Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Trifle of love

According to Webster, a trifle is something of little value, substance, or importance. It can also be a dessert. It cannot, however, be both. So for the Valentine’s Day wine tournament we attended the weekend before last, I made a very valuable, substantial and important dessert. I call it my, “Trifle of Love.” This is a recipe I’m especially proud of because I created most of it myself, with just one idea from Paula Deen. Shhh. Don’t tell Morgan — he’s not a fan. We get into it whenever I watch her show on Food Network:

M: Uggggggghh! Paula Deen. Turn it off!
Me: You’re just jealous because I don’t feed you real butter.
M (in his best Paula voice): What-ev-uh, honey.
This trifle has three main components: cake, fruit and cream. For the cake layers, I used a chocolate fudge cake mix (my mother taught me to only use Betty Crocker cake mix and I swear by it), substituting half the water with sweet Marsala wine (Paula’s tip). For the fruit layer, I used three sixteen ounce bags of frozen strawberries and one ridiculously expensive ($9) pint of fresh strawberries. And for the cream layer, I combined heavy whipping cream, mascarpone cheese, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, and a liberal amount of sweet Marsala wine — this resulted in a nice, fluffy tiramisu-like flavor and texture. I left the frozen strawberries whole, and they turned out a bit slimy when thawed, so I think next time I’ll chop them up a bit. They still tasted good, though. Here’s the full recipe, as best I can remember:

1 chocolate cake mix (I like chocolate fudge)
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 ¼ C. sweet Marsala wine, plus extra for sprinkling over cake layers
2 8 oz. tubs mascarpone cheese
¾ C. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 Tbsp. real vanilla extract
3 16 oz. bags frozen whole strawberries, thawed
1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and halved

Place thawed strawberries in bowl with sugar, mix thoroughly and set aside. Prepare cake mix according to instructions on box, substituting half the water with sweet Marsala wine. Set aside to cool completely.

Add together in a large mixing bowl: mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, vanilla, cocoa powder, sugar and ½ C. wine. Stir lightly until all ingredients are moistened. Whip with a electric hand mixer until consistency is that of extra thick whipped cream, about three to four minutes. Set aside.

Cut cake into 1-inch cubes. Place half of the cake cubes in the bottom of a 3- to 3 1/2-quart trifle bowl or other straight-sided glass bowl. Place thumb (or if your thumb isn’t big enough, as in my case, your index and middle fingers) over the opening of the Marsala wine bottle and “sprinkle” wine liberally over the cake.

Drain strawberries from sugar/syrup that has developed. Using one half of strawberries for first layer, roughly chop and place on top of cake, making sure some fruit can be seen through sides of glass.

Spread half of cream mixture over strawberries.

Repeat with another layer each of cake sprinkled with wine, strawberries and cream, finishing with fresh strawberries on top of trifle.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tapas, Franco-American style

Our friends Paul and Jen hosted a really fun “Around the World” tapas party last weekend. Each couple was supposed to pick a country to represent and make a corresponding tapa.
Our original plan was Swedish meatballs with lingonberries, but I’ve never made them before and Morgan wasn’t up to cooking. I fortuitously found some more crab in our freezer from last summer's catch — I mistakenly thought it had all been used on the whiskey crab soup a couple months ago — and decided to try my hand at mini crab quiche using my regular crab quiche filling. I did top each quiche with a pinch of pungent shredded parmesan, too, (not in the original recipe) which added a nice nutty flavor and pretty deep-brown finish. Since France was already taken with Jen’s mouth-watering boeuf bourguignon — seriously, I’m drooling a little just thinking about it — we said the quiche were Franco-American and went with the good ol’ U.S. of A.

I know any baking aficionados may have an attack over this, but I really can’t tell a big difference between store bought pie crust and homemade, so I bought some refrigerated dough, cut circles with a large wine glass and pressed the crust into a 24-count mini muffin tin. The glass was the perfect size to make a nice edge around each top to hold in the filling. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a little extra crust? I used about two and a half crusts for the entire pan. Since most boxes come with two crusts, make sure to buy two boxes if you try this.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Aren't the Bahamas supposed to be warm?!

"I’ve been away for so long, so long …it’s a nice day to start again!” Billy Idol’s White Wedding seemed like the perfect way to start this entry. It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted and I’ve missed being here to share stories with you. So thank you for your patience.
I hope everyone has settled into a nice 2009 groove and the year is treating you well. We spent a week in mid-January in Freeport, Bahamas, and I’ve been scrambling to catch up with my life since we returned, hence the lack of activity here. Freeport is on Grand Bahama Island (most recently making headlines for the Travolta family tragedy) and is located about 55 miles off the coast of Florida. Morgan’s incredibly generous aunt and uncle gave us a week in their timeshare at the Taino Beach Resort as a wedding gift and we thought winter would be the perfect time to use it for a respite from drab Seattle.

We had a lovely time despite the much-colder-than-average temperatures (the high on "Bahama-Obama Tuesday," as we dubbed it, was only 61 degrees) and kept ourselves entertained by spending a lot of time in the hot tub (always warm) and taking the water taxi into town each day to shop, eat and drink. Oddly, one of our favorite restaurants turned out to be an Irish Pub, Shenanigan's! We did get one nice warm day and spent as much time as possible at the pool and on the beach.
Before we left, I did some research and came across a teriffic blog, frankandmeg.com, which gave us a really accurate portrayal of what we were going to find on the island. And since they appear to love food, I was certain of their trustworthiness. Upon recommendation, we had to try the conch salad at Billy Joe’s Conch Shack. It was definitely fresh (they "Conch Man" cracks the shell, pulls out the conch and chops it up on the spot) and had some of the best vegetables we encountered during our entire trip. The fresh lime dressing was fabulous, too.
I must say, however, that a few bites of raw conch are enough for me. It's very rubbery (if you haven't had it, think raw calamari) and the texture didn't quite agree with my palate. We both agreed that it was best suited as a side dish versus a main course. I was really hungry that day, too, and am embarrassed to admit that we hit up Subway afterward (mea culpa, mea culpa). I have never felt so shameful eating a club sandwich.
My favorite part of the trip was a swim with the dolphins -- something I've wanted to do since I was a little girl. My expectations were completely met the moment my dolphin, Kayla swam up to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. The water may have only been 70 degrees and the air 65, but I didn't want to get out! Unfortunately, we don't have any good pictures of the dolphin experience because I didn't want to ruin my camera (they like to splash!). The memories make up for it, though. I told Morgan that I'm looking into quitting my job and becoming a dolphin trainer. Hopefully he will move with me, because I don't think there are any openings around here ... I think he misses his pirate girlfriend, though, so it won't be hard to convince him to return.