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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: cake

Italian Hazelnut Ricotta Cheesecake

Ricotta cheesecake is tops in our family and I have shared several versions with you over the years. This version is especially suited for a holiday or for when you have guests. It makes a beautiful presentation. It can also be adjusted for special diets.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
32 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
4 oz cream cheese
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar or equivalent sugar substitute for baking
3 tablespoons all-purpose or low carb or gluten-free flour
1 tablespoon hazelnut flavored syrup
Strawberry Sauce, recipe below

Directions

For the crust:

Heat the oven to 350°F. Line the outside of an 8-inch springform pan with a double layer of aluminum foil. Coat the inside of the springform pan with cooking spray.
Process the hazelnuts until finely ground in a food processor. Combine the hazelnut flour, butter, and cinnamon in the processor until the mixture is crumbly.
Pat the mixture onto the bottom and sides of the pan. Bake the crust until golden, 10-12 minutes; cool on a wire rack.

For the cheesecake:

In the food processor fitted with a metal blade, process ricotta until very smooth. Add cream cheese; process until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, processing until incorporated. Add sugar or sugar substitute, flour, and hazelnut syrup. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Pour filling into cooled crust; smooth top.

Place the pan in a larger pan and add water to reach halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake in the water bath for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake finish baking in the turned off oven with the door closed for 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, remove the foil and cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then refrigerate. When well chilled, remove the cheesecake from the springform pan, cut into wedges and serve with the Strawberry Sauce.

Quick Strawberry Sauce

Ingredients

1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon hazelnut flavored syrup

Directions

Combine the ingredients in a microwave-safe dish. Heat in the microwave for one minute. Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir well. Cover and refrigerate. Serve a little of the sauce over slices of the ricotta cheesecake.

Polish Easter Nut Bread

My mother-in-law made this bread every year for the holidays. I remember what it tasted like and that it took her several days to make this traditional bread. She also made about 8 loaves to share with the family. The recipe was in her head and never written down. I looked at a number of Polish recipes for Easter Nut Bread but none of them seemed to be like hers. Her version was round, not long like most photos I saw on the internet. So I created a version of this bread that tastes like hers but with a lot less work.

Dough Ingredients

This dough is very tender and delicious, not at all heavy or dense.

3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 large egg
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

Directions

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix for a few turns to evenly distribute the ingredients. Add the butter cut into cubes and the egg, water, and cream. Mix until combined and the dough begins to stick together. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for about 7 minutes. It should be smooth and soft.

Put the dough in a large buttered bowl and cover it with a towel. Let it rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.

While the dough is rising, prepare the walnut filling:

Ingredients

10 ounces walnuts
4 ounces (1 stick unsalted butter)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

To make the walnut filling:

Put the walnuts in a food processor until finely ground.

By hand or in a mixer, cream the butter and the brown sugar until smooth. Stir in one egg, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Add the ground walnuts and mix until incorporated. Set aside.

To make the pastry:

Place the risen dough on a lightly floured board and roll it into a 20- by 15-inch rectangle.

Spread the walnut filling evenly over the dough. From the long end, roll up the dough, pinching the ends to the sides to seal it. Pull the dough to a length of 25 inches and twist the roll into a circle. Place it on a large parchment-lined baking sheet.

Let the dough rise for about 1 1/2 hours until doubled.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush it on the dough. Bake the walnut roll for 40 to 45 minutes, until it is a dark golden brown color and registers 200 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.

Let the walnut roll cool for 15 minutes and then slice it yo serve it warm. The pastry can also be reheated in a 350 degree F oven.

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Chocolate Covered Peanuts

Coconut oil works well with chocolate because it will prevent the candy from softening, as butter or oil would do.

Makes about 18 clusters

Ingredients

2 cups unsalted peanuts
1 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon coconut oil or shortening
3 tablespoons powdered sugar or powdered sugar-free sweetener

Directions

Combine the chocolate, coconut oil and sugar in a microwaveable glass bowl or in a double boiler.

Melt the chocolate mixture in a microwave at half power, for 1 minute, stir and then heat for another minute or until melted, stirring several times.

You can also melt the chocolate in a double boiler over hot water.

Stir in the peanuts, completely covering them in chocolate. Using a 1 inch scoop or tablespoon drop the mixture into wax paper. Cool completely before serving

One-Layer Heart-Shaped Carrot Cake

For the Cake:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large room-temperature eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts

For the Frosting:

4 ounces room-temperature cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 cup heavy cream

To Make the Cake

Heat oven to 325 F. Cut parchment to fit heart pan (or 8 inch round cake pan) and coat with cooking spray. Set aside.

Measure flour and add to an electric mixer bowl along with the sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, oil, eggs and vanilla.

Blend for 1 minute on low-speed.

Stir carrots and nuts into the batter. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack. Remove from the pan to a serving plate.

For the frosting:

Place all the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. With a hand mixer beat the ingredients until the cream forms stiff peaks.

Frost the top of the cake and refrigerate the cake until serving time.

Easy Frozen Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients

1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream, well chilled
8 oz good quality chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate sprinkles, garnish

Directions

In a double boiler or in a bowl set over a saucepan, melt chocolate over simmering water. Remove from the heat to cool slightly.

Pour the cream and vanilla into a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream on medium speed until slightly thickened, about 30 seconds.

Add sweetener to taste if you want. I did not because I think the chocolate makes it sweet enough

Continue beating on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.

To test, turn off the mixer and lift the beaters. If the cream makes soft little peaks that flop over slightly, it is ready.

Add the warm chocolate to the cream and mix in slowly until incorporated.

Spoon into 4 dessert dishes. Chill in the refrigerator to serve as mousse or place in the freezer overnight to serve as frozen mousse.

Garnish with chocolate sprinkles before serving.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Ingredients

8 large strawberries with tops
6 oz good quality chocolate, chopped

Directions

Gently rinse strawberries and dry on paper towels (berries must be completely dry). Line cookie sheet with waxed paper or set out muffin paper cups.

In 1-quart saucepan, melt chocolate chips and shortening over low heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. You may also microwave the mixture.

Dip the lower half of each strawberry into the chocolate mixture; allow excess to drip back into the saucepan.

Place on  the prepared cookie sheet or muffin paper cups.

Refrigerate uncovered about 30 minutes or until the chocolate is firm, or until ready to serve.

Store covered in refrigerator.


Here are a few more popular recipes from the past. The Flounder recipe is one we like a lot.

Salisbury Steak 

4 Servings

Ingredients

Burger Steak

1 1/4 pounds lean ground beef
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Montreal Steak Seasoning
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley
2 teaspoons oil
Salt and pepper

Gravy

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, sliced thin
2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 sprig fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Place the ground beef in a medium bowl, breaking it up as you do.

Sprinkle the Worcestershire sauce, steak seasoning and parsley over the beef. Add the breadcrumbs and cream. Mix gently.

Divide the seasoned ground beef into 4 even portions and form into patties.

Season the outside with salt and a good amount of coarse black pepper. (Lots of pepper gives the hamburger steak great flavor.)

Place a large skillet or saute pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the 2 teaspoons of oil and swirl to coat the pan.

Add the burger steaks and cook for approximately 3 minutes per side. Remove the burger steaks from the pan to a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Turn the heat down to medium.

Season mushrooms with salt and pepper, to taste. Saute the mushrooms in the same pan as the meat, until brown, about 5 minutes.

Add butter, the onion, thyme and garlic. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the flour.

Add broth, slide meat back into sauce, cover and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes.

Flounder Almondine

Ingredients

5 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 flounder or sole fillets (about 1 pound)
All purpose flour
2 eggs beaten to blend
1/4 cup slivered almonds toasted
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Lemon wedges

Directions

Melt 4 tablespoons butter with the olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Dip fillets in flour then in beaten eggs.

Add the fillets to the skillet and cook until browned and just cooked through 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to serving platter, keep warm.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the same skillet. Add the almonds and cook until heated through about 1 minute.

Add wine and lemon juice and simmer until thickened, stirring constantly. Pour the sauce over the fish. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve.

Jelly Roll Cake

Servings 10

Ingredients

3 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar
About 2/3 cup of lemon curd or your favorite jelly

Directions

Heat the oven to 375°F. Line 15 x 10 x 1 inch pan with parchment paper. Coat the paper and pan sides lightly with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer on high-speed about 5 minutes or until very thick and lemon colored. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar.

Beat in water and vanilla on low-speed. Gradually add flour, baking powder and salt, beating just until the batter is smooth.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, spreading to the corners.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Immediately loosen cake from the sides of pan and turn upside down onto a kitchen towel generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. Carefully remove the paper.

Trim off stiff edges of the cake if necessary. While the cake ¡s hot, carefully roll the cake and towel from the narrow end into a cylinder.

Cool on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes.

Unroll the cake and remove the towel. Beat jelly slightly with a fork to soften and spread over the cake. Roll up the cake.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into ½ inch slices to serve.

Easy Lemon Curd

If you do not have access to Meyer Lemons, you can use regular lemons. Because Meyer Lemons are larger, you will need more regular lemons to get 1 cup and more sugar because regular lemons are less sweet than Meyer.

Ingredients

1 cup Meyer Lemon juice (2 large)
6 large organic eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) salted butter softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extra

Directions

Put all the ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and continuously whisk the mixture until it begins to thicken – it only takes a few minutes.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue whisking. The lemon curd will thicken – all at once.

Remove the pot from the heat and continue to stir with the whisk for one minute more. Pour into a clean container and let cool to room temperature.

Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

Jello molds from the 50’s and 60’s.

 


Make dinner with December’s seasonal foods. Here are a few ideas.

Pork Cutlets with Apple-Fennel Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Four boneless pork cutlets, pounded to 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 apple, peeled and thinly sliced
Lemon wedges, for serving

Directions

In a shallow dish, mix the flour with salt and pepper. In another shallow dish, beat the egg.

In a third shallow dish, spread the panko and season with additional salt and pepper. Dredge the pork in the flour, shaking off the excess.

Dip the pork in the egg, then dredge in the panko to coat. Place the cutlets on a large plate.

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil.

Add the pork cutlets and cook over moderately high heat until golden, 2 minutes.

Turn the cutlets over, and cook until just golden on the outside and white throughout, about 2 minutes more.

Transfer the cutlets to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and butter to the skillet.

Add the fennel and onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until light golden and crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice and apple slices and season with salt and pepper. Cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Place the cutlets back in the pan and let them heat in the fennel mixture for a few minutes.

Place the cutlets on a serving platter and top with the fennel mixture. Serve with lemon wedges.

Sautéed Carrots

4 servings

Ingredients

4 medium carrots, peeled
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon dried marjoram

Directions

Cut the carrots diagonally into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Place the carrots, 3 tablespoons water, the salt and pepper in a medium skillet and bring to a boil.

Cover the pan and cook over medium-low heat for 4-5 minutes.

Add the butter and marjoram and saute for another minute, until the water evaporates and the carrots are coated with butter.

Cranberry Orange Cake

Topping

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cake

2-1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the dusting the pan
1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh or defrosted frozen cranberries
1-1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup softened unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk

Directions

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Combine the walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter in a mixing bowl. Using your hands to form the mixture into crumbs. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the cranberries and orange zest and mix.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the ½ cup butter on low-speed with the stand mixer’s paddle attachment until smooth.

Add the sugar gradually and continue mixing on low until slightly fluffy. Scrape the bowl and beater.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until smooth after each addition.

Stop the mixer, scrape the bowl and beater, and add half the flour mixture.

On low-speed, mix until the flour drifts disappear and then add half the buttermilk; mix until just blended.

Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix until smooth.

Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the crumb mixture.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Italian Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

4 servings

Ingredients

2 large acorn squash, halved crosswise, seeds and fibers removed
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, sliced thin
8 ounces Italian sausage, casing removed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups lightly toasted sourdough bread, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/3 – 1/2 cup chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium canned
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds.

Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each squash half so that they stand flat, being careful not to cut into the flesh.

Place the squash halves in a baking dish large enough to hold the squash halves and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the sausage and break up the meat with the back of a spoon. Cook until no traces of pink remain, about 8 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the thyme, salt, pepper, bread cubes with enough broth to moisten the stuffing and mix until well combined.

Divide the stuffing mixture among the squash halves. Add enough water to the roasting pan to make a depth of about 1/2 inch.

Cover the squash loosely with aluminum foil.

Roast for 45 minutes.Remove the foil and bake for 15 minutes more or until the squash is tender and browned on the top.

Place 1 squash half on each of 4 plates, garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

Creamy Spinach

4 servings

Ingredients

2-10 oz pkgs frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained or 2 lbs. fresh spinach
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons cream cheese
2 tablespoons milk
Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in small saucepan and add the garlic; cook 1 minute. Add spinach and heat.

Make a well in the center of the spinach and add the milk and cheese.

Heat and stir until the cheese is dissolved throughout spinach. Season with salt & pepper.

Oven Roasted Parmesan Cauliflower

4 servings

Ingredients

1 whole cauliflower head
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Oil a rimmed baking sheet.

Cut the cauliflower into large florets.

Beat the eggs with the milk in a shallow dish.

Place the grated cheese in a shallow dish.

Place the flour in a plastic bag and add the salt and pepper.

Add the florets to the flour filled bag and give them a shake, rotating the bag until the florets are dusted with flour.

Dip each floret in egg and then in cheese and place on the prepared pan.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 23-30 minutes.

 


Fresh fruit is so plentiful now that I can’t resist baking with some of it. The question is – which fruit to use? Cherries have a short season, so I take advantage of their availability now. Peaches are so flavorful at this time of year, you will want to bring home a bag full. Here in the south figs are everywhere and there are so many things you can make with them. What is your favorite summer fruit for baking?

Louisiana Fig and Pecan Cake

Ingredients

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped fresh figs
½ cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Confectioner’s sugar, for serving

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a standing mixer, whisk the eggs briefly in the mixer bowl. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about one minute.

Add oil and beat until just combined.

In a separate medium bowl, combine the buttermilk and baking soda.

Beginning with the flour, add flour and buttermilk mixture alternately and mix until combined.

Add the chopped figs, cinnamon, cloves, salt and mix until thoroughly incorporated.

Pour batter into a greased and floured tube pan, or into 2 loaf pans (8x4x2½).

Bake until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the cake, 60-70 minutes for the tube pan and 50-55 minutes for the loaf pans.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan. Allow the cake to cool completely.

Garnish with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

Sweet Cherry Galette

Ingredients

1/2 package of refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury), at room temperature
1/3 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch or other pie thickener
3 1/2 cups pitted fresh cherries (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Coarse sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface into an 11-inch circle.

Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Mix the pitted cherries with the brown sugar, salt and liqueur.

Spoon the cherries over the dough and leave a 2-inch border.

Drop pieces of butter over the cherries and fold the edges of the dough over, pressing lightly.

Sprinkle the crust with coarse sugar and bake for 40-45 minutes until the cherries are bubbling and the crust is brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Big Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies

My children and grandchildren visit in the summer because they like all the water activities that are available at this time of year. A favorite dessert for all are chocolate chip cookies. I prepare a big batch before they arrive and store them in the freezer. Serving dessert is so easy – don’t even have to think about it.

If you do not want to make a big batch, the recipe ingredients can easily be cut in half.

Ingredients

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

Heat the oven to 350° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. I use four baking sheets for this recipe, so I can rotate them quickly.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla.

Reduce speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined (do not overmix). Mix in the chocolate chips by hand.

Use a cookie scoop to drop the dough onto baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Place 12 cookies on a sheet.

Bake, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until golden around the edges but still soft in the center, 14 to 15 minutes.

Cool slightly on the baking sheets, then slide the parchment paper with cookies on it to the kitchen counter to cool completely.

Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

I store the cookies in the freezer and when company comes, I take out a dozen or two the night before and store them in an airtight container.

You won’t have to worry about them for the next day. They will be all gone!

Peach Crisp

Ingredients

6 ripe medium peaches
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Topping

3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, diced

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the topping by combining all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and, using your fingers, work the butter into the mixture until crumbs form. Set aside.

For the peaches:

Peel and slice the peaches about ¼ inch thick and place in a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well with a spatula.

Butter an 8×8 inch baking dish and pour the peaches into the dish. Spread the peaches to make an even layer.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the peaches.

Bake for about one hour until the peaches are bubbling away and the topping is brown and crispy.

Cool the baking dish on a wire rack. Serve the peach crisp warm with a spoonful of whipped cream on top.


Sicilian Ricotta Birthday Cake

We recently celebrated a dear friend’s birthday with a special dinner to honor him. I offered to make his birthday cake, as I know, he is found of Italian cakes, especially if they are made with ricotta cheese. There are numerous versions of the Sicilian Cassata Cake, but this is my version. One, where, I have worked out the flavors that we like in a cake of this type. If you want to make a special occasion cake, this is a great cake to make.

Ingredients

Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
2½ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pans
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk

Filling

2 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
2 oz finely chopped good quality chocolate
Zest from one orange

Syrup

Juice of one orange
½ teaspoon agave nectar
1 teaspoon white rum

Whipped Topping

2 cups heavy cream whipped
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
½ teaspoon orange extract

Garnish

Candied orange peel
Cake writing decoration

Directions

To make the cake layers:

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Butter two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper cut into circles to fit, butter again and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions and the milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until combined (do not over-mix).

Transfer the batter to the prepared pans. The best way to get an even amount of batter in each pan is to weigh the pans on a scale. This is a tip I learned from Alton Brown and it works perfectly.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes for 8-inch pans and 22 to 25 minutes for 9-inch pans. Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.

To make the filling:

Combine the ricotta with the remaining filling ingredients in a storage bowl with a cover. Place in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the cake.

Once the layers are completely cool, cut each layer in half with a serrated knife to form four layers.

To make the syrup:

Combine the orange juice with the rum and agave in a small dish.Brush the syrup over the cut sides of the layers until it is all used. Let the layers rest for 30 minutes.


To add the filling:

Place one layer, cut side up on a cake plate and spread some of the ricotta filling over the layer leaving a ¼ inch edge all around the cake without the filling. (This way the filling will not ooze out of the layer when you place another layer on top.)

Place the next layer, cut side up, on top of the filling and repeat with another layer of ricotta filling.

Repeat with the third layer, cut side up. Place the fourth layer, cut side down, on top of the ricotta filling.

Place the cake in the refrigerator while you make the whipped topping.

Make the Whipped Topping:

In a mixing bowl combine the heavy cream, orange extract and powdered sugar.

Beat the mixture until the cream forms soft peaks.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the whipped cream on the sides of the cake and then on the top.

Decorate the edge of the top of the cake with candied orange peel.

Write Happy Birthday in the center, if desired.

 

 

 


Lunch Menu

Iced Tea
Deviled Eggs
Stuffed Mini Peppers
Mediterranean Grilled Tuna Salad
Spinach Triangles with Tzatziki Sauce
Bread Sticks, Pickles
Dessert: Almond Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Cream

Iced Tea

Republic of Tea: 1 Peach Ginger Iced Tea Bag and 4 Naturally Sweet Tea Bags
Slices of Lemon, Lime and Oranges
Prepare the tea according to package instructions. Pour into a serving pitcher and chill.
To serve: Pour into tall glasses, add ice cubes and fruit slices before serving.

Mediterranean Grilled Tuna Salad

Ingredients

Tuna Marinade

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice (plus lemon wedges for serving)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 cloves garlic—grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 lb tuna fillet, one inch thick

For the Salad

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup bottled roasted red peppers , drained and chopped
5 Kalamata (brine-cured) black olives , pitted and chopped
1 large celery rib , chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoon Italian parsley , chopped
1 teaspoon celery seed
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons toasted pignoli (pine nuts) or basil for garnish

Directions

To grill the tuna:

Combine the marinade ingredients in a measuring cup. Place the tuna in a glass dish and pour the marinade over the fish. Chill for one hour.

Cook the tuna on a hot grill for about 10 minutes or cooked through, turning and brushing regularly with the marinade.

Cool the tuna and wrap in plastic. When cold, flake the tuna.

To make the tuna salad:

Whisk together lemon juice and mayonnaise in a bowl. Add the flaked tuna and the remaining ingredients and combine. Season with pepper. Chill until serving time. Garnish with toasted pine nuts just before serving.

Stuffed Mini Peppers

Ingredients

16 mini sweet peppers
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
3/4 cup Italian seasoned panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped finely
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped finely
1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 lemon, zested
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

In a large rimmed baking pan with heavy-duty foil. Spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the peppers in half so they will lay flat. Lay the peppers on the baking sheet, cut side up. Season the insides of the peppers with salt and pepper.

Mix the breadcrumbs, cheese, anchovy paste, onion, celery. herbs, cayenne pepper and the lemon zest together in a bowl. Toss thoroughly.

Fill the peppers with a little of this mixture and then drizzle the olive oil over the peppers. (If you are making these ahead of time, just cover with some plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook them.)

Roast for 15 – 20 minutes, until the peppers are soft and the breadcrumb mixture is golden.

Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

6 large eggs
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup olive oil mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Directions

Place the eggs in a saucepan just large enough to hold the six eggs. Cover with cold water and place the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and cover the saucepan.

Let the eggs rest in the hot water for 12 minutes. Drain the water from the pot and add some ice cubes and cold water to cover the cooked eggs.

Let them cool until you can handle the eggs without burning your fingers.

Gently tap the eggs in several places and remove the shells. Place the peeled eggs on paper towels to dry.

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks and place in a mixing bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork. Add the onion, celery, mayonnaise, mustard and salt and pepper. Mix well.

With a spoon fill each egg where the yolk had been with some of the mixture.

Place the eggs on a serving platter and chill. Sprinkle chives over the eggs and serve.

Spinach Triangles

Let the package of filo dough sit in the refrigerator overnight to defrost. Any remaining dough can be kept in the refrigerator well wrapped in plastic for four weeks or it can go back into the freezer.

Makes about 16 triangles

Ingredients

One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 scallions (green onions), minced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
48 sheets filo dough, thawed
Olive oil
Tzatziki, recipe below

Directions

In a mixing bowl, combine the spinach with the scallions, parsley, dill, cheeses, eggs, salt and pepper until smooth.
Keep the filo dough not being used, covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying, while you work on the triangles.

Spread one sheet of the dough on a cutting board and brush with some olive oil. Place a second sheet of dough on top and brush with oil. Repeat with a third sheet.

Cut the layered filo in half lengthwise. Place one tablespoon of filling about 1″ from the corner of each strip. Fold one corner of fillo diagonally across to the opposite edge to form a triangle.

Brush lightly with oil. Continue to fold the triangle onto itself. Brush the outside of the triangle with oil and place the triangles seam side down on parchment covered cookie sheets at least 1” apart.Repeat until all the filling is used up.

Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Rolls can be made ahead and reheated just before party time.

Serve hot with Tzatziki Sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients

1 cup peeled and seeded cucumber, finely chopped
1/3 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Place the chopped cucumber in a fine mesh colander and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of salt.

Place the colander over a bowl and let the cucumbers drain for one hour.

Turn the cucumbers over on paper towels. Squeeze all the water out.

Combine the cucumber and remaining ingredients in a small bowl; cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Almond Flour Sponge Cake

Cake

4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for the pan

For the strawberry topping:

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1-2 teaspoons sugar (or more, depending on how sweet your strawberries are)

For the whipped cream:

1 pint heavy cream, well chilled
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8″ round cake pan with oil. Swirl the oil in the pan and make sure it goes up the sides.

Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of the sugar listed in the ingredients onto the bottom of the pan.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites.

Using an electric mixer or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Slowly beat in 1/4 cup sugar. Scrape the beaten egg whites into another bowl and set aside.

In the mixing bowl, beat together the egg yolks, the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the almond extract until smooth.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients — flour, baking powder and salt — and add to the egg yolk mixture. Stir together to form a thick dough.

Fold in the egg whites, 1/2 cup at a time, incorporating them fully between each addition. The final addition should result in a smooth, fluffy batter.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake on the center rack for 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the sides, then turn the cake out onto a serving plate.

Allow the cake to cool fully before topping with strawberries and cream.

For the strawberry topping:

Combine the strawberries and sugar in a small bowl, and set aside to allow the juices to release.

For the whipped cream:

Place the bowl and whisk attachment for your stand mixer or a metal or glass bowl and beaters for your hand mixer in the refrigerator or freezer until they are cold.

Add the cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla to the chilled bowl, and beat on medium-high to high-speed until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Chill until ready to serve.



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