Petits four(teen)s

A few weeks ago, my niece Savvy asked me if I would like to make fancy dessert food for her 14th birthday slumber party extravaganza. HA! She might as well have asked me if I would like the role of Fanny Brice in an upcoming film remake of “Funny Girl”. Or an invitation to a casual brunch at Ina Garten’s house. Or $10,000. OBVIOUSLY I would like to make fancy dessert food.

Here are the lovely young ladies I was baking for:

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The birthday girl and her ma/my sis-in-law:

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I made red velvet cupcakes (recipe from America’s favorite southern belle/diabetes pharma spokeswoman Paula Deen) and little tartlets with a sugar-cookie crust, vanilla filling, and strawberries.

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I also made today’s featured confectionary creation–Neapolitan cheesecake petits fours!

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“Petits fours” is French for “fancy little cake suitable for eating at tea parties.” (Or something like that.) Try and enjoy!

Neapolitan Cheesecake Petits Fours (adapted from this recipe from Taste of Home)

  • 1 1/2 c. chocolate graham cracker crumbs
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 1-oz. squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate (plus more if you want to dip the finished petits fours)
  • 1/3 c. mashed sweetened strawberries
  • 3-5 drops red food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Press the crumb mixture evenly into the bottom of a 9×13 pan, and bake the crust for 8 minutes. Set it aside to cool and raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Using an electric mixer (or a whoooole lot of elbow grease, I guess), beat the cream cheese, vanilla, and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stop the mixer a few times to scrape down the bowl, making sure there are no lumps. Divide the cheesecake batter into three equal portions. Melt the 2 squares of baking chocolate, and add it to one bowl of cheesecake batter. Add the mashed strawberries and red food coloring to another bowl. (Start with just a couple of drops, and add more to get the shade of pink you want.) Spread the chocolate cheesecake batter evenly over the crust. Spread the plain batter over that, and finish with the strawberry. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 300 and continue baking for about 20 minutes longer, until the middle is just set.

Let the cheesecake cool completely, and then refrigerate. Once it’s chilled, slice it into small squares. (I used a pizza cutter dipped in hot water to keep the edges nice and neat.) If you’d like, melt some more baking chocolate and dip one half of each little cake.

Fakin’fest!

Excitement is building here in Des Moines for the Fifth Annual Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, titled “Baconpocalypse Now: I love the smell of bacon in the morning.” (Here is the event page–I couldn’t make this stuff up.) Although I’m not interested in unlimited bacon samples or bacon-themed educational lectures, I am sort of disappointed that tickets sold out immediately and I will therefore be unable to attend the “Bacon Elegance Dinner.” I would have enjoyed the opportunity to put together an evening look for that occasion.

Not everybody has succumbed to bacon fever, however. In anticipation of the festival, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine dropped this truth bomb right on Douglas Avenue:

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YIKES. That is……distressing.

I’m certainly not telling anybody to stop eating bacon. I know many people have a deep and abiding love for this particular pork product, because “Don’t you miss bacon?” is probably the second most frequently-asked question when people find out I’m a vegetarian. (The first is, of course, “Where do you get your protein?”) But I will say this: I love you all and I want you to live to be 100 so we can swap off-color stories about our younger days in the Golden-Girls-style compound I have planned for my retirement. So maybe, after the Bacon Festival (or after you host your own personal Bacon Festival), go with vegetables for a couple days. Please?

Try this, in fact. Get yourself a large eggplant, some soy sauce or tamari, some maple syrup, and some liquid smoke.

  
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Liquid smoke = super-concentrated hickory smoke flavor. Sometimes I dab a couple drops on my wrists in lieu of my daily spritz of Chanel No. 5. The fellas really go for it. (Actually, I have never done that. But it’s not a horrible idea.)

Cut the eggplant into thin slices, arrange the slices on a sheet pan, and stick ‘em into a very hot oven.

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While they’re in the oven, whisk together the aforementioned liquid ingredients. After the eggplant is done with its first stay in the oven, dip each slice in the liquid and place it back on the baking sheet.

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A bit more time in the oven, and look! EGGPLANT BACON!

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OK, it doesn’t really taste like bacon. So don’t try it and then yell at me when it doesn’t. But–you do get similar textures (chewy from the thicker slices and crispy from the thinner slices), saltiness, and smokiness. Here’s the recipe I used, from the amazing Isa Chandra Moskovitz. I baked a few minutes longer than she suggests in the last phase, and I added 2 tablespoons of maple syrup to the soy sauce/liquid smoke mixture.

I didn’t love these right out of the oven. But–later that night I made some pasta with mushrooms, shallots, sundried tomatoes, and cashew alfredo (recipe from my lovely friend Katie!). I chopped up some eggplant bacon and scattered it on top, and as George Harrison once said (well, actually he said it several times) “My. Sweet. Lord.”

In closing today, let me just say a very happy birthday to two of my favorite people ever: my dad (SIXTY today! Doesn’t that sound very distinguished?) and my awesome niece Savvy. You guys are the very best :)

Tune in next time when I cater fancy foods for Savvy’s birthday tea party. And have a fantastic week!

Pulp nonfiction

Hey, long time no see! Sorry I failed to provide a New Year’s-themed blog post. I tried. You know how you’re supposed to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck the rest of the year? Well, I had wonderful intentions to make some brilliant, delicious, innovative black-eyed pea dish, but then I got distracted and over-boiled them and they turned to sad, sad mush.

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(I choose to not consider the cosmic implications of over-boiling the food you’re supposed to eat for good luck in the new year.)

Since then, most of my kitchen adventures have involved the juicer. And lots and lots of vegetables.

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My favorite juice combo, I have decided, is as follows: 1/2 cucumber, 1 celery stalk, a few leaves of romaine, a pear, and a piece of ginger root.

The thing about the juicer, though, is that it leaves behind a whole bunch of pulp, and I hate kitchen waste.

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It makes great compost, but a person only needs so much compost. So, I have started trying to find ways to sneak it into recipes. My first project was some veggie burgers, made with veggie pulp from the juicer, garbanzos, tahini, ginger and garam masala. The flavor was good, but the texture was off, so I’ll keep working on that one.

My experiment with the fruit pulp, however, was a great success.

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I adapted an old recipe for zucchini/pineapple/carrot muffins to use pulp from oranges and pineapple. There’s a little bit of cinnamon in them as well, and the spice/citrus combo made for an amazing smell in the kitchen. If you don’t have juice pulp piling up in your kitchen, I bet you could use any combination of fruit puree that adds up to the 1 and 1/4 cup I used in the recipe. Mashed banana, drained crushed pineapple, you get the idea. Enjoy, and have yourself a maaaaaarvelous week!

Fruit Pulp Muffins (makes 18)

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. canola oil
  • 1 1/4 c. fruit pulp (mine was from oranges and pineapple)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 c. white flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh cranberries (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, brown sugar, canola oil, fruit pulp, and vanilla extract. Add the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon, and stir just until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Fold in the chopped cranberries if you’re using them (or, fold in anything else you’d like–dried fruit, nuts, etc.). Spoon the batter into greased muffin tins, and bake for 20-25 minutes.