Thursday, July 5, 2018

Grilled Summer Salad with Apricot Poppy Seed Dressing

I love apricots!  I grew up in the small central California valley town of Patterson.  At one time, it was the world's largest producing area of apricots.  Times have changed and now almond orchards are abundant, but there are still many apricot orchards in the area. Each year I make multiple batches of apricot jam, as well as apricot pies and crisps (I currently have a box of apricots in my fridge that I am working my way through!)  Apricots have a short season and I try to get in as much of the fruit into my diet as I can while they are in-season. They are a great source of nutrition, especially Vitamin A! I recently ran across a recipe for an apricot poppyseed dressing and knew I needed to try it. We loved it.  Since making this grilled salad I also used the dressing on a spinach salad. It's summertime and we eat a lot of salads this time of year!

The salad is just a mish-mash of grilled ingredients; chicken, corn and apricot halves. To grill the apricots, I brush lightly with olive oil and grilled for just a few minutes, until they are just softened.

Grilled Summer Salad with Apricot Poppy Seed Dressing

3 apricots, pits removed
4 tablespoons sweet yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons poppyseeds

In the jar of a blender, combine the apricots, onion, olive oil, vinegar and honey.  Puree the ingredients until you have a smooth mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir in the poppy seeds until fully incorporated.

To make the salad, on a bowl or platter, arrange romaine lettuce and top it with grilled chicken, grilled corn, avocado slices, and grilled apricots. Drizzle with the apricot poppy seed dressing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Plum Galette

My favorite time of year is here...longer days full of sunshine, lots of time in the pool, bike rides, big glasses of iced tea, abundant flowers in the garden, tomatoes growing on the vines, and all the farm-fresh fruits and vegetables readily available at my local fruit stands or from friends. Recently I was gifted a box of just-picked plums.  I still have to make jam, but I made a few plum galettes; one for us, one for my parents.

A galette is basically a free-form pie.  Pie dough is rolled out on a baking sheet, filled with fruit and then the excess dough is folded up to create the border. No pie pan involved, it's all very rustic.  Because you don't have the depth of a pie pan, less fruit (and sugar) is used.  It's a great weight-watching sweet, right?  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Plum (or other stone fruit) Galette

1 disc unbaked pie dough (homemade or purchased)
Approximately 1 1/2 pounds stone fruit
Approximately 1/3 cup sugar (add or subtract, depending on sweetness of your fruit)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface, roll pie dough to an 11-inch circle. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Clean and pit fruit.  Cut in half or quarters, depending on size of fruit.  Lay out on pie dough, leaving a 2-inch border.  Sprinkle with sugar. Fold border of dough over the fruit, pleating as necessary to create a border.  If desired, brush border with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until browned and fruit is bubbly.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Strawberry Buckle

There are all sorts of variations of old-fashioned fresh fruit dessert recipes. What they all have in common is fresh, seasonal fruit. The differences arise with the type of topping.  The most common types of baked fruit desserts are:

            Buckle:           A dessert combining fresh fruit, a rich cake batter, and a streusel topping.

            Cobbler:          A dessert of fresh fruit baked in a deep dish and topped with a biscuit-like crust, usually sprinkled with sugar.

            Crumble:         A dessert of fresh fruit baked with a crumbly pastry mixture.

            Crisp:              A deep-dish fruit dessert made with a crumb or streusel topping.

Everyone has their personal favorites and they are all good. When spring and summer rolls around there is nothing better than a fresh fruit dessert!

As I've mentioned before, my local strawberry patch is open for the season. It's about two miles from my house, if that.  Last week my 3-year old grandson and I took a bike ride out to the patch.  (I have a trailer he rides in).  That little boy loves strawberries! He was enthralled with the strawberry plants and all the red berries. He ate some in the field, he ate some sitting in the trailer as I pedaled our way home, and he had some more for an afternoon snack.  It's a good thing I bought extra for our dessert!

I love my fun little baking pans so this recipe caught my attention because the buckle can be made in mini skillets.  That's such a cute presentation! It was an easy recipe to throw together and the buckles baked while we had dinner. I served them warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. They were quite good!

Strawberry Buckle

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped

1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 5 4-inch cast iron skillets (or 4 6-inch cast iron skillets, or a 9x9-inch baking pan or 10-inch cast iron skillet).

Using a stand mixer or hand-held mixer, cream the softened butter.  Add the shortening and mix thoroughly.

Add the sugar to the butter mixture and beat to combine.  Add the egg and beat to fully combine.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; mix with a whisk to combine. With the mixer on low, slowly pour the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Slowly pour in the buttermilk and mix until combined.

To make the streusel, using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the cold butter into small pieces.  Add the sugar, flour and spices, mixing until the mixture has the consistency of small pebbles.

Spoon the batter evenly in the prepared pans.  Evenly layer the chopped strawberries over the batter.  Distribute the streusel evenly over the mixture.

Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes (40-45 minutes if using larger pans) until the top is a light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (if using mini skillets it's best to bake them on a cookie sheet). Allow to sit for five minutes before serving.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Spinach-Artichoke Heart Pizza

We have had a wood-fired oven in our backyard for three years now.  With the exception of a few main course dishes, we have mostly used it for pizza.  On my to-do list is to utilize the oven more.  I especially want to bake bread in it. But, we really enjoy making pizza.  It's a fun and easy way to entertain.  I prepare the dough and toppings ahead of time and we have our guests form their pizza dough on a wooden paddle and then accessorize with their choice of toppings. Lots of laughter as people, form their dough into rounds. Some aren't so round but they all taste good! My Hubbers mans the fire and cooks the pizza.  The cooking part only takes a few minutes as the oven is very hot! The oven temperature is over 700 degrees so if it's really warm outside, we bring him a cold beer every now and then!

I always have toppings for the traditional red sauce/pepperoni pizza.  Everyone loves the classic combination. I like to experiment with my pizza, trying new combinations.  I really enjoyed this spinach-artichoke topping. The white sauce makes the perfect base for the sautéed spinach. More fresh spinach, lots of cheese, and artichoke hearts made for a great combination. If you are one of those who must have meat on your pizza you can also add some roasted or grilled chicken pieces.

Homemade pizza is easy to make in a kitchen oven, too.  A baking stone and a very hot oven will do the trick! If using a pizza stone, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Place pizza stone in the preheated oven and let heat for 20 minutes before transferring pizza to the stone. You can use parchment paper under the dough to help prevent sticking.  It's not necessary in the wood oven, we turn the pizza quite frequently to prevent sticking and provide even cooking time near the burning wood.

Spinach-Artichoke Heart Pizza

1 batch homemade or store-bought pizza dough
8 oz. fresh spinach, divided
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 oz. shredded or finely chopped provolone cheese
4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
4 oz. shredded Parmesan cheese
1 (16 oz.) can artichoke hearts (not marinated), drained well, quartered if large

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add 3/4 of the spinach and the minced garlic, and
sauté until spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a layer of paper towels and gently press some of the water out. Finely chop the spinach mixture and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat (do not brown).  Whisk in the flour and onion powder and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in the milk and increase temperature to medium high and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat and stir in the spinach mixture.  Chop the remaining spinach and set aside.

Stretch or roll out pizza dough to desired thickness on a floured wooden pizza paddle (flour well so the pizza will easily slide off the paddle into the oven).  Spread the spinach sauce evenly over the pizza, leaving a one-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle fresh spinach over the sauce, then top with provolone and mozzarella cheeses. Add chopped artichokes (and cooked chicken, if using) and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Using the pizza paddle, slide the pizza onto the surface of the wood oven or the hot pizza stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Strawberry Country Cake

As my son says, he always knows tax season is behind us when I have a Sunday family dinner and serve a strawberry dessert!  My favorite strawberry patch opens up right around April 15, perfect timing! I drove out early in the morning and got some just-picked berries from the field.  Over the last few weeks we have had some spring storms; lots of rain, wind, and even hail, which wrecked havoc on the patch, the berries aren't as big as in past years.  But they are still so juicy and flavorful!  I will return to the strawberry patch soon as it's time to make my annual batches of strawberry jam for my grandchildren.

This cake is adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties! cookbook. She makes two 8-inch cakes.  I decided to get fancy and make a four-layer cake.  It's all in the presentation, you know! The cake is a cross between a traditional biscuit-type shortcake and a fluffy cake.  It's a dense cake with lots of flavor, due to the addition of lemon and orange zest in the batter. If you're only using one of the cakes, the second cake can be frozen and used on another occasion.

I can cook, bake, sew, garden, drive a race car, but my photography skills are minimal, at best. They were even worse on this occasion as I tried to take pictures before serving our dessert.  My family wanted their cake and they were laughing as we joked about how we can't eat until I get a food pic! My little blog depicts my real life, nothing fancy, including my pictures!

The aftermath!

Strawberry Country Cake

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Filling for EACH cake:
 1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy whipping cream, chilled
2 tablespoons sugar**
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract**
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour (or use baking spray) two 8-inch cake pans.

Cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  On medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream, zests, and vanilla, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Mix well.  Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda.  On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and combine just until smooth. 

Pour the batter evenly into the pans, smooth the tops with a spatula, and bake in the center of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then remove to wire racks and let cool to room temperature.

To make the filling for one cake, whip the cream in a mixer until soft peaks form; add the sugar and vanilla and mix until firm. Combine strawberries with sugar, let sit about 10 minutes for juices to form.

Slice one of the cakes in half with a long serated knife.  Place the bottom slice of the cake on a serving platter and spread with half the whipped cream. Using a slotted spoon, scatter the the sliced strawberries over the cream. Cover with the top slice of the cake and spread with the remaining cream.  Decorate with strawberries.

I doubled the filling recipe and decorated the top with the sliced strawberries.

** I used vanilla sugar.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Lemon Pound Cake

My little blog has been very quiet the last 6 weeks! Tax Season 2018 took over my life. We did good to have groceries in the house and dinners were very basic. Most days we had big lunches and no dinner. My work load started to lighten up last week and I managed to get in the kitchen one evening and bake. I was exhausted but it felt so great to be back in my kitchen and not working with numbers!

I didn’t have much in the way of exotic baking ingredients, not even a bag of chocolate chips, but I had lemons withering away on the counter.  My Hubbers likes the lemon loaf cake slices at Starbucks so it was an easy decision to bake a cake for him.  This small pound cake has lots of lemon flavor, first with lemon-infused sugar and later with a lemon syrup that is brushed over the cake.  Finally, a glaze flavored with lemon juice adds even more lemony flavor.  It went fast at the office!

We have one more day of tax season, then I’m back to a part-time work schedule.  I have so many projects planned at home, I’m almost overwhelmed with what I should tackle first. Getting in the kitchen, and baking again, is high on the list!

Lemon Pound Cake

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sour cream
1 ½ tablespoons lemon zest
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten

¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup lemon juice


½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with nonstick baking spray.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream and lemon juice.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the lemon zest and sugar. Rub together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter to the bowl and beat the butter/sugar mixture on medium speed until very pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in the eggs in 3 additions, beating well after each addition until the mixture is smooth (stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary).  With the mixer on low, alternately add the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the sour cream in 2 additions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Once all the ingredients have been added, scrape down the bowl then beat on low for another 30 seconds to fully combine. Use a rubber spatula, if necessary, to make sure the batter at the bottom of the bowl is fully mixed.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Smooth the top then tap the pan on your work surface to release any air bubbles. Bake the cake for 55-65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted near the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a simmer and allow to simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside.

After removing cake from the pan, brush the tops and sides with the lemon syrup.  Let the cake cool completely before glazing.

To make the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl and stir until smooth, adding more lemon juice, if necessary, to get a thick glaze.  Pour over the top of the cake.  Let the glaze set for at least 15 minutes before serving.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bundt Cake

During this crazy time of year known as "tax season", my Hubbers and I literally work 7 days a week.  Sundays have become my favorite work day. I can wear my yoga pants to work.  There are no phones ringing, no clients to talk to (I love my clients, but it's tiring explaining tax law all day long!) I turn on some music or listen to the latest drag race on audiocast and work on more complicated projects. I usually have a game plan going into the weekend, a list of projects that I want to complete. It keeps me focused and gives me a sense of accomplishment as I head into Monday and the chaos that will ensue. On a recent Sunday I finished everything on my list by 12:30, my goal had been 2:00.  I was quite happy with myself and ready to tackle some other projects, to get ahead of the game.  But first I had to upload my client's QuickBooks file that I had worked on all morning. Alas, none of my journal entries were there!  It seems I had been working in the wrong dated file! Ugh, I had to retrace my steps, re-do everything and re-do the tax return I had just finished. By the time I did that I was behind schedule. I headed for home so I could play in the kitchen a bit and de-stress.

I have been wanting to make this chocolate bundt cake for a while now, so I put the butter, eggs, milk and sour cream on the counter to come to room temperature.  While I waited for that I hunkered down in my craft room and worked on a quilt block. It seems I was ripping out more seams than I was sewing.  I don't know if it was from lack of concentration or my brain was really tired, but I just kept messing up! I'm a perfectionist, like all my seams and points to be perfect, so rip, rip, rip I went!  I finally got the block done.  I looked at the clock and it was 6pm!  Dinner hadn't been started, nor had the cake.

I worked on the cake batter while simultaneously cooking rice on the stove and getting veggies in the oven. Thankfully, my Hubbers was grilling the tri tip! The cake came together wonderfully and we sat down to eat right after I got the cake in the oven.  About 10 minutes later we started smelling some burning.  The cake was overflowing the pan! I re-read the recipe and it warned that the cake pan should only be filled 3/4 full, the extra could be used for cupcakes.  Obviously, I missed that part of the instructions! By the time the cake was done I had a nice little charred mess on the bottom of my oven , which will need to be cleaned soon!

It seemed everything I touched that day was a disaster! Despite all the miscues of my day, the cake turned out delicious.  It is tender and moist.  The chocolate and peanut butter batters compliment each other nicely.  The peanut butter glaze is amazingly good! A piece of cake and a glass of milk and all was right in my world once more!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bundt Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup creamy peanut butter

Peanut Butter Glaze:
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3-4 tablespoons half & half (or enough to achieve thick drizzling consistency)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour (or using baking spray) a bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a stand mixer beat butter on medium speed for 1 minute. Slowly add the sugar and beat until combined until light and fluffy (about 4 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl as necessary. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla.

Add half the flour mixture, then half the milk, and beat until just combined.  Add remaining flour mixture and milk and beat until just combined.

Transfer half the batter to a medium bowl. Stir in the melted chocolate. Stir the peanut butter into the other half of the batter.

Using a separate spoon for each batter, alternately dropping spoonfuls of the chocolate and peanut butter batters into the prepared bundt pan. (Fill your pan 3/4 full.  If batter remains, use it in a smaller pan or for cupcakes.  Trust me on this! See above!) Use a knife or spatula to swirl the batter together being careful not to overmix.  You want the batters marbled.

Bake for 60 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely.

To make the glaze, combine all glaze ingredients in a bowl and mix until you get the desired glaze consistency. Drizzle over cooled cake.

Swirl the batter just enough to get a marbling of the batters.