Archive for April, 2011

This month in the Daring Kitchen, the baking challenge was tied to the the cooking challenge and we were to make sweet edible containers but required to use a specific filling instead of the carte blanche of the savory challenge. The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote for mine your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com! You’ll see some amazing creative containers here!

Forgetting how busy this month would be with a houseful of guests for Passover and a weekend away in NYC to celebrate my birthday (stay tuned for my next post!) I foolishly thought I’d be whipping up multiple versions of sweet and salty cups to hold that delicious maple mousse. But even though I had numerous fab ideas, including toasted nut cups, bacon tuilles, and candied lemon peel baskets, reality took hold and I only executed one. But it was a great one! Gorgeous, lacy caramel baskets!

Many home cooks are totally intimidated by the idea of making their own caramel but a few tricks make it pretty fool proof every time and a good basic caramel is an elegant and impressive trick to have as part of your kitchen repertoire. It’s quite versatile and can be shaped or spun into cups and cages and fancy decorations or with the addition of cream and butter, it becomes a sublime sauce that keeps for weeks in the fridge. A quick zap in the microwave refreshes both a hard caramel and sauce, bringing it back to its liquid state, taking away the pressure to work quickly.

The trick to great caramel is a pinch of cream of tartar and patience. The sugar has to melt and simmer slowly until it reaches the correct temperature, but I don’t bother with thermometers.  Instead I simply watch carefully for the sugar syrup to turn the perfect deep amber color that tells me it’s ready and then I remove it immediately from the heat and pour it into a pyrex measuring cup. There, it stops cooking so there’s no danger of the sugar burning (which can happen quite quickly) the caramel begins to cool and thicken so I can work with it. The pyrex container can also easily be popped into the microwave for reheating when the caramel gets too thick to work with. 

This color is about 30 seconds shy of ready to take off the heat

Here’s the recipe for basic caramel:   

Combine in a heavy bottomed saucepan: 1C sugar, 1/3 C water, and 1/8 tsp cream of tartar. Place over medium/high heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved and liquid is clear. When bubbles begin to appear, turn heat down to medium and let simmer WITHOUT stirring until sugar turns a deep amber (caramel) color (8-10 minutes, 320°-350°) watching carefully and removing from the heat as soon as the desired color is reached. Pour directly into a pyrex measuring cup (be careful! This stuff is seriously hot!)

For the cups, simply cover small inverted bowls with non-stick aluminum foil (Reynolds makes an amazing product that NOTHING sticks to!) and when the caramel cools to the right thickness, use a spoon to drizzle the thickened caramel over the cups. Reheat as necessary if the caramel cools too much to work with. When completely cooled, remove from bowls and pull away the foil to leave beautiful, shiny caramel bowls.

Right before serving add the filling of your choice. The Daring bakers were asked to use this recipe which I combined with a dark chocolate mousse and topped with chantilly cream (pictures below!):

Maple Mousse
• 1 cup (240 ml/ 8 fluid oz.) pure maple syrup (not maple-flavored syrup)
• 4 large egg yolks
• 1 package (7g/1 tbsp.) unflavored gelatin
• 1 1/2 cups (360 ml. g/12 fluid oz) whipping cream (35% fat content)
1. Bring maple syrup to a boil then remove from heat.
2. In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks and pour a little bit of the maple syrup in while whisking (this is to temper your egg yolks so they don’t curdle).
3. Add warmed egg yolks to hot maple syrup until well mixed.
4. Measure 1/4 cup of whipping cream in a bowl and sprinkle it with the gelatine. Let it rest for 5 minutes. Place the bowl in a microwave for 45 seconds (microwave for 10 seconds at a time and check it in between) or place the bowl in a pan of barely simmering water, stir to ensure the gelatin has completely dissolved.
5. Whisk the gelatin/whipping cream mixture into the maple syrup mixture and set aside.
6. Whisk occasionally for approximately an hour or until the mixture has the consistency of an unbeaten raw egg white.
7. Whip the remaining cream. Stir 1/4 of the whipped cream into the maple syrup mixture. Fold in the remaining cream and refrigerate for at least an hour.
8. Remove from the fridge and divide equally among your edible containers.

The caramel basket filled with dark chocolate and maple mousse and chantilly cream

And here are a few other desserts that I made that utilized the caramel:

Caramel Cage over Chocolate Bombe

Raspberry Brownie cake with Caramel Lace


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It’s time for another post on the Daring Kitchen’s cook’s challenge and it was a fun one! Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at http://thedaringkitchen.com! (If you do this, you better vote for mine!!)

We were encouraged to do as many as we liked and if I weren’t so obsessed with trying to stop that extra 5 lbs from taking over my poor old body, I would have gone crazy with creativity. Most of the edible containers that I envisioned involved deep fat frying to make something firm and crisp enough to hold a creamy and delicious filling. How about bacon baskets filled with creamy mac and cheese? Or fried potato cups filled with scallion cream cheese scrambled eggs? Maybe I’ll give these a try after I’ve really come to terms with my post-menopausal bod!

In an attempt to have just a bit of balance, my first go at the challenge were polenta cups filled with my home made chili.  Polenta is quick and easy to make and such versatile stuff, it’s a regular staple at my house. And of course, corn and beans together make for a complete and healthy protein so polenta paired with vegetarian chili is a naturally low-fat, super healthy meal. But personally, I’m not at that interested unless the chili is topped with plenty of sharp cheddar cheese and sour cream, which is probably why I can’t seem to keep those extra few lbs away!

To make polenta it’s 4-1, water to cornmeal. Bring the water to a gentle boil and slowly whisk in the corn meal and cook, whisking continuously, until thickened (about 3-5 minutes.) Stir in a bit of butter and whisk until melted. You can also stir in some whole kernels of corn if you want added texture. Pour the hot polenta into whatever molds you’re using.  I used a lightly oiled muffin tin and then pressed in oiled glasses to form the cups. They set up very firm in an hour or so and popped right out of the tins. The I just trimmed the tops and whallah! Beautiful, edible cups that canbe  filled with the chili recipe of your choice. My recipe is included at the bottom of this post

The polenta cooling in the muffin tins. The drinking glasses were the perfect size to make a the polenta cups!

The polenta cups were delcious filled with my homemade chili!

For my second edible container, I made parmesan cheese bowls and filled them with spring vegetable risotto. Parmesan bowls are easy to make but look great and add so much crunch and flavor to whatever you fill them with. Simply make 4 inch circles of shredded parmesan on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes, or until bubbly and beginning to be golden brown. Remove from the over and carefully drape them, while still hot, over small inverted bowls. Once they cool they will harden and crisp up. The trick is to use non-stick aluminum foil, both to line the baking sheet and to cover the bowls you use to drape the baked cheese over. Then the baked parmesan is easy to handle and will pop right off the bowls and are ready to hold your choice of delicious filling.

Crispy parmesan bowl waiting to be filled

I just love risotto because it satisfied my craving for a creamy carbo treat without the need for any actual cream and it’s incredibly versatile in terms of flavors. You can add meat or seafood for a whole meal in one dish or keep it simple and use it as a side dish. Chicken, beef or fish stock will enrich and influence the flavor as well as an acidic (wine, lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar.)The starch in the Arborio rice thickens the risotto and the aromatics (onions, garlic, shallots etc) provide great flavor. Some butter and/or cheese added at the end will put it over the top but it isn’t necessary if you’re really trying to curb your calories.

The parmesan bowl was fantastic filled with spring vegetable risotto

Edible containers are nothing new (think baked stuffed potatoes or soup in a bread bowl) but it is fun to stretch the imagination and imagine new and creative ways to eat your bowl. I encourage you to try this fun project and share about it here! And if you’re more disciplined about the fat and calorie counts than I am, you can always go for lettuce cups!


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 dried chipotle peppers, reconstituted by simmering in 2 C water for 30 minutes, chop fine
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder                                                                                                                                                                                                           1 1/2 tsp  salt
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their liquid
3 cups cooked red kidney beans, drained
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans, drained

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and add the first five ingredients and sauté the vegetables until softening but not browned ( about 10  minutes). Add the chopped chipotle, salt and spices and stir. Add the tomatoes and 2-3 cups of water and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the beans (and more water if necessary) and simmer another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in polenta bowls with sharp cheddar and sour cream if desired. The chili will get spicier the second and third day. Enjoy!

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Snowdrops in my garden

Spring has been a challenging time for me so far this year. After one of the worst winters in a long time, my patience with the April showers is extremely low and while there are a few tiny blooms sprouting in my garden, day after day of damp chilly weather is really getting me down. But even as I crave the balmy sunny days that I know are eventually coming, I’m dreading the return of warm weather clothing. This winter was not good to my waistline!

April is my birthday month and as I begin the decent on the other side of the big 5-0 hill (I’ll be 52 this year!) I’m being forced to come to terms with the fact that along with the well-earned wisdom I’m enjoying, this decade also ushers in all the fun and fabulous (NOT) bodily changes that happen to women of my age. For me, of course, the number one offender is weight gain. It seems that no matter how much I exercise and try to watch what I eat, my body simply wants to be 5-10 pounds heavier than I want it to be. One of the many joys of going through menopause. Not only has my metabolism slowed, my body is fighting like mad to hang onto every fat calorie available, trying to milk it for any drop of estrogen available. It’s the simple biology of female aging.

And so the struggle continues to accept myself the way Mother Nature intended me to be as opposed to miserably trying to force myself into the unnatural mold of our culturally defined standard of wafer thin beauty. In a world where nothing related to growing older is truly valued, it aint easy to swim against this particular tide, but I’m trying. As always, I’m looking for balance; something that’s never easy for someone with an addictive personality like mine! But as I’ve said before: Life is too short to not eat cake. I just shouldn’t  eat the whole cake!

So tell me: where do you struggle withyour weight and how do you deal with it?

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