Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Pie

  When I lived in Battle Creek, Michigan, a summer destination was The Turkey Farm, a restaurant in the country that served various kinds of turkey dishes made from the birds raised on the premises.  But my favorite item on the menu was the peanut butter pie, a dessert that I had never heard of before going there but one that I quickly became fond of.
   Over the years I found various recipes but never any that I really liked all that much.  But that changed when a family friend, Marjean, brought her version to my dad's memorial service. (Yes, we are all about food in my family and when my dad died, we did all the cooking for the guests who showed up at the service.)
The taste and the texture were almost perfect...
   One thing that I find boring is a graham cracker crust.  Easy to make and done to death, it shows up in places where it should never have been invited.  And store-bought ones are the worst offenders unless you call a box of Jello pudding and a carton of Cool Whip baking..... I don't.  But I did like the recipe and thought it deserved something better than graham crackers and butter so I went online and in no time at all was greatly rewarded for the small effort.
  Anyone who worships desserts knows that Rose Levy Barenbaum is the queen of tarts.  Her strawberry cheese cake, which calls for lady fingers instead of the graham cracker crust, is a fluffy taste of heaven in each bite.  So, when looking for a peanut butter crust for this pie and coming across her recipe, I knew I was in for a scrumptious treat and I wasn't disappointed!
Marjean's Peanut Butter Pie


6oz Philadelphia cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 pint whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar

Chopped roasted peanuts for garnish
Tart pan with removable bottom
1 recipe peanut butter pie crust (see below)

Add sugar to whipping cream and whip until firm peaks are formed.  Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar and peanut butter until fluffy.  Add the milk and beat until well incorporated.
Fold in the reserved whipped cream and pour into prepared crust.
Garnish with chopped peanuts and freeze until solid.


1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 large beaten egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor using the metal blade, process the brown and granulated sugars until they are powdered.
With the motor running, add the butter cubes.  After, add the peanut butter and process until creamy. With the motor running, add the egg and vanilla extract and process until incorporated.
Scrap down the sides of the bowl and add the flour, pulsing until just incorporated.
Remove the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Press the dough into the bottom and sides of a tart pan with a removable bottom.
Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Bake in a preheated 375° F oven for 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool.
Remove baked shell from tart pan.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sweetened Condensed Milk Cake (Bolo de Leite Condensado)

When I was a kid, sweetened condensed milk rarely made an appearance in my mother's kitchen. In addition to a Christmas confection, there was also an overly sweet dessert that called for a can of it plus one of cherry pie filling if I'm not mistaken,  Needless to say it was overly sweet and is nothing from my childhood that I ever crave.                                                                                                        It wasn't until I delved into Brazilian cooking that I discovered sweetened condensed milk to be a staple in many households.  Of course, the national confection, brigadeiro ( Brazil's version of the truffle), uses sweetened condensed milk as the main ingredient.  I have yet to master this simple candy that uses just a few ingredients.  Luckily, the cake in this recipe goes together fairly quickly and resembles a pound cake in texture.  The only trick is using the right pan or improvising.

There is nothing worse than using the wrong vehicle for an unruly recipe.  Take a loose batter, for instance.  Use a two-piece tube pan and chances are. you will spend the next afternoon bent over a baked on mess in your oven.  I speak from experience!  I do not own a Brazilian tube cake pan and paid the price of using a loose batter for a Brazilian cake when it leaked out through the bottom all over the floor of my oven.
As you can see from the illustration, the Brazilian tube cake pan comes in one piece (much like a bundt pan which you could also use), allowing it to hold batter of any consistency.  But lack of  this should not deter you from making this delicious cake.

If you only have a two-piece tube pan, you need only tightly secure the bottom with aluminum foil, before pouring in the batter and placing it in the oven to bake.

Sweetened Condensed Milk Cake
1- 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
14 oz whole milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup sugar
2 cups, unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350° F
Butter and flour a tube pan and set aside.
In a blender or the bowl of a food processor, add the ingredients (except for the powdered sugar) in the order listed.  Blend until completely incorporated.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Remove from pan when cool.
Dust with powdered sugar.
Serve with berries and whipped cream if desired

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Banana Muffins

  When life gives you rotten bananas......
I usually associate muffins with something heavy for some reason.  But these, based on a recipe by my sister, are anything but heavy!  Light and full of flavor, these are as close to cupcakes as you can get without adding some frosting.  But speaking of adding...
  The original recipe calls for vanilla.  I don't mind vanilla but it gets a little tedious after awhile.  (Why do we put it in practically everything we bake? )  So I decided to brighten up the flavor with a little lemon oil.  (You can try using some grated lemon zest if you can't find lemon oil.)
  This recipe makes 15 which seems odd as most recipes are put together to make 12.  But this gives me an opportunity to pass on a little tip I learned about using only a few of the forms in a muffin tin.  Fill the empty ones about 1/3 full with water.  This not only saves the tin from discoloration and burning on any residual oil that might have been left behind but also creates helps keep the muffins moist.

Banana Muffins

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
1 egg
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 teaspoon lemon oil or 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
4 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350°F,
Line muffin tins with paper baking cups.                                                                                        Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add egg and beat until well incorporated.
Add mashed bananas and lemon oil (or lemon zest) and blend thoroughly.
Mix yogurt and baking soda and set aside.
Add flour and yogurt mixture to sugar and butter mixture in 3 additions beginning and ending with flour taking care to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
Fill the lined muffin tins about 3/4 full with the mixture.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the muffins comes out clean.
Let cool for about 5 minutes or so before removing from muffin tins.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Spiced Bolo de Fubá

   I think there must be as many recipes and variations for this  popular Brazilian corn flour cake as there are for chocolate cake.  A staple at hotel breakfast buffets, this Brazilian cousin of our corn bread varies in taste and texture from recipe to recipe.  One of the most interesting I had was at a cafe in the park across the street from my hotel in Manaus, this particular Bolo de Fubá had corn incorporated in the batter.  Some others include cheese and maybe more like a cross between a custard and a cake.  These latter ones are known as Bolo de Fubá Cremoso and are very different in texture than the one pictured on the left which, nonetheless, departs from most straight forward versions which call for the basic ingredients of flours, oils, eggs and sugar.
   A little note about ingredients:  All the ingredients except the corn flour can be found in the regular sections of the supermarket.  For the corn flour, you will have to look in the Latin section or visit a local Latino market.  Pick up the one called masa harina (Quaker makes a version of this), a finely milled corn flour used for making tortillas.  Regular corn meal is too coarse and you will not get the desired texture.

Spiced Bolo de Fubá

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups corn flour such as masa harina
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Butter and flour a tube pan and set aside.
Sift together the two flours, baking powder and spices and reserve.
Beat sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add egg yolks one at a time and beat until fully incorporated scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
In a clean bowl (and using clean beaters) beat egg whites until they form soft peaks,
Add half the flour mixture to the sugar and butter mixture and mix well scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Add all the milk and thoroughly mix
Add the rest of the flour and combine.
Fold in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites until no white spots show in the batter.  Fold in the remaining 2/3 of the beat egg whites and fold in taking care not to let them deflate much.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, leveling off with a spatula and bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Let cool before removing from pan.
As with many kinds of corn meal products, this dries out sooner than traditional cakes.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sicilian Bolognese

   I was always under the impression that spaghetti bolognese (spagbol) was an invention outside of Italy. (And perhaps it is outside of Bologna.) And also that there was only one way to execute this sauce properly, the method I learned from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by the great author and teacher, Marcella Hazan.   But last night something happened to change my mind..
   Yesterday my mom wanted me to make spaghetti for her dinner, the kind of spaghetti we had growing up, the kind that takes forever to make and which I am not sure how to cook.  The bolognese I am used to making (the Marcella Hazan type) does not lend itself well to spaghetti. For that reason (and others...I wanted to do something different...I was bored.)  I grabbed a few books and started looking for a sauce that used ground beef.  I didn't need to look far.  
   I found a recipe in the book  La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio that I had used a number of times before but I had forgotten about which doesn't require several hours of cooking and which, it turns out, the author recommends for spaghetti as the pasta of choice.  Wow! Sicilian spagbol!  (I'd only ever used the sauce before as a filling for arancini, the tasty deep-fried rice balls so popular at the snack bars in Sicily.)  It worked wonderfully and, what's more, mom loved it.  I'll still make the longer version from Marcella's book but this is definitely in my permanent repertoire!

Spaghetti con Ragú di Tritato

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground chuck
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 cup tomato paste
1- 4-inch parmesan cheese rind
1 medium carrot, quartered
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup water
1 cup beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a pot and add the onion and meat stirring just until the meat loses its pink color.
In the meantime, dilute the tomato paste in the water.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and let simmer for an hour or longer taking care to stir every 15 minutes or so and scraping down the sides of the pot.
It may be necessary to add a little water towards the end if the sauce is getting too dry.
Correct for seasoning, and discard the carrots and cheese rind.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Durum Flour Bread

  I suppose everyone has a certain recipe they go back to time and time again.  When it comes to bread, this durum flour bread recipe which I got from a wonderful friend, Claudia, a Sicilian woman whose food pictures never cease to sweep me away, is my choice!  I make it at least twice a week as long as my durum flour supply holds out. (Living in the northwest part of the state of Michigan, it's very difficult to get certain things and durum flour is definitely on the list.)  But thankfully I have enough to tide me over affording me the opportunity to make this tasty bread two different ways.
  Worth waiting for...
   When my Claudia gave me the recipe, she included two options for making it.  Either making it the same day in the usual fashion of mixing the ingredients, kneading and allowing it to rise or mixing the ingredients and putting it in the fridge over night.  Although both produce a very nice loaf of bread, I prefer the latter as it adds a unique taste that a shorter rise cannot produce. I will give both methods in the directions below.
  Durum vs Semolina...
  The semolina we see in the market is a coarse grind of durum wheat.  It is what's used to make pasta and some other dishes.  The flour used for this bread is a finer milled product made from the same hard winter wheat as semolina.  I have not tried to substitute the one for the other as I have recipes calling for semolina that use a larger ratio of regular flour.

Claudia's Durum Bread

350 gr finely milled durum wheat flour (3 cups)
150 gr all-purpose unbleached flour (1 1/3 cups)
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
350-400 dl lukewarm water (1-1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more for oiling the bowl if using the first method.)

Short Method

Mix the dry ingredients together.  Mix in about half the water and then the olive oil. Continue stirring and adding water until dough comes together.
Remove to a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour to the surface as needed.
Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise 2 hours.
On a lightly floured surface, shape into a loaf.  Place a sheet of parchment paper on a bread peel and place the loaf on it covering it with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise 45 minutes.
In the meantime, place a pizza stone on a rack in the middle of the oven and a shallow baking pan on a bottom rack.
Preheat the oven to 430°F (220°C)
When the 45 minutes has elapsed, make several slashes in the bread with a very sharp knife or razor blade taking care not to use much pressure lest the bread deflates.
Slide both bread and paper onto the waiting stone and pour a cup of hot tap water into the pan on the lower rack.  Bake for 40 minutes.  Remove to a cooling rack.

 No-kneading Long Rise Method

Mix as in the above directions.
Once the dough has come together, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and let set at room temperature for about an hour.
On a lightly floured surface, shape into a loaf.  Place a sheet of parchment paper on a bread peel and place the loaf on it covering it with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise until almost doubled in volume,
Proceed as above to bake.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cherry Muffins

Living in Traverse City, Michigan, I have come under the influence of cherries.  Claiming the title, Cherry Capital, Traverse City is home to the Annual Cherry Festival, an event which draws tourists from all over the world,  as well as the vast cherry orchards  which inspire us locals to invent various uses for the famed fruit, using it for everything from the legendary pies to an additive for ground meat and all things in between.
So, it wasn't too strange when I decided to depart from a heavy dump-muffin recipe from a cereal box  and venture into an ingredient closer to home.
Not at all dense, but very moist and cake-like with the deliciousness of sour cherries, the ones we generally use for the classic cherry pie, these muffins are a great start to the day and are equally as good as an afternoon pick-me-up with a cup of coffee.
Cherry Muffins

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup half-and-half
2 large eggs
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1-15 oz can sour cherries, well drained.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.
Grease muffin tins or use paper liners.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk half-and-half, eggs, sugar, butter and extract together.
With a fork, blend the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until just wet. Don't overmix.  There should still be lumps and the batter should not be smooth.  
Gently fold the cherries into the wet ingredients.
Spoon into the muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffins comes out dry.
Cool for about 10 minutes in the tins before removing them to a rack to cool
Makes 12.