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Small Investment Reaps Big Rewards

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Written by Peggy Fallon   
Friday, 15 October 2010

Image
Photography © 2010 by Kate Sears
First, let's just make this clear: Desserts 4 Today is not the latest Hip Hop group.  It's an ingenious new cookbook by former pastry chef and culinary veteran Abigail Johnson Dodge.

The book is divided into 5 easy chapters: Cookies, Creamy Desserts, Frozen Desserts, Fruit Desserts, and Pastries (a number of which conveniently rely on quality store-bought products like frozen puff pastry and phyllo dough.) The hook is that each gem of a recipe contains no more than 4 ingredients. Seriously. Okay, each recipe is followed by numerous variations with headings like, Switch-Ins, Gussy It Up; and Change It Up, but there is really no reason to go there unless you feel like taking that extra step. As written, each of the basic recipes is a perfect study in simplicity and creativity. And you can rest assured your grocery cart will not be overloaded with expensive, esoteric ingredients you may never use again.

Image
Photography © 2010 by Kate Sears
When I'm expecting dinner guests on a particularly busy day, or I've been asked to bring dessert to a potluck, I often agonize over what to make in my limited time. I want it to be homemade, so I always seem to fall back on a few tried-and-true favorites. Dodge has lifted me out of that rut, offering 125 fresh ideas for streamlined desserts that look and taste like anything but. Some recipes may require a few more steps than others, but those 4 ingredients inevitably result in amazing flavors. With choices like No-Bake Rocky Road Bundles, Butterscotch Risotto Pudding, Dark Chocolate-Banana Soufflés, Coconut Crème Caramel, and Chunky Apple Brown Betty, what may sound like a special weekend dessert can now be accomplished on any busy day--with the smallest mise en place ever.

Mini Bittersweet Chocolate Cheesecakes

From Desserts 4 Today by Abigail Johnson Dodge (Taunton Press, 2010)

Serves 6

  • one 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 ounces chocolate (bittersweet or semisweet), chopped, divided, and melted
  • 1 large egg

1. Heat the oven to 300°F. Line 6 standard muffin tins with foil liners and lightly grease with cooking spray.

2. Put the cream cheese in a medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until very smooth, about 2 minutes.

3. Add the sugar and 3 ounces of melted chocolate. Beat on medium-low speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the egg and mix until just incorporated.

4. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. Bake until the centers of the cheesecakes barely jiggle when nudged, 15 to 18 minutes. Set the muffin tin on a rack to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve or for up to 3 days (or freeze for up to 1 month). Just before serving, drizzle with the remaining 1 ounce melted chocolate (rewarmed, if needed).

Switch-Ins
In place of the granulated sugar, switch in the following:
- brown sugar, 1/3 cup, firmly packed

In place of the bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, switch in the following:
- white chocolate, 5 ounces, divided, melted (use 4 ounces in the cheesecake mixture and 1 ounce for drizzling)

Gussy It Up

- Add 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest along with the cream cheese.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract along with the cream cheese.
- Serve with a few fresh raspberries and a drizzle of Killer Chocolate Sauce or Classic Sweetened Whipped Cream.

Warm Maple Cranberry Pears

From Desserts 4 Today by Abigail Johnson Dodge (Taunton Press, 2010)

Serves 4

  • 1 1/3 cups whole cranberries, fresh or frozen, rinsed and dried
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup (dark amber)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 ripe pears (not Asian)

1. Put the fresh or frozen cranberries, maple syrup, and dried cranberries in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until boiling. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the berries have popped, about 4 to 6 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly or transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days before reheating and serving.

2. Peel the pears and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the core and seeds.

3. Arrange 1 pear half on each serving plate. Spoon the warm cranberries over the pear.

Repeat with the remaining ingredients and serve immediately.

Switch-Ins
In place of the dried cranberries, switch in one or more of the following:
- dried apricots, chopped, 1/2 cup
- crystallized ginger, chopped, 1/4 cup
- pecans, chopped, 1/2 cup, toasted (add just before serving)

In place of the ripe pears, switch in the following:
- canned pear halves, 4, drained

Gussy It Up
- Put the pear halves on a cutting board, cut side down. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick lengthwise slices, keeping the slices lined up together. Arrange 1 pear half on each serving plate and carefully fan the slices and top with warm compote.
- Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a drizzle of one of the caramel sauces (page 179).

"From scratch" caramel sauce. Put 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup water, and 1 tablespoon light corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to high and cook, swirling the pan over the heat but not stirring, until the syrup is deep amber. Slide the pan from the heat and carefully add 1/2 cup heavy cream, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, and a pinch of table salt. Cook, whisking, over medium heat until smooth and well blended. Serve warm or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks before reheating and serving. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Killer chocolate sauce. Put 6 ounces chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, 4 ounces unsalted butter, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup in a small heatproof bowl and cook in the microwave or over simmering water until the chocolate and butter are melted. Whisk until smooth and blended. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftover sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days before reheating and serving. Makes about 1 cup.

Classic sweetened whipped cream
. Put 3/4 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons granulated or light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, and a pinch of table salt in a medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until medium-firm peaks form when the beaters are lifted (don't forget to stop the mixer first!). Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to1 hour before serving. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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