An edible souvenir

My family and I escaped to the Twin Cities for a few days last week. We didn’t plan on doing much, but managed to pack a lot into four days away, including a visit to Valley Fair, shopping, a Twins game and canoeing on a lake.

My husband grew up in a river town. The kids and I did not. It took four tries before we were finally able to maneuver the canoe under a bridge – and this was after we crashed into a wall. Twice.

I was freaked out the entire time that we would tip over, but we didn’t. Our victory made lunch at Lucia’s a few hours later that much sweeter, as did the most delicious strawberry shortcake I ever had. Organic strawberries, homemade whipped cream and a shortcake with the best strudel-type topping. Yum!

I wandered to Penzeys Spices afterward and bought a 3.4-ounce jar of vanilla sugar, determined to recreate the magic at home. I served the recipe below at dinner last night. Is it a spot on duplication? Not yet, but I’ll get there. It did take four tries for the canoe, after all.

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKEstrawberry shortcake

For the strawberries:

  • 1 quart strawberries, hulled and slightly mashed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar

For the shortcake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix the strawberries with the sugar and vanilla sugar; set aside.

For the shortcake: Grease a round, 9-inch cake pan and set aside. In a large bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Blend in the butter and egg and mix well. Add enough milk to make a moist, slightly sticky dough. Start with 2 tablespoons and add more as needed. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on the table, place the dough on top, and roll the dough gently into a 9-inch round. Place the round into the cake pan. Don’t worry if it isn’t a perfect fit. Brush with the melted butter. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the pan, let cool briefly and split apart carefully into two layers. We’ve found a bread knife works well.

Spread the strawberries between the layers and on top of the shortcake. Top with whipped cream or serve it on the side. To make the whipped cream, beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla until it reaches your desired consistency. Putting the mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer for half an hour will give you successful whipped cream every time.

Recipe courtesy of Penzeys Spices (www.penzeys.com)

Happy food holiday times three!

Did you know that nearly every day on the calender is a food holiday?

Chocolate covered peanut day. Pie Day. Clam chowder day. I’m not kidding — nearly every day of the calendar is dedicated to a food.  It isn’t always clear who or what decided on these non-official-but-entertaining holidays, but seeing as this is more entertaining than scientific, it doesn’t really matter.

That being said, some food holidays days are more fun than others, depending on your culinary preferences. Feb. 27, however, just might be the greatest food day of all.

It’s National Chocolate Cake Day.

And National Strawberry Day.

And National Kahlua day.

To celebrate this most joyful of holidays, I made a chocolate Kahlua cake with a strawberry compote and Kahlua buttercream frosting.

Nothing like cake, and alcohol, to put you in the holiday spirit!

THE TRIFECTA OF FOOD HOLIDAYS CAKEchocolate cake

For the cake:

  • 1 chocolate cake mix
  • 1 package instant chocolate pudding
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 3/4 cup water

Preheat over to 345F

Combine all liquid ingredients in a bowl, then add the cake mix and chocolate pudding mix. Grease two 9-inch cake pans, or one 9-by-13 pan, and split the batter between the two pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.

For the strawberry compote:

  • 1 pound strawberries, sliced
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Vodka, to taste (I used about 1/8 cup)

Put sliced strawberries in a bowl and mix the sugar into it. Let sit for about half an hour to release all the juices.

Strain the strawberries and put the juice in a saucepan. Bring it to a simmer with the lemon juice and vodka, and keep on a low simmer for about 20 minutes until it is reduced to a syrup. Pour the syrup back on the strawberries and put in the fridge to cool until you need it.

For the frosting:

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons Kahlua
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee
  • 1 tablespoon hot water

In small bowl dissolve instant coffee in hot water.

Beat butter at medium speed in a mixing bowl until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, Kahlua and hot coffee mixture. You can add more Kahlua if you want a stronger coffee flavor frosting.

This recipe makes enough frosting for a 9-by-13 cake.

Recipes to create this cake came from www.food.com, tiffanyhu.com/blog, and www.epicurious.com

The jalapeno challenge — recipe No. 2

I learned three things yesterday.

1. Soaking fingers in milk really does ease a jalapeno pepper burn.

2. My kids don’t react when they walk in the kitchen and see me soaking my hands in a bowl of milk.

3. Hulling strawberries is a lot easier than I thought.

STRAWBERRY JALAPENO POPPERS

  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
  • 24 strawberries, hulled
  • ¼ cup cream cheese, softened
  • ½ teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro

Wash strawberries and pat dry. Hollow out strawberries with a spoon.

In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, jalapeno, lime juice and chili powder.

Stuff strawberries with the cheese mixture. Dip cheese end of strawberry into cilantro.

Refrigerate one hour and serve.

Source: Jalapeno Madness (www.jalapenomadness.com)