Monday, August 14, 2017

Fresh Fig and Almond Crostata

I put an SOS call out to some clients (who, over the years, have also become friends!) to see if they still had figs available. The next day I received 2 boxes of just-picked black figs.  Thank you, Susan & John! My Mom loves figs so I always try to make fig jam each summer. 

Just-picked! Aren't they beautiful?

I made a batch of jam one night after work and was left with a box of figs to use up.  Though I love to munch on fresh figs, a girl can only eat so many of them!  I started searching online for fig recipes and found this crostata from Martha Stewart. A crostata is basically a free-form pie, no pie pan is involved, just roll out the dough on a piece of parchment paper, add the filling, fold over the edges and bake.  Super easy! We loved this crostata! The almond filling was a nice complement to the fresh figs.  The crust is very buttery and flaky.  My husband, step-daughter, and I each had a slice then I drove across town and delivered the rest of the crostata to my parents. They, too, loved it! (I also left fig jam for Mom!) My Dad, of course, had to have a scoop of ice cream with his portion! This is a wonderful late-summer fruit dessert.

Now in the interest of fair reporting I must admit I messed up on the dough.  I misread the recipe and used 1 1/2 sticks butter.  I discovered this as I was rolling it out, my dough was very soft. Oops!  I added extra flour as I rolled it out so was able to use the dough.  It spread more than it probably should have but it still tasted great. I'm sure a crostata made with the correct amount of butter in the dough would be much prettier than mine turned out to be!  In this case, taste won over form!

Fresh Fig and Almond Crostata

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

1/2 cup blanched almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pound ripe fresh figs, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

To make dough: In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, and salt to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons ice water; pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if, necessary, gradually add up to 2 tablespoons more water). Do not overmix. Flatten dough into a disk; wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (and up to 3 days).

To make filling: In food processor, combine almonds and sugar; process until finely ground. Add egg, butter, flour, vanilla, and salt; pulse until smooth, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine figs and lemon juice; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  On a large lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll dough to a 14-inch round. Spread almond filling in center, leaving a 2 inch border; top with fig mixture.  Fold border over edge of filling, pleating all around; press down gently to seal. If desired, brush dough with an egg wash.

Lifting edges of parchment, transfer crostata to a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake until crust is golden brown, about 1 hour.  Let cool on baking sheet at least 30 minutes. To serve, cut crostata into wedges.

Monday, August 7, 2017


According to family lore, tacos were the dinner menu for my first birthday.  I have no recollection of that birthday party but at every birthday I can remember tacos were served. Even as an adult I would head over to my parents' house for my annual taco celebration. My parents both have health issues now and my Mom can't cook like she used to, especially for a large gathering. I try to help out with their meals so thought a taco dinner would be a fun way to feed them and gather the family together. Tacos for 12 it was! We had a nice time but the negative about making tacos is the kitchen mess.  It took me until 8:30 to get my kitchen back to normal again!

No taco dinner would be complete without guacamole and chips. Guacamole is a true "add a little bit of this, little bit of that, until it tastes right" recipe.  We like a variety of items in our guacamole; I use jalapenos, cilantro, tomatoes, and red onion.  After smashing the avocados I season with salt and pepper and add fresh lime juice.  Then I add the other ingredients, tasting as I go, until I get the flavor the way I want it. Depending on who I'm serving, I'll use less jalapenos and onions. Guacamole is easy to make and never lasts long!

I chop up all the ingredients and add until I get just the right taste!

My favorite guacamole-making tool is my pastry blender! We like our guacamole a little chunky so this tool works well!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

English Muffin Bread

July has been a whirlwind! As a result, my little blog got neglected.  I've been cooking and baking, doing some of my crafting; just not taking photos or chronicling my adventures. July started with a bang when my Hubbers had a series of small strokes.  A trip to the ER and a week in the hospital with many follow-up visits to physicians made the first few weeks of the month fly by.  Thankfully, he is recovering nicely and should have no lasting effects from the stroke. The last two weeks of the month found us at the drag strip, pursuing my family's passion.  We lived out of our motorhome at the track.  I managed to make three meals a day, for 5-6 people, out of the teeny-tiny kitchen.  I must admit to being relieved that we are home again where I have much more room to play!

One morning in the RV, I was making breakfast for my troops.  Part of the meal was English muffins.  As I was toasting them I remembered that I used to make an English muffin bread. The recipe comes from a Fleischmann's Yeast cookbook that I've probably had for 40 years. It's an easy yeast bread to make, with no kneading required and only one rise.  It makes a wonderful bread, every bit as good as an English muffin, including all the nooks and crannies for the butter to melt into. I don't know why it's been years since I've baked some! It makes two loaves and freezes nicely. A few slices popped in the toaster makes for a great morning snack!


English Muffin Bread

2 packages active dry yeast
6 cups unsifted flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
Corn meal

Combine 3 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and soda in a large bowl.  Heat liquids until very warm (120-130 degrees).  Add to dry mixture; beat well.  Stir in rest of flour to make a stiff batter.  Spoon into two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pans that have been greased and sprinkled with corn meal.  Sprinkle tops with corn meal. Cover; let rise in warm place for 45 minutes.  Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.  Remove from pans immediately and cool.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Grandma's Pantry

Grandma had a utility room in the back of her house, the back door of that room led to the backyard and her prolific vegetable garden. In the utility room she had a wall of shelves where she stored her home-canned goods. As the summer progressed, the shelves would start to fill up with items like canned apricots and peaches, pickles, and jams and jellies of all flavors. Over the winter the shelves would lighten up as she either used her goods or gave them away. I remember her being so proud of her canned goods and they would be arranged in a certain order.  Though I loved being the recipient of her fruits and vegetables I didn't quite understand what was so amazing about some shelves with food in jars!

Well, I have become my Grandma. Though I don't have a utility room to store my canned goods, I do have some dedicated shelves in one of my kitchen cabinets. During the summer the shelves fill up with jams and jellies. I get a strange sense of pride seeing this happen, especially knowing that the hours spent prepping and stirring will provide culinary joy for loved ones and friends. My family knows if they are out of jam to grab some out of the cabinet!

So far this year I've made strawberry, apricot, apricot-pineapple and boysenberry jams. Coming soon will be fig, peach, peach-raspberry, and pear vanilla jam.  Later this fall I will make batches of apple butter and the canning year will conclude with over 70 jars of pomegranate jelly. In between, I often make some pickles or preserve some peaches.

My 6-year old granddaughter helped me make jam last Saturday.  While we were working she asked me how I knew how to make jam.  I explained how my Grandma taught me. Doing so brought back memories of her canning shelves. Perhaps, years from now, my granddaughter will recall her Nana's jam shelves while she's making jam for her family!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Strawberry Cornmeal Cake with Buttermilk Glaze

A mutant cold/flu bug attacked my household recently, knocking both my husband and I out.  I missed a week of work and, 2 weeks later, am still congested and coughing, not 100%.  I finally am feeling good enough to get back in the kitchen and have been making jam, pies and other goodies. I missed being in my happy place!

While passing my time in the sick bed I perused a blog a friend recently told me about, Half Baked Harvest.  Goodness, is there a lot of inspiration to be found there!  This cake caught my eye so I made this for a quick dessert.  The leftovers were good for breakfast the next morning.

Strawberry Cornmeal Cake with Buttermilk Glaze

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal         
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups fresh strawberries, halved

Buttermilk Glaze

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons buttermilk          
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease one 10-12 inch cast iron skillet or cake pan. 
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, honey, buttermilk, lemon zest and vanilla until combined, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at time, beating after each until incorporated. Add the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt and beat until combined. Fold in the strawberries. 
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Be careful not to over bake.
To make the glaze, whisk the powdered sugar and buttermilk together until combined. 
Drizzle the glaze over the cake. Slice and serve slightly warm.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Boysenberry Pie

In early summer, the boysenberries ripen in central California.  There aren't too many berry patches around here as they are a labor-intensive crop and not as lucrative as almonds and peaches. My favorite fruit stand has a few rows of them.  Each year I eagerly await their Facebook posting that they are now picking and taking orders. This year I bought 2 flats, most of which are in the freezer waiting to be made into jam or baked goods.  Some didn't make it past the ride home from the fruit stand, they were so sweet, I couldn't just eat one!  Some made it into an old-fashioned boysenberry pie.  This is a pie like Grandma would make; fresh berries, sugar, some thickener, in between two layers of crust. Nothing fancy but it's oh, so good! 

This recipe is easily adaptable to any kind of berry.  If you like a touch of spice, you can add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or 1 tablespoon lemon juice.  If you want more sugar, brush the top crust of the pie with milk or cream and sprinkle on 1 teaspoon of sugar before baking.

Boysenberry Pie

Pastry dough for 2-crust pie
4 cups ripe berries, washed, stems and hulls removed
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine sugar and flour.  Add the berries and toss gently to mix.  Pour mixture into a pastry-lined 9" pie pan.  Dot with 2 tablespoons butter.  Top with top layer of pie dough, seal and flute edges, and cut vents (or other decorative openings).

Bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbly, 45-55 minutes.  If crust edges are browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.

Serve faintly warm, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

2-crust pies can often be plain looking, they don't have to be!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Raspberry Rhubarb Crostata

I'm always amazed at how many people have never eaten rhubarb.  My family had rhubarb desserts and sauces quite frequently. I look forward to the red stalks appearing at my local fruit stand each spring.  I keep saying I'm going to attempt to grow a rhubarb plant! As I was walking through the produce section of the grocery store I spied rhubarb on sale and bought a few stalks.  My initial intention was to make a crisp.  At the same time I bought raspberries as I was going to make my Hubbers raspberry popovers for breakfast.  Well, lo and behold, he had plans I didn't know about so I was faced with the dilemma of what to do with a basket of raspberries! I started searching recipes and found this crostata recipe from my favorite cookbook author, Ina Garten.  Problem solved as it uses both rhubarb and raspberries!

A crostata is basically a rustic pie baked on a sheet pan rather than in a pie pan. They are so easy to make, just roll out the dough, top it with filling, and fold the edges to form a border over the filling.  This pastry recipe makes enough for two crostatas.  Wrap the extra disc well and freeze for another time.

I will make this crostata again.  We had it for dessert one night (and I shared with my next-door neighbors) and breakfast the next (not any more calories than toast with jam is my excuse!)  Rhubarb can be a little tart but the sweet raspberries softens the tartness.  It's a delightful little dessert, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Raspberry Rhubarb Crostata

For the Pastry (makes 2):

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ pound (2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter, ½-inch-diced
¼ cup ice water

For the Filling (makes 1):
¼ cup cornstarch
4 cups (½-inch-thick) sliced fresh rhubarb (1¼ pounds)
6 ounces fresh raspberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Turbinado or demerara sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw
For the pastry, place the flour, granulated sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and toss carefully with your fingers to coat each cube of butter with the flour. Pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button just until the dough comes together. Turn onto a well-floured board, cut in half, and form into two disks. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. (If the dough is refrigerated for more than an hour, let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling it out).

For the filling, place 3 tablespoons of water in small bowl, whisk in the cornstarch, and set aside. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the rhubarb, raspberries, granulated sugar, orange zest, and orange juice. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes, until some of the juices are released. Stir in the cornstarch, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 minutes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until cool.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll the pastry into an 11- to 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface and transfer to the prepared pan. Pile the raspberry rhubarb mixture onto the pastry, leaving a 1½-inch border all around. Fold the border up over the filling, pleating if necessary and pressing lightly. Brush the pastry with egg wash, sprinkle just the pastry with turbinado sugar, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the pastry is browned and the filling is thickened. Cool for 30 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.