Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Deconstructed Summer Berry Dessert

I don't have any photos of the finished dish because I took it to a work party and it disappeared too quickly, but this is one of my all-time favorite desserts. It sounds a little weird, but you'll just have to trust me!

Part of what makes it so great is that it's terribly, terribly easy, and endlessly customizable. This makes it perfect for a party, especially if you're trying to please dieters and non-dieters; everyone ends up loving this.

So, here we go: it's not so much a recipe as a guideline. You're going to end up with chunks of frozen graham-cracker crust, some whipped cream, and berries (or other fruit, as you wish). You (and your guests/friends/family) get to assemble them as you choose.

To make the crust, you'll need:

1 packet of graham crackers
3/4 (6 Tbsp) stick of butter, melted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Turn the graham crackers into crumbs. A food processor works great for this, or you can put the crackers in a zip-top bag and bash them with something heavy. I used a rolling pin before I got my food processor. You want to get the crumbs relatively fine, without turning too many of them into dust, but it's really not critical.

Put the crumbs into a pie tin. (NOTE: an old-fashioned metal, beat-up-able pie tin works best here. Pyrex works, of course, but it will be a LOT harder to get the crust out.) With a fork, mix in the sugar and cinnamon. Pour the melted butter over and dampen all the crumbs with it. Then, start pressing the crumb mixture into the pan and up its sides. Use a flat-bottomed glass or measuring cup to get it smooth-ish and nicely compressed. Put the crust in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

Once it's frozen, use a fork to pry it out of the tin and break it into chunks (no bigger than bite-size). You can do this in advance and keep the chunks in a zip-top bag in the freezer (I don't know exactly how long it will keep in there, but I've kept it in there for months.)

To make the whipped cream, you'll need:

Some whipping cream (very cold)
Some sugar
Some vanilla

(I'm being vague with the quantities here because you can just whip enough cream for one serving for yourself (see above, why I keep the crust chunks for months in my freezer) or for a whole party. And the ratios are not all that important with this recipe, anyway - if the cream is unsweetened, the berries and the crust will pretty much cover it up. For 1 cup of whipping cream I would probably use up to 2 Tbsp sugar and up to 1 tsp vanilla, which would probably serve 4-6 people with this dessert.)

In a cold bowl, with cold beaters (not strictly necessary, but it makes everything go faster), mix the cream, sugar, and vanilla on low speed until combined (about 5 seconds). Turn the speed up to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until you're ready to use (don't wait too long or the whipped cream will deflate).

For the berries, you will need:

An assortment (or not, as you choose) of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries (or any other berries you want to add!). For 4-6 people, a pint of each would suffice, probably.

Wash the berries and make sure you get rid of any that are moldy or otherwise gross. Cut any big strawberries into halves or quarters, so they are roughly bite-size. Set them out in separate bowls. (If the strawberries are too tart, you can toss them with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and let them sit a half-hour or so - they'll get nice and juicy.)

Now, here's the fun part: let your guests assemble their own! Put out each component in its own bowl and let people take as much as they choose of each. If I know I have serious dieters in the crowd, I will also put out a bowl of reduced-fat Cool Whip so they don't have to undo the work they've done just for a treat.

The crust is also great by itself, or with just the whipped cream. It's a nice, cool dessert if you're in the mood for something other than ice cream.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Striped Baby Hat

My wonderful, wonderful boss is having a baby boy next month, so of course I had to knit him a little something. I'm trying to be on a yarn diet -- with fair-to-middling success -- and baby hats don't use a whole lot of yarn, so I decided to make this one a stash-buster. I'm so glad I did, because this might be my favorite baby hat ever! I just love the different blues and the pop of red. There's a good chance I'll make one for my own son, if my friends and family stop having babies long enough!

I didn't really use a pattern, per se - it's just a simple roll-brim hat. This is approximately what I did:

Using 12" size 6 or so circular needles, and DK-ish yarn (you may adjust this, of course, depending on the yarn you have, the needles you have, and how tightly you knit):

Cast on 64 stitches. Join and knit in the round, changing the yarn color as you wish, until the hat is about 5 inches long.
Place 1 marker every 8 stitches.

Begin decrease, switching to DPNs when you need to:
*K6, K2tog* all the way around. (56 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K5, K2tog* all the way around. (48 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K4, K2tog* all the way around. (40 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K3, K2tog* all the way around. (32 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K2, K2tog* all the way around. (24 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K1, K2tog* all the way around. (16 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K2tog* all the way around. (8 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K2tog* all the way around. (4 sts rem)
Move the remaining stitches to one needle, and knit 2-3 rows of I-cord.
Bind off by running the yarn tail through the stitches and pulling tight. Weave in all your ends and you're done!

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