Saturday, April 20, 2013

Strawberry-Colada Pavlovas

The Setting: A quiet and peaceful evening at the Crumm house--the little one has been sleeping for almost two hours!

The Soundtrack: Duck Dynasty. Gotta love it.

On the Stovetop: Nothing now, but Hoosband made some killer chicken quesadillas for dinner.

The Scenario: A dessert inspired by a drink....

Last summer Hoosband and I had a revelation in frozen-drink making: the Strawberry Colada.

Though I've never seen it on a drink menu, I'm quite sure we're not the first to think of it.

While I have no idea what may have qualified as a Strawberry Colada to the barkeeps who blended before us, ours is a simple and relatively healthy concoction of frozen strawberries, coconut milk (the kind that comes in a milk carton) and coconut rum. Three ingredients to pure, island-fantasizing, hammock-by-the-ocean bliss.

Last week, back on the mainland, I had a couple of egg whites hanging around after a pudding-making endeavor, so I froze them to save for another one of Hoosband's favorite indulgences: meringue and berry pavlovas.

I generally keep the pavlovas pretty simple: whipped cream and fresh raspberries in a crunchy-on-the-outside, marshmallowy-on-the-inside meringue shell (as in Raspberry Pavlovas, Jan 2012).

This time I wanted to mix things up a bit.

Since the market had gorgeous, organic strawberries on sale (and because I've been dreaming of the beach), I decided to take some inspiration from our favorite frozen beverage.

The result?

Meringue shells speckled with toasted coconut, loaded with whipped coconut cream and topped with coconut-rum-spiked strawberries.

It's not quite like being on the beach--more like blissfully looking down on the islands from a white, puffy cloud.

It's easy to put your own spin on this dreamy dessert. Here are a few simple variations:

To make it a bit more beachy, add the zest of one lime to the strawberry mixture--I did this before eating my third pavlova, and I think I like it even better this way.

For more of a literal interpretation of the strawberry colada, puree the marinated strawberry mixture into a smooth sauce in the blender.

If you're a "love the taste, not the texture"-fan of coconut, as I used to be, feel free to omit the grated coconut in the meringues.

If you're not a fan of coconut rum or don't have any on hand, try Grand Marnier (orange-flavored brandy liqueur) instead--it's usually my go-to with sliced strawberries, and it's never served me wrong--or omit the booze altogether, no substitutions necessary.

Strawberry-Colada Pavlovas

~for the strawberries~
1 quart fresh strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
2 T granulated sugar
2 T coconut rum (such as Malibu)

Use a paring knife to hull the berries (remove the leafy, green stem-area) and slice them thinly.

It doesn't really matter which way you slice them, but I prefer to do it along their length.

Place the strawberries in a refrigerator-safe container that can be sealed and add the sugar and rum, stirring to coat evenly.

Store the strawberry mixture in the fridge until for at least 8 hours or until ready to use (up to three days). The berries will become softer and syrupy.

~for the meringue shells~
1/4 cup unsweetened, grated coconut
2 egg whites, room temperature (if you start with frozen egg whites, thaw them overnight in the fridge)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut rum, optional
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Place the coconut in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring frequently, until light golden.

Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (if your oven tends to run hot, decrease the temp slightly). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat--if desired, you can trace six three-inch circles on parchment paper and flip it over so that you have guides for piping your shells. I prefer to go freehand.

Place the eggs whites, cream of tartar, vanilla, and rum in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed until the whites are foamy and can hold a soft peak when you lift up the paddle.

With the mixer on med-low speed, slowly add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, beating just until the mixture is bright white, glossy, and can hold a stiff peak when you lift up the paddle.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the toasted coconut.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag (working in batches if necessary) and pipe six, three-inch meringue shells onto the prepared pan: Put the tip of your piping bag down where you want the center of the circle to be, and pipe out a tight coil of meringue until it is the desired width. Then lift the tip to make a ring around the edge of the coil, creating a well. Repeat to create six shells.

Bake the meringues at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 23 minutes or until cream-colored and crisp on the outside. The insides will have a very slight jiggle. Allow to cool five minutes on the baking sheet; then carefully slide the parchment or silicone mat onto a cooling rack and allow the shells to cool completely.

~for the whipped coconut cream~
1 can full-fat coconut milk, room temperature
2 T powdered sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut rum

Open the can of coconut milk and use a fork to scoop the fatty top layer of cream into a powerful blender, making sure to keep the thinner, watery liquid in the can (the fork helps any liquid to drain off).

Don't worry if there are a few clumps of cream left in the can.

If desired, transfer the watery liquid to an airtight container and keep in the fridge for smoothie-making or another upcoming purpose. Clumps of cream left in the the can will actually make smoothies even better!

Add the remaining ingredients to the blender and blend on high for about 30 seconds or until the mixture looks like slightly frothy milk. Transfer to a small container and chill for about an hour. It will have thickened slightly. Transfer the cream to a large, metal bowl, and use a wire whisk to whip the mixture by hand until it is able to hold soft peaks.

For a more detailed explanation of this process, see this post.

If not assembling the pavlovas right away, store the coconut cream in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use (up to 4 days). It will thicken slightly in the fridge but will still be easy to work with.

~to assemble~
Place a meringue shell on a dessert plate and spoon the coconut cream into the center "well" of the shell.

Top with the prepared strawberries and enjoy!

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Whipped Coconut Cream

The Setting: A gloomily overcast day, complete with severe weather warnings. Here's hoping the storms stay away!

The Soundtrack: Educational programming on PBS. Why was this not my go-to for TV-time all along?

Steaming up the Oven: Nothing in the oven, but there's Vietnamese Chicken Salad, a la Hot Sour Salty Sweet in the fridge!

The Scenario: I've been working on a post about a composed dessert that involves whipped coconut cream. As I've been writing and editing and amending and basically creating an appendix-worth of notes just on the whipped cream section, I had to switch gears and make this a post of its own--composed dessert to come tomorrow.

Please forgive the long-winded post--it's been a bit of a journey.

So I don't know if I've mentioned it, but in January I discovered I'm lactose intolerant. I guess it was sort of a latent situation. I've never been much of a milk drinker, and you kind of expect to get sick when you eat a whole container of ice cream, so I never thought much about it. Then in December I started getting these terrible stomach pains (I'd been chowing down pretty aggressively on my toddler's string cheese and adding skim lattes back to the diet after a year-and-a-half hiatus from my green-and-white-cup addiction), and the doctor told me to cut out dairy.

I was bummed. Fortunately, my favorite aged cheeses were pretty much lactose free (most of the milk's lactose is converted into lactic acid in the cheese-making/aging process), but certain cheeses, butter, ice cream, and whipped cream were solidly in the danger zone.

Cutting back on plain milk wasn't an issue. I'd been using almond or coconut milk in my cereal for years, and I'd often replace butter with coconut oil. But what use in place of whipped cream?

I'd been thinking about experimenting with some combination of coconut milk and coconut oil (for added fat content), but suddenly, with perfect timing, I started seeing multiple references on Pinterest to what appeared to be the whipped coconut cream of my dreams.

The instructions all seemed fairly straightforward: scoop off the solidified fatty layer from the top of a can of coconut milk, add sweetener and flavorings, and whip.

Of course! I had gotten so used to using the coconut milk that comes in a milk carton that I had completely forgotten the canned version has a convenient cream layer just begging to be whipped! It was the answer to my problem--in theory.

In practice, however, it wasn't quite so dreamy.

You may have seen my reference to my first whipped-coconut-cream attempt in my No-Bake Irish Cream Cheesecakes post. I got the stuff to whip up only after adding dairy cream to the mixture and switching from my beloved electric whisk to the good-old manual method and an extra dose of elbow grease. At the time I credited the addition of dairy cream for my eventual success at achieving those covet-worthy peaks, but it turns out the method of whipping made the difference.

I learned this lesson in my second attempt. This time I employed the electric stand mixer. At first it looked like soft peaks were seconds away. The mixture seemed to be taking in air and getting ever-so-slightly more voluminous--and then it separated into liquid and clumps. Suddenly and without warning, I had a curdled mess.

Unwilling to concede defeat, I dumped the mixture into the blender and blitzed it back into a homogeneous substance. Now it just looked like milk. I poured it into a Tupperware container and put it in time out (in the fridge) for bad behavior.

A few hours later I shrugged my shoulders, removed the mixture from the fridge, transferred it to a large, metal mixing bowl, and got out the old trusty whisk. Within a minute or two of hand-whipping and sheer determination, I had this:

It was exquisite.

Feeling like I had landed on perfection like Dorothy landing on the Wicked Witch of the East (happy to be out of the storm, but not quite sure I could write a travel guide on how to get from Kansas to Oz), I knew I had to try this whole thing one more time and attempt to streamline the process.

So here, at long last, are my pointers for success:

1. Some of the recipes I found via Pinterest suggested chilling the can of coconut milk ahead of time to make it easier to separate the cream from the water. This does help to drastically define the layers, but it makes the cream very hard and crumbly. I actually found it easier to work with at room temperature. Just use a fork to remove the soft cream--the tines allow any excess water drain off into the can.

This is the absolute wettest a forkful should be. It's OK to leave a few floaters in the can.

This is what you should end up with cream-wise:

2. The cream above is pictured in a mixing bowl, but I've found the best process is to begin in the blender, preferably a VitaMix or similarly beastly apparatus. Add your sweetener and flavoring of choice--I've tried various combinations of honey (1 T) or powdered sugar (1 1/2 T) and vanilla extract (1 tsp) or vanilla bean paste (1 tsp) and/or coconut rum (1 tsp)--and blend on high for about 30 seconds or until you have what looks like slightly frothy milk.

Transfer to a small container and chill for at least an hour. The mixture will thicken slightly in the fridge, but it has not yet reached its full potential.

3. Transfer the cream to a large, metal mixing bowl and use a wire whisk to whip it just until it holds soft peaks.

Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days. It will become slightly firmer in the fridge, but it will be just as easy to dollop!

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Orange-Biscoff Crumm Cake

The Setting: April showers.

The Soundtrack: The Fox and the Hound. I wouldn't say we've completely moved on from Lady and the Tramp, but we're trying something new.

Steaming up the Oven: Homemade hamburger buns. That's right, it's burger night! Elastic-waisted pants are in order.

The Scenario: Biscoff Mania continues!

If Biscoff Mania means nothing to you, don't feel bad; the "mania" of Biscoff-inspired recipes I had originally planned back in May has been less of a torrent and more of a (nearly yearlong) trickle. What can I say? Things happen. Nevertheless, here's what you've missed:

Sky-High Milk Chocolate Bark

Mini Orange-Biscoff Cheesecakes


Despite the--shall we say--dearth of recipes listed above, my mammoth supply of Biscoff cookies is almost gone! Some became Hoosband prey--armed with a container of Nutella, that guy is dangerous--and MANY received their higher calling as part of the above-mentioned Biscoli, a dessert so good I had to make it on several occasions (I mean, Biscoff cookies meet cannoli filling--how could you not want to eat that everyday?).

Today we take the crispy wafers to uncharted territories, as they become both topping and flavoring in crumb cake--er, Crumm cake (with a name like Crumm, how could I not?).

With its tender, moist texture, crunchy crumb topping, and dual status as breakfast and dessert, this forth contender in the Biscoff-Mania games just might give Biscoli a run for its cookies.

But I'll let you decide.

Note: While I think the flavor is rather spectacular as-is, Hoosband thinks the orange aspect could have been punched up a bit more and likes to eat his cake with some extra orange marmalade on the side.

Orange-Biscoff Crumm Cake

~for the crumb topping~
1 (8.8 oz) package Biscoff cookies
2 T brown sugar
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

Place the cookies in a food processor and process into crumbs.

Remove 1/2 cup of the crumbs and set aside to use in the cake batter.

To the crumbs that remain in the processor, add the brown sugar and butter and process or pulse until the butter has been fairly well distributed and a few 1/2-inch-or-so chunks of butter remain. Set aside until ready to use.

~for the cake~
1/2 cup reserved Biscoff crumbs
2 1/3 cups cake flour
1 tsp fine salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 stick butter, softened
1 the seeds of vanilla bean (split the pod longways and scrape the seeds out of each half with the blunt edge of a paring knife)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup orange marmalade (preferably one made with actual sugar and no funky stuff)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a 9-by-13-by-3-inch baking pan

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the reserved cookie crumbs, the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, vanilla seeds, sugar, oil, and marmalade until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as necessary Add the eggs one at a time, beating well to incorporate fully after each addition.

Add about one third of the flour mixture, beating on low just to incorporate.

Add half of the buttermilk, again beating on low just to incorporate. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed, and repeat with another third of the flour mixture, followed by the rest of the buttermilk and then the final third of the flour mixture.

Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared pan, and spread the crumb topping evenly over the top.

Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Place the pan over a cooling rack for better air circulation, and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

This cake can be stored, tightly covered, at room temperature for up to five days, but it will be best in the first day or two.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Quinoa and Kale Tabouleh

The Setting: Spring! Yes, it has finally sprung here in the formerly frigid Midwest. Fifty-one degrees Fahrenheit and mostly cloudy never felt so good.

The Soundtrack: Washing machine, dryer, dishwasher...oh, the sounds of productivity!

Steaming up the Oven: Just the memories of yesterday's valiant-but-wanting baking endeavor. I'll save the details for another post, but let's just say even bacon couldn't save it.

The Scenario: A frolic on the lighter side....

I can barely spell tabouleh (tabbouleh, tabbouli), let alone pronounce it correctly, and I certainly won't act like I'm an authority on where it originated or what the most traditional recipe for this delightfully refreshing dish might be.

Here is what I think I know: tabouleh comes from somewhere in the Middle East/Mediterranean, and it generally contains parsley (so underrated), bulgur wheat, tomatoes, olive oil, and lemon juice. Also, it is delicious.

My spin on this sublime spring salad or side substitutes quinoa for the bulgur wheat and adds lots of kale and extra herbs to punch up both the nutrition and the flavor.

Disclaimer: Quinoa is not necessarily healthier than bulgur. Cup for cup, bulgur is much lower in calories and higher in fiber, while quinoa has higher levels of important vitamins and minerals like iron, B-6, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus. Unlike bulgur, quinoa is gluten free and contains all nine essential amino acids (making it a complete protein) it all depends on what you're going for. Quinoa is what I generally have on hand, and I love the unique texture and subtle, nutty flavor it brings to this dish.

Quinoa and Kale Tabouleh
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
1 cup freshly cooked quinoa
5 leaves kale, woody stems removed
1 large handful each of fresh mint, basil, and flat-leaf parsley
1 small, white onion, finely chopped
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

In a small bowl whisk together the first 6 ingredients (lemon juice through garlic). This is the dressing.

Place the quinoa in a large bowl and toss with half of the dressing. Set aside.

Place the kale and fresh herbs in a food processor, working in two batches if necessary, and pulse or process just until finely chopped.

Add the chopped kale and herbs to the quinoa bowl along with the onion, tomatoes, and remaining dressing. Stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat (preferably an hour or longer, as it gets better as it sits). Best consumed within 4 days.

This salad makes a great vegetarian meal on its own, but Hoosband likes to serve it as a side dish with lamb or top it with canned salmon for a heartier main-dish salad.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.