Monday, August 29, 2016

Limon Royale

We recently spent a long weekend in the Napa Valley.  We took our motorhome and enjoyed 3 days of relaxation.  Things move at a slower pace in the RV; no early morning alarm clock, rushing to get to work, the household chores. Except for weekends, very rarely do I cook breakfast at home, both of us grabbing something easy like a bowl of cereal or toast.  But in the RV we sleep in a little later and I prepare us a big breakfast.  We normally won't have lunch, then have an earlier than normal dinner. It's a nice relaxing schedule! The downside is I have to re-train my Hubbers when we return, he gets very used to having breakfast and me waiting on him!

While watching Food Network a few weeks back, I watched Valerie Bertinelli make a prosecco and limoncello drink.  I immediately added it to my list of things to make while in the RV. I made the candied lemon slices the night before our trip and kept them refrigerated.

I'm rather new to limoncello, which is an Italian lemon liqueur, having "discovered" it just a year or so ago.  Oh, my, is it nice stuff!  Now I always have a bottle in my freezer. I've used it a few times in baking, such as this cake. It added such a nice pop of citrus to the prosecco.  I will confess that we each had two glasses that morning!

Limon Royale

1 medium lemon
2/3 cup sugar
9 tablespoons limoncello
One 750-milliliter bottle prosecco

Cut the lemon crosswise into thin (just under 1/8-inch thick) rounds. Combine the sugar with 2/3 cup water in a medium skillet and bring to a bare simmer over medium-low heat.  Add the lemon slices and cook at a bare simmer until the rinds are almost completely translucent, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand in the syrup until cool.  Transfer the lemon slices to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet and allow to dry for 3 hours at room temperature.

(The remaining cooled lemon simple syrup can be stored in an airtight container or jar and reserved for another use, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks).

Pour 1 1/2 tablespoons limoncello (or just pour some in, who needs to measure?) into each of 6 Champagne flutes or wine glasses, then fill with the prosecco.  Garnish each flute with a candied lemon slice and serve.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fresh Fruit Kuchen

Kuchen is German for cake, usually a cake similar to what most of us call a coffee cake. The classic kuchen is usually made with plum halves that end up sinking into the batter, but other fruits, or a combination of fruit, can be used. This kuchen recipe has a high fruit to batter ratio and is not overly sweet; the fruit is the star of this treat. It is wonderful with a cup of coffee!

My favorite fruit stand had pluots available.  A pluot is a hybrid of a plum and apricot, with about 3/4 plum and 1/4 apricot characteristics.  It has the smooth purple skin that a plum is known for but the flesh has more of an orange tint, like an apricot.  I find them utterly delightful! They were especially good baked in this kuchen.

Fresh Fruit Kuchen

2 pounds Italian purple plums or fresh apricots, halved and pitted, or 3 1/2 pounds very ripe, but firm and good-flavored fresh peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into thick slices **
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons granulated or turbinado (raw) sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of a 15 1/2 x 10 1/2-inch jelly roll pan (it must have the 1-inch sides).

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and cake flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt.    Make a well in the center and add the milk, egg, oil, and vanilla.  Beat hard with a whisk until the batter has a stiff, smooth consistency, about 30 seconds.

Using a large rubber spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the batter in an even layer. Arrange the fruit pieces in neat, even rows across and down the batter, as close together as possible, to completely cover the batter, but leaving a 1-inch rim of exposed batter around the edges. If you use two kinds of fruit, alternate the rows. If you use three, alternate sections of the fruit.

Combine the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the fruit.  Drizzle with the lemon juice.  Lay a piece of parchment paper loosely over the top, securing the four corners with wooden toothpicks if necessary (this helps cook the fruit more thoroughly rather than having it brown).

Bake on the center rack of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sides of the cake are golden brown, a cake tester inserted into the side and center comes out clean, and the fruit is cooked and bubbly. Remove the pan from the oven, remove the parchment paper, and cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve in squares cut from the pan, warm or at room temperature, dusted with the confectioners' sugar.

**  For ease of peeling the peaches, blanch them in a large saucepan of boiling water for 10 to 15 seconds.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to a bowl of ice water.  Place each peach on a layer of paper towel and slip off the skin with your fingers or a paring knife. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree

I've been making this dish for 8 or 9 years now, ever since I saw Giada de Laurentis make it on her food show one morning ( I watch her for her cooking, my husband for her cleavage!) We aren't big eggplant eaters, neither of us grew up eating a lot of it, so I don't have a big repertoire of dishes that uses the vegetable.  I was gifted some beautiful home-grown eggplant recently so instantly thought of making this dish. This isn't the prettiest pasta dish you'll ever put on the table, but it's got a lot of flavor!  It is so easy to make; just roast the veggies, cook the pasta while the veggies are in the oven, puree in the food processor and combine it all! It's got a lot of spiciness to it so if you have a milder palate just reduce the amount of red pepper flakes.

I usually add more tomatoes than the recipe calls for and, as a result, I don't have to use as much pasta water to get a creamy sauce. On this day I had a variety of different color cherry tomatoes, they were so pretty!

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, whole
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 pound rigatoni pasta
1/4 cup torn fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl combine the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Spread the vegetables out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven until the vegetables are tender and the eggplant is golden, about 35 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish. Place in the oven on the rack below the vegetables. Roast until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta into a large bowl and reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid.

Transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor. Add the torn mint leaves and extra-virgin olive oil. Puree the vegetables.

Transfer the pureed vegetables to the bowl with the pasta and add the Parmesan. Stir to combine, adding the pasta cooking liquid 1/2 cup at a time until the pasta is saucy. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and serve.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Nectarine-Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

Whenever I find myself with excess fruit, I either gather the items needed for freezing or the canning supplies.  Grandma taught me never to waste anything and that nagging still lives in me so I try to utilize all the fruit! Recently I was gifted a big box of nectarines, far too much to use before they went bad. This time I decided to experiment and make them into a jalapeno pepper jelly.  We love jalapeno pepper jelly.  The combination sweet and savory blend pairs well, as a glaze, with grilled chicken or pork.  It's sinful poured over cream cheese and served with crackers or on top of baked Brie.   My favorite jalapeno jelly is made with dried apricots (recipe can be found here).

The experiment was a success!  The jelly is bright and colorful.  The combination of sweet and spicy is just right for my palate. I've already passed out a few jars and am getting favorable comments so know I will make this again in the future.

So much color!

Nectarine-Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

3 1/2 pounds nectarines (or peaches), pitted, and chopped
3 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed **, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
6 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter, optional
2 3-ounce pouches liquid pectin

**The seeds is where the heat comes from, if you like more heat leave some seeds in.

Combine the nectarines, jalapenos, bell pepper, sugar, and lemon juice in a dutch oven. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes until the nectarines are completely softened.  Stir periodically throughout the cooking time.  If the mixture starts to foam, add the butter.

Once the nectarines are soft, add the liquid pectin.  Stir and bring to a full rolling boil.  Boil for 2 minutes, and remove from heat.

Skim any remaining foam from the top and fill your jars leaving a 1/4-inch head space.  Process according to USDA instructions.

My Hubbers and I are empty nesters.  Many nights find us not hungry for a big meal. With no children at home, there is no need to make a meal (or a mess in the kitchen!) On those nights we'll often have some cheese and crackers, salami or fruit, and a glass of wine. I've been making these little puff pastry bites for years.  They are so easy and make a nice tidbit on those nights I don't cook. Any jelly can be used but they are especially good with a spicy jelly. The nectarine-jalapeno jelly worked quite nicely for these!

To make these, I lightly roll out a sheet of thawed puff pastry (I always have some in the freezer!) and cut into circles or squares then place in a mini-muffin tin.  A small cube of Brie cheese goes inside.  Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes.  Carefully remove from oven and put a small "dollop" of jelly atop the cheese.  Bake for another 5 minutes, or until pastry is a golden brown.  Remove from muffin pans (the jelly is quite hot so be careful!) and serve immediately. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Skillet Apple-Plum Cobbler

We have an espalier apple tree that grows along the fence next to our pool. It doesn't take up much room and provides us with 2-3 buckets of apples each year.  There are 6 limbs, each with a different variety of apple.  I have since forgotten what kind we have! It has taken me a while to adjust to being an apple "farmer".  To me, apples signify the start of fall.  When the apples started falling in July I thought I had a problem with my tree.  No, in our warm valley, they just ripen earlier!  My granddaughter and I picked apples and I've been dealing with them ever since!  

I'm just not in the mood to bake apple desserts yet, the smell of cinnamon is for fall, not summer! I did make some apple pie filling but still  have a large bowl of apples in the fridge. Every time I open the door I feel guilty knowing I should be doing something with them. In the meantime, I keep being gifted summer fruits (thank you all my gifters!) and was given a nice bag of plums. The same day this happened I received a free Family Circle magazine in the mail.  One of their recipes was for this apple-plum cobbler.  It was a divine inspiration moment, a way to use both fruits! It was easy to decide on dessert that night!

The plums really shine in this cobbler, it has a nice sweet-tart vibe to it. The addition of sour cream to the biscuit dough made for a very light and fluffy cobbler biscuit.  This will be my go-to cobbler biscuit recipe from now on.

Skillet Apple-Plum Cobbler

1 1/2 pounds apples, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 pounds plums, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Carefully combine all fruit ingredients.  Place in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk first five biscuit ingredients together.  Using pastry blender, or hands, add butter until clumps the size of peas are formed.  Stir in sour cream.  Form into 6 round biscuits.

Carefully remove skillet from oven and place biscuits on top.  Sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  Bake 20 minutes more, until biscuits are browned.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fresh Peach Cake

One of my favorite parts of summer is all the fresh fruits and veggies that abound. Fresh is best! I especially love fruit desserts, eagerly anticipating each fruit as they come into season, such as strawberries, cherries, apricots, and peaches. We are nearing the end of peach harvest here, soon it will be apples and pears and then I'll have to wait another year for fresh fruit. I was gifted some peaches the other day and wanted to make something other than a pie, cobbler, or crisp.  I went searching and found this recipe by the Barefoot Contessa. It was easy to make and, oh, so, good!

 The cake is very versatile.  With a scoop (or two?) of ice cream atop the warm cake, it makes a delicious dessert.  With a cup of coffee in the morning it becomes a breakfast cake. I confess that in my house we ate it both ways!

Fresh Peach Cake

1/2 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large, ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced **
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy.  With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined.  In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon.

Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan.  Top with half of the peaches, then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.

Bake the cake for 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

** 16 ounces frozen peaches, defrosted, can be substituted for fresh peaches.

Recipe from Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Lemon Shrimp & Vegetables with Lemon Pepper Pasta

I grew up in an "Okie" household so fresh, homemade pasta wasn't on the menu. We had a lot of mashed potatoes! Mom made homemade noodles for her chicken and noodles but that was the closest to fresh pasta we got. I love Italian food and have been experimenting with making my own pasta for the last few years.  What was once an intimidating process to me has gotten a lot less so.  A friend told me about some lemon pepper pappardelle that she got at Trader Joe's.  Of course, I thought, "well, I can do that!" This dish came together, as a result.

To make the pasta I used this recipe, adding 2 teaspoons lemon pepper seasoning to it. The result was a zesty pasta which added a little pep to the shrimp sauce.

Pappardelle pasta are large, broad, ribbons of pasta.  This shrimp sauce is very mild so having a more substantial pasta rounds the dish out nicely.  Of course, any type of pasta can be used.  If you aren't using lemon pepper pasta I would recommend adding some lemon pepper seasoning to the shrimp sauce to add a little more flavor.

Lemon Shrimp & Vegetables with Lemon Pepper Pasta

1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (16/20 count size)
12 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced zucchini
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
8 ounces pappardelle pasta (fresh or dried)
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 3 to 4 quarts of  salted water to a boil for the pasta. 

Season prawns with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stir to combine.

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat.  Add sliced zucchini and sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the sliced tomatoes and sauté until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/4 teaspoon salt to the vegetables, and stir to combine.  Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the pan, and turn heat to medium low.  Add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes, cooking for 2 minutes, stirring frequently so the garlic does not brown or burn. You want the garlic to cook slowly and the flavors to infuse the oil, turn heat to low, if needed.

Add the shrimp.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until just pink in color. Add lemon juice and zest to the pan, stir to combine.  Add the cooked vegetables and basil to the pan, stir to combine with the shrimp.

While the shrimp is cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until tender.  Drain the pasta (reserving the water) and toss with the shrimp/vegetable mixture, adding some of the reserved pasta water, if necessary, to make a creamy sauce.  Add salt and pepper, to taste, if desired.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sunflowers and Bees!

Each year I plant a package of sunflower seeds in a corner of my flower bed. I love watching them grow, some days it seems like they grow a foot overnight! I look forward to when they will bloom, they are such a bright and festive flower! Once we have blooms, the bees flock to the flower heads, they are a natural pairing. In the fall, once the flower heads have dried up, I harvest the seeds and leave for the birds during the winter months. My flower beds are full of color but they also serve to nourish the birds, bees and butterflies.
I brought sunflowers and bees into the house for this tablesetting. The sunflower plates are new (Pier 1), everything else I had, so it was just a matter of mixing and matching until I got the look I was envisioning. I ended up having a lot more green than I wanted, so added a pop of pink in the Gerbera daisies, to bring out the pink that is in the pitcher.


Our front door even has a sunflower in the form of this wreath I bought through an Etsy vendor.  I have had so many neighbors stop and tell me how much they like this on my bright red door!

Today I'm linking up to Tablescape Thursday.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Lemon Brioche French Toast

Brioche is a bread, French in origin, with a high egg and butter content.  As a result, it's very rich and tender.  I've had brioche while traveling and have made brioche rolls a time or two (no where near as light as what I've had in bakeries.  Sigh!) For whatever reason, it's almost impossible to find brioche in my local bakeries or grocery stores.  Recently, one of the higher-end grocery stores has begun to carry a brioche loaf.  I bought one with the intent to make this French toast casserole. We were at the race track when I made it.  My guys ate it but I think they preferred the more substantial biscuits and gravy I served them the next day! However, my daughter-in-love expressed an interest in having some so I made it again.  I enjoyed it both times!

French toast, by nature, isn't real flavorful.  It's basically bread dipped in eggs and milk, the flavor coming from the syrup or toppings.  The lemon zest in this dish adds a nice sweetness, which pairs especially well with fresh berries.  I used strawberries but raspberries, or any other berry, would easily work.

This recipe can be made and baked immediately or made the night before.  I like to slowly ease into my Sunday mornings so I assembled this dish and refrigerated it overnight.  All I had to do in the morning was make coffee, prepare the berries and wait for the casserole to cook. Breakfast doesn't get much easier than this!

Lemon Brioche French Toast

One 16 to 20-ounce loaf brioche
2 lemons, zested and juiced
3 large eggs
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 cups 2% milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups confectioner sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Grease 9×9 inch casserole pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Slice bread into 1/2-inch slices, then cut each slice in half. Arrange half of the bread layers in the baking dish. Sprinkle the bread with about half of the lemon zest.

Whisk eggs in a large bowl, then whisk in brown sugar. Whisk in the milk, vanilla, salt, nutmeg, and remaining lemon zest. Pour half of the egg mixture over the bread, then layer the rest of the bread on top. Pour the rest of the mixture over the top. You can either bake the casserole immediately, or place in refrigerator for up to 24 hours before baking.

When ready to bake, take the casserole out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before baking. Bake casserole for 30 minutes, or until slightly golden on top.

Let casserole cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Serve with sweetened berries and/or maple syrup.
You can see how light and rich the brioche is!