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Thursday, June 14, 2012

National Strawberry Shortcake (Stackcake) Day

June 14 is National Strawberry Shortcake Day.  To some people, a shortcake is a biscuit, made from scratch.  At our house, strawberry shortcake was made with either sponge, pound, or angel food cake, from the grocery store.  Although I've made biscuits  I'm not a true baker, and usually say "why bake if you can buy"?

What I do enjoy is taking delicious ingredients (like Driscoll strawberries) and creating my own tribute to the strawberry shortcake.  I went into my closet of fantastic cooking aids that have never been used and found a truly oldie but a goodie.  Stacks-The Kit, The Art of Vertical Food - Why cook a meal when you can create a sensation?  Creator, entertaining expert, interior designer, and entrepreneur Deborah Fabricant said "Stack-it", pack it, and attack it".  Thanks Deborah, I think I will.

Strawberry Stackcake
Driscoll Strawberries, sliced
brown sugar
pound cake, cut into stack shaped 1/4-1/3" slices
softened cream cheese (I use Tofutti brand) 
kiwis, sliced
dry toasted sliced almonds
strawberry sauce*
fresh lime
whipped cream

*Make strawberry sauce by pureeing fresh strawberries with a splash of fresh lime juice and a pinch of brown sugar.

Take a Stack mold and spray the inside lightly with cooking oil.  Put a piece of parchment paper on a plate and put the stack on this, or use a cookie sheet covered in parchment if you plan to make multiple stacks.

Slice the strawberries, sprinkle with some brown sugar, stir and set aside.

Schmear a little softened cream cheese on a slice of pound cake and place it in the mold.  Lay sliced strawberries to cover the layer.  Repeat with another schmeared pound cake slice with a layer of sliced kiwi.  Repeat with a strawberry layer, then repeat with a kiwi layer, and if you have some juice accumulated from the macerated strawberries drizzle some on the stack as you go along.

Top the last piece of plain pound cake with a layer of sliced strawberries.  Cover the stack and refrigerate at least one hour, but I did it overnight. 

Remove the stack from the refrigerator and put it on a serving plate.  Carefully remove the mold to reveal an amazing structure of colorful strawberry goodness.  Garnish with the strawberry sauce, whipped cream, and almonds.

This is definitely a wow presentation and really delicious too.  I'm sure it has you wondering about all the stacking possibilities, sweet and savory.  What would you stack?

(For more about National Strawberry Shortcake Day:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Japanese Garden Inspiration
Inspiration for creativity, solutions for problems small and large, and opportunities for adventures are all around us.  A recent bout of anxiety over some of life's challenges was perfectly counter balanced with my first visit to The Japanese Garden in Van Nuys, California.  This 6 1/2 acre "Garden of Water and Fragrance" is remarkably freeway close (405 at Burbank Blvd.) while at the same time a world away from the noise, bustle, and pressures of city living.  Positive energy trumping negative energy, smack dab in the middle of the San Fernando Valley.

Authentic dry gardens, lakes, stone lanterns, plants, trees, flowers, and a beautiful Japanese tea house provide the perfect meditative environment to refocus and reflect on life and nature's simple pleasures.  Dr. Koichi Kawana, the garden's creator, succeeded in adapting this oasis to be true in Japanese detail while still compatible with the adjoining water reclamation plant and administration facility, "thus achieving what he termed mystic profundity".  Yin and Yang, so glad to see you again.

The garden provided many things, especially a much needed sense of peace, and of course a little culinary inspiration as well.  My favorite, easy, Japanese recipe is tempura veggies (and fruits) so I made up a batch using Veggie Sweet Mini Peppers and sweet potatoes.  Since I've been working on creating a homemade veggie burger recipe I thought it would be fun to take some of the same vividly purple Okinawa Sweet Potatoes from Melissa's I used in the first recipe and make them into Tempura Fries to accompany some mini burgers.  (Until my own burger recipe is ready to publish, please choose any of the very good veggie burgers available at your supermarket to recreate this dish.)

Purple Okinawa Tempura Fries 
2 large Okinawa sweet potatoes
2 large regular sweet potatoes
tempura batter mix
vegetable oil
teriyaki sauce + ketchup

Fill a bowl with cold water.  Peel the potatoes, cut them into traditional fry shapes or rounds if you prefer, and place them into the cold water.

Make the tempura batter according to instructions on the box and set aside while oil heats.   In the meantime, drain the potato pieces on paper towels and thoroughly pat dry.

In a heavy pot heat the vegetable oil, at least 2 inches deep, until a drop of batter sizzles.  Dip each potato piece into the batter, let some drip off, then gently drop into the hot oil.  Repeat with more pieces but don't overcrowd the pot.  Cook 2-3 minutes per side, remove finished pieces to a pan lined with parchment paper, and repeat until all the potatoes are cooked.

Allow the fries to cool slightly then serve with both teriyaki sauce and ketchup, alongside your veggie burgers.   

More Japanese and American yin/yang synchronicity:
Last week while getting my 18 year old Volvo repainted I explored the Mitsuwa Marketplace on Western in Torrance and found these amazing Egg Salad Donuts.  The donut isn't sweet, more like a fried bread filled with super delicious egg salad.  Amazing!