Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: apricot

Springtime means ham and lamb in the meat department. They are often on sale now in the market or from your local farm. Ham is always a good buy and supplies plenty of leftovers for several meals. Spring also brings us lots of new vegetables and fruits, so I look forward to using them and developing new recipes with them. I am especially taken with my newly discovered rutabagas. They are very similar to potatoes but contain many less carbs. I decided to try making my potato salad recipe with them and it turned out very well and so delicious. Fennel is also in season and there are so many good ways to prepare it, either cooked or raw. Try out some new vegetables this week and see how you like them.

Glazed Spiral-Sliced Ham

Ingredients

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
5 lb Spiral Cut Fully Cooked Ham

Directions

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Place the ham cut side down onto a sheet of aluminum foil. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Mix together the brown sugar, apricot jam and mustard in a small bowl. Brush half of the glaze onto the ham using a pastry brush.

Reserve the remaining glaze. Enclose the foil around the ham and place on a rimmed baking sheet also covered with foil (for easy cleanup).

Roast for 75 minutes in the preheated oven, or if your ham is a different size, figure 15 minutes per pound.

Take the ham out of the oven, pull the foil away and brush the remaining glaze onto the ham.

Place the ham back in the oven without enclosing it in the foil.

Bake 15-20 minutes more or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest portion registers 140°F. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Rutabaga “Potato Style” Salad

6 servings

Ingredients

1 ½ lbs rutabaga or red potatoes, peeled
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pickle juice
1/4 cup minced bread and butter pickles
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion or scallions
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Cut the rutabaga or potato into thin slices, about 1 x 1 inch, or cut the vegetables into cubes if you prefer that cut.

Place the rutabaga in a large pot with a lid. Cover with cold water and add 1 teaspoon salt.

Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook with the lid ajar about 15-20 minutes until the rutabaga is fork tender.

Drain and place the rutabaga in a medium serving bowl. Add the pickle juice and let sit at room temperature for an hour or so.

Add the remaining ingredients, mix well and taste to see if the salad needs salt.

Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator for several hours before serving.

Sprinkle the top with some chopped parsley and a little paprika, if you would like to garnish the salad before serving it.

Fennel Salad With Avocado Dressing

2 servings

Ingredients

2 plum tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/4 of a large fennel bulb, cut into one inch cubes
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Avocado Dressing, see link 

Directions

Combine the tomatoes, fennel, onion and pine nuts in a medium serving bowl. Add a few tablespoons of dressing to the top of the salad.

Serve with the remaining Avocado dressing on the side.


Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients

1 medium cooking pumpkin, about 3 ½ – 4 cups roasted pumpkin flesh
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup chopped leeks
2 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 ½ cups whole milk
1-2 teaspoons honey
Chopped chives for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place a sheet of parchment on a baking sheet with sides.

Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds. Fill the pumpkin wells half way with water and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Place in the oven and roast until tender, about 45 minutes. Cool and then scrape out the pumpkin into a bowl. Set aside,

Pour the olive oil into a Dutch Oven and heat over medium-high heat.

Add leeks, celery and garlic; cook and stir until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the pumpkin, broth, pepper, salt and spices. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat.

Process with a hand immersion blender in the saucepan or transfer half of the pumpkin mixture to a blender or food processor; cover and blend or process until smooth. Repeat with the remaining half of the pumpkin mixture. Return all of the pureed mixture to saucepan.

Stir in the milk and heat through, but do not boil. Stir in enough of the honey to sweeten the mixture to taste.

Serve warm garnished with chopped chives. Makes 6 (3/4-cup) servings.

Glazed Ham

Don’t forget to save the bone for soup.

Ingredients

6 lb ready-to-eat, cooked ham, bone-in, uncut (NOT spiral cut), shank end or butt end
1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon country whole seed mustard

Directions

Heat the oven to 325° F.

Place the ham, fat side up, in a roasting pan.

Bake the ham for about 20 minutes per pound, about 2 hours for a 6 lb ham, or until an instant read meat thermometer registers at least 140° F (60° C), the safe minimum temperature for a fully cooked ham.

In a medium bowl whisk together the apricot preserves, brown sugar, apple cider, mustard and thyme.

About 30 minutes before the ham is done, spoon the glaze over the entire ham.

Cover the ham loosely with foil and let it stand for 15 minutes before carving and serving.

Rutabaga Gratin

You can also put this dish in the oven with the ham at the lower temperature to cook the two dishes at the same time. Put the gratin in the oven when the ham has an hour and a half of cooking time remaining.

Servings: 6-8

ingredients

2 pound rutabaga (peeled, thinly sliced)
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

Coat a 7×11 or an 8×12 baking dish with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the sliced rutabaga in a saucepan and cover with water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil.

Cook for 3 minutes in the boiling water, drain and set aside.

Combine the cream, garlic powder, thyme, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper with a whisk.

Pour one-third of the cream into the bottom of the baking dish.

Place a layer of rutabaga slices on top, followed by one-third of the cheese. Dot with one-third of the butter.

Continue to layer ending with a layer of cheese.

Bake in a preheated 350F/180C oven until bubbling on the sides and golden brown on top, about 30-40 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Sautéed Green Cabbage Steaks

Ingredients

1 small head green cabbage
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
Celery seed for garnish

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Immerse the whole head of cabbage in the boiling water until the outer leaves begin to loosen.

Remove the cabbage from the water and drain. Cut the stem end off and carefully peel away as many outer leaves as will come off easily, usually 8 to 12 leaves will be large enough for stuffing. Reserve those leaves for another use.

Cut the remaining cabbage in half and cut two half-inch thick slices from the cabbage halves.

Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage steaks, sprinkle with half the salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes.

Turn the cabbage steaks over with a wide spatula, sprinkle with the remaining salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes more.

Sprinkle lightly with celery seed and serve.


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It just doesn’t feel like football season without chicken wings, nachos, burgers and high-calorie favorites. Sure, these fatty foods might taste good at the time, but they put you at risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and weight gain. Plus, greasy, fatty foods mindlessly munched (with beer) while you watch the game, can leave you bloated.

The best seat in the house is not in front of a table filled with food. Stake out a seat near the game but away from the food. When you want something to eat, get up and put a portion on your plate.

Watch the game. Talk to your friends. Cheer for your team. The more involved you are in the real action, the less likely you’ll be to absentmindedly eat too much.

Beer will be flowing. Slow it down and ward off a hangover by drinking a tall glass of water between each beer.

Enjoy watching the games with healthier finger foods and savory snacks and they will be just as tasty and enjoyable as the not-so-healthy versions.

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Blue Cheese Walnut Balls

This easy-to-make appetizer will be a big hit at your next get-together. Use a cookie scoop to shape the cheese balls.

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
  • 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (1 ounce)
  • 12 dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 5 tablespoons finely chopped toasted walnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely snipped fresh rosemary
  • Triscuit crackers (whole wheat crackers)

Directions

In a small bowl combine cream cheese and blue cheese. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Stir in apricots, 3 tablespoons of the walnuts and salt.

Shape mixture into 16 balls. In a small bowl mix 2 tablespoons of the walnuts and the rosemary. Roll balls to lightly cover with nut mixture. Serve with crackers.

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Pizza Lettuce Wraps

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 cups canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 ½ cups shredded reduced-fat mozzarella cheese (6 ounces)
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced, cooked turkey pepperoni, cut into thin strips (1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup snipped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano
  • 16 large Bibb lettuce leaves

Directions

In a medium bowl combine tomatoes, beans, cheese, pepperoni, basil and oregano.

Divide tomato mixture among lettuce leaves. Roll up or leave open as cups.

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Spiced Nuts

6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups peanuts
  • 3 cups almonds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, combine nuts and oil; stir to coat nuts evenly.

In a small bowl, stir together chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, celery salt and cinnamon. Sprinkle over nut mixture; toss to coat nuts evenly.

Spread nuts in a single layer in a 15 x 10 inch baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring twice; cool.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

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Spinach-Parmesan Dip

8 servings

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Two 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • One 14 ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Toasted Pita Chips
  • Sliced red bell peppers

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat a an 8 inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.

Squeeze spinach dry and mix with the artichokes, onion, mustard, garlic, oregano and pepper in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes.

Serve warm with pita chips and sliced red bell peppers.

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Chicken Fingers with Honey Mustard Sauce

8 servings

Ingredients

Sauce

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 4 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

Chicken Fingers

Olive oil cooking spray

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 lbs. chicken breast tenders, skinless
  • 2 cups Panko bread crumbs (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
  • 1 cup finely chopped sliced almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Combine honey, mustard and vinegar in a serving bowl; mix well. Chill.

Preheat oven to 425° F.

Line several baking sheets with foil; lightly coat with spray.

Combine eggs and water in a large bowl; whisk to blend.

Soak chicken in the egg mixture for 30 minutes, turning once; set aside.

Combine bread crumbs, almonds, salt and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag; shake to combine.

Working with a few pieces at a time, lift chicken from the egg mixture, letting excess drip back into bowl, and drop into bag containing the bread crumb mixture. Seal bag and shake to coat; repeat with remaining chicken.

Place chicken on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes, until no longer pink in the middle and golden brown.

Serve with the honey mustard sauce.

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Oatmeal-Toffee Cookies

Makes 4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked regular oats
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 (10-ounce) package toffee bits

Directions

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer 2 to 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add sugar, beating well. Add eggs and vanilla, beating until blended.

Combine oats and next 3 ingredients; add to butter mixture, beating just until blended. Stir in chopped pecans and toffee bits.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheets.

Bake at 375° for 10 minutes. Cool on wire racks.


 

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This is definitely pie baking for those who are intimidated by making traditional pies. Think rustic tarts — they don’t even require a pie plate. First, you roll out just one sheet of dough (since there’s no top) as perfectly or imperfectly as you like. Then you add the fruit filling in the center and fold over the edges of the dough. There you are – ready to bake.

A crostata is an Italian baked tart or pie, also known as coppi in Naples and sfogliate in Lombardy. The earliest known use of crostata in its modern sense can be traced to the cookbooks Libro de Arte Coquinaria (Art of Cooking) by Martino da Como, published circa 1465, and Cuoco napoletano (Neapolitan recipes), published in the late 1400s containing a recipe (number 94) titled “Crostata de Caso, Pane,” etc. The French version is called a Galette.

A modern crostata is a “rustic free-form version of an open fruit tart that may also be baked in a pie plate. Crostatas have a status as being one of the premiere Italian pastries. A crostata can be made with just about any type of fruit filling, the pastry can be prepared with fruit that is in season, as well as any range of home canned preserves and even with canned fruits and jams that are purchased in the supermarket. The fact that the crostata may be prepared as an open-faced dessert or be covered with a top crust allow this Italian pastry to easily adapt to all sorts of occasions.

Since peaches looked absolutely beautiful this week, I bought some for eating and some for baking. So I am making a peach crostata for you here and recipes for other types of fruit fillings follow. Just follow the directions for the peach crostata for the other fruit fillings. Take your pick. Not only is this dessert easy to prepare but if you serve it to guests, they will think you are a pastry chef.

The traditional pastry in Italy is pasta frolla but you can also use 1 large sheet of defrosted puff pastry or 1 refrigerated round pie crust dough. The traditional pastry recipe is below, if you would like to use it. I keep it simple and use the refrigerated store-bought pastry crust. I don’t peel the peaches either.

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Peach Crostata

I like to brush the bottom of the crust with a little jam or marmalade to keep the crust from getting soggy and to add an additional layer of flavor. Traditional recipes do not call for this step.

Ingredients

  • One refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons apricot or peach preserves or orange marmalade
  • 3 large peaches, sliced ½ inch thick
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour, cornstarch or tapioca flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • Water or cream
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar

Directions

Heat the oven to 425°F. Remove the pie crust dough from the paper pouch and place flat on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the crust with the preserves.

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In medium bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar and salt. Add the peaches and vanilla. Mix well.

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Rather than spooning the fruit mixture onto the center of the crust, I prefer to arrange the fruit in a decorative pattern to within 1 1/2 inches of the edge. Use tongs to arrange the fruit and pour any juice left in the bowl over the arranged fruit. If there are any slices that don’t fit just arrange them in the center on top of the first layer, as I did for this crostata. Dot with the butter.

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Fold the crust edge over the filling to form a border, pleating the crust as necessary. Refrigerate the tart until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Brush the crust edge with water or cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is tender. Serve warm. This dessert is sometimes served with sweetened mascarpone cheese or whipped cream.

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Pasta Frolla (Italian Sweet Pastry Dough)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
  • 1 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Finely grated zest of 1 small orange
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks

Directions

Put the flour, sugar, salt, lemon and orange zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine the ingredients. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg and egg yolks and process until the dough just begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather it together. Knead it briefly and shape it into a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled (overnight is fine). Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes, or until it is just pliable enough to roll, but not too soft to work with. Roll out into an 11 inch circle.

Blueberry Crostata

  • 18 oz blueberries
  • 1 heaping tablespoon flour
  • 1 heaping tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Blackberry Crostata

  • 12 ounces blackberries
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Plum Crostata

Note: For this recipe you want firm but slightly ripe plums, and preferably freestone, such as the Italian prune plums.

  • 2 pounds firm ripe Italian prune plums, cut into sixths or eighths
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac or other flavored liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Fig Crostata

Use fig jam for the crust, if you can.

  • 1/2 lb of ripe figs
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Apricot Crostata

  • 1 1/2 lbs of fresh ripe apricots
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • Coarse sugar

Cinnamon Apple Crostata

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups thinly sliced, peeled cooking apples or 3 large apples
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans or walnuts

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Preserve some of summer’s fresh fruit for later in the year with a few batches of fruit butter. Complicated canning techniques are not required. These fruit butter recipes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 1 year.

Fruit butters are spreads made by cooking fruit pulp with sugar or honey to a thick consistency. The smooth, spreadable texture of fruit butters makes them an ideal substitute for butter on bread, toast or muffins. Fruit butters are also good stirred into plain yogurt or spread on a salmon fillet or chicken breast before cooking. A little fig butter is delicious in a grilled cheese sandwich. There are so many ways to use fresh fruit butter.

Using several varieties of a particular fruit can yield a better tasting fruit butter. Adding certain spices can give fruit butter a distinctive flavor. Spices can safely be adjusted to suit your taste.

Fruit butters are made by cooking down fruit mixture until it is thick and sticky instead of adding pectin to set the mixture, as you do when making jam.

Butters are meant to be smooth, so stone fruit, such as apricots, nectarines, peaches apples and pears should be peeled. If you’re making a butter with “seedy” berries, such as blackberries, raspberries or even blueberries, you can puree the butter and pass it through a sieve or cheesecloth to remove the seeds.

How to prepare the fruit:

Berries: Remove stems; hull strawberries. Measure whole.

Cherries: Remove stems and pits; halve. Measure halves.

Peaches, Apricots, Nectarines & Plums: Peel and cut into 1/2-inch pieces; discard pits. Measure pieces.

Apples & Pears: Peel and quarter, remove seeds and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Measure pieces.

To peel stone fruit: dip them in boiling water for about 1 minute to loosen their skins. Let cool slightly, then remove the skins with a paring knife.

Because of the long slow cooking of a fruit butter, it is very easy to scorch or burn the butter. Fruit butter should be simmered rather than boiled. It should also be stirred constantly as it thickens. Even a small amount of scorching will cause the entire mixture to taste burned.

All the recipes can be doubled but remember the cooking time will be longer.

Basic Fruit Butter Recipe

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 6 cups prepared fresh fruit
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 to 1 cup granulated sugar or brown sugar or 3/4 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 1/4 cup lemon, lime or orange juice
  • 2 jars (1 cup capacity) with screw top lids

Directions

If the fruit tastes sweet, use the lesser amount of sugar.

Combine fruit, water and sugar in a Dutch oven; add juice. Bring to a boil over high heat.

Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer and cook, mashing the fruit and stirring occasionally at first and then often as it thickens, until the mixture is very thick, 20 minutes to 1 hour (depending on the type of fruit).

To test for thickness, put a spoonful of fruit butter on a plate. If no liquid seeps from the edges, it’s done. If liquid is present, return to a simmer and cook until thickened.

For a very smooth fruit butter, puree in a food processor or blender, then strain and push the mixture through a sieve before storing.

For freezing or refrigerating:

Ladle the fruit butter into clean, sterilized jars to within 1/2 inch of the rim. Wipe the rims clean. Cover with lids. Let the jars stand at room temperature until cool before refrigerating or freezing.

Some Variations

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Pear Butter

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 4 ripe but firm Bartlett pears, (1-1 1/4 pounds), peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3/4 cup pear nectar

Directions

Place pears and pear nectar in a heavy medium saucepan; bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the pears are very tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the ripeness of the pears.

Mash the pears with a potato masher. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the puree has cooked down to a thick mass (somewhat thicker than applesauce), 20 to 30 minutes more. Stir almost constantly toward the end of the cooking. Scrape the pear butter into a bowl or storage container and let cool. Refrigerate.

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Roasted Apple Butter

Making apple butter in the oven, rather than on the stove-top, produces a spread with a distinctive caramelized flavor. Stir in a teaspoon of apple pie spice to the cooked sauce for more flavor.

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 8 medium McIntosh apples, (2 3/4 pounds), peeled, cored and quartered
  • 2 cups unsweetened apple juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Arrange apples in a large roasting pan. Pour apple juice over the apples. Bake until tender and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Using a fork or potato masher, thoroughly mash the apples in the roasting pan.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Bake the apple puree, stirring occasionally, until very thick and deeply browned, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. Scrape into a bowl and let cool. Place in a storage container and refrigerate.

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Plum Butter in a Slow Cooker

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ to 2 pounds of plums
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2  teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Wash plums; peel, pit and cut into halves.

Place the sugar and plums in a slow cooker. Stir. Let the mixture cook for about 12 hours on low. Stir whenever you think of it. Add vanilla after the mixture has thickened.

Pour into jars with a screw top lid and cool. Refrigerate or freeze.


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Thinking of grilling fish this weekend? Certain types of fish are trickier than others, but almost any type of seafood can be grilled — shellfish, whole fish, steaks and fillets. Meaty fish are ideal for grilling because they hold together well and are easy to handle. For salmon, use lower heat because salmon has a high fat content and the fat will melt and cause flare-ups if the heat is too high.

Delicate, flaky fish pose more of a challenge on the grill because they fall apart easily. A grill basket solves that problem because it encloses the fish on both sides. Just be sure to oil the grill basket or spray with nonstick spray to prevent the fish from sticking. If you do not have a basket, you can use a wide metal spatula for turning the fish.

Be sure to oil the grill grates well. Grilling times and temperatures will vary depending on the type of fish, its density or flakiness and its thickness. Meaty, dense fish (tuna, wahoo, mahi mahi, swordfish) will take longer to cook than lighter, flakier fish (cod, halibut). Start by cooking the fish over high heat, but if the fish is browning too fast, lower the heat to medium-high.

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Grilled Shrimp Pitas

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 6 pitas, about 6-inch diameter
  • 3 cups lettuce
  • Sliced red onion and plum tomatoes

Directions

For the Sauce

In a medium-size bowl, stir together yogurt, crumbled feta, cucumber and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Shrimp

Combine olive oil, lemon juice, mint, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Add shrimp, seal bag and shake to coat shrimp with marinade. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Heat gas grill to medium-high or prepare a charcoal grill with medium-hot coals. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil or nonstick cooking spray. Place shrimp in a grilling basket and grill for 3 minutes. Baste once with the remaining marinade. Turn shrimp and grill for an additional 2 to 3 minutes or until shrimp turn pink.

To serve, equally divide the lettuce, sauce and shrimp over each pita. Add onion and tomato.

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Grilled Hazelnut Salmon

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 six-ounce skinless salmon fillets, about 1 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil
  • 1/3 cup finely ground hazelnuts
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup hazelnut oil
  • 2 ½ cups arugula
  • 1 cup yellow or red tiny pear-shape or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 ounces Brie cheese, cubed
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Directions

Rinse fish and pat dry with paper towels. Brush one side of the  fillets evenly with the 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil. In a 9-inch pie plate stir together ground hazelnuts, flour and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Dip the oil brushed side of the salmon in the nut mixture; coat well.

For a charcoal grill, arrange medium-hot coals around a drip pan. Place fish, coated sides up, on the greased grill rack over the pan. Cover and grill for 14 to 18 minutes or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork. (For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Adjust for indirect cooking. Place fish, coated sides up, on greased grill rack over the burner that is turned off. Grill as directed.)

For the dressing

In a small bowl combine vinegar and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt; whisk in the 1/4 cup hazelnut oil. Reserve 1/4 cup of the dressing; set aside. In a large bowl toss arugula, tomatoes, cheese and chives with the remaining dressing. Divide evenly among serving plates.

Add a grilled salmon fillet to each plate. Drizzle salmon with reserved dressing.

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Tuna with Fruit Salsa

4 servings

Ingredients

  • Four 5 ounce tuna steaks, 1-inch thick
  • 2 fresh ripe peaches, halved and pitted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced

Directions

Lightly brush tuna steaks and peach halves with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat grill and oil the grates.

Grill tuna and peaches over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Remove peaches; set aside to cool. Coarsely chop peaches.

Turn tuna and cook 6 to 7 minutes more or until it flakes easily when tested with a fork. Transfer tuna to a platter; cover to keep warm.

In a medium microwave-safe bowl heat apricot preserves on 100 percent power (high) for 15 seconds. Stir in vinegar; gently fold in raspberries and chopped peaches.

Serve fruit salsa with tuna steaks and sprinkle with green onions.

seafood5

Mustard-Glazed Halibut Steaks

Save time and grill a vegetable or two alongside the fish.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • Four 4-5 ounce halibut (or any white fish) steaks, cut 1 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons finely snipped fresh basil

Directions

Pat fish dry with paper towels.

In small saucepan heat butter, lemon juice, mustard and basil over low heat until butter is melted. Brush both sides of the fish steaks with the mustard mixture.

For a gas grill: cook fish steaks on greased rack over medium for 8 to 12 minutes or just until fish begins to flake easily when tested with a fork, turning once and brushing occasionally with additional mustard mixture.

For a charcoal grill: arrange preheated coals around a drip pan in a covered grill. Heat to medium and place fish on the greased grill rack over the drip pan. Cover and grill for 8 to 12 minutes or just until fish begins to flake easily when tested with a fork, turning once and brushing occasionally with the mustard mixture.

seafood1

Grilled Scallops With Salsa Verde

Choose scallops that are “dry” (not stored in liquid preservatives). Large sea scallops are better for the grill; small bay scallops could overcook before browning or fall through the grates. Make sure to coat them thoroughly in an oil based marinade before grilling, so they don’t stick to the grate.

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 large sea scallops, side muscle removed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 metal skewers
  • Salsa Verde, recipe below

Directions

Prepare grill for medium-high heat; oil grate. Mix scallops with oil and season with salt and pepper. Thread scallops on 4 metal skewers and place them on the grill, flat side down. Grill, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Serve scallops with Salsa Verde.

Salsa Verde

This sauce is delicious with shellfish.

Ingredients

Makes About 1 Cup

  • Half a lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

Directions

Squeeze juice from the half lemon after the peel is removed and set aside. Combine the lemon zest, shallot and garlic in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Let sit 5 minutes. Add oil, parsley, basil and chives. Stir in reserved lemon juice.


summerpiecover

Pies are wonderfully seasonal and summer provides an abundance of fruits to use as fillings. With so many choices, it is difficult to pick a favorite. Thinking about making a pie with some of your summer fruit? Try one of these easy recipes below.

Start with the Pie Crust

I like to make fruit pies with a crunchy topping rather than a top crust, so I use the recipe from King Arthur Flour for a No Roll Pie Crust. This delicious, flaky and easy to make crust is also a plus for those watching their diet, since it does not have any trans fats or cholesterol and it is also vegan. You can use melted butter in place of the oil, but it will no longer be vegan.

Easy No Roll Pie Crust

Ingredients for a two-crust pie:

3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

In a separate bowl, whisk together the following:

2/3 cup oil: canola, vegetable, olive, peanut or melted butter

6 tablespoons cold water

Pour the oil mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula or fork until the dough is evenly moistened.

Separate 2/3 of the dough and place it in a 9″ pie pan, reserving 1/3 for the top crust. If you have a scale, this is easy to measure out; if you don’t, just eyeball it.

Pat the dough across the bottom of the pie pan and up the sides. A flat-bottomed measuring cup or glass helps smooth it out. Flute the top of the pastry around the pan.

Add the filling. Then either roll the remaining dough and lay it on top or add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tablespoons brown sugar to the remainder.

After you fill the bottom crust, break the topping into small pieces and spread it evenly over the filling. The topping will be crisp and streusel looking.

Bake according to the recipes below.

summerpiepeach

For Peach Pie

  • No Roll Pie Crust Recipe
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 6 cups fresh peach slices (about 10 peeled peaches, sliced; about 2 1/2 pounds whole peaches)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

Follow the directions above for making the pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Mix the sugar, flour and salt in a large bowl. Toss with the peaches, extracts and lemon juice. Spoon into the crust lined 9 inch pie pan.

Make the topping and place it on top of the filling.

Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet to catch any spills.

Bake for 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for 40 minutes more or until the filling bubbles and the topping is brown.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool it completely on a wire rack before slicing.

summerpieblueberry

For Blueberry Pie

  • No Roll Pie Crust Recipe
  • 6 cups fresh blueberries rinsed and stems removed
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

Follow the directions above for making the pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Gently mix together the blueberries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, lemon zest and lemon juice in a large bowl. Transfer the filling to the crust lined 9 inch pie pan. Dot with butter pieces.

Make the topping and place it on top of the filling.

Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet to catch any spills.

Bake for 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for 40 minutes more or until the filling bubbles and the topping is brown.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool it completely on a wire rack before slicing.

blueberry-crumble-pie

For Blackberry Pie

  • No Roll Pie Crust
  • 5 cups blackberries, rinsed, picked clean, patted dry
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Directions

Place blackberries, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, almond extract and flour in a large bowl.

Gently fold the berries until they are all well coated with sugar. Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Follow the directions above for making the pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Transfer the filling to the crust lined 9 inch pie pan.

Make the topping and place it on top of the filling.

Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet to catch any spills.

Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until the crust has browned and the filling is bubbly.

summerpieplum

For Plum Pie

  • No Roll Pie Crust
  • 4 cups sliced red or purple plums (about 2 1/4 pounds, 10 to 12 plums)
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

Directions

Place plums, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger and lemon extract in a large bowl and mix gently. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Follow the directions above for making the pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Transfer the filling to the crust lined 9 inch pie pan.

Make the topping and place it on top of the filling.

Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet to catch any spills.

Bake pie at 375°F oven for 50 minutes or until fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with whipped cream or ice cream.

summerpieapricot

For Apricot Pie

  • No roll Pie Crust
  • 4 cups fresh apricots, peeled and sliced
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

Follow the directions above for making the pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, mix apricots, brown sugar, flour, ginger and cinnamon. Spoon into the crust lined 9 inch pie pan. Dot with butter.

Make the topping and place it on top of the filling.

Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet, to catch any spills.

Bake at 425°F. for 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for 40 minutes more or until the filling bubbles and the crust is brown.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool it completely on a wire rack before slicing.


cheesecover

Whether it be a simple wedge of aged cheddar paired with apples or something more elaborate, cheese is the perfect appetizer. It is my go to ingredient for making appetizers for simple get-togethers or important celebrations. You can create a cheese board with fruit and meats for a group or you can use cheese to make an appetizer for a few guests. They all work and guests are always pleased.

Cheese falls into three main types:

Soft Ripened

The term “soft-ripened” describes those that are ripened from the outside in and they are very soft and even runny at room temperature. The most common soft-ripened cheeses have a white rind that is sometimes flecked with red or brown. The rind is usually edible and these cheeses are easy to spread on crackers or fruit. Examples include Brie, Camembert and Triple Crèmes.

Semi-Soft

“Semi-soft” describes selections that have a smooth, creamy interior with little or no rind. These are generally high in moisture content and range from very mild in flavor to very pungent. Examples include Blue, Colby, Fontina, Havarti and Monterey Jack.

Blue cheese has a distinctive blue/green veining created when the penicillium roqueforti mold, added during the cheese-making process, is exposed to air. This mold provides a distinct flavor, ranging from fairly mild to strong and pungent. Common examples are French Roquefort, Italian Gorgonzola and Danish Blue.

Hard Cheese

This is a very broad category. Profiles range from very mild to sharp and pungent. They generally have a texture that ranges from elastic at room temperature to hard enough to be grated. This category includes Gouda, Cheddar, Dry Jack, Swiss (Emmenthaler), Gruyere and Parmesan.

Try some of these easy to make appetizers for your next party.

cheese5

Tomato-Basil Skewers

16 skewers

Ingredients

  • 16 small fresh mozzarella balls
  • 16 fresh basil leaves
  • 16 cherry tomatoes, a variety of colors if you can find them, cut in half
  • White balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle
  • Coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

Thread mozzarella, basil and tomatoes on small bamboo or wooden skewers.

Arrange on a serving platter.

Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil, the white balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper just before serving.

cheese2

Parmesan Artichoke Spread

Lower calorie versions of cream cheese and sour cream work well in this recipe.

20 servings

Ingredients

  • One 3 ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup dairy sour cream
  • 1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sliced green olives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pepperoncini (pickled Italian peppers)
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 20 toasted baguette slices (1/4 inch thick)

Directions

In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese, Parmesan cheese and sour cream. Stir in chopped artichoke hearts, olives, peppers, parsley and lemon peel. Chill until serving time.

Serve on the toasted baguette slices.

cheese1

Gorgonzola and Pear Tart

Cut this tart up into small pieces for an elegant appetizer.

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (8.6 oz.), defrosted over night in the refrigerator and at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ripe pear, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F with a rack set on the bottom shelf of the oven.

Lay dough flat on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Poke holes all over the dough with a fork, leaving the outer inch untouched.

Bake until the dough starts to puff, about 10 minutes.

Whisk together the egg and Gorgonzola cheese until smooth and spread over the baked dough, using a spoon to move mixture toward the edges of the pastry.

Sauté onion in oil in a small frying pan until softened. Scatter onion and pear over the cheese layer.

Bake until the pastry is golden brown and the egg is cooked, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and cut into small serving squares. Arrange on an attractive serving platter.

cheese4

Steak and Cheese Rolls

16 appetizers

Ingredients

  • 16 thin slices of grilled, very tender steak, such as filet mignon (about 8 ounces) or deli roasted beef slices, not cut too thin
  • 16 tablespoons light Boursin cheese 
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced red and yellow bell peppers

Directions

Spread each slice of steak with 1 tablespoon of the cheese and top each with an even amount of bell pepper slices.

Roll the steak around the bell pepper slices. Secure with a toothpick and arrange on a serving platter.

cheese3

Warm Spinach and Artichoke Bites

24 appetizers

Ingredients

  • 24 small wonton wrappers
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 can (14 oz) artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise made with olive oil
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped roasted red peppers (from a jar is fine)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Directions

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Place 1 wonton wrapper in each of 24 mini muffin pan cups sprayed with olive oil cooking spray, with the edges of the wontons extending over the top of the muffin cup.

Bake for 5 minutes.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Spoon the spinach artichoke mixture evenly in each wonton cup.

Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until the filling is heated through and the edges of the wontons are golden brown. Remove to a serving platter.

cheese6

Mascarpone Apricots with Pistachios

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • Crushed seeds from 6 green cardamom pods
  • 2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 8 ounces dried whole apricots (the soft, ready-to-eat kind)
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese)
  • 1 cup unsalted pistachios

Directions

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring water and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add the crushed cardamom seeds, lemon juice and apricots. Let the apricots simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until they puff up. Remove the pan from the heat.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the apricots to a baking sheet or large plate; let the apricots cool.

Finely chop the pistachios and place in a shallow bowl and set aside.

Using a small, sharp knife cut a pocket in each apricot (they will already have a small hole from where the stone was removed, so just make it larger).

Using a small spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip, stuff each apricot with some mascarpone cheese. Dip the stuffed apricots, cheese side down, in the chopped pistachios.

Arrange on a platter and refrigerate until serving time. Bring to room temperature before serving.

cheesecover1

 


fruitbreadcover
“Quick bread” refers to any bread that uses leaveners, like baking powder or baking soda instead of yeast, and requires no kneading or rising time. Quick breads are always popular; blueberry muffins and zucchini bread in summer, pumpkin muffins in the fall or coffee cakes and banana bread, any time of the year! More versatile than most other baked goods, quick breads give you greater freedom to add ingredients (like nuts and dried fruit) and make healthy substitutions. To lower the fat, for example, you can substitute some of the oil with an equal amount of almost any fruit puree (applesauce, plum, pumpkin, bananas).

fruiebreaddried

If you’re adding dried fruit, try soaking it first. This will moisten the fruit, make it tender and juicy and also preserve the bread’s moisture. To soak dried fruit, place it in a heatproof bowl and pour over just enough boiling water to cover. Let it soak about 15 minutes, then drain and add to the finished batter. For added flavor, soak fruit in hot apple or orange juice–or soak it overnight in rum or brandy. Don’t sprinkle dried fruit on top of quick breads before baking, as it will burn before the loaf is done.

The secret to moist, tender quick bread is in the mixing: use a gentle touch. Combine in a bowl the dry ingredients–flour, leavening, salt, and spices; sift them together or mix them thoroughly with a wire whisk. In another bowl, beat together the fat, sugar and eggs in the order the recipe advises. Stir any other ingredients (fruit puree, flavorings or extracts) into the wet ingredients. Only when each bowl of ingredients is mixed thoroughly should they be combined. When you are ready, pour the dry ingredients into the wet ones and fold them together gently. Do this part by hand rather than with a mixer. Add nuts and fruits; stir just until incorporated. Over-mixing will cause “tunnels”–holes where the air bubbles escaped–and will make the bread tough.

fruitbreadpans

Unless you’re using high-quality non stick metal or silicone baking pans, you should always grease the pans before you pour in the batter. The best thing to use for greasing the pan is shortening, because its melting point is higher than any other kind of fat, which helps maintain a “shield” between the pan and the batter while the bread is baking. A high-quality cooking spray–one that won’t bake on to your pans and discolor them–is also a fast, easy fix. Let the bread cool for at least twenty minutes before inverting the pan and removing the bread.

The crack on top of the bread happens when the loaf “sets” in the heat of the oven before the bread is finished rising. Don’t worry–it’s normal for quick breads. Drizzle the loaf with icing or dust with confectioners’ sugar to cover the crack.

The bread looks done on the outside but it’s still raw in the middle. This is one of the most common quick bread problems and it can be caused by a few different factors:

  • The oven temperature could be too high. (Use an oven thermometer to check.)
  • Try lowering the oven temperature and/or putting a loose tent of foil over the top of the bread so it won’t burn before the middle has time to catch up.
  • Another cause of a “raw center” could be using a different pan size than the recipe calls for. One of the advantages of baking quick breads is that you can use the same batter to make muffins, mini loaves or large loaves. Each size, however, requires different baking times–and some require different baking temperatures. The larger and thicker the loaf, the longer it’s going to take to bake. If you’re using a different size pan than your recipe calls for, adjust the baking time accordingly and check the bread often.

fruitbread1

Pear and White Cheddar Bread

Makes 16 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup flaxseed meal or toasted wheat germ
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded pears
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup refrigerated egg substitute or 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup shredded white cheddar cheese (2 ounces)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of one 9x5x3-inch loaf pan or two 7 x 3 1/2×2-inch loaf pans; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, flaxseed meal, baking powder and salt. Make a well in center of flour mixture; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine pears, sugar, eggs, oil, buttermilk, honey and vanilla. Add pear mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). Fold in cheese. Spoon batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes (45 to 50 minutes for the smaller pans) or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan.

Cool completely on wire rack. Wrap and store overnight before slicing.

Variations: 

Cinnamon, Chocolate, and Pear Quick Bread:

Prepare as directed, except stir 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon into the flour mixture and substitute 1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate pieces for the cheese.

Fig, Ginger, and Pear Quick Bread:

Prepare as directed, except stir 1-1/2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel and 1 teaspoon ground ginger into the flour mixture and substitute 1/2 cup finely snipped dried figs for the cheese.

Blue Cheese, Pecan, and Pear Quick Bread:

Prepare as directed, except substitute 1/4 cup finely crumbled blue cheese and 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans for the white cheddar cheese.

fruitbread3

Healthy Banana Bread

One 9 x 5-inch loaf (about 15 slices)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs or 1/2 cup refrigerated egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt or buttermilk
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (2 very ripe bananas)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle.

Spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with pan spray, and line the bottom with parchment. Spray the parchment.

Sift together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and sugar until thick; five to eight minutes. Beat in the oil, the yogurt or buttermilk, bananas and vanilla.

At low-speed, beat in the flour in three separate additions. Fold in the nuts.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes, until the bread is firm and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

This bread will keep for several days, but put it in the refrigerator after three days and the bread freezes well if wrapped air-tight.

fruitbread2

Apricot Bread

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup dried apricots
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan and set aside.

Soak apricots for 20 minutes in hot water to cover. Drain and chop apricots into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.

Beat sugar, oil and egg together in a mixing bowl. Stir in water and orange juice. Add the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt, mixing until thoroughly combined. Stir in walnuts and apricots.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to continue cooling.

fruitbread4

Blueberry Oatmeal Bread

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats, plus extra for the top of the bread.
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Directions
Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease bottom only a 9-inch loaf pan.

In large bowl, mix brown sugar, milk, oil, vanilla and eggs with spoon. Stir in remaining ingredients except blueberries; mix thoroughly. Fold in blueberries. Pour into pan. Sprinkle with additional oats if desired.

Bake 45  minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Loosen sides of loaf from pan with a thin spatula; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature up to 4 days or refrigerate up to 10 days.

fruitbread5

Whole Wheat Fruit-Nut Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 6 ounce carton plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon toasted wheat germ

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease the bottom and 1 inch up the side of a 1-1/2-quart ovenproof casserole; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Make a well in center of the flour mixture; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, applesauce, yogurt, brown sugar and oil. Add egg mixture all at once to the flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy.) Fold in nuts and dried fruit. Spoon batter into the prepared casserole. Sprinkle with wheat germ.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cover loosely with foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent overbrowning.

Cool in the casserole dish on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove bread from the casserole. Cool completely on wire rack. If desired, wrap and store overnight before slicing (bread will be slightly moister the second day). Makes 12 servings


umbriacover

In this series on Italian regional cooking, I have been working my way around the Italian peninsula. The series started with the northern regions and now it is moving into the central areas. Todays post is on Umbria, the only Italian region having neither a coastline nor a border with another country. The region is mostly mountainous and hilly and presents a landscape rich in forests, water resources and valleys. Lake Trasimeno is located here.

In literature, Umbria is referred to as il cuore verde d’Italia (the green heart of Italy). The phrase is taken from the poem, Barbarian Odes,  by Giosuè Carducci, an italian Nobel prize-winning poet.  The poem is one most familiar to Italian school children and is entitled “Le fonti del Clitumno” (“The Head-waters of the Clitumnus”), a description of that spot in the hills of Umbria where the Clitunno River had its beginning. Carducci wrote the ode between July and October 1876. It is generally considered one of Carducci’s best poems combining pastoral beauty with nostalgia for the glories of ancient Italy.

The flocks still come down to you, o Clitumnus, from the far mountains that move with the murmur of breeze-swept ash groves and fresh scent of sage and thyme in the damps of evening.

The young Umbrian shepherd immerses his reluctant sheep in your waters.

By a farmhouse a barefoot mother sits and sings, nursing her child, who looks to the shepherd and smiles.

The pensive father with goatish hair, at his painted cart, turns on his hips like the beasts of old, with the strength of a young bull, like those square of breast, erect and crowned by crescent horns, sweet in their eyes and snow-white, much beloved by gentle Virgil.

The darkening clouds hang like smoke on the Apennines: grand, austere and green from the spreading mountains, Umbria watches. Hail, green Umbria, and you the fount of god Clitumnus.

I feel in my heart the ancient home, my fevered brow touched by the olden gods of Italy.

English Translation

The region is named for the Umbri tribe, one of the many tribes who were absorbed by the expansion of the Romans. The Umbri probably sprang from neighboring tribes in northern and central Italy, at the beginning of the Bronze Age. The Etruscans were the chief enemies of the Umbri. The Etruscan invasion came from the western coast towards the north and east, eventually driving the Umbrians inland. Nevertheless, the Umbrian population does not seem to have been eradicated by the conquerors. After the downfall of the Etruscans, Umbrians aided the Samnites in their struggle against Rome (308 BC). However, the Romans defeated the Samnites and their allies. The Roman victory started a period of integration under the Roman rulers, who established colonies in the region.

Perugia, the Capital

Perugia, the Capital

The modern region of Umbria is different from the Umbria of Roman times. Roman Umbria extended through most of what is now the northern Marche region. After the collapse of the Roman empire, Ostrogoths and Byzantines struggled for supremacy in the region. The Lombards founded the duchy of Spoleto, covering much of today’s Umbria and when Charlemagne conquered the Lombard region, some Umbrian territories were given to the Pope. After the French Revolution and the French conquest of Italy, Umbria became part of the Roman Republic (1798–1799) and later, part of the Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon’s defeat, the Pope regained Umbria and ruled it until 1860.

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Following Italian unification in 1861, Umbria was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. The present borders of Umbria were fixed in 1927 and in 1946 Umbria became part of the Italian Republic.

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The charm of Umbria derives from its fusion of art, nature, peacefulness and the inspirations behind its artistic masterpieces and small Medieval towns. Umbrians have a deep appreciation of art and, throughout history, the region has produced its share of talented artists. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Umbria was home to a well-respected art school (known as the “Umbrian School”) that taught venerated artists such as Raphael, della Francesca and Perugino. Old paintings and frescos can still be found all over Umbria, not just in famous museums (such as the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia) but on the walls of tiny churches in the quiet hilltop towns. Romanesque architecture thrived in this region at the beginning of the twelfth century and some beautiful examples that have survived the years are the Cathedrals of Spoleto and Assisi, St. Silvestro and St. Michele in Bevagna. The Gothic styles are also present in almost every city. The Renaissance movement can be seen in the region’s magnificent monuments.

Roman Theater

Roman Theater

When it comes to music, Umbria steps away from its traditions and embraces contemporary music. Each July, the region hosts the Umbria Jazz Festival, one of the most renowned international music festivals in the world. Famed musicians such as Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie have played at the festival and every year it attracts new talented artists.

The food industry in Umbria produces processed pork-meats, pasta, lentils, truffles and cheese. The other main industries are textiles, clothing, sportswear, iron and steel, chemicals and ornamental ceramics. Umbrian agriculture is noted for its tobacco, olive oil and vineyards that produce fine wines. Regional varietals include white Orvieto, Torgiano and Rosso di Montefalco. Another typical Umbrian product is the black truffle found in Valnerina, an area that produces 45% of this product for Italy.

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The most renowned Umbrian pork comes from the black pigs of Norcia, an ancient town in southeast Umbria. Norcia has been the center of sausage-making and other pork dishes for so many centuries that pork butcher shops in Umbria are called “Norcineria.” Traditional Umbrian pork dishes include salame mazzafegati (a pork liver sausage made with orange peel, pine nuts and raisins) and porchetta, an herb-stuffed pork roast.

Greens are a very popular vegetable found across Umbria and commonly include rapini (broccoli rabe), bietola (swiss chard) and chicoria (chicory). Greens are usually blanched, drained and sautéed with olive oil, chili pepper and garlic. These sautéed greens are then enjoyed as a vegetable side dish or are used as fillings in sandwiches, to top pizza, stirred into eggs or tossed with pasta. Rustic tortas are made with blanched greens and eggs, flavored with onions, pancetta and garlic. The tiny lentils from the Umbrian town of Castelluccio are prized across Italy for their earthy, sweet taste and their ability to maintain their shape even after long simmering.

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Umbrians are masters at grilling and it is not uncommon to find indoor grills in their kitchens. Bakers in Umbria use wood ovens to make giant saltless loaves of pane casereccio. Pecorino or pork rind flavored breads are made from an egg enriched wheat flour dough.  Pan nociato are sweet rolls with pecorino, walnuts and grapes flavored with cloves.  A similar bun, called pan pepato, is filled with almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts with raisins and candied fruit.  Other desserts include torcolo, a sponge cake brimming with raisins and candied fruit, or ciaramicola.  This meringue covered round cake is made with a rich egg batter flavored with lemon rind and a spicy liqueur called Alchermes.

Regional Cuisine

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Truffle Festival

Insalata Di Farro (Farro Salad)

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 medium shallots, minced or 1/4 clove garlic and 1/4 medium red onion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar or 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard or 1/2 teaspoon minced anchovy or both
  • 1 tablespoon minced capers or finely chopped, pitted black olives
  • 1 cup (total) chopped fresh parsley, chives, thyme or basil (or any combination)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 cups farro
  • 1 bell pepper, finely chopped 
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated ricotta salata or other firm or semi-firm cheese
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Squeeze of lemon juice

Directions

Combine shallots, olive oil, vinegar, mustard, capers and herbs in a bowl.

In a large saucepan, bring  chicken stock to a boil.

Add the farro to the stock, lower heat to a strong simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the farro is tender but somewhat chewy.

Drain and let cool until no more than warm.

Add cooked farro to the ingredients in the bowl and mix. Add vegetables, tomato and cheese and mix.

Salt and pepper to taste. Add more olive oil to taste. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and serve at room temperature.

White Lasagna with Besciamella (Lasagna in Bianco )

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Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup minced shallots (about 6)
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 pound grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup), divided
  • 12 (7 by 3 inch) no-boil lasagna sheets

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Cook shallots in butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add flour and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, 3 minutes. Add nutmeg, then slowly whisk in milk and stock. Bring to a boil, whisking, then simmer, stirring occasionally, just until sauce lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool to warm, stirring occasionally. Stir in eggs, Marsala, sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 cup cheese.

Spread about 1 1/4 cups sauce over the bottom of an 11 by 8 inch baking dish. Cover with a layer of 3 lasagna sheets. Repeat layering 3 more times, then top with remaining sauce and remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, until browned, 45 to 55 minutes.

Umbrian Mixed  Grill

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This dish is often served with the region’s classic lentils.

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless pork loin
  • 1 pound boneless beef loin
  • 1 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, cut into chunks
  • 4 thick slices pancetta or prosciutto, cut in 1-inch squares
  • Coarse salt to taste
  • Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium bell peppers, seeded and cut into 2-inch squares
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Small bunch of fresh sage, leaves only
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Directions

Cut the meat, sausage and chicken into 1-inch cubes. Season the pork with coarse salt and pepper and rub with the garlic; season the beef  with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the sage; season the chicken with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the rosemary. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the peppers until just crisp-tender. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half.

Thread the skewers in this order: Pork, bell pepper, chicken, pancetta, sage leaf, beef, bell pepper and sausage. Do not crowd the pieces. Place the skewers in a nonmetal dish large enough to hold them in a single layer and drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil over them. Let them marinate for several hours in the refrigerator, basting and turning them often.

Heat the grill and lightly oil the grill rack. Remove the skewers from the marinade, place them on the grill, and baste with the marinade. Grill, turning and basting the skewers, until done to taste, about 8 to 12 minutes.

Apricots with Amaretto Syrup

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6 servings

Ingredients

  • 10 firm-ripe large apricots
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2/3 cup Amaretto liqueur
  • 6 amaretti (Italian almond macaroons; if paper-wrapped, use 3 packets), crumbled (1/3 cup)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pine nuts for sprinkling

Directions

Peel apricots with a vegetable peeler, then halve and pit. Finely chop 2 halves and set aside.

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook sugar, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Stir in Amaretto (be careful; syrup will spatter) and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes.

Working in 2 batches, poach apricot halves in syrup at a low simmer, turning, until almost tender, 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer apricots, hollow sides up, to a platter.

Add crumbled amaretti to syrup and cook over low heat, crushing cookies with back of a wooden spoon, until melted into a coarse purée.

Stir in reserved chopped apricot and gently simmer, stirring, until syrup is deep brown and slightly thickened. Cool syrup slightly.

Spoon syrup over apricots and sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

 



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