Monday, March 24, 2008

Flavors of Spring: Lemon and Blueberries

I celebrated this Easter weekend at my parent's house, but I was not exactly celebrating all that much. Actually, I was recovering from oral surgery. My wisdom teeth were removed, and I was bedridden for most of the long weekend while everyone else was celebrating. And in my family, holidays generally revolve around food. Easter, specifically and not at all uniquely, is the occasion when we bring out the spring recipes which call for fresh, delicious ingredients such as asparagus, green beans and kale. My own "spring recipes" tend to focus on the sweeter side of the season, using lemons and berries and the like. This year, of course, was not a particularly warm Easter, and although the holiday nearly coincided with the first day of spring, the cool temperature outside made me feel a bit better about holing up in my pajamas inside. In fact, I heard many complaints about the incapadability with the weather and the expected springtime fare that Easter normally brings.

The real injustice, however, was that my mouth was (and still is!) too sore to enjoy the Cadbury eggs and Russell Stover marshmallow bunnies that everyone else, seemingly, was enjoying in vast quantities (I got that impression from a friend's "Happy Easter, too bad your mouth is too swollen for chocolate" email).

I therefore am attempting to forget about all the food I could be eating, and focus on the recipes I'll want to try once I'm up and about again. Although I'm eager to get back into my normal routine, it would be nice to spend a few more days at home, if only to have access to my mother's kitchen and all of its bounty (a dishwasher!? I'd forgotten what a miraculous invention this is). The sorbet I've been subsisting on is actually a very apt reminder of the spring sweets that will shortly be in season, and thanks to the smoothies I've been inhaling, I'm quite in the mood for a spring berry dessert. Luckily for me, I found this lemon berry pie recipe in my mother's files, and I remember it quite well as a refreshing and light dish perfect for April and May. The thing I like most about this pie is that you can use frozen berries, so if your fruit stand doesn't yet have a tempting selection, you can still enjoy this absurdly simple-to-make springtime dessert.

Lemon Whipped Pie


1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1 pkg. (8 oz.) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup thawed Cool Whip Whipped Topping
3 cups blueberries


Combine cracker crumbs and butter in 9-inch pie plate; press firmly
onto bottom and up side of pie plate.

Beat cream cheese, sugar, milk and juice in medium bowl with electric
mixer on medium speed until well blended. Gently stir in whipped
topping. Spread onto bottom of crust; top with blueberries.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On becoming a Domestic Goddess

Several years ago, when I was still in high school, I was in a bookstore with my then-boyfriend. We passed by a cookbook display, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a simple cover with an intriguing title: How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. I quietly gasped and stopped, then picked the book up and began flipping through it, a smile growing on my face. After a few moments, my boyfriend gave me a dubious look and asked "Is that really what you want to be? A 'domestic goddess'?"

About a year later, my mother and I were shopping for a wedding present when we passed by a Kitchenaid stand mixer. Again, I halted and took in the beauty of the lemon yellow appliance, imagining the sorts of elaborate cakes and exquisite pies that could come from it. I implored my mother to buy one for our kitchen, and she gave a short laugh. We left the store with a toaster oven.

Suffice to say, I've had a bit of a baking obsession for some time.

Although I love food, my passion does not generally stretch to the farthest culinary reaches, but can be satisfied quite simply, with a whisk and a mixing bowl in the kitchen. Perhaps this makes me painfully retro, but if that's the case, then so be it. I'm not ashamed that I secretly aspire to be Nigella, with her zest for life, her flair for cooking, and her perfectly whimsical cupcakes.

I always get a little excited when I pass by a Williams-Sonoma, but I unfortunately must admit that I'm not quite ready for that lofty level of baking. I don't make cheesecake enough to elicit the purchase of a springform pan, nor do I have the counter space to show off a lovely stand mixer (however, I'll gladly make the room if anyone is willing to donate one to my humble kitchen!)
Still, I like to think that I can prepare myself for these treasures by beginning my journey to goddess-ness now, with methods more within my means...even if that means using an old cookie sheet from Target.

I may never be a Domestic Goddess when it comes to gardening or re-upholstering chairs, or any other Martha Stewart-esque pursuit. But baking? I unabashedly say to the world (or, more accurately, the six people who read this blog) "I long to be a Baking Goddess."

Alright, those who believe that I just set womankind back 50 years by declaring my desire to spend some time in the kitchen, you may commence with the tomato-throwing. But after that, I highly suggest trying Nigella's super easy - yet entirely elegant - cupcakes.

Nigella's Cupcakes

Yield: 1 dozen

1 stick plus 1 tablespoon soft butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
Royal Icing, recipe follows

-Take everything you need out of the fridge in time to get to room temperature - and this makes a huge difference to the lightness of the cupcakes later - and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

-Put all of the ingredients for the cupcakes except for the milk into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pulse while adding the milk down the funnel, to make a smooth dropping consistency.

-Divide the mixture between into a muffin pan with paper liners, and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. They should have risen and be golden on top. Let them cool a little in their tins on a rack, and then take them carefully out of the tin to cool in their papers, still on the wire rack.

Ice with Royal Icing.

Royal Icing
2 large egg whites
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice

-Combine the egg whites and confectioners' sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl and whip with an electric mixer on medium speed until opaque and shiny, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the lemon juice, this will thin out the icing. Beat for another couple of minutes until you reach the right spreading consistency for the cupcakes.

Recipe courtesy of Nigella Lawson
Photo courtesy of The Food Network

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chocolate Crinkles: This cookie will change your life

I come from a family of women who know how to cook. How old-fashioned, right? But also, how terrific! Every holiday dinner, every birthday, every party has been an opportunity for them to show off their skills, most times choosing a signature dish that never fails to please.

There are my grandmother's pierogis, my aunt's stuffed mushrooms, and my Cousin Mary's hot cider. The recipes for each of these dishes are floating around somewhere, but I made it a point very early on to obtain the recipes for a few particular Christmas cookies that always made it to the table. I have a recipe for macaroons and one for Rugelach, but the most prized cookie recipe I have is one that is also quite well known: Chocolate Crinkles (slightly adapted). Up until this year, I've only dusted this recipe off at Christmas time, dutifully making my share, then forgetting about them until the following winter. This year, however, I simply was not strong enough to part with these cookies, and so just this past weekend, I found myself mixing up another batch of batter. However, I'm convinced that there's nothing wrong with that. These chocolaty cookies are really just too chewy and too sweet to ignore, and they've already been the centerpiece for two post-holiday parties. Some people were all too familiar with the
cookie, and unabashedly ate seconds and thirds, and others were
sampling it for the first time, and were delighted with the results.
It's impossible for me to say for sure, but I do believe that this
might be one of my all-time favorite cookie recipes. Ever.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies


2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar


In a microwave, melt 1 cup chocolate chips. Stir until smooth; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until crumbly, about 2 minutes. Add egg whites and vanilla; beat well. Stir in melted chocolate.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to butter mixture. Stir in remaining chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until easy to handle.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in powdered sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees F for 11-13 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Introducing the Sweet Beat

Yet another foodie blog, you may ask?

I say, why not?

I believe there's enough room out there for all of us gourmets, or at least wanna-be connoisseurs. This is especially true when the content revolves around the sweeter side of life; there will never be a superfluous amount of bakeries, patisseries, ice cream flavors, or cupcake recipes.

It is my hope that with this blog, I can test out new recipes and post my results, uncover different desserts that might be worth a try, report upon culinary practices and innovations. After all, this is my beat: the Sweet Beat.

I haven’t yet met a person who loathes the sweeter side of cooking (though I do know many who are baffled at my ability to consume mass amounts of sugar in one sitting), and so I’m certain that there will be something for everyone here, whether it be a recipe or a new cafĂ© that is worth a try.

I’m fortunate enough to live in Brooklyn, New York, and I'm pleased to find culinary wealth at every turn. However, I am not a professional gourmand, nor do I have any gastronomic training. What I do have is a studio apartment with a miniscule kitchen, a tight food budget, and an admitted obsession with chocolate chip cookies. Perhaps my posting here will force me to learn a bit more about the culinary world and fine tune my skills as a baker. With any luck, my friends, family, and co-workers will be ready to take on the role of taste-tester in my head-on jump into the world of baking … after all, living alone in New York is not particularly conducive to mass batches of buttery, creamy goodies.

So I’m off on the long, treacherous path to becoming a bona-fide foodie and correspondent to the luscious realm of sugar.