Poor Man’s Beef Stroganoff

What’s for dinner on a weeknight? Got some hamburger in the freezer, some fresh mushrooms, sour cream and a few other additional items and you have the poor man’s version of Beef Stroganoff:

I served it with a ten-minute instant pot recipe for artichoke. They are on sale this time of year, so perfect accompaniment for a simple dinner.

The recipe can vary based on the ingredients you have on hand. I find ground beef gives the best flavor but you can certainly substitute another type of ground meat such as ground turkey or pork.  If using something other than beef, you’ll likely want to add some extra Maggi or Beef Bouillon for a richer flavor!

This easy Ground beef stroganoff recipe is made from scratch with fresh ingredients (no Cream of Mushroom soup as there is too much sodium). This way too simple to make!  You’re literally just  minutes away from getting this beef stroganoff on the table!

  1. Brown beef, onions and garlic.
  2. Add mushrooms, sauce & seasonings.  Simmer a few minutes.
  3. Start your egg noodles cooking!
  4. Stir in sour cream and serve over egg noodles.

Sauce:

  • Sour cream may curdle if it boils so add the sour cream, after you have completed everything else.
  • You can use Greek yogurt if you do not have sour cream. I prefer “light” sour cream or non-dairy sour cream.

Add a little more flavor with any or all of the following:

  • A teaspoon or so of dijon mustard
  • Add a sprig or two of fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon of dried)
  • Add a couple of slices of chopped cooked bacon with the sour cream. ( You can cook it covered with a paper towel for six minutes)
  • Add a small bit of smoked paprika and a dash of hot sauce

I like to serve over thick fresh egg noodles, but you could serve it over potatoes, rice or normal pasta.

Poor Man’s Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 3/4 lb fresh mushrooms sliced ( I like a variety of fresh mushrooms)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups beef broth (I have bone broth, which worked great)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
Instructions
  • Brown ground beef, onion and garlic in a pan until no pink remains.
  • Add sliced mushrooms and cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 1 more minute. ( I cook my mushrooms separately ahead of time, so there is less liquid)
  • Add broth, Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low 10 minutes.
  • Cook egg noodles according to package directions.
  • Remove beef mixture from the heat, Let sit to cool a bit, stir in sour cream and parsley.
  • Serve over egg noodles.

Enjoy with a nice bottle of red wine!

Poor Man’s Beef Stroganoff

Tarte Tatin

The Tarte Tatin was created accidentally at the Hôtel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, Loir-et-Cher, 169 km (105 mi) south of Paris, in the 1880s. The hotel was run by two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin. There are conflicting stories concerning the tart’s origin, but the most common is that Stéphanie Tatin, who did most of the cooking, was overworked one day. She started to make a traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. Smelling the burning, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, quickly finishing the cooking by putting the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert. In an alternative version of the tart’s origin, Stéphanie baked a caramelized apple tart upside-down by mistake, regardless she served her guests the unusual dish. Whatever the veracity of either story, the concept of the upside down tart was not a new one.

The tarte became a signature dish of the Hôtel Tatin. Historians and gourmets have argued whether it is a genuine creation of the Demoiselles (Misses) Tatin, or the branding of an improved version of the “tarte solognote”, a traditional dish named after the Sologne region which surrounds Lamotte-Beuvron. Research suggests that, while the tarte became a specialty of the Hôtel Tatin, the sisters did not set out to create a “signature dish”; they never wrote a cookbook or published their recipe; they never even called it tarte Tatin. That recognition was bestowed upon them  after the sisters’ deaths.

Originally, the tarte Tatin was made with two regional apple varieties: Reine des Reinete Pippins), and Calville. Over the years, other varieties have tended to displace them. When choosing apples for a tarte Tatin, it is important to pick some that will hold their shape while cooking, and not melt into apple sauce.

So here is my story: Years ago (42) when I was pregnant with my oldest son, Chadwyck Montford Bennett Wirtz, who is now 41, I went to a cooking school in San Diego. I went once a week for a couple of years. I was working on my MA in Interior Design back in the time when everything was done on an actual drafting table, not CADD. I could no longer fit behind my drafting table to do my homework, so a I took a leave from school and needed something to do, so I went to cooking school and cooked and ate. I started my pregnancy at 110 pounds and gave birth at 185 pounds. Yes, I liked to eat what I cooked. No, I no longer weigh 185, but I still love to cook.

My middle son Kyle Michael Bennett Wirtz never loved chocolate, which seems totally foreign to me. He loved this Tarte Tatin and I would make it holidays for him, when everyone else wanted chocolate. It is still one of my favorites and Kyle is now 37, so when I made this today it made smile and think of him.

And yes it is much better with bourbon whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. The cooking school was in San Diego and called “The Gibson Girl”. It was a great concept as two people shared a cooking station, we all cooked part of the meal and we all shared it at the end of the evening. I have great memories of that time.

At about eight months the class was featured on TV and they loved that a “very” pregnant woman was taking the class. I continued the class well after Chadwyck, my first of three sons was born. We had a dinner where all the spouses were invited and Chadwyck’s father was thrilled to attend as he loved to eat and loved showing off his six month old son.

I will never forget, Chadwyck was sitting on Fred’s (Chadwyck’s Dad) shoulders and I looked over to see my quite cholicky son start to leave a deposit on my husband’s head. I looked over in horror to see it run off his head over his face and ears and down the sides of his custom-made suit, Fred being totally unaware. I started laughing and everyone, much to his dismay looked his way and broke out laughing. Luckily Fred was always a great spirit, so he started laughing as someone handed him a nearby towel.

This recipe was from The Cordon Bleu of Paris and to this day is one of my favorites. It is an easy recipe if you remember to cover the handle and can flip the tarte.

I use Italian Joe’s Pie Crust Recipe, which I will add at the end. I change the recipe a bit and will add the changes I make to the original recipe:

TARTE TATIN

The amazing thing about Tarte Tatin is how the caramelized apples are somehow transformed into something entirely new while still retaining their distinct apple taste. It’s one of the easiest desserts I’ve attempted it make, but a little challenging. It’s easy because it’s baked upside down, which means there is no need for special decorations or even beautiful rolling of the dough. The real challenge is finding the right balance when caramelizing the apples. Julia Child captures the essence of the dessert in this quote.

“To be sure, a Tarte Tatin should be brown and sweet, but it needs to be more. The apples need to be cooked in sugar and butter long enough that they are not only coated in buttery caramel but also permeated with sweetness. Like what happens in jam-making, where some of the water in the fruit is replaced by sugar.”

The following recipe is courtesy of Julia Child’s book The Way to Cook, published in 1994.

Tarte Tatin Recipe

Ingredients for Pastry Dough
3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons chilled butter, diced
2 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
1/4 cup ice water, or as needed

Ingredients for Tart Tatin
6 Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled and halved ( I use 9 to 10)
1 lemon, zested and juiced ( I just add lemon juice to apples as I peel and slice them)
1 1/2 cups sugar. ( I used 3/4 cup )
6 tablespoons unsalted butter. ( I use 8 tablespoons)
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, as accompaniment ( I like a bit of Gran Marnier in my whipped cream.

Directions
Preparing the dough. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place the flours, sugar and butter. Pulse 5 or 6 times in 1/2-second bursts to break up the butter. Add the shortening, turn on the machine and immediately add the ice water, pulsing 2 or 3 times. The dough should look like a mass of smallish lumps and should just hold together in a mass when a handful is pressed together. If the mixture is too dry, pulse in more water by droplets. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and with the heel of your hand, rapidly and roughly push egg-size blobs into a 6-inch smear. Gather the dough into a relatively smooth cake, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days).

Preparing the apples. Quarter, core, and peel the apples; cut the quarters in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the lemon and 1/2 cup of sugar, and let steep 20 minutes so they will exude their juices. Drain them.

The caramel. Set the frying pan over moderately high heat with the butter, and when melted blend in the remaining 1 cup sugar. Stir about with a wooden spoon for several minutes, until the syrup turns a bubbly caramel brown – it will smooth out later, when the apples juices dissolve the sugar. (I let the butter and sugar blend and then add in the apples)

Arranging the apples in the pan. Remove from heat and arrange a layer of apple slices nicely in the bottom of the pan to make an attractive design. Arrange the rest of the apples on top, close packed and only reasonably neat. Add enough so that they heap up 1 inch higher than the rim of the pan – they sink down as they cook. ( As you can see from my photo I do them in a circle, then add some extra in between, so it is tight.)

Preliminary stove-top cooking. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F for the next step, placing the rack in the lower middle level. Set the pan again over moderately high heat, pressing the apples down as they soften, and drawing the accumulated juices up over them with the bulb baster – basting gives the apples a deliciously buttery caramel flavor. In several minutes, when the apples begin to soften, cover the pan and continue cooking 10 to 15 minutes, checking and basting frequently until the juices are thick and syrupy. ( I do not press on the apples or put a lid, as the apples are up and over the rim of the pan). Remove from heat, and let cool slightly while you roll out the dough. ( I do not let cool and have the dough ready to go)

The dough cover. Roll the chilled dough into a circle 3/16 inch thick and 1 inch larger than the top of your pan. Cut 4 steam holes, 1/4-inch size, 1 1/2 inches from around the center of the dough. Working rapidly, fold the dough in half, then in quarters; center the point over the apples. Unfold the dough over the apples. Press the edges of the dough down between the apples and the inside of the pan. ( I roll the dough around my rolling pen and gently unroll on the top of the apples)

Bake and serve. Bake about 20 minutes at 425 degrees F. Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped. Being careful of the red-hot pan handle, remove from the oven. Still remembering that the pan is red-hot, turn the serving dish upside down over the apples and reverse the two to unmold the tart. ( I was taught to start at 475 degrees and bake for about 10 minutes or until it starts to look done and the liquid is sizzling, then turn to 425 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the crust is a lovely medium brown)

Serve hot, warm, or cold, with the optional whipped cream or ice cream.

Now the fun part!
After you take your tart out of the oven, you can test to see whether it’s ready be unmolded. Simply tilt the pan, and if the juices are runny rather than a thick syrup, boil down rapidly on top on the stove. However, be sure not to evaporate them completely or the apples will stick to the pan. If a few apples stick to the pan, rearrange the slices as necessary.

(I run a knife around the pan, put a protective cover on the handle, as once I sort of forgot it was really, really hot and had a lovely burn for quite a while. Make sure you have a nice flat beautiful plate to flip the tarte on). Eat and enjoy!

Italian Joe’s Pie Crust

Ingredients:

3 cups (375g) Plain Flour (unbleached and unfortified)
2 tbsp Sugar

1 tsp Salt

2 sticks (220g) of Butter 
(small cold cubed)
1 beaten Egg mixed with
3/4 cup Milk (cold)

  1. Mix flour, sugar & salt to evenly distribute the dry ingredients
  2. Place mixture into a food processor
  3. Add cold butter cubes with the flour mix and give it a few pulses until it transforms into small pea-sized crumbs
    (Use cold utensils if not using a food processor to not melt butter)
    3) Add egg and milk mixture to the processor while pulsing a few more times until the mixture comes together or take the mixture out to the work surface
  4. Make a well with the flour crumbs mixture adding the egg and milk mixture in the well and lightly handling the mixture
    (do not knead)
  5. Incorporate all ingredients together to form a dryish dough
  6. Wrap it well with cling film & refrigerate for 1 hour
  7. Roll out the dough split it in half for two pie crust and roll it out bigger than the pie dish
  8. Fit the rolled out pie dough in the greased and floured pie dish making sure pie dough is press all around the crevices of the dish so it doesn’t sink in or collapse when cooking.
  9. Cut around the edge of the pie dish and refrigerate again for 20 before egg washing it and filling it with pie filling and cooking in the oven.
    Enjoy!
Tarte Tatin

The Air is Clearing

It is so very nice to finally awaken to fresh clean smoke free air. Another day at last in my studio enjoying putting paint on a 36″ x 36″ canvas. With time in my studio and time in my kitchen life is good. I called the “The Air is Clearing”, as I could almost see the sky become blue during the day.

When I am not painting I seem to be cooking and made this Plum, Nectarine and Blackberry Galette in the morning.

My friend Reed really liked I think, as this was what was left after breakfast…

The recipe is in one of my earlier posts, and it is so easy and so delicious, you should make one. The last one I made with peaches and blackberries. I like to add a little cinnamon on top and four or five dabs of good butter, with an egg wash and a little sugar on the crust. I use Italian Joe’s Pie Crust recipe, as it is moist, flakey and goes together easily:

Italian Joes Pie Crust

Ingredients:

3 cups (375g) Plain Flour (unbleached and unfortified)
2 tbsp Sugar

I tsp salt

2 sticks (220g) of Butter 
(small cold cubed)
1 beaten Egg mixed with
3/4 cup Milk (cold)

  1. Mix flour, sugar & salt to evenly distribute the dry ingredients
  2. Place mixture into a large bowl ( He uses a food processor, but I prefer doing by hand.
  3. Add cold butter cubes with the flour mix and use cold bakers knives or your fingers until it transforms into small pea-sized crumbs
  4. Add egg and milk mixture mixing by hand or cold utensils until the mixture comes together or take the mixture out to the work surface
  5. Make a well with the flour crumbs mixture adding the egg and milk mixture in the well and lightly handling the mixture by hand or utensils.
    (do not knead)
  6. Incorporate all ingredients together to form a dryish dough
  7. Wrap it well with cling film & refrigerate for 1 hour
  8. Roll out the dough split it in half for two pie crust and roll it out bigger than the pie dish
  9. Fit the rolled out pie dough in the greased and floured pie dish making sure pie dough is press all around the crevices of the dish so it doesn’t sink in or collapse when cooking.
  10. Cut around the edge of the pie dish and refrigerate again for 20 before egg washing it and filling it with pie filling and cooking in the oven.
    Enjoy!

I put the second half of the pie dough in plastic wrap, then use my Seal A Meal to seal it before I freeze it till I need it.

The Air is Clearing

Sicilian Sea Bass with Sweet & Sour Caponata

It was so good I ate mine and then said “Oh my, I forgot to take a photo of the completed meal!” Last weekend I bought eggplant at the local Farmer’s Market and didn’t want it to go to waste. I didn’t have any diced tomatoes, so used half a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. I love Bianco Tomatoes as they are canned within four hours of being harvested, so super fresh tasting.

The recipe was from Food Network Magazine, and was super easy.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 3/4-inch cubes

4 ribs celery, thinly sliced

1 small red onion, diced

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes ( see note above)

3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

4 teaspoons honey (I didn’t have any, so used a little sugar)

4 skinless hake or cod fillets (about 6 ounces each)

1 cup packed fresh parsley, large leaves torn

1/2 baguette, sliced and toasted

Directions

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and almost tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the eggplant to a large plate or bowl. Add 1 more tablespoon olive oil to the skillet. Add the celery and red onion and season with salt and pepper; cook until crisp-tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, capers, 1/4 cup vinegar, the honey and 3/4 cup water ( left out the water to have a thicker sauce). Stir in the eggplant, season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables are tender and the mixture thickens, 10 to 12 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the fish dry, season with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on the bottom, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the fish and cook until it is just opaque and flakes easily, 2 to 3 more minutes.
  3. Toss the parsley and remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon vinegar in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Divide the caponata among shallow bowls and top each serving with a fish fillet. Top with the parsley and serve with the baguette slices. I left off the parsley and did not serve myself the baguette.
Sicilian Sea Bass with Sweet & Sour Caponata

Potato | Spinach Galette

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Since I had already made the pie crust and there was enough for two, I thought a savory galette might be good.  I am staying with a friend while waiting for my new home to close escrow next week, and we both love to cook.  I was looking online and found a recipe for potato galette.  We have been trying to order our food online with the COVET 19 and she sort of accidentally ordered way too many potatoes.  So instead of nine potatoes, she received nine pounds of potatoes.  How to creatively use more potatoes.

Use the other half of the pie crust recipe that I made yesterday:

Ingredients:

 

3 cups (375g) Plain Flour (unbleached and unfortified)
2 tbsp Sugar

1 tsp Salt

2 sticks (220g) of Butter
(small cold cubed)
1 beaten Egg mixed with
3/4 cup Milk (cold)

 

HOW TO PREPARE PASTRY:

  1. Mix flour, sugar & salt to evenly distribute the dry ingredients
  2. Add cold butter cubes with the flour mix and work with hands or pastry knives until it transforms into small pea-sized crumbs
    (Use cold utensils )
    3) Add egg and milk mixture till the mixture comes together
  3. Make a well with the flour crumbs mixture adding the egg and milk mixture in the well and lightly handling the mixture
    (do not knead)
  4. Incorporate all ingredients together to form a dryish dough
  5. Wrap it well with cling film & refrigerate for 1 hour
  6. Roll out the dough split it in half for two pie crust and roll it out bigger than the pie dish
  7. Fit the rolled out pie dough in the greased and floured pie dish making sure pie dough is press all around the crevices of the dish so it doesn’t sink in or collapse when cooking.
  8. Cut around the edge of the pie dish and refrigerate again for 20 before egg washing it and filling it with pie filling and cooking in the oven.
    Enjoy!

FILLING

2 potatoes ( I used Yukon) slice thinly with a Mandolin (1/8″ thick)

4 TB unsalted butter

1 Yellow onion ( I had half a red and a shallot) so used those

Bacon – you pick how much, but be cooked and cut up (Maybe 2 slices)

Spinach = (one big bunch) cooked down with garlic

1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano Shredded Cheese

Egg wash – one egg whisked with a little water

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons chopped chives

3 tablespoons white vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper

Flaky salt, for topping

 

HOW TO PUT IT TOGETHER

  1. Directions

    1. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 25 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
    3. Heat 1 1/2 inches of oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Working in batches, fry the potatoes, flipping once, until just tender and beginning to brown around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the potatoes to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain, then remove the paper towel. Sprinkle the potatoes with the chives, 2 tablespoons of the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently to combine.
    4. Roll your pie dough out into a 13-inch circle and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Whisk the egg with a splash of water in a small bowl and brush it onto the dough, leaving a 2-inch perimeter. In the center of the dough, layer up the toppings in this order: half the onions, half the Parmesan cheese and then half of the potatoes, in a fanned even layer. Top with the remaining onions, remaining cheese, the other half of the potatoes and any additional chives or black pepper from the bottom of the pan. Brush the edges of the crust with egg and then fold them up around the potatoes. Brush the outside edges with egg and sprinkle with flaky salt.
    5. Bake until the pie crust edges are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle the top of the galette with the remaining tablespoon of vinegar before serving.
Potato | Spinach Galette

Peach | Cherry Galette

1

This is so fun and easy to make.  I decided to try a new pie crust recipe that I had watched on YouTube a couple of weeks ago.  Cooking Italian with Joe has an interestingly different approach to making what might be a quite good pie crust using egg and milk.

 

Ingredients:

 

 

3 cups (375g) Plain Flour (unbleached and unfortified)
2 tbsp Sugar

1 tsp Salt

2 sticks (220g) of Butter (small cold cubed)

1 beaten Egg mixed with

3/4 cup Milk (cold)

HOW TO MAKE:

  1. Mix flour, sugar & salt to evenly distribute the dry ingredients
  2. Place mixture into a food processor
  3. Add cold butter cubes with the flour mix and give it a few pulses until it transforms into small pea-sized crumbs ( I do it all by hand or with two bakers paddles)Screen Shot 2020-05-25 at 2.53.02 PM
  4. (Use cold utensils if not using a food processor to not melt butter)
  5. Add egg and milk mixture to the processor while pulsing a few more times until the mixture comes together or take the mixture out to the work surface
  6. Make a well with the flour crumbs mixture adding the egg and milk mixture in the well and lightly handling the mixture
    (do not knead)
  7. Incorporate all ingredients together to form a dryish dough
  8. Wrap it well with cling film & refrigerate for 1 hour
  9. Roll out the dough split it in half for two pie crust and roll it out bigger than the pie dish
  10. Fit the rolled out pie dough in the greased and floured pie dish making sure pie dough is press all around the crevices of the dish so it doesn’t sink in or collapse when cooking.
  11. Cut around the edge of the pie dish and refrigerate again for 20 before egg washing it and filling it with pie filling and cooking in the oven.
    Enjoy!

I always save a little of the pastry to make a couple leaves and a simple rose for decorations.

The filling is easy:

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour or tapioca flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 to 8 soft peaches, peeled, halved, pitted, and cut into 1/4 to 1/2-inch-thick wedges
    • I used frozen ones, just let them thaw and dried them well.  I had the cherries, so I added them in the mix for color.
  • I add cornstarch, as there is always a little too much liquid.  You can put a little on the pie crust before you add the fillings too!
  • I always add a little butter and sugar to the top, just because I can!

ENJOY!

Peach | Cherry Galette

 Champ de Noël

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Here is my version.  Not as perfectly neat, but it tastes amazing. IMG_2536.jpg

Have fun making this to impress family and friends with this modern twist on a classic bûche de Noël stolen from Fine Cooking Magazine.

This delightful looking cake was featured in the December edition of Fine Cooking, one of my favorite magazines.  I stole the photo from the article but will post mine tomorrow when it is decorated.

The layers are vertical rather than horizontal, making for a very dramatic reveal. It is an “all-day” project or one you can do over several days.

[Get a PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION HERE with all step-by-step photos.]

This version looks cool, but all the classic elements and flavor pairings are here, so it’s guaranteed to be delicious. The vanilla sponge cake has a delicate texture, yet it’s sturdy enough to “literally” stand on end. The layers are doused with a boozy soaking syrup before they’re coated with a smooth-as-silk, espresso-spiked white chocolate ganache filling and coated with a dreamy, creamy and eggless double-chocolate buttercream.

Like the traditional bûche, the garnishes for this cake can be rustic, whimsical, or elegant. I like to use the tines of a fork to create a barklike design in the buttercream around the side of the cake. Just before serving, I may top the cake with a cluster or two of small meringue mushrooms along with chocolate shavings for bark. You can add silver or white dragées for ice crystals, sugar-coated cranberries for a pop of color, a mint sprig or two for signs of spring, chopped pistachios for lichen, and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar for snow. Extra meringue mushrooms look great arranged around the base of the cake.

Vertical variation

While the garnishes make the cake look spectacular, what people really want to know is how I make those magical vertical layers.
All in all, it’s a straightforward process: You use what could be called a “wrapping” technique to assemble the cake. After baking the sponge cake in a large rimmed baking sheet, cut it into five strips. To train the shape of the innermost strip of cake and avoid cracking in the final product, I roll up one strip in paper towels while it’s still warm, just as you would when you’re making a jelly roll. I then roll the remaining strips up in a tight spiral together to train them. The ends of these strips are cut on an angle to create beveled edges; this step helps the strips to lie flat as the cake is assembled.

Start building the cake by brushing the innermost strip with soaking syrup then coating it with white chocolate espresso ganache. After this centerpiece is rolled and positioned on a plate, brush, fill, and wrap the remaining four beveled cake strips one at a time around it. The technique sounds complicated, but as you’ll see, it’s an easy-to-follow
process.

 Champ de Noël

Explosion Cake

 

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My granddaughter and I saw this in a magazine, not knowing how “famous” it was and decided to make one.   If you have a collection of sprinkles you might like to use, it is a great way to use them all, or at least most of them.   It is a really fun cake to make, with all the different colors and layers.  It looks like a regular cake (with lots of sprinkles) till you cut the first piece.

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It is a very simple recipe and easy to make, but you do need six six-inch cake pans.  I actually only had five but had a springform, the right size for the sixth.  The only thing I did notice is that the springform, which was dark took about 2-3 minutes longer to cook, so that is something to aware of if you are using different colored pans.  I may just buy a sixth six-inch pan today.

The basic recipe is a simple white cake and if you are not a “baker”, you could use a boxed white cake.  I baked the cakes two at a time, so I did not crowd the cakes.  Luckily I have two ovens, so it did not take long.

FROSTING

8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

16 ounces cream cheese, cold

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

32 ounces powdered sugar

CAKE

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1½ cups granulated white sugar

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1⅓ cups milk

Food coloring

Nonstick cooking spray

 

Preparation

Cake:

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F and put the oven rack in the middle of the oven (if you are using a convection oven, set it to 325°F).

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until they are really mixed together. You have to mix all the dry ingredients together first so that there are no clumps in your batter, which will create white spots. Set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on medium speed to blend the butter and sugar together, until they become fluffy. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula so it’s all mixed in from the sides.  Be sure all the butter is blended, so there are no lumps of butter.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter-sugar mixture, with the mixer on medium speed.  Scrape the sides of the bowl.

5. Add the vanilla to the milk and set it aside.

6. Mix about 1/3 of your dry ingredients into the butter-sugar-egg mixture, then blend in half of the milk, always mixing on medium speed.

7. Mix in the second third of the dry ingredients, then the remaining milk mixture.

8. Stop the mixer for a few seconds and use a spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl as you go, then mix in the last of the flour mixture. Make sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth. You don’t want any lumps, but don’t overmix it so stop the mixer as soon as the batter is smooth.

9. Divide the batter evenly into six portions. They don’t have to be exactly identical, but you want them to be close: You can use any small bowls that are all the same size: Just slowly pour the batter into each of the bowls a little at a time until they are all at the same height (it’s about 1 cup of batter per bowl).

10. Color the batter individually in rainbow colors: I used purple, turquoise, green, yellow, orange, and pink for our six-layer cakes. Start with a tiny drop of food coloring, stir it in completely, then add more until it is your desired color (the baked cake will come out pretty close to what you see the outside will be a little brown, but that gets covered with frosting).

11. Spray six 6-inch round baking pans with cooking spray, then pour the colored batter into the greased pans.

12. Bake the cakes two at a time for 8 minutes without opening the oven door. Then rotate each pan so the front faces the back. Bake for another 8 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when you insert it into the middle of the cake (cakes are very sensitive. The less you open your oven, the better your cake will come out! I don’t know exactly why, but I know it).

13. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes (when they’re warm, they’re really fragile, and that’s when they tend to break.) Then flip them over onto a baking sheet or cooling rack and let them cool completely before you frost them.

Frosting:

Use an electric mixer on medium speed to blend the butter until it is smooth. Add the cream cheese and blend it together until there are no lumps. Then add the vanilla. Stop the mixer and use a spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl, making sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth.

Mix in the powdered sugar a little bit at a time on the lowest speed otherwise, it will fly everywhere! Use the spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl, making sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth.

Be sure it is all perfectly blended or you may lumps when you go to frost the cake.  It is a fun project.  We used the cutouts in the middle to make what I called the “The Leaning Tower of Caka.”

Assembling:

This is the fun part:  Cut a circle using a 2 inch or so biscuit cutter on five of the six layers.  Put a little frosting on the plate, so the first layer will adhere.  I use commercial cake cardboard available at Walmart, Joanns or Michaels.  Add the first layer, then frost it with nothing in the middle.  Continue to the top layer.  I do a thin coat of frosting over the entire cake, then put in the refrigerator till it is hard.  That makes it easier to put on the final layer of frosting.  There are several YouTubes online that walk you through how to do it.

The outside is a little tricky.  I put the entire cake in a big bowl in my kitchen sink and handful by handful, from the bottom up, added the sprinkles.  It was amazingly easy this way and quick.  Add a little touch-up and you are done.  The fun part is cutting the first piece of this cake.

Be ready as it can make a mess!  I think I am still cleaning up sprinkles!   I put ours in a tray with higher edges, so it would not go all over the floor. We photographed and delivered it to our local Fire Department.

Explosion Cake

HOW TO BUILD A BEAUTIFUL CHARCUTERIE BOARD

I found this article on food.com and really enjoyed it, as I love a great Charcuterie Board and this article gave something to think about.  Although my boards usually look pretty good, they are not as beautiful as the one shown below.

Entertaining 101

 

Do you ever scroll through picture-perfect cheese boards and think, “I could never do that”? The good news is, it’s a lot easier than it looks! Just follow this easy, step-by-step tutorial to build an epic charcuterie board for any occasion.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: CHEESE!

FIRST THINGS FIRST: CHEESE!

Choose 3-4 types and a mix of soft and hard cheeses, all served at room temperature: Goat, Gruyere, Gorgonzola, Manchego, Burrata, Brie, Sharp Cheddar, White Cheddar, Havarti, Boursin

Think of  creative ways to display your cheese:
* Cubed and piled up to add height and dimension
* Cut into thin, square slices and fanned out along the edge of the board
* Cut into thin, triangular slices and placed in a circle, with points facing in
* Served in large wedges for guests to cut themselves

 

MEET ME AT THE MEAT AISLE

MEET ME AT THE MEAT AISLE

Choose 2-3 types, preferably pre-sliced: Salami, Prosciutto, Sopressata, Pepperoni, Bresaola, Pâté, Smoked Salmon

Think of creative ways to display your meats:
* Fold round, thin slices of meat in half, then fold again.
* Arrange to form a salami rose bouquet!
* Roll up slices of prosciutto and stack them on top of each other.
* Sopressata is usually cut into thick rounds, so fan these across the board.

 

ADD CONDIMENTS + SIDEKICKS

ADD CONDIMENTS + SIDEKICKS

You can’t have condiments without bowls! Invest in a few ramekins for displaying sauces, dips and salty, briny snacks that complement your meats and cheeses. Think about which of these options you might add:   Honey, Whole Grain Mustard, Jam/Preserves, Infused Oil, Pickled Vegetables, Olives, Artichoke Hearts, Roasted Peppers, Cornichons and I personally like the idea of Sweet Chili Sauce, Hoisin Sauce, and Spicy Jams or Jellies

 

BRING THE COLOR WITH FRESH FRUIT

BRING THE COLOR WITH FRESH FRUIT

Try a mix of fresh fruits that are flavorful and abundant all year long (like Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Cantaloupe, Grapes) and dried fruit for options that are only available seasonally (like Mango, Apricots, Figs, Cranberries).

Creative ways to display fruit:
* Cut long, thin wedges of cantaloupe and fan them out or wrap thin slices of prosciutto around the middle.
* Choose whole dried figs and halve them to display their pretty seeds and centers.  If fresh figs are in season, that is even better.

LET’S. GET. CRUNCHY.

LET’S GET CRUNCHY.

Nuts and crackers or crisps are easy additions that require no extra prep work! Choose a few to round out your board: Pistachios, Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, Cashews, Mini Toasts, Seeded Crackers, Cheese Twists, Water Crackers, Crispy Breadsticks, Pita Chips

* Use nuts to fill in any gaps in your board by stacking them in piles around other ingredients.
* Add extra height and interest by placing breadsticks or cheese twists upright and fanning crackers across the board in swirls.

FINISH WITH A LITTLE RAZZLE DAZZLE

FINISH WITH A LITTLE RAZZLE DAZZLE

When it comes to finishing touches, garnishes go a long way to add a hint of color and freshness. Try: Rosemary Sprigs, Basil Leaves, Mint Sprigs, Fresh or Dried Lavender

 

NO BOARD, NO PROBLEM

NO BOARD, NOT A PROBLEM

Don’t have a wooden board handy and prefer not to buy one? Feel free to use everyday kitchen tools like a pizza paddle, cast iron skillet or a sheet pan of any size to display the fruits of your labor (pun intended)!

 

 

HOW TO BUILD A BEAUTIFUL CHARCUTERIE BOARD

Tomato Soup with Feta & Thyme

1

INGREDIENTS

 2 tbsp olive oil or butter

1 chopped onion

cloves garlic (or I always like a little more)

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

1 tsp dried oregano (I used 1 tsp fresh)

1 tsp thyme (fresh is always better

2 tbsp tomato paste — optional, but a good idea for color

1 28 oz can of Bianco Crushed Tomatoes (available at Albertsons)

cups Beef Stock  & a little water

2/3 cup fresh feta cheese — crumbled

A little fresh thyme

Salt & White Pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat olive oil (butter) over medium heat in a large pot ( or a Dutch Oven). Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, tomato paste, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

     

  2. Cook on medium heat for 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender and cooked. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. Or I find it just as easy to use my Cuisinart for this.

     

  3. Put the warm soup in bowls and place feta and thyme on top.  It is pretty and adds a little more flavor to the soup.

RECIPE NOTES:

  • Here is a little bit of fun kitchen information.  If you are using olive oil, heat the pan first, then add the olive oil.  
  • If you are using butter, put the butter in the pan and heat as the pan heats.  
Tomato Soup with Feta & Thyme