Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Love Cherries

And the end of cherry season is fast approaching.  We've been buying cherries and they have been wonderful to eat, but I thought I better bake with them at least once, before the season is gone.

I love perusing through the food blogs and sites available and I always stumble upon things that interest me.  This recipe for a dark cherry Bundt cake comes from a blog called desertculinary.blogspot.com.  These guys have been doing this for a while now and I see many recipes on their blog that I would like to try.  But I was on a mission to make something with cherries, so I picked this recipe for today.

I love the taste of cherry with the almond extract and lemon zest. They taste great together and, as suspected, the yogurt gave this cake a nice slight tang. Maybe a cherry or chocolate sauce would be a nice accompaniment. 

Next time, I think I will add some dark chocolate chips or chunks of bittersweet chocolate in with the cherry filling.  I love chocolate and cherry together.  I would have done it this time, but didn't have the bittersweet chocolate.  There is always next time.

I didn't have Kirsch and didn't want to spend the money to buy a bottle (it ain't cheap!), so I opted for a equal parts cherry juice and vodka. Hmmm!  I also used substituted All Purpose flour for the whole wheat in this case, only because I was out of whole-wheat flour.


For the filling

1/4 cup granulated sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch 
3 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped 
2 tablespoons kirsch 
1 teaspoon fresh grated lemon zest 
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

To prepare the filling
In a medium saucepan, stir together sugar and cornstarch. Add cherries, kirsch and zest. Place over medium-high heat and cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens and has reduced to about 1 cup, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in almond extract and set aside.

For the cake

Preheat oven to 350

1 2/3 cups cake flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (can use all-purpose flour)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons butter, slightly softened
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/4 cups vanilla yogurt, divided
2 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract

To prepare the cake

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, beat together sugar, butter and oil until light and fluffy. Add half the yogurt - mix until very smooth. Add half of the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Mix in the remaining yogurt, eggs, vanilla and almond extract until combined - be sure to scrape the sides down once or twice as needed. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients just until combined.

Scoop just over half of the mixture into a 10" bundt pan coated with nonstick spray.
Spoon the cherry mixture over the batter. Top with the remaining batter. Use a thin knife to gently swirl the batter and cherries together.

Place in the over and bake until a skewer placed into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 50 to 65 minutes. Remove and let rest on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning it out to cool completely.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fig and Blue Cheese Tart with Prosciutto

Our neighbors, Larry and Jerry, have a Mission Fig tree that borders our yard. 
Each year we benefit from the close proximity of the tree to our wall.  This tree seems to always produce a bumper-crop of beautiful sweet little jewels which dangle to just within reach.  
We have a fig tree as well, but it is a Calmyra fig. This year, we also have an abundance of fruit, but the summer heat is quickly turning them to spongy, tough little fruit. Calmyra figs are typically used to make dried figs rather than for baking and our recent extreme summer temperatures of 115F to 118F are quickly allowing Mother Nature to take the liberty of drying these figs for us. 
The Mission fig, which is purple, and the Calmyra fig, which is green are very different in flavor and texture.  In my opinion, the Calmyra has a much more subtle flavor.
The other morning, when Larry was picking figs for jam, he kindly offered to let me climb the tree to reach some of the higher ripe fruit.  I took him up on his offer, and have decided to experiment cooking with figs; something that I haven't really done before other than to slice and place on an appetizer cheese plate.
I can only think of one other appetizer that I've made for the holidays, which I will probably share closer to "the season" which consists of dried mission figs that are made with a Port reduction. This is a very good recipe, but today it's a Mission Fig tart baked with Blue Cheese and Prosciutto. Given the availability and ease of getting Mission Figs right now, I hope to experiment more cooking and baking with them.
I don't really know how to categorize this recipe. It seems to fall between an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert.  I think it could be served as any of these, but it certainly lends itself well to a main course with a salad and a nice glass of Pinot Gris for a lighter summer meal.  The Prosciutto really adds a nice flavor that compliments the sweetness of the figs and the pungent blue cheese.  I originally thought the addition of the Prosciutto with the blue cheese would make this a bit salty, but it doesn't and compliments this robust tart quite nicely.

1 Package (about 10 oz) prepared puff pastry, thawed
4 oz blue cheese, such as Maytag, at room temperature
1 Tbl, Half and Half or Milk
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
8 to 10 figs, stemmed and cut lengthwise
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, julienned

To Bake

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface into a 10-1/2 in diameter circle, about 1/4- inch thick.  

Carefully place the pastry into to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Pat into the pan, then trim the pastry even with the rim.

Combine the softened blue cheese, half and half, and pepper in a bowl.  Mash with a fork to smooth. Spread evenly in the pastry. Arrange the figs over the cheese, alternating cut-side up and cut-side down.  Sprinkle with thyme and olive oil.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and puffed and the figs are plumped and glistening.

Transfer to a rack and let stand for 10-15 minutes.

Serve warm and garnished with prosciutto.

Monday, July 12, 2010

These Shortcakes Are Just Peachy

I couldn't help but follow the wonderful smell of the peaches as I strolled past the VillageFest fruit stand. The air was heavy with their, well, sweet peachiness. There were other fruits available, but this week those peaches were calling my name.
My first thought was to make a peach cobbler, but I remembered a recipe I had from years past for blueberry shortcakes. The original recipe came from the August September 1998 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine. That dessert was really good but instead of blueberries, I decided to make the shortcakes and make use of these beautiful, fragrant peaches.

The shortcakes are easy to make and always come out perfect. However, since I was using peaches, I made one slight modification to the shortcake recipe; crystalized ginger. You don't need it, but I had a package of it for some recipe which I can't remember right now. Since I think ginger and peaches are great together, this addition was just going to make those peach shortcakes even better.

Topped with some fresh whipped cream, this, to me, is a perfect summer dessert. I tweaked the whipped cream too, and used honey to sweeten it instead of sugar. It adds a complexity and depth of flavor to the whipped cream that sugar doesn't provide.

These shortcakes are perfect right out of the oven, but if you can't use immediately, store in a airtight container and heat them before serving.

For the biscuits

8-1/2 oz (2 cups) sifted all-purpose flour
1 Tbs., baking powder, sifted
3/4 tsp., salt
3 Tbs., sugar; additional for glaze ( I use Demerara for the glaze)
1 Tbs., grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp., fresh (or ground) nutmeg
2 oz ( 4 Tbs) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup buttermilk; more for glaze
1/4 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger (optional)

For the peaches

6 ripe peaches cut into eighths
1/4 sugar (or to taste depending on the peaches)
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of ground cardamom (optional)
pinch of star anise (optional)

For the whipped cream

1/2 pint (1 cup) heavy whipping cream
2 Tbs., honey or sugar to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract (or to taste)

To make the biscuits

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F.
LIne a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. (Grease lightly with shortening or cooking spray if using parchment).

In a large bowl, mix together, sifted flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, lemon zest, nutmeg, and ginger (if using).

With a pastry blender, or finger tips, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Gently stir in the butter milk until the dough just holds together with no large dry lumps. You don't want the butter to melt into the mixture.

Spoon the biscuit dough onto the prepared sheet pan in six equal mounds.

Brush the tops with additional buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until the tops begin to brown and bottoms are golden. About 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest for one minute then transfer to wire cooling rack. Cut with a serrated knife when ready to serve.

For the peaches

Cut the peaches in half, removing the stone. Cut each half into for sections
Toss with sugar (to taste)
Toss with 1 Tsp. vanilla extract

Cut the biscuits in half with a serrated knife and mound peaches on the bottom half of the biscuit.

Place the top portion of biscuit on the peaches and top with whipped cream.
You may also want to top the peaches with whipped cream before topping the biscuit, then adding additional whipped cream.

Enjoy the flavor of summer.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb and Ricotta Crostata

Whether you call it a Galette (French) or a Crostata (Italian), the flavors of summer come bursting out of this delicious and rustic free-form tart.
The combination of Strawberry and Rhubarb is classic whether in a pie, tart, or a compote to spoon over ice cream. The addition of ricotta for the base in the tart gives it an Italian twist (so I guess it really should be Crostata!)
I couldn't pass up the nice firm stalks of ruby-red rhubarb and the strawberries I picked up just as the Thursday night VillageFest farmer's market opened. They were nice uniformed size (not the gigantic flavorless kind you sometimes see in regular markets), and bursting with flavor. I made this tart twice in one week. Once for myself and one we made as part of a hands-on dinner party for 12. (The other was a nectarine-blackberry crostata with cornmeal crust which is also absolutely delicious. I'll have to post that one too).
Twelve guys in the kitchen with knives and wine, it could have gotten ugly, but it all worked out great. I headed up the Dessert team, of course! I have to say it was a bit of a challenge trying to make pastry in a very hot kitchen as the temperature outside was about 105 that day. Yes summer has officially started here in Palm Springs.
The dough is really nice and easy to work with, due in part to the sour cream. You can also use this dough to make savory tarts, just omit the sugar when making the pastry dough. This dough also doubles or even triples nicely, so make more and freeze some if you are going to take advantage of more wonderful summer fruits.

Strawberry-Rhubarb & Ricotta Crostata
Pastry Dough
1 cup – all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon – sugar
¼ teaspoon, baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons – Cold, unsalted, butter, cut into ½ inch pieces
3 Tablespoons – Sour cream
ice water (if needed)
In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, and pulse until mixed.
Add the butter, once piece at a time, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Chill the work bowl for 15 minutes.
Replace the work bowl and add the sour cream, pulsing just until the dough comes together. (Depending on the weather and humidity, you may need to add ice water ( I sure did with dry, hot temps) a tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together)
Gather the dough, press gently to create a circle, and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the Filling
Try using a high-quality fresh ricotta if possible and drain the ricotta overnight by placing in a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
2 cups – Rhubarb sliced in ¼ inch pieces
2 cups – Strawberries, sliced in quarters, roughly and not perfect.
½ cup – sugar
1 cup – Ricotta, drained
1 teaspoon quality vanilla extract
40-50 scrapes of whole nutmeg, or a generous pinch of ground.
2 Tablespoons – flour
1 Tablespoon – unsalted butter
1 egg (for an egg wash)
Demerara or other raw sugar
To Prepare
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the rhubarb and toss with ¼ cup of the sugar.
Slice the strawberries and add them to the rhubarb with the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, tossing well to cover.
In a separate mixing bowl, mix the vanilla, ricotta, and nutmeg until well incorporated. ( I added a teaspoon or so of sugar to taste, to the mixture as well)
On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled pastry dough to a 14 inch round. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet, and sprinkle the flour on top of the dough, leaving a two-inch border for the crust.
Add the ricotta cheese, in small rounds, then spreading evenly over the floured dough surface.
Take handfuls of the strawberry-rhubarb mixture, leaving the remaining juices in the bowl. Using the juice will make the crust soggy, not crisp.
Fold over the remaining edge of the dough to form a crust, pressing gently to insure the crostata crust stays closed. Dot the surface of the crostata with the remaining tablespoon of butter.
Brush the egg wash over the crust and sprinkle with the sugar. (this will add nice color and crunch and additional sweetness to the tart.
Bake the crostata for approximately 40 minutes. Cover the crostata with foil halfway through the baking process if it appears is browning too quickly.
Remove from oven and cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing. The crostata should be golden brown with a crispy crust.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

When Life (or friends) Gives You Lemons

Make Lemon Polenta Pound Cake with Lemon Curd.
This time of year, everybody is looking to get rid of their citrus. (See the Resources In The Valley page if you need to rid yourself of some)
Our friend Charlie recently brought us some lemons from his tree. Lemons are one of my all-time favorite ingredients for desserts and savory cooking. We have just one little Meyer lemon tree in a pot which was, again, prolific with blossoms this year, but only time will tell if it produces lemons. To my disappointment, last year, it produced none.
Usually I prefer to bake and prepare desserts with Meyer, and cook with Eureka or Lisbon, but since Charlie brought us Eureka's and I needed lemon zest, I used them with some delicious results. Meyer Lemons, in comparison to Eureka and Lisbon, are very thin skinned, are juicier, and sweeter and less acidic. Sometimes, you would swear they are oranges because of their color. Eureka and Lisbon are much more tart and their zest can't be beat when you need essence of lemon. Use a micro-plane to get the wonderful, aromatic lemon zest with all the fresh oil and none of the bitter white rind.
With these lemons, I decided to make an old favorite pound cake recipe; Lemon Polenta Pound Cake with Lemon Curd.
This is a dense, flavorful poundcake, with the surprising crunchy mouth-feel thanks to the Polenta. Paired with the silky sweet-tart lemon curd, it is lemon heaven. The poundcake isn't too sweet, which is a good thing, because the lemon curd packs a sweet-tart wallup.

3 Eggs, separated
1/2 cup Yellow Cornmeal
1 cup All-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons Evaporated Milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spray the ends of a medium-size loaf pan with nonstick spray, then line the sides and bottom with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
Combine the cornmeal, flour, salt and baking soda; Stir to blend. Set aside.
Cream the butter with the lemon zest and sugar until light and fluffy. Then add the egg yolks one at a time and mix well.
Add the lemon juice and milk alternately with the dry ingredients and mix until just until moistened.
Carefully fold in the egg whites.
Spoon into prepared pan.
Bake 1 to 1-1/4 hours or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Let cool 15 minutes in the pan, then invert on a cooling rack, remove parchment paper and cool completely.
Serves 12
Lemon Curd
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan whisk together lemon juice, zest, sugar and eggs.
cook over medium-low heat whisking vigorously and continuously until the curd is thick enough to hold a ripple mark when the whisk is lifted from the curd and the first bubbles appear on the surface (this should take about 6-7 minutes)
Transfer to a bowl and stir in butter until melted and glossy. Cover the curd using plastic wrap spread directly over the surface of curd to prevent a skin from forming.
Chill for a minimum of 2 hours before using or refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Makes approx. 1-1/2 cups

Monday, April 5, 2010

..and now Grapefuit Clafoutis!

If you live anywhere in the Coachella Valley, there is no mistaking that it is citrus season. The fragrance of the citrus blossoms heavy in the air and the buzz of the bees busily pollinating each blossom reminds us that spring is definitely here.

We are also reminded of the season by the amount of citrus that we have hanging on the trees. In our case, we've stripped the orange trees in January and February, but we still have many grapefruits.

Certainly we can juice them, but I just received this month's Vegetarian Times magazine, which uses the juicy, sweet Ruby Red Grapefruit as an ingredient for a dessert for which I wouldn't have otherwise considered using Grapefruit. Clafoutis!

Clafoutis (pronounced -klä-fū-tē') is traditional French dessert made with a layer of fresh cherries or other fruit topped with a thick custard batter. It is then baked, dusted with powdered sugar, and typically served lukewarm or at room temperature. I was first introduced to this dessert years ago during trip to Paris. Every patisserie and metro station seemed to have them in the case. I may have had one or two pieces during that visit. Thankfully we walked a lot in that magnificent city.

I have made Clafoutis before with Blackberries, Apricots and, the traditional, Cherry. This was the first dessert I made to impress Colin when we first starting dating. It is now one of his favorite desserts as well, and I usually make it for him on his birthday. I guess he liked it enough to stick around. My favorite is made with Bing Cherries when they are in season. But Grapefruit Clafoutis? Can you do that? I'm sure the hard-core "Clafoutisists" would not be amused. Will I have a new favorite? Let's find out.

By the way, if you have citrus you are not going to use, consider donating it to the local shelters or organizations around town. They will be happy to take it off your hands and it won't go to waste. An easy way to give to the community. Hidden Harvest heads a great collection effort with lots of drop off location options. Check them out at:


New Favorite, or not?

Although I was skeptical, I was pleased with the tangy-sweet intensity of the Grapefruit against the sweet and more subtle egg custard. It made for a delicious contrast. The slight crunch of the sugary topping rounded out the flavor. The custard in this recipe is a bit more dense than the other clafoutis' I've made, but was just as pleasing to the palate. In my opinion, definitely add the vanilla extract, (or maybe experiment with vanilla bean.)

The grapefruits were a little on the small side, but very juicy, which made for some difficulty in getting nice segments.But perseverance paid off.

Will it replace my favorite cherry clafoutis recipe? No, I don't think so. But I will be adding this recipe to my "make again" file to make delicious use of those wonderfully sweet grapefruits hanging in my yard that I sometimes take for granted.

Start picking and using those Grapefruits and let me know your thoughts.


Grapefruit Clafoutis


3 large eggs, lightly beaten

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 cup low-fat milk

3 Tablespoons non-hydrogenated margarine or unsalted butter, melted

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 rub red grapefruit, or 1 ruby red grapefruit and 1 orange

1 Tablespoon Turbinado sugar


Beat eggs in a large bowl with a wire whisk. Whisk in sugar, then flour. Whisk in milk, margarine, lemon zest, and salt. ( I added a ½ tsp of vanilla extract as well, not in original recipe) Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature

Cut ends off grapefruit, and stand on cutting board. Remove peel and pith around sides of grapefruit with serrated knife so pulp is visible.

Take peeled grapefruit in one hand, and slice pulp segments away from fruit membranes with the other hand. Repeat with remaining grapefruit.

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat 10 inch oven-proof skillet or cake pan with cooking spray.

Arrange grapefruit sections in bottom of prepared pan, and pour batter over top. (Batter will not completely cover fruit).

Bake 30 minutes, then sprinkle Turbinado sugar over top of clafoutis. Bake additional 5 minutes or until clafoutis is set and top is lightly browned.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back To My Roots

One of my favorite childhood memories was when my parents would take my brothers and I to the Farmer's Market on the North Side of Pittsburgh. Looking back, unfortunately, I think we would go all too infrequently.

I especially remember when we would go in the Fall and I have vivid memories of screaming bloody murder as the train conductor blew the horn and waved hello as he passed along the tracks which paralleled the lot where the market was held.

At the risk of sounding cliché', I loved the earthy smell of the vegetables and the herbs. (I've always said, I never met a root vegetable I didn't like). I enjoyed the warmth that radiated from the roasted nut and popcorn stands. I loved the crisp fall evenings, the taste of apple cider, and the fresh, true flavors of the vegetable samples that you just can't find outside of a farmer's market today. Even the white-noise hum of the generators was oddly comforting.

These memories, to this day, come racing back every time I smell Dill. For this reason, I love Dill, and why I love to make this earthy, comforting and healthy dish chock-full of root vegetables. Typically, I make this stew during the fall and winter months, but thought it seemed appropriate as my first recipe post for this blog. With most of the ingredients readily available now at my local Farmer's Market, I think back to those earlier days and I guess this is my attempt to recreate the North Side Farmer's Market, in a bowl.

I first found this recipe many years ago in a Wednesday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. But it was a re-post from Moosehead Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites by the Moosewood Collective (1996).

I hope you enjoy!


Ukrainian Beet and Bean Stew
Serves 6 -8


1 teaspoon Vegetable oil

1/2 onion, sliced (about 2 cups)

1 stem chopped celery (1/2 cups) - I like to add the green leafy tops as well.

3 cups water

1/2 cabbage, sliced ( 3 cups)

1 to 2 medium carrots, sliced (1 cup)

3 cups cubed potatoes ( I don't even peel them)

4 cups peeled and cubed raw beets (5 or 6 medium beets)

1 - 28 oz can, whole tomatoes, un-drained (organic)

2 teaspoons, Caraway seeds

2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt
1 - 15 oz can cooked kidney beans ( organic)

1 tablespoon dried dill (or 1/4 cup fresh)

Ground black pepper to taste

Chopped scallions to top

Low-fat or non-fat yogurt ( exclude if you are Vegetarian)


In a 5-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid, add oil and heat over a medium flame.

Add the onion slices and celery, and saute' on medium heat, stirring continuously for 4 or 5 minutes, until browned.

Add 1 cup of the water, cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the cabbage and carrots, stir well, and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.

Add the remaining 2 cups of water, the potatoes, beets, tomatoes, caraway seeds, vinegar and salt; bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 35 minutes, or until beets are tender.

Add the kidney beans and dill.

When the stew is hot, add fresh ground pepper to taste.

Serve with chopped scallions and yogurt.