Watermelon Dinner Salad

The other day I came across a recipe for a watermelon, tomato and red onion salad which was the inspiration for my Watermelon Dinner Salad.  The flavors of watermelon and tomato blend surprising well and the cranberries add a little tang. This is a refreshing dish for summer and can be served as a light meal or as a first course.

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Watermelon Dinner Salad

serves 6

For the Dressing:

1/3 c. Raspberry-infused White Balsamic Vinegar (or any similar fruity vinegar)

3 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 T. honey

1/2 t. salt

For the Salad:

5 c. seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes

4 c. sliced ripe tomatoes

1 1/4 c. sliced, peeled cucumbers

8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into slices then torn into small pieces

1 – 1/2  heads romaine lettuce

Garnishes:

1/4 c. fresh basil leaves

1/3 c. dried cranberries

freshly ground pepper (I use a green and pink peppercorn blend)

honey

Directions:

1. Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar. Screw the lid on and shake until ingredients are well-blended.

2. In a large bowl, gently toss together the watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, mozzarella and dressing. Chill for about 1 hour before serving.

3. Just before serving, wash and dry lettuce and basil.  Divide lettuce between plates. Top with salad.  Garnish with basil leaves, dried cranberries and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with a little extra honey. Enjoy!

Travel Theme: Sweet

Thank you to Where’s My Backpack for this week’s Sweet challenge!. This challenge is just to my taste. Enjoy!

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Fiesta Cookies*

Makes about 36 medium size cookies.

Soft, piped cookies lightly flavored with chocolate and spices, decorated with icing and nonpareils.

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/4 t. ground nutmeg

1/8 t. salt

1/2 c. unsalted butter

3/4 c. + 2 T. confectioner’s sugar

1 lg. egg

1 t. almond or vanilla extract

1 1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted

Icing of your choice

Nonpareils

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together butter and confectioner’s sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and extract. On lowest mixer speed, beat in dry ingredients and then chocolate.
  4. Using a heavy duty pastry bag fitted with a star tip, pipe cookie dough onto baking sheets, spacing cookies 1 1/2” apart. Cookies will not rise, spread or change shape while they bake.
  5. Bake for about 5 to 7 minutes or until set. Place baking sheets on wire racks and allow cookies to cool before decorating.
  6. Once cookies have cooled, decorate with icing and nonpareils.

Suggested shapes for piping: thick bars, stars, hearts, and wreaths.

 * Recipe from my cookbook, Confectionately Yours: A Collection of Cookies, Candies & Yummy Confections.

Plum & Blueberry Crumbles

I bought some amazing plums at Eastside Market over the weekend and so decided to make Plum & Blueberry Crumbles for breakfast yesterday. Yum!Plums

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Plum & Blueberry Crumbles

makes 4 servings

3 T. + 2 t. unsalted butter, divided

2 lg. ripe black plums, halved and pitted

1/2 c. blueberries

1/4 c. quick cooking rolled oats

1/4 c. all-purpose flour or gluten-free all-purpose flour

3 T. coarsely chopped hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts or pecans

2 1/2 T. light brown sugar

3/4 t. Vietnamese cinnamon

1/4 t. ground aniseed

1/4 t. ground allspice

1/4 t. ground ginger

1/8 t. ground cardamom

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using 1 T. of the butter, grease 4 four-inch glass tartlet pans.

2. Cut each plum half into 6 slices. Arrange slices in bottom of pans. Sprinkle blueberries over plums.

3. In a small food processor, pulse together remaining ingredients until crumbly and sticking together. Sprinkle crumb mixture over fruit.

4. Place tartlet pans on baking tray. Bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Serve warm.

Enjoy!

Fresh Peach Frozen Yogurt

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Fresh Peach Frozen Yogurt

2 c. whole milk Greek yogurt

1 c. pieces of ripe, fresh peaches (no skins)

1/2 c. honey

1 1/2 T. fresh lemon juice

1. Place ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Taste. At this time, you can add a little more lemon juice, honey or peaches, if you want to adjust the flavor. Process again until smooth.

2. Transfer mixture to an ice cream maker and follow machine’s instructions. I use a Cuisinart ice cream maker and run the machine for 30 – 40 minutes and then put the yogurt in the freezer for 1 to 2 hours before serving.

Homemade frozen yogurt is tangier and less gummy than commercial frozen yogurt, and it is so easy to make. Enjoy!

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Spaghetti with Asparagus & Herbs

Spaghetti with Asparagus & Herbs

This dish is designed to highlight the flavors of its fresh ingredients rather than overpowering them with heavy tastes. Serve for lunch or a light dinner with bread, fresh fruit and a light cheese. (Makes about 3 servings.)

Approximate measurements:

12 oz. spaghetti

1 lb. fresh asparagus

2 oz. extra virgin olive oil

1 oz. white balsamic vinegar

4 fresh lemons

several twists of fresh ground green and red peppercorns

1/4 t. sea salt

1/4 c. fresh golden oregano

1 T. fresh flat leaf parsley

1 1/2 t. fresh thyme

1. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of lightly salted, boiling water.

2. About half way through the cooking time for the spaghetti, put the asparagus on the stove to steam. Cook until crisp tender. Remove from pot then rinse asparagus with cold water and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, combine olive oil, vinegar, juice of 2 of the lemons, fresh ground pepper and salt. Set aside.

4. Submerge herbs in a bowl of cold water to remove any possible dirt or insects. Remove herbs and rinse well. Pat dry. Strip herb leaves from stems. Discard stems and any damaged leaves. If there are any thyme flowers, set them aside for garnish.

5. When the spaghetti is cooked to desired consistency, drain well. Add the olive oil mixture to the pot that the pasta was cooked in. Return spaghetti to the pan and toss with the olive oil mixture.

6. Divide spaghetti between serving bowls. Top with fresh herbs and then with asparagus. Squeeze a little more fresh lemon juice over asparagus and then grind a little more fresh pepper over dish. Garnish with thyme flowers if available. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

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Sweet Cherry Muffins

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Sweet Cherry Muffins

2 c. all purpose flour

1 c. granulated white sugar

1 T. baking powder

1/2 c. melted butter

1 c. buttermilk

2 lg. eggs

2 t. vanilla extract

2 c. dark sweet cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped (frozen ok)

cinnamon sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Prepare 10 1/2-cup ceramic ramekins with butter and flour or with baking spray;  or line 12 standard muffin cups with muffin papers, with butter and flour, or with baking spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Set aside.

3. Stir together butter, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla extract until well combined. Stir mixture into dry ingredients until dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Fold in cherries.

4. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups. Using the back of a spoon, shape tops of muffins into a slight mound. Sprinkle tops of muffins with cinnamon sugar.

5. If using ramekins, place ramekins on 2 baking sheets. Bake for about 15 – 20 min for 12 muffins or about 22 – 27 minutes for 10 muffins. Muffins should be firm to the touch when done.

Tortilla Soup

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Tortilla Soup

(4 servings)

8 corn tortillas

salt

3 white bulb onions (or other mild onion), thinly sliced (about 3/4 c.)

1 t. olive oil

4 c. vegetable or chicken stock

4 c. chopped fresh tomatoes (or Muir Glen canned fire roasted tomatoes)

1 – 2 dried Guajillo chili peppers

1 T. lime juice

3 T. minced cilantro, plus cilantro for garnish

1 avocado, diced

lime wedges for garnish

Crema Agria (or other sour cream)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Slice tortillas into 3/4-inch strips. Cut strips in half. Spread out on a baking sheet. Lightly salt strips, then bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until crisp and lightly brown. Toss strips every 10 minutes while baking. When done, set strips aside until ready to serve.

2. Saute onion in olive oil until crisp-tender. Add tomatoes and cook for about 8 minutes or until tomatoes are cooked down and some of the liquid has cooked off. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree.

3. Pass tomato mixture through a sieve (to remove seeds and skins) into a 4 to 6 quart pot. Cook at a low simmer for about 30 minutes.

4. Add Guajillo pepper(s) to soup about 5 minutes before serving. Add lime juice and cilantro about 1 minute before serving. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Remove pepper(s) before serving.

5. To serve: divide tortilla strips between four bowls. Ladle soup base over tortilla strips. Top with avocado, crema agria and cilantro. Serve with a lime wedge.

Buen provecho!

Crema Agria (Homemade Sour Cream)

Since tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, I decided to make some homemade sour cream to go with Tortilla Soup. Homemade sour cream is incredibly easy to make and only takes two ingredients. When made with heavy cream and fresh lime juice, it is called Crema Agria. When made with heavy cream and buttermilk, it is called Crema Espesa (or Creme Fraiche). The lime juice version does retain the taste of lime is tangier than the buttermilk version. Either version, however, is thinner and creamier than commercial sour cream, and has a fresher taste.

Crema Agria (or Crema Espesa)

2 c. heavy cream

1/4 c. fresh lime juice (or buttermilk)

1. Warm heavy cream on stove until the cream reaches 90  to 100 degrees F (or about body temperature). Do not overheat the cream.

2. Stir in lime juice (or buttermilk).

3. Pour mixture into a glass jar. Cover loosely. Let sit at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours or until thickened. Cover tightly. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using.

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Banana Mocha Coconut Muffins

The other morning, I had a guest on an almost vegan diet; so I made these delicious muffins which one would never know were free of dairy products and eggs. I hope that you enjoy the recipe!

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Banana Mocha Coconut Muffins

3/4 c. sweetened shredded coconut

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. granulated white sugar

2 T. instant coffee or 2 t. espresso powder

1 T. baking powder

1 c. mashed ripe bananas

1 c. coconut milk

1/2 c. canola oil

1 T. coconut rum

1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips, preferably miniature ( use vegan chocolate if needed)

1 recipe Coffee Coconut Milk Glaze (below)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread coconut on a baking sheet. Toast in oven for 3 to 4 minutes or until just starting to turn golden at the edges. Remove coconut from baking sheet and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, prepare 12 standard muffin cups or 10 four-ounce ramekins with baking spray.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, 2 T. of the instant coffee or 2 t. of the espresso powder, and baking powder. Set aside.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together bananas, coconut milk, canola oil, and rum. Stir banana mixture into dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips.

5. Divide batter into ramekins or muffin cups. Using the back of a spoon, shape each cup of batter into a slight mound. Bake 15 to 20 minutes for 12 muffins or 20 to 25 minutes for 10 muffins. Muffins are firm to the touch when done.

6. Meanwhile, prepare Coffee Coconut Milk Glaze. Glaze muffins immediately upon removing from oven and  then sprinkle them with toasted coconut.

Coffee Coconut Milk Glaze

1 c. confectioner’s sugar

2 T. coconut milk

1/2 t. minced orange or lemon zest

1/2 t. instant coffee or 1/4 t. instant espresso powder

1/2 t. coconut rum, light rum, or orange or lemon extract

1. In a small bowl, slowly stir coconut milk into confectioner’s sugar. Stir in coffee, then zest, then rum or extract. Stir until smooth, then warm glaze to dissolve coffee.

Searching for the Perfect Gluten-free White Butter Cake + Notes on Preparing Cake Pans

Part I.

As an innkeeper, I am aware of just how many people have food sensitivities or allergies and also of how difficult it can be for them to find foods that they can eat when they travel. This is especially the case when it comes to special events, such as  wedding receptions, where the food choices are limited.

I am working on perfecting my gluten-free white butter cake recipe which could be used for wedding cakes or baby showers. My goal, of course, is for my gluten-free cakes to be 100% as delicious as my regular wheat flour cakes. I would say that I am about 90% there with this particular cake. The flavor and crumb (cake texture) are good, but it does not quite have that melt-in-your mouth quality of my other cakes. I think that I just need to increase the butter a little on my next attempt. The two key issues to solve with gluten-free baking are (1) using the right wheat flour substitute for your recipe and (2) figuring out the right flour-fat ratio. In many recipes such as cookie recipes, a one-to-one substitution of rice flour for all-purpose flour works fine. Substitutions for specialty flours, such as cake flour, are a different story.

Normally I use cake flour for baking white butter cakes. Cake flour has a low protein content – 7.5% as compared to 10% for all-purpose flour- and weighs 3.5 oz. per sifted cup. While rice flour has an even lower protein content – 5% – it is not milled nearly as finely as cake flour. To lighten the texture of cakes made with rice flour, the flour needs to be blended with starches which are very fine in consistency. These starches also act as thickeners helping to compensate for the reduced protein content. The gluten-free cake flour blend that I made for this recipe is significantly lower in protein than cake flour – 2.5%, and is heavier weighing 4.5 oz. per double-sifted cup; but it works pretty well.

Laurie’s Gluten-free Cake Flour Blend:

Whisk together, and then sift together twice, the following ingredients.

1 c. white rice flour

1/2 c. tapioca starch

1/2 c. potato starch

1 T. Cake Enhancer (from King Arthur flour)

I used 9 oz. (by weight) of gluten-free cake flour blend as a substitute for 7 oz. cake flour in my regular white butter cake recipe. As I mentioned above, the flavor and crumb were good, but the cake didn’t have the melt in your mouth quality that really makes for a wonderful butter cake. Next time, I think that I shall increase the butter slightly. The other option would be to decrease the flour, but since the dry-wet ratio of the batter seemed right, I am going to try the increased butter option first – my theory being that the recipe needs increased fat to compensate for the increased weight of the flour.

If you have been experimenting with your own gluten-free cake recipes, I’d love to hear from you!

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Part II.

Proper preparation makes removing any cake from the pan easier.

(1) Place your baking pans on parchment paper and trace the outside with a pencil. Cutting just inside the pencil lines, cut paper to fit inside pans.

(2) Cut strips of parchment paper long enough to wrap around the sides of your pans, making the strips just taller than your cake pans.

(3) Butter the inside of the cake pans and one side of each of the pieces of parchment paper. Place paper, buttered side up/out in pans.

(4) Sprinkle with sifted flour or gluten-free flour. Tap pans to distribute the flour. Shake out any extra flour. (If you prefer to use baking spray, skip buttering the paper. But don’t use baking spray for gluten-free baking.) Fill with batter and bake.

(5)  After baking, allow cakes to cool then remove parchment paper from sides of pans, invert cakes, remove paper from bottoms of cakes, then re-invert.

Your cakes should turn out the pans perfectly each time.

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