Fresh Peach and Pecan Quick Bread (giveaway winner announced)

I tend to shy away from baking quick breads for two reasons, 1) the amount of sugar and oil in the recipes shocks me and, 2) if I’ve not given the bread away, I will sliver them to death because they truly do taste so good!

Many years ago my childhood best friend gave me a recipe for strawberry bread.  She forewarned me of the amount of oil – 1 1/2 cups! and the amount of sugar – 2 cups!  She followed the warning stating that despite the huge amounts of oil and sugar, I had to make is as it was well worth it! Continue reading “Fresh Peach and Pecan Quick Bread (giveaway winner announced)”

We Are Our Choices

Do you ever long for a get away weekend, one of these “escape from it all” trips?  The kind that allows you to pause for a few days, take inventory of your life, celebrate your gifts and put your worries to rest?  And where would you go??

I took such an escape a week ago.  Life was crashing all around and I just decided to take off!  Fortunate for me, I have a very dear friend who lives in the most charming country home, lovingly furnished through the years with treasured finds, handmade furniture, curtains and needlework. Continue reading “We Are Our Choices”

Greenslove: Kale and Caramelized Onion Tart

This month’s Bloghop is Greenslove!  And I’m excited that I am finally able to display the linky tools pictures from everyone’s post!  Whoohoo!!  I feel like a big girl now!

Italians do eat alot of greens and I’m always buying some leafy green, such as kale, spinach, chard or collard.   What I’ve not tried is dandelion which is common for many Italians though as a child I had always thought to be strangely odd.  Any green will work well in this tart,  Kale has become one of my favorites to use.  It is, however, a chewier green.  The stem is very fibrous and should be removed.  The leaf of the curly kale has a pungent, almost bittery taste that does mellow when cooked.  For raw salads and for a sweeter and delicate taste, I prefer the Lacinato kale.  In this tart, I found a deep red kale, which was new to me.   A quick taste test at the market of both green and this red had the same taste. Continue reading “Greenslove: Kale and Caramelized Onion Tart”

Mardi Gras Kings Cake

You don’t need to live in New Orleans to enjoy the local festivities of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday!  There is something so colorful and fun about the New Orleans’ Kings Cake that I have to make it every year just to feel like I’m celebrating right along with the folks in New Orleans. 

Fat Tuesday is right around the corner wrapping up the the Mardi Gras or Carnival Season that is so well celebrated in New Orleans.  The season begins on January 6, also known as “King’s Day” honoring the meeting of the Three Wise Men with the baby Jesus.  The hiding of the baby in the cake was to symbolize the finding of the baby Jesus.

Before my move to Florida, I had considered a relocation to New Orleans.  I made several trips there to look around and during those times, the city grabbed my heart.  The people there seemed to live life to the max, enjoying food,drink and festivities of all the seasons.  It was there that I tasted my first Kings Cake, so sweet and naughty…it was love at first bite! 

There are many versions of the recipe; Jessica at Kitchenbelleicious posted her second version just the other day.  This is made as a brioche dough with a filling of both cream cheese and apples.  There are several steps involved but so well worth it!  Sprinkle on the colored sugars, the more the merrier and enjoy!!

Kings Cake

adapted from the LA Times test kichen

For the Apple filling:

2 tablespoons butter

2 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces

1 tablespoon Apple Jack Brandy

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, just until the apple starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes (the slices should still be crisp). Remove from heat and stir in the toasted pecans and Apple Jack Brandy. Remove to a separate container, cool, cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the Cream Cheese filling:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons sugar

1/2 beaten egg (save the other half egg to make the egg wash for the cake)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese with the vanilla, salt and sugar. Add the beaten egg to the cream cheese mixture and beat until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the Brioche:

3/4 cup milk, divided

1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast

1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

2 eggs, plus ½ beaten egg (use the remaining half egg leftover from the cream cheese filling), divided

10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups (15.75 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

Apple filling

Cream cheese filling

In a small pan, heat one-half cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk over medium heat just until warmed. Remove from heat and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar, then set aside until the milk is foamy and the yeast is activated, about 10 minutes.

Whisk the 2 eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining one-third cup of sugar until fully incorporated.

If using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and somewhat silky (it’s a rich dough and won’t be entirely smooth), 5 to  7 minutes. Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.

When the dough is doubled, punch it down (it will be very smooth and elastic) and roll it out onto a lightly floured surface into a 10-by-28-inch rectangle. Lightly cut the dough lengthwise to divide the dough into 2 equal halves.

Spoon the apple filling down the length of one side, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and sides. Repeat with the cream cheese filling down the other side of the dough, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and each side. Lightly brush the edges and center of the dough (along the score) with the egg wash to moisten. Gently and carefully pull the dough over the cream cheese filling, sealing the edge of the dough. Repeat with the apple filling. Press the sealed edges, making sure they are secure (otherwise the fillings could spill out while the cake bakes).

Gently twist the length of the dough to form a braid-like shape. Wrap the dough so it forms an oval wreath and gently press the edges together. Carefully transfer the wreath to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until almost doubled in volume, 45 minutes to an hour, or loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight, removing it from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking for the dough to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make an egg wash using the remaining beaten half egg (from the cream cheese filling) with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk. Brush the top of the wreath lightly with the egg wash and place in the oven.

Bake the cake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (the toothpick will remain moist if it hits the cream cheese filling, but there should be no crumbs sticking to it), about 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking for even coloring.

For the Glaze:

2 cups confectioners sugar

3-4 tablespoons warm milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl combine the confectioners sugar and vanilla extract. Slowly pour in the milk and stir until smooth and slightly thick. Add in the milk slowly, it will become smooth fairly quickly without alot of milk.

Purple, green and yellow colored sugars for decorating

Plastic baby, if desired

Allow the cake to cool before it is frosted. Drizzle the glaze evenly over the cake, then lightly sprinkle over the colored sugars. If using the plastic baby, hide it somewhere in the cake (press the baby in through the bottom of the cake so as not to disturb the top or sides of the cake). Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.  Serves approximately 12-16.

I Heart You, Lemon Waffles

I’m wrapping up my citrus month with love….heart shaped lemon waffles.  Both in shape and taste, these light and fluffy waffles make a delicious, romantic breakfast.  Simply topped with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and warmed maple syrup.  Because as you know, it’s the simple pleasures in life that are the most special.

I’ve always used the method my mother did for making waffles of separating the eggs, whipping the whites and then folding them into the batter.  While it isn’t necessary to do this, as the taste will still be the same, I do find that the waffles are lighter and fluffier prepared in this manner.  Sometimes when I’m deciding on make either pancakes or waffles, I’ll lean toward pancakes as I don’t have to separately beat the whites for pancakes!  Pancake batter also can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight.  I’ve not done that with the waffle batter, but I do pre measure out the dry ingredients one day or more ahead so that it’s easier on me in the morning!  Waffles just take a bit more love and attention.

Recently Charles at Five Euro Food posted his Swedish Pancakes, which are made in the shape of 4 hearts connected in a circle.  They are made in a cast iron waffle iron for the stove; something new I learned, once again, from Charles!

I am forever appreciative of all who follow me and the many, many blogs I follow always picking up new ideas and inspiration.  Learning about new dishes, cultures and traditions fascinate me so.  Recently, I was extremely surprised to receive from Cecilia at The Kitchens Garden these gorgeous red shoes!!  How did she ever know my size!!

Actually, this one red shoe is The (Red) Educational Shoe Award.  Cecilia so kindly thought of me to pass this on to.  I’ve learned so much from Cecilia following her morning farm walks.  I’m impressed daily with her sustainable lifestyle and all that she does and endures through the freezing cold, hunters with rifles and scary sounds in the dark!   I’m so very flattered that she felt she actually found something new or interesting from me!!

To pass along the award, I can think of so many of you that have expanded my world and taught me so much.  And, there are a few men out there but I don’t believe any of those that I’m thinking of might wear high heeled red shoes!  So I will stick to the ladies on this one and also selecting just four, for the following reasons….

For lots of information and great recipes to keep me fit and eat healthy, Lisa at Smart Food and Fit and Kelly at Inspired Edibles.  Both ladies can toss their sneakers out for a night as they deserve this Red Shoe.  Kelly not only creates healthy dishes from breakfast to desserts, her plates are always presented so beautifully.  She explains the ingredients she uses in the recipes, the nutritional benefits and has shared many ingredients new to me.  She’s also complimented my recipes and pointed out nutritional tips in her comments which I love to see!!

Lisa keeps me challenged!  She’s really committed to keeping fit and eating clean!  Whenever I read her posts, I want to do a few more exercises, bike a bit further and tweak more of my recipes for cleaner ingredients!  She’s provided tips on packing school box lunches in her Lunchbox Series to new workout routines and eating healthy strategies.

My other two recipients for this Red Educational Shoe Award go to the ladies who share their travels.  While it’s my biggest dream to one day visit Italy, I’ve not yet had a chance to travel outside the US.  So, to Karen at Back Road Journal and Tanya at Chica Andaluza, this Red Shoe goes to you both!  Through most of October, I was able to virtually travel with Karen through the more untraveled areas of Italy, learning of new places like Bolzano and Bressanone Italy to beautiful wine vineyards and finally to Germany.  Her photos and care in explaining the sites, beauty and food fascinated me throughout her trip.  I hope she’s planning another vacation real soon!!

Tanya, the Chica at Chica Andaluza, to begin with, lives in Spain which would be a dream to me, building a home there and sharing her lifestyle.  And then she takes these “holidays” to what to me are the most picturesque, beautiful locations!  Places like Galicia and Asturias and Bali – I’m so jealous!  I’ve learned of new food, culture and places I’d love to visit one day.

So take your Red Shoe ladies, display it proudly and pass it along if you wish to!!

I Heart You, Lemon Waffles

2 eggs, separated

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour unbleached white flour, sifted

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1-2 tablespoons raw (turbinado), depending on your sweetness level

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1 ¼ cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat waffle iron, spray if necessary.  Beat egg whites until stiff, set aside.  In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients, set aside.  In another medium size bowl, combine the yolk, cream, juice and butter.  Add to dry and mix until blended.  Fold in egg whites until just combined; do not over mix.  Cook according to the directions of your waffle iron.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and warmed real maple syrup.  Serve at once.  Makes about 8 waffles, depending on your waffle size.

You can also check out  The Orange Bee for her orange flavored waffles!

Almond, Lemon and Thyme Bread with Fig and Lemon Jam

Quick breads many times are full of oil or butter, sugar and white flour.  I’m attracted to the “idea” of these breads but then get turned off by the ingredients.  Not that I don’t use white sugar and white flour when making my Italian cookies as I like to keep to the traditional recipe.  But  during the rest of the year, I prefer to enjoy all I eat while knowing that I’ve tweaked it to be healthier for me…and that means enjoying what I eat without any guilt!! 

I do see more recipes around switching out the butter or oil for applesauce or yogurt, white sugar to raw sugar or agave and white flour to wheat or a blend of flours.   While I don’t have a gluten intolerance, I do try to lessen the gluten I consume.  This bread could be completely gluten free by replacing the 3 tablespoons of white/wheat flour with gluten free flour.  I personally just don’t like the smell of gluten free flour!

This bread can be served for breakfast, tea, as a side with dinner or a light dessert.  I prepared a jam of sorts as I don’t can I make just enough to last me for a week.  Figs and lemons simmered with orange blossom honey, cardamon and cloves provided just enough sweetness and taste to compliment this bread. 

Almond, Lemon and Thyme Bread

3/4 cup plain yogurt

3/4 cup raw sugar (turbinado)

Zest of one organic lemon

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup stone ground yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup almond flour

3 tablespoons white/wheat flour (replace with gluten free flour for a gluten free bread)

1 teaspoon baking powder (Rumford Baking Powder /Clabber Girl Baking Powder are gluten free)

3/4 teaspoon citrus sea salt or Kosher salt

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray a 9×5 inch loaf pan.  Combine the cornmeal, flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.  In a large bowl of an electric mixer, blend the yogurt and sugar until well combined.  Add the lemon zest and eggs, one at a time, mixing well.  Add in the flour mixture, blend to combine and stir in the almonds until just combined.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake for about 50-55 minutes or until lightly golden and toothpick tested clean.  Let cool completely on wire rack. 

Fig and Lemon Jam

3 small lemons

8 dried figs, chopped small

1/4 cup raw sugar

1/4 teaspoon cardamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  tablespoon orange blossom honey

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon citrus sea salt or Kosher salt

Prepare the lemons by slices off both ends to allow the lemon to stand flat.  Using a paring knife, cut the peel and pith off by following the curve of the lemons.  Cut the lemon segments out and chop into small pieces.  Place lemon segments and any juices into a small saucepan.  Add in the remaining ingredients and allow to simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until thickened.  Allow to cool, refrigerate for up to 5 days. 

Warm Orange Honey Biscuits with Orange Mascarpone Spread

Whenever my daughter comes home for a visit, cooking and baking doubles!  Not that she eats that much but rather I like to send her off with lots of love, and in my world that means, food!  And along with that, I also like to make special meals we can share together.  

We had these biscuits for breakfast over last weekend.  A late breakfast; in fact, we can call it brunch as Gina pretty much gets up close to the noon hour when she comes home.  I really don’t mind, it actually works out perfectly.  She comes home, we spend time together, I go to bed and she goes out with her friends!  I wake up early; take a bike ride, start playing in the kitchen and she wakes to the aromas of freshly baked goodies! 

She and I got the idea for these biscuits from a cookbook she gave me for Christmas.  It’s a visual cookbook, Quick and Easy – Frame by Frame.  She obviously was sold on the pics as page by page are gorgeous, tempting food photos, from start to finish rather than a written recipe.   The “recipe” was actually for a honey muffin which caught our attention but decided to tweak it to be more like a biscuit or scone. 

For an extra creamy sweetness, I love to make flavored spreads, either using mascarpone or butter as the base and adding in ingredients to compliment what I’m serving.  Cream cheese could be used as well but I prefer mascarpone as its flavor is gentler and lighter than cream cheese and is easily spreadable.  It’s almost always in my fridge. I’ll use it to add a bit of thickness and creaminess to some of my dishes.  It’s a triple creamy cheese, sold in small containers; it is more expensive than cream cheese and cannot always be substituted for cream cheese as its delicateness will not be as firm, i.e., as in a frosting.

Warm Orange Honey Biscuits with Orange Mascarpone Spread

1 1/2 cup self rising flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon turbinado (raw) sugar

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup unsalted butter, chilled

¼ cup orange blossom honey

2/3 cup yogurt

1 egg, beaten well

Orange zest from one orange

2 tablespoons orange blossom honey mixed with 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier or orange juice for glazing tops after baking

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease six ramekins with butter or a baking sheet.  In a mixer with the paddle attachment, or large bowl with a pastry cutter, or your finger tips in a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, spice and salt and mix to combine.  Add in the chilled butter pieces and quickly mix until the butter is thoroughly cut into the flour, resembling coarse meal.  In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt, honey, egg and zest and mix well.  Add to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  The batter will be thick.  Spoon batter into greased ramekins or drop the biscuits on a greased baking sheet.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and brush on honey/orange juice mix.   Serve warm.

For the Orange Mascarpone Spread, I simply took about ¼ cup of room temperature mascarpone cheese and mix with chopped oranges, splash of Grand Marnier and orange blossom honey to taste.  Adjust amounts to your preference; substitute unsalted butter for an Orange Butter Spread.

Grand Marnier French Toast with Honey Orange Syrup

Weekends are  my luxury time.  Waking up without an alarm and having coffee in bed totally pleases me.  Being able to join me in bed is pure bliss for my chihauhaus as they sleep in a cage and only allowed in to cuddle with me on these lazy weekend mornings.  They have quite different personalities and both try to compete for my attention.  Bella is sweet but stands her ground firmly when Biagio trys to steal her bone or invade her space.  Biagio is my protector, listens for every sound and growls at strangers as if he is triple his size. 

While I sip on my coffee watching and laughing at my pups, I’m dreaming up my breakfast.  Not the normal week day quick breakfast but something special and more indulgent.  I’ve earned these quiet weekend mornings after years of having woken to the high pitched voices of little ones, full of energy and breakfast demands. ( Actually, I find myself smiling fondly as I write this and remember those precious years that really do go by so quickly!) 

Keeping with the citrus theme of the month and having my last Pannetone to use up, I decided on making french toast.  Any good quality bread will do but Pannetone is my favorite through the holidays.   With its fruit and light sweet taste I thought it was fitting to pare with citrus flavors.  For a simply syrup, orange blossom honey, oranges and their juice thickened up beautifully to top the french toast.

Thanks to Aimee at Clever Muffin for letting me know about this contest, I have entered my recipe into The Breakfast of the World Challenge at VeryGoodRecipes and Drina from EaternalZest!

Grand Marnier French Toast with Honey Orange Syrup

For two servings:

4 slices thick day old bread (Pannetone if you have it)

2 eggs

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Grated zest from one organic orange

Juice from that same orange

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange liquor

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

In a medium size baking dish, beat the eggs, cream, zest, juice, liquor and nutmeg until combined well.  Soak the bread slices at least 5 minutes, turning once.  Melt butter on a large skillet or griddle.  Saute the bread on both sides until golden brown.  Serve with maple syrup or honey orange syrup.

Honey Orange Syrup

1/2 cup orange juice

1 – 2 teaspoons orange blossom honey

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

Orange segments – I used one clementine orange

Heat orange juice, honey and cornstarch over medium heat stirring constantly until thickened.  Add orange segments and simmer for a few minutes or until heated through and ready to serve. 

January is #citruslove month!
Please join in on the #citruslove by linking up any citrus recipe from the month of January 2012. Don’t forget to link back to this post, so that your readers know to come stop by the #citruslove event! The twitter hastag is #citruslove :).
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Citruslove: Caramelized Orange Yogurt

This month I am cohosting the Citruslove bloghop along with a group of fellow bloggers led by Junia at Miss Pensimentos. We will be posting Citrus based recipes for the month with links below to view the other site’s posts as well as adding in your own. Once again I’m not able to have the pics of the other posts visible on my site…another reason I must get my blog to self hosting (smile to Charles)!!

Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits – there’s such a wide variety of dishes that can be prepared using citrus it was hard to decide where to begin! And having said that, I decided to start with breakfast. Caramelized oranges may seem a bit sweet for breakfast but the level of sugar can be adjusted to taste (I use very little) and when served with the creamy, tart yogurt and nuts the sweetness blends perfectly.  If desired any dried fruit can be added as well.

Honestly, I can eat this not only for breakfast, but as a snack or a dessert with a drizzle of chocolate! I also prepared a batch of granola to serve alongside the yogurt. Since it makes such a large quantity, my daughter will soon be surprised to receive a granola care package from her mother!!

Caramelized Oranges with Yogurt 

For the caramelized oranges:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Use organic oranges or wash the oranges well.  I used 6 clemintines but any orange will work fine or a mix.  Thinly slice the oranges and layer in a casserole.  Drizzle on agave and/or orange blossom honey.  I also sprinkled on raw sugar that I keep in a jar with vanilla beans.  Cover with foil and roast for about 1 hour, remove the foil and continue to roast until tender and lightly browned about 20-30 minutes longer.  For a crisper taste, broil for a few minutes.  Remove and allow to cool.

For the yogurt: 1 quart plain low fat yogurt, I use Greek yogurt  and even though Greek is thicker than regular I still do drain it.  Drain the yogurt overnight by placing it in a paper towel or cheesecloth lined strainer set over a bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, place the yogurt into a large bowl and add in the chopped caramelized oranges, 1-2 tablespoons of orange blossom honey, the zest from 1-2 fresh oranges, toasted slivered almonds and thin with the juice of 1 – 2 oranges, depending on your desired consistency.

January is #citruslove month!
Please join in on the #citruslove by linking up any citrus recipe from the month of January 2012.  Don’t forget to link back to this post, so that your readers know to come stop by the #citruslove event! The twitter hastag is #citruslove :).
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