Monday, April 24, 2017

Strawberry Pie with Pink Peppercorn Ice Cream

When my neighborhood strawberry patch opens up for the season I know that spring has officially arrived. It is literally a 5-minute drive to get fresh-from-the-field, just-picked strawberries. Oh, how I love them!  I made strawberry shortcake for Easter dinner. This past weekend I made 3 batches of strawberry jam and had enough berries leftover to make a pie. I've never made a baked strawberry pie, I've always made some form of refrigerated pie. I wanted to try something new so got out the pastry supplies and baked a pie! After dealing with numbers and clients for 3 1/2 months it felt so good to get back in the kitchen! I was so happy not to be at my desk and computer that I may have gotten a little carried away with decorating the pie; making a braided edge and flower cut-outs.


A few years back my husband and I enjoyed a strawberry-rhubarb crisp at a restaurant somewhere (I don't remember where!)  It was served with a pink peppercorn ice cream. I had never heard of such an ice cream, much less tasted anything like it.  The combination of a little spice with the sweetness of the fruit was a great combination. I remember coming home and replicating it a few nights later. I thought this ice cream would be great with the strawberry pie, in lieu of traditional vanilla ice cream.  Fruit pies can be very sweet, the slight hotness of the pepper tones that down some.



Strawberry Pie

Pastry for 2-crust pie (either homemade or store bought)
6 cups hulled and halved strawberries
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
3 tablespoons flour

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  On a lightly floured surface, roll one round of dough to fit inside a 9-inch pie dish.

Combine strawberries, sugar and flour in a large bowl.  Pour in pastry-lined pie dish.

Roll out second round of dough and slice into 10 strips.  Create a lattice pattern on top of pie.  Crimp edges.  If desired, brush top and edges with a beaten egg and then sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake for 60 minutes, until filling is bubbly.  If crust is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.


Though the pink peppercorns resemble a peppercorn both in looks and taste, they are actually the dried berry of a flowering bush. This ice cream isn't something that you would eat a bowl of after dinner but its spiciness and slight floral flavor adds a lot as a side to a sweet treat. In addition to being good with fruit pies and crisps, it's also good with a warm brownie and hot fudge sauce or molten chocolate dish. I usually add a little food coloring to the custard, if not the ice cream is more beige than pink!



Pink Peppercorn Ice Cream

2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup pink peppercorns, crushed
7 large egg yolks

Bring milk, cream, sugar, and peppercorns to boil in a heavy large saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat; let stand at room temperature 1 hour for flavors to blend.

Bring milk mixture to a simmer. Whisk egg yolks in a large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into yolks.  Return mixture to pan and stir over medium heat until finger leaves a path on back of spoon when drawn across, about 3 minutes (do not boil). Strain custard into large bowl; cover. Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Process custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Transfer to container; cover and freeze.  

Recipe source:  Bon Appetit September 2004

Friday, April 14, 2017

Happy (Hoppy!) Easter!

With the exception of a few extensions to finish up, I'm pretty much done with the upcoming tax filing deadline. I'm slowly starting to reclaim my life back.  The bedroom carpets were cleaned yesterday, the window cleaner comes next week, we have toilet paper in the house again.  Most importantly, I found the time to make my grandchildren's Easter bags. A few months back, a friend sent me a picture of some painted blocks, made to look like bunnies.  Immediately I thought the same idea would work for bags.  I glued bunny ears, twisted pipe cleaners, made a heart nose and a yarn pom pom tail.  I worked on them, off an on, for a few nights.  It was such a relief from dealing with numbers and stress! 




Easter dinner will be at our house so I will be reclaiming my kitchen again, too! I've not finalized the menu but my nearby strawberry patch has recently opened.  Strawberries will be on the dessert menu!

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Berry-Ricotta Cake

I actually cooked dinner last night.  Except for a rotisserie chicken I bought the night the grandchildren came over, this was the first meal I prepared in over a week.  The hours of tax season 2017 have been long and I've not had a day off since Super Bowl Sunday.  My quilt project is gathering dust, I've barely got one row done on my newest cross stitch project.  We are down to two rolls of toilet paper in the house (Costco, here I come!)  The good news is there is only a week of tax season left and we are in pretty good shape at the office.  Soon I will be back to "putzing" at home again!

While cooking the lone dinner, I had the desire to bake something sweet.  I've been eyeing this recipe from Bon Appetit for a while now. The original recipe calls for raspberries. I didn't have any but I do have some frozen boysenberries left from last summer. The user reviews said any berry would work in this cake so I grabbed a cup of frozen berries and got to work.  It is such an easy cake to make, I mixed it while my pasta was cooking. The ricotta cheese makes this such a moist cake. My husband really enjoyed it, he ate two pieces! The rest got taken to the office and it was gone in a flash. As soon as raspberries are in season I will be making this cake again!



Berry-Ricotta Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups ricotta
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup frozen boysenberries, blackberries, or raspberries, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees  Line a 9-inch diameter cake pan with parchment paper and lightly coat with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk eggs, ricotta, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth; fold into dry ingredients just until blended. Then fold in butter, followed by 3/4 cup berries, taking care not to crush the berries. Scrape batter into prepared pan and scatter remaining 1/4 cup berries over top.

Bake cake until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Let cool at least 20 minutes before unmolding.

Top with whipped cream, if desired.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken

I confess that there hasn't been much going on in my kitchen lately. Most of the dishes in my dishwasher are cereal bowls. There are dairy products with expired dates in my refrigerator. I think about cooking, but planning a menu and going to the grocery store is too much strain on my already-tired brain.  The bright side is that there is less than a month of tax season left.  The business returns deadline is behind us, I only have 2 more weeks of client interviews left. Soon another tax season will be behind me and I'll be back in the kitchen again!

All this past week we've grabbed dinner on the way home or ate cereal (mini shredded wheat is the cereal of choice these days). I so crave a homemade meal. This easy and flavorful pasta dish met the criteria. I found this recipe online but tweaked it to our tastes, adding spinach and artichoke hearts. Of course, the sun-dried tomatoes provide so much flavor, due to the concentration of flavor during the drying process. This recipe uses the oil from tomatoes left in olive oil and has no cream, it thickens with milk and a little cornstarch. Both of these cut down the calorie ratio in this dish.  After sitting at my desk 12 hours a day we don't need a meal laden with calories!  I served it over pasta because that's how my Hubbers likes it. It could easily be served over vegetables for even less calories.




Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken

1 pound chicken fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
7-ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained (reserve liquid)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 can artichoke hearts (not marinated), sliced in half
4 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup fresh parmesan cheese

In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.  Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, shake off the excess and set the pieces aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the reserved sun-dried tomato oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot.  Cook the chicken until golden on each side, cooked through and no longer pink (about 12 minutes).  Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet; saute the garlic one minute.  Add the sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and mushrooms; cook until the mushrooms are softened.

Reduce heat to medium-low heat, add the milk and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the milk/cornstarch mixture to the center of the pan.  Continue to simmer while quickly stirring the mixture until the sauce thickens.

Add in the spinach and parmesan cheese, allow sauce to simmer until the cheese is melted and the spinach is wilted.  Add the chicken back in the pan and heat through. Serve over pasta or vegetables, if desired.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Texas Sheet Cake

My family has been making this chocolate cake ever since I can remember.  As I'm now 60, that's a while now! It's very popular in the southern states, which is where I trace my Okie roots to. I'm always amazed at how many people have never had or heard of this cake as various forms of the recipe have been around forever. It's a favorite of my officer manager, Anne, so I recently made it for her birthday.  At 8:30 in the morning she was already enjoying a piece!


It is a very easy chocolate cake, using ingredients commonly found in our pantries. It's a very moist cake and, because it's baked in a sheet pan, the cake can be cut in brownie-size pieces. It's a great cake to take to a gathering where you need to serve many people.  No one can resist! Our recipe calls for cinnamon, many of the recipes don't.  I like the addition of the spice, it adds a nice sweetness to the cake.


Rumor has it, the cake is called Texas Sheet Cake  because it makes a cake as big as the state of Texas!

Texas Sheet Cake

1/2 cup shortening
1 cube unsalted butter
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk

Frosting:

1 cube unsalted butter
6 tablespoons buttermilk
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 pound (4 cups) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, combine the shortening, butter, cocoa and water.  Bring to a boil and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, salt, soda and cinnamon in a mixing bowl.  Pour in hot liquid mixture and beat well.  Add the eggs, vanilla and buttermilk, beating well.

Pour into a greased (I use Pam baking spray) 11x17x1-inch baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, make the frosting. Pour frosting over the cake while the cake is still warm (this will help the frosting spread over the cake).   

To make the frosting, bring the butter, buttermilk and cocoa to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla, stirring out any lumps.  Add more powdered sugar, if necessary, to get a proper spreading consistency.

Chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans) may be added to either the cake batter, frosting, or both. I usually just sprinkle some over the top of the frosted cake.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Ham and Sausage Jambalaya

The Mardi Gras season ends Tuesday.  Ash Wednesday and the more solemn events of the Lenten season are about to begin. Mardi Gras isn't a big deal out in California, but I have many friends in the New Orleans area and they have been celebrating for a while now! Someday I hope to join them.  In the meantime, to keep in the spirit of this festive season, I made jambalaya.


Jambalaya is a Louisiana based dish, heavy on it's French and Spanish influences.  It's quite similar to a Paella.  It consists of meat and vegetables mixed with rice. Traditionally, the meat always includes sausage of some sort, often a smoked sausage such as andouille, along with some other meat or seafood, frequently pork, chicken, crawfish, or shrimp. The vegetables are usually a mixture known as the "holy trinity" in Creole and Cajun cooking, consisting of onion, celery, and green bell pepper, though other vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, chilis, and garlic are also used. After browning and sauteeing the meat and vegetables, rice, seasonings, and broth are added and the entire dish is cooked together until the rice is done. You can use any kind of sausage, but spicy andouille gives the jambalaya a nice kick of heat.  The jalapeno and Tabasco in this version adds even more heat, the Tabasco can easily be cut back to suit your taste buds.

This easily serves 6-8 people, so share with friends. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Ham and Sausage Jambalaya

1 pound andouille or other smoked sausage
1 pound smoked ham, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 white onion, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, finely chopped
Kosher salt
3 plum tomatoes, seeded, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
4 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 cups long-grain rice, rinsed
4 bay leaves
10 dashes hot sauce (preferably Tabasco)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves with tender stems, divided
Lemon wedges (for serving)

Cook sausage and ham in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 12 minutes; transfer to a plate.  Wipe out pot.

Melt butter in same pot over medium-high heat.  Cook onion, celery, green pepper, red pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring frequently, until onion is transparent, 10-12 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, garlic, jalepeno, tomato paste, and thyme; cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt, if necessary.

Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Stir in rice, bay leaves, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 15 minutes.  Uncover and stir in reserved sausage and ham. Cook until heated through, about 5 more minutes.

Add shrimp, scallions, and 1/4 cup parsley. Stir a few times to allow shrimp to begin cooking, then cover pot, turn off heat, and let jambalaya sit until shrimp are cooked through, 15-18 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl, then top with remaining 1/4 cup parsley.  Serve with lemon wedges alongside.

Source: Bon Appetit magazine

Monday, February 20, 2017

Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

We are saturated in California.  I think it's safe to say that our five-year drought is over!  When the weather is lousy outside I like to bake. The activity warms the house and creates wonderful scents. And what could be better than curling up on the couch, fireplace going, rain falling on the rooftop, with a plate of warm-from-the oven cookies? I think this is my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe.  The toasted pecans give the cookies a nice nutty flavor. I am not a fan of cinnamon in oatmeal cookies so don't add the spice, there is no loss in flavor by doing so.



Raisin Pecan Oatmeal CookiesMakes 30 to 35 cookies

1-1/2 cups pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1-1/2 cups raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix just until combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.

Note: For larger cookies, drop 3-inch mounds and bake for 20 minutes.

Note: For chewier cookies, allow them to cool on the pan.


Recipe source:  Ina Garten

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Orange Crescent Rolls

These little crescent-shaped rolls are a great morning coffee break treat.  They aren't as sweet and gooey as a cinnamon roll but pack a lot of orange flavor. The glaze is especially good; sour cream isn't a normal glaze ingredient but it adds a lot of richness to the glaze. One of my food board friends makes these every year for her family's Christmas brunch.  She got the recipe years ago from a neighbor.  They call it orange coffee cake, I'm not sure why as the rolls don't resemble any coffee cake I've ever had. Nonetheless, they are fabulous!


Whenever I make a yeast breakfast dough I always try to make the dough the night before.  I like my sleep and getting up 2-3 hours early to get dough rising isn't my idea of a fun time. Instead I make the dough the night before.  I do all the steps until the final rise, at that point I put the yeast dough in the refrigerator.  Even though the fridge is cool, the yeast dough will do a slow rise.  In the morning I take it out and let it come to room temp, usually a half hour to 45 minutes, and the dough continues to rise.  There is no compromise in the dough and it's definitely a time saver.

After the first rise, the dough is rolled out into a circle and spread with melted butter and a sugar-orange rind-coconut mixture.  The dough is cut into triangles and each one rolled into a crescent shape. They are very easy to do!



My two pans of orange rolls went to the office.  I took one in my car and my husband took the other. We both laughed at the fact that we each had two rolls missing by the time we got to the office.  The smell was too intoxicating and we couldn't resist eating a few on our trip! They disappear fast!

 Orange Crescent Rolls

I package yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 3/4 cups flour
1 cup coconut, toasted **
2 tablespoons grated orange rind


In large mixing bowl, combine yeast and warm water, until starting to soften and bubble, about 5 minutes.

Stir in 1/4 cup of the sugar, salt, eggs, sour cream, and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter.  At medium speed, gradually add flour to form a stiff dough, beating well. Cover and let rise in warm place until light and doubled, about 2 hours.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup toasted coconut, and orange rind.  

Knead dough on well-floured surface 15-20 times.  Roll out one-half the dough to a 12-inch circle.  Brush with 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle with one-half of the sugar mixture. Cut the circle into 12 wedges.  Roll up, starting with the wide end.  Place rolls, point side down, in a buttered 9x13-inch pan, forming 3 rows.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour). (Or refrigerate overnight and let come to room temperature).

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.  Leave rolls in pan and pour glaze over hot rolls.  Sprinkle with remaining coconut.

Glaze:

1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup butter

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil, over medium heat, for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

** To toast coconut, spread coconut evenly on a baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees, stirring frequently, until lightly golden.  Be careful, as it burns easily!





Sunday, February 12, 2017

Valentines' Tags

My Hubbers and I aren't big on Valentines Day celebrations.  We both are working long hours and with Valentines Day falling on a Tuesday we will be lucky if we get dinner together, much less anything romantic!  Ah, well!  I do like to remember our grandchildren, though.  This year I bought them ice cream bowls and filled them with candy, a jar of heart sprinkles, and a Baskin Robbins gift card.  Not a lot, but they will know that Nana and Papa thought of them!


My relaxation activity for the week has been making tags for their gift bags. I recently bought some new supplies so it was fun to mix 'n match and come up with ideas for the tags.  Of course, I could buy tags much cheaper than what I spent for supplies but this keeps me out of trouble (for the time being, that is!)






Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Winter Minestrone

During our crazy tax season, the hours are long and we're working 7 days a week.  What little lunch break we get is mostly spent answering phone calls and e-mails, addressing questions from our staff, and trying to catch up on projects. We usually eat at our desks. There are no long lunch breaks at our favorite downtown spots!  Consequently, I try to make dinner meals that will provide enough leftovers for lunch or another dinner. A big pot of soup works for both!

This soup is very thick and hearty, it's almost a stew.  It is full of chunky vegetables, beans, pasta, and spinach.  The broth's flavor is enhanced by browned pancetta.   The pesto and white wine added at the end adds a multitude of flavors. Serve it with some garlic bread and you have a filling and nutritious meal.


For fair disclosure I must admit my Hubbers isn't a fan of this soup.  He dislikes squash, (though he loves pumpkin pie). I keep trying to hide squash in his meals as it is so good for us. He ate it but his bowl was full of uneaten squash pieces. I took the leftover minestrone to work the next day and he went out to lunch. Don't let his picky ways deter you, this is a great soup!


Once all the veggies are diced, making the soup is easy!

I make pesto from my basil crop each summer and freeze in mini muffin pans. Pesto can also be found in the grocer's frozen food section.

Winter Minestrone

Good olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, 1/2-inch diced
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2 1/2 cups (1/2-inch) diced peeled butternut squash
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi
6 to 8 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons pesto
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Discard the bay leaf.  Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through.  The soup should be quite thick but if it's too thick, add more chicken stock.  Just before serving, add the spinach and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad).  Cook just until the leaves are wilted.  Stir in the white wine and pesto.  Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add salt to taste. Serve in large shallow bowls.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and drizzle with olive oil, if desired.

Recipe source: Ina Garten

Monday, February 6, 2017

Spicy Hermit Bars

I seem to be on a Barefoot Contessa kick lately, most of the new recipes I've tried are from her. She's, by far, my favorite cookbook author so I suppose it makes sense that I turn to her cookbooks when I want to try something new.  As she has a Food Network show, I get inspiration from watching her, too.  These bars come from her new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey.  When I first perused the book I saw the recipe but pretty much passed over it.  Then I saw her make them on one of her shows.  They looked so good! I had to wait a while to make them as I couldn't find crystallized ginger at any of my favorite grocery stores.  I ordered some online from Penzeys and made these the next day!


If you like gingerbread, you will like these bars.  They are spicier than a traditional gingerbread cookie.  They are very flavorful and the addition of the rum glaze adds even more flavor. The texture of them reminds me of a soft biscotti. I served them to my book club, took the leftovers to work ,and they were gone in a flash!

My only disappointment in the recipe is that my bars spread a lot more than the picture in her cookbook shows. The recipe calls for refrigerating the dough before forming them into bars.  The next time I bake them I will refrigerate them a second time, after the bars are formed.  I refrigerate my cut-out sugar cookies before baking and it helps them not to spread and lose their shape. That should work for these bars, too. 


Spicy Hermit Bars

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light or dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger (not in syrup)
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
Dark rum (I used Myers)
Grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the egg, scrape down the bowl, then mix in the molasses.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, mixing just until combined.  Mix in the raisins and crystallized ginger.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured board, form it into a disk with lightly floured hands, and cut it in half.  Roll each half into a log 12 inches long and place them 3 inches apart on the prepared sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes; the logs will still be soft in the center.

Meanwhile, whisk the confectioners' sugar with 5 to 6 teaspoons rum to make a pourable glaze.  While the logs are still warm, drizzle the glaze back and forth across the logs with a teaspoon and sprinkle them with lemon zest.

Allow to cool.  Cut each log crosswise into  1 1/2-inch wide bars.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sweetie Pie Quilt Sew-Along

Last year I joined an online sew-along and made a quilt.  Each week we got new instructions, along with videos and pictures, to help us along in the process.  It started mid-January and finished mid-June.  It was a nice, easy pace and, even though a big part of it was during tax season, I managed to finish my quilt top on time.  It actually ended up being a good de-stresser for me; something to concentrate on other than numbers.

Since then I've made two more quilts with not too many disasters. My quilting confidence fairly high, I signed up for the same instructor's sew-along for this year. We are making a Dresden block quilt, she calls the blocks in this quilt "pies".  Each one has an appliqued fruit center (i.e. cherry pie, apple pie, etc.) I bought all the fabric and supplies, cut everything out (which was a huge undertaking as there are 144 little pieces just for the Dresdens, not to mention all the other pieces of the quilt!) Week one began and the first week's tasks were monumental!  We had to sew each Dresden piece into its pointed shape, then sew 16 together to get our circle, and applique those onto a 17x17-inch piece of fabric. Multiply that work by 12 blocks! Yikes!  Not only that, but I discovered that the sew-along will finish mid-March. (Obviously the instructor doesn't know this is corporation tax deadline time!) Based on what remains to be done, I now know that each week's list of tasks will be a lot.  I know I won't be able to keep up while working 7 days a week!  At first I felt pressured that I would have to make it work.  After a few days I told myself that this isn't a race; the goal is to enjoy the process, learn new skills, and have a beautiful quilt in the end!  My quilt top probably won't be done in March but I'll keep working on it until it is done!

I have the first two Dresdens ("pies") completed.  The remaining 10 Dresdens are awaiting their appliqued centers.  I have started sewing the petals for the 20 flower blocks that will also be in the quilt. So far, I am keeping up but I know that will change soon!

2 out of 12 blocks done!  The apples are for another quilt which is on the back burner for now!

All the quilt pieces are cut and waiting!

Chain-piecing 144 Dresden/pie pieces.


Getting the placement the way I want it before sewing the 16 pieces to make a circle.

Each fruit appliqued center also has some embroidery work in it.

Hopefully, my finished quilt will look like this!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Banana Nut Bread

My Hubbers and I are big banana eaters; there are always some in the house.  Though we eat a lot of them, inevitably we will have some that get too ripe to eat.  Like most bakers, when that happens, I usually make a loaf of banana nut bread.  It's easy, everyone enjoys it, and a loaf is easy to freeze for later use. My go-to recipe comes from an old Betty Crocker cookbook.  It's got both butter and buttermilk so it's very rich and moist. Nuts are optional, but we like them in our banana bread.  We have clients who gift us some of their walnut crop each year so I always have Ziploc bags of walnuts in my freezer. Pecans are good, also.


Buttermilk and I have a love-hate relationship in my kitchen.  I will buy some for a baked good recipe then won't plan properly for other baked goods and it languishes in my refrigerator until I throw it out.  Or I will want to bake something that has buttermilk in it and, alas, there is none in my fridge!  But, there is a cure for that!  It is very easy to make buttermilk at home.  Combine milk and some vinegar, let it sit for 10 minutes or so, and you get a buttermilk substitute.  It is not as thick as regular buttermilk but it's good enough for baking.  Whenever you see buttermilk in a recipe, it's there to act as the acid in the recipe.  When the acid in the buttermilk interacts with the baking soda it leavens the batter, allowing it to rise without yeast, and making the baked goods light and fluffy. So use this buttermilk substitute, no one will know, it's our secret!


Buttermilk Substitute

Combine 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar.  Let sit for 10 minutes, so the milk has the chance to thicken and curdle.


Banana Nut Bread

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (3 to 4 medium)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts, if desired

Move oven rack to low position so that the top of the pan will be in the center of the oven.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease bottom of 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Mix sugar and butter in a large bowl.  Stir in eggs until well blended.  Add bananas, buttermilk and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Stir in flour, baking soda and salt just until moistened.  Stir in nuts. Pour into pan.

Bake about 75 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes.  Loosen sides of loaf from pan; remove from pan and place top side up on a wire rack.  Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing.



Buttermilk

Combine 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar.  Let sit for 10 minutes, so the milk has the chance to thicken and curdle.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Croissant Bread Pudding

I enjoy bread pudding, my Hubbers hates it.  Consequently, I only get it when we eat out or if I happen to be at my Mom's when she has made one. Recently, one of my food board friends, Martha, made Ina Garten's croissant bread pudding and raved and raved about it.  I knew I had to try it but it had to be a time when I wasn't the only one around to eat it!  As it was my turn to host our neighborhood book club, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try the recipe.  My neighborhood ladies are always indulgent of me making them my culinary guinea pigs and they give me good feedback on my experimentations.  We all loved it, there wasn't a crumb left in our bowls! 


This bread pudding is a little different than most.  Traditionally, bread puddings are made with leftover bread, oftentimes resulting in a dense bread pudding.  Croissants are a little more delicate and lighter.  Instead of being totally absorbed in the croissants, the custard formed a layer on the bottom of the dish.  Ooh, la, la, I loved that! Many bread puddings are seasoned with cinnamon, this had no seasonings, other than vanilla.

 
I topped our servings with a dollop of rum whipped cream, though any flavor liqueur would be good.  I may try it with Grand Marnier next time. There will be a next time whether my Hubbers wants some or not!
 
 Croissant Bread Pudding
 
3 extra-large whole eggs
8 extra-large egg yolks
5 cups half-and-half
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 croissants, preferably stale
1 cup raisins
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, yolks, half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla. Set the custard mixture aside. Slice the croissants in half, horizontally. In a 10 x 15 x 2 1/2-inch oval baking dish, distribute the bottoms of the sliced croissants, then add the raisins, then the tops of the croissants (brown side up), being sure the raisins are between the layers of croissants or they will burn while baking. Pour the custard over the croissants and allow to soak for 10 minutes, pressing down gently.

Place the pan in a larger one filled with an inch of hot water. Cover the larger pan with aluminum foil, tenting the foil so it doesn’t touch the pudding. Cut a few holes in the foil to allow steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for 40 to 45 more minutes or until the pudding puffs up and the custard is set. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

Dust with confectioners sugar and serve with rum whipped cream, if desired.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Red Velvet Cheesecake

I previously shared how my Hubbers and I ate at the Cheesecake Factory before Christmas.  He enjoyed a piece of lemon meringue cheesecake which I replicated for our Christmas dinner (recipe here).  While at the restaurant we perused their glass display case of cheesecakes.  I think a person could gain weight just peeking inside!  One of the cheesecakes that caught my interest was a red velvet cheesecake.  It's two layers of red velvet cake with a layer of cheesecake in between.  It's topped with cream cheese frosting and we all know that's a good thing!  My step-daughter loves red velvet cake so I added this to my Christmas dessert menu. It was enjoyed by all.  The colors of the cake lend itself not only to Christmas, but to Valentines Day as well. Oh, what the heck, the red works for the 4th of July, too! This cake/cheesecake combination is decadent and good anytime, but it would be the perfect dessert for an upcoming Valentines gathering.  The cake is huge so make sure to invite plenty of friends, it's a little too much dessert for a romantic dinner for two!


Though red velvet cakes have chocolate in them I would hesitate to call this a chocolate cake.  The chocolate flavor is very subtle.  As with all baked goods, the addition of buttermilk in the batter makes for a very moist cake.  And, yes, 2 bottles of food coloring is used in the cake, it is a very deep red! Red velvet cakes weren't real popular until the movie Steel Magnolias.  If you recall, the groom's cake, in the shape of an armadillo, was a red velvet cake.  Since then, the proliferation of cupcake shops has made this a very popular cake. Adding a layer of cheesecake to it just takes it over the top!


Don't let the length of the recipe intimidate you, each of the steps are easy to do. It does take some time, it is definitely a labor of love to make this, but your guests will appreciate it! The cheesecake layer can be made the day before. The cake is made in one bowl. The finished cake should be refrigerated so can easily be assembled the day before you need it. As with most baked goods, room temperature ingredients are always best.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

Cheesecake:

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Red Velvet Cake:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup (two 1-ounce bottles) red food coloring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons white vinegar

Cream Cheese Frosting:

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted lightly to remove any lumps
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

To prepare the cheesecake layer:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place a large roasting pan on the lower third rack of the oven. Place a kettle of water on the stove to boil. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.  Wrap a double layer of foil around the  bottom and up the sides of the pan.

In a large bowl, and using an electric mixer, blend the cream cheese until it is nice and creamy. Mix in sugar and salt and blend for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add eggs, one at a time, blending after each addition. Mix in sour cream, whipping cream, and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.  Pour into the prepared pan.

Set the springform pan into the roasting pan.  Carefully pour the boiling water into the roasting pan.  Pour in enough water so that about an inch of the foil is under water, being careful not to get water on the cheesecake batter. Bake for 45 minutes.  It should be set to the touch and not jiggly. Remove the cheesecake from the roasting pan and let it cool on a wire rack for at least an hour. When it has cooled, cover the pan tightly with foil and place the pan in the freezer.  Let the cheesecake freeze completely, preferably overnight.

To prepare the cake layers:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round metal baking pans (or spray with baking spray).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar to the flour mixture.  Using an electric mixer, at medium-low speed, beat for 1 minute, until blended.  Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes.  Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pans, dividing equally.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pans, then invert cakes onto a rack to cool completely.

To prepare the frosting:

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat all frosting ingredients until it is smooth and creamy.

To assemble the cake:

Place one cake layer onto the center of a cake plate or platter.  Remove the cheesecake from the freezer, take off the sides of the springform pan, and slide a knife under the parchment paper to remove the cheesecake from the pan. Peel off the parchment. Measure (by eye) the cheesecake layer against the cake layers.  If the cheesecake layer turns out to be slightly larger than the cake layers, move it to a cutting board and gently shave off some of the exterior of the cheesecake so it will be the same size as the cake layers. Place the cheesecake layer on top of the first cake layer. Place the second cake layer on top of the cheesecake.

To frost the cake:

First apply a "crumb coat" layer of frosting to the cake.  This is done by using a long, thin spatula to cover the cake layers completely with a thin and even layer of frosting. (Be sure to wipe off your spatula each time you are about to dip it into the frosting so you aren't transferring red cake crumbs to the frosting!) Don't worry about seeing the cake through this layer; this layer is meant to be the base for the final layer of frosting. Once a thin layer of frosting has been applied, place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set the frosting. Once the first layer of frosting is set, apply the second layer. Start by adding a large scoop of frosting on the top of the cake.  Using a long, thin spatula, spread the frosting evenly across the top of the cake and down the sides. Because a crumb coat layer was used there should be no cake crumbs floating around in the final frosting layer. Decorate, as desired. **

**  I didn't do any additional decorating.  You can top with shaved white chocolate, sprinkles, or candy.

Recipe adapted from Food, Folks and Fun.



Thursday, January 19, 2017

Winter Birds Table Setting

We recently hosted three couples for dinner. The plans were made on rather short notice so I didn't have a lot of time to think about how I would set the table. For me, part of the fun in entertaining is creating a nice table ambiance. For this occasion I pretty much had to run with what I have in my cabinets. Currently on our dining table is a winter bird table runner that I got from Pottery Barn a few years ago.  It has a lot of browns in it, with little pops of blue and burnt orange. I grabbed some blue Fiestaware plates, which went well with the blue in the table runner, and placed them on white chargers.  The flower mart had burnt orange Gerbera daisies, which really brought out the orange in one of the birds on the runner.  I threw them in some blue mason jars which tied the two colors together even more. A few candles on the table, in clear glass jars filled with bird seed, further enhanced the bird theme. I didn't go too crazy with the decorating as I was serving the food at the table, rather than buffet style. There's no room for food if there's too much stuff on the table! Every thing was a mix 'n match, but it made a nice and informal table setting.







By using items I already had, I didn't blow my budget on new things.  That doesn't mean I was a Saint, however.  I was browsing online, looking for bird salad plates.  Pier 1, which is quickly becoming my favorite store, had these plates showcased on their "new items" category.  They were perfect for my table setting plan so I drove across town to get some. My store didn't have them in stock yet so back home I went without spending a dime! I haven't been back out to see if they have arrived in the store, I'm trying very hard to resist the temptation!



I'm linking up with Tablesetting Thursday.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Biscuits

I'm not a big breakfast eater.  I have to be awake a bit before food even begins to sound good.  By the time I'm fully awake it's time to go to work, so I usually have a bowl of oatmeal or a few slices of toast before heading out the door.  However, breakfasts on the weekends are a different story! I like to make things such as cinnamon rolls, breakfast casseroles, or waffles and eat around mid-morning. Eating late means I get out of having to worry about what's for lunch, too!  I often have ulterior motives!

My Hubbers' favorite breakfast is sausage gravy and biscuits served with scrambled eggs. A real stick-to-your-ribs meal and one he especially enjoys during the winter months. When we are traveling in the RV I usually buy frozen biscuits, but at home I always make my own. In talking to people I'm always amazed at how many people have never made biscuits, they think they are too hard to make.  They are so easy to make and taste so much better than the Pillsbury biscuits in a can!


This is my favorite biscuit recipe.  They are a little unusual in that they have sugar and cream of tartar in them.  The sugar gives the biscuits a little sweetness.  I find some biscuits to be rather bland and I like the addition of sugar in these.  The cream of tartar helps with the rising, the goal being a nice fluffy biscuit. For best results, the butter needs to be cold.  You want to see small pieces of butter in the dough.  When putting the biscuits on the baking sheet make sure the biscuits are touching each other.  Not only does this help them rise, it also means that the sides are soft and flaky like the insides.

I had a cart that needed assembly.  Making my Hubber's favorite breakfast means I now have a workable cart on my timetable!

Biscuits may sound boring but, seriously, is there anything better than a hot buttered biscuit with jam?

Biscuits

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup ( 1 1/2 sticks) cold butter
1 egg
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter in until you have small, pea-sized pieces of butter throughout the mixture.

Add in the egg and milk and mix until the ingredients are just combined.  The dough will be sticky but don't over-work it.

Turn the dough out onto a generously-floured surface.  Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough so it won't stick to your fingers and knead 12-15 times. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky to work with.

Roll or pat the dough to a 1-inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter or glass.  Re-roll scraps.  You should get about a dozen biscuits. Place the biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.