that dark sky. The contrast sent me out with my coat and my camera searching for rainbows. I was able to get a picture of this modest one.


By the next morning the sky had turned calm and gorgeous. The sun and bright blue skies brought everyone out in their shorts and sandals and put a smile on their faces. The clear sunshine was so inviting I decided to leave the dark confines of my office and go out to lunch. Destination: 360° Pizzeria.

360° Pizzeria is owned by Brad Root who also owns Roots and Lapellah in Vancouver. 360° Pizzeria offers casual traditional style comfort food, recalling the classic American pizzeria while updating it with an infusion of fresh local ingredients and northwest influences. It has indoor seating as well as a pleasant garden area with tables in front of the restaurant. Though it is on the sidewalk at the corner of a strip mall on 192nd the outdoor seating area is spacious and attractive. I would love to have sat there in the sunshine. Unfortunately it was still a bit chilly for me. I opted to sit inside in the window instead with a tall glass of iced tea.

Though I ate at a pizzeria where the pizza sounds great and gets good reviews, pizza is not what I usually order. Instead, I prefer their salads and small plates, which are reasonably priced and delicious. I ordered the Arugula Salad with Pears, Gorgonzola and Walnuts.


This salad, tossed with just the right amount of dressing was laced with thin strips of ripe sweet pear. The cheese added the perfect contrast, tangy but not overpowering. The unadorned walnuts added a welcome bit of crunch and substance.


I also ordered White Bean and Roasted Garlic Spread. It comes in a small ramekin with a crusty edge and a small pool of olive oil on the top. It is accompanied by a plate of sliced and grilled focaccia bread to spread it on. The combination of flavors and textures is a thing of beauty, well balanced with just the right amount of crisp resistance.


My companion ordered the Spinach Salad with Olives, Pine Nuts, Feta Cheese and Tomato Vinaigrette. It looked really good but I neglected to ask for a taste. It seems I was completely distracted by the arrival of his Bruschetta with Sautéed Calamari, Tomato and Garlic.


For $5 he had a full plate including a small salad of dressed greens and a thick slab of focaccia, brushed with olive oil, grilled and piled wih freshly sautéed bits and pieces of calamari, diced fresh tomatoes and sliced garlic. The presentation was stunning. The flavor was fresh and savory. It was absolutely beautiful and interesting. It made a perfect light meal for a bright afternoon in May.

08 May 2009

Stemmed Tomatoes Stuffed with Herbed Goat Cheese


Do you have a cookbook you go back to again and again for inspiration? Some of my favorite cookbooks, like "Betty Crocker's Cookbook," are on my shelf because I can trust them for the basics. Some, like "Joie De Vivre" by Robert Arbor, share wonderful stories about food. Still others, like "All About Chocolate" by Carole Bloom, share the history and science of foods I love. But I really enjoy a cookbook that shows me the art of food and inspires me to get in the kitchen and try new things.

This year I have found myself turning to "Table for Two: French Recipes for Romantic Dining" by Marianne Paquin again and again, whether I am cooking for two or for ten. It is a bit oversized and filled with beautiful full page photos of gorgeous food. Many of the recipes are quite simple and feature foods at their beautiful best dressed with simple and appealing garnishes. They are also often easily doubled or tripled to feed any number for dinner. I flip through thinking, "Wow!" and "I could do that!" and even if I don't always follow the recipe to the letter I almost always end up with something wonderful for dinner.

Case in point, these lovely little cheese stuffed tomatoes. I saw the photo and was delighted by how cute they are. The bright red of the tomatoes, the soft white of the cheese, the perky little stems on top and the nest of fresh herbs was very appealing. I had to try it! And, while it was a little tricky I was thrilled with the results. I will definitely be making these again. If you want an impressive starter for a special meal or a fresh and surprising dish for a spring luncheon, give these a try.


Stemmed Tomatoes Stuffed with Herbed Goat Cheese

1 box medium-sized, firm, bright red, vine-ripened tomatoes with stems
8 oz soft goat cheese (more or less depending on the size of the tomatoes)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1 teaspoon freshly ground mixed peppercorns
1/2 teaspoons salt
Sprigs of basil, parsley, chives, lemon thyme, dill and/or other fresh herbs
coarsely ground pink peppercorns (optional)

Immerse tomatoes, with stems intact, in boiling water for 1 minute.

Drain and rinse under cold water until easily handled. Remove the skin leaving the stems in place. (The skin should slip off easily.) Set aside.

Wash and trim the herbs. Pat dry. Finely chop approximately 2 tablespoons of mixed herbs. Coarsely tear the rest of the herbs and set aside.

In a small bowl mash the goat cheese with a fork and thoroughly combine the cheese, finely chopped herbs, 1 teaspoon of ground mixed peppercorns, salt and 1 to 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cut off a small slice from the bottom of each tomato (where it won't be seen when the tomatoes sit upright) with a sharp knife. Carefully scoop out the soft center using a teaspoon or grapefruit spoon, being careful to leave the sides intact.

Fill the cavity with the goat cheese mixture. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Prepare Crostini.


Crostini

1 baguette, sliced thin on the diagonal
1/4 cup butter, melted (or extra virgin olive oil)
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Arrange baguette slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Brush the slices with melted butter or olive oil. Sprinkle the tops with shredded parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Toast the baguette slices under the broiler, watching carefully, until toasty brown. Remove from oven. Set aside.


To serve: Arrange several tomatoes on a serving plate, stem side up. Drizzle the tomatoes and plates with the remaining olive oil. Scatter the torn herbs over the top and sprinkle with crushed pink peppercorns.

Serve with Crostini.

Enjoy!

Note: I chose very small tomatoes the first time I made this dish. They were so cute! They were also difficult to work with because the outside of the tomatoes were thin and it was difficult to get the spoon inside carefully to scoop them out. Medium sized tomatoes make a better choice.

06 May 2009

Place St. François


I have been spending this gray spring morning digging through my photos from the trip I took to Switzerland last summer. Just looking through the pictures I can feel the sunshine on my skin and remember the luscious summer weather we enjoyed there. Since I haven't eaten yet today I am also lingering over photos of the exceptional food we found there too.

Just shopping along the streets of Lausanne is a sweet experience. In the Old Town, along Place St-François and up the Rue de Bourg the sidewalk cobblestones are dotted with sidewalk cafes and shops offering sweet confections.


Chocolates, macaroons and pastries are offered near the square behind the 13th century Église St-François.


One early afternoon we dined at Café Saint Francois beside the lovely Gothic church marking the boundary of old Lausanne, the Vieille Ville.


I had a beautiful bowl of elegant gaspacho garnished with a drizzle of pesto and served with breadsticks, as well as a basket of delicious rolls which seems to come with every meal in Switzerland.


My husband settled for a cappuccino and a simple croissant. He also shared a chocolate tart with me.

It was delightful to sit in the open café listening to the sounds of the afternoon and watching the way people linger over a leisurely meal enjoying their food, drinks and conversation.


Viva la différence. Vive les vacances.