Lemon Pepper Shortbread Cookies

Grinding pepper over our savory meals is very much the ‘norm’, but when you add it to sweet desserts it preforms a strange chemistry, especially against a mellow backdrop of vanilla.

Adding flavor to cuisines of all nations, black pepper is the most widely produced and popular spice in the world. Pound for pound, it is also the least expensive spice.

Contrary to popular belief, pepper is not intended to be used like salt. Although, it holds a special spot right beside the salt on our dinner tables, it is not a flavor enhancer but rather a spice.

There is a distinct and undeniable earthiness to the flavor of black pepper, one that is biting, hot, piney, pungent, woody and sharp all at the same time.

Using pepper in baked goods or sprinkling it on fresh fruit is not exactly a new idea. Gingerbread and pfeffernuse have long been spiced with pepper. No matter how you use black pepper, its a spice of grand proportions.

These ‘pepper’ cookies are real handy since you can freeze them and ‘slice & bake’ when needed. The flavor combo is exceptional.

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Lemon Pepper Shortbread Cookies
Course dessert
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a bowl, cream butter, sugar & vanilla until light & creamy.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, lemon zest & spices.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Combine only until incorporated. Turn dough out onto a work surface & divide in half. Roll each portion into a log about 1 1/2-inch in diameter. Wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap & refrigerate until firm ... at least 2 hours or freeze until needed.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the plastic wrap & slice into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Place on baking sheet & bake for 6 minutes, rotate pan & continue baking for an additional 6 minutes. The edges of the cookies will be firm, but the tops will be soft. Cool on a wire rack.

Papaya, Mango & Pear Pie

A wide variety of fruit has be used to make pie, from crisp apples to juicy berries or tender stone fruit. Tropical fruit, not as commonly used, can make amazing additions to pie filling creations. One such combo is papaya and mango.

Once considered exotic, papaya can now be purchased pretty much throughout the year. A very versatile fruit which contains enzymes that help in tenderizing meat as well as using it in salads, puddings, yogurt, chutney etc. For the sweetest flavor, select a papaya with a yellowish-orange skin that yields to the touch. Green papaya can be peeled like a carrot. It is similar to winter squash and can be baked or barbecued in the same fashion.

Mangoes have a rich sweetness with an aromatic floral note that isn’t present in many other fruits. As well as holding their shape during baking, mangoes become extremely tender, which makes them an excellent choice for pie filling.

Regardless of what type of pie your eating, the general consensus is that it should have a base made of some kind of pastry. When people first began cooking food in ovens there was little to protect the filling from searing heat. As a result, juices would fizzle out and everything would burn rather quickly. As a solution, dough was used to protect the filling. The dough or pastry absorbed the juices, making the entire case and filling a dish in itself. Since then, many complex forms and fillings have evolved in the world of pie making.

My objective today, was to create a ‘tropical’ pie. I had picked up a papaya as well as a couple of pears on my last shopping trip. I already had some mango chunks in the freezer. I thought pears would compliment the papaya and mango well. Between the fruit and spice combos, the flavor was just incredible. I think I ‘nailed it’!


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Papaya, Mango & Pear Pie

Servings


Ingredients
Pastry Crust

Servings


Ingredients
Pastry Crust


Instructions
  1. Prepare pastry if making from 'scratch'. Line a 8-9-inch pie pan.
    Peel & core papaya, mango & pear. Cut & dice into 1/2-inch pieces. In a large bowl, combine fruit with lemon zest & juice. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch, sugar, spices & salt. Carefully mix 3/4 of dry mixture with fruit reserving remainder for later.

  2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Pour filling into pastry lined pie dish. Sprinkle with the rest of dry mixture & dot with butter. Roll out pastry for top crust. Make into design of choice or just place over pie; pinch top & bottom together to form a seal & cut 'vents'. Brush with egg wash & sprinkle with sugar.

  3. Place in oven & bake for about 10-15 minutes to bake bottom crust somewhat then reduce heat to 375 F. & bake another 30 minutes or until golden brown & filling is bubbling.

Pork Medallions w/ Apricot Brandy Sauce

This is a meal that has a lot of interesting flavors going on. First you are marinating dried apricots and figs in brandy, then rubbing the pork medallions with a cumin-ginger spice combo.

Some years ago I became interested in using the cumin spice. If you have not yet tried it, the flavor is very distinctive. It could be described as slightly bitter and warm with strong, earthy notes. Cumin is an essential ingredient not only in Mexican and Southwest-inspired dishes but in the more trendy foods of North Africa, India and the Middle East. This delicate looking annual plant has slender branched stems. It is fast growing, with tiny white flowers that yield the cumin seeds. Farmers have to manually harvest the seeds by pulling the whole plant out of the ground and thrashing the seeds off of the plant onto a sheet. They are then sun-dried and hand sifted over a screen to separate out stems and twigs.

Although you need very little cumin in most recipes, it gives a great flavor. Like most spices, you must develop a taste for it to really enjoy it.

Print Recipe
Pork Medallions w/ Apricot Brandy Sauce
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, marinate figs & apricots in brandy. Slice pork tenderloin into medallions. Combine cardamom, cumin, ginger, salt & pepper in a plastic bag; add pork medallions & toss to evenly coat with spice rub.
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add pork, brown nicely on each side & remove to a plate. Return skillet to medium-LOW heat & add butter & onions. Gently saute onions for 5 minutes; add figs & apricots but NOT brandy. Saute 1 more minute.
  3. Turn heat back to medium-high & pour in the brandy & allow to simmer 1 minute. Add chicken broth & return pork to skillet. Cover & cook until pork medallions still have a hint of pink. Best to not overcook.

Beet & Apple Crostata

Crostata, Galette and Tart are three terms largely interchangeable when it comes to baking fruit or a savory filling into tender crust. Nevertheless, there are in fact reasons why three different words exist. Just for interest, here’s the ‘scoop’ on the subject.

Crostatas are a rustic looking, free-form pastry that consists of a rolled out piece of dough piled high with fruit and/or veggies. Baked on a flat sheet, the edges of the dough are folded in about an inch or so to create a crust. They are usually brushed with an egg wash before baking.

When it comes to galettes, the only difference from the crostata is linguistic. Crostata is an Italian term and gallette is French. Both refer to the same thing.

Now the tart is actually the European cousin of the pie. What defines a tart is the pan in which it is baked. It can be rectangular, square or circular and vary vastly in size and depth. In a tart pan the bottom is removable, so unlike pies, tarts are usually served unmolded, showing its elegant, fluted edges. Tart crusts are a bit more shortbread-like, as opposed to a flaky pie dough. Tarts can be savory or sweet as well.

Since we are into the fall season, it would seem appropriate to use some beets and apples. These little crostatas have such a great color due to the beets in them. I simply love the flavor of this combo with these spices, Brion not so much! Beets have never been on his ‘favorite’ list but —. The sour cream/cornmeal pastry adds a little ‘crunch’. Hope you have time to give this recipe a try.

 

Print Recipe
Beet & Apple Crostata
Course dessert
Cuisine American, German
Servings
Ingredients
Pastry Crust
Filling
Course dessert
Cuisine American, German
Servings
Ingredients
Pastry Crust
Filling
Instructions
Pastry Crust
  1. In a small bowl, combine sour cream & ice water; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar & salt. Using a pastry blender or finger tips, cut in butter until mixture resembles BOTH coarse crumbs & small peas. Sprinkle the cold sour cream mixture over dough, I Tbsp at a time, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute it. After you have added all the sour cream mixture, dough should be moist enough to stick together when pressed; if not, add additional cold water, 1 tsp at a time. DO NOT overwork dough.
  2. Press dough into a disk shape & wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for a day or two or it can be wrapped airtight & frozen for a month. When ready to use, thaw, still wrapped in refrigerator.
Filling
  1. Trim off top & bottom of beet. Chop apples & beet into 1/2-inch cubes. Place apples, beet, sugar, spices & salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat & simmer for 5 minutes. Add flour & simmer for 1 minute allowing the filling to thicken slightly. There should still be some liquid in the bottom of the pan but filling should not be watery. Cool slightly.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Remove chilled pie dough from fridge & divide into 4 balls. On a piece of parchment paper the size of your baking sheet, roll each ball into a 6-inch circle. Spread 1/4 of the filling evenly over each circle, leaving a 1-inch border. Gently fold pastry over filling, pleating to form your crostatas. Brush with egg wash & sprinkle with sugar if you prefer.
  3. Bake about 35 minutes until filling bubbles & crust is golden. Remove from oven & cool on a wire rack.

Baked Nectarines & Raspberry Dessert

Nectarines & peaches are both members of the stone fruit family and are so close, only one gene is responsible for their difference. This unique gene makes the peach fuzzy and the nectarine smooth. For most part, nectarines are sweeter and juicer — in essence more nectar. 

Nectarines originated in China and spread across the continents until they landed in America. They thrive in warmer climates, as a result, many of the nectarines we see in the grocery stores here are unripe, hard and tough.  They are often harvested too early and therefore do not develop the aroma they should have. Baking will concentrate their flavor, while lemon, almond and vanilla draw out their more elusive variations.

This dessert idea originated from Sweden. Quite similar to some of the other roasted fruit recipes I have posted except this dessert uses wine in the baking of it. If you don’t care for raspberries, blueberries or blackberries will work just as well.

Print Recipe
Baked Nectarines & Raspberries with Almond & Honey
Instructions
  1. In a small dish, combine wine & honey; stir to dissolve. Halve & stone nectarines, place them flesh-side up in a glass baking dish. Crush amaretti biscuits, add cardamom & mix well; add beaten egg yolk, 2 Tbsp of wine mixture & toasted almonds. Combine & divide mixture between nectarines, spooning into 'pit' holes.
  2. Sprinkle nectarines with brown sugar then top each with a bit of the butter. Pour remaining wine & honey AROUND but NOT over the fruit, add 1 Tbsp water & tuck in the vanilla pod.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake the nectarines for 30 minutes or until fruit is soft & the biscuit filling is crisp & golden. Remove vanilla pod. Carefully stir the raspberries through the pan juices. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, whip cream; when ready to serve dessert, top each with a dollop.

Egyptian Kofta

Over the years, our travels have taken Brion and I to many interesting places in the world. Each has left us with amazing memories.

In November of 2009, before Egypt was in such disarray, we explored this ancient country. You could safely say that time has not lessened the mystique of the world’s oldest tourist attraction. No matter how many pictures you look at, or how much you read on the internet, there is just nothing as powerful as seeing the real thing. Brion’s ability to speak fluent Arabic was a huge bonus for us while in Egypt.

The flight from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Cairo, Egypt was a bit grueling at 16 hours long but we ‘recovered’ fairly fast. To make the most of our vacation, we divided it into four segments; – five days in Cairo, six days in Alexandria, eight days on a Nile River cruise and the last week at Sharm El Shiekh on the Red Sea.

The Nile River cruise was definitely the highlight of the vacation. We boarded the ‘Helio’ cruise ship in Luxor which took us to Aswan and back. Each day the ship would dock at various sites along the way and our personal guide would take us to explore temples, tombs, the high dam and the beautiful botanical gardens at Kitchener Island. It was such an incredible experience viewing the sights and sounds as you slowly sailed along. Travel is a good reality check to make us appreciate what we have in our own lives and so often take for granted.

Every evening, the supper buffet on the ship was created with a different theme. One of the items Brion really enjoyed was ‘EGYPTIAN KOFTA’. Egypt’s local and rich resources of fresh foods coming from the Nile Valley, has given the world some of the most coveted cuisines. Egyptian food is a mixture of all the different civilizations that came to Egypt in the history of its existence.

The word kofta (or kefta) has its origins in Persia. Although you can make meat, seafood or vegetarian kofta, the most popular in Egypt is a mixture of ground beef and lamb combined with onions, garlic, parsley and a ‘BAHARAT’ spice blend.

Along with my recipe today, I thought you may enjoy to look at some of the photos from our Nile River cruise. 

 

 

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Kofta
This is the burger meat of the Middle East.
Servings
skewers
Ingredients
Servings
skewers
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Soak 16 wooden skewers in water for about 1 hour; remove from the water when you are ready to begin. Lightly oil grates of grill or BBQ & preheat to medium high temperature.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly. Divide meat mixture into 16 portions. Mold each onto a wooden skewer to form a 'kofta kebab' about 1-inch thickness.
  3. Place kebabs on lightly oiled, heated grill or BBQ. Grill for 4 minutes on one side, turn over & grill for another 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately with mini pita breads, tahini, hummus or yogurt dip.

Potato Cinnamon Rolls

When cinnamon, sugar and butter are mixed together, the result is something many people all over the world find irresistible.

The first cinnamon roll was created in Sweden, around the 1920’s. After World War I, several goods such as sugar, eggs and butter, which had been heavily restricted, eventually returned to the grocery shelves. The spice trade from Southeast Asia also led to the invention of the roll. Cinnamon was not grown locally in the European countries, hence the spice trade from Sri Lanka led to the development of cinnamon use in the European countries.  The influences of German baking techniques combine with Swedish and Danish ingredients can clearly be seen in the making of the cinnamon roll.

In Sweden, October 4th is ‘Kanelbulle’ day or national ‘Cinnamon Roll Day’. This holiday was originally created by the country’s Home Baking Council in 1999 to commemorate their 40th anniversary. Swedish cinnamon rolls are not as sweet and heavy as they are in North America. The dough contains a hint of cardamom spice and they are generally baked in muffin papers to make a more delicate treat.

Our family definitely enjoyed a lot of irresistible cinnamon rolls. As is everything that becomes the ‘norm’, you take it for granted until you no longer have it and it becomes a ‘taste of a memory’.

I recall my mother also making ‘potato’ doughnuts. The mashed potato seems to really add to the flavor of a yeast dough. In keeping with this Swedish ‘holiday’, I am making  POTATO CINNAMON ROLLS  or ‘Twists’.

 

Print Recipe
Potato Cinnamon Rolls (Twists)
Course Brunch, dessert
Servings
twists
Ingredients
Dough
Cinnamon/Sugar Mix
Glaze
Course Brunch, dessert
Servings
twists
Ingredients
Dough
Cinnamon/Sugar Mix
Glaze
Instructions
Dough
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine lukewarm milk with yeast; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Allow to stand about 3 minutes or until foamy. Add warm mashed potato, melted butter, eggs, sugar, cardamom & salt; mix well. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic.
  2. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning dough to completely coat it with grease. Cover with plastic wrap; allow to rise in a draft-free place until doubled in size. Punch down, turn out on a lightly floured work surface & let rest for about 10 minutes.
Cinnamon/Sugar Mix
  1. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar & cinnamon; set aside.
Assembly
  1. Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into a 14 x 14-inch square. Brush with melted butter & evenly sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture. Fold dough into thirds like a business letter, then roll again into a 14 x 8-inch rectangle. Facing the long edge, cut dough into roughly 18 -8-inch strips. Twist each strip several times, slightly stretching it as you do so. Take one end of the twisted strip & coil the dough around your hand twice, then over the top. Coil dough again & tuck the loose end in at the bottom.
  2. Arrange on baking sheets. Cover with plastic & allow to rise in a draft-free place, 45-60 minutes or until doubled in size. Place oven rack in middle position & preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. If you prefer, you can brush rolls with egg wash & sprinkle with pearl sugar or chopped almonds instead of using cream cheese glaze. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. While cinnamon rolls are baking, make glaze (if you are using it). With a mixer, beat together cream cheese & butter until light & fluffy. Blend in powdered sugar & vanilla. Add enough milk to achieve a drizzle-like consistency. Drizzle on rolls while still warm.
Recipe Notes
  • Freezer Instructions:   Form cinnamon rolls into twisted shape & place several inches apart on baking sheet to freeze rolls individually. Once frozen, transfer to a resealable plastic freezer bag. When ready to bake, place on a lightly greased baking sheet & allow to come to room temperature before baking.

Pumpkin Spice ‘Chai’ Latte

Fall has definitely arrived! The leaves are turning their beautiful gold and crimson colors and there is a chill in the air. Years ago, when Brion and I made the choice of what trees, shrubs and flowers to plant in our yard, our plan was to showcase the colors of every season. For me, being a farmer’s daughter, watching this seasonal beauty each year has been priceless.

The ‘flavor of fall’ brings pumpkin to mind. When I was a kid, I thought they looked great, made wonderful jack-o-lanterns but didn’t care for the taste at all. Then one day mom made a pumpkin ‘chiffon’ pie and I was hooked. 

In the winter of 2011, Brion and I traveled Turkey for a month. We were meeting our Trafalgar tour group in Istanbul. Arriving a day early gave us time to ‘snoop’ around a bit. Next to our hotel was a ‘Starbucks’, so we went in. When Brion ordered my coffee they gave me a ‘Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte’ by mistake. That pumpkin chai flavor was just incredible. I have been addicted to it ever since.

The Starbucks original pumpkin spice latte turns 14 years old this year. In January 2003, they started developing it to expand their line of seasonal winter drinks. In 2015, real pumpkin puree was added to the drink.

A stay in Istanbul would not be complete without a traditional and unforgettable boat excursion up the Bosphorus, that winding strait that separates Europe and Asia. Its shores are a mixture of past and present, grand splendor and simple beauty. Modern hotels stand next to shore-front wooden villas, marble palaces in contrast to rustic stone fortresses and elegant compounds neighbor small fishing villages. Since Turkey actually straddles two separate continents, its culture features strong elements and traditions from both east and west. At that point in time we found Turkey a relaxed country to travel in which made our time there very enjoyable.

I came across a recipe on a website called greatist.com  for a DIY version of Starbuck’s PUMPKIN SPICE CHAI LATTE.  I couldn’t resist trying it.

 

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Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte
Instructions
  1. In a small dish, combine 'Pumpkin Pie Spice' ingredients & store in a spice jar with a lid. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together pumpkin puree, 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice, milk, syrup & vanilla. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture starts to steam. Remove from heat & pour mixture into a blender. Cover, hold the lid on tightly; blend for about 15 seconds or until frothy.
  2. Brew the coffee. If you like extra milk foam on top, pour a few tablespoons of milk into a glass jar with a lid while coffee is brewing. Tightly seal & shake for 30-60 seconds. Remove lid & place jar in microwave for 30 seconds.
  3. Divide coffee & milk mixture between 2 mugs. Top with extra milk foam (if using) & sprinkle with a bit of pumpkin spice.

German Apple Custard Cake

We will soon be heading into fall. For apple lovers, the cool mornings and clear days of Autumn mean one thing; its time for some of the season’s crisp, juicy apple harvest. Apples are available year round thanks to controlled-atmosphere, cold storage chambers that keep them fresh for months. Some varieties even develop better flavor overtime. After 30 plus years in the food service industry, I retired and spent some wonderful years as tree and shrub buyer for a garden center. On this property there were many apple trees. One of the varieties was called Westland. These particular apples don’t taste like much until the first frost had touched them. Apples are a very common fruit but shouldn’t be overlooked due to their versatility.

When you take notice of how many ways apples are used in German baking, cooking, etc. its very clear that Germany loves its apples. For example there’s fresh apples, apple sauce, apple pancakes, apple juice, apple schnapps, apfelschorle (apple juice and carbonated water) and of course the many versions of apple cake …..

This German Apple Cake is served with a nice vanilla custard sauce making it quite special.

 

Print Recipe
German Apple Custard Cake
Course Brunch, dessert
Servings
Ingredients
Cake
Custard
Course Brunch, dessert
Servings
Ingredients
Cake
Custard
Instructions
Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease & flour or line with parchment paper an 8 or 9-inch spring form pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon & cardamom. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add 3/4 cup sugar & mix. Peel apples; slice & cut as suggested. Toss apples with flour mixture to coat.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat eggs & milk together. Add to the apples & flour; mix in with a large spatula until just combined. Batter should look thick & dough-like. Transfer the dough to prepared cake pan & flatten the top using the back of spatula. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp sugar over the cake top. Bake for 45-50 minutes or when cake tests done.
Custard
  1. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks & sugar until pale yellow about 2-3 minutes. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk just to a boil. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg/sugar mixture. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan & stir over medium heat until custard thickens, about 4 minutes. Custard should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in vanilla & transfer to serving pitcher. This custard is not a thick, pudding like consistency; it needs to be a pour able.
  2. Serve custard warm or cold over apple cake.

Easter Hot Cross ‘Scones’

Eostre is an obscure Germanic and Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and dawn, and it is thought to be the namesake of the Christian holiday Easter. Because food has always had a close association with Easter, special dishes were cooked in her honor. Most important of these was a small spiced, sweet bun from which our ‘hot cross bun’ derives. These little spiced buns are a rather old English tradition, which are still traditionally eaten on Good Friday. They are marked on top with a cross which is of ancient origin connected with religious offerings of bread.

Hot Cross ‘Scones’ are an easy take on the seasonal classic bun. They are the best of both worlds; hot cross yeasted buns and a tender spicy scone. Scones work for me in the way that most of the time I have the ingredients on hand and they only take about twenty minutes or so to make.

As always, I enjoy the idea of variation in just about everything. I had three scone recipes in mind for today’s blog. One recipe is a hot cross scone made by changing out the regular flour for ‘Kamut’ flour. This flour is made from an ancient grain originally grown by the pharaohs of Egypt. It contains more protein, minerals and other nutrients than modern wheat.

The other two recipes are Spiced Orange & Fresh Apple Hot Cross Scones,  both made with a sour cream batter. Hopefully they will become part of your Easter recipe collection.

Print Recipe
Easter Hot Cross 'Scones' X 3
Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Scone Batter
Glaze
Icing for Crosses
Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Scone Batter
Glaze
Icing for Crosses
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda & salt. Add butter; using a pastry blender, blend until mixture forms fine crumbs. Stir in spices, dried fruit & orange zest.
  2. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs, & vanilla; whisk until well blended. Add to flour mixture; stir until a soft dough forms.
  3. Scoop onto lined baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden. Remove from oven, combine water & honey glaze. Warm very slightly in microwave; brush over tops of scones. When scones have cooled, decorate with icing crosses.
Recipe Notes

FOR VARIATIONS:

  • To make Kamut Scones use 1 3/4 cup kamut flour & 3/4 cup white flour instead of all white flour.
  • To make Apple Scones add 1/4 of a large apple, peeled & cut in 1/4" dice. to basic recipe.