Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pear Tablesetting (and how shopping can be dangerous!)

It all started with a table runner.  I got an e-mail from April Cornell with their latest fall designs and fell in love with a yellow and blue runner, with pears and blue birds on it. A few weeks ago I set it out as part of my introduction to this year's fall decorating.  It's just too hot around here right now for me to be thinking about decorating with pumpkins just yet! As the runner has birds in it I grabbed a birdbath-shaped ceramic bowl and filled it with pears and topped it with my bird salt and pepper shakers.  It made a nice display on my dining table.  I had no plans to do anything other than that.

Then I had to go to Pier One.  We were down to two wine glasses
in our motorhome and we like the cute and inexpensive wine glasses they sell. As I walked to the wine glass display I passed the linens section.  I needed some new white napkins so grabbed six of them.  I fell in love with the blue/green variations on the wine glasses, they will go well with the interior of the new motorhome we just bought, so, in my basket they went!  As I turned the corner to go to the cash register I spotted a dish display with plates and bowls with figs, pomegranates and pears.  Yes, pears! My mind started whirling, thinking of the table setting I could make with these plates and my runner. Yes, they also went in my cart! A quick trip into the store ended up being a little pricier than I had budgeted for! (I also have to figure out where I'm going to put six more plates in my already-full garage cabinets!)

My Hubbers had been hinting around that I hadn't made sugar cookies in a while.  It just so happens that I have a pear cookie cutter. All this hoarding does sometimes pay off!  I think they made an adorable table decoration as well as a tasty treat for our guests!

Coincidentally, the wine glasses went well with this table setting.  I may need to buy a few more to keep at the house as these are going in the RV!

Now I'm on the lookout for material or a table runner with pomegranates on them.  These plates will be used for many fall dinners.

I'm linking up to Tablescape Thursday.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Blue Ribbon Apple Pie

I love to read, rarely is there a day go by that I don't have my nose in a book at some time during the day or evening (now days my books are my Kindle iPad ap!) It's part of my going-to-sleep routine, I read a little each night in bed. I mostly gravitate to crime novels, and I especially like to follow series with main characters such as Harry Bosch, Kay Scarpetta, and Jack Reacher, to name a few.  Every now and then I need a lighter read.  When that happens I somehow tend to reach for books that revolve around food.  I read light mysteries or love stories that happen in tea shops, bakeries, bed and breakfasts.  Often these books will include recipes, which is a plus for someone like me who likes to cook and bake.  Recently I read The City Baker's Guide to Country Living.  The setting was a bed and breakfast in Vermont and the main character was a baker who found herself transplanted from the hustle and bustle of Boston to a quiet New England town.  The B&B's claim to fame was an apple pie and winning the Countys Fair's blue ribbon was the prize. 

As you can imagine, I've made many apple pies.  It is one of my son's favorite pies. They aren't difficult; slice some apples, mix with sugar and spices, pour in a pie crust and bake. I was intrigued by the recipe in the book because it called for slightly pre-cooking the apples. If you've made an apple pie before, you know that oftentimes, as the apples cook down, the filling shrinks away from the top pie crust.  When you cut into the pie you have a large space between the top crust and the juicy apples. It's not very attractive! Pre-cooking the apples draws out some of the moisture in the apples so that there is less settling. I thought it was worth trying!

I piled the pie shell high with the partially cooked apples and it retained its height quite nicely. I think I will use this method often.  However, I thought this pie recipe could have used more spices, it wasn't as spicy as I like. That's an easy adjustment to make, especially as everyone's taste buds are different.

My Hubbers enjoyed his pie with a scoop of ice cream and his favorite topping, caramel sauce.

Blue Ribbon Apple Pie

Double crust pie dough (homemade or pre-made)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/4-inch wedges (any baking apple, or mixture, can be used.  I used all Granny Smith, so added a little more sugar as they are tarter than most apples)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg white, for the crust bottom

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Make sure there is enough room for a tall pie, you may need to remove a rack.

In a large skillet, melt the butter.  When the butter is sizzling, toss in the apples and stir so they are coated in the butter.  Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  If you do not have a pan large enough, you can do this in two batches.

Remove the apples from the pan with a slotted spoon (you do not want the liquid) and put them in a large bowl.  Toss the apples with the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

Brush the inside of the bottom crust with the beaten egg white.  Pile the sautéed apples into the crust then cover with the remaining dough disc. Trim and flute edges.  You can also lightly brush the top with an egg wash and sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top.

Turn the oven down to 375 degrees.  Place the pan on a cookie sheet (I line mine with aluminum foil), and bake until the top crust is a deep golden brown and the filling is bubbly, about 50-60 minutes.

Let cool before serving.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Shrimp and Lobster Ravioli with a Limoncello Cream Sauce

I have become obsessed with Limoncello.  It’s probably been around for 100 years but I’ve only discovered it for about a year now.  I’m definitely behind! Besides being a nice after-dinner drink or used in a brunch beverage, it’s also quite good for baking.  Basically any recipe that calls for lemon juice can be enhanced by using Limoncello. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

I ran across a ravioli recipe at the Proud Italian Cook website with a Limoncello cream sauce and knew I had to try it.  One, because, as I’ve mentioned, I’m becoming quite fond of Limoncello.  Two,  I like to make fresh pasta and am getting better at it each time I do. A free Sunday afternoon found me putting this all together.

The original recipe called for two lobster tails and one pound of shrimp.  As it was a dinner for two, I halved those ingredients.  By doing so, I still had more filling than I had pasta. The ingredients are pretty pricey and I didn’t want to waste them so tossed the rest of the ingredients into the sauce.

The recipe also called for 1 teaspoon of mascarpone cheese, which is basically an Italian-style cream cheese.  At my local stores it’s around $5 for a container; too expensive for just one teaspoon!  So, I left that ingredient out and didn’t notice that it was missing.  I also added Parmesan cheese to the sauce, to thicken it up some and add a little more saltiness.  I found the sauce to be too sweet without the cheese, but everyone’s taste buds are different!

Another nice thing about cooking or baking with Limoncello is you don’t have to open a bottle of wine, you can just pour a little shot of Limoncello while you work! This tends to make for a happy cook!

Pasta dough can easily be made in the food processor but doing it the old-fashioned way means I don't have to wash more dishes!

Shrimp and Lobster Ravioli with a Limoncello Cream Sauce

1 recipe pasta dough (I used this recipe)


1 small lobster tail, pre-cooked and chopped into small pieces
½ pound of medium shrimp, pre-cooked and chopped into small pieces
1 garlic clove, diced
½ shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Limoncello or lemon juice
¼ cup Ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon chopped parsley

 Limoncello Cream Sauce:

4 tablespoons Limoncello
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1 stick unsalted butter
Heavy cream
Parmesan cheese

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan, add garlic and shallot, and cook for a few minutes until softened.  Add cooked seafood and parsley, toss until coated; set aside to cool.

Combine the cooled seafood mixture and Ricotta cheese.

Roll out pasta dough into long sheets.  Space a heaping teaspoon of filling along the pasta sheet, spacing evenly.  Brush along edges of filling with beaten egg wash.  Place second sheet of pasta on top and seal edges.  Using a ravioli press, cut into shapes. Drop into boiling salted water and cook.

For the sauce, simmer the Limoncello and lemon juice, then whisk in the butter until well incorporated.  Add cream and Parmesan cheese to get a thicker sauce.  Note that this is a light sauce, you aren’t drenching the ravioli. Spoon sauce over cooked ravioli and sprinkle with more Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Lemon Zucchini Bread

If you are friends with a gardener you know that sometime during the summer you will be gifted some zucchini. It has to be one of the most prolific vegetables to grow! I don't grow any myself but I was fortunate enough to receive excess veggies from a few people. I always shred and freeze some so that I have some available during the winter.  But, a lot does get baked with as I receive it!

I was looking for a quick bread and turned to my favorite recipe spot, Pinterest (I have no idea what I did with my time before this web site came along!) I wanted something different other than the standard recipe with cinnamon and walnuts.  When I ran across this zucchini treat with lemon in it I knew I had to try it.  My Hubbers loves lemon loaf! He wasn't disappointed with this bread and the recipe has gone into my "keeper" file.

If you want a little more sweetness you can top the cake with a lemon glaze or dusting of powdered sugar.  It's good, as is, but I like the addition of the glaze with it.

If you know me, you know I have to use one of my pretty cake pans, this one topped with impressions of lemons!

Lemon Zucchini Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
Juice of 1 lemon (2 tablespoons)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9x5-inch loaf pan; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.  In a medium bowl, beat the 2 eggs, then add the oil and sugar and mix well.  Add the buttermilk, lemon juice and zest and mix well.  Stir in the zucchini.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined; do not overmix. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack and cool completely.

Lemon glaze (optional):
1 cup powdered sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (2 tablespoons)

In a small bowl, gradually add lemon juice to powdered sugar until the mixture is smooth and creamy and the desired consistency is reached.  Pour over cooled loaf. Allow to harden.

1/2 teaspoon of meringue powder can also be added to the glaze to make it harden better.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Grandgirl's Fresh Apple Cake from Georgia

Signs of fall are slowly appearing in my area of the country; summer plants are spent, all the fruit crops are done, the nuts are being harvested and football season has started.  We will still have some very warm days but I've put away our big pink flamingo pool float ( a sure sign that my pool is much too cold for me to be in!) and I'm moving forward to the next season. Before we know it, the winter holidays will be here. Time keeps marching on!

I love fall baking; all the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger scents that fill the kitchen are just tantalizing to me. I go from baking with summer fruits and berries to the more traditional autumn produce of apples and pears. This cake comes from Paula Deen and it's name intrigued me. I never could find out why it's called what it is. However, in researching the origins of the cake it seems that this cake, and others similar to it, are very common in the deep south. This California girl had never heard of it! What makes it unusual is the butter-buttermilk sauce that soaks into the cake after baking.  Trust me when I say this cake is very moist! It's also rich and sugary, and great with a hot cup of coffee or tea. It needs no frosting or glaze, is not the prettiest cake, but it makes a great addition to my fall baking repertoire.

Grandgirl's Fresh Apple Cake from Georgia

2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup orange juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups peeled and finely chopped apples
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans **

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Generously grease a tube or bundt pan.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, oil, orange juice, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla extract; mix well.  Fold the apples, coconut, and pecans into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours.

Shortly before the cake is done, make the sauce: Melt the butter in a large saucepan, stir in the sugar, buttermilk, and baking soda, and bring to a good rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Boil for 1 minutes. Pour the sauce over the hot cake in the pan as soon as you remove it from the oven (I did this over a cookie sheet as there was spillage). Let stand 1 hour, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

**  Pecans are pricey in California and walnuts are more plentiful.  I have clients who give me walnuts each year so I substituted using them.

Slowly pouring the sauce onto the cake and letting it sit for an hour allows all the buttery goodness to permeate the cake.  The cake is very moist and stays moist after cutting.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Caramelized Figs and Ravioli with Rosemary Brown Butter & Crispy Prosciutto

Growing up I wasn't a fan of figs unless they were in Fig Newtons.  My Mom would practically swoon anytime she was given some fresh figs.  Now that I've matured (also known as getting older and smarter!), I love figs. Another example of "Mother Knows Best" I think!

This recipe came across my Facebook page one evening and I knew I would have to try it. It didn't disappoint.  The combination of the sweet, slightly caramelized figs, salty prosciutto, and the rosemary-infused brown butter sauce was amazing. Though it was very easy to make and didn't take much time to do so, it is a pasta dish that you could easily serve to company.

Caramelized Figs and Ravioli with Rosemary Brown Butter & Crispy Prosciutto

4 thin slices prosciutto
2 (9-ounce) packages fresh cheese ravioli
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 fresh figs, quartered through the stem
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto in a single layer and cook until curling and lightly browned underneath, about 2 minutes. Flip and let cook until browned on the other side, about 2 minutes more.  Transfer the prosciutto to paper towels to drain.  Do not wash the pan (all the goodness is still in it!)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the cheese ravioli according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, using the same frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the figs and rosemary.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter browns and the figs have softened and caramelized a bit, about 3 minutes.  Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the cooked ravioli to the frying pan.  Add 1/4 cup of pasta water and simmer, tossing gently, until the sauce has thickened a bit and evenly coats the ravioli, 1 to 2 minutes.  Transfer to serving bowls and crumble the crispy prosciutto over each portion.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Smoked Salmon Spread

It's Labor Day Weekend!  Yikes, where did the summer go?

The last 3-day weekend of summer usually involves backyard parties and picnics.  This is a great dip for such occasions. It involves no cooking and actually tastes better if you make it a few days early.  I love make-ahead dishes for easing the stress in my life!

The recipe comes from one of Ina Garten's earlier cookbooks Barefoot Contessa Family Style. I made this for our recent RV trip to the Napa Valley and served it with bagel chips. It was a great addition to our nightly wine and appetizer treat!

Smoked Salmon Spread

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, drained
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound (4 ounces) smoked salmon, minced

Cream the cheese in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until just smooth.  Add the sour cream, lemon juice, dill, horseradish, salt, and pepper, and mix. Add the smoked salmon and mix well.  Chill and serve with crudités or crackers.