Almond Cherry Cake

[Almond Cherry Cake]Searching for a suitable dessert to make for Easter Dinner at my mom’s house is a delicious challenge. While most of us enjoy a chocolate whatever-you-bake special dinners are a chance do something different. I had some cherries in the freezer that I wanted to do something with. An hour lost to the Internet provided several options. In the end I opted for this lovely creation on the right.

Notes under the cut

Buttered Farro

There are times when an improvisation turns into something you want to repeat again and again. This dish is one of the successes that I will continue to make once a month or so because it’s just that tasty.

It’s “origin story” isn’t very glamorous though. I realized I had some cooked farro slowly wasting away in the fridge as I was putting together the menu for one of our mostly weekly Saturday night gatherings. Since I hadn’t actually planned on making it part of dinner I didn’t pickup the additional ingredients necessary to make Farro with Mushrooms and Thyme. Luckily, a handful of pantry staples turned this from a bland grain into a flavorful side dish.

Buttered Farro
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 5 minutes (if you have precooked your farro)
Total time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until just shimmering. Add the diced onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with oil and saute until translucent, 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add the butter. When it is fully melted add the farro, paprika and spice blend. Toss until the farro is coated with butter and the spices are well distributed.
  3. Heat for about 5 minutes so that the farro is heated through. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as desired. Serve.

Notes:
If you have fresh herbs such as parsley or chives on hand you could added a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped fresh herbs at the end of cooking.

Potato, Herb and Cheese Stacks

A while back I was lured in by a glossy picture of Parmesan and Herb Potato Stacks in an retailers Instagram post. The recipe seemed straight-forward, the image looked inticing and I’m always seeking a new way to present potatoes at Saturday night dinner.

While the result was good I thought of several ways to improve the recipe. Here’s the result with my update ingredient list and rewritten in my own words. Enjoy.

Potato, Herb and Cheese Stacks
Servings: 8-12
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45-50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 5 Yukon Gold potatoes, very thinly sliced (about 1/16 inch)
  • 6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 fresh sage leaves for garnish (optional)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat an oven to 375°F. Coat a 12 cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray.
  2. Place the sliced potatoes win a colander set over a bowl and set aside while you melt the butter. Transfer the butter to a large bowl and allow the butter to cool for at least 5 minutes.
  3. Add the Romano cheese, garlic, thyme and cream to the cooled butter and whisk together until combined.. Season with salt and pepper. Add the potato slices and gently toss to coat evenly.
  4. Divide the potato slices among the prepared muffin cups, stacking them in layers.
  5. If using them, arrange a sage leaf on top of each stack.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the potato stacks. Bake for another 10 minutes. The potatoes should be tender with crispy edges and the Parmesan should be fully melted. If not cook for another minute or two.
  7. Let cool slightly, then carefully remove the stacks from the pan and serve warm.

Notes:
Don’t be tempted by the cheese in a plastic jar which is found in the pasta aisle of your local megamart. You should find a wedge of Romano, and another of Parmesan, in the “fancy” cheese case near the deli counter. Yes, you’ll pay more than you will for that plastic jar however the flavor will far exceed the price difference.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Certain cakes go best with certain icings. A carrot cake with out cream cheese frosting is just isn’t the same. I also use this for red velvet cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Servings: enough to frost a 13″x9″ cake (or probably 2 8″ rounds)
Prep time: 2 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. room temperature cream cheese
  • 12 oz. room temperature unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 24 oz. powdered sugar
  • 2-3 Tbsp. milk or heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low for about 30 seconds to break out both and move to high for 2 minutes to cream both ingredients together.
  2. Reduce the speed to low once again and add the vanilla. Beat on medium for 30 seconds to incorporate.
  3. Once more reduce the speed to low and add about a third of the sugar and a tablespoon of milk. Beat until combined and repeat with the second third of sugar and another tablespoon of milk.
  4. Add the remaining sugar and once combined with the frosting increase the mixer speed to high. Beat for 1 minute to incorporate air and increase the volume of the frosting.

Notes:
It’s important for the cream cheese and butter to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before making this frosting.

12 oz. of cream cheese is 1 1/2 packages and 12 oz. of butter is 1 1/2 sticks at my mega-mart.

Basic Polenta (or Grits)

Cooked coarse-ground corn meal, whether you call it polenta or grits, is tasty stuff. It is can be served just after cooking or allowed gel into a flavorful brick that can be grilled, pan seared or deep fried. It is infinitely alterable just be swapping out an ingredient or two.

Polenta does require supervision and a fair bit of stirring. The results are worth the effort.

Basic Polenta
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal (often called corn grits or polenta)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 Tbsp. cubes
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Crush the dried thyme between your finger tips and it, along with the salt, to the water. Allow the salt to dissolve then sprinkle the cornmeal over the water, stirring frequently.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. I stir for about 10-15 seconds out of every minute for the first 15 minutes and then constantly for the last 5.
  3. Turn off the heat and add the butter, cheese, and pepper. Stir until the butter has melted and incorporated.
  4. Taste, adjust salt and pepper as desired. Serve with the savory topping of your choice (mine is often shrimp).

Notes:
Polenta solidifies fairly quickly, creating a solid that can be sliced. It can be served cold or pan-seared before serving. Coat the inside of a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and transfer the hot, cooked polenta into the pan. Press plastic wrap onto the top of the polenta to keep it from drying out and allow it to cool for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

To prep it for cooking just remove the plastic wrap, slide a knife around the edges of the polenta loaf and upturn it onto a cutting board. Slice into 1/2″-3/4″ rounds and fry in a non-stick skillet for 2-3 minutes per side.

Simple Buttercream Frosting

This is the frosting, or cake icing, that I grew up on. While it isn’t a true buttercream it is delicious in my book and what I think of when making a cake.

Simple Buttercream Frosting
Servings: 1 2-layer cake or 12 cupcakes with a bit leftover
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2-3 Tbsp. milk or cream

Directions:

  1. Add butter to the bowl of stand mixer. Beat, on medium-high, for 2-3 minutes until lightened in color.
  2. Reduce speed to lowest setting and add 1/3 of the sugar plus the vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk. Allow to combine before adding the next 1/3 of sugar and another tablespoon of milk.
  3. Add the remaining sugar and allow to combine. If it looks too dry then add a bit more milk.
  4. Increase speed to medium-high, a bit at a time, and beat for 5 minutes. Frosting should increase in volume.

Notes:
You can replace the milk/cream with another liquid. Orange juice makes a nicely flavored frosting. If you are using fresh squeezed OJ then zest the orange before squeezing and add the zest to the frosting before the final beating.

Want chocolate frosting?  Add 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the first third of the sugar and follow the remainder of the recipe.

Sage Brown Butter for Pasta

Summer is here, the kitchen is hot and we haven’t been doing a lot of cooking of late. Here’s a little something for a quick weeknight supper. It is quick and flavorful. I like to use this with almost any filled pasta.

Sage Brown Butter for Pasta
Servings: 4
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: less time than it takes to cook your pasta

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 7-10 fresh sage leaves, rinsed and minced

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in a skillet over medium-low heat for 3-5 minutes. As butter heats the butter will start to sputter and pop as the milk solids give up the little bit of water they possess. Remove the pan from the heat when the sputtering stops.
  2. Add the minced sage to the pan and swirl to distribute.
  3. Toss with pasta and serve.

Notes:
I prefer a stainless steel skillet for browning butter over a non-stick one. The stainless one makes it easier to observe the darkening of the melted butter.

The time from browned butter to “burnt” butter is seconds. Sound is your best indicator here; remove the pan from the heat as soon as the last pop is uttered by the browning butter. Just as you stop the microwave as soon as the popping kernels slow down it is better to remove the pan a little early than risk “burnt” butter.