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Cherry Blossom Danishes

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My mother says what she missed most when we lived in southern Florida was the lack of changing seasons.  I remember one winter she turned the air conditioning in our house way down so that she could light a fire.  It seemed nonsensical, but as an adult I can understand her nostalgia for the transition of seasons.  Why our house in Palm City had a fireplace is a completely different issue.

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Nothing gives my cold, wintered heart more hope than the trees erupting in blooms.  And living in D.C. intensifies the experience because one trip down to the tidal basin and you feel like you’re walking on sunshine.  There’s nothing like millions of little flowers budding on every surface to reassure you that winter is finally over.

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I know that it’s not cherry season yet.  I know that I’ll have to wait until June to get good fresh cherries.  But the idea of making flower shaped cherry danishes during the Cherry Blossom Festival was irresistible.  I used cherry pie filling, but I promise that I’ll make them again with fresh cherries this summer.

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I was also on the fence about whether or not to make these cheese danishes.  I don’t particularly like cheese danishes, but I read through a few recipes that incorporated cream cheese.  So I made half of them with cream cheese and half with just cherries.  The cream cheese is good, it adds a gooeyness to the overall texture of the danish, so I would call it a success.

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I made these totally from scratch, but I suppose if you wanted to Sandra Lee it you could cut shapes out of puff pastry or crescent rolls.  I always feel like things just taste better when they’re made from scratch.  Which is why, I promise, I’ll remake this recipe with a homemade fresh cherry filling as soon as cherries have graced us with their presence.  The dough recipe is nice, though it was a little more biscuit like than a flaky danish.  This was my first go round at danishes, so I’ll keep experimenting.

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Cherry Blossom Danishes

1 tbsp dry yeast

1/3 cup warm water

3/4 cup warm milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups all purpose flour

1 can cherry pie filling

Cream cheese

1 egg, for brushing

Dissolve yeast into water.  Add milk, eggs, sugar, butter, and extract.  Add half the flour.  Beat until smooth.  Add remaining flour and knead 3-5 minutes.  Form into a ball.

Place the dough ball in a greased bowl, turning once so it’s greased on all sides.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot.  It will need to double in size, which takes about an hour.

Use your hands to punch down the dough.  Let it rest for ten minutes.  Place on a lightly floured surface.  Roll it out and use your cookie cutters to cut out your shapes.  I used a set of flower shaped cookie cutters.  I used the largest of the set to make the bottom and then a smaller one to make the top.  One thing that I didn’t do but I recommend, is that you make a nice size well with your finger in the bottom layer to put the cherry and cheese.  Once your bottom is cut out, brush it with egg (that you’ve whisked).  Then, use the bottom of a spoon to schmear some cream cheese, and top that with cherry filling.  Then place the smaller flower on top, and brush that with egg.  Repeat until you’re out of dough.

Let the formed danishes sit for half an hour, and then bake them at 375 for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Angel Food Cake with Strawberry Sauce

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One of my favorite desserts since childhood has been angel food cake.  When I was a kid my mother would serve it to us shaped like a bowl with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.  I’ll admit I also love it smothered in strawberry sauce.  It’s just so light and fluffy and the barely sweet cake mixed with the sweet strawberries is such a heavenly combination.  No wonder they call it angel food cake.

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For her third birthday Marin got a selection of silicon baking pans in different novelty shapes.  So, to break them in, we made angel food cake.  I also made a larger one in a small bundt pan.  To top it off, we made our own strawberry sauce, which was so yummy.  The only hard part about making this recipe with kids is that there is a big cooling off process, especially for the sauce, which needs at least an hour in the fridge to really become syrupy.  The cakes also need to cool in the pan for about an hour before they’re solid enough for you to get them out of the bakeware.

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The recipe is surprisingly easy to make.  Angel food cake is made up primarily of egg whites and sugar, which is why it’s so spongey and light.  It’s a lot of whipping, and if you aren’t trying to impress a three year old with a hand mixer you can do it all in a stand mixer pretty quickly.  You do have to move quickly though, because you want to get the batter in the oven while it is still stiff, otherwise it gets gooey, which is not the texture you want.

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The strawberry sauce is also a breeze to make.  If you’ve ever made simple syrup, that is your starting point.  Though, because strawberries are naturally sweet I make the sauce using two parts water and one part sugar, then I add in some strawberry jam later to thicken it.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem thick enough as you’re making it, cooling it down will really add thickness.  If the little one you’re cooking with doesn’t like strawberries (or you don’t), angel food cake is also delicious with hot chocolate sauce drizzled over it.  Yet another alternative is to drizzle melted honey over your chopped strawberries.  This will make a very thick syrup, but it’s all natural and totally delicious.

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Angel Food Cake with Strawberry Sauce

For Cake:

1 cup cake flour

1 1/2 cup super fine sugar

12 egg whites

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp almond extract (or vanilla or orange)

Sift together the flour, salt, and half the sugar.  If you were unable to find superfine sugar at the grocery store, it’s no big deal.  Just spin it in the food processor first.  Set this mixture aside.

Crack your twelve eggs and discard (or save for something else) the egg yolks, keeping the whites.  Use a hand whisk to incorporate your cream of tartar and your extract.  Whisk with your hand for a minute or two, then switch to the electric mixer with the whisk attachment.  Beat for about five minutes, or until the eggs have gotten really foamy and pretty stiff.

Add in the other half of the sugar just a little at a time.  Remember, you want this mixture to be really stiff, so keep beating until all the sugar is incorporated and it can hold a nice peak.  Then, using a rubber spatula, slowly add the flour mixture in.

When the flour is completely incorporated, pour (gently) into a bundt pan.  Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.

Let cool one hour in the pan before you serve it.

For Sauce:

1 box strawberries

1/2 cup sugar

Dice strawberries. With a fork or potato masher, mash the strawberries.  Stir in sugar.

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Chicken Pot Pie

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I can thank the Food Network for 70% of my food cravings.  The rest can be attributed to a combination of hormones, food blogs, and advertising.  So last weekends round of Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Good Eats, and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives left me craving chicken pot pie.  I know that it’s getting beyond casserole season and that before I know it I’m going to be eating only and all fresh vegetables and fruits.  That does not change the fact that I have a few more weekends of weather that makes me crave food that will stick to my ribs.  Probably not good for bathing suit season, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

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Usually I prefer a biscuit-top pot pie.  Mostly I’m a huge fan of the biscuit dipped in chicken gravy combination, and that’s the direction I head when I’m making pot pies.  But one of the episodes we watched featured a puff pastry top, which sounded too good to resist.  I also like to throw a few vegetable curve balls into my pot pies.  The tried and true favorites are there- carrots, peas, and chicken.  But I also enjoy adding pearl onions, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes.  I also got the idea to simmer the cream/milk with a whole chipotle pepper from (who else) Bobby Flay.  I love the flavor of dried chipotle, and so when I found whole dried chipotles at the co-op, I knew that it was going to be a good addition.

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I wanted the chicken to have a smokey flavor, but as I live in a one bedroom apartment in the outskirts of Washington, D.C, smoking food is not an option.  So, instead I brushed the chicken with liquid smoke before I cooked it, which works like a charm.  If I understand it correctly the way Alton Brown explained it, liquid smoke is made by trapping smoke that has been created by burning wood in a controlled environment, like a chiminea.  The smoke is trapped and the condensation that is created is diluted (I believe.)  Either way, it creates an authentic smoked flavor in meats and vegetables, and it’s a big coup in apartment cooking.

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This recipe is really easy, I promise.  I suggest you read through the instructions before you start making it because it’s a lot of multitasking.  As soon as you get one vegetable simmering or parboiling, there’s another task to start.  As long as you’re able to focus and think about scalding milk while you chop, you’ll be fine.  And I promise it’s worth it.  It’s bold, spicy, sweet, and savory all the the same time.  And since this type of food is going to be disappearing for the summer soon, it’s a great compliment to an afternoon of basketball.

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Chicken Pot Pie

1 chicken breast

2 cups frozen peas

4 whole carrots, peeled

1 1/2 cups pearl onions

1 1/2 cups cremini mushrooms

1 sweet potato, peeled

2 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tbsp flour

1 whole, dried chipotle pepper

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

1 garlic clove

2 tbsp liquid smoke

Salt & pepper

Fresh rosemary

4 tbsp olive oil (half for vegetables, half for chicken)

1 egg

Begin by peeling and dicing your carrots.  Heat oil and garlic, and add in carrots.  Saute five minutes, then add in peas.

While your peas and carrots are cooking over a medium heat, take out your pearl onions.  If you have never worked with pearl onions before, you should approach them like you would a head of garlic.  Cut off the ends on both sides, and take off whatever skin comes naturally.  Don’t worry about peeling them all the way down.  Dump them in a pot of boiling water, and parboil them for about 5-7 minutes.  Then, strain them, and they’ll be ready to add to the peas and carrots.  In order to get the skin off, just squeeze them a little, and the good part should pop right out.

While your onions are parboiling, you’re going to scald your milk and cream.  So, mix those two ingredients together over medium heat.  Add in the chipotle pepper.  If your milk comes to a boil before it’s time to add it to the other ingredients, simply simmer it.

After your onions are parboiled and added to the peas and carrots, peel and chop your sweet potato, and bring that to a boil.  You also want to parboil those, so boil them about 10 minutes until they’re medium tender.

While your potatoes are boiling, rinse and chop your mushrooms, and add them to the pea mixture.

Once your potatoes have joined their fellow ingredients, it’s time to stir in the milk and cream.  You do not want the chipotle to join, so just add in the milk.  I like to add in half the milk, and then add in the rest as the vegetables absorb it.  At this time also add flour, rosemary, salt, and pepper.

Now that most of your ingredients are happily married, you can bring the temperature down, put a lid on it, and let them simmer while your chicken cooks.  Go ahead and brush the liquid smoke over the chicken, and heat oil in a saute pan.  When your pan is hot, dump your chicken and any liquid smoke left in the bowl into the pan.  Cook your chicken all the way through.  When it’s done, dice it, and add it to the rest of the ingredients.  If your liquid is looking low, you can add the rest of your milk.

Let the whole mixture simmer while you heat the oven to 350.  Your puff pastry should be thawed (that takes about 40 minutes, so account for that during the preparing).  If you’ve not worked with puff pastry before, it’s super easy.  Let it thaw as it comes in the package, folded.  When it’s thawed, lay it out on a lightly floured surface and make sure it’s all in one piece, mend any cracks.

When your oven is hot, dump your simmering ingredients into a casserole dish.  Drape the puff pastry over the dish, sealing all the edges.  Brush the top of the puff pastry with egg, and bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool slightly, and serve.

Serves 4-6

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