Rhubarb Almond Lattice Cake

There are few food combinations as heavenly as strawberries and rhubarb. This is food for the soul! The juicy sweetness of one balances out the almost inedible tartness of the other. Then there is that gorgeous color that strawberries bring to make rhubarb look so good. It’s a classic pairing that’s hard to get enough of if you enjoy this seasonal treat.

Since rhubarb appears quite frequently on my summer blogs, I wanted to give it a different look today. As usual I’m trying to meld a few ideas together into one dessert. The lattice top, made from tender summer rhubarb is weaved over a layer of almond cake. Then strawberry/vanilla filling comes next with the bottom consisting of a second layer of the almond cake. It may require a little more time than some desserts but well worth the effort.

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Rhubarb Almond Lattice Cake
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Course Brunch, dessert
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Almond Cake
Rhubarb Lattice Topping
Course Brunch, dessert
Servings
Ingredients
Almond Cake
Rhubarb Lattice Topping
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Instructions
Almond cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line TWO 9-inch round baking pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, ground almonds, baking powder, baking soda & salt. In a large bowl, beat butter & sugar with a mixer until light & fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, scraping sides of bowl after each addition. Beat in almond extract.
  3. Beat in flour mixture on low in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk, until just combined.
  4. Divide batter evenly between cake pans & bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack.
Rhubarb Lattice Topping
  1. Peel thin slices off the rhubarb with a knife or vegetable peeler. Use the outer skins as they are the pinkest & save the leftover stalks to make the filling.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the water & sugar until sugar is dissolved & the mixture is just simmering. Over low heat, add a few rhubarb strips at a time & poach until soft, about a minute. Remove to a plate to cool. Repeat with remaining rhubarb strips. Place a piece of plastic wrap on a plate & form the lattice top for your cake. Set aside the poaching syrup & allow to cool.
Strawberry/Rhubarb Filling
  1. Combine diced rhubarb & strawberry gelatin in a large microwave-safe glass bowl. Cover bowl & cook for a couple of minutes until rhubarb is soft. Let mixture cool. Stir milk & vanilla pudding mix in a bowl until moistened. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until thickened, about 2 minutes; stir cooled strawberry/rhubarb mixture into pudding mixture.
Assembly
  1. Once cakes have cooled, place one on top of rhubarb lattice. Spread the strawberry/rhubarb filling on top of this before placing second cake on top of that. Carefully place a light serving dish over cake & turn over so that the rhubarb lattice is on the top. Neaten up the edges of the lattice work by cutting with a pair of scissors if necessary. Drizzle over any remaining syrup (if you wish). Slice & serve.
Recipe Notes
  • If you wish, place a layer of fresh sliced strawberries on the cake after you have topped the first layer with filling.

Baked Seafood Stuffed Avocados

Very often when you browse through ideas for preparing avocados the comment is made that they should never be cooked. Avocados are most often eaten raw, chopped up in a salad, spread on toast or made into guacamole. This is usually because they can very quickly become bitter once heated. However, if cooked just right, they are delicious.

Roasting avocados is more of an art than a science. If you choose to roast slices, adding some oil, garlic or chili powder with a little salt and pepper helps to draw out the natural flavor. If you want to slice them in half and remove the seed, you can add any number of fillings. Just bake and enjoy, knowing that the flesh just next to the skin, is the most nutritious part of the fruit.

These crab and shrimp filled avocados make an extraordinary Sunday or special occasion brunch entree. If you like avocados and seafood, this one’s for you!

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Baked Seafood Stuffed Avocados
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Slice & pit avocados. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients; mix well.
  2. Spoon the mixture equally on top of each avocado half. Place in a glass 9 X 13-inch baking dish or 4 individual servings dishes. Make sure your avocados will not tip over during baking time. Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked. Serve immediately.

Amigos Birthday

Today, December 21st, a very special member of our family is having his 15th  birthday. He is ‘our’ little mini German Dachshund with the cute name of ‘Amigo’. My sister Loretta, adopted Amigo when he was only two months old so needless to say, their hearts have been well secured together.

Brion & I have had the incredible pleasure of being able to share in his life as well. On different occasions he stayed with us while Loretta had to attend to other things. It would usually take a bit of time at first for him to accept the idea she was gone temporarily. Then we would become part of his ‘pack’.

When I was growing up on the farm we had a Collie. I loved that dog but being a farm dog living outdoors, your interactions were only when you were out of the house. Until we cared for Amigo, I just had no idea what a privilege it is to be loved by a dog. Dachshunds are such a special breed. Amigo has left an imprint on my heart that will remain forever with me. Whenever Amigo is present, he brings such happiness and the perspective to enjoy the moment along with a dogs’ uncanny ability to understand humans and give so much unconditional love. We humans really need to learn some of these virtues.

As we watch him growing older, I find it so unfair that animals give so much and yet they still have to suffer the aches and pains of old age the same as humans. It seems they should be spared this ordeal.

Amigo is definitely a great source of pleasure to Loretta and I am truly grateful their lives were connected so long ago.

Two of Amigos favorite foods have always been cheese and chicken. Although he isn’t going to be having any, I’m putting a chicken meal on my blog today in honor of his birthday.

                                             HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMIGO!


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Cranberry-Gruyere Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Chicken breasts go from ordinary to extraordinary when filled with tart cranberries and Gruyere cheese.

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Cuisine American

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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American

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Instructions
Chicken & Stuffing
  1. Flatten chicken breast to a 1/4-inch thickness. In a small bowl, combine cheese & cranberries. Divide cheese mixture between breasts; roll up & secure with toothpicks.

Breading
  1. In a food processor, place walnuts & parsley; cover & process until ground but not over processed. Transfer to a shallow bowl; stir in bread crumbs, salt & pepper. In another shallow bowl, combine eggs & mustard. Place flour in a third shallow bowl. Coat chicken with flour, then dip in egg mixture & coat with walnut mixture.

  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with greased foil paper. Place breasts seam side down & bake for 35-40 minutes or until thermometer reads 170 F. Remove from oven; discard toothpicks & serve. This is real nice served with couscous & a veggie.

Stollen Pull-Apart Ring

For me, stollen is  one of those nostalgic foods that brings back lots of great memories. It all started when my mother’s ‘pen pal’ (of 20 years), would send our family a loaf of her homemade stollen bread through the mail at Christmas. She lived in different province of Canada than we did and it seemed so amazing to receive this perishable item through the postal service. Nevertheless, it left a lasting imprint on me to become one of those precious ‘taste of a memory’ foods.

Over time, I have made this traditional German Christmas specialty in various ways. This year my choice is to make it as a pull-apart bread. This term refers to a bread formed from pieces of dough, placed next to and on top of each other in a pan and baked. This bread required no knives to serve.

An interesting concept that has been called many names such as bubble bread or loaf, jumble bread, monkey bread etc. Initially it was formed pieces of yeast dough dipped in butter and baked in a loaf to be served with jam or preserves. In 1942, General Mills (Betty Crocker) promoted ‘Hungarian Coffee Cake’, which consisted of balls of yeast dough dipped in melted butter, then in sugar frequently mixed with cinnamon and/or chopped nuts. It was baked in a ring pan because the central tube helped prevent the center from being under baked and sinking due to all the butter. ‘Betty Crocker’ had a real way for turning unknown recipes into mainstream ideas.

By the 1990’s, General Mills promotions began entitling this sugar coated treat as ‘Monkey Bread’. However, it may have been silent-screen movie star, ‘Zasu Pitts’, who provided this whimsical name. The term and recipe initially appeared in the Thursday, February 8th, 1945 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press (Canada) in the column ‘Culinary Clinic’. Zasu was most often remembered for her extraordinary name, huge eyes and fluttering fingers. Besides acting, she had a passion for cooking and published a 93 page cookbook in 1963.

Most of the early recipes called for rolling out the dough and cutting it into diamond shapes instead of forming balls. The widespread popularization of money bread corresponded to the advent of the commercial refrigerated biscuit dough in the 1950’s. One of the later innovations is to insert a little cinnamon-sugar coated cube of cream cheese in the center of each dough ball or drizzle with a cream cheese glaze.

For my pull-apart stollen, I’m using a yeast-free recipe. It’s an interesting version that mimics the traditional flavor well. To serve, you can pull-apart the bread rolls or slice it  — your choice!

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Stollen Pull-Apart Ring
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Course Brunch, dessert
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Instructions
  1. Grease a tube pan & set aside. In a bowl, combine candied peel, water & extracts; set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, almonds, baking powder, salt, & spices. Cut in butter until it resembles fine crumbs.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. To candied peel mixture, add cottage cheese, eggs, lemon zest & raisins. Combine well with flour mixture. Arrange scoops of stollen batter into tube pan. Bake about 40-45 minutes or until test done. Cool on wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar.

Baked Avocado Fries with Strawberry-Rhubarb Salsa

Taking vegetables and turning them into ‘fries’ isn’t a new concept. Through the years we have definitely  become more knowledgeable about nutrition and healthier eating. It seems we are always looking for a way to have that deep fried flavor without consuming so much of the grease.

Trends come and go, but you have to admit, avocados are still high on most of our priority lists. There seems to be endless ways beyond guacamole to unleash their true potential. Baked avocado fries are amazing. Crisp and crunchy on the outside while being smooth and creamy on the inside.

Nothing says ‘summer’ like strawberries and rhubarb. Usually the combo appears in pies, crumbles and the like. But, I think the avocado fries are beckoning me to make a savory salsa out of them. This salsa is a great balance of sweet, tart and spicy — summer eating at its best!

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Baked Avocado Fries with Strawberry-Rhubarb Salsa
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Instructions
Salsa
  1. In a small saucepan with boiling water, cook sliced rhubarb for about 1 minute or until tender crisp but not mushy. Drain. In a bowl, combine rhubarb, onion & strawberries. In a blender, pulse oil, apple cider vinegar & honey; combine dressing with chopped cilantro & rhubarb mixture. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Set aside until ready to use.
Avocado Fries
  1. Prepare avocado slices. Preheat oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & place a wire rack on the sheet. Set aside.
  2. In a small dish, measure seasoning & combine. In 3 separate dishes place beaten eggs, flour & panko crumbs. Divide seasoning between them. Coat each avocado slice in the flour, then the eggs & finally the panko. Place on the wire rack & spray lightly with cooking spray.
  3. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until panko is lightly browned Cool about 10 minutes & serve with strawberry-rhubarb salsa.
Recipe Notes
  • Salsa also tastes great on a fresh summer salad or fish tacos.
  • Avocado fries can be served in warm tortillas topped with strawberry-rhubarb salsa or just as is with your favorite dip or sprinkled with Parmesan.

Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Ground Beef & Olives

Ricing vegetables has been around for as long as I remember. Maybe not to the degree that is happening today. I recall a utensil my mother had that resembled a large garlic press. It was called a potato ricer and to my knowledge was only used for potatoes to change the texture.

As time has passed, this idea has evolved into so much more. Cauliflower ‘rice’ came on the scene as a popular grain-free alternative to rice. As with many food trends, the ‘riced’ craze has continued using other veggies like sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, onions and peas.

The grocery stores have jumped on the bandwagon with fresh and frozen products and in a variety of plain and flavored versions.

Making your own riced vegetables is even easier than in days gone by. Just trim, chop and pulse your veggies in a food processor. Cook with a quick steam or saute and flavor with some fresh herbs and spices. Of course, you can always change it up with other chopped veggies, nuts or a sprinkle of cheese.

Riced cauliflower can be used on its own, fried, in baked casseroles or as I’m using it today, in a pizza crust. A different texture than traditional pizza crust but loaded with flavor. Its sort of firm, chewy and soft all at the same time. I wasn’t sure how well we would like this pizza but it tasted just great with the addition of some homemade bread sticks.

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Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Ground Beef & Olives
Instructions
Cauliflower Crust
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a 14-inch pizza with parchment paper. Process cauliflower. In a bowl, combine all crust ingredients. Pat mixture onto pizza pan & press to form pizza crust. Bake 15-20 minutes; remove from oven.
Pizza Toppings
  1. In a skillet, crumble fry beef & mushrooms with spices until cooked. Drain & cool slightly. Carefully 'spread' cauliflower crust with tomato sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese, meat mixture, red peppers & sliced olives. Sprinkle with grated parmigano-reggiano & bake an additional 7-10 minutes, until cheese melted. Remove from oven & allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Seafood Avocado Omelette

I had no idea when I completed my studies in the commercial food industry that there would be some food items I would make so many times. One such item was an omelette. 

In the early years of my career, my first position was a short order chef. It all sounded pretty easy until it came to the weekends. On Sunday morning alone, you could use anywhere from 90-120 DOZEN eggs. A large percentage of them were made into omelettes with various fillings. All this would be made and served in the course of 4-5 hours as individual breakfasts in the hotel restaurant. That job definitely taught you the perseverance you would need to survive in the industry. 

Omelettes have a long history dating back to 16th century France. Most are made with just simple egg and dairy ingredients. The fluffiest omelettes use whole eggs or all egg whites, which are beaten with a small measure of cream, milk or water. I even recall adding just a tiny bit of pancake batter to give them more body.

Legend has it that when Napoleon and his army were travelling through the south of France, they spent one night near Bessieres. Napoleon ate an omelette prepared by a local cook and enjoyed it so much that he ordered the townspeople to gather all the eggs in the village and prepare a gigantic omelette for his army the next day.  Since 1973, every year on the Monday following Easter, people in Bessieres, France make a giant omelette, using 15,000 fresh eggs.

I have added some pictures of this huge omelette as well as one of a cook dumping egg shells in a pile.

The recipe I am including is an adaptation of an omelette I enjoyed at a restaurant called Mariah’s sometime in the eighties. At the time it was located in the seaside town of Carlsbad, California, USA.

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Seafood Avocado Omelette
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Course Brunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, French
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Course Brunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, French
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Instructions
Guacamole
  1. In a small dish, combine all guacamole ingredients; set aside.
Omelettes
  1. Preheat an electric flat griddle to 325 F. Saute mushrooms, green onions & shrimp in margarine keeping each separate from each other. Remove from griddle. Carefully pour beaten eggs onto griddle forming two large circles. Divide guacamole, mushrooms, cheese, crab meat & shrimp between the two omelettes.
  2. Cover with a large sheet pan for a few minutes until all is cooked, being careful not to over or under cook. Fold each omelette over & place on serving plates. Top with sauteed green onions. Add some fruit for a garnish if you prefer.

Easter French Toast with Strawberry Compote

HAPPY EASTER!

Easter is synonymous with spring which speaks of new life and fresh hope. After the cold winter there is nothing we look forward to more than having a sunny day and seeing the flowers peeking up through the ground. Buds on the trees open up after having slept all winter. Leaves burst out of the buds in fresh green color when the sun gets brighter and warmer.  The season of spring really is a time of renewal.

Whether or not your religious, Easter has some pretty magical facets to it. I remember as a kid the ‘secret bunny’ leaving colorful eggs and little baskets filled with a few goodies. My sisters and I always got a new Easter dress and ‘straw bonnet’ to wear to the church service. Then of course, the wonderful Easter meal itself.

After having good luck with my Easter bread, we are having some for Easter brunch.                                                                                                                     ORANGE ANISE FRENCH TOAST w/ STRAWBERRIES & GREEK YOGURT — perfect!

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Easter French Toast with Strawberry Compote
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Course Brunch, Lunch
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Strawberry Compote
French Toast
Course Brunch, Lunch
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Ingredients
Strawberry Compote
French Toast
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Instructions
Strawberry Compote
  1. Rinse, hull & slice strawberries. Zest & juice lemon. In a small saucepan, whisk together lemon zest & juice, sugar, water & cornstarch. Add strawberries, mixing gently while bringing to a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly.
French Toast
  1. In a shallow bowl, beat eggs; whisk in milk, salt & cinnamon. Soak the slices of Easter bread in egg/milk mixture for 30 seconds on each side. Cook on hot griddle until golden brown on both sides & cooked through.
  2. Serve strawberry compote over french toast & Greek french vanilla yogurt.

Oatmeal Pie / Tarts

As basic as it seems, oatmeal is like an artist’s canvas with unlimited ways to prepare, cook and bake it. During the economic depression of the 1930’s, everything  was in short supply. Sometimes oatmeal was substituted for expensive pecans, resulting in a delicious oatmeal pie that tasted similar to a pecan pie. It also became known as ‘mock pecan pie’ or ‘poor man’s pecan pie’. 

There are a great many recipes for oatmeal pie on the internet. Some use molasses, some brown sugar and others, a combination of the two. I’ve also seen the pie having coconut in it. For me, I’m not big on molasses or coconut so I decided to just go with the brown and white sugar version. For the pastry, it is one of my favorite single crust shells using a cornmeal/flour mix. Instead of making a single pie, I opted for tarts and served them with a bit of whip cream. Brion and I could really understand how this ‘mock’ oatmeal pie made a good substitute for a pecan pie.

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Oatmeal Pie / Tarts
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Filling
Course dessert
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Filling
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Instructions
Pie Crust
  1. In a small bowl, combine sour cream & ice water; set aside. In a food processor, pulse cornmeal for a few seconds. Add flour, & salt; pulse just to combine. Empty mixture into a medium bowl; cut in butter until mixture resembles small peas. Add sour cream/ water mixture, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute & forms a dough. Wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate until filling is ready.
Filling
  1. In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, oatmeal, sugar & salt. Add milk, eggs, butter & vanilla; stir until fully combined.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place pie dough between two sheets of plastic wrap; roll it fit a 9-inch pie pan. Pour filling into pie shell & place in oven. Bake 45-50 minutes or until tests done. Centers will rise slightly when baked & become flat when cooled. Allow to cool 10-15 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Recipe Notes
  • If you can, allow the pastry to cool for a longer period of time.

Apple-Anise Bread Pudding

Bread pudding always gives me reason to remember good things. Why is it so beloved, aside from the extreme comfort food factor? It’s not that the dish was invented here — that honor likely goes to clever medieval or even ancient cooks in Europe and the Middle East who had a surplus of stale bread on their hands. The perfect embodiment of the virtues of frugality and indulgence: day old bread, too precious to waste, is bathed in a mixture of milk and eggs and made into either a sweet or savory bread pudding (with a few other additions) and baked into something sublime.

In 2015, ‘The Taste of a Memory’, a memorabilia/cookbook I wrote as a tribute to my wonderful parents, was published. It contained a compilation of stories, articles, recipes and reflections that evoke an intimate memory, special time period and fond emotion brought about by the aroma and taste of food. Writing them down not only puts them in print but allowed me to take a mental journey back to a gentler time. Hopefully this book will be enjoyed by future generations or just anyone choosing to read it. As with my other book endeavors, Brion’s strong support and technical savvy were invaluable.

For today’s blog, I chose a recipe from the book called  APPLE-ANISE BREAD PUDDING. The licorice flavor of anise is one we both enjoy.

Anise seed is native to the Mediterranean basin and has been used throughout history in both sweet and savory applications. Anise seeds are not botanically related to star anise, but have nearly identical flavors and in ground form can be substituted for each other. For most part, Europeans use anise in cakes, cookies and sweet breads where as the Middle East uses it in soups and stews.

I don’t particularly recall my mother using anise in her cooking or baking but for my sister Loretta and I, it’s definitely one of our favorite flavors.  I hope you enjoy this bread pudding recipe.

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Apple-Anise Bread Pudding
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Pulse bread CRUSTS ONLY in a food processor to make bread crumbs. Reserve 1 cup for the topping. Butter an 8 x 8-inch baking dish & coat with 1-2 Tbsp of the remaining bread crumbs.
  2. With a mixer, beat eggs & then add the sugar. Mix in anise seeds, cinnamon, vanilla & milk until combined. Pour into a large bowl & add bread bread cubes. Fold together gently with a spatula then pour into prepared baking dish. Top with diced apples & chopped walnuts.
  3. In a small dish, combine reserved 1 cup bread crumbs with 2 Tbs melted butter & 1 Tbsp sugar. Sprinkle topping evenly over pudding.
  4. Prepare a 'hot water bath'. For this you will need another pan that's larger than & at least as deep as the bread pudding pan itself. When you set the bread pudding pan in it and add water it should go about halfway up the sides. This will ensure even, slow baking for a smooth velvety result.
  5. Bake about an hour or until it tests done. Pudding should be puffy & golden. Serve as is or with whipped cream, your choice!
Recipe Notes
  • ANISE SUGAR -    for tea, on top of cookies or over fruit.
  • In a blender, combine 1 cup sugar with 1 T. anise seed
  • Blend on high speed until mixture is thoroughly combined
  • Store in a moisture proof jar