Sunday, June 28, 2015

Panna Cotta With Peach-Raspberry Topping

I love panna cotta. It's a gelatin-based cream dessert, slightly firm, and it just melts in your mouth.  I've shared some panna cotta experiences a few times, with a New Year's Eve dinner and an excuse to buy a new silicone mold.

It's such an easy dessert to make.  As it's made the night before it's a delicious and impressive dessert to serve for company. No one will ever know it took less than 30 minutes to make!

One of my food board friends recently went to a cooking demonstration.  She commented on the peach panna cotta they had. I've been craving the dessert ever since.  So I took my favorite panna cotta recipe (The Barefoot Contessa) and made a peach and raspberry topping for it. Oh, my, it was delicious!  My husband had two helpings! 

Panna Cotta

1/2 packet (1 teaspoon) unflavored gelatin powder
1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/3 cup sugar

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on the 1 1/2 tablespoons of cold water.  Stir and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the gelatin to dissolve.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup of the cream, the yogurt, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds.  Heat the remaining 3/4 cup of cream and the 1/3 cup of sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, add the softened gelatin to the hot cream and stir to dissolve.  Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Pour into 4 (6-8 ounce) ramekins or custard cups ** and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To serve, run a small knife around each dessert in the ramekin and dip the bottom of each ramekin quickly in a bowl of hot tap water. Invert each ramekin onto a dessert plate and top with peach-raspberry mixture.

**  I usually use silicone molds, they pop out quite easily.

Peach-Raspberry Topping

2 peaches, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier liqueur
1/2 pint raspberries

Combine peaches, sugar and liqueur.  Let sit for 10 minutes for juices to develop.  Gently stir in the raspberries.

Don't throw away the used vanilla bean!  I keep a jar of vanilla sugar on my counter.  I add vanilla beans and sugar to it periodically.  I use this sugar for baking, making ice cream, any recipe that calls for sugar and vanilla.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Little Apricot Cakes

 The apricot harvest is almost done in my area, it goes so fast!  I love apricots, whether they be fresh, canned, or in baked goods. These little apricot cakes are an easy treat, not too sweet. They have characteristics of both a muffin and cake.  They are wonderful as an afternoon snack or a breakfast nibble. If apricots have come and gone in your area, you can easily substitute plums.

Little Apricot Cakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature    
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
apricots, halved, pitted, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
2 tablespoons raw sugar
Preheat oven to 350°. Coat muffin cups with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in another medium bowl, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, lemon zest, and vanilla and beat until combined.
With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Divide batter among muffin cups (cups will be only 1/3 full) and smooth tops. Top with apricot slices and sprinkle with raw sugar.
Bake until cakes are golden and a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 20–25 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let pan cool 5 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack and let cool completely.
Cakes can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

I love to use silicone molds, it is so easy to get the baked goods out of the pan!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Vintage Funnel Planter

A few years ago I pinned a picture to one of my Pinterest boards. It was of a vintage funnel that had been converted to a hanging planter.  Imagine my surprise when, a few months later, my friend Kathy brought me a funnel from her annual expedition to her hometown in North Dakota! She had no idea I was looking for one!
I told my Hubbers my plan and put the funnel away.  A few weeks ago I dragged it out and asked for his assistance. He drilled some holes, attached some chain and I was good to go! I planted a flowering succulent in it.
I love unusual items in my gardens, feel they bring character to my outdoor spaces.  I love repurposing things, too. I bet the original user of this funnel never thought it would hold flowers!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Apricot Galette

By the time you are reading this I will be cruising the Hawaiian islands, being pampered and spoiled.  In between my packing I was also going through the refrigerator, using up things so they wouldn't spoil or taking extras to Mom (who is babysitting Harley!)  I still had some apricots left over but I didn't have time to make anything elaborate and didn't need the leftovers.  So I made a galette.  A galette is basically a free-form pie.  No pie pan, no top crust, they are very rustic, much easier than making a traditional pie. They aren't as fussy as a pie, there is much more room for error.

I whipped up the galette, shared some with the friends who will be handling some of our yard duties while we're gone.  No leftover galette, no apricots in the fridge. I didn't even put it on a serving plate so one less dish to wash. It all worked out quite well!

Roll out the dough to a 12-inch (rough) circle.

Arrange apricots on dough.

Fold over the dough, overlapping if need be, to keep the circle shape.

Apricot Galette

Pastry for 10-inch pie round
12 apricots, pits removed and cut into quarters
2 tablespoons sugar (more or less, depending on the sweetness of your fruit)
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the fruit in a bowl with the sugar and cornstarch and set aside as you shape the dough.

Place the dough on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper.  Roll out into a disk about 12 inches wide and 1/8 inch thick.  It doesn't have to be a perfect circle! Transfer dough and parchment paper to a baking sheet.

Arrange the fruit in the center of the disk.  Gently bring up the edges of the dough, folding and overlapping, as necessary.  If desired, lightly brush the exposed dough with heavy cream. Sprinkle the washed dough with sugar.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the center is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack.  Let rest 10 minutes before serving, either plain or with ice cream.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Animal Troughs in the Garden!

We have a patch of ground behind the swimming pool.  This area gets the brutal afternoon sun so whatever is planted here has to be hardy. The plants also have to compete with the neighbor's six, (yes I said six, argh!), redwood trees planted in the corner of her yard. Now I have nothing against redwood trees but they aren't really meant for city-sized back yards. Over the years the roots have trespassed into our area and it's difficult trying to plant amongst those roots.  Last year I pretty much gave up and the area looked rather bare. As I like my yard filled with vegetation and flowers, and this area is a prominent place in our back yard, this was a source of frustration for me. This year we are trying something new.  We bought two animal watering troughs and filled them up with good potting soil.  We have planted a few varieties of cherry tomatoes, Big Girl tomato, jalapeno pepper, dill, green beans, okra, cucumber and basil. Interspersed among the vegetables are flowers for color. The plants love their environment, in fact things are growing so well we are thinking we over-planted!

I can be stubborn, at times, so am still trying to have some plantings in the ground, too.  I thought it would be fun for my granddaughter to grow a pumpkin plant.  At the nursery she spotted the watermelon plants, her favorite fruit, and wanted to grow that, too.  So, far, they seem to be doing well! The bee balm is not growing as well as I had hoped.  The hummingbirds love the bright flowers of this plant.

This butterfly plant has been here for eons, it seems.  I have to trim it back two-three times during the summer, it gets so tall. True to its name, the butterflies flock to it, as do the hummingbirds

I have harvested the basil once already and made pesto.  The cherry tomatoes are growing like they are on steroids so I transplanted the basil to the second trough.  They were a little wilted looking the first few days but are taking off now. Soon it will be time to harvest again!
I love to go out in my yard and pick some fresh herbs for cooking.  In addition to the herbs planted in the troughs we have herbs planted in pots and other parts of the yard.  We have thyme, oregano,  mint, and rosemary, as well as the basil and dill.

Animal troughs can be found at your local farm store.  My hubby put a drip irrigation system in to help with watering chores. In addition to being utilitarian I think they add a nice architectural interest to this garden area.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Strawberry Mojito

I first tasted a mojito while on a Caribbean cruise. There was a bar near the swimming pool and the drink of the day was a mojito. I've been hooked ever since! The combination of mint and lime, with the carbonation of club soda, makes for a refreshing summer drink.

Each summer I grow a mint plant, most of which ends up in mojitos. Like a Girl Scout I am always prepared for when the urge for the minty drink hits!

Usually I make the basic mojito. Every now and then I'll make a fruity one, such as boysenberry or watermelon. By doing so I get my thirst quenched and my daily requirement of fruit.  Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!  I recently bought some beautiful strawberries at the Farmers Market and knew I needed to make strawberry mojitos. They were so good!

Some mojitos call for granulated sugar to be "muddled" with the mint and lime.  I prefer to use a simple syrup as it makes for a smoother drink.  A simple syrup is just a 1:1 mixture of water and sugar.  Boil it until the sugar dissolves and let cool.  For mojitos I usually go one step further and add a handful of mint leaves once the stove has been turned off.  I let this mixture sit for about an hour, then strain into a small pitcher. There is more mint flavor in the drink this way!

Plain white rum is the standard rum used for a mojito.  I like to use a citrus-flavored rum.  Again, I think it gives the drink more flavor!

Strawberry Mojito

For each drink:

1 strawberry, sliced
5-6 mint leaves
1/8 cup simple syrup
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup light rum
Club soda, chilled
Crushed ice

In a glass, muddle strawberries, mint leaves, simple syrup and lime juice with a muddler (use the back of a wooden spoon if you don't have a muddler). The goal is to release the juices, not pulverize the fruit and mint, so be gentle!

Add ice and rum. Top with club soda.  Garnish with a strawberry, lime wedge and/or mint sprig, if desired.

This is a muddler!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Farmers Market

One of the blessings of living in the central California valley is that we are in the middle of agriculture country. Orchards, row crops, dairies, poultry farms surround us. There are farm stands all over the place.  In my town there is a farmers' market that is open two days a week; Thursdays and Saturdays.

The market is on the street behind my office so I usually meander over on Thursday mornings and grab a few things.  My favorite time to go is Saturday.  There is more variety.  The market opens at 7 and I like to go soon after; it's not so crowded and there is an ample supply of farm goodies. Local musicians perform, the smell of kettle corn fills the air. It's not unusual to run into friends and family.

There is no comparison between fresh-from-the-farm produce and buying produce in the stores. We are so fortunate to enjoy nature's bounty in such a convenient venue!

My purchases!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Sporty Car & Tea!

We have a family friend, Jackie.  She became my husband's client in 1981 but, over the years, it has progressed to much more.  She has become family. She has joined us for holidays, weddings, and showers over the years, as well as numerous meals and trips. She will be 91 next month, is in declining health both mentally and physically.  My husband is her trustee and we arrange for her caretaking and handle all her financial affairs.

Jackie is a retired school teacher and has traveled to many places during her summer vacations.  In 1965 she spent the entire summer in Europe. While in Germany she bought a brand new Mercedes 2-door convertible.  She drove it the entire summer, traveling throughout Germany, France, England, Switzerland and all points in-between.  Her original plan was to sell the car when it was time to come home. However, it only cost $200 to ship it home so that is what she did. She has driven the car to work, trips to the coast and mountains. The car is 50 years old and only has 80,000 miles on it! Due to her declining health she hasn't been able to drive the car in a while and it sat in her garage neglected.  Every now and then she would make comments that we should get the car fixed.  Over the last few years, my husband has been overseeing some repairs and it now runs like a champ!  New tires were bought for it and we scheduled a road trip so that Jackie could make another journey in her beloved car.

She loves tea so we sauntered off to Columbia State Park where we visited Kate's Teahouse (if you've not been, you need to go, just a darling place!) Her caretaker and I followed behind in a second car as Jackie and my husband led the way. When we got to the tea house Jackie had a smile on her face, from ear to ear.  It was precious!

We enjoyed a nice tea.  Our first course was an apricot scone with Devonshire cream, lemon curd and strawberry jam.  We had quiche and fruit for the main portion of the tea.  I opted for a lemon bar for dessert, Jackie had a macaroon.  Everything was amazing! She didn't leave a crumb and even asked for scones to go.  She hasn't ate like this in ages! 

Alas, the Mercedes has no air conditioning so Jackie rode home with me as our temps are now sweltering.  She told me about some of her adventures in the car, things she used to do when she was younger.  The closer we got home, the quieter she got.  It was a busy few hours and I'm sure she was looking forward to a nap!

It was fun helping her relive her younger days in the little turquoise car she loves so much!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Three-Berry Pocket Pies

A pocket pie, or turnover, is a small pie easily eaten with the hands; no need for a plate and fork.  They are great for lunches, picnics or anyplace you want to take a pie but not all the dishes and utensils!  Just like a regular-sized pie they can be sweet or savory, your imagination is the only limit.

Last year I bought this little pie mold. Until now it's sat in the drawer waiting to be used. My three granddaughters had their dance recital last Saturday.  It was held at an amphitheater in a local park so it's a very conducive setting for a picnic dinner. It was the perfect opportunity to try the pie mold. 

To save time I made a three-berry pie filling the day before.  The day of the recital I made the pie dough and baked the mini pies. The pie mold worked fantastic, I can see myself using this again and again!

One side of the pie mold is used to cut a circle of pie dough.  I ended up getting 3 circles per disc of dough (9-inch).  (As I had a group to feed I made enough dough to make 12 pies). The other side of the pie mold is what forms the turnover shape.  I lightly floured it and placed the circle of dough on it.  I added a few teaspoons of pie filling.  Then, using the handles on the mold, I squeezed it shut and the end result was a perfect little pie with crimped edges! I love little gadgets like this! My family was quite worried by how much I was enjoying this process but they enjoyed the pies!

Three-Berry Pie Filling

4 cups mixed berries, fresh or frozen (I used blueberries, boysenberries and raspberries)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon butter

Combine cornstarch and water; set aside.

Combine berries and sugar in large pot, stir well.  Add cornstarch mixture.  Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Remove from heat and add butter.  Let mixture cool before using. 

To make pocket pies, add 2-3 teaspoons filling to each pie round. Press mold together per instructions. Cut vents. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet.  If desired, glaze with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until browned and filling is bubbly.

Oh, how I love fresh berries in the summer!

Ready for pie!