Monday, July 4, 2011

Vegetable Garden Update 7/4/11

I can't believe it's July already, but it is and the garden is really starting to fill out.  I was very lucky after a tornado hit about 1 1/2 miles away and the garden remained almost unscathed.  The corn was bent for a couple days, but it picked back up.  Since the last update, I have added about 30 onion and 5 kale plants.  These plants were more of an experiment and the plants were on sale, so if they don't pull through, I won't be too upset.  I am still battling cucumber beetles and squash bugs with my squash and cucumbers, but I am hoping they will pull through and produce some yummy veggies.  I am also having a few problems with fungus on a few tomato plants that is spreading to some of the other tomatos.  I have been applying fungicide weekly to the plants and I am starting to see them pick back up.  Between the 17 tomato plants, there are at least 100 tiny fruits beginning to form.  I admit, I was beginning to become overwhelmed once I realized how much of a harvest I am going to have by early August.  I purchased a canning kit and some canning books that will hopefully help!  I also plan on giving tons away to anyone that will take it.  I'm excited to share future updates of my harvests soon.  Stay tuned!

Sweet corn (almost 4 ft tall)

Bush Green Beans

Jalapenos and Garden Salsa peppers

Jalapenos almost ready to pick

Bell pepper getting bigger!


Cucumbers climbing up the trellis

Cucumbers beginning to form

Butternut Squash

Yellow Long Neck Summer Squash

Squash forming (hopefully it will survive)

Black Krim tomato

First harvest!  Hot peppers, cat grass, and cilantro

Fresh Basil Pesto

My garden is really starting to pick up and before I knew it, it was time to harvest some of my sweet basil.  This sauce turned out really well and once I spooned it over some fresh cheese tortellini, it really was perfect.  The basil from my garden gave it that extra special flavor.  If you're looking for something different to serve with your pasta, I highly recommend this recipe.

Source:  Simply Recipes


2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese (I used Romano)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve with pasta, or over baked potatoes, or spread over toasted baguette slices.

Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Layer Cake

This cake was probably one of the most complex cakes that I had ever made, but the end results were fantastic.  It was my boss' birthday and I wanted to make a cake that utilized lots of chocolate and raspberries, her two favorite foods.  This cake definitely requires several hours of work and I really enjoyed every bit of it.  The end result was a beautiful 3 layer cake that impressed all that tried it!

Source:  Annie's Eats, cake adapted from Baking Illustrated, raspberry filling from Wilton, frosting adapted from Martha Stewart, glaze adapted from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather


For the cake:
1½ cups (4½ oz.) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp. espresso powder (I omitted)
1½ cups boiling water
¾ cup sour cream
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
3 sticks (12 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2½ cups plus 2 tbsp. (18¼ oz.) sugar
3 large eggs
1¾ cups plus 2 tbsp. (9¼ oz.) all-purpose flour
1¼ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt

For the raspberry filling:
16 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. lemon juice

For the ganache filling:
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the raspberry frosting:
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
21 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup strained raspberry puree
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Pink gel icing color (optional)

For the chocolate glaze:
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup light corn syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract

For garnish:
Additional fresh raspberries


To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease and flour the edges of three 9-inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Combine the cocoa and espresso powder in a small bowl. Add in the boiling water and whisk together until smooth. Let cool slightly. Whisk in the sour cream.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Blend in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl; stir together to combine. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl in three additions, alternating with the cocoa-sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans. Bake 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pans about 15 minutes, then transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the raspberry filling, drain the thawed berries, reserving the juice in a liquid measuring cup. Add enough water so that the total liquid equals 1¼ cups. Add the liquid to a medium saucepan with the sugar and cornstarch. Heat over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Continue whisking so no lumps form. Once thickened, remove from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice. Fold in the drained berries with a spatula. Cover and chill until ready to use. (The filling will continue to thicken as it chills.)

To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Immediately remove from the heat and pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate. Let stand 1-2 minutes, then whisk together until a smooth, thick ganache is formed. Whisk in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time until completely incorporated. Let the ganache sit to thicken a bit so that it is suitable for spreading and piping. (To speed thickening, place the bowl in the fridge or freezer and whisk every 10 minutes to ensure even cooling until the desired consistency is reached.) Transfer about ½ cup of the thickened ganache to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip about ½-inch in diameter. Reserve another ½ cup of ganache in a small bowl or container. (This can be used later for decorative detailing, if desired.)

To assemble the cake, place one of the cooled cake layers on a cake board or serving platter. Spread ½ cup of the ganache in an even layer over the cake. Using the reserved ganache in the pastry bag, pipe a border around the perimeter of the cake layer. This will act as a well to help hold in the raspberry filling. Spoon some of the raspberry filling inside the ganache border in an even layer. Top with another layer of cake and repeat this process, layering with another ½ cup of ganache and additional raspberry filling. Top with the remaining cake layer.

To make the raspberry frosting, combine the sugar and egg whites in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. (I use my mixer bowl here to dirty one less dish.) Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. (The bowl should be cool to the touch.) Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (or longer – don’t worry, it will come together!) Blend in the raspberry puree and vanilla until smooth and completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. If desired, tint with pink icing gel to achieve your desired shade.

Frost the top and sides of the assembled cake with the raspberry buttercream, smoothing the surface as much as possible. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To make the chocolate glaze, place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit 1-2 minutes. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and homogenous. Blend in the corn syrup and vanilla. Pour the glaze into a pitcher or measuring cup and let cool for 10 minutes. (Do not let the glaze cool longer or it may become difficult to pour over the cake.) Slowly pour the glaze over the cake, ensuring that the top is covered and the glaze drips over the sides. Let the glaze set about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the remaining reserved ganache to a consistency for piping. (You can microwave in 5 second intervals on low power – it won’t take long to rewarm. If you overshoot and the ganache becomes too thin, simply chill again in the fridge or freezer until it is thick enough to pipe.) Transfer the ganache to a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip. Pipe swirls of ganache around the edge of the top of the cake and top each swirl with a fresh raspberry. Chill the cake until ready to serve.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Vegetable Garden Update 6/5/2011

The vegetable garden is in full swing!!  After battling bugs and heavy rainfall, my garden is finally at a point where I can just work on upkeep, watering, pruning, and fertilizing.  Almost immediately upon planting my zucchini, squash, and cucumbers, the cucumber beetles devoured all of the plants.  I replanted almost all except for a couple squash.  This time they devoured my zucchini.  Exasperated, I ripped out the zucchini, and planted 9 more different varieties of tomatoes instead.  I like tomatoes better anyways!  Currently, my garden is almost beetle free, so I am hoping my cucumbers and squashes will be able to thrive.  Aside from the zucchini, my garden is really starting to take off,  Flowers are appearing on my tomato and pepper plants and the corn is already over a foot tall.  Here are some updated pics!  You can really see the difference after only 2 1/2 weeks. I'm excited to compare the growth in another couple of weeks.

Tomatoes (with flowers!)


Long Neck Summer Squash

Jalapeno Hot Peppers (with flowers!)

Bell Peppers (with flowers!)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Vegetable Garden

I'd like to start a new segment of my vegetable garden!  I love fresh produce!  Growing up, my mother taught me there is nothing better than a home grown tomato!  She passed away several years ago, but she did give me a few small lessons in vegetable gardens so hopefully the knowledge will be useful this summer!  I live in a condominium complex, but I am renting a 20' x 20' community garden plot.  Because of this cold and rainy weather, I was finally able to plant this weekend and I hope that this garden will yield great results!  As the weeks go by, I will post some updated pictures of the garden, and I'm hoping pictures of my harvest, as well as many delicious recipes utilizing my harvest!  Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Various Herbs 




Butternut Squash

Long Neck Summer Squash

Sweet Corn


Garden Salsa Hot Peppers

Bell Peppers

Boston Cream Whoopie Pies

This was another dessert that I had made for my work baking contest.  We had never tried whoopie pies before, but I have a feeling that will change.  These were very yummy and there are so many different types of whoopie pie recipes out there and I can't wait to try more!  The cookies came out beautifully although I had a few issues with the pastry cream because I didn't cook it long enough.  In order to save it, I tried reheating it and although the consistency wasn't how I wanted it, the cream was able to set so that I could pipe it on the cookies.  The outcome of the contest?  I lost to my opponent by quite a large margin. Her cookies were delicious and the cream turned out much better than mine did!

Source:  Annie's Eats, adapted from Cate's World Kitchen, originally from King Arthur Flour and The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard; pastry cream from Baking Illustrated


For the pastry cream:
2 cups half-and-half
½ cup sugar, divided
Pinch salt
5 large egg yolks
3 tbsp. cornstarch
4 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the cookies:
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
½ cup milk

For the ganache:
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup heavy cream


To make the pastry cream, heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.

When the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula. Return the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 375˚ F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Fit a pastry bag with a wide round tip (I used Ateco 809). Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Blend in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk to combine. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the bowl, alternating with with the milk, and beating each addition just until incorporated.

Transfer the batter to the piping bag. Pipe 1½-2 inch circles onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing an inch or two apart. Bake 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are set (they should not brown.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with any remaining batter as necessary.

Once all the cookies have cooled, match them up in pairs by size. To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate into a small heatproof bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in small circular motions until the chocolate is completely blended and the ganache is smooth. Dip the rounded side of one cookie of each pair into the ganache and coat with an even layer. Return to the cooling rack, flat side down, and let the ganache set before proceeding.

Transfer the pastry cream another piping bag fitted with a smaller plain round tip. Pipe a dollop of pastry cream onto the flat side of the plain cookie of each pair. Press the flat side of the other cookie to the pastry cream, sandwiching the two together.

Keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Blueberry Scones

I can't believe I had never tried making a scone before I tried this recipe.  They are really easy to make and are so light and fluffy for a wonderful breakfast treat.  I made these for a friendly baking contest against a friend at work.  I am happy to report that I won the scone contest by a landslide victory, but I have to admit her scones were pretty yummy, too.

Source:  Annie's Eats, adapted from Entertaining from Cook's Illustrated, Spring 2009


8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen whole
1½ cups (7½ oz.) fresh blueberries
½ cup whole milk
½ cup sour cream
2 cups (10 oz.) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
½ cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted


Adjust an oven rack to middle position and preheat to 425˚ F. Grate the frozen butter on the holes of a large box grater. (I like to use my food processor for this – fast and easy.) Place the blueberries in the freezer until needed.

Whisk together the milk and sour cream in a medium bowl; refrigerate until needed. Combine the flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the grated butter to the flour mixture and toss with fingers until thoroughly coated.

Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and fold with a spatula just until combined. Transfer the dough to a generously floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour, and knead with well floured hands, 6-8 times, just until the dough holds together in a ragged ball. Add small amounts of flour as needed to prevent sticking.

Roll the dough into a 12-inch square. Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter (a dough scraper really helps with these steps). Fold the short ends of the dough into the center in thirds, to form an approximate 4-inch square. Transfer the dough to a plate lightly dusted with flour and chill in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Return the dough to the floured work surface and roll into an approximately 12-inch square again. Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the surface of the dough, and gently press down so that they are slightly embedded in the dough surface. Using a dough scraper, roll the dough up to form a tight log. Lay the log seam side down and press the the log into a 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Using a sharp, floured knife, cut the rectangle crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally to form 2 triangles. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.

Brush the tops of the scones with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with sugar. (If freezing ahead of time, flash freeze on the baking sheet for 20 minutes, then wrap individually and store in a freezer bag until needed.) Bake until the tops and bottoms are golden brown, 18-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.