Mermaid Barbie Cake

My daughter was home for a week of Spring break, and we had a pang of nostalgia.  She wouldn’t be home for her birthday, so we had to make a Barbie cake while she was here for break.  The inspiration for this year’s cake was the sea, and our Mermaid Barbie Cake was the result.
Mermaid Barbie CakeAll the recipes to make this cake are here:  Hot Milk Sponge Cake, Vanilla Frosting.  We used only the single Wilton Wonder pan, and inserted Barbie at an angle so her legs would fit.  The special touches on this cake are all made from frosting, colored sugar, candy pearls, and Marzipan.
Mermaid Barbie cake detailHer tail is just extra frosting shaped and decorated to look like a Mermaid tail.  We sprinkled colored sugar on the tail, then piped scallops to look like scales.  Working with uncolored marzipan using toothpicks and popsicle sticks for tools, we hand formed all sorts of sea creatures.  We then gave them a brush of color with liquid food color diluted with water.  The sand?  Brown sugar.  Other than the Barbie and her crown, it was all edible.  Happy Birthday, Mermaid!

Chocolate Walnut Cookie

This is perhaps my favorite drop cookie.  It’s just the right balance of cocoa, butter, sweet, and crunch.  I love it for an afternoon treat with coffee.
Chocolate Walnut CookieThe base recipe is the same as in my Soft Homemade Oreo, but the addition of lots of walnuts creates a very different cookie.  This is a straight forward drop cookie, but a few techniques make the difference in the texture of this cookie.  I will add a few extra photos and baking tips to this recipe.  The recipe is at the end, so just scroll down to see it and get mixing that dough.
Chocolate Walnut cookies sifterOne tip is to use a scale when measuring ingredients — especially flour.  I also recommend giving your dry ingredients a sift to blend them and remove any lumps.  This way you’ll be better protected from over-mixing the dough after adding the dry ingredients to the sugar/butter/egg mixture.
Chocolate Walnut Cookies scoopedAnother tip is to size the dough balls evenly and appropriately for the recipe.  This is important, as it will affect both the baking time and the texture of a great drop cookie — soft in the middle and crispy on the edges.  For this cookie, I use a 1/4 cup portion scoop.  Not only does this create the best size cookie for this recipe, it’s fast.
WalnutsAnd one last tip.  For this cookie, coarsely chopped walnuts are important.  They provide structure to the cookie.  If you’re not a fan of walnuts, please see my prior post for Soft Homemade Oreos.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Walnut Cookie

1 1/4 cups white flour ( 6.5 oz)
3/4 cup cocoa (2.5 oz)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter (8 oz), soft but not melted
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed (5.5 oz)
3/4 cup white sugar (5.5 oz)
2 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups (8 oz.) coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375.

Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth.  Add sugars and beat until fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth   Add dry ingredients and walnuts and mix until just blended.  Give the dough one or two scrapes with a spatula to be sure there aren’t any streaks of dry ingredients.  Drop 1/4 cup balls of dough on baking sheet, allowing room around each for spread.

Bake for about 15 minutes.  They are done when the middles are puffed and still a bit soft, but the edges are set.  Allow to cool on the baking sheet for a couple minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Green Garbanzo & Asparagus Salad

My local produce market sells plump little green garbanzos each spring, which is when I have spearmint and chives growing beautifully in my garden.   These two green herbs are bright accompaniments to a tangy yogurt dressing that lightly dresses blanched asparagus and green garbanzos.
Asparagus and Green garbanzo saladGreen garbanzos come one or two to a pod, and are easy to shell.  If they are new to you, think of cooking with them like fresh shelling peas.
Green garbanzosThey are packed with protein and fiber, and are creamy, nutty, fresh – and so delicious in this simple spring salad.   This recipe doubles easily, and works beautifully for a picnic lunch.  Enjoy!

Green Garbanzo & Asparagus Salad
(makes 4 servings)

1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, cut in bite size pieces
1 cup shelled fresh green garbanzos
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 TB extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs fresh spearmint leaves, minced
1 TB minced fresh chives (small clove garlic, crushed, may be substituted)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, about 1 tsp.

Bring 1/2 inch water to the boil in a covered pan.  Drop in the asparagus pieces, cover with lid, and boil for one minute.  Add the shelled garbanzos to the pan and boil, covered, for one more minute.  Drain, then rinse briefly with cold water to cool.  Place in the fridge to cool completely – this will take about 10 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooling, make the dressing.  Combine the yogurt, oil, spearmint, chives, salt, and lemon juice in a blender and whirl for a few seconds.  If you don’t have a blender, just whisk the ingredients together in a bowl.  Dress the cooled vegetables with the dressing and enjoy.

Shrimp & Avocado Caesar Salad

Plump shrimp combine with smooth avocado and a classic caesar dressing for a one dish meal that combines strong nutrition with fabulous flavor.
Shrimp Ceasar SaladThe dressing recipe goes together in a minute, and uses anchovy paste for an umami boost.  One tip for pretty salads is to dress the greens separately from the other ingredients.  Then, just arrange the shrimp and delicate avocado on top of the dressed greens to feel like a kitchen artist.  Click here for a note about shrimp sustainibility.
Shrimp Cesear Salad ingredientsMany caesar salad recipes use croutons and too much dressing.  I prefer mine with the crunch coming from quality greens, and light dressing.  Enjoy with some baguette for a great meal.  I especially like to serve this for dinner when the weather warms up and you can enjoy dining outside.

Shrimp and Avocado Caesar Salad

for the dressing:
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt (see note below)
1 tsp. anchovy paste
1 1/2 TB fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 TB extra virgin olive oil

In a mortar and pestle grind the garlic clove into a smooth paste with the salt.  Add the anchovy paste and blend.  Add the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk until combined.

For the salad:
(serves two for an entree)
1 head dark green Romaine lettuce, rinsed and dried, cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup cooked, cooled, and peeled salad shrimp (100/150 count)
1 avocado, peeled and sliced into wedges
Parmasean cheese, freshly grated
black pepper, freshly ground

Dress the lettuce with about 1/2 the dressing, some parmasean and some pepper.  Arrange on plates, and top with the shrimp and avocado wedges.  Grind a bit more pepper on top and drizzle a little bit more dressing on the shrimp if desired.

note about salt:  Among several other salts, I have Diamond Crystal kosher salt in my pantry.  The reason I am specifying this particular salt in this recipe is that is has a light structure, and works well to crush the garlic into a paste.  Any other salt will work fine, but you will need to reduce to 3/4 tsp. if using Morton’s kosher salt, or 1/2 tsp. for ordinary table salt.

Chicken, Potatoes & Carrots – One Pan Meal

This One Pan Meal takes little prep time, and in 45 minutes bakes together in the oven, the juices from the chicken flavoring the potatoes.
Chicken and potatoes panIn less than an hour from start to finish, you have a full meal ready to go, and tasty leftovers if you double up on ingredients.  Getting it to all bake in the same time is just a matter of sizing the three ingredients correctly.  I used beautiful purple and yellow carrots, but any carrot will do nicely here.  Put the pan in the oven, then put your feet up and have a drink while you wait for dinner.  Enjoy!
Chicken and Potatoes plate
Chicken, Potatoes & Carrots – One Pan Meal

6  chicken drumsticks
4  large red potatoes, skin on
6  large purple carrots
olive oilsalt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400.  Cut potatoes into large pieces – either halves or quarters, depending on the size of the potatoes.  Cut the carrots into halves or thirds lengthwise.  Slice the fat end of the carrot pieces into quarters, and the midsection pieces into halves.  The idea is to have the thickness of the carrots all about the same.

Line a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment.  Arrange the drumsticks at one end, potatoes in the middle, and carrots on the other end.  Lightly coat everything with olive oil, then a dusting of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bake for 45 minutes or until everything is tender and tasty.

Soft Homemade Oreos

Soft cocoa cookies are put together with a thick layer of fluffy vanilla frosting.
Soft OreosHere is an updated version of my Chocolate Sandwich Cookie recipe — but with a sweeter, super-easy-to-make, All-American frosting instead of Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  These are sweet, scrumptious, and I think all together better than anything you can buy.
Soft Oreos doughWhen you scoop the soft dough onto parchment for baking, keep the mounds small — 1 inch across.  Space them at least 2 inches apart so they have room to spread.  They will flatten nicely when baked.
Soft Oreos bakedChocolate Sandwich Cookie – cookie recipe

1 1/4 cups white flour ( 6.5 oz)
3/4 cup cocoa (2.5 oz)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter (8 oz), soft but not melted
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed (5.5 oz)
3/4 cup white sugar (5.5 oz)
2 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs, room temperature

Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Sift once, and set aside.  In mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl and  beating for 30 seconds after each addition.  Add vanilla and mix to incorporate. Add dry ingredients and mix until dough comes together.  Drop small balls of dough on baking sheet, allowing room around each for spread.  Each cookie should be about 2 inches in diameter when baked.  I use a small portion scooper to keep the cookies even in size.  Bake at 375 for 10 minutes, or until just set. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then move to rack to cool.

When cookies have cooled completely, put two together with a nice thick layer of frosting, recipe below.  I use a star tip and pastry bag to pipe the frosting on to the cookies.  This is a fast method, but using a knife and slathering on the frosting works perfectly well.

Enjoy!  These cookies freeze well.  Makes about 32 2″ sandwich cookies.
Soft Oreos buttercream

Vanilla Frosting

2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 LB powdered sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
pinch salt
3 + TB milk or cream

Cream the butter until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and mix until blended.  Then beat until it becomes very creamy and begins to get fluffy.  This is a stiff mixture, but this is an important step to get all the lumps smoothed out.

Add 3 TB milk and vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Mix on low to incorporate the liquid, then beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.  If the frosting isn’t quite as creamy as you’d like, you may add a little more milk and beat until it’s nice and fluffy.

Clams with Wine and Garlic

Fresh meaty clams, butter, garlic, and a crisp white wine combine in this dish for what I think of as heaven in a bowl.

clams 5

This dish makes me seriously want to be a mermaid for a day.  (my family nick-named this dish Mermaid Broth)  And what’s even more fun is that this impressive enough for company dish is surprisingly easy and fast — 10 minutes from heating the pan to ladling into bowls.

clams 2

I often make this dish with a combination of clams, mussels, and shrimp.*  But clams are the foundation because of the beautiful broth they create as their juices mingle with the butter, garlic and white wine.  Clams are a great seafood choice as they are sustainably produced, relatively inexpensive, and loaded with nutrition.

Here you see the little neck clams after just six minutes of simmering in the pan.  They are ready when opened up like this.

clams 6

Just add crusty rolls and a green salad for a meal fit for mermaid royalty.

Clams with Wine and Garlic
serves 2 – 3

2 LB live, whole little neck or Manila clams, rinsed
2 TB unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
pinch red pepper flakes
5 oz dry white wine (use a crisp, dry inexpensive wine)
2 TB chopped fresh parsley
crusty rolls for serving

In a medium size sauce pan with a tight fitting lid, melt butter over medium heat.  When the butter is melted, sauté the garlic and red pepper flakes for a few seconds, then add the clams and white wine.  Crank the heat up to high and cover the pan.  Set the timer for five minutes, then peek inside the pan.  When they are done, the clams will open up.  If needed, give the dish another minute or two.  When all the clams are open, the dish is done.  (if there are one or two unopened clams and the others have all opened, discard the unopened clams.  Healthy live clams will be tightly closed when raw, then open up when they cook.  A dead clam won’t open when cooked.)

Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with parsley, and serve with crusty rolls and a fresh green salad.  We eat the clams, and soak up the broth with the rolls.  Add a class of dry white wine for a meal fit for any beautiful Merfolk.

*if you’d like to replace some of the clams with mussels, that’s great.  I love mussels!  Just start with 8 oz clams per person, and fill in with a few mussels and perhaps raw shell-on shrimp per person.  Since clams take longer to cook, add the mussels and shrimp three minutes after adding the wine.  Like clams, healthy mussels are closed when raw and open up when cooked.  Shrimp turn pink when cooked.

**An observant cook will notice the omission of salt in this savory recipe.  This is not by accident.  Clams contribute plenty of salt naturally.