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.
I guess if I were trying to classify this meal, I would put it somewhere between a crustless quiche and a frittata. Sometimes you just put together ingredients you like and it tastes amazing. There’s no incredible back story or cooking revelation, its just turns out to be a great meal.
Quiche and frittata are both egg dishes but they’re not just for breakfast anymore. The difference is the quiche, crustless or not, is made by adding ingredients to a custard base of eggs and heavy cream, milk or half & half that is poured into a baking dish and baked. With frittatas, eggs dominate and little or no cream or milk is used.
Usually they are first cooked in a pan on the top of the stove and then finished in the oven. These vegetable-bacon squares need only to be baked in the oven. For a nice compliment to this meal, I made some quick 5-ingredient bagels … no yeast or boiling required.
Vegetable-Bacon Squares w/ Baked Bagels
Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter a 9 X 9-inch baking dish; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat eggs until a little bit frothy. Sift in the flour & beat until well combined then whisk in oil. Add zucchini, carrot, onion, bacon & cheese; gently mix to combine.
Pour into prepared baking dish, smooth the top & bake for about 30-35 minutes or until 'set'. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into serving pieces.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place parchment over a wire rack on a baking sheet.
In a bowl, whisk flour, baking powder & salt. Add yogurt & mix with a fork until combined. It should resemble small crumbles. Lightly flour work surface & knead dough a few times until tacky but not sticky. Dough should not stick to your hands at this point.
Divide into 4 equal balls. Roll each ball into 3/4-inch thick ropes & join the ends to form bagels. Top with egg wash & sprinkle with a topping of your choice or just leave plain. Bake on the top rack of the oven for 25 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before cutting.
A little touch of exotic seems like a good idea in late February. When you think of bananas and papaya, doesn’t tropical come to mind? I never seem to have much luck when I bake with bananas. I would rather eat them raw, in fact you might say they are a staple at our house. But, I have hung on to this muffin recipe for a long time and never tried it. Papayas are not something I usually buy, but that soft buttery texture and slight musky undertone paired with banana should work magic in this recipe.
You will notice the name of the recipe says ‘spiced’ and when you read it there is only one teaspoon of cardamom spice in it. A little bit of this pungent spice packs a big punch so it is good to use it sparingly. The flavor of cardamom is wonderfully complex … herbal, spicy, floral and slightly sweet.
Cardamom is a spice that’s used in both sweet and savory cooking in many cuisines all over the world. No other spice more completely captures the essence of the exotic and that exactly what I was aiming for.
Spiced Papaya-Banana Muffins
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cardamom & baking powder. In another bowl, combine mashed banana, papaya, oil & beaten egg.
Add wet ingredients to flour mixture, stirring gently, then fold in pistachios. Stir ONLY until batter is combined.
Put batter in muffin tray cups lined with paper cups, filling each to about 3/4 full. Top with remaining chopped pistachios.
Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until baked through. Remove from oven & let them cool in the tray for 10 minutes, then put the muffins on a wire rack to finish cooling.
- This recipe makes either 7 large muffins or 14 medium size.
CELEBRATING HERITAGE DAY!
In 1974, the first Monday of August was made an official provincial holiday to recognize and celebrate the varied cultural heritage of Albertans. Businesses can choose whether or not to recognize the day as a general holiday, which most do.
In our city of Edmonton, a three-day outdoor festival is held to sample food, see performances and celebrate Canada’s multiculturalism. It features 60 pavilions that represent more than 85 cultures from all over the world.
Even though many people will take in the days events and cultural food at the festival, some choose to pack a picnic lunch and take a drive somewhere to just relax.
I am posting some savory chicken scones that should work real well with that idea.
Savory Chicken Picnic Scones
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine yogurt & sage leaves; allow to stand for 10 minutes. In a saucepan, heat olive oil & saute onion for 5 minutes until soft, then set aside to cool.
In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder & salt; rub in butter to form fine breadcrumbs. Stir in yogurt/sage mixture as well as sauteed onion. Turn out onto a floured surface & knead very lightly. Divide dough into 4 or 6 equal pieces. Form into balls & lay on prepared baking sheet. Flatten to 3/4" thickness; brush tops with beaten egg. Bake about 10 minutes or until risen & golden.
When scones are cool, slice in half & spread lightly with butter. Top each of 4 (or 6) halves with chicken & bacon slices. Drizzle with Ranch dressing & place some cut pickled asparagus spears on top. Cover with remaining 4 scone halves. Serve with tomato wedges on the side.
CELEBRATING VICTORIA DAY!
Victoria Day is the distinctly Canadian holiday that is thought to officially wrap up the winter season. For us that like to ‘garden’, we used to think of it as the beginning of Spring. You could be fairly certain that frost would not return until Autumn but you notice I said, ‘used to’–
Canadians jokingly refer to Victoria day as May ‘two-four’ day. This is an inside joke which refers to a case of beer, containing 24 cans. For many, this is the first (warm-ish) long week-end since Easter, so they head to campsites armed with a 24 (can) case of beer to celebrate the beginning of Summer.
Even though we hang on to the British Queen’s name for old times sake, this tradition of Victoria day is truly Canadian and has everything to do with the end of the cold weather and short days and a lot to do with some great food.
Seeded chicken tenders seem to be a good menu choice for today. The versatility of buttermilk has made it a useful ingredient in many kitchens for both baking and cooking. Start with it’s signature acidic tang. Not only is it great in pancakes and waffles but these acidic ingredients make for wonderful marinades. Due to the fact that it’s only slightly acidic, buttermilk is capable of tenderizing poultry without toughening up the meat like some of the stronger marinating acids will do. The enzymes present help to break down the protein, resulting in a tender, flavorful fried chicken.
Of course, it all comes down to personal preference. Buttermilk belongs on the dinner table as much as at breakfast. Use it in place of regular milk in mashed potatoes or add a bit when making vinaigrette for some extra richness OR substitute buttermilk for a quarter to half of the liquid you use in your smoothy.
In this recipe, I used a buttermilk soak combined with the self-rising flour and seeds to create a crispy coating — juicy on the inside, crunchy on the outside!
Buttermilk Chicken Tenders with Seeded Crust
In a large bowl big enough to hold all of the chicken, whisk together seasonings & buttermilk. Add chicken tenders to marinade, stirring until coated. Cover & refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 4 hours.
In a food processor, pulse seeds with flour for a few seconds. Don't grind as you still want seeds to be visible. Remove from processor & stir in minced rosemary if using. Place flour on waxed paper. Remove chicken from marinade & dredge in flour mixture. Place on a cookie sheet & refrigerate 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Melt coconut oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Brown chicken on both sides. Do not over crowd, rather fry in small batches. When golden brown but not overcooked, place on a baking sheet & bake in oven for 5 minutes or so to finish cooking.
- If you don't have buttermilk on hand, substitute plain yogurt or milk to which a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar has been added. (1 teaspoon per cup of milk).
- Recipe can be made using thighs, breast or legs -- whatever you prefer.
The countryside around Merida, Mexico is home to many plantations or haciendas.They grew a cactus of the Agave family and processed the leaves to remove the fibers inside to make what is called a ‘sisal’ rope and other related cordage products. Although most haciendas laid abandoned for many years after the Mexican Revolution and the invention of synthetic fibers, today many have been restored and turned into luxury hotels, restaurants, museums and attractions.
On one of our day trips we went to Hacienda Sotuta de Peon. This is a restoration project focused on preserving the history of how a native plant was farmed for its fibers and made into rope. You can witness the whole process step by step; from plant in the ground, to raw material, to fibre and finished product.
This tour of the plantation was very interesting! The ‘grand hacienda’, or landowner’s home, was one, very long building. The rooms from kitchen through the bedrooms were all in a row connected by doors. The veranda ran the length of the house overlooking the pool and beautiful gardens. Sheer opulence in comparison to the conditions of the factory workers a short distance away. Over in the factory, the sisal leaves are lifted up from the street onto a conveyor belt where it is arranged by hand for maximum efficiency. Equipment, powered by a loud diesel engine, with overhead drive shafts and big leather belts, squeezed the leaves. Rivers of green pulp and liquid ran down to the carts below. The cleaned leaves came out the other side and workers made individual batches of the fibre and sent them down a rail to the room below where they would be hung out to dry in the sun.
In the next process, machinery separated short and long fibers, spun it into grade rope or baled it. When nylon and other synthetic materials were created it changed the economics of this industry. No longer able to compete they ultimately had to shut down. At the end of this part of the tour we were taken on a mule drawn, covered cart to see the fields of the sisal growing. What was interesting about the ride was that the mule pulled all of us around the plantation in this cart attached to the same rail system that was used over a century ago to transport the workers.
I’m including some of the highlights of Brion’s photos of that day for you to enjoy. In keeping with the Mexican theme, here is a tasty little recipe for some fish tacos as well.
Fish Tacos with Guacamole
Other Filling Ingredients
Other Filling Ingredients
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place a metal rack over a baking sheet & spray the rack with vegetable spray. Set aside.
In a shallow bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, cumin, chili powder, salt & pepper. Set aside.
Cut fish fillets into fingers & brush with olive oil. Toss the fish fingers a few at a time into the flour mixture until well coated. Transfer fish to baking rack. Spray the top of fish lightly with vegetable spray. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden & cooked.
In a large bowl, coarsely mash avocados, lime juice, salt & cumin using a fork; stir in tomato, garlic, onion & cilantro.
Cover & refrigerate until ready to assemble tacos.
In a bowl, combine coleslaw with ranch dressing.
In each (heated) tortilla, place a small amount of coleslaw. Top with a couple of fish fingers, guacamole, red onion, diced tomato, grated cheese & the remainder of coleslaw. Serve any extra guacamole on the side. Of course, nothing wrong with adding a bit of salsa to the equation!
With doughnuts, its all about the ‘hole’. No hole, no doughnut. That little circle means everything. The idea of frying a piece of dough is ancient. The Romans, Dutch, Spanish and Germans all did it. While we know who introduced the doughnut, the story behind the doughnut hole is a little less clear. The most likely explanation was that at some point, bakers started adding egg yolks to their recipes, which produced a richer dough. Of course, this meant the middle of the doughnut no longer cooked at the same rate as its edges, resulting in doughy, raw centers. They came to the conclusion, that if they removed the thick center, the doughnut would cook evenly throughout. It was also believed that the hole was formed to make it easy to ‘dunk’ the doughnut in coffee. However, as in all food history stories you will find various other versions that are more entertaining and whimsical.
In Canada, doughnut holes that are sold by the Tim Horton franchise, have become known as ‘Tim bits’. The name is a play on the word ‘tidbit’ (a delicate bit of food). They were introduced in April 1976 and are available in at least 20 flavors that differ from store to store.
I’m not big on deep fried things whether they are sweet or savory. These carrot cake doughnut holes are baked — no frying necessary. Dip them in a bit of cream cheese ‘glaze’, sprinkle with remaining chopped walnuts and enjoy!
Carrot Cake Doughnut Holes with Cream Cheese Glaze
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, finely grate carrots. Sift in flour then add brown sugar, soda & spices. Add egg & oil & beat until mixture is smooth. Fold in half of the chopped walnuts.
Butter & flour a cake pop pan. Divide batter between 14 holes. Secure top pan in place with rubber clamps. Bake for 10-12 minutes, testing with a toothpick at about 8 minutes. When baked, remove from oven & allow to cool before removing top pan.
In a small bowl, with an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, margarine & milk. Gradually add sugar & vanilla beating to a glaze consistency.
Once doughnut holes are removed from pan & thoroughly cooled, dip in glaze, sprinkle with remaining walnuts. Allow to firm up in refrigerator before serving with forks.
- Self-Rising Flour is made with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt & enough all-purpose flour to measure 1 cup.
Rhubarb is one of those flavors that signals the coming of spring. A staple crop for every Canadian homesteader, in the 1800’s, as it thrives specifically in cool climates. The focus was initially on function, not flavor and was used as a medicine due to it’s perceived benefits for the digestive system. The tartness adds kick to it’s character causing it to be adored and despised with equal vigor.
Rhubarb ‘fool’ is a traditional English dessert that was popular throughout the 19th century on both sides of the Atlantic. It generally consists of a pureed fruit folded gently into a light, custard. Today’s recipe is a take on that idea using custard, pureed rhubarb and some mini donuts for ‘dunking’.
Rhubarb Custard with Mini Donuts
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, whisk together milk, egg, oil & lemon juice. In another bowl, combine flour, sugar & baking powder. Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture until combined in a smooth batter.
Brush mini donut pan with butter. Fill each cup about 1/2 full; bake for about 4-5 minutes or until they test done. Place some sugar in a shallow dish. Remove baked donuts from oven; while still warm coat with sugar. Set aside.
Cut rhubarb into small pieces. In a saucepan, add rhubarb, sugar & water; bring to a boil & simmer, covered, gently for 10 minutes. Remove lid & stir, then remove from heat when it reaches a jam consistency.
In a saucepan, bring milk & vanilla to a boil. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks, sugar & cornstarch together. Add the hot milk to egg mixture slowly whisking as you do so. Return the mixture to the saucepan & bring slowly to a boil, whisking constantly until thickened.
Divide custard between 4 custard dishes; place a spoonful of sauce on top. Serve the mini donuts on the side, ready to be 'dunked'.