Archive for July, 2012

Naturally Colored Icing

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

One of the things that consistently annoys me about foods marketed toward children are the ridiculous amounts of artificial coloring in them.  This is especially offensive in light of research pointing to ways in which artificial colors exacerbate hyperactivity in children and can even be a contributing factor in the severity of symptoms in autistic children.  Artificial colors are coal tar byproducts (as is saccharine, by the way), and really have no resemblance to actual foods.  So what then to do about providing children with fun and interesting colors to eat?  Why not take advantage of the wide range of fruits and vegetables that have natural colorants to produce colorful foods that are also more flavorful as a result of drawing their colors from real foods?

The cake pictured above has no artificial colors in its icing.  It is iced with blueberry-flavored purple icing; black-currant flavored pink icing; and cocoa-flavored brown icing.

The easiest way to make naturally colored icing is to build the color into your butter.  Follow my instructions for the black currant beurre blanc and let the resulting butter cool to room temperature, then use it to start the icing.  The general formula for icing will be 4 cups of confectioners sugar per 1/2 lb of butter.  1/2 lb of butter is enough to ice a 10 x 15 layer cake.  Make smaller quantities of icing for accent colors.

Here is a partial list of fruit-based colors that could be made this way:

Purple—blueberries and red wine

Pink—black currants and white wine; or strawberries and white wine, mixed with some plain butter

Red—strawberries and white wine

Green—kiwis and white wine

Yellow—saffron-infused white wine or turmeric whipped into the butter

Orange—combine red and yellow butters; or for a paler shade, use peaches.

Blue— This is not a natural color in food.  It can, however, be achieved through chemistry: cook beets down with a base (such as baking soda).  They (and the water they are cooked in) will turn blue.  Reduce this water to almost nothing, refresh it with a half cup of white wine, then reduce again.  Whip the butter into it per the beurre blanc instructions.  It will not be a royal blue, but the hue can be adjusted by combining the resulting colored butter with other butter when making the icing.

The best part about using naturally-colored icing is the flavor that goes along with it.  The purple icing was not just a visual component of this cake, but added a vibrant blueberry flavor that really was a fantastic addition to the final result.

Zucchini Aurora

Friday, July 20th, 2012

I started making this zucchini preparation last summer, but named it this year, inspired by 1) the fact that my wife (Aurora) enjoys it so much and 2) a fantastic novel I recently finished which revolves around the fact that Escoffier failed to name a single culinary creation after his wife.

You can make this with yellow squash as easily as with Zucchini, but “squash Aurora” sounds like a command to do her bodily harm….

Zucchini Aurora

♦ 1-2 zucchini

salt

pepper

olive oil

♦ ~1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

♦ minced fresh herbs to taste (basil, rosemary, and/or thyme)

  1. Combine the minced fresh herbs with the parmesan cheese and set aside.
  2. Cut the zucchini into approximately 1/3-inch slabs, on the bias (aka at an angle).  Accomplish this by leaving the squash flat on the cutting board and cutting it in diagonal pieces.
  3. Season the squash with salt and pepper and drizzle it with olive oil.
  4. Either sear it in a small amount of oil in a hot pan (seared zucchini Aurora) or grill it over medium-hot flame (grilled Zucchini Aurora).  In either case, flip it when the one side is golden brown.
  5. Remove from your chosen heat source when the second side is golden brown.  Plate it with the second side to cook up.  Sprinkle it immediately with the herb & cheese mixture.  The cheese will melt on the hot surface.
  6. Serve.

The result of this simple preparation is complex in flavor, and deserves to be a timeless classic firmly ensconced in every household’s repertoire.  Make it this weekend, and you will be hooked and continue to prepare it every zucchini season until your dying days.  It’s just that good.