Sunday, April 27, 2014

Strawberry Cream Puff Cake

It's been a "puttering and putzing" kind of day.  I've been working on various projects in my craft room, learning the software for my new Silhouette Cameo machine and new laptop (geez, is Microsoft 8.1 throwing me for a loop!), doing some household chores. My Hubby is on a Harley trip so I'm not doing much in the kitchen.  Instead I invited myself to dinner at my parents' house. I'm not a total slouch as I did bring dessert!
This dessert combines a cream puff base, a cream cheese-whipped cream filling and fresh strawberries. It's very easy to make which was just perfect on this rather lazy day.
Strawberry Cream Puff Cake

2 cups or one carton of strawberries, sliced

Cream Puff Base:
5 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
2/3 cup flour
3 eggs

Cream Cheese Mixture:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup powdered sugar

For the cream puff layer, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring the butter, water and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the flour all at once and stir quickly until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the mixture until smooth. Let cool for 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until the mixture is shiny with a satiny sheen. Don’t over beat. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan (I used a 9-inch pie pan).
Using an offset spatula, spread the mixture on the bottom and one inch up the sides of the prepared pan.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and prick pastry with a toothpick 10-12 times. Return to the oven and bake 5-10 minutes more until golden brown but not overbaked (you can insert a toothpick into the center and if it comes out with sticky dough, it still needs longer in the oven). Cool completely.

For the cream cheese mixture, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar (sift if necessary) and beat with the cream cheese until mixture is smooth and light. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread onto the cooled cream puff shell.

Top with fresh sliced strawberries (I added a little sugar to mine, like the glaze it produces). Keep in the fridge until serving.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

No, you're not going crazy, it's not December!  It's springtime in the Central California Valley, when our local farm stands are open again and getting fresh-picked produce is just minutes away! Picked-for-shipping fruits and vegetables just can't compare to the taste of getting the produce right out of the farmers' fields!

The first crops that begin to show up around here are strawberries and asparagus.  I picked up both last weekend.  The asparagus was part of our Easter dinner.
The strawberries became part of my family's favorite spring dessert, strawberry shortcake (this time served over cream cheese pound cake).
I had three baskets of berries left and I needed to do something with them before they spoiled on me (I think it's a sin for farm-fresh produce to go to waste!) After working all day I was either tired or lazy (I prefer to think I was tired!) so wasn't real thrilled about getting out my canning jars and related paraphernalia to make jam. I then turned to another kind of jam making; freezer jam. It is less work. There is no need to sterilize jars and lids, no standing over a hot stove and stirring, no waiting to see if the jars sealed properly. With freezer jam you literally chop, add sugar, stir, add a pectin/water mixture, stir some more and put into containers.  It is so easy! For people who are intimidated of the jam or jelly making process this is a quick and easy indoctrination into making your own preserves.

It makes for a softer jam than cooked jam.  We like this jam with ebelskivers, waffles, pancakes.  This is the jam I serve with my scones for my Christmas tea.

The complete recipe can be found in a package of Sure-Jell, which is a fruit pectin product or here

To start, you crush the strawberries.  You can do this in a food processor, pulsing until you get a fine chop.  You don't want a puree, you want to see bits of fruit.  If you don't have a food processor you can slice the berries and, using a potato masher, mash the fruit to the desired consistency.
Put 2 cups of the crushed strawberries into a large bowl and combine with four cups sugar. Mix well, and let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, mix the Sure-Jell with 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir continuously for one minute. Remove from heat and add to the strawberry-sugar mixture.  Stir three to four minutes, until the sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy. 
Pour into prepared containers, leaving about 1/2-inch space at top for expansion during freezing; cover.
Let stand 24 hours until set.  Store in freezer for up to one year.  Thaw in refrigerator before using.

It doesn't get much easier than this and it's so very delicious!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lemon Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta in Italian means cooked cream.  It's similar to a custard, without the eggs. After having tried it in various restaurants I knew it couldn't be difficult to make.  I made my first Panna Cotta for New Year's and we loved it.

It's a very simple dessert, rather plain even.  I think that's why I gravitated to a picture of Panna Cotta in the May-June 2014 issue of Southern Lady.  They used a Wilton silicone mold to set the Panna Cotta.  It made such a pretty presentation, I knew I had to try it! Taking a simple recipe and combining it with an unusual or pretty presentation can really elevate a dish, make it seem more special.
I love the combination of lemon and berries, which is another reason the recipe attracted me. I liked the lemon flavor in the Panna Cotta but thought it was a little firm.  I like the recipe I used on New Year's Eve better, it had a slightly softer texture. One used yogurt, one used sour cream, so that is probably the difference. Next time I will make the first recipe and add lemon zest and juice to it. But, that being said, this was still a very good dessert!
Lemon Panna Cotta With Raspberry Coulis

1 (.25 ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Raspberry Coulis (recipe follows)
Garnish: fresh raspberries, lemon curls

In a small bowl, combine gelatin and cold water ; set aside for 5 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, combine cream and sugar over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Add softened gelatin, stirring until gelatin dissolves.  Remove from heat, and add sour cream, lemon zest, and lemon juice, whisking until smooth.

Pour cream mixture into silicone flower molds.  Refrigerate for 4 hours or until set. Serve with Raspberry Coulis. Garnish with fresh raspberries and lemon curls, if desired.
The recipe made 6 flower-shaped Panna Cottas.
Raspberry Coulis

1 (6-ounce) container fresh raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water

In the container of a blender or the work bowl of a food processor, process raspberries until pureed.  Press puree through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding solids.

In a small saucepan, combine raspberry puree, sugar, and water over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes or until slightly thickened.  Let cool completely. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Due to my crazy work schedule from January to April we often don't get to spend much time celebrating Easter.  As a result, I don't have an over-abundance of Easter decorations and very few Easter dishware items.  These plates were given to me by my sister over twenty years ago.  They are still some of my favorites! Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Survived!

Another tax season is under my belt and I'm starting to emerge from the long hours and seven day work weeks.  I have a hair appointment scheduled, the refrigerator is getting full once more, we have social events on the calendar, there is a window washer in my house as I type, all normal things that get put on the back burner during tax season. It's like a huge burden has been lifted off me and I'm becoming more relaxed with each hour that passes. Now the only stress I have is which project that is awaiting me in my craft room should I start first?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Did We Miss Spring?

Over the last week or so, we've gotten a little bit of rain.  Not enough to say our drought has ended but any rain is good.  I had to drag out the pants & sweaters again as the temps dropped quite a bit.  Today it's sunny and in the low-80's.  The weather people are saying we could be in the low-90's by mid-week!  What happened to spring?

I have 8 more (LONG) days of tax season 2014.  I have a mile-long list of projects (oh how I've missed playing in my craft room!) ready to be tackled.  The first will be to get out in my yard, plant flowers, put up bird feeders, get the patio ready for entertaining and enjoy spring.

My sis has a lovely little garden.  She gets so much enjoyment out of it.  Combine the beauty of her garden with the beauty of her photography and you get images that calm the soul. There is nothing more beautiful than Mother Nature.