Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sugar cookies with a Ballerina Cake

A very sweet girl I know well turned three recently, and I made her a Ballerina Cake and cupcakes.

The cake was a three-layer chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache filling, decorated with white chocolate (colored pink), swiss buttercream, and a sugar cookie ballerina on the top.
Sugar cookies adorned the cupcakes, creating little ballerina costumes that tasted as good as they looked. The method I used included re-shaping an oval cookie-cutter so that I could create the toppers for the cupcakes:
 Then, I decorated the cookies using my basic buttercream frosting and candy pearls.
It seemed like a good idea to make a few crown shaped cookies as well (I purchased that cookie-cutter).
For the cupcakes, I used a petal tip (Wilton #104). Piping a blob in the center to begin, then doing three layers of petals:
I transported the cupcakes and cookies separately, then did the final assembly at the party.
My passion is creating unique desserts that taste as good as they look.
For the chocolate cake, I made a 6" round and two 8" round cakes, and torted them.
I filled the chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache, so it was almost like eating a truffle with every bite.
I frosted the cake with Swiss buttercream, and had previously made pink-colored white chocolate decorations in the shape of bows, dots, and zig-zags a few days in advance.
For the ballerina cookie(I made two, in case one broke!), I decorated it with buttercream icing and 'pearls' (that were actually white sprinkles painstakingly placed).
To assemble, I used a white lolipop stick and buttercream icing to secure the cookie to the top of the cake.
Overall, the cake and cupcakes were a hit. The best part was ballerina-loving Leticia's reaction to the cake and cupcakes. Happy Birthday, Leticia! My Dina is so blessed to have you as her friend.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Rainbow Chard- Spreading the love

Chard evokes memories for me, of days spent with our friends in Ithaca, watching their garden grow and enjoying its bounty. My then boyfriend, now husband and I made the 1.5 hour trek from Rochester throughout 1999 until 2008 at least a few times a year to see our friends. As I type those dates, it amazes me that it was 10 years! My husband took the photo above in September of 2006, when Todd and Melissa had over an acre of homegrown veggies and berries. Bright, crisp, slightly bitter chard makes me think of those visits and smile.

Since our arrival in the Netherlands, I've not seen chard for sale- either at the local stores or the outdoor markets. In fact, when I've asked for it people often think I mean rhubarb. Chard is much smaller than rhubarb, which is a lovely veggie in its own right, but rhubarb has poisonous leaves. Don't confuse these two! Chard has green stems, red stems, or even yellow-white stems. The leaves are green and if you click on this link to the wikipedia chard entry you'll discover it is one of the healthiest veggies.

On Sunday, on a bike ride home from Eindhoven everything changed: the Genneper Park farm shop had chard, nestled among the carrots and other leafy greens. I do not even know what I paid for it, I was so rushed to grab it by the handful.
I've tried to explain chard to my Dutch friends, even pointing it out in our community gardens a couple of times (and resisting the urge to hop the fence and swipe some) verifying that indeed it does grow here. The Dutch name doesn't help much: snijbiet (snij = cutting and biet = beet).  Nope, unless you've tasted it, it doesn't seem to matter much (like acorn squash- which I also miss!)

On Sunday, we had chard for dinner, and here is how I made it with thanks to Todd and Melissa for showing me how many years ago:

Prepare a bunch of chard by rinsing thoroughly. Trim any brown bits off leaves or stems. Carefully cut away the leaves, and chop roughly. Don't try to dry the leaves, they should be damp when you cook them, the water adds steam to the cooking.
Chop the stems like you would celery, trying to keep them all about the same size. (Make the thinner portion pieces a bit longer than the thick portion pieces).
Place  the leaves in one bowl and stems in another and begin heating 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan on medium heat. Reduce to med-low and add the stems, cooking for about 5 minutes (they should still be quite firm).
Add the leaves and cook on low another 5 to 8 minutes more, stirring throughout. When the mixture looks a bit like this:
The chard stems should be slightly tender and the leaves much reduced in size. Add a splash(about a tablespoon, or to taste) of vinegar (any kind of flavored vinegar will do- raspberry is a good choice but if you have access to ume plum vinegar, you are in for a real treat!), stir to combine and serve immediately.

We ate this for dinner, no sides (we'd had a big lunch) and savored every bite. Normally I would serve this as a side dish but since it has been over three years since we'd had it, we had to elevate it to the main event on Sunday. I cooked it the day I bought it, but if you must keep it for a day or two, it can be stored like leafy greens: slightly dampen a paper towel, wrap the chard loosely, and then put in a plastic bag in your veggie drawer of the fridge.

Dutch friends, please, try chard and discover its complex love affair. Demand your local AH carry it, so all of us can enjoy this fabulous healthy vegetable.

Monday, July 2, 2012

4th of July American Flag Brownies

 My country's birthday is coming up shortly, and I was fortunate to celebrate over the weekend with other expats here in the Netherlands. Instead of a recipe, this is more of a method to achieve a gorgeous American Flag that you can serve at a 4th of July Barbecue. These brownies start from my modification of a brownie product found here, but you can begin with anything baked (brownies, cake, bar cookies, etc.) in a 9"x13" pan. First, place the already baked brownies in the freezer while preparing the fruit and the whipped cream. Pick through about 500 grams of strawberries (1 or 2 quarts), until you have berries about the same size, that are the prettiest of the bunch, stems removed. Pick through a small carton of blueberries until you have about 50. Rinse and pat the fruit dry and set it aside.
Place 250 ml of heavy cream (at least 30% fat content, so to my friends here in the Netherlands, that is slagroom, not lite, not kookcreme). Whip the cream on high with a wire-whisk until soft peaks form. Add about 2 Tablespoons of powdered sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form(the sugar gives the whipped cream some stability).
 Remove the brownies from the freezer and spread the whipped cream evenly over the entire pan. Place blueberries in upper left corner, side by side, approximately 6 rows and 8 columns(if your pan curves at the corners, it wont be perfect, but it doesn't matter.) Next, at the top, place a row of strawberries. Make sure you can put another row of strawberries level with the bottom of the blueberries, and also at the bottom of the pan. Fill-in the remaining rows (I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't get two rows in between where the blueberries end and the bottom. I think it would have looked nicer, but my berries were too big for that.) to create an American flag.
Bring your work of art to a BBQ and watch it disappear. Don't wait too long to serve it because the whipped cream will melt in the summer sunshine.
God Bless America!
 Happy 4th of July to everyone in the USA and to Americans all over the world.