Ricotta Stuffed Pancakes

Is it just me or haven’t the berries this season been phenomenal? Plump, sweet blueberries. Juicy, tangy raspberries. Ruby red strawberries. It’s no wonder that the baby has been devouring berries, smacking her lips and savoring the textures and juiciness of each berry as she squishes them before popping them in her mouth. I fear for us when berry season is over.

But for now, it seems like that end is nowhere in sight. Last week we received a flat of strawberries (our first bulk share shipment) plus an additional pint as part of our regular share. All of the strawberries were perfectly ripe. We sailed through two pints in a single day, but couldn’t keep up that rate of consumption without some variation to keep things interesting. So as I stood in front of an open refrigerator on Saturday morning staring at the remaining 6 pints of strawberries, I spied a container of ricotta cheese and instantly knew what I needed to do. Pancakes sandwiching a sweetened ricotta filling and layered with macerated strawberries.

I lightened the ricotta by folding in some whipped cream then brightened the flavors with some lemon zest and a touch of almond extract. The strawberries, although sweet on their own, turned glistening thanks to the juices released from tossing them with a little bit of light brown sugar. I stacked my pancakes with layers of ricotta and strawberries in between. I even made a little baby sized one for the baby! John, who usually takes care of feeding her solids since I take care of the… er… liquids, took a look at the beautiful miniature pancake sandwich and rather alarmed, asked, “How is she supposed to eat this???” Well, like we ate it. It’s beautiful to look at but even better when you demolish it. Each bite cut from the stack, squishes out some of the ricotta filling, mixing it with the berry juices into a delightful sludge that ends up mimicking syrup. Smashy smashy!

Pancakes

  • 8 oz all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 oz of milk, plus a splash more
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping

  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and halved (quartered for larger berries)
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Ricotta filling

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1.5 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

To make pancakes, preheat a griddle over medium heat and preheat your oven to 200 degrees F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. In a large bowl, combine butter, 8 oz milk, eggs, and vanilla and whisk until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix together with a wooden spoon until just combined. There should still be lumps. Add a splash more milk to thin out the batter if you wish. Reduce the heat under the griddle to medium low then lightly butter with 1/2 tablespoon of butter. Pour out pancakes to about 4 inches in diameter (about 1/3 cup). Cook until the edges have solidified and bubbles in the center of the pancake pop and make little holes. Flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes or until golden brown on each side. Continue cooking pancakes in batches, placing finished pancakes in the low heat oven. I got six 4-inch pancakes and two 3-inch pancakes.

While pancakes cook, combine strawberries and brown sugar in a medium bowl and set aside.

To make the ricotta filling, add the heavy cram to a chilled metal bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Place ricotta in a medium bowl and add the sugar, almond extract, and lemon zest, mixing until combined. Add the whipped cream and gently fold it in.

To serve– plate a pancake, top it with 2 tablespoons of the ricotta filling, a heaping spoonful of strawberries, then repeat two more times.

Yields 2 servings and 1 baby sized one.

CSA Count: 1

Strawberries

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Fig Polenta Cake (and Belated Unchained Anniversary)

Blogging here may be sporadic from now on, but for very good reason, especially when I think about why I started this blog a little over two years ago on July 8, 2009. Back then, I was studying for the Washington State Bar exam and reeling from the news that I’d had a spontaneous miscarriage, a second miscarriage in a single year. Cooking was a beautiful outlet from all the sadness and stress in my life at the time, and sharing my ideas in a format that allowed me to talk about food memories and happier moments in my life was a form of healthy coping. Two years later, my life has a new stressful undertaking, but a beautiful one. Early Tuesday morning, after 15 hours of labor and another 8 hours of induction, my husband and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into this world.

Despite the exhaustion of being in the hospital for 4 days, running on less than 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep per day, and dealing with the ups and downs of trying to maintain healthy input and output of a newborn, I found myself on Thursday afternoon (our first full day at home with the baby) running on a huge adrenaline high. I just felt extremely energetic, perhaps because of the combination of being in surprisingly little pain post-partum and having lots of welcomed help with meals supplied by my parents. John and I went for our first walk outside with the baby to pick up our CSA share, and we talked about what to do with the flat plus 2 pints of strawberries we knew we’d be receiving. I wanted to make this strawberry summer cake, a late pregnancy favorite, but John suggested baking a tribute to that cake: making this olive oil polenta cake I had made last year (but failed to blog) and baking the fresh figs into the cake. We could then top the cake with tons of ripe, ruby-red strawberries.

I eagerly ran to my yarn stash– I’d developed a habit last year of writing down measurements used when experimenting in baking so I could give more accurate instructions when blogging, and those notes tended to be stuffed hastily into a yarn drawer where I kept scrap pieces of paper (I’m not very well-organized.) We’d cleaned out that set of drawers to use it as a diaper station in the baby’s nursery, and apparently in the cleaning out, I’d lost my notes on that cake. I had to start thinking about ingredients and process from scratch.

Wanting to Facebook about something other than the baby, I posted as my status that I was going to find time and energy to reinvent that polenta cake. This was then met with a flurry of comments from friends and family asking if I was delirious and instructing me to go to sleep at once. Despite the well-wishes, I gave into the adrenaline high and decided to go ahead and bake the cake thinking I’d never find this energy again, not while we had access to both fresh figs and beautiful strawberries.

So I mixed together flour with coarse cornmeal, egg yolks with olive oil, flavored things with lemon zest and almond extract, and whipped separated egg whites to try to lighten the cake that would otherwise be dense from the olive oil and cornmeal. I had a pasty batter which I spread out in a buttered cake pan and carefully pressed quartered figs into the lemony yellow batter. A sprinkle of sugar on top was added with the hope that this might help caramelize the figs. Once the cake had finished baking, I promptly crashed out of my adrenaline high and barely finished dinner with my eyes still open.

We waited to cut into the cake until last night when my brother and his family, along with an uncle and my parents joined us for dinner. The cake itself is a little too heavy in olive oil flavor for me, and is still really dense– moist in the center with soft, slightly jammy figs, crusty and a little dry on the edges, and overall, is almost savory rather than super sweet. But add the strawberries? Pretty awesome, unless sleep deprivation is altering my palate. The strawberries draw out more sweetness from the cake and pair beautifully in texture and taste with the figs and light lemon flavors, respectively. As I ate my piece, sharing it with John, I thought about how I have so much to be grateful for: I was in a completely different and so much better place than I was two years ago. Here I was at the same dining room table, where I had forced myself to put energy into an outline for a test for a license I felt I would never actually want to use but as a way to distract myself to keep from wanting to wallow in the pain of another difficult loss. Now, I was surrounded by family who was joining us to celebrate the birth of a new, very beloved and long-awaited baby.¬† If that’s a situation that doesn’t call for cake in some form, then I don’t know what will.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup medium ground yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 large eggs, separated, discarding one white (so you have 3 yolks and 2 egg whites)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  • 1 pint fresh figs, quartered
  • 2 pints of fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch round cake pan with butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. In a small bowl, combine lemon zest, juice, almond extract, yolks and olive oil. Whisk until combined. In a mixing bowl whip the 2 egg whites to medium stiff peaks then quickly beat in sugar– the mixture should look shiny, peaks should hold and softly collapse, and when you lift the mixer whisk attachment up, the whites should slowly drip back into the bowl, almost like syrup pouring back down. Add the dry and wet mixtures to the egg whites and using a rubber spatula, fold until all is combined.

Spread batter into cake pan then carefully squish the fig quarters into the batter. Sprinkle the top with the remaining two tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool then slice and serve, topped with strawberries.

CSA Count: 1

Strawberries

 

Berry Stuffed French Toast

Recently, after years of disappointment, I rediscovered a love for IHOP. As an adult, IHOP had up until now never met the high standards that my childhood memories had established. I couldn’t stand the overly sweet, sticky and thick fruit sauces on my pancakes, not to mention getting squicked out by the usual breakfast place’s complete ignoring of any rational idea of portion control. But now, I am back on the IHOP love train! Granted, it took a little bit of libational overindulgence to get me to crave going to one in the first place, but that visit, with its straightforward and prompt service, far exceeded my expectations. I would definitely lobby for a Congressional order that all IHOPs be open 24/7.

Although I normally don’t like sweet things for breakfast, the exception seems to be french toast. That night, inhibitions lowered, I ordered cream cheese stuffed cinnamon toast. At the time, I couldn’t think of anything I’d ever eaten before that had been as delicious! Memories (as misty as they might be) of that french toast, fueled on by catching glimpses of a Bobby Flay Throwdown on stuffed french toast just egged on (get it? egged on– ha!) a craving to make a stuffed french toast for breakfast. With leftover strawberries, blueberries, and cream cheese from a July 4th dessert, I had the fixings to make the craving a reality.

I cut thick slices of challah and soaked them in a custard mixture of eggs, cream, orange zest, plenty of cinnamon, and a generous pinch of cardamom. The sliced strawberries and juicy blueberries were mixed with vanilla sugar and macerated while I griddled the toast. When I had lovely, golden and crispy pieces of french toast, I spread a thick layer of my cream cheese mixture (lightly sweetened so it still had plenty of tang) on a piece of toast then sandwiched the berries in between. This breakfast was more indulgent than usual, especially with a healthy dousing of maple syrup, but oh so worth it. Add your coffee maker carafe to the table and it’ll be almost like bringing IHOP home with you.

Note: I used about half of the cream cheese filling the day before, piping it into hulled strawberries and topping with a blueberry as a decoration for July 4th cupcakes. That means that the filling recipe below should be enough to make 4 servings; however, the ingredients for the toast were enough to serve two. So if serving four, double the slices of bread and the berries. You should likely have enough custard filling to soak all the bread slices.

Filling:

  • 1/2 pint strawberries, sliced
  • 3/4 cup blueberries, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar (or substitute 1 tablespoon regular sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • 3 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1.5 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

French Toast:

  • 4 thick slices of challah or brioche
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1.5 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • large pinch cardamom
  • canola or vegetable oil

Mix together berries and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.

Beat together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, heavy cream, lemon zest, and vanilla extract until smooth. Set aside until ready to use.

In a small Pyrex baking dish, whisk together the eggs, cream, granulated sugar, salt, orange zest, cinnamon, and cardamom. Soak two slices of bread in the custard mixture. Pour enough oil into a large heavy bottomed skillet so that the oil coats the skillet completely. Heat the oil over medium high heat. Having ensured that both sides of the bread soaking in the custard are coated, set the toast in the pan when the oil is hot. Adjust flame to medium and fry bread until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Flip and cook the other sides for an additional 3-4 minutes. Remove to a baking sheet and keep warm in an oven at 185 degrees F. Continue process with other pieces of bread until all are cooked golden brown.

To plate: spread about 1/4 cup of cream cheese filling on piece of french toast and scatter berries on top. Top with another slice of french toast. Serve warm with plenty of maple syrup.

CSA Count: 1

Strawberries

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberries seem like they have been in abundance this year. I’ve seen them readily available at our local produce stand, shiny, red, and ripe for months now. Our CSA has included them in both deliveries we’ve received this season so far, and admittedly, I love these even more than the produce stand ones. I can think of no other situation where the benefits of produce that has traveled fewer miles and has been picked off the vine more recently are more evident than with these little babies. They taste sweeter, are juicier, and are firmer in texture– heaven in a little pint-sized box.

As soon as our first pint arrived, I knew that shortcake had to be made. Admittedly, when it comes to strawberry shortcake, the big attraction for me is the giant mound of whipped cream. Yes, I would just eat a bowl of whipped cream for dessert if it wasn’t somehow just a little unsettling in concept. So my goal with this shortcake was to make the whipped topping more interesting in flavor and texture.

For me, the answer came from whipping creme fraiche and not just your regular heavy cream. Sweetened with some vanilla sugar and orange zest, I whipped up a container of tangy creme fraiche with a splash of heavy cream until fluffy. I liked how the creme fraiche added a bit of density to the topping, not to mention how the slightly sour taste was better for highlighting the sweetness of the berries. Here we had a strawberry shortcake where the berries, shiny like jewels after macerating in a bit of vanilla sugar, were able to stand up against, rather than sink into the whipped topping. Summer is definitely going to be a good one with this new take on a warm weather dessert staple!

Note: Vanilla sugar is a great way to be more thrifty in the kitchen. Simply take a vanilla pod after you’ve stripped it of its beans for a custard or some other purpose and cover it with sugar in a lidded jar. Otherwise, regular sugar and some vanilla extract is a fine substitute. I used powdered buttermilk in the shortcakes since I had some leftover from a waffle recipe. If you don’t have any, try swapping out the milk in the biscuits for buttermilk, adding some more flour if necessary to achieve a biscuit dough texture.

Shortcakes:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 tablespoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup granulated¬† sugar
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk powder
  • 4 tablespoons cold shortening
  • 1 teaspoon amaretto or almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup whole milk

Topping:

  • 1 pint ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons vanilla sugar, divided
  • 7 oz container creme fraiche
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and buttermilk powder (if using). Using a pastry blender, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until the shortening is evenly distributed and flour clumps together in fine crumbs. Add the almond flavoring, zest, and milk. Using a wooden spoon, stir together until just combined. Dump contents of bowl out onto a floured surface and knead the dough until smooth, about 6-8 times. Roll out to 1/3 inch thickness, then cut out circles using a 4 inch biscuit cutter. Bake on a silpat lined baking sheet for 15-20 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Yields 6 shortcake rounds.

Mix together strawberries with 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar (or 1 tablespoon regular sugar with 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract.) Let sit for at least 15 minutes.

In a standing mixer, add the creme fraiche, heavy cream, remaining 2 tablespoons of vanilla sugar, zest, and vanilla extract. Whip on medium high speed until mixture if fluffy, about 5 minutes. When ready to serve the shortcakes, take a shortcake round and carefully split it into two using a serrated knife. Top the bottom half of the shortcake with as much whipped topping and strawberries as you like then cap with the remaining half.

CSA Count: 1

Strawberries

Strawberry Arugula Salad

When the weather’s warm,¬† you can usually find John and me out on our front porch, eating meals, drinking cocktails, and taking in our view of the Cascades and Lake Washington. Life is hard, you know? One of my favorite summer time meals is making a big bowl of steamed clams, served with a loaf of crusty bread for dipping, a couple of glasses of wine, and a really fresh tasting salad. I frankly can’t think of a meal that feels more like summer than that one.

With that in mind, we had our first quintessential summer meal of the season this past weekend. Clams? Check. Wine? Check. Salad? Well, here’s where the CSA was a big help. With a bunch of fresh peppery arugula and a pint of strawberries, the salad was practically made while it was still in the delivery box. In the spirit of waste not, want not, I decided to enhance the salad by lightly toasting cubes of multigrain bread in leftover compound citrus zest butter from the other night. Our garden helped out a ton too by adding some additional arugula and some tarragon which paired nicely with the sweet, juicy berries.

I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to eat salad! The arugula was crisp and peppery. With a slightly heavy hand with the black pepper in the dressing, the zing from the greens and in the dressing highlighted the sweetness of the berries. The croutons were faintly nutty and had a hint of acid from the zest that mirrored the acid from the balsamic dressing. Lastly, the tarragon’s licorice taste cut through all those flavors, leaving a refreshed palate after every bite. Yep– summer’s here and I can’t get enough of it!

Note: I suspect this salad would be better if the strawberries macerated for a little bit in the balsamic dressing so I’m accounting for that in the instructions below even though I wasn’t smart enough to think of doing that before I made this. This made to large-ish side salads.

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Croutons:

Salad:

  • 1 large bunch of arugula, stems removed and torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, chopped

Slowly whisk olive oil into balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in honey, salt and pepper. Add sliced strawberries and gently mix to coat the berries. Set aside.

Melt compound butter in a small skillet over medium low heat. Add the bread cubes and lightly toss to coat each piece. Do not disturb pieces while they toast on one side, about 5-6 minutes. Flip the pieces over and let them toast on the other side. Remove from heat when each crouton is lightly golden on both sides.

Wash and spin dry the arugula then plate. Drizzle the strawberries and dressing over each plate of greens then top with croutons and a sprinkle of tarragon.

CSA Count: 3

Arugula, strawberries, chives

Garden Count: 3

Fresh thyme, tarragon, and arugula