Monday, October 31, 2016

Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Salted Caramel

I've previously shared my love of panna cotta.  It's a fairly new dessert to me and I just love it! I recently purchased Ina Garten's (Barefoot Contessa) new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. Imagine my delight when it had this recipe for a panna cotta flavored with dark rum. We were hosting another couple for dinner and I'd been ruminating about what dessert to make.  Problem solved! Cold, silky panna cotta paired with warm, salty caramel.  Sounds like a great fall dessert to me!

Panna cotta looks impressive but it is so easy to make. What I especially like is that it needs to be made ahead of time.  That is one less last-minute detail to attend to when hosting a dinner!

Oh, this panna cotta is soooooo good! The combination of the sweet and salty, cold and hot is just fantastic!

Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Salted Caramel

2 teaspoons (1 packet) unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
3 cups heavy cream, divided
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar
Dark rum
1/2 cup good caramel sauce
Fleur de sel (sea salt)

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on 3 tablespoons of cold water.  Stir and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the gelatin to dissolve.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the cream, the yogurt, vanilla extract, and vanilla seeds. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream and the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, stir the softened gelatin mixture into the hot cream until dissolved.  Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cream-yogurt mixture and stir in 3 tablespoons of rum. Pour into 8 serving glasses and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and allow to chill overnight.

Before serving, heat the caramel sauce with 2 teaspoons of rum in a small bowl in the microwave or a small saucepan set over low heat, just until warm. Spoon a thin layer of warm caramel on each cold panna cotta, sprinkle with fleur de sel, and serve.

Don't throw away your used vanilla bean!  I keep a canister of sugar on my counter, adding used vanilla beans and additional sugar as time goes by.  The result is a lovely vanilla-flavored sugar that enhances all my baking!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili

When the temperatures start cooling and daylight ends earlier, my culinary thoughts turn to soups, stew, and chili.  Is there nothing better on a cold night than a hot bowl of goodness? We enjoy the spiciness of a good chili.  One of the good things about chili is that it seems to improve with age as the spices blend together.  It's a great one-pot meal to make on a weekend and have the leftovers during the week.  We especially like the leftovers on a baked potato, topped with sour cream, cheddar cheese and other toppings.  Yum!

Debbie, a food board friend of mine, told me about a chili she makes that has no meat in it.  The meat-substitute is quinoa and sweet potatoes.  I'm not a big quinoa fan but I was intrigued and had to try it.  We loved it!  It's amazing how much this tastes like it has meat in it!  Who knew I had inner vegetarian tendencies? Thank you, Debbie, for the tip!

I've had these pumpkin tureens for years.  Of course, my Hubbers swore he never saw them before. Silly man!  But I do have other dishes he's yet to see!

This chili was very easy to make and uses one pot, which is an added bonus (who needs to wash more dishes?) While it was simmering on the stove I made a pan of cornbread.  With my Okie background, corn bread, slathered with butter and honey, is the perfect accompaniment to a hot bowl of chili!

Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 large red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup dried quinoa
4 teaspoons lime juice

Heat a large heavy bottom pot with the oil over medium high heat.

Add the sweet potato and onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion is softened.

Add the garlic, chili powder, chipotle, cumin and salt and stir to combine.

Add the stock, tomatoes, black beans and quinoa and bring the mixture to a boil.  Stir everything to combine. 

Cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.

Cook for 30-40 minutes until the quinoa is fully cooked and the sweet potatoes are soft and the entire mixture is slightly thick like a chili.

Add the lime juice and remove the pot from the heat.  Season with salt as needed.

If desired, garnish with cheese, avocado and olives.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pear Custard Pie

We recently spent a week in Maui; home of pineapple, guava, papaya and coconut, and had many desserts with those ingredients. Back home, signs of fall are everywhere, including the produce stands. Apples and pears abound, persimmons are almost ready for picking. By necessity, no more tropical desserts for me!

I do love my sweets and am always baking something.  I had some pears that needed to be used so found this recipe for a pear custard pie.  It's a crustless pie and the cream mixture is made in the blender.  It's so easy to make, just peel and slice the pears, arrange in the dish, and pour the custard over the top.  Sit back and rest while it bakes!  I love desserts like this!

It's best served warm, it isn't the type of dessert that keeps well.  If you have extra, do like I did, and share with a neighbor! 

For best blending results, the eggs and milk should be at room temperature (actually, this is best for any baking).

Pear Custard Pie

2-3 firm pears of any variety, cored, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 9-inch round pan with cooking spray.

Arrange the pear slices in the pan.

Put the butter, eggs, milk, salt, sugar, flour and vanilla into a blender; process until smooth.

Pour the batter over the pears.  Bake for 40-45 minutes until the custard is golden and firm to the touch.  Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, before serving.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Beverage Station

I love Pinterest and can spend way too much time browsing that website!  My Hubbers probably wishes I had never found it because I'm always showing him a project I want to tackle.  When I say "I" it really means, I would like him to help me!  I can cook, bake, sew, and garden but building things has never been one of my strong points.  Putting Part A into Part B just doesn't resonate with me.  Thankfully, my Hubby is quite handy with tools and can usually manage to do everything I ask of him!

Over a year ago, I saw a picture of a beverage station made from an old door.  I knew this would be perfect in our back patio, a nice place to keep the wine, glasses, and other beverage paraphernalia when we entertain.  I set out looking for an old door.  One would think they would be easy to find, not so!  My cousin (thanks, Robin!) came through for me with a door that was in her in-law's barn. It sat in our garage for almost a year before I started tackling the project over Memorial Day weekend.

My Hubby set the door up on sawhorses and I got busy with the task of stripping the old paint off of it.  I didn't want a pristine-painted piece but this door had so many coats of paint on it, the old paint had to come off.  My goodness, what a job that was!  The first stripper I bought barely made a dent so I had to buy some stronger stuff (I'm sure it was hazardous stuff, too!) The weekend was quite warm so I got up each morning at 5 and worked on it some more. My Hubby was on a bike trip that weekend and when he returned I had it almost ready to go.  He used some of his muscle to get the really stubborn spots.

At this point, I really didn't realize how many coats of old paint I was dealing with!

I'm not so sure I'm gung-ho about stripping furniture again!

In June he went on a 2-week biking trip.  Before leaving, he moved the table to the garage where I spent a few more mornings painting it. Then production stopped because I am not a good builder and shelves and legs needed to be added.  We were away from home to drag races, the Napa Valley, and it was so hot here that we didn't want to spend time in the garage. The last few weeks I've been doing what wives do best, nag, and he finished the door for me.  We had shelves made to fit at the local lumber company.  Our contractor friend gave me some old stair banisters he had in a pile. I found the hummingbird brackets on Amazon. In a few nights he had done the construction work and I was tasked with doing the touch-up painting.

Of course, I had to add a hummingbird element!

Reproduction bottle opener.

Original, and unfinished, door knob!

I love it!  It turned out just the way I dreamed it would! I know it will be a very functional piece for us. He's quite happy with it, too.  Good thing, as I have other Pinterest-inspired projects in the works for him to help me with!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Halloween Gingerbread Houses - 2016!

In 2010 my oldest granddaughter and I spent a leisurely Saturday morning decorating a Halloween gingerbread house. Our Christmas season is so busy, our kids and grandchildren have so many things to do and places to go. I thought it would be easier to make gingerbread houses at Halloween instead of Christmas. I felt that doing a gingerbread house would be a great way to spend quality time together, learn some decorating skills, and start a tradition with Nana.  Her little sister was only 2 then so we didn't include her that first year.  Since then I've acquired another granddaughter. (I also have a grandson but, at age 20 months old, it's not time to turn him loose with candy and icing!) That first house was a breeze, with only the two of us working on it.  I don't think I quite realized what a job it would be to make multiple houses each  year!

Thankfully, their Papa is quite handy with tools and can build pretty much anything.  I make the dough, cut it out with a template, and bake it.  I make the royal icing that he uses to put the houses together. We do make quite the team! Each year we get a little smarter.  This year I made an extra copy of the template.  After the pieces were baked and dried, he trimmed them to size based on the template (they seem to spread out during baking!) Doing this meant everything fit nice and neat and it didn't take long until we had the houses assembled.

Our oldest granddaughter was at Girl Scout camp so couldn't join us on our chosen decorating day.  On my to-do list is to make one more house for her. So I just had the two younger girls.  Due to all sorts of scheduling issues, we planned this session for a Friday evening. I should have thought that through a little more. By Friday evening, after a long week of school for them and work for Nana,  we were all a little on the tired and cranky side.  We persevered but I think the morning sessions work best!

What I'm finding especially enjoyable about our annual tradition is how their decorating skills are improving and how their creativity is growing.  At first, they had to be guided along with ideas of how to decorate the roofs, walls, etc. Their Mothers and I would have to work the piping bags filled with messy frosting. Now they are thinking on their own and coming up with some really cute things! Their piping skills are getting better, too! I also enjoy the camaraderie between the girls, how they share ideas, encourage, giggle and laugh. These are times that will bind cousins and sisters for life!

My kitchen looks like a bomb went off in it during this process.  We have bowls of colored icing everywhere, including on us, open bags of candy and cookies, and candies and sprinkles on the floor.  It all cleans up, though it did take me an hour to do so!  Another reason not to do this on a Friday night, it was past Nana's bedtime, too!

We already have our marching orders for next year, the girls told Papa they want chimneys on their houses next year! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Pumpkin Carrot Cake

Within the span of one week we have gone from having days with high-90 temperatures to more fallish-like days in the 70's.  It's a challenge figuring out what weather to dress for! Like most people who bake, when the temperatures start falling my baking changes.  Now it's time for lots of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and...pumpkin!

Now, my Hubbers would be happy if I baked a pumpkin pie every few days.  Not gonna happen. But I do use pumpkin a lot in my fall baking. Pumpkin bars and pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies are a few of the treats I make each year. When I found this carrot cake recipe, with pumpkin in it, I knew I would have to try it.  The girls in my book club became my guinea pigs. They devoured the cake, took pieces home to their husbands, so I'm pretty sure this cake is a winner!

The cake recipe comes from the Gold Medal Flour blog. Crushed pineapple and coconut also go into the cake, which is not an ordinary combination with pumpkin.  It works, though.  The cake is very moist, flavorful, and rich.  The cake batter also has corn meal in it which is also not very common. It's a great cake for any fall celebration!

Pumpkin Carrot Cake
(adapted from Gold Medal Flour Blog)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated fresh carrots
1 cup crushed pineapple
1 cup pure pumpkin
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and lightly flour two 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture.  The dough will be very thick at this point.

Fold in the pineapple and pumpkin until well combined. Fold in the carrots and then the nuts and coconut until just combined.

Pour batter into the prepared cake pans and bake for 50-60 minutes until the cakes are browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool in their pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Turn them out onto the wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, cream cheese and vanilla until smooth.  Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until light and fluffy.  ***

To frost the cake, place one cake layer on a cake stand or serving platter.  Use a spatula to cover with a thick layer of frosting. Stack the other cake layer on top of the frosted layer.  Cover the top and sides with the remaining frosting.  Garnish with additional walnuts, if desired.

Keep leftover cake refrigerated.

*** The original recipe called for adding 1 cup flaked coconut and 3/4 chopped walnuts to the frosting, folding in after beating in the powdered sugar.  I omitted this step.