Sunday, May 31, 2015

Rhubarb-Blueberry Crumble

 I love rhubarb, love the sweet-tart taste of it in baked goods. Rhubarb and strawberry are quite often associated with each other and make a delicious combination. After my recent blueberry picking experience Mom sent me this recipe.  That was a hint that I needed to make it! Well, a person is never too old to learn and I have learned that rhubarb and blueberries also work well together!

This recipe took no time to put together and was delicious! My Hubbers requested a scoop of ice cream on his!

Rhubarb-Blueberry Crumble

2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups blueberries
3 cups sliced rhubarb

3/4 cup Bisquick/baking mix
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped almonds (I used pecans)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Add blueberries and rhubarb; toss to coat. Transfer to a greased 8-inch square baking dish.

For topping, in a small bowl, mix baking mix, sugar and salt.  Cut in butter until crumbly; stir in oats and almonds. Sprinkle over filling.  Bake 40-45 minutes or until filling is bubble and topping is golden brown.

The fruit, in all it's juicy glory, waiting for the topping!

I use a pastry blender to cut in the butter; two knives can also be used.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Apricot Nectar Cake

It's that time of year again, the last weekend in May. For my hometown of Patterson, California, this means it's time for the annual Apricot Fiesta. This year marks the 45th annual rendition.  I was chosen as Miss Apricot 1975, 40 years ago!  Yikes, where has the time gone?
It's probably inevitable that I love apricots and anything made with them. Growing up in a town that proclaimed itself the Apricot Capital of the World means I grew up surrounded by the golden fruit. I even survived a few days working in an apricot cutting yard! Sadly, the apricots aren't as plentiful as they were during my youth; less demand for the canned product, high labor costs, the demand for almonds, and urban growth has pushed many of the apricot orchards out. Supplies are limited so when the first varieties of the fruit begin arriving at the local fruit stands I make sure to grab some!  A bite of a fresh apricot always takes me back in time, to a simpler time. Ah, the memories!

A cup and saucer makes the perfect cake pedestal for a mini-bundt or cupcake!
My Mom used to get a monthly (quarterly?) baking magazine called Mailbox News. This recipe is from February 1967! It's very easy to put together, most recipes that start with a cake mix are. It's got a nice citrusy-sweet taste to it, stores well and is great to take to a gathering. Using apricot nectar means this cake can be made anytime of the year. Whipping the egg whites makes the cake not as dense as most bundt cakes. It's been a family favorite since Mom started baking it way back when!  Though the original recipe called for it to be baked in a regular-sized bundt pan I opted to make it in smaller bundt shapes (you know my obsession with specialty cake pans!) This made it much easier to pass out cake to friends and family, our empty-nest household doesn't need a whole bundt cake laying around!
I enjoyed some cake, iced tea and my latest book in the courtyard.

Apricot Nectar Cake

1 box yellow cake mix

1 3 oz. pkg. lemon jello

¾ cup salad oil

¾ cup apricot nectar

4 eggs, separated

2 teaspoons lemon extract

Combine cake mix, jello, oil and nectar in bowl and blend well.  Add the yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the lemon extract.  Beat the egg whites until they hold their peaks and fold in.  Bake in greased bundt pan for 50-60 minutes at 350ยบ (20-30 minutes if using mini-bundt pan).

If desired, glaze with mixture of powdered sugar, apricot nectar and small amount of lemon juice.

Another one of my specialty pans.  Can a girl have too many cake pans?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cherry Pie Filling

I love cherry pie.  Unfortunately, I've never had much success with making them. I have a hard time determining how much sugar and thickening agent to use so that I don't have an overly sweet cherry soup mess! Cherries are at the farm stands now and I was determined to make a good cherry pie. This time I tried something new, a pre-cooked cherry pie filling. Success! I was able to adjust the sweetness to my liking and, though not necessary in this case, would be able to add more thickener if the mixture was too thin. I think this will be my go-to way of making cherry pies from now on!

Cherry Pie Filling

6 cups of pitted fresh cherries
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar**
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 1/2 tablespoons water

Whisk together the cornstarch and water; set aside.

Add the cherries, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, and salt to a medium saucepan and cook on medium heat for about five minutes, or until the cherries really start to release their juices.

Re-whisk the cornstarch/water mixture and add it to the cherries. Stir together and bring to a rapid boil, stirring often, until thickened. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

** Adjust sugar based on the sweetness of the cherries.

Cherry Pie

Pastry for 2-crust pie
1 recipe cherry pie filling

Roll out half the pastry; fit into bottom of 9-inch pie pan. Pour in topping; dot with butter, if desired.

Top with second half of rolled out pastry, or make a lattice top. Flute edges. Sprinkle with granulated sugar, if desired.

Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 35 minutes, until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbling.  If edges brown too much, cover loosely with a strip of aluminum foil.
I enjoyed the outdoors while pitting the cherries. Even using a cherry pitter and wearing an apron, I had cherry spatters everywhere.  No way do I do this in my white kitchen!

I don't like cleaning ovens; thus I always put a fruit pie on a foil-lined baking sheet!

Join me at Insprie Me Tuesday

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

My Hubber's favorite salad is a Caesar salad, usually with chicken.  Me?  I find them rather mundane. Lettuce, dressing, some croutons, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.  I like more "stuff" in my salads! A few weeks back my sister and I were pondering what to make for our Mother's Day lunch. I found this recipe online (who needs cookbooks anymore?) and knew it would appeal to most everyone in attendance.  They all like Caesar salad and this version had a little more "stuff" in it, including pasta. How can a salad be bad when it's got pasta in it? It was a hit with all our guests and I made it for dinner a few nights ago where it got rave reviews from my resident Caesar salad lover.

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

3 cups grilled chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
6 oz. penne pasta, cooked and cooled
4 cups Romaine lettuce, cut into small pieces
1 cucumber, diced
1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Caesar salad dressing, either bottled or homemade

Mix together all ingredients except for the dressing.  Pour desired amount of dressing on top (we used about half a bottle), toss.  Top with croutons, if desired (I'm not a crouton fan, so omitted).

Makes 4 large servings.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Butterflies & Floral Table Setting

Recently we hosted some of my husband's out-of-state bicycling friends for dinner. It was a hectic weekend for me as I was tending to my youngest grandchildren, ages 4 and 4 months. I'm not as young as I think I am, they kept me hopping! I like to set a nice table, I want my guests to feel special, but I was really frazzled, pressed for time, and didn't really have a game plan in place. Thankfully, I love dishes and linens, seem to have a growing collection, and was able to mix and match to come up with a pretty table setting.
My Hubbers hates shopping for me.  We're at the stage in our life where we have what we need and buy what we like.  So, I've learned to help him out. I'm a nice wife that way! When I see something I like I send him an e-mail with the link to the item. A box usually arrives not long after.  It's a win-win situation for us, he doesn't have to shop for special occasions and I get what I want! These place mats and colorful plates came to my collection in such a way earlier this year. The place mats have a crochet look to them.  The plates came from Pier One and are, surprisingly, Melamine. The napkins I had bought a few years back, as well as the blue goblets. The Napolean silverware was another "gift".  I've had them a few years now and love to use them, especially in the spring and summer months.

I have oodles and oodles of mason jars, most of which do get used for canning purposes. The last few years Ball has been re-introducing their colored mason jars; I now have a collection in green, blue and purple. I use them for so many things, frequently for floral arrangements, such as this. I bought the flowers at the grocery store and, to make more of a statement, I put the jars on a plain white serving tray.
Everything came together quite well, I think!

I'm joining in at Tablescape Thursday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Three-Bean Baked Beans

A post about beans doesn't sound very exciting, does it? Well, sometimes the simple, unexciting things are the best! I've been making this bean dish for umpteen years, I don't even remember where the recipe came from.  Whenever I make it, it gets devoured, everyone loves it. I love the variety of beans in this dish, they make this a little different version of baked beans. This is a great dish for holiday gatherings, such as the upcoming Memorial Day.
The best thing about this baked bean dish is that it doesn't take hours to cook, no overnight soaking of beans.  It starts with canned beans, some cooked bacon, ground beef and onions.  Throw it in a casserole and bake!  For really large parties I will double the recipe and throw it in a crockpot for a few hours at low temp.

Three-Bean Baked Beans

½ pound ground beef

5 bacon strips, diced

½ cup chopped onion

2 cans (16 ounces each) pork and beans, undrained

1 can (16 ounces) butter beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup ketchup

¼ cup barbecue sauce

2 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon salt


In a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat, brown the beef, bacon and onion; drain.  Add beans.  Combine remaining ingredients; stir into bean mixture.  Pour into a greased 2-1/2 quart baking dish.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until beans reach desired thickness.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Shrimp and Asparagus Stir-Fry with Lemon Sauce

More than once, I've gushed over the wonders of living in the midst of farm country, all the fresh fruits and veggies we have within minutes of home. But fresh produce doesn't last long, is best used as soon as possible.  Often, when gifted with a bunch of fresh produce, I find myself at a loss as to how to incorporate them in my meal plans. Such was the case when a neighbor brought me a huge bunch of asparagus. I had already bought groceries for the week, had things pretty well planned out.  We love asparagus but I wanted to do something different than serve it as a side dish.  So I went browsing online and found this recipe.  I had shrimp for another recipe already in the fridge, so changed my plans to make this dish.  We devoured it! The only thing different I will do next time is double the sauce, there wasn't nearly enough for our tastes! It was a very easy after-work dinner.

Shrimp and Asparagus Stir-Fry with Lemon Sauce

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed and each stalk cut into 2-3" pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic

Lemon Sauce
2/3 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest

In a small bowl, whisk together all the lemon sauce ingredients and set aside.

In a large frying pan or wok, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shrimp to pan in a single layer and cook for about 3 minutes, turning them over to cook both sides. Season shrimp with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Shrimp should be beginning to pink on both sides and be opaque, but just slightly undercooked (they will finish cooking when added back to the sauce).  Remove from frying pan and place shrimp on plate.

In same frying pan, heat another 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and cook until asparagus is tender-crisp, bright green, and just barely beginning to brown. Season asparagus with 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Add ginger and garlic and stir to combine with asparagus.  Cook for another 30-45 seconds.

Pour in lemon sauce mixture into frying pan with asparagus.  Add shrimp back into pan and combine with sauce and asparagus. Simmer for about a minute or until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat and serve over rice, if desired.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Dr. Seuss Birthday Party

My niece is very crafty, she makes the most beautiful hair bows and headbands. She's also very creative and crafty when it comes to her children's birthday parties. Her youngest just turned one and she gave him a Dr. Seuss-themed party.  She spent the last two to three months designing, cutting, and pasting all things Seuss.  The party was adorable as was the birthday boy!

The cake, made by a local decorator, was phenomenal.  Lorax Nutter Butters.

The Cat in the Hat aka the birthday boy!
Trufula tree.
One fish, two fish, red fish, blue dish!

Photo booth with various Seuss props.
My two great-nieces. If you knew them you know the outfits define them quite perfectly!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Garden-Themed Mother's Day Luncheon

For the past 7 years or so, I've been hosting a Mother's Day luncheon the Saturday before Mother's Day. I like using the Saturday date, it eliminates a lot of conflicts with scheduled celebrations with in-laws, outlaws and everybody in between. This year we had 11 in attendance; Mom, my sister, my daughter, step-daughter, three granddaughters, my niece and my nephew's significant other and her son. My daughter-in-law and 4-month old grandson couldn't make the 4 hour trip. Maybe next year!

I found these place mats and napkins at April Cornell last year and fell in love with them.  I've been saving them to be used for this event. My florist matched the colors in the linens to the flowers, they were beautiful.  Each of my guests got to take home a green mason jar with flowers, my Mother's Day gift to them.

The linens remind me of a summer garden so I went with a garden-type theme.  For the kids' table I found birdhouses and I filled them with candy.
Our dessert was chocolate cupcakes baked in terra cotta pots.  They were frosted with a yummy chocolate buttercream then topped with crushed Oreos to resemble dirt. The "carrots" are strawberries dipped in orange candy melts. The dessert table looked like a carrot patch!

My sister made a scrumptious Caesar pasta salad that we topped with grilled chicken.  We all enjoyed this salad and I will share the recipe soon.

After eating, we moved out to the backyard to watch the kids play with bubbles, squirt guns and other outdoor toys. We marveled at how big the children are getting, how fast time is flying, and told various Mom stories. I find Mother's Day to be a little too commercialized and much prefer hosting a gathering like this than buying expensive and, often unneeded, gifts. It was a nice day spent with the women and children I love! Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake

One of the reasons I wanted to make a trip to the blueberry farm was because I've been wanting to make this cake for a while. My step-daughter had a birthday so I made this cake for her celebration.  We all enjoyed it, but what's not to love when you combine lemons & blueberries? 

The cake has wonderful lemon flavor to it, subtle yet you know the lemon is there. The inside is bursting with blueberries. It's a very fresh-tasting cake!

As with most baking projects, you will have a better product if you let the refrigerated ingredients come to room temperature before using.

Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
Zest and juice from 3 medium lemons
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries ( if using frozen, don't thaw)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Cream cheese frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 to 4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and lightly flour three 9x2-inch cake pans (I use baking spray). Note: you can use two cake pans, increase the baking time.

Using a mixer with a paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat the butter on high until creamy, about 1 minute.  Add granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium-high speed until creamed, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the side and bottom of the bowl as needed.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed until everything is combined, about 2 full minutes.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed for 5 seconds, then add the buttermilk, lemon zest, and lemon juice.  Stir lightly until everything is just combined.  Toss the blueberries in 1 tablespoon of flour and fold into the batter. The batter is thick, do not overmix as you will have a tough, dense cake!

Spoon batter evenly into the 3 prepared cake pans.  Bake for about 21-26 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on wire racks for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto racks and let cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, in a mixer bowl, beat cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until no lumps remain, about 3 minutes.  Add 4 cups confectioners' sugar, 1 tablespoon cream, and vanilla extract, with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes.  Check for thickness, adding more confectioners' sugar if too thin or more cream if too thick. You want it spreadable.

Using a large serrated knife, trim the tops off the cake layers to create a flat surface.  Place 1 layer on your cake stand. Evenly cover the top with frosting.  Top with 2nd cake layer, more frosting, the 3rd cake layer. Top with frosting and spread around the sides. Top with blueberries and/or lemon garnish, as desired. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before cutting.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


One of the nicer attributes of central California living is that we are in the middle of agriculture. So many varieties of fruits, vegetables and nuts are produced here.  Getting just-picked produce is just a matter of driving to the closest farm stand or bi-weekly farmers' market. It is such a blessing. This morning my granddaughter & I went to a U-pick blueberry farm about 5 miles from my home. Upon arrival, we were given small buckets and directed to the rows of blueberries that were available for picking today.  This farm has 5 or 6 different varieties to choose from.  As I don't know one blueberry from the next, we went to the row that my granddaughter picked! She did really good, thought that it was fun competition to compete with Nana to see who could fill up their bucket first! We ended up picking about 5 pounds of berries before she was done.
Doesn't every blueberry picker wear a dress?  I tried to convince her to wear something else!
On the way home she wanted to stop at the strawberry stand, where we picked up three baskets of berries and a basket of cherries.  By the time we got home her face was a blue and red mess, she couldn't resist trying a few!
I am freezing most of the blueberries, I pour them on baking sheets and flash-freeze them, then put into freezer bags.  I don't wash them first, this way the berries don't stick together.  It's very easy to get whatever quantity of berries I need  from the freezer bag and a quick rinse in warm water usually thaws and washes them at the same time.
A lemon-blueberry cake is in the oven now. Perhaps blueberry pancakes for breakfast tomorrow!