Caprese Skewers

How’s everyone doing? For me, August 2019 is going down in my memories as some of the best weeks of my life. At the beginning of the month our family of four packed our bags and headed off to London and Paris. I’m trying to process all that I saw and experienced. As I transition home, I want to keep the sense of adventure with me, after I get some sleep first!

Besides taking a vacation, I also took a fresh look at Baking with Rachel. I want this to be a resource for becoming more comfortable in the kitchen. I want you to be able to follow along with a child or learn yourself. When I teach cooking classes, I give much more detail on how to perform each and every step. It’s common practice to write recipes with a certain expectation that the reader knows how to prepare the ingredients. Yet, when I first learned to cook, I spent a lot of time researching because I didn’t know how to do any of it. Maybe you are the same? I’ll format my posts similar to how I teach my classes by giving more details for each step. Let’s give it a try and tell me what you think!

Ready to get started? One of the simplest salads is the caprese: tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. Drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. It’s a classic that I wanted to introduce to my family. My boys joined in the fun and we had a great time putting these together. I hope you enjoy making (and eating!) this as well.

Caprese Skewers

This recipe makes a big plateful and is plenty to serve 4. It makes a great afternoon snack, addition to a lunch box, or served with pasta for dinner.

Supplies:

Colander, 3 small bowls (I used cereal bowls), paper towels, slotted spoon, knife, cutting board, toothpicks, plate

Ingredients:

  • Pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella (I used 1/3 oz “cherry sized” balls)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Steps:

Start with washing hands. Safe food handling is really important.

Prepare Tomatoes:

  1. Put tomatoes in colander and check for any that are mushy or rotten and discard.
  2. Put the colander in a sink and run cold water over the tomatoes to rinse off dirt.
  3. Transfer tomatoes into small bowl.

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Prepare Basil:

  1. Lay a couple paper towels on the counter.
  2. Look at leaves and pick the leaves that are bright green and set aside. Discard stems and leaves that are limp or discolored.
  3. Cup the basil leaves in your hand and rinse under cold water.
  4. Roll basil in paper towels and squeeze out liquid.
  5. Transfer drained basil to a small bowl.

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Prepare mozzarella:

  1. Scoop mozzarella balls into in a small bowl with a slotted spoon.
  2. If using a mozzarella log, cut into 1/2 slices and then quarter the slices.

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Set a plate on a clean work space. Bring bowls of ingredients, bottle of olive oil, salt and pepper and toothpicks to the table.

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Assemble skewers:

  1. Grasp the toothpick by one end and slide on mozzarella, basil leaf and tomato. My basil was VERY large so I rolled it up before add it to the toothpick.
  2. Place finished skewer on plate.
  3. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
  4. Once finished, drizzle the skewers with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Enjoy immediately and refrigerate any leftovers for a day or two.

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Meyer Lemon Pavlova Bites

Everyone (except me!) in our family has birthdays between March and April. It dawned on me this year that the gift of a homemade cake is the gift I give. It is a labor of love and I care about it deeply and we have a lot of fun planning each year’s cake. Apparently, we are bringing back the 80’s with this year’s birthday themes: Pac Man and Rubik’s cubes.

Kai’s cake was a 3-layer Neapolitan cake shaped like Pac Man. He picked out bright yellow sprinkles and we used black fondant for Pac Man’s eye. Vanilla cream cheese frosting separated each tender layer of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate cake. Silky smooth chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream coated the whole tasty concoction.

IMG_0594For JP’s birthday he picked a lemon cake.  He has become a pro at the rubik’s cube so I fashioned one out of store bought angel food cake and used different colored fondant for the cubes. We found 12 bright colored candles that gave off matching flames. The 3-layer white cake was separated with a bright lemon curd and sunshiny Italian lemon meringue buttercream frosting. It was pure delight.

IMG_0732Over the years, I have made many different types of frostings but my favorites are Italian meringue and Swiss meringue Buttercream. The first time I tried to make Italian meringue buttercream I couldn’t get the egg whites to transform into the voluminous mass it was supposed to. I realized that I needed to learn to make a meringue before successfully making the buttercream. Since then I have learned and am now adore meringues. I find them absolutely beautiful, something other-worldly. Edible clouds created by the magic of science.

 

IMG_0859There are three different types of meringues: French, Swiss and Italian. This recipe utilizes the french style. It was the first type of meringue I successfully made. It is a basic meringue of egg whites, cream of tartar and fine sugar. To create the marshmallow-y center that I so love, we add vinegar and cornstarch and flavor it with vanilla extract and lemon zest. Once these extra ingredients are added, I consider it a pavlova. Most pavlovas are topped with whipped cream and macerated strawberries but I find these delicious enough on their own. The outside is crisp and the inside is the texture of a gooey marshmallow. It melts on the tongue like cotton candy. Meyer lemon zest adds just the right amount of brightness and citrus zing to make the whole treat truly amazing.

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Successfully making a meringue is actually quite simple. I’ll let you in on the tips I learned:

  1. Let the egg whites sit out on the counter to warm up for at least 30 minutes. This will help the whites reach their full volume. As the whites warm, they will thin out and resemble liquid more than thick gel.
  2. Wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk. Residual oils can inhibit the whites from whipping.
  3. Whip on high. Turn that mixer up and let it do its thing. Medium speed just won’t do.
  4. Add cream of tartar to keep the egg whites from drying out.
  5. Go slow adding the sugar to prevent it from being gritty. Feel it between your fingers and if its gritty then put it back on high and whip until the meringue is smooth.

Meyer Lemon Pavlova Bites

The crisp outer shell and marshmallow-y center, make these mini pavlova bites irresistible. This recipe is adapted from Edible Seattle. Not only are these pavlovas delicious, they are also gluten free! These puff up slightly but I fit about 22 on each 11×17 baking sheet.

Makes about 45 tablespoon size bites

Ingredients:

  • 120 g (about 4) egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cup fine sugar (or granulated pulsed in a food processor for 25 seconds)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon distilled vinegar
  • zest of 2 meyer lemons (about a tablespoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Food coloring, optional

Directions:

Heat oven to 300 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Let egg whites stand in a bowl for 30 minutes on the counter while you prepare the other ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Start on low and mix with the whisk attachment. After 30 seconds start increasing speed until the mixer is at high speed. Continue to whip the egg whites until they reach the stiff peak stage – about 3 minutes from start to finish. Once the egg whites are at stiff peaks, start adding the sugar one spoonful at a time. Go slowly to allow the sugar to be incorporated, about 4 minutes. The meringue will look shiny and thick. Once the sugar is incorporated, stop the mixer and feel the mixture between your fingers to be sure it isn’t gritty feeling. If gritty, continue mixing on high speed and check every 30 seconds. Once it feels smooth stop the mixer and sprinkle cornstarch, vinegar, lemon zest and vanilla extract over meringue and gently fold in with a flexible spatula.

To color: divide mixture into separate bowls. Swirl a couple drops of food coloring into the pavlova by using a toothpick. Use a cookie scoop or spoon to drop pavlovas on to cookie sheet.

Bake on a center rack for 20 minutes.  The pavlovas will be puffed and firm. Turn off the oven and open the oven door to let the pavlovas cool completely – about 1 hour. Once cool remove from the oven and store in an air tight container.

Baked Tortilla Chips with 7-layer Dip

As of right now we are in Day 2 of the 2nd week of “adverse weather conditions” – which means that we are all at home again. The children are home from school, no extra-curricular activities to rush off to, no cooking classes to teach or buses to catch. This comes directly after we spent a week shut in doors with the stomach flu. Kai is spending his free time working on magic tricks and JP is writing a story.  I’m borderline obsessed with the iPhone game “Wordscapes” and may finally finish needle felting the garland I started back in July. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to step back and think. Flexibility is not always my strong suit so it’s good to flex that muscle.

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As you know, I love cookies, candy and holidays. Yet, sometimes its nice to celebrate without relying solely on sugar and chocolate (though we will have plenty of that as well), which is partly why I love this recipe so much. The heart chips and dip are festive and delicious, while also being useful as a lunch or snack. Win win!

This layered dip is so easy! I like that the bean layer is extra thick and the red peppers add a welcome crunch and sweetness to keep it all in balance. Most 7 layer dip recipes use taco seasoning but I know I didn’t miss it here. Of course, the heart chips steal the show. Tortilla chips are a staple around our house and I could’ve definitely used them but those hearts are too cute!

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This baked tortilla chips and 7 layer dip recipe was a great project to do with my bored children as well. They had fun cutting out the shapes, brushing them with olive oil and sprinkling the sea salt on top. A quick bake in the oven and snack was ready to go. Now I just need to decide on our Valentine’s Day dessert.

Baked Tortilla Chip Hearts

I find that flour tortillas work best for baking. Corn tortillas seem to turn out a little more tough and chewy where flour tortillas turn crisp. To cut the shapes, press firmly and wiggle the cookie cutter so that the tortilla is cut all the way through.

Using a small and medium cookie cutter, I was able to get ten heart shaped cut outs from one tortilla.

Feel free to double or triple this depending on how many people need feeding.

Serves 1-2

Ingredients:

  • 1 large burrito sized flour tortilla
  • 1 tablespoon olive Oil
  • 2 teaspoons flake sea salt

Directions:

Cover baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut shapes out of flour tortilla and set on baking sheet. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat with oil and then sprinkle with flake salt. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until tortilla is crisp, puffy and slightly golden along the edges. Let cool before eating. Best eaten the day they are made.

Individual 7-layer Dip Cups

Easily doubled, tripled and adjusted for personal tastes. If a smaller cup is used, then 1/2 recipe and only make one layer. I bet that 4 oz mason jars would work amazingly well for toddler sized portions.

Serves 1 hungry child

Ingredients:

  • 1- 9 oz clear cup (I used Chinex) but any low, wide cup or jar would do
  • 1/4 cup refried beans (I use Annie’s Traditional)
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar
  • 1/4 red bell pepper, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons sliced black olives, drained
  • Salsa for topping, optional

Directions:

Using a spoon, spread 2 tablespoons refried beans on the bottom of the cup. Next, spread 1 tablespoon sour cream and top with 2 tablespoons cheddar cheese. Finally, sprinkle 1 tablespoon each red bell pepper and black olives. Repeat with beans, sour cream, cheese, red pepper and black olives. Finish with salsa if desired. Serve with homemade tortilla chips and a spoon. Cover leftovers with saran wrap and store in the refrigerator. These can be made ahead of time but wait to top with salsa until ready to serve.