Angel Food Cake

The first time I made this was when my parents were visiting.  It was summer and we needed a light dessert for a hot day.  Gale Gand’s recipe seemed to fit the bill: it’s a from-scratch angel food cake speckled with fresh blueberries with a bit of lemon to freshen the flavors.

Dave has requested it often for his birthday, preferring this to his other old favorite of German Chocolate Cake (I never could make that one very well–his mother did it better than I, I’m sure).

The taste of the homemade angel food cake is different than the store bought, although that one has its merits.  It’s like the difference between any manufactured object and something that has had a human touch.  Try it and see what you think.

I’ve included a lot of photos to show how the mixture begins to peak; my apologies to those who find photos tiresome.

Blueberry Angel Food Cake–yield 8 servings (although we always get more out of it)
Gale Gand, from Cooking Light

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 cup sifted cake flour (I used regular)
12 large egg whites (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
2 Tablespoons sifted cake flour
1 Tablespoon grated lemon rind

Note on grating rind: you want to just skim the yellow rind off the lemon, leaving the white pith behind (it can be bitter).  If I have a whole crop of lemons, I grade the rind onto a square of wax paper, then fold it up to the inside, place the packet into a small ziploc sandwich baggie and label it with the date.  I’ve used frozen rind for as long as 9 months without noticeable drop in quality.

1 cup powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Sift together 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup flour (I just whisked them together).

In a large bowl, beat egg whites with a mixer at high speed until foamy.

Add cream of tartar and salt; beat until soft peaks form.

Add 1 cup sugar, 2 Tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form.

See the tip of the peak bending over like a wave?  Not quite done.

This peak stands straight up–it’s done.

Sift flour mixture over egg white mixture, 1/4 cup at a time; fold in.  Here’s a video on folding egg whites into another mixture; it’s the same technique.

Fold in vanilla. . .

. . . and blueberries. If you’ve never seen an angel food cake pan before, it has three tabs sticking up from the sides, and a removable bottom (to which the center tube is attached).

Combine 2 Tablespoons flour and lemon rind; toss to coat. Sprinkle over egg white mixture; fold in.

Spoon the batter into an UNGREASED 10-inch tube pan, spreading evenly. (Note:the recipe says to smooth out the top, but I like mine with more peaks and valleys, as shown here.  But I was a good girl, and smoothed it out so you could see what the end result looks like in a later photo.)

Break air pockets by cutting through batter with a knife. Bake at 375°F for 40 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched.

Invert pan; cool completely.  Yes, turn it upside down and balance it on those tabs until it is REALLY COOL to the touch.  No warmth anywhere.  That’s why it’s best to make this in the morning, if you plan to serve it that night.

Loosen the cake from sides of pan using a narrow metal spatula.

Invert cake onto plate. (I re-invert it so the top will show.)

To prepare the glaze, combine powdered sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl; stir well with a whisk. Drizzle over cooled cake.

Calories: 297 (1% from fat)
Fat: 0.2 grams (sat. fat 0g, mono 0.1 g, poly 0.1 g)
Protein: 6.6 grams
Carb: 68.2 grams
Fiber: 1 gram
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Iron: 1.1 mg
Sodium: 232 mg
Calcium: 8 mg

Quick French Berry Tart

So, the church was having a Pie Judging Contest, and my husband said, “Why don’t we bring a French pie–a French tart?”  Ever one to encourage individualism, especially at church, I agreed.

So we got busy and I made the tart crust (from the French Pear Tart recipe, found on this site), then the almond cream, because that was oh-so-delicious.  We picked up some raspberries, blackberries and blueberries on sale at our local grocer’s and carefully placed them all around.  A trip to another store and we found the red currant jelly for the glaze (recipe follows) and we carefully toted this off to the church social.

For some reason, it was awful. So, take two.

This time we followed Dorie Greenspan’s directions (recipe is from her book  Baking: From My Home to Yours–buy it!!)  and used the Pastry Cream for the filling, then put on our berries and glazed it.  Divine!  It was so good, we had to share it, so we delivered a plate to a friends who’d had a death in their family, a plate to our pastor (we call him a Bishop) and a plate to the woman (and her husband) who’d organized the church social.  Besides, we COULDN’T have all this yummy tart around–we’d eat it all.

Ingredients for French Berry Tart
We used two 6-oz containers of raspberries, one 6 oz-container each of blueberries and blackberries.  Taste your blackberries first to make sure they are young and tender–not all seedy and crunchy-ish (ick).
9-10 inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough (see earlier post)
1 1/2 cups Pastry Cream, recipe follows (see note about quantity used)
1/3 cup red currant jelly mixed with 1 teaspoon water, for glazing

Smooth the pastry cream by giving it a couple of strong turns with a whisk.  Spoon enough of the pastry cream into the tart crust to come almost to the rim, then even the surface with a rubber spatula.  Carefully lay the berries on the cream.

[Dave’s method: place the raspberries about 1″ apart all over the surface.  Fill in with the blackberries.  Fill in, again, with the blueberries.]  If you are using strawberries, either halve them from top to bottom or slice them, depending on the size of the berries and your whim.

Bring the jelly and the water to a boil in a microwave oven or on the stovetop.  Working with a pastry brush, dab each berry with a spot of jelly, or glaze the entire surface of the tart, including the bit of pastry cream that peeks through the berries.

Pastry Cream
This makes two cups–you can pile it all on one tart (we did) or split it into two and make two tarts.  It keeps, tightly covered,  for up to three days in the refrigerator.

2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted (I didn’t)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits, at room temperature

Bring the milk to boil in a small saucepan, stirring so it doesn’t scorch.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended.  Still whisking, drizzle in a bout 1/4 cup of the hold milk–this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle.  Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk.  Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil.  Keep at a boil, still whisking for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.  [Note: ours thickened up mightily at this point, so we jumped ahead.]

Whisk in the vanilla extract.  Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth silky.  Scrape the cream into a bowl.  You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool it quickly,–as I always do–put th ebowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

Halibut Steaks with Creamy Saffron Sauce

When I was in high school, our Spanish teacher, Miss Azevedo, corralled the class to join her at another teacher’s house for some real paella.  She’d provide the ingredients, one of which was saffron.  We talked about this spice as she stood and stirred the seafood, the broth and the rice together, and she admitted that she couldn’t afford the REAL saffron.  Instead she had a packet of “fake” saffron that she’d bought in Spain on her last trip home and brought it back with her.

That idea–that saffron was expensive beyond belief–stuck with me for more than 40 years.  This belief was confirmed by sightings of jars of saffron in the store–a regular sized jar with a thread or two of saffron for a whopping price.  It never made it into my spice cupboard, until one day in Trader Joe’s I saw Spanish saffron in a small jar with a cork for a lid at a very affordable price.  I bought two.

So when I went hunting for a new recipe to make tonight with my frozen Costco halibut steaks, I found this in Mark Bittman’s book How to Cook Everything. Creamy Saffron Sauce.  Given that I was now the proud possessor of some actual saffron threads (as well as having leftover Greek yogurt from dinner at the beginning of the week) I was in business.  We enjoyed it–hope you will too, as it’s another quick and easy dinner.

1 cup yogurt, preferable whole milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
small pinch cayenne pepper
1 shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or more to taste (roughly 1-2 Tablespoons)

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt with some salt and pepper, the cayenne and the shallot.  Rub the saffron threads between your fingers to crush them, then stir it into the yogurt miexture.  Let sit for about 20 minutes.  [It’s like watching a Polaroid photo develop–the sauce starts to turn this fabulousy yummy shade of yellow from the saffron.  I kept giving it a whisk or two to help it along.]  Alternatively you can let it sit for up to 2 hours in the refridgerator.  Just before serving, add the lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasoning.  It mainly needed more salt, in my estimation.

2 halibut steaks (about 3/4 pound)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

If halibut is frozen, let thaw, then rinse and pat dry.
Sprinkle the halibut with salt and pepper.  Put the butter and olive oil in a large [nonstick] skillet over medium heat.  When the butter melts, swirl it around the pan, then add the fish and cook gently, turning once or twice until a thin-bladed knife meets little resistance when inserted into the thickest part; this weill generally be less than 10 minutes.

Note: we served this with Baked Asparagus and Pearl Couscous with Pine Nuts and Sultanas.

Baked Asparagus

Sorry I don’t have a picture of the asparagus all on its own, but I forgot to take a photo.  But here’s what it looks like when I served it with Halibut Steaks with Creamy Saffron Sauce.

Rinse your bundles of asparagus until cool water, then lay on some paper towels to drain.  Snap off the ends, placing your hands close to the end of the stalk so as not to snap off too much.  It should naturally break where it needs to most of the time.  Don’t be alarmed if it goes higher.  If the asparagus is thick, use a vegetable peeler and peel off the outer skin on the lower edges, as shown.  It also provides such a lovely green color when they’re cooked.

Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with some olive oil.  Grind on some pepper and salt, then slosh them around a little to recoat.

Slide into a 400 degree preheated oven, then turn the temp up to 425 and bake until the stalks are tender, about 10-12 minutes.  Check by seeing if a knife slides in and out easily in the stalk.  Serve immediately, or you can let them cool a bit and serve them room temperature.  This is a nice variation to the steaming, plus the color is much better (I think).

Pearl Couscous with Pine Nuts and Sultanas

Same dish!  Different position!  It’s so you can see the Pearl Couscous up close, and see the pine nuts and sultanas–which are really just golden raisins.  You can buy all three of these items at Trader Joe’s (my apologies if you don’t have one. . . Mom?  Let me know and I’ll send you some).

Look for this box.  It’s called “Israeli Couscous” on the box, but I knew if I put that in a post, I’d be deluged with spam–not the eating kind.  Next to it is a bag of Toasted Pignolias (toasted pinenuts).  Don’t buy the un-toasted kind–this is so much better.

1 8 oz. box pearl couscous, aka Israeli Couscous
1 shallot, finely minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
handful (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup) of pinenuts (can substitute shelled pistachios if you like)
handful of sultanas (golden raisins–I buy those at Trader Joe’s as well–much fresher)
1 can chicken broth (about 1  3/4 cup)

Melt the butter and olive oil together in a medium pan over medium heat.  Add the finely minced shallot and stir until tender, but not brown.  Add the package of couscous, stirring for 1-2 minutes until it is well coated and blended with the shallots.  Pour in a can of chicken broth, cover with a lid, and simmer over low heat for about 10-12 minutes until pearl couscous is tender.  You may need an extra minute or two–taste to see if it’s ready.

When couscous is tender, stir in the sultanas and the pinenuts, and recover for another 2-3 minutes (approx) until the raisins plump up and look integral to the mixture.  Yield: About 4 servings.