Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Anniversary Picnic

My husband and I recently celebrated seven years of bliss and growth with a summer evening picnic with our children. We enjoyed ourselves and ate far too much cheese and butter. We even invited our children and everyone had a great time. I did not do too much individual preparation because I decided to give myself a little break on my anniversary. It was a good choice.

Mushroom Turnovers (I purchased these from Trader Joe's and they were great!)
Multigrain Crackers OR Oatmeal Biscuits (see recipe below--easy if you have time)
Champignon Cheese (think brie with lovely bits of mushroom OR other soft cheese)
Comte Cheese OR other mature French cheese
Strawberries or Grapes
Marcona-style Almonds
Green Pea Salad OR Radishes with butter and salt
Coconut Cake (a nod to our wedding cake)

Oatmeal Biscuits
Rather like a sweet cracker, these biscuits pair well with creamy savory cheeses and fruit.

1 ½ cup flour
½ cup cornmeal
2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
½ cup butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 Tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 425-degrees. Combine the flour, cornmeal, oats, salt, and baking powder in a food processor or mixing bowl. Cut the butter in using a pastry blender or the pulse function on the food processor until the mixture is uniformly damp. Combine the maple syrup and milk and fold into the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Divide the dough in half and roll one half out approximately ¼-inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a cookie cutter or a plain knife and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden and slightly puffed. Remove the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

Marcona-style Almonds
Marcona almonds originated in Spain and are distinct in their shape, which is rather squat and flat when compared with the elongated and rather round almonds one typically encounters. They are often prepared by blanching and frying them in olive oil before sprinkling them with salt and herbs. This preparation streamlines this traditional presentation.

1 1/2 cups blanched almonds
2 Tbsp good olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed slightly

Preheat the oven to 250-degrees and place the almonds in the oven on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for ten minutes and stir the almonds after five minutes. Check the almonds after ten minutes to ensure that they are golden. If they are not then return them to the oven for an additional five minutes but stay close and remove them from the oven if they begin to smell burned.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the hot almonds, salt and rosemary and toss to combine. Remove the almonds to a shallow dish to cool completely. Store any extras almonds in an airtight container.

Green Pea Salad
2 cups frozen peas
1 can water chestnuts, chopped medium
3 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp plain yogurt or sour cream
1 Tbsp mustard
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp sugar

Thaw the peas under cool running water. Combine the peas and water chestnuts in a large bowl. Combine the cheese and bacon and set aside. Stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and sugar until the sugar dissolves (salt, vinegar?). Toss the pea and mayonnaise mixtures together. Immediately before serving stir in the cheese and bacon mixture.

Coconut Cake
This was a cake reminescent of our wedding cake. I love wedding cakes. They are my favorite aspect of the wedding experience (besides the typically infectious good will that permeates the party) and I have fewer more well developed peeves than the peeve of the unserved or sawdusty wedding cake.

2 2/3 cups/13 3/8 oz all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
12 Tbsp/6 oz butter, softened so that it is easily impressed with your fingertip but not really soft and oily
2 cups/14 oz sugar
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1 cup buttermilk OR 1/2 cup plain yogurt plus 1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Grease AND line the bottoms with greased waxed paper rounds AND flour: two 9-inch cake pans or three 6-inch cake pans. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat until it looks smooth. Pour the sugar into the butter while beating and continue to beat until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time. Be sure to beat each one into the batter completely before adding the next egg. Continue to beat the eggs until the mixture lightens and increases in volume. This takes approximately five minutes at a medium-high speed. Reduce beater speed to low and stir in 1/3 of the flour. Add 1/2 of the liquid when the flour is almost entirely encorporated. Continue with the next 1/3 of flour and the remaining liquid. Add the final 1/3 of flour and stir until no streaks of flour remain. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans and spread the batter to the edges of the pans. Place the pans in the preheated oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes for the 6-inch pans and 20-25 minutes for the 9-inch pans. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for approximately 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge and turning them out onto cooling racks to cool completely.

Coconut Frosting

12 Tbsp very soft butter
4 cups confectioner's sugar
pinch salt
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp coconut extract
2-3 Tbsp milk

Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat until it is smooth. Add the sugar and salt at low speed and continue to beat until it is fully incorporated. Increase the speed to medium high and beat in the extracts and enough milk so that the mixture comes together. Continue to beat until the frosting becomes lighter and loftier. Place the bottom cake layer on the serving plate. Cover this with preserves or jam of some sort. I used sour cherry jam and it was really lovely. Lemon curd or raspberry jam would be wonderful as well as just about anything else. Place the second layer on top of the first and adjust to make sure it is square on the top. Cover the cake with frosting. Start with a thin lower coat and place the cake in the refrigerater to allow the frosting to harden if you have the time. Place dollops of frosting on the top of the cake and spread this down onto the sides before smoothing the sides. An offset spatula is a fantastic tool for this. Press coconut (toasted if you like) into the frosting. Chill but serve at room temperature.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

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