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Archive for May, 2013

TIP OF THE DAY: Ingredients For Dazzling Desserts

Dessert lovers: This one’s for you. Today’s tip is adapted from an article by Ann Pietrangel on To get recipes attached to the tips, see the original article.

Pietrangel interviewed Chicago-based pastry chef and restauranteur Malika Ameen, a Top Chef Just Desserts contestant and proprietor of By M Desserts.

Ameen recommends five ingredients that she always has on hand to give her desserts that extra something special. They happen to be popular with us as well:

1. Candied Citrus Peel

Candied citrus peel—grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange—adds brightness, freshness and texture to cakes and cookies. The peel of the fruit is julienned and boiled in sugar syrup, which preserves it. Here’s a recipe (along with a delicious lemon chiffon cake).

  • Chop and mix candied peel into baked goods: muffins, sweet breads, cakes, sugar cookie dough, shortbread, etc.

    Candied red grapefruit peel, served with a mascarpone dip. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

  • Garnish sorbet, ice cream, lemon meringue pie, even chocolate mousse and chocolate tarts.
  • Garnish citrus-based cocktails.
  • For a simple yet elegant dessert or tea-time treat, serve the peel with a chocolate dip or some lightly sweetened mascarpone (see photo above).
  • As the finale to a fine dinner, serve candied peel with coffee or tea.
    2. Dried Lavender

    “Used sparingly, dried lavender enhances food with a mysterious and distinctive flavor,” says Ameen. She steeps it in cream to pair with berries, makes lavender-infused simple syrup syrup for lemonade and iced tea, and combines it with a crunchy sanding sugar to garnish cookies and pound cake. Here’s our recipe for lavender whipped cream.

    If you’re buying lavender outside of a food store (at a farmers market or general merchandise store, for example), be sure that it is organic. Lavender that is grown for ornamental display or potpourri can be coated with chemical pesticides. You want culinary lavender.


    A vanilla-cardamom-filled whoopie pie.
    Here’s the recipe. Photo courtesy


    3. Ground Cardamom

    This aromatic and slightly sweet spice, a relative of ginger, is one of Ameen’s favorites. While it is known for its use in Indian cooking, it is a popular addition to Scandinavian breads and breakfast pastries, as well as to Middle Eastern desserts.

    Cardamom pairs beautifully with chocolate: Use it to accent anything from chocolate pudding to brownie batter; add a dash or two to a chocolate milkshake. You can use cardamom pods to brew a delicious cardamom tea.

    Cardamom plants grow wild in the monsoon forests of southern India. They had been gathered and traded for 1,000 years until the British began to cultivate it in the 19th century. Cardamom was called the Queen of Spices. Black pepper, also Indian in origin, was the King of Spices.

    4. Vanilla Sugar

    Vanilla beans are expensive, but they have a second life. Used vanilla beans can (and should) be used to make vanilla sugar.

    Use vanilla sugar instead of plain table sugar to add a lift of flavor as an ingredient or a topping. Try it with baked goods, berries, beverages, cereal and grapefruit, for example.

    To repurpose vanilla beans, simply place one in a sealed pound canister of granulated sugar for at least week. It can remain there infinitely; just shake the jar occasionally. You can add more used pods and can give containers of your artisan vanilla sugar as gifts.

    If you don’t use vanilla pods, you can buy ready-made vanilla sugar as a gift for your favorite baker.

    NOTE: Vanilla powder is not the same as vanilla sugar. Vanilla powder is a combination of sugar and ground vanilla that is used in recipes where a dry ingredient is preferred, instead of vanilla extract. More about the different types of vanilla.

    5. Fleur De Sel

    Sweet and salty has emerged as a flavor hit (although everything old is new again). Salt helps to lift the flavor of other ingredients. That’s why cookies, cakes and other sweets all have a pinch of salt in the recipe.

    Fleur de sel (“flower of the sea”), a fine French sea salt is simply delicious with chocolate. That’s why there are so many artisan brownies, chocolate bars and chocolate chip cookies garnished with it.

    Sprinkle a few crystals of fleur de sel sprinkled over any chocolate dessert to add a burst of flavor and crunchy texture.

    Here’s more about fleur de sel in our Artisan Salts Glossary. Who knew there were so many wonderful salts?


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    FATHER’S DAY: Dad-Themed Cupcakes

    Dad may have a favorite pie, cake or cookie that he really wants to enjoy on Father’s Day. If not, let Father’s Day cupcakes be the hit of the party.

    At Crumbs Bakery, Father’s Day cupcakes are garnished with chocolate moustaches. If you want to do the same at home, anchor the chocolate with a toothpick.

    Seeking additional inspiration, we looked at different themes for Father’s Day cupcakes and found cupcakes:

  • Covered with neckties of candy, icing or marzipan
  • Shaped like hamburgers
  • With “Gone Fishing” themes (you can decorate cupcakes with Swedish Fish)
  • With chocolate golf balls or entire golf greens

    Father’s Day cupcake. Photo courtesy

  • Sports cupcakes with tops decorated to look like the baseballs, billiard balls, footballs, soccer balls, etc. (Crumbs has a selection of these as well).
  • With stars—icing, marzipan, candy, etc.—and “DAD” lettering
    You can bake from scratch or buy cupcakes and decorate them. A stroll through a candy store will give you more ideas; or head to your browser and type in “Father’s Day Cupcakes.”


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Spring Ramps (Wild Leeks)

    The prettiest recipe we’ve seen with ramps:
    a ramp-stuffed torta from chef Catie Baumer
    Schwalb of Here‘s the


    We were surprised and delighted to see spring ramps in the store yesterday. We thought that the brief ramp season was over.

    An early spring vegetable, ramps are so delicious—a combination of garlic and onion flavors—that they are worth seeking out and enjoying, simply sautéed.

    Ramps are wild leeks, also known as spring onion, ramson, wild garlic and wood leek. In French, they are called ail des bois, garlic of the woods.

    Ramps grow wild and are found in clusters. The entire plant is edible, from the long, smooth, green leaves to the scallion-like bulb.

    Since ramps grow wild, they can easily end up in a yard where, alas, they are typically pulled out and thrown away—not only because they appear to be weeds, but for their strong garlic aroma. Should you come across something smelling of garlic, bring it to the kitchen instead of the trash.


    While ramps can be enjoyed in any recipe that uses a member of the onion family, the easiest preparation is simply sautéed as a side or in combination with other spring vegetables. Combine ramps with asparagus and morels for a heavenly spring feast. There are more serving suggestions and a delicious recipe for eggs, potatoes, bacon and ramps, below.


    Don’t confuse ramps with their equally delicious cousins, garlic scapes. Scapes are the curling shoots of young garlic plants. For decades they were cut off in the fields and thrown away (to allow the garlic bulbs to grow larger), before growers realized that chefs and foodies were eager to buy them.


    Many people refer to the vegetable as the wild leek, the name ramp is popular in the East. It comes from England. One version of the name source attributes a folk name, œramsen, the plural form of hramsa, an Old English word for wild garlic. Early English settlers of Appalachian a prime ramp regional used the term, which later was shortened to ramp.

    Search for local ramps festivals and mark your calendar so you don’t miss next year’s.


  • Added to recipes in place of onions and garlic, including raw in salads
  • Fried with potatoes in bacon fat (recipe below)
  • Grill them as a side or a burger topper
  • Make garlicky ramp soup (follow a recipe for asparagus soup)
  • Pickled ramps (recipe)

    Ramps, picked and cleaned, Photo courtesy, which used them to make pickled ramps.

  • Sautéed and added to pasta, pizza, scrambled eggs, omelets and fried eggs with bacon (cook the ramps in the bacon fat)


    In the South, this dish is served with sides of Pass pinto beans and cornbread. The recipe is adapted from

  • 6 slices regular or pepper bacon, cooked and chopped, bacon fat reserved
  • 1 cup ramps, white parts and leaves, chopped coarsely
  • 2-3 medium size potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
  • 5 large eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chives
  • Optional: shredded Cheddar or Swiss cheese

    1, COOK bacon in a large frying pan; remove, chop and set aside, reserving the bacon fat.

    2. FRY the ramps and potatoes in the bacon fat over low heat, covered, until the potatoes are tender.

    3. CRACK eggs over the ramp/potato mixture and fry, covered, until eggs cooked. Sprinkle on the optional shredded cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and chives to taste.

    4. REMOVE eggs with their ramp/potato beds onto serving plates; top with chopped bacon. Makes five single-egg portions.


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    RECIPE: Negroni Cocktail

    The Negroni cocktail. Photo courtesy Geof
    Peters | Wikimedia.


    It’s time to celebrate Negroni Week. For those not immersed in cocktail culture, the Negroni is one of the classics, dating back to 1919.

    As the story goes, the cocktail was invented at the Bar Cassoni* in Florence, Italy by bartender Fosco Scarselli. He created it for a regular patron, Count Camillo Negroni, who had asked for an Americano cocktail strengthened with a dash of gin instead of the usual soda water.

    Scarselli used an orange garnish rather than the lemon garnish of the Americano, and presented his client with a “Negroni.”

    The cocktail took off, and the Negroni Family quickly founded Negroni Antica Distilleria in Treviso, producing Antico Negroni, a ready-made version of the drink.

    But the cocktail was unknown in the U.S. until 1947 when Orson Welles, working in Rome, wrote about it, creating a rush to try it.


  • 1.25 ounces gin
  • 1.25 ounces Campari
  • 1.25 ounces Martini sweet vermouth
  • Garnish: orange twist
  • Preparation

    1. COMBINE ingredients in a shaker with ice.

    2. STRAIN into chilled coupe or serve over ice in a chilled rocks glass. Garnish and serve.

    *Bar Cassoni became Caffè Casoni and is now called Caffè Cavalli.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Breakfast Salad

    If you haven’t been getting your recommended portions of fruits and vegetables*, how about starting your day with a breakfast salad? You can have one of these fruit-based salads with your regular breakfast foods—cereal, eggs, a bagel—or with a side of cottage cheese, ricotta and/or yogurt.

    This recipe comes from Lynn’s Paradise Café, Louisville, Kentucky and was sent to us by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

    It makes 8 portions. Divide in half for 4 portions.



  • 2 pounds mixed, torn salad greens
  • 2 cups granola
  • 4 cups fresh blueberries
  • 4 cups fresh orange sections
  • Blueberry vinaigrette (recipe below)

    Breakfast salad. Photo courtesy


    *It used to be “five a day,” but now the government bases the portions on calorie needs for your age, gender and activity level. Calculate your portions with this Fruit and Vegetable Calculator from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.


    Blueberries growing on the bush. Photo



    1. TOSS salad greens with 1½ cups of blueberry vinaigrette (recipe below).

    2. DIVIDE the dressed greens among eight large plates. Arrange ½ cup orange sections and ½ cup blueberries on top of each salad

    3. SPRINKLE each salad with ¼ cup granola. Drizzle remaining dressing on top. Serve immediately.




  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons minced shallot
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon paprika

    1. COMBINE ingredients in a food processor. Process until mixture is smooth.

    2. CHILL at least 30 minutes to blend flavors. Yield: 2 cups.


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