The flavor of lime has not always been one that I have enjoyed. It always seemed to have an overall harsh characteristic about it. After we spent a few holidays in the Yucatan, Brion started using lime juice in his chicken soup and really enjoyed it. From there I swapped out the lemon juice for lime in our guacamole. Now here I am putting it in cheesecake. Who knew it could be that good!
A squeeze of lime juice is vital to many classic dishes. It’s the kick in a margarita, the spark that ignites many curries and the tart foil to sweetness in a host of desserts. Conveniently, for such an indispensable ingredient, limes are available year round.
Lime pairs well with apple, berries, cherry, ginger, papaya, plum and strawberry to name a few. Today, I’m using it in a cheesecake filling. It seems like a nice little dessert to start off the month of June.
Strawberry Lime Cheesecake Cups
In a bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar & lime juice & beat well. When cookie cups have completely cooled, pipe the filling in them & top with a fresh strawberry. Refrigerate until served.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
Today as we celebrate Mother’s Day, many special memories come to mind. My mother passed away in 1978 but even after 42 years, time has changed nothing. I still miss the sound of her voice, the wisdom in her advice, the stories of her life and just being in her presence. I miss her today as much as the day she left us and I always will.
It is also with very loving thoughts, I celebrate my mother-in-law, Dolores, for her loving and kind ways and for raising that ‘special’ man I love sharing my life with. Love to my sisters, who gave so much of themselves to be the great mom’s they are.
Babka ….. an old world beauty with roots in both the Jewish and Eastern European communities. A cake like, sweet yeast bread, richer than that of a cinnamon bun but not as rich as a Danish pastry. The name Babka means ‘little grandmother’ in many European languages.
Traditionally, babka was filled with seeds, nuts and sometimes even honey or filled with layers of cinnamon sugar or chocolate. This classic baked good has been making its way into every corner of the food world. A great babka dough is a blank canvas for almost any filling. Many other flavors have been developed and have become equally popular.
Fruit lovers can now indulge in apple-cinnamon or raspberry and apricot cream cheese babkas. There is also a Middle Eastern favorite using halva (sesame candy) or a completely savory version with sun-dried tomatoes.
This bread seems very fitting on our Mother’s Day blog.
Blueberry Babka Rolls
In a small bowl, place water & sprinkle with the yeast & a pinch of sugar; stir to combine. Allow to stand until frothy, about 5-10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together 4 cups of the flour, sugar & salt. Make a well in the center of the flour & add eggs, yolk & oil. Whisk to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl.
Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix the yeast, eggs & flour with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix forms. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface & knead for about 10 minutes. If the dough seems very sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft, smooth & holds a ball-shape.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap & place in a draft-free area. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugars & salt. Add water & blueberries; cook until clear & bubbling. Remove from heat & add lemon juice; cool completely.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, powdered sugar, salt & baking powdered. Cut butter into small chunks & add the flour mixture. Using your fingertips, work the butter into the flour mixture until it forms LARGE, coarse crumbs. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough into a rectangle, roughly 40 X 60 cm (15" X 24"). Spread half of the filling on center third of the dough. Fold one of the sides over the center & spread the remaining filling on top. Next, put opposite side of the dough over all & gently press together.
Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut 15 strips, between 2 - 2.5 cm (3/4"-1") thick. Twist each strand of dough a few times then, holding one end between you thumb & forefinger, coil the dough to form a circle. Finish by pinching the outer end to the ring, so it holds the circular shape when baking. Repeat with remaining strips. Place rolls on lined baking sheet as you make them. Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap & set in a draft-free place until rolls have doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush rolls with egg wash. Sprinkle streusel & chopped nuts evenly over the tops, pressing lightly so the crumbs adhere to the rolls. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & place on a cooling rack.
This is a spring version of summertime fresh blueberry tarts. Even though we are a long way from blueberry season, nothing wrong with using some frozen ones. At our house we use a lot of lemons which means there are always lemon peels available. Candied lemon peel is an excellent way of using up the flavorful but not as tasty peel.
Candied or crystallized fruit, has been around since the 14th century as a method of food preservation. It seems to have started out in the Arab culture, being served at banquets. Candied fruit as a whole, would reach the west where they became the key part of some of the most well known cakes and breads of European tradition, such as Italian Panettone and German Stollen.
Candied lemon peels are a very versatile ingredient. Chopped up, they can be used in baked goods for a lemony flavor boost, whereas whole strips can be dipped in chocolate and used as an edible gift.
For my blueberry tarts, I thought some candied lemon curls would make a pretty garnish not to mention the additional flavor they give.
Blueberry Custard Tarts w/ Candied Lemon Curls
Candied Lemon Curls (MAKE ONE DAY EARLIER)
In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer. In a bowl, whisk sugar, eggs, yolks, & cornstarch together until smooth. When milk is simmering, whisk half of it into the egg mixture then gradually add the egg/milk mixture to the rest of the milk.
Return saucepan to the heat & cook, whisking constantly until very thick. Whisk in the butter & vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate. Be sure the plastic is touching the top of the custard to prevent it from forming a film over it. When custard is cooled & you are ready to use it, whip with an electric mixer for a couple of minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine butter & sugar; cream well. Add vanilla & combine. In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients; gradually add to creamed mixture. Blend well. Divide dough into 8 portions. Press each portion into a 4 X 3/4-inch mini tart pan. Using a fork, poke some holes in the bottom of each shell. Bake about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & cool before filling.
In a saucepan, whisk all ingredients together & cook over medium-high heat until thickened.
Candied Lemon Curls
Cut the ends off of the lemon. Carefully cut down ONE side of the lemon. Continue the same cut through the FRUIT of the lemon, stopping at the peel. Do NOT cut through the peel.
Carefully open up the lemon & make more cuts through the FRUIT so that it will lay flat; remove the fruit from the peel. Turn the peel over & trim the edges & carefully remove all of the white pith from the inside of the peel. Cut the peel into strips about 1/8-inch wide.
In a small saucepan, add sugar & water & bring to a simmer. Add peels & gently simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, lay peels on a cooling rack. Allow to cool slightly, then toss in a bit of granulated sugar. They will slightly curl as they cool.
Divide custard between tart shells, top with blueberries & garnish with candied lemon curls.
- I find this recipe works the best if everything is made a day earlier than needed. That way each component has a chance to cool well before you assemble & serve.
Although mandarin oranges are a traditional holiday food, they sure make a wonderful bit of sunshine for us still in the colder part of our year.
Very often when I go to make something and the recipe calls for orange or lemon zest, its not something I have on hand. I guess its all about thinking ahead and drying the citrus peels when I do have them. There is no magic secret … just time and patience. Wash and dry the fruit, lightly grate off only the top layer of peel. Transfer to a flat dish to dry then store the zest in a glass jar. When it comes time to use, crush some between your fingers before adding it to other ingredients. This will release the citrus essence and flavor.
There is no comparison between artificial flavors and real citrus zest in baked goods. These little mandarin tarts not only use it in the filling but the pastry as well.
There are various other uses for citrus zest such as in poultry marinades, baked into breads or for a splash of flavor in tea. These tarts made such a simple little refreshing dessert.
Mandarin Orange Tarts
Mandarin Orange Pastry Cream
In a bowl, whisk flour, sugar & zest. Add butter & blend with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add the orange juice, using enough to form a dough that cleans the sides of the bowl.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface. Using a 2 1/2-inch cutter, make 12 circles & fit into tart pan cups. Line the pastry with foil & add pastry weights. Bake about 10-15 minutes. Remove weights & foil & bake 10 minutes longer until pastry is golden.
Mandarin Orange Pastry Cream
In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar & cornstarch until it turns pale yellow.
In a saucepan, combine milk & orange zest; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, slowly add a egg mixture a little at a time, whisking well until fully incorporated.
Return mixture to heat & keep whisking over medium heat until it thickens. Stir in orange juice. Transfer to a bowl & cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the pastry cream. When it comes to room temperature, refrigerate.
When cooled & you are ready to use the pastry cream, whisk with an electric mixer for 15-20 seconds to a smooth & spreadable texture. Spoon filling into baked tart shells. Top each with a couple of mandarin orange slices. Brush oranges with a bit of apricot jelly.
- If pastry weights are not available, reverse you tart pan & place pastry rounds over the bottoms of tart cups to bake.
- If you use canned mandarins for decoration, drain & blot on paper towel to remove excess liquid.
HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!
One thing for sure, Valentine desserts most often center around chocolate and strawberries. To celebrate the occasion, Brion came home with a bottle of Bailey’s Strawberries & Cream liqueur. This is the companies second seasonal flavor following their Pumpkin Spice liqueur. To put it in their words, ‘ the drink combines Bailey’s Original Irish Cream with delightful ripe strawberry flavor and delicious vanilla’.
After we had enjoyed it as a drink it got me thinking about how I could incorporate it into a ‘special’ dessert as well. Do you recall those classic Hot Fudge Pudding Cakes from the 60’s? They were the ultimate comfort food, fancy enough for a parfait and homey enough to be a spur of the moment indulgence. I could see nothing wrong in swapping out the milk in the original recipe for some strawberries & cream liqueur!
Speaking of pudding cake, its really kind of a culinary miracle, how pouring hot water over a thick batter can create this warm, fudgy concoction that lies precisely at the intersection of cake and pudding.
OK, on with my dessert … I had some strawberries in the freezer so they became a nice strawberry sauce to compliment the liqueur in the pudding. Serving this dessert parfait style with some ice cream or whipped topping adds a bit of elegance and I’m sure you will love the taste.
Bailey's Strawberries & Cream Fudge Pudding Parfaits
Preheat oven to 350 F. In an 8 X 8-inch baking dish, combine first 5 ingredients. Add liqueur, margarine & walnuts, combine well. Batter will be very stiff (if you find it easier to mix the cake in a small bowl instead, do so). Spread batter evenly in the baking dish.
In a small dish, combine brown sugar & 1/4 cup cocoa powder & sprinkle over batter. Pour boiling water over all & bake for about 40 minutes or until batter rises to the top & is baked through.
In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar & salt. Mix well. Add water & sliced strawberries. Cook until sauce is clear & bubbly. Remove from heat & cool.
Place some strawberry sauce in the bottom of each parfait glass. Spoon fudge pudding over sauce & top with ice cream or whipped topping. Serve with a glass of liqueur!
As I mentioned in the previous blog, new year’s eve food = finger food. I thought I’d post one other recipe for the occasion. Meatballs seem to check all the right boxes. Crispy, savory, spicy and can be eaten in a single bite. These lemon chicken meatballs are kind of an interesting blend of chicken and bacon. The lemon sauce is a bit unusual in that it uses lemon jelly powder but rounds out nicely with some garlic and ginger spice.
The idea of being able to do some of the prep work ahead of time always appeals to me. These meatballs can be made anytime and frozen raw or cooked. Just perfect when you are ready to serve them.
I’ve probably said this before, but deep fried food never appeals to me. Baking these little morsels still achieve’s a great taste. Hope you give them a try!
Lemon Chicken Meatballs
Preheat oven to 350 F. Fry bacon until crisp & drain on paper towel. Crumble & set aside.
To skillet, add onions & garlic. Saute & remove with a slotted spoon. In a large bowl, combine bacon, onions & garlic with remaining ingredients; mix well.
Form into 1-inch size meatballs & place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
In a small saucepan, combine dry jelly powder & cornstarch. Add broth, dressing, garlic & ginger; stir until jelly powder is dissolved.
Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes or until sauce is thickened, stirring frequently. Pour over meatballs & stir to coat. Serve with picks.
Bread Pudding ….. its just bread plus eggs plus a sweetened, spiced milk mixture. What makes it special is the blend of spices mixed into it and the sauce.
When done right, bread pudding should have the perfect balance of gooey goodness and chewy texture. That’s why stale bread is important. The bread needs a degree of crunch otherwise you will have ‘mush pudding‘.
For today’s recipe, I started by making a loaf of Challah bread. This is an ‘eggy’ bread that can soak up custard without collapsing. It will toast nicely on the outside and leave you with a creamy pudding inside.
Challah is a very straight forward bread to make. The dough is enriched with eggs and oil, while a few tablespoons of sugar add some sweetness and it doesn’t require any fussy techniques. Because challah is traditionally braided, proofing is key…. if the dough is not properly proofed, it will tear in the oven while baking.
Here’s where it becomes ‘comfort food‘ made with glorious challah, tropical mangos and spices inspired by the world’s love affair with Indian chai.
Chai, which is sometimes overlooked, adds a distinct warm flavor and depth. It can include a number of different spices. Cardamom is the most common ingredient, followed by some mixture of cinnamon, ginger, star anise and cloves. Pepper, coriander, nutmeg and fennel are also used but they are slightly less common.
For the finishing touch, I made a rum sauce. Who says bread pudding has to be boring!
Mango Bread Pudding with Chai Spices
In a small bowl, place lukewarm water & sprinkle with yeast & a pinch of sugar; stir to combine. Let stand about 5-10 minutes until frothy. In a large bowl, place 4 cups flour, sugar & salt; whisk to combine.
Make a well in the center of flour mixture & add eggs, egg yolk & oil; whisk to form a slurry. Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Combine with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix forms.
On a floured work surface, turn out dough & knead for about 10 minutes. If dough is sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky. The dough should be soft, smooth & hold a ball shape. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise, in a draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Divide the dough into 3 or 6 equal pieces, depending on the type of braid you wish to make. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope about 16-inches long. If the ropes shrink as you try to roll them, let them rest 5 minutes to relax the gluten & then try again. For the 6 stranded braid as I made, the name of the game is 'over two, under one, over two'. Carry the right-most rope over the two ropes beside it, slip it under the middle rope, then carry it over the last two ropes. Lay the rope down parallel to the other ropes; it is now the furthest strand. Repeat this pattern until you reach the end of the loaf. Try to make your braid as tight as possible. Once you reach the end, squeeze the ends of the ropes together & tuck them under the loaf.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the braided loaf on top & sprinkle with a little flour. Cover with a tea towel & allow to rise about 1 hour. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 350 F. When ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with 1 Tbsp. of water & brush carefully over challah. Bake 30-35 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Remove from oven & cool before cutting up for bread pudding.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8 x 8-inch baking dish; toss bread & mango cubes together in it. In a medium bowl, whisk the rest of the ingredients together & pour over the bread & mangoes; allow the mixture to soak for about 5 minutes. Bake about 1 1/4 hours, or until set.
In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter. Mix together sugar & cornstarch; stir into the melted butter. Slowly pour in milk, stirring frequently until mixture begins to lightly boil. Continue cooking until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat & stir in rum. Serve warm over bread pudding.
There’s a whole chickpea world out there beyond hummus. From crunchy, spicy snacks to main ingredients in baking and cooking. This is a wonderful ingredient that can adapt extremely well with herbs and spices.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, grow in hot parts of the world so they are naturally a key ingredient in the cuisine of countries such as India, Mexico, Egypt and the southern part of Italy. Despite their origins, chickpeas are available everywhere, usually in either canned or dried form. There is very little difference in nutritional value between precooked, canned chickpeas and the dried variety you cook yourself.
In our part of the country, I remember these peas/beans first appearing in the restaurant salad bars. Chickpeas were one of several choices set out in bowls to add to salad greens. Then a few years later they became better known when ‘Mediterranean hummus’ became trendy. Then the notion came up to use them in baking. Legumes in cake? Remember the big debate when ‘someone’ decided to put carrots and zucchini in cakes etc. (not to mention tomato soup).
Chocolate chickpea cake has been a success for quite a while now so I decided to try a different take on the idea of the flourless cake.
Apple Chickpea Flan w/ Raspberry Sauce
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 4 custard baking cups or a 9 X 9-inch square baking pan.
In a food processor, place applesauce, rinsed chickpeas & eggs; blend until almost smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Place in a large bowl.
In another bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture & stir to combine. Pour into baking dishes & bake for about 50 minutes OR until it tests done with an inserted toothpick.
To make raspberry sauce: In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar & salt. Add water & raspberries; cook until clear & bubbling. Remove from heat & add margarine & lemon juice & zest. Cool & serve over chickpea flan.
- In place of one of the eggs I used 1 Tbsp ground flax seed plus 3 Tbsp water.