Monday, March 22, 2010

Broccoli Flowers and Cupcakes

Broccoli Flower Salad
I didn't cut my broccoli florets from the plant quickly enough so some of them have begun to flower. I feel better about this when I see how many bees are enjoying these flowers when the sun is out. However I decided to experiment with a stalk to find out how much of it was still edible. Some of parts of the stems are tender but there are also some stickery parts up near the flowers. My first salad involved some chewing and spitting out.

For the next salad, we used just the flowers.

This salad was very successful. My husband Dave made it using volunteer lettuce. Last fall I let my lettuce go to seed for the bees. When I finally pulled it up, my compost bin was too full so I left it on the ground near the bin for a few weeks. A few months ago I noticed that I had a patch of lettuce on the ground near the compost bin.

The sugar peas are also from my garden, but they were planted there on purpose.

I agreed to do a tea as an auction item for Guide Dogs for the Blind. The woman who got it is a 3rd grade teacher at Howard School, so she is bringing her class to Braille Institute to have tea. My friend Adelaida is joining us with her guide dog, Caraway, to introduce Caraway to the children. I'm working on some fanciful items to serve.

I want to do some mini cupcakes. I decided to try Cat Cora's batter for Alma's Italian Cream Cake. I love this cake. It has a great texture and keeps a long time in the refrigerator. I left out the nuts and the coconut because I want a basic simple reliable cupcake recipe--one that domes nicely but doesn't cross over into muffin territory. The texture needs to be light and delicate, like this cake. I can add in coconut, chocolate, or nuts once I have the basic recipe figured out.

My first attempt didn't come out the way I'd envisioned it.

They looked fine coming out of the oven but they sank in the middle as they cooled. (They tasted great, but I want the appearance to be appealing too.)

Cat Cora uses a great technique for getting rise. Buttermilk and baking soda give the batter some initial rise, but then she also separates out her egg whites and beats them to fold into the batter. The innovative thing is that she saves out a little of the sugar to beat into the whites after they begin to foam. That makes the egg white more meringue-like and more stable.

So I wasn't having a problem getting rise, but as they cooled, the cake structure wasn't strong enough to maintain height. If you look on the Internet, some experts say this is caused by beating too much and some say it's from not beating enough. I'd opt for the not beating enough since the gluten strength comes from beating (beating too much will make cakes tough, but probably won't make them fall).

I decided to decrease the sugar in the recipe, since sugar weakens the gluten strands that provide structure.

The texture of these is delicate and they are sweet enough without the extra sugar, but the lovely domes they had coming out of the oven disappeared as they cooled. At least these didn't sink, but they look a bit shriveled. (Any of these cupcakes would be fine with a bit of frosting, but I want the unglazed cupcake to look perfect.)

So I decided to decrease the buttermilk just a bit so see if that would help. Here is the result.

This makes me happy. Next I'll try a chocolate version, figure out how much to put into a mini muffin pan, and decide how I want to decorate them.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sunday Breakfast

Someone in our house really likes pancakes.

And a princess builds up a hearty appetite after a busy morning scrubbing floors.

So Mama Kris gathered the ingredients and carefully measured them out to make a pancake batter.

She whisked out most of the lumps.

Then she remembered we had leftover blueberries in the refrigerator. Saraphina helped her rinse the berries in a strainer.

Then she stirred them into the batter and we made pancakes.

While they were cooking, Saraphina declared that she was going to eat her breakfast in a drawer.

It turns out that most food tastes better when eaten in a drawer.

Amber, Saraphina's loyal attendant, agrees.

Afterwards, Saraphina checked out the garden from her own private viewing place.

Weekend Food Highlights

Costco had fresh mussels again this weekend. There's a recipe in Emeril's 20-40-60 Fresh Food Fast cookbook I wanted to try. It said it would take 18 minutes to prepare and cook the mussels.

The ingredients are simple: cleaned mussels, shallots and garlic minced, minced parsley, cream with white wine, salt and pepper. However by the time I finished picking, washing, and mincing the parsley, mincing garlic and shallots, and cleaning the mussels, it was well-past 18 minutes. Scrubbing the mussels and pulling off the strands of hairy mussel beard took the longest. Maybe with a kitchen staff it goes a bit more quickly. Anyhow, once the ingredients were cleaned and prepped, it went very quickly.

First you saute the minced items, then add the wine, cream, and seasonings and bring it all to a boil. Pile in the mussels and put on the lid and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes. I used Shaun's Le Creuset wok. It's the perfect size for 5 lb. of mussels. Only 2 of the mussels didn't open. We ate the opened mussels with garlic cheese bread using bread Dave had baked that morning.