Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Feta Bruschetta

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
Day 6

I don’t know about you, but I love fresh vegetables from the garden in the summertime. My father still has close to 100 tomato plants each year, and he is always so generous to share with family, neighbors, and friends. Growing up, we never wanted for any summer fruits and vegetables because of Daddy’s garden. From squash to tomatoes to onions to watermelon, our cup runneth over. 

Other than delicious thickly sliced garden tomato sandwiches served with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper on white bread, my favorite tomato dish is bruschetta. There are many variations and ways to make a delicious tomato bruschetta, but my preference is to use small tomatoes. For some reason, the flavor seems more intense in these bite-sized vegetables. The combination of fresh basil, lemon juice, salt, olive oil, and the juicy tomatoes is unparalleled. Personally, I think that the flavors are better when I mix different types and colors of grape or cherry tomatoes, including the yellow and red varieties. 

Watching the Food Network recently, I saw my favorite chef, Ina Garten, as she was preparing a variation of bruschetta that uses a feta spread. Although I didn’t search for her exact recipe, I made the dish, working from memory and adding whatever I fancied. I’m sharing my version here with you, and I suspect that it is close enough to Ina’s recipe that the Barefoot Contessa deserves the credit for inspiring my plate. 

Feta Bruschetta

1 French baguette, sliced in 1-2 inch pieces, at a diagonal 
Good quality Extra Virgin Olive oil for brushing the slices of French bread 
5 cups yellow and red grape and cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
3 cloves minced garlic
¼ cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
½ cup fresh basil, julienned
1 medium red onion, finely chopped 
¼ cup  plus 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

1- 8 oz. block of cream cheese, softened
1- 6 oz. block feta cheese 
2 tbs. plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ tsp. salt
splash of hot sauce
2 cups toasted pine nuts

Brush each slice of baguette with olive oil and toast in preheated 375 degree oven for 7-10 minutes. Remove and set aside or store in container once cooled. 

Combine tomatoes, garlic, onion, parsley, basil, olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice in large glass bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside for at least one hour to allow flavors to blend. 

Next, place pine nuts in a sauté pan on medium high heat and toast until lightly browned. This will help to bring out the earthy flavor of the nuts. Allow to cool and store in a container until ready to enjoy. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Triple Berry Cobbler

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
Day 5

When I was a little girl, one of my most anticipated treats was a cobbler. It didn’t matter if it was peach or apple or berry; I just loved the delicate combination of baked fruit surrounded by sweet, cake-like breading. I remember my grandmother could make the best cobblers, and we had the great fortune of enjoying them frequently at her table. Since I don’t have her recipe for cobbler, I have tried so many over the years. In my search for a favorite recipe, I’ve come to realize that the right ratio of bread to fruit is crucial. Until recently, my favorite recipe was one from Paula Deen that I found on the Food Network. Now though, I highly recommend the following triple berry cobbler that I only slightly modified from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen, Best Recipes and Reviews 2013. 

The original recipe calls only for blueberries, but I chose to experiment and to add blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries. The result was a tangy, sweet cobbler, marbled with a delicate breading that melts in your mouth. Adding a scoop or two of vanilla bean ice cream definitely completes the dessert, although it’s also 
very delicious without it. 

Triple Berry Cobbler

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (4 tbs. cut into smaller pieces and 8 tbs. melted and cooled)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ tsp. grated lemon zest
6 oz. container blueberries
6 oz. container blackberries
8 medium- large strawberries
 1 ½ cups all purpose flour 
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 4 tbs. cut butter in 13x9 baking dish. Transfer to oven and allow to melt. 

Pulse ¼ cup sugar and lemon zest together in food processor until combined (about 5 pulses); set aside. 
Using potato masher or pastry cutter, mash all berries together with one tablespoon of lemon sugar until berries are coarsely mashed. 

Combine flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in milk and 8 tbs. melted butter until smooth. Remove baking dish from the oven, transfer to wire rack, and pour batter into prepared pan. 

Dollop mashed berries evenly over batter, sprinkle with remaining lemon sugar, and bake until golden brown and edges are crisp, 45-50 minutes. Let cobbler cool for 30 minutes before serving.

(*Recipe modified from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen, Best Recipes and Reviews 2013, page 91; AmericasTestKitchen.com) 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chocolate Pound Cake

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013

 Day 4

Since we’re on a roll here with pound cake, I thought I’d go ahead and share a pretty incredible chocolate recipe. From the same magazine as the previous entry comes a chocolate, velvety cake with incredible density and no air bubbles. I tried the recipe, making one flavor adjustment to suit my own taste preference; I added one teaspoon of instant coffee to the chocolate mixture in order to make the chocolate flavor even more intense. I was really happy with the recipe, and decided that it would be perfect for coffee ice cream sundaes. It is excellent served warm, drizzling each slice with caramel sauce, and adding a generous dollop of coffee ice cream. How decadent is that?!

Here’s the recipe, taken from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen, Best Recipes and Reviews 2013

Chocolate Pound Cake
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/3  cup boiling water
¾  cup cocoa powder (Dutch process, recommended)
2 oz. milk chocolate, chopped fine
1 tsp. instant coffee (optional)
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
5 large eggs, at room temperature


Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour loaf pan (standard 9 x 5 is fine). Combine flour and salt in bowl. Pour boiling water over cocoa and chocolate in second bowl (also add instant coffee if desired) and stir until chocolate is melted with no dry streaks of cocoa remaining. Let mixture cool for 5 minutes. 

Using stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter, cocoa/chocolate mixture, sugars, and vanilla on medium-high speed until fluffy, 2-3 minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, scraping down bowl as needed, mixing until just combined. Give batter final stir by hand.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and tap pan on counter to remove excess air. Bake on middle oven rack until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool for 2 hours. Serve. 

(*Recipe courtesy of The Best of America’s Test Kitchen, Best Recipes and Reviews 2013, page 88; AmericasTestKitchen.com) 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013

Day 3

As I mentioned in the previous post, finding the perfect pound cake has been a daunting task. I suppose it’s important to agree that, to be fair, the perfect pound cake should be a plain one. That isn’t to say that chocolate pound cake isn’t a welcome addition to the dessert menu, but some might argue that making almost anything chocolate is an automatic win. So, I’ve been looking for an essentially plain base for a really good pound cake, one that maintains its moisture while being dense, and one that can be used for any range of service-- from the foundation of strawberry shortcake to simply sliced and ready-to-eat in one’s lunch bag. I recently tried a pound cake recipe from the magazine The Best of America’s Test Kitchen (Best Recipes and Reviews 2013). Their cream cheese pound cake was very, very close to being nearly perfect. 

As much as I appreciate decadence, there is something extremely comforting about a well-balanced slice of plain pound cake. The recipe below will hopefully give you the same sense of comfort and appreciation it gave me.  Kudos to the cooks who tweaked this one for our enjoyment!

Cream Cheese Pound Cake

3 cups cake flour
1 tsp. salt
4 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
¼ cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
6 oz. cream cheese, softened

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Grease and flour bundt pan. Combine flour and salt in bowl. Whisk eggs and yolks, milk, and vanilla together in separate bowl. 

Using mixer with paddle attachment, beat sugar, butter, and cream cheese on medium high speed until fluffy (~3 min.). Reduce speed to low and slowly add egg mixture until incorporated. Add flour in 3 additions, scraping down bowl as needed. 

Put batter in prepared Bundt pan and tap on counter to release air bubbles. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, roughly 1 hour 20 minutes to 1½ hours, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan and let cool completely for about 2 hours. Serve. 

(*Recipe courtesy of The Best of America’s Test Kitchen, Best Recipes and Reviews 2013, page 87; AmericasTestKitchen.com) 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sarah's Simply Perfect Pound Cake

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013

Day 2 

Choosing a first dish to share seems really important, so I thought I’d search the archives of my memory to remember what smells and flavors were most impressive from childhood. I was very fortunate to have grandparents on both sides of my family who could cook. I mean really cook. And cook well.  Being from the South and very proud of my heritage, I’m happy to report that country cooking was a staple in our family. Maybe that’s why comfort food is a favorite for me, still today. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, homemade biscuits, and fresh garden vegetables made their way to our table more often than not.  To this day, I’d choose perfectly fried chicken over almost any food, but I am remiss to report that I haven’t mastered it well enough to share here just yet. It’s on my list of goals this year, which means that I’ll hopefully have a great recipe for no-fail fried chicken here by or before day 365. 

Continuing down memory lane, I was always first in the dessert line after every dinner with my grandparents. I’d practically inhale my meal to have the chance to enjoy something sweet. Not much has changed, honestly; I still love dessert.  My favorite desserts as a child included chocolate chess pie, pecan pie with ice cream, pound cake, and an interesting pie that my grandmother called “Poor Man’s Pie”.  It was reminiscent of pecan pie, but it had oatmeal instead of nuts. I don’t have that recipe, but I’m determined to re-create it here before the year’s end. My great-grandmother used to make bread pudding with damson preserves, and my father says it was a family favorite.  Although I never tried hers, the oral recipe was passed to me, and I’ll post it later too. For now, I think I’ll comfortably settle for a pound cake recipe. 

I’m choosing pound cake first because, for the last year or two, I’ve tried a different pound cake recipe every week. That sounds absurd, I know, but I’ve been in search of the perfect pound cake for years. I finally bit the buttery bullet and started testing recipes. Finding a perfect one is not an easy task, but I can’t say it’s displeasing to test each one. If you’re like me (crazy, you ask?), you agree that the perfect pound cake, no matter the flavor, is rich, very moist, and incredibly dense. The exterior should be a little bit crunchy while the interior should reflect its abundance of butter and eggs. My grandmother’s pound cake was a good one, to be sure, but I don’t have that recipe and didn’t think to ask her for it until she was in her 90’s. At that point, she couldn’t remember the specifics and every attempt to recreate it was not quite right. 

I’m sad to report that I haven’t found the best recipe yet, but I’ve definitely found some excellent ones. The one I’ll share here might be surprising because it uses a cake mix. Before you gasp and tsk! tsk! at me, allow me to explain. Last year, my aunt and I were talking about how much we love pound cake. She told me that she had a recipe with cake mix that was outstanding—rich, dense, moist…. the works. She shared it with me, and I was disappointed to learn that it wasn’t from scratch. Until I tried it. Then, I was a convert for that recipe. It’s easy, quick, and it turns out deliciously every time. Now, to be fair, I must admit that I did my fair share of tweaking her recipe to make it as delicious as I possibly could. I tried many different versions and ingredients. I even altered the brand and flavor of the cake mix to make it better. Using the exact cake mix and sour cream listed is crucial, by the way. Here is my altered, tweaked, and pretty darned perfected recipe for pound cake. If you don’t like using a mix, I’ll be sure to also post my second favorite pound cake—from scratch—as the second food entry. 

In honor of my aunt who shared the original recipe, enjoy…

Sarah’s Simply Perfect Pound Cake


1 box Pillsbury WHITE cake mix (The box must say, “with a cup of pudding in the mix”.)
½ cup sugar
4 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1-8 oz. container Breakstone sour cream (Don’t use light or nonfat—it doesn’t work as well)
¾ cup butter, softened to room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

With an electric mixer, blend the butter, sugar, and sour cream until smooth and creamy. One at a time, add the eggs. Blend until wet ingredients are smooth and well incorporated. Add vanilla and cinnamon. Slowly add cake mix until mixture is nicely blended and smooth. Mixture will be thick. 

Use shortening and/or cooking spray to thoroughly grease a bundt pan. Sprinkle sugar on the pan and move the pan around so that the sugar coats all of the greased surface. Greasing the pan well is essential. 

Pour the cake batter in the bundt pan and smack the sides to get rid of any air bubbles. Also drop/tap the pan on the counter to evenly spread the batter throughout the pan. 

Bake in 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or until knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Invert on cooling rack and let cool completely, uncovered. 

Once cooled, the cake is delicious plain or with a hazelnut coffee glaze (see recipe above). 

Optional pecan (or hazelnut) glaze:

1 tsp. instant coffee granules
1 cup of powdered sugar plus 1 tbs.
2 tbs. whole milk or half-and-half
½ cup toasted pecan or hazelnut halves

Pour sugar and coffee granules in bowl and add milk. Stir until mixture is a liquid that is slightly thick. (To test the thickness of the glaze, raise the spoon above the mixture after stirring. If the glaze that falls back into the bowl disappears in the mixture slowly and completely, it is the right thickness.) Add nuts and stir. Pour over cooled cake. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Let the Adventure Begin!

Day 1

Photo by Taylor  Fowler
I love food. There’s no better place to start than to share that very simple and scrumptiously undeniable truth. It’s because of my love for food that I have discovered the activities I most enjoy and have found a true passion that speaks to me and about me. Even many of my earliest and happiest memories of childhood involve meals—meals with family and meals alone; meals prepared by others and meals I prepared. 

I actually dream about food on a regular basis, and have found some interesting inspirations from my dreams, believe it or not. As a child, my tastes were, understandably, less discerning. I would eat anything set before me, and most of my choices were not healthy. As I’ve aged, though, I have learned to love many foods that are earthy and healthful as well as some that are rich and almost sinfully creamy. I have learned to appreciate foods made from scratch, and I especially enjoy incorporating the farm-to-table approach to my dishes whenever possible. Of course, I do my share of cheating here and there too, but the overall message I intend for my food to convey is one of fellowship, love, and comfort. 

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013

Over the years, I’ve discovered that food is the best mediator and the best peacemaker. Food brings cultures together and crosses barriers that conversations alone could never accomplish. Breaking bread has been a traditional means of fellowship as long as man has existed, and it’s no wonder that food plays such a valuable role in history, even in the Bible. Because there are countless chefs and cooks who have left upon me an indelible impression and who have inspired me with their culinary skills, I thought I’d focus on a few of them over the next year. My New Year’s Resolution, of sorts, was to share the best of the best in my quest for the perfect dishes. 

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013

So, ready or not, here I go, trying new recipes and sharing those that are staples in my collection. I’ll only post those recipes that are trustworthy, that work to inspire me, and that leave me wanting to try them over and over. 

Oh, and one more thing--many, many thanks to my very talented and helpful hubby, Doug, who has been so kind to take the pictures for each entry. His expertise and artistic style have been an inspiration to me. I hope you'll enjoy his photos in my blog, too. And, because we have to say this, remember that his images are copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any form without permission. If you like what you see here, visit his website for more of his outstanding work, and not just food photography either! ( www.dkapustin.com)

Let the adventure begin, and Happy 2013, my fellow foodies!