Flower of Salt

>> Wednesday, April 30, 2008

This is a recipe I have been wanting to try for a while now, ever since I discovered Fleur de Sel. Fleur de Sel, which means flower of salt, is a french sea salt that is harvested by hand off the coast of Brittany. It is a finishing salt that you usually sprinkle on at the end so that it does not melt and lose its delicate flavor. And let me tell you it is divine!
This recipe, from an old issue of Food & Wine magazine, really shows off the flavor of Fleur de Sel . It has that salty sweet combination that dances on the tongue and makes your taste buds sing.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake
serves 6

Because I had so much cheesecake left over from doing the cheesecake pops I used the rest to make these. It is a rich and substantial cheesecake that really held up well to the salted caramel. But feel free to use your favorite cheesecake recipe.
make sure you let the caramel cool completely before adding the Fleur de Sel at the end, or it will lose its flavor.

cheesecake baked in individual ramekins ( I baked mine in a water bath at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes)

Salted Caramel Sauce

6 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
Fleur de sel

In a heavy medium saucepan, heat the corn syrup. Stir in the sugar and cook over moderately high heat, undisturbed, until a deep amber caramel forms, about 9 minutes. Off the heat, carefully stir in the butter with a long-handled wooden spoon. Stir in the cream in a thin stream. Transfer the caramel to a heatproof pitcher and let cool. Stir in 3/4 teaspoon of fleur de sel.

Pour caramel over the top of each individual cheesecake. Refrigerate for at least three hours until it is completely chilled. Just before serving sprinkle with a tad more Fleur de Sel and watch your taste buds do a little dance! Enjoy!
Can be stored in refrigerator for up to three days.


The hidden life of food...

>> Tuesday, April 29, 2008

So I'm a little embarrassed to say that I had no idea an avocado was a fruit. Did you? I guess I never really thought about it much. But if I had, I would have thought it was a veggie. In fact, most cultures use avocados in sweet things. I had no idea! Usually, for me, its mashed up with garlic and lemon juice to dip a chip in or slather on a pork taco. Or slices of its buttery flesh lay ever so gently on top of a salad or piled high with sprouts and roasted red peppers to make the ultimate sandwich. And then I read this. Shauna, of Gluten-Free Girl (one of my favorite blogs!) asked for suggestions on what to do with avocados. And if you read the comments section you will see there are a lot of different ways to use this buttery fruit. From avocado cookies to using them in chocolate mousse to avocado frosting for a cake to an avocado milkshake! It felt like one of my greatest companions, that I had known for many years, had just revealed this secret life to me that I knew nothing about. I was dumbfounded! But I was also intrigued! An avocado milkshake didn't sound half bad.

So after finding MANY recipes for an avocado milkshake I came up with my own version. It's thick and creamy and not to sweet...very satisfying and refreshing.

Avocado Milkshake (my way)

most of the recipes I found used sweetened condensed milk but since I didn't have any and wanted to make it a bit more healthy I came up with this version. Also, I saw recipes that added either chocolate or coffee to the mix...yum! oh yeah, agave nectar is an all natural sweetener that can be found at your local health food store or seems like I have seen it in stop and Shop as well. But feel free to substitute with sugar or any other sweetener, you just may have to adjust the amount.

serves 1 or 2

1 perfectly ripe avocado (no brown spots, but gives a little when you push on it)
6-8 ice cubes
1/2 cup half and half (I use fat free) or milk of your choice
1/2 cup soy milk (or milk of your choice)
3 Tbs. Agave Nectar or sweetener of your choice
1/3 cup cold coffee (optional)

Put all ingredients in blender and blend for a minute or two. Voila...your done.
If the shake is to thick you can add some water or more milk. Serve with a straw and a spoon!!!


Cheesecake Whimsy

>> Sunday, April 27, 2008

I have had my eye on this cookbook for a while now but kept telling myself that I didn't really NEED it. So once the Daring Bakers chose one of its recipes as this months baking challenge I took it as a sign that I should probably have it after all. The recipes are truly inspiring. Theres the Chocolate Marscapone Cheesecake Pots with Shortbread Spoons. You actually make little spoons out of shortbread cookies to eat the Cheesecake Pots with. Purely genius! Or the Rich Risotto Rice Pudding, it looks divine, served with caramel sauce. And then ofcourse there is the Cheesecake Pops, which brings me to this months Daring Bakers Challenge.

Little balls of decadent cheesecake sitting on a stick and dipped in luscious chocolate. What could be more fun than this? The creativity came in the decorating. I knew they could be really cute decorated with sprinkles and bits of candy and perhaps some colorful bows. And instead of the (recommended) round balls of cheesecake I chose to cook mine in a mini muffin silicone pan. This would give me a wonderful flat surface to use something else I had had my eye on for a while: Chocolate transfer sheets. They work like magic. You can use them on anything chocolate to create a whimsical edible design.

I used a 2 oz. cookie scoop to fill the mini muffin pan with. I then baked as directed for 20 minutes and let them firm up for a bit in the fridge. I was then able to pop the mini cheesecakes out by pushing up from the bottom of the silicone cups. I then put them on a cookie sheet and inserted lollipop sticks through the center. I then froze as directed and it worked like a dream.

I was then able to dip each pop in bittersweet chocolate, and before it dried I either rolled them in bits of toffee, or pressed them in real chocolate sprinkles. And some I used the chocolate transfer sheets on. I found a variety of sources that sold them over the Internet. Here is where I found the designs I used on the pops. The designs come in sheets that you can cut to the size you need. I cut mine into 2 inch squares and pressed them into the chocolate before it dries. Because the cheesecake is frozen you need to work really fast because the chocolate sets very quickly. You then wait a few minutes for the chocolate to set completely and you peel the sheet off and it leaves a wonderful little design.

Here is the recipe as given to us from the Daring Bakers Elle and Deborah. My alterations are stated above.

Cheesecake Pops
From Sticky, Chewy, Messy Gooey. By Jill O'Connor
Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionery coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)
Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil. In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream. Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a spring form pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight. When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours. When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety. Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth. Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionery chocolate pieces) as needed. Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.
You can check out the other Daring Bakers and there Whimsical pops here.


For Tishy

>> Monday, April 07, 2008

Sometimes its hard to know how to help. You wish there was something you could do to truly make a difference . With so many unfortunate things going on in this world we often feel helpless. We feel like we cant make a difference.
But I think we can. Maybe not in a huge way that will change the world, but in smaller ways that may change somebodies day. One way I try and make small differences, and hopefully help those I love, is by cooking for them. For me, cooking for someone is a way to let them know that I am thinking of them and that I care about them. I sometimes struggle with coming up with the perfect recipe or the perfect meal. And I realize, it does not have to be gourmet or perfect, it just has to be made with love and care.
We have a dear friend who has been going through chemo, for a week at a time, in the hospital. Needless to say these weeks are long and draining, both physically and emotionally. It is hard for her and her family to get through these weeks. So when I can I try and make them food.
I came up with these muffins for her, hoping to bring a little ray of light into not such a sunny place.

Strawberry Sour cream Streusel Muffins

1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup fresh strawberries, cut into small pieces

streusel topping
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tblsp. flour
1 Tblsp. butter, softened
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

makes 12 muffins
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
line muffin tin with 12 paper baking cups.
In large bowl beat egg and milk together. Stir in melted butter and sour cream. Stir in remaining ingredients (except strawberries) just until combined. Lightly fold in strawberries. Divide evenly among muffin cups, I find an ice cream scoop works well for this.
Streusel topping:
Mix all ingredients until crumbly and sprinkle over muffin batter before going into the oven.
Bake for 20-25 minutes and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Make these for someone you care about and see how something so little can truly make a difference.


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