Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Watermelon Granita

Tomorrow little K will be 5 months old!  I can't believe he is already but at the same time, only five months old.  Last weekend we took a day trip to the beach and had an absolute blast.  Little K has a cousin who is 2.5 months older than him and they were both completely fascinated by the sand, waves, ocean breeze, etc.  We had lots of fun trying to keep as much sand out of their mouths as possible!  This was also their older cousin/sibling, D's (I've mentioned him here before) first real experience at the ocean.  We could not get him out of the waves, despite the chilly 62° temperature. Little K enjoyed a tiny taste of watermelon, in one of those mesh feeders, for the first time at the beach.  He made a lot of confused faces at first, but in the end he was a happy boy, enjoying the sweet watermelon juice.   

This granita is a fantastic way to enjoy the beautiful, summery sweetness of watermelon.  There is a hint of tart, acidic lime juice that kicks the level of deliciousness up a few notches.  The texture of the granita resembles italian ice and melts just perfectly in your mouth.  Granita will keep for months in your freezer, so you can preserve the wonderful, ripe watermelon flavor for the colder months coming soon.  It does take a few hours to make/set but the amount of actual time involved is very little.  My aunt sent me a link to this cool watermelon cutting trick video if you are interested in learning a new way to cube your melon.  I actually had decent success doing this, so it is worth a try!

Here are a few pictures of little K from the past month or so.  All of the long, dark brown hair that he was born with has slowly been falling out and beautiful, blonde hair is growing in.  He looks like a whole new baby, sometimes, just overnight!  He is such a happy boy.  I love watching him discover and experience new things.  He is such a little sponge already, soaking in everything new around him!

Watermelon Granita

1/2 large seedless watermelon (about 6 cups)
Juice of 3 limes
1/4 to 1/3 cup white sugar
Pinch of salt
Additional lime for garnish, optional

Cut up the watermelon into large cubes and discard the rind.  Squeeze the juice of the limes into a blender or food processor and then add as much of the watermelon as you can.  You may have to work in batches. Give the watermelon a few pulses to get started and then add the sugar and salt.  The amount of sugar you add depends on how sweet your watermelon is on its own. Blend this until as smooth as possible.  Pour the liquid into a 9x13 casserole dish or other large, shallow container, preferably with a lid.  If you have to blend the watermelon in batches, be sure to give everything a good stir once it is all combined.  Cover and place the container in the freezer and let freeze for about an hour.  Remove the container from the freezer and use a fork to scrape and stir the mixture, which is probably still fairly liquid at this point.  The edges will be more firm, so scrape everything with the tines of the fork until well combined and little ice crystals are beginning to form.  Repeat this process 2-3 more times, about every hour, until the entire mixture is small crystals of ice. As the granita starts to form, this process gets more difficult, so take your time and really make sure to break it up into tiny little pieces. The granita will keep this texture once complete, so just store in the freezer until you are ready to enjoy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Strawberry Ice Cream

This recipe actually started out as a bit of a flop for me, but I was able to save it and I adjusted the recipe below for how you should actually prepare the ice cream. Don't be like me!

I really, really, really love ice cream, especially homemade, but store-bought is delicious too  I am pretty much impartial when it comes to flavor, I have yet to meet an ice cream flavor that I don't like, and I don't think I could possibly choose a favorite. So, when strawberry season was here, I decided it was time to try making homemade strawberry ice cream.

I really like the texture of frozen berry chunks in ice cream, so I thought, let's try making the ice cream with a vanilla base and stir in some soft, juicy chunks of strawberry as the ice cream finishes blending.  I thought this would be good because the juices would nicely flavor the vanilla base and there would be lots of frozen berry texture goodness.  Yea, well, that didn't really turn out so great. For some reason, even though the berries tasted delicious fresh, once they were frozen they tasted like frozen chunks of nothing/water stirred into super flavorful, sweet ice cream. I don't know if this was caused by something in my technique or what happened exactly.

So to fix my problem, I let the ice cream soften a bit, blended everything up in my blender, and let the mixture refreeze.  This new, improved, re-blended ice cream tastes amazzzzing. When making homemade ice cream, I am a huge fan of Philadelphia style ice cream, which is basically just cream, milk, sugar and flavorings instead of a custard based mix (which is more common).  Especially with fruit ice creams, I find the flavor to be more pure and the texture to be a bit smoother on the palette.  The ice cream is so fruity and creamy with just enough richness without feeling too heavy.  The flavor and texture of this ice cream as it melts, is actually a really wonderful accompaniment to a warm piece of cobbler, crisp, brownies, cake, etc. If you would put whipped cream on it, you want to put this ice cream on it!

I know strawberry season has passed by for the year, but if you find a good deal on decent tasting strawberries, give this recipe a try or save it for next June when the berries are really worth it again! Oh and just for comparison, the top picture is before fixing the ice cream and the bottom picture is what it looked like after.

Strawberry Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
3/4 cup white sugar
1 vanilla bean (optional)
1 tbsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and sugar over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes.  You do not need to even simmer the cream, just dissolve the sugar.  Stir in the milk, vanilla extract and seeds of the vanilla bean, if using.  Use a blender or food processor to blend the strawberries until about 90% pureed.  I like to keep a few small chunks of strawberry pieces in the ice cream, but you can fully blend and strain the mixture if you want the ice cream completely smooth. Add the strawberry puree to the ice cream mixture and stir well.  Let this mixture chill in the fridge for about 1 hour and then prepare in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.  The ice cream will be soft serve consistency, so transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.


Inspired by Foodwishes

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Milk Chocolate Marshmallow Stuffed S'mores Cupcakes

If people started adding quirky, fun pieces of information to their resumes, I would list "Marshmallow Roasting Perfectionist" to my set of skills.  Seriously, ever since I was a little kid, camping with my family or having backyard fires, I have been fine tuning my marshmallow roasting abilities.  There is nothing better than a perfectly golden crisp outside bursting with ooey-gooey melted marshmallow inside. I will never understand those of you who enjoy, as I like to call it, the 'quick and dirty' method of catching the marshmallow on fire and then rushing to blow it out before the whole thing turns to dust!

My summer job during college was working as a counselor at a Girl Scout camp, where we were required to build campfires the "all-natural" way, using birch bark and teeny tiny twig tee-pees to get our campfires started.  At least we got to use matches!  Although, there was usually a contest amongst the staff to see who could have the most "one match only" fires each summer. The camp ran for six weeks each summer with a lunch cookout every Wednesday and then an optional overnight for older girls on Thursdays that included another cookout.  So twice a week, the staff was building fires and cooking over them for the campers.  We made lots of the typical burgers and hotdogs, english muffin pizzas, and even quesadillas over the fires, but dessert was always the favorite.  Banana boats (bananas cut in half, loaded up with marshmallow and chocolate chips wrapped in foil and set on the coals to get melty), or cinnamon roll sticks (Pillsbury crescent roll dough dipped in butter and cinnamon sugar, wrapped around a foil lined stick and roasted) were pretty well liked by the campers, but nothing beat the good old fashioned s'mores!  Just the thought of s'mores at the weekly cookout was enough to keep any camper crankiness at bay :)  I spent a lot of time working with 5-7 year olds and many of them unintentionally fell into the 'quick and dirty' category of roasting marshmallows which usually led to very unhappy campers.  I can't tell you how many times I heard another counselor say "go ask Luna (I'll explain in a minute) to roast you another marshmallow."

I would guess that I roasted several hundred marshmallows over the three summers that I worked at the camp, so needless-to-say, my marshmallow roasting skills are pretty much perfect to this day!  The secret is all in the placement and rotation.  Hold the marshmallow down near the super hot coals, out of the flames and rotate a quarter turn ever few seconds.  With just a little patience, you have a perfect marshmallow every time. Oh and if you were curious about the name "Luna", all of the counselors had to choose "camp names" for themselves as part of the camp's traditions.  It was always fun for the campers to guess what our real names were, but we never revealed them.  I have always been fascinated by the moon, so I chose the name Luna.  Working at that camp has so many wonderful memories. Every summer since then, I think fondly about what a great summer job it was!

These cupcakes taste exactly like a s'more, just in cake form.  The sweet, rich, tender cupcakes are bursting with the creamy marshmallow filling.  I'm sorry that I don't have a picture of one of the cupcakes cut in half so you could see how delicious they looked!  Since the buttercream is made with Hershey's candy bars, it has the perfect milk chocolate flavor that duplicates the melty chocolate in a s'more.  You get a little bit of crunch from the graham cracker crumbs and of course, the star of the cupcake: the sticky, gooey, yet crispy toasted marshmallows puts these s'mores cupcakes over the top!  Make these beautiful, delicious cupcakes before the, alreadyflyingbyIcan'tbelieveitisalreadyAugust, summer is over!

Milk Chocolate Marshmallow Stuffed S'mores Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk*

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 2 cupcake trays (24 cupcakes) with liners. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate large bowl whisk together the oil, sugars, eggs, and vanilla until well combined.  Pour 1/2 of the dry ingredients and 1/2 of the buttermilk into the wet ingredients and whisk briefly until barely combined. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients and buttermilk.  The batter will be fairly thin.  Divide evenly into the lined trays, filling each one just under 3/4 full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let sit for 10 minutes and then remove from the trays to cool completely on a wire rack.

*Buttermilk can be substituted with regular milk and 1 tbsp of white vinegar

Marshmallow filling
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme (Fluff)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Cream together the butter and marshmallow creme until smooth and fluffy.  Add in the vanilla and powdered sugar and mix well.  The filling should be not be too thin or too stiff, so adjust the powdered sugar amount, if necessary.

Milk Chocolate Buttercream
1 cup butter, room temperature
4 Hershey's milk chocolate bars
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk or heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate bars in the microwave on medium power, 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between until completely smooth and melted.  Let the chocolate cool to room temperature.  Cream together the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy.  Slowly pour in the cream and vanilla and mix until combined.  Beat in the melted, cooled chocolate and whip on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes.

Topping & Assembly
24 marshmallows (I used the "Jet-Puffed Stacker" variety)
2 graham crackers, crushed

Spoon the marshmallow filling into a piping bag or zipper baggie with a small corner cut off.  Spoon the buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip (or other tip of your choosing).  Using a small, sharp paring knife, cut a small circular wedge out of the top of each cupcake and set the wedge aside.  Pipe about a large teaspoon sized dollop into the hole and place the piece of cutout cupcake back on top of the filling. You could also just spoon some filling in but I find piping it is much less messy.  Pipe a swirl of the milk chocolate buttercream onto each cupcake and sprinkle with some graham cracker crumbs.  Place your marshmallows onto a silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet and toast them under the broiler.  Make sure to watch closely because they toast pretty fast.  You probably will need to work in batches for this step. Use a greased turner or spatula to remove from the baking sheet and place onto of the cupcakes.  These cupcakes are best served within a few hours of assembling so if you make the cupcakes ahead of time, make sure to wait to assemble until shortly before serving!


Inspired by Sally's Baking Addiction & Comfortably Domestic