Nothing says spring more than the zesty, fresh flavor of lemons. Just to kick it up a notch, I decided to make some limoncello desserts.
Limoncello, (pronounced lee-mon-CHAY-low) the Italian lemon liqueur, is known for its refreshing sweet and tangy flavor. It is made from lemon rinds, alcohol and sugar. Although, traditionally served as an after dinner drink, it is a wonderful ingredient to use in cooking and baking.
Limoncello origins are disputed. Some say it was created by monks or nuns while others credit the wealthy Amalfi Coast families or even local townsfolk. In any case, its roots are in Southern Italy, primarily along Italy’s Amalfi Coast and the Sorrentine Peninsula known for their meticulous lemon cultivation. These lemons are considered the finest lemons for making limoncello. Prized for their yellow rinds, intense fragrance, juicy flesh and balanced acid.
Some years ago, while travelling in Italy, Brion & I tasted athentic limoncello in the town of Sorrento. As we walked through the quaint artisan shops packed together onto a maze of medieval alleys, we came accross one that sold liqueurs & confectionery. One of the treats that they made were limoncello sugar coated almonds … to die for!
Today’s little cakes use limoncello not only in the cake but the frosting and glaze as well. Definitely gives them some spring zing!
Limoncello Mini Cakes
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter & flour 4 mini bundt pans.
In a small bowl, cream butter & sugar; add egg & mix well. Fold in the flour then add milk & limoncello; beat well. Spoon mixture into the bundt pans & bake for 18 minutes or until they test done. Allow to cool.
Cream Cheese Frosting
In a small bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese & limoncello (if using). Add powdered sugar & mix until smooth.
In a small saucepan, whisk together sugar, lemon zest & egg. Cook until sugar dissolves & the mixture turns light in color, about 2 minutes. Stir in limoncello & cook for about 5 minutes or until mixture thinly coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat & whisk in butter. Cover with plastic wrap & cool before using.
Place cakes on a serving plate. Fill the center indentation from the bundt pan with glaze as well as glazing the tops. Place frosting in a piping bag with a tip that has a small hole. Pipe frosting to look like lemon slices.
Quiche has always been an incomparable, one dish meal in my opinion. It’s kind of a whole food with protein, vegetables, dairy and carbohydrates. Quiche’s convenience wins hands down. After mixing the basics … eggs, milk or cream … any ingredients will work from leftovers to freshly cooked. You can use just about anything that you have in the refrigerator.
While some recipes are crust-free, most quiches have some kind of foundation. Potatoes, rice, cauliflower all make nice ‘crust’ options. Quiche makes a great choice for breakfast, lunch or dinner. To keep it interesting, I’m always trying to find ways to tweak the ingredients to make it taste just a bit different each time.
Two of Brion’s favorite foods are broccoli and rice. I decided to make a rice/cheese crust, which I pre-baked so it would get a little crispy. Then, when it bakes with the filling, it holds together quite nicely. The seasoning plays a crucial part in the quiche.
Shrimp Quiche Casserole
Preheat oven to 350 F. Blend crust ingredients. Using the back of a large spoon, press into a greased 8-inch round baking dish & bake for 15-20 minutes.
In a skillet, melt 1 Tbsp butter; saute garlic & mushrooms, stirring for about 5 minutes. Stir in onions, cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
Pour 2 cups water into skillet & bring to a simmer. Cook shrimp for about 1 minute or JUST until pink. Reserving 1 cup of the liquid, rinse shrimp under cold running water. Shell & devein shrimp; arrange over rice in baking dish.
Preheat oven to 325 F. (If you have turned it off after pre-baking crust). In a heavy saucepan, melt remaining butter & stir in flour. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, without browning; gradually whisk in reserved liquid & milk. Cook, stirring, for about 20 minutes or until thickened.
Remove from heat; stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese, lemon zest & spices until cheese is melted. Stir into vegetable mixture & pour over shrimp in rice crust.
In a small bowl, stir together remaining 1/4 cup cheese & bread crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over 'quiche'.
Bake for about 40 minutes or until quiche is 'set'. Cut into wedges & serve.
While there are numerous ways to enjoy spaghetti squash, I favor stuffed. You are only limited by your imagination when it comes to stuffing. Beef, turkey, chicken along with rice and a nice smoky cheese like Gruyere or even mozzarella and Parmesan work really well.
It’s called spaghetti squash for a reason. Just steam, microwave or bake the squash in its shell and scrape out the flesh with a fork or spoon. No need for a spiralizer as it separates its own flesh in slender pasta-like strands. It makes for a remarkable stand-in for pasta dishes and with such a mild flavor you can chose from any number of sauces to give it a flavor boost.
This stuffed squash is the full meal deal. Along with veggies, you have chicken, sausage and cheese. Super good!
Sausage & Chicken Stuffed Spaghetti Squash
Preheat oven to 400 F. Drizzle cut sides of spaghetti squash with oil & season with salt & pepper. Place cut side down on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender, 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Using a fork, break up squash strands. Set aside.
Filling & Topping
In a large skillet, scramble-fry sausage in olive oil; drain on paper towels. Add another Tbsp oil to skillet; saute onion & pepper about 3-4 minutes then add tomatoes, zucchini, garlic & lemon zest. Season with salt, pepper & Italian seasoning & cook 3-4 minutes more. Gently stir in squash, cooked chicken & sausage & remove from heat.
Divide mixture between spaghetti squash halves (or quarters). Top each spaghetti squash portion with mozzarella cheese & return to oven to melt for 5 minutes. Garnish with Parmesan & serve.
Saskatoon berries are very high on my list of nostalgic memories from my childhood. How these little berries can evoke such a flood of treasured thoughts is amazing. Our family farm was located in Southern Alberta, (Canada). If you were to stand on our farmhouse, west veranda, the sight of the ‘foothills’ came into view (foothills are an upland area that flank the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains).
How wonderful it was to be able to pack a picnic lunch on a Sunday afternoon and be able to drive there. It was like a whole different world. A landscape of long ridges and rolling hills covered in native lodgepole pine, aspens and spruce trees. The small streams wound their way through meadows of dwarf birch, willow and prairie grasses. You could easily come across some of the beautiful wildlife such as elk, moose or deer that lived there.
This is where our family would go to pick saskatoon berries. Very often we were accompanied by family friends or relatives. It was such a great time, everyone picking berries together, eating Mom’s fabulous fried chicken and potato salad (etc. etc.) for our picnic lunch. I was looking at some pictures from those times. We must have had some hot dogs on one occasion and I burnt my mouth it seems. What priceless memories!
With ‘saskatoon season’ in full swing, Brion and I thought it would be great to pick our own this year. It certainly can’t get any fresher than that. We chose the U-Pick farm called GROVE BERRY PATCH. This is a family owned and operated farm with 20 acres of saskatoon berries and 1 acre of raspberries, black currants, highbush cranberries and vegetables. They are located 1.5 km south off Highway 16A on Spruce Valley Road, Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada.
It was such a nice little adventure. The morning was beautiful and the atmosphere of the berry farm and its family owners was very enjoyable. We picked a pail full of gorgeous saskatoons in a short space of time. I had originally started out with thinking I would post one recipe but of course, its turns out to be three. They consist of some Saskatoon Rhubarb Tarts, Saskatoon Butter Tarts and some Saskatoon Cream Cheese Tarts. Yum!
We are adding a few pics, not only of the tarts but some from the berry farm as well as a couple from my childhood days. Hope you enjoy the blog.
Saskatoon Berry Tarts
Filling for SASKATOON RHUBARB TARTS
Filling for SASKATOON BUTTER TARTS
Filling for CREAM CHEESE SASKATOON TARTS
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder & salt until completely combined. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or fork.
Measure the vinegar into a liquid measuring cup, then add enough ice cold water to make 1/2 cup. Pour over flour mixture, gently stir with a fork ONLY until combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap & place in refrigerator for a minimum of an hour so it can chill well. When ready to use, Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface. Using a 3 1/2" cookie cutter, cut out tart shells & place them in tart pans.
Saskatoon Rhubarb Filling & Streusel
In a small saucepan, combine saskatoons, diced rhubarb, sugar & cardamom. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine water, lemon juice & cornstarch. Whisk together to make a slurry. Add to to saucepan & cook on medium heat, stirring until mixture becomes thickened. Remove from heat; add vanilla & allow to cool before using.
FOR STREUSAL: Place all streusal ingredients in a small dish & combine with finger tips until crumbly. Spoon berry filling into tart shells & top with streusal. Bake at 375 F. until pastry is golden.
Saskatoon Butter Tart Filling
FOR BERRY TOPPING: In a small saucepan, mix together berries & water; simmer for 10 minutes over low-medium heat. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar & cornstarch then add to the berries & combine. Stir in lemon juice; simmer until mixture slightly thickens. Set aside to cool.
FOR BUTTER TART LAYER: First beat together eggs. In a saucepan, melt the butter then add sugar, vanilla, cream, raisins & beaten eggs. Bring to a boil over medium heat & boil for 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.
TO ASSEMBLE: Place a heaping Tbsp of butter tart mixture into each shell, then fill remainder of the tart shell with the berry topping mixture. DO NOT MIX. Bake at 375 F. for 15-18 minutes or until pastry is golden. Cool before removing from tart pans.
Cream Cheese Saskatoon Tart Filling
FOR BERRY TOPPING: Crush 1 cup of saskatoon berries & place in a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Simmer about 2 minutes. Strain & return berry juice only to saucepan. Combine sugar & cornstarch; add to sauce. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture is thick & clear. Remove from heat & stir in remaining 2 cups of saskatoons to glaze & stir gently. Pre-bake tart shells.
FOR CREAM CHEESE LAYER: In a small bowl, blend together cream cheese, lemon zest, sugar & heavy cream. Divide cream cheese mixture between baked tart shells. Top with generous portions of berry topping & serve.
- The pastry recipe will yield about 48 mini tarts. I had doubled the pastry recipe because I wanted to make all 3 kinds. It's so nice to have some in the freezer for future use.
- If you make the pastry in 2 separate batches it seems to be nicer for some reason.
- If you happen to have any filling left over, it freezes well for another time.
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.
Lemon Pepper Shortbread Cookies
In a bowl, cream butter, sugar & vanilla until light & creamy.
In another bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, lemon zest & spices.
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.
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.
With Easter coming up real soon, why not bake something different this year or should I say, different for me. Swiss Rice Tart has a custard type filling made with rice, eggs, milk, citrusy lemon zest, ground almonds all baked in a sweet, crunchy pastry. Traditionally only served during Easter time in Switzerland, it is a wonderful non-fussy and unusual brunch dish/dessert item.
It took a bit of time to try and learn some history of this Easter specialty. It seems that the first available recipes for a similar tart are from the end of the 16th century. In a cookbook by Anna Wecker, (the first German cookbook to be published by a woman) there was mention of a similar tart. In some of the early recipes, Parmesan cheese was included in the dough but this was abandoned for a sweeter crust. Another version used bread as a starchy filling instead of rice or semolina and the flavoring was rosewater and wine. By the 19th century, the tart, as it is known today, made its way into the rotation of most Swiss bakeries.
The key to getting the right consistency for the filling is to slightly overcook the rice from the beginning as it needs to to become smooth and creamy. The ground almonds, amaretto liqueur and raisins all add richness to the flavor of this ‘rice pudding baked in a crust’.
Swiss Easter Rice Tart
In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, salt & baking powder to blend. Add butter & pulse about 3-4 times, until butter is in pea- size pieces. Sprinkle in the ice water; pulse another 4 times. Turn dough out on a lightly floured work surface & knead gently a few times to form a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate at least an hour.
In a small bowl, combine amaretto liqueur & raisins & allow to marinate until ready to add to filling.
In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Stir in rice, lower heat to medium & cook until rice is soft & water is absorbed. Add evaporated milk, skim milk, butter, sugar & salt. Bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat to low & add amaretto liqueur ONLY, setting raisins aside.
Simmer until mixture has thickened almost to a 'risotto' consistency, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat & place the saucepan in a bowl of ice water for 10 minutes to cool mixture.
Preheat oven to 350 F. & place oven rack in the lowest position. When cooled, pour rice mixture into a bowl; add lemon zest & raisins. Mix ground almonds with the 1 Tbsp flour & fold into mixture along with eggs.
Press chilled pastry evenly into tart pan. Trim edges flush with pan. Pour filling into pastry dough & bake about 35 minutes, until filling is set & golden. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar & almond slices (create a design if you wish) before serving.
- This recipe was adapted from a site called cuisine Switzerland.
- I had used a 10-inch tart pan for mine but there was a small amount of filling left over which had to be baked in a casserole dish.
- I would suggest using a 10-inch spring form pan instead so the pastry sides could be higher to accommodate the extra filling.