Archive for August, 2012

I made dessert for our gaming group tonight. As I’ve said before, I am not very adept at making pastries. So instead of making anything that would involve any kind of pastry, like a pie or cake or anything of that nature, I opted for berries and cream. Making a Mixed Berry Salad with Whipped Cream was quick, easy, and was a very economic dessert for 7 people.

I took 2 quarts of strawberries, quartered, 1 pint of blackberries, 1 pint of raspberries, and 1 pound of halved, pitted cherries and combined them together with the juice and zest from one lemon, 1 tablespoon of water, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. I let the mixture sit covered in the refrigerator overnight to let berries release some of their juices.

Right before I served the berries, I took a bowl of ice and put a second bowl on top of it. In the second bowl, I put 1 pint of heavy cream, 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and whipped them together. I used my immersion blender, which has a wire whisk attachment, but I’ve used beaters or even just a handheld wire whisk before. It just takes longer to do it by hand.

The berries are very sweet and I ended up not being able to eat as many of them as I wanted to. Everyone else seemed to go nuts for them. I was debating whether to use 1 quart of strawberries or 2, and it’s a good thing I used 2 or there wouldn’t have been enough for 7 people.

Cherries have been really reasonably priced this year, so buying some fresh cherries every now and then is definitely in the budget. Of course, figuring out what to do with cherries when I am really not that good with pastry, other than just eating them, isn’t always easy. Just eating them can be fun, but there’s more that can be done with cherries than simply eating them raw.

This morning, I made Chocolate Cherry Turnover Puffs for breakfast. I stemmed and pitted the cherries a couple of days ago and let them sit in a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a little lemon juice. Then yesterday, I added a teaspoon of cocoa powder and stirred it up.

This morning, I cooked the liquid off the cherries and added about a teaspoon of chocolate syrup. I then took some store bought puff pastry in a can, otherwise known as crescent rolls, and placed a tablespoon or so of the prepared cherries in the middle of the dough, bringing the ends up to the center and closing it up. I then brushed the top with melted butter and cooked the puffs according to the package directions on a Sil-pat lined cookie sheet.

When I brought the puffs out of the oven, I quickly brushed the puffs with a little more butter and dusted them with a little sugar. They have a sweet cherry flavor with a hint of chocolate richness. The chocolate flavor is really understated, and I could enhance it by drizzling chocolate syrup on top instead of sugar, but I like that the chocolate is just a seasoning and not a powerful flavoring.

For supper tonight, I would have loved to have taken photos, but alas I didn’t. I ate it too fast. It smelled too good and tasted too good for me to take the time to grab my camera.

I made Poached Tilapia with Creamy Tomato Orzo Risotto. I poached the fish in the cream and tomato sauce that eventually got mixed with the orzo to become the risotto, and the tilapia was so juicy and tender that it practically melted on my tongue. It was still firm enough though that it didn’t fall apart between the pan and the plate. I’m definitely going to make this again because we both enjoyed it.

There are times when I go into the kitchen to make one thing, but I don’t have what I need to make it. Or my oven is broken down. Or any of a hundred other different things have happened to keep me from making whatever it is I’m wanting to make. When that happens, I cheat!

Several months ago, I wanted to make meatloaf, but our oven was down for the count. It was experiencing death by styrofoam and seriously could not be used safely until it was cleaned, a task I didn’t have the time or energy for before making supper that evening. I had, of course, not thought about this before mixing the meat, eggs, seasonings and such together for making the meatloaf however. I had already taken to making several small loaves instead of one large loaf because they cook faster and are easier to serve. I decided to take it a step further and try something new by searing the mini meatloaves in a skillet on the stove, then simmering them in a sauce to allow them to cook through. I made the sauce by mixing tomato juice and beef broth and the process worked amazingly well. Not only did the meatloaves cook more quickly and more evenly than in the oven, they were incredibly moist due to the very wet conditions they cooked in.

Last week, I found another easy cheat. I’m fairly certain the makers of Progresso Soup weren’t expecting people to turn their product into gravy, but the French Onion variety can be reduced down to what is actually a rather tasty onion gravy. I put the soup into a medium saucepan on medium heat and let it simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until it is reduced by 3/4. Since the soup is mostly beef broth, the gravy it makes ends up being nice and rich and goes well with any number of vegetables and meats.

So today I simmered some green beans in the soup until it reduced to sauce, made the mini meatloaves, and served them together with some Garlic Parmesan Couscous.

The entire meal, start to finish, took less than an hour to make, including prep time. Most of the cooking time is simply waiting for sauces to reduce.

Drunken dessert

Dinner tonight was fun, but I enjoyed dessert much more. I made Drunken Strawberries and Cream. This is actually very easy to make and tastes wonderful! First, I quartered a pound of fresh strawberries and put them in a bowl with about a 3/4 cup of shiraz, a teaspoon of honey, a teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon. I covered the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. (I used shiraz because I really like shiraz, but any sweet or semi-sweet red wine like sherry or port will work.)

When you are ready to serve, whip a half cup of heavy cream, two tablespoons of powdered sugar, and two tablespoons of the wine from the strawberries until the cream is firm. Remove the berries from the wine with a slotted spoon and top them with the whipped cream in serving bowls. Serve the wine in glasses on the side as a quick cordial.

This doesn’t take long to make, and it’s sweet with just a hint of a spicy note from the cinnamon. The wine is a great way to relax after the meal and unwind at the end of the day. Given the week we’ve had, it was a welcome refreshment.