Category Archives: baking

A rainbow-themed first birthday party!

Yesterday was a long-anticipated day for our family- our son’s first birthday party! Marking the end of our first year as parents, we felt, needed to be done right. So months ago I set out searching pinterest for  ideas. Pinterest and I quickly developed a love-hate relationship, as I could not say no to all any of the cute decor and food ideas, but I felt completely in over my head. Luckily, with my trusty excel spreadsheet (along with some very helpful friends and family members) we made it, and I couldn’t have hoped for it to come together any better. Of course, the people who were there to celebrate with us were really the ones who made the day special. But I loved the liveliness that the food and decorations brought.

If you can’t tell from the pictures, we had a rainbow theme going.
Here is the banner I made with little man’s monthly photos. This is what people saw when they first walked in. 
Favors! 
 
I made rainbow-colored tissue paper pom poms that were hung around the house. The idea for the pom poms came from this pin
The spread of food. All made by my mom and me. 
Rainbow fruit kebabs. The idea was from this pin.
Little man’s smash cake. I realized later that I took a picture with the “1” backwards. Whoops!
 
Birthday cake for everyone else. Looks like a plain white cake, but just you wait…
Cupcakes, made by a sweet friend, because I was nervous that the “guest” cake wouldn’t be enough for 40 people. It was…
All the desserts together. I also made fromage blanc (the white yogurt-like stuff in the bowl). That’ll be it’s own post someday soon. 
Smash cake time!
Unsure about this “cake” thing…
You might recognize the onesie little man is wearing from my post about it. I painted the design with freezer paper stenciling. The rainbow was super time intensive, but I’m really happy with how it looked!It was finally time for cake for everyone else…

My very first rainbow cake!! I was nervous about it, but I actually pulled it off! The effect was so vibrant and beautiful. I loved it. The recipe is from Whisk Kid, who’s now-famous rainbow cake recipe is on Martha Stewart! 

In case you’re concerned about the waste involved in making the tissue paper pom poms, I already posted them on freecycle and someone is picking them up on Monday for their daughter’s birthday party. I love that someone else will enjoy them! Also, if you’re wondering about the cost of that much tissue paper, I got most of it at the dollar store. I think we spent a total of $10 on tissue paper. Not too shabby. 

AND, in much more exciting news than tissue paper prices, little man took his first steps after the birthday party! His 10 month old friend came back over after her nap to keep the party going. She surprised us all and took her first steps! I guess little man decided he didn’t want to be shown up by his younger friend, so he followed suit soon after. He really is growing up!

Paleo Meal


Before I jump into the foodie aspect of this dinner, let me preface with a little bit of background information. I learned about the Paleo Diet earlier this year from a friend and neighbor, Richard, who has experienced impressive weight loss and fitness success by revamping the way he thinks about food and eating. Richard writes a blog about his paleo lifestyle at http://freetheanimal.com/, which includes a nice balance of information from recently published research & position papers and personal experience in the form of recipes, progress photos, and emails from friends and family who’ve also experienced positive results.

For a complete overview of what paleo eating entails you really should check out Richard’s blog (nice overviews here & here), but I will do my best to give you a quick rundown. The basic premise is that, in the grand scheme of evolution, the amount of time that we’ve been agricultural people is about 2 seconds (approximation mine). This means that for the majority of human history, our ancestors have been hunters and gatherers. Things like grains, vegetable oils and processed sugars haven’t been available to us, and therefore we are not as well adapted to eating them. A paleo meal (also called “primitive”) usually consists of meat, vegetables, and some fruit (mostly fruits that would typically be gathered, like berries).

I know this sounds a lot like Atkins, but the focus is on eating real, unprocessed food, without counting carbs (or counting anything, for that matter). I find this all very interesting, especially given Richard’s results, and those of our good friends Kevin & Joseph after going paleo.

Recently, Richard has given me several flattering plugs on Free the Animal. Apparently, I’ve inspired him to focus more on food presentation and photography on his “food porn” posts (and his hard work is paying off, because the food looks great!). We decided to get together for dinner after our trip to France, and I knew that I wanted to cook Richard and his wife Bea a paleo dinner so that I’d be able to feature Free the Animal here.

Deciding on a menu took all week and a bit of research. I changed my mind several times, including the day before our dinner, when the beef I’d planned on making didn’t look as enticing as a beautiful fillet of halibut. But that’s how I decide what’s for dinner- pick what looks good at the farmer’s market/grocery store that day- so I’m used to last minute changes. Here’s what I ended up deciding on:

Chilled Tomato Soup with Basil-Infused Oil
~
Broiled Halibut Fillet with Parsley Lemon Butter
served with Pipérade
~
Paleo Raspberry Tart with Raw Whipped Cream

I was pleased with the results, and guessing from the reaction I received from Richard, Bea & Trevor, so were they. Below I’ll break down each component of the menu and provide recipes for your viewing (and perhaps testing/tasting pleasure).

Parsley Lemon Butter


Ingredients:
2 pints heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp creme fraiche
2 tsp cheese salt (optional)
1 cup parsley (washed & packed)
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon

Directions:

  • For the cultured butter: Pour the cream into a clean, earthenware bowl. Add the creme fraiche and gently mix with a clean whisk. Allow the cream to sit overnight in a warm room (about 75 degrees). The next morning, the cream should have thickened slightly. Pour it into the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment. Turn the mixer on low and allow the cream to mix until the solids (butter) separate from the liquids (buttermilk). (I didn’t take any pictures of this part, but I’ll make more butter soon and post pictures). Pour the buttermilk into a jar and save it for another use. Add ice water into the bowl with the butter and turn the mixer back on low. Pour out the water (don’t save this time, just dump it out), and continue to “wash the butter” until the water runs clear. Once the water is clear, use the back of a wooden spoon to mix the butter by hand, trying to press out as much water as possible. Pour excess water out of the bowl. If you want to salt the butter, add the cheese salt now and mix it in. Congratulations! You’ve made butter!
  • Keep about half of the butter you’ve prepared for a different use. Put the other half in the bowl of a food processor (if you want to skip the whole “make your own butter step,” soften 1 cup of butter and use it as your base for parsley lemon butter).
  • Add the parsley and lemon zest to the butter. Turn the food processor on. While it’s running, add lemon juice in 1/2 tbsp increments. I recommend stopping the food processor a few times as you’re adding lemon juice to taste the butter. You may like more or less acid.
  • Transfer the parsley lemon butter to small ramekins, cover with wax paper and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. About an hour before you serve the butter, take it out of the fridge to soften.
Chilled Tomato Soup with Basil-Infused Oil

Part 1: Basil Oil


Ingredients:
2 cups basil (washed & packed)
1 cup olive oil

Directions:

  • In a small pot, bring a few cups of water to boil. Toss basil into the boiling water for 15-30 seconds to blanch.
  • Remove basil and pat dry with a paper towel. Coarsely chop basil.
  • Place basil and olive oil in a food processor.
  • Run food processor until basil is chopped and mixed with olive oil (this doesn’t take long, maybe 10-20 seconds).
  • Transfer oil to a small pot and heat over low heat for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove from stove and allow to cool for about an hour.
  • Place a piece of cheesecloth over a strainer. Strain basil leaves from oil and transfer resulting basil-infused oil to a jar or condiment bottle for storage.
  • Store oil in refrigerator until ready for needed.

Part 2: Chilled Tomato Soup (recipe from Alice Waters: Vegetables…one of my very favorite cookbooks!)


Ingredients:
4 pounds ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp salt
1 small cucumber (peeled, seeded and finely chopped)
2 stalks celery (finely chopped)
3 shallots (finely chopped)
White wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)

Directions:

  • Cut the tomatoes into quarters and toss with salt. Allow to sit and soften for about 30 minutes. While the tomatoes are softening, cover the shallots in vinegar and set aside.
  • Once soft, mash the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Pass the tomatoes through a food mill to remove tomato skins (I used the largest setting of my food mill). You should obtain a thick tomato juice.
  • Stir diced shallots, cucumber and celery into tomato juice. Add salt and vinegar to taste.
  • Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
  • Now for my variation: Just before serving, top soup with basil-infused oil and a little sprig of basil.
Broiled Fillet of Halibut with Parsley Lemon Butter, served with Pipérade


Part 1: Pipérade

Ingredients:
1 yellow onion (chopped)
2 green bell peppers (seeded, halved and sliced)
1 red bell pepper (seeded, halved and sliced)
1 orange bell pepper (seeded, halved and sliced)
6-8 sliced prosciutto (coarsely chopped)
8 medium tomatoes (peeled, seeded and coarsely diced)
Butter & Olive oil for pan
Salt, pepper and herbes de provence, to taste

Directions:

  • Heat a medium dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add prosciutto and cook for 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove prosciutto and set aside. Melt butter and/or olive oil. Add onions and slowly cook for 8-10 minutes.
  • Add bell peppers and seasoning. Allow to slowly cook for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Just before serving, put prosciutto back into pipérade.
  • Serve alongside halibut. Leftovers are wonderful and are traditionally served with an egg or two, sunny side up.

Part 2: Broiled Fillet of Halibut with Parsley Lemon Butter

Ingredients:
1 fillet of halibut
parsley lemon butter
1 shallot (finely chopped)
1/2 cup fresh parsley (coarsely chopped)
Juice from 1 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste
Basil oil (or olive oil) to grease pan

Directions:

  • Place tin foil on a large rimmed cookie sheet. Grease foil with basil oil (or olive oil).
  • Carefully rinse and pat dry the halibut fillet. Place the fillet on the greased baking sheet.
  • Place pats of parsley lemon butter on top of halibut. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, lemon juice, shallots and parsley.
  • Turn your oven’s broiler on the low setting and place the halibut in the top 1/3 of the oven (no need to preheat, the broiler becomes hot fast).
  • Broil the halibut for about 15 minutes (more or less depending on the size of the fillet…mine was about 2.5 pounds).
  • Remove from oven and serve with parsley lemon butter and pipérade.

Paleo Raspberry Tart with Raw Whipped Cream


Ingredients:
For paleo pastry crust:
3/4 cup dates (pitted and coarsely chopped)
3/4 cup coconut flour
3/4 cup almond meal
1 stick cold butter, diced
1/4 cup very cold water

For paleo raspberry jam (no sugar!):
12 oz frozen, unsweetened raspberries
1/4 cup honey
7-8 lemon seeds

For topping:
Raspberries
Raw cream

Directions:

  • For paleo pastry tart: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add first 4 ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Turn food processor on and slowly pour in cold water. The dough should come together, although it will be nearly impossible to roll out. Instead press the dough into a buttered tart pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes (but I recommend checking after 10 minutes, because the almond meal will have a tendency to burn if it bakes too long). Allow the crust to cool completely before using.
  • For paleo jam: Cut a small square of cheesecloth and a small piece of kitchen twine. In the center of the cheesecloth, place your lemon seeds. Then use the kitchen twine to tie the cheesecloth into a small bundle.* In a small pot, add the raspberries, honey and lemon seed bundle. Cook over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. You can test whether the jam is starting to come together by spooning a small amount onto a clean plate. The jam should move slowly when the plate is tipped to one side or the other. If you prefer less seeds in your jam, pass the jam through a food mill on the medium setting. Allow the jam to cool completely before using.
  • For the topping: Top crust with an even layer of raspberry jam. Then top with raspberries. If desired, whip up some homemade whipped cream in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, to make for a more decadent dessert. I used raw cream to keep the meal the least processed possible.

* Wondering what the lemon seeds are for? Lemons and apples are “high pectin” fruits and can be used when making jam to add a little natural fruit pectin boost. These methods have been used for jam-making for many years, in the days before you could buy nifty little boxes of pectin from the grocery store. For more info check here, or google it!

Cranberry Scones


Today I got a chance to relax a little bit and do some baking. This was nice for me because I took a much-needed break from schoolwork, and it will be wonderful for our breakfast tomorrow! I decided to incorporate a seasonal ingredient- cranberries! I’d been meaning to make scones for a few days now, so why not make cranberry scones?

I adapted the recipe from a Cream Currant Scone recipe in my William Sonoma-Baking cookbook. The only change I made was to include the fresh cranberries instead of dried currants. They turned out great! Just a warning though…these are not diet scones (not that diet scones actually exist). But they’re very tasty. Here is the recipe I used:

Ingredients:
For the scones:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp grated lemon zest
6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream

For the topping:
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. milk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Pulse the food processor 2 to 3 times, until the ingredients are mixed. Add the butter and pulse until the ingredients form coarse crumbs. Add the cranberries and cream. Pulse until the dough is barely mixed. Do not overmix!!

Take the dough out, place it on a floured surface and form a ball. Flatten the dough until it’s about 6 inches in diameter. Cut the dough into 6 wedges, and place the wedges on the prepared pan. Brush the top of each scone with milk and sprinkle the cinnamon mixture on top.

Bake the scones for 13-15 minutes, until they are golden. Place them on a wire rack to cool.

These are best served warm with a bit of jam and a spot of tea. Very posh 🙂


Hope you enjoy!

Banana Oat Bran Muffins


I’m starting to wonder how many more times I’ll begin a blog post with an apology for how much time has elapsed since the previous post. I think 2 to 3 more times, which is not too bad. This means that I can see the light at the end of the grad school tunnel. I only have 5 more weeks until I’m completely finished with my coursework! All I’ll have left are my 2 semesters of student teaching/externship. Yay!

Even though I haven’t had a tremendous amount of time to cook lately, there is one recipe that I’ve been making pretty often these days and I thought I would share it with you today. It’s a recipe I created myself for Banana Oat Bran Muffins. These came about because I love banana bread, but wanted to make the recipe a tad bit healthier. I ended up re-vamping my original banana bread recipe completely and came up with something quite tasty. They break from my usual attempts at eating only local produce, since bananas are basically never local in the US. But, in the fall and winter, when we don’t have the plethora of summer fruits, I am okay buying bananas now and again.

Oh, and I posted the recipe for these on sparkpeople.com and so far have received 8 ratings on it! The average rating is 4.9 out of 5, so apparently other people think they’re good too. According to the sparkpeople.com calorie calculator, these are 130 calories, 1 gram of fat, 30 grams of carbs, 3 grams of dietary fiber, and 3 grams of protein.

Ingredients:
3- 3.5 Medium bananas, mashed
1 Egg
3/4 c. Unsweetened apple sauce
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/2 c. Sugar
1/2 c. Crushed Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal (it takes about 1 cup cereal to yield 1/2 cup crushed)
1/2 c. Oat Bran
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 c. Whole Wheat Flour

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mash the bananas thoroughly and combine with the egg. Stir in apple sauce, followed by the sugar, (EDIT: Also add vanilla extract here), crushed Kashi Autumn Wheat, and Oat Bran. Mix together the flour, salt and baking soda, and add these dry ingredients to banana mixture. Divide into muffin tin and bake for 30 minutes.
Makes 12 muffins.

You may find the use of crushed Kashi Autumn Wheat strange, but it actually works quite well. I initially decided to include this because we regularly have Kashi Autumn Wheat for breakfast and I didn’t like throwing away the crumbs from the bottom of the bag. If you don’t have this cereal on hand, you could use any brand of shredded wheat instead.


Since 12 muffins is a lot for 2 people to consume in a short period of time, I usually throw half of them in a freezer bag and keep them frozen. When I want a muffin I microwave one for 30 seconds and then toast it for a few minutes. They’re great for breakfast with a bit of almond butter!