Sunday, July 30, 2017

Plum Streusel Pie

While many people's list of favorite fruits more than likely doesn't include plums, I have to say that the plum is one of mine. When ripe, it is sweet and juicy; in cooking, it can turn the most mundane dish, from savory to sweet, into something very special. It has more uses than almost any fruit I know. It makes an incredible crisp, tasty crumble, decadent butter, a fabulous accompaniment to pork, kicks Major Grey's backside when it comes to chutney (sorry Major, but it's true), makes an incredible coffeecake, and a delectable pie.
My mother used to make plum pies that were legendary. People always raved about how delicious they were. I'm not a pie maker or a pie eater, but I am a fan of plums, so decided I was going to give this plum pie a whirl. What made this recipe interesting to me was that it had a streusel topping (something I far prefer to yet another slab of crust because I'm not a crust person), and was topped with homemade lemon lime ice.

I made the ice earlier in the week, and was completely won over by it; you can find the recipe
here. Today I'm giving you the recipe for the pie, both from Bon Appetit magazine, both outstanding.
 Plum Streusel Pie with Lemon-Lime Ice Milk
As seen in Bon App├ętit, June 2003

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 t. sugar
1/2 t. grated lemon peel
1/4 t. salt
1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg yolk beaten to blend with 3 tablespoons cold water

Filling and topping
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup flour
3 T. packed brown sugar
1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
3 T. chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 pounds Melissa’s Plum Bites halved, pitted, cut into wedges
1 large egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water (for glaze)

For crust:
Blend flour, sugar, lemon peel, and salt in processor. Add butter; using on/off turns, cut in until pea-size pieces form. With machine running, pour egg mixture through feed tube and blend just until dough forms ball.

Gather dough into disk; wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Can be made up to 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Roll out dough between 2 lightly floured sheets of waxed paper to 1/4-inch thickness. Peel off top sheet of paper. Invert crust into 9-inch glass pie dish; peel off paper. Fold edges under to form rim; crimp edges. Refrigerate 1 hour.

For filling and topping:
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Mix walnuts, flour, brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in medium bowl to blend. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until coarse meal forms. Set streusel aside. Whisk 3/4 cup sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg, and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon in large bowl. Add plums and toss to coat.

Place pie dish on baking sheet. Brush inside of pie shell lightly with egg glaze. Transfer plum filling to pie shell, mounding slightly in center. Sprinkle streusel topping evenly over filling. 

Bake pie 15 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Bake until filling bubbles at edges, about 35 minutes, covering crust edges with foil during last 15 minutes if browning too quickly. Cool pie on rack. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.) Cut pie into wedges. Serve with Lemon Lime Ice Milk.

* I used a Ready Made Crust from Pillsbury. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s not as good as homemade. In this case, I beg to differ, it was fantastic (and I saved one heck of a lot of time)!

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Scallops & Spinach Foil Pack

Those of you who were Girl Scouts probably remember the foil pack meals they used to serve at camp. In my case, the one, lone, foil-pack meal that I got at my Weekend-that-Seemed-Like-a-Month-Long-Camp-from-Hell, was the best thing I’d eaten in days. I'm not saying the food was bad mind you, it just all seemed to go horribly wrong. Like the big pot of tomato soup with "dumplings," that ended up being a big pot of tomato soup with raw, elastic-y biscuit dough floating around in it. For dessert, we melted butterscotch candies and spread the gooey mass on toast. Yeah, that was the kind of camp I went to. But I'm wandering from my point, which is mainly to talk about foil pack meals.

These were clever meals, I thought -- a square of heavy duty foil was filled with a seasoned raw hamburger patty, thin slices of russet potato, and an assortment of vegetables. It was folded up tightly, poked with a fork to vent, and put on the campfire. Maybe it was because I was desperately hungry after days of avoiding the Scout Camp food, but I always thought these were pretty good.

Well, my friends, foil pack meals are back. Naturally they're a lot fancier now than they were in my Girl Scout days, not to mention more varied in ingredients. I was intrigued by a foil pack meal that I read about recently that featured scallops. A huge fan, I just happened to have scallops on hand, and was wondering what to do with them. So I set about creating my own foil pack meal. It was absolutely delicious! Not only that, but it was company worthy, and can be made ahead and kept in the fridge to be grilled or baked at a later time. What this means is that you can serve your company a delicious fresh scallop meal, and have everything done ahead of time. All you have to do when people arrive is pop these onto a preheated grilled, or slide them into a preheated oven, and have a cocktail while waiting for an absolutely delicious meal. Yes folks, foil pack meals are now company worthy. I suggest you serve this with a light, fruity side salad, a bottle of dry white wine, and crusty bread. This yields such a delicious sauce that you're going to want to mop every bit of it up with that bread.

You have to give this a try; you will love both ease and deliciousness.
Scallops & Spinach Foil Pack
Makes 1

1 handful fresh, baby spinach*
4-5 scallops
Lemon Pepper Seasoning
3 large mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon capers
1/2 teaspoon
Melissa's chopped garlic
Juice of half a medium lemon
1 lemon slice, halved
1 teaspoon butter
Layer ingredients in order listed onto a 12" x 12" square of heavy-duty foil. Fold up and seal tightly; vent by making two slits with a paring knife. Place on grill over medium coals (or gas setting), and bake for 12-15 minutes. To bake indoors, set oven to 375°F and bake 20 minutes.
*I have the hands of a quarterback, so you might want to use 1 cup, packed
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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Vanilla Bean Syrup

One of the difficulties of being a food blogger is that sometimes the food just isn't pretty. Stews, for example, are very difficult to photograph, because essentially, they're brown. There is a bit of saving grace with them in that you can top them with chopped parsley to give a little depth, and that hint of green.

The recipe today is for Vanilla Bean Syrup, but I couldn't sprinkle parsley on top of this one. It's nothing special to look at, but it is special to taste. The temps are going to be in the low hundreds all week, and so it is the perfect time for cold brew coffee. I always keep a big mason jar of cold brew in the fridge, so I decided to add another mason jar of vanilla syrup to go along with it for those days when I’m feeling a bit sweet.
This is essentially simple syrup with a vanilla bean scraped and added, and simmered for a bit. I couldn't believe how delicious it was. I had planned on using it strictly with cold brew coffee, but I have found it is delicious in cold brew tea as well (and I'm not a fan of sweet tea), not to mention drizzled on top of fresh fruit garnished with a hint of mint. I know I'm going to be making this again and again this summer, in fact, I ordered more vanilla beans this week so that I have plenty on hand. This is easy to make, well worth your time to do so, keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and there are so many uses. You have to try this!
Vanilla Bean Syrup

½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup filtered water
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large vanilla bean

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Slit vanilla bean down the center. Scrape out the seeds and add to the mix along with the vanilla bean itself; stir in. Whisk constantly, over medium heat, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbling. Reduce the heat to low and cook for an additional 2 to 4 minutes. Let cool completely before storing in a jar. Keeps in the fridge for 10-14 days (if it lasts that long!).
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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies

When Jim was alive, he loved to cook, but, like me, he wasn't much of a baker. Still, he had an interest in making the perfect molded shortbread cookie. I have that same keen interest in impressing a design into dough, but like him, I keep coming up short.
Jim had a terra-cotta shortbread mold that he used again and again, each time with dreadful results. Eventually, in anger, he slammed it down on the counter, cracking it, and we ended up throwing it away. That was a good day for both of us. Since that time, however, I've been thinking about making molded shortbread cookies, because I see so many pretty ones online. I would sure like to know what those people do to get such lovely ones. I have tried two recipes in my mold so far, one of them a recipe that came with the mold, and both times the results were disastrous.
 I decided to take a new tactic, namely buy myself one of the lovely laser cut rolling pins (this one came from Goody Woody's Etsy shop) that reminded me of the good times that Jim and I had together when we were living in London, and make rolled shortbread cookies. I am greatly inspired by Monique of the La Table de Nana blog, because she makes some of the most beautiful cookies I've ever seen. It's not that they're iced and decorated, it's that they’re pressed, cut out, molded, impressed, and otherwise embellished in ways that I find very appealing.
 As you can see, this time I had wonderful results. This recipe came from Monique's blog, but is originally from Smitten Kitchen. Like Monique, I added 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder because I well know how that amplifies the chocolate flavor. This dough is easy to work with, delicious, and these cookies freeze beautifully.
Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies
As seen on La Table de Nana

3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon espresso powder
1 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)

Whisk flour, salt, baking powder, and espresso powder in bowl and set aside. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and cocoa in mixer. Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F.  
Roll out cookie dough on floured counter with plain or embossed rolling pin. Cut into desired shapes, brushing extra deposits of flour off the top. Bake on a Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet for 11-14 minutes until the edges are firm.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

In Praise of Nocciolata

While I like the idea of a smooth and creamy chocolate hazelnut spread, the popularity of one particular brand astounds me! To me, it's like spreading a melted, chocolate-scented candle on my toast in the morning, although somehow, I think the candle would have more taste. There are a lot of recipes that employ the use of chocolate hazelnut spread, many of which I'd like to try, but the product itself was so off-putting that I set those aside.

So, when I was contacted by Rigoni di Asiago, asking me if I was interested in trying their chocolate spread called Nocciolata,
I initially hesitated. My curiosity got the better of me, however, and I accepted their offer. Am I ever glad that I did; this stuff is the real deal. You can tell the difference simply by opening the jar.

Have a look, it's smooth, creamy, and not at all waxy. It also contains all natural ingredients, none of that artificial stuff like you'll find in their competitor.

As for taste, well, luxurious comes to mind. It tastes like the liquid version of one of those high-end truffles wrapped in foil to which I will occasionally treat myself. 


My favorite way to eat it (although I'm tempted spoon it straight from the jar) is to spread it onto crepes (easily done due to the incredible creaminess), fold them into quarters, dust them with powdered sugar, and enjoy for breakfast or afternoon tea. But it can also be stirred into the batter of many baked goods. I have a number of recipes that I plan to try, so stay tuned during the coming weeks as I experiment and report.

I can't say enough about this sumptuous spread. It's a tad pricier than its competition, but you get what you pay for, and with Nocciolata you get dark chocolate from the Antillean Islands, Italian hazelnuts, cane sugar, skim milk, and bourbon vanilla extract.  What you don't get is palm oil, hydrogenated fat, and artificial flavors or colorings. It has the added bonus of being certified USDA organic, as well as gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher, and it contains no soy lecithin. Trust me when I tell you that it is worth every penny. Now go out and get yourself some, you’ll thank me later.


Disclaimer: I received a jar of Nocciolata free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lemon-Lime Ice Milk

My oldest son stopped by Saturday with my two adorable grand kids in tow while I was whipping up a batch of Lemon Lime Ice Milk. It is one of the components in an amazingly delicious two-component dessert that I found on When it was ready we all sat down to have a bowl. It was cool, creamy, and delicious. My son remarked that it was so refreshing -- the perfect indulgence for our hundred-degree heat. My grand kids just silently gobbled it up, scraping the bottoms of their bowls with their spoons, and, ultimately, drinking the cream at the bottom. I asked my son if my daughter-in-law would enjoy having a container of it sent home. He indicated that she would, at which point my granddaughter gave me those cow eyes and asked if she could take some home, too. What can I tell you? It was a huge success!

This is the easiest frozen dessert you will ever make. It involves no cooking whatsoever, has an incredibly delicious, fresh taste, and will win over old and young alike. It is the perfect summer refresher!

Lemon-Lime Ice Milk

2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/8 teaspoon lemon extract

Combine milk, sugar, and cream in large bowl, whisking to dissolve sugar. Add lemon juice, lime juice, and lemon extract; whisk to blend (mixture will thicken). Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.) Process mixture in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and freeze in airtight container.)
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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Two-Ingredient Pizza Dough

If you've ever seen the episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy decides to make a big loaf of bread, and that loaf is so gigantic that it flattens her up against the opposite wall, then you have an idea as to the experience that I've had in the past when it comes to making my own pizza dough. I’ve tried different recipes, and all of them worked out pretty much the same, namely my dough raised so high as to become mountainous, causing my toppings to slide down the side like an avalanche. My oven was a mess.
When I saw the recipe for two-ingredient pizza dough requiring no yeast, I was intrigued. I had recently, conveniently, bought a bag of White Lily self-rising flour, always keep a big vat of plain Greek yogurt on hand, and figured what did I have to lose? (Other than the flour and yogurt, of course.)
So, last night during the ballgame I decided to whip up some pizza dough. It was almost too easy. I used a big mixing bowl, dumped the flour and yogurt in, stirred together with a wooden spoon until combined, emptied it onto a flour-dusted cutting board, and kneaded it for a little under eight minutes. I had a small square pan (11” x 11”) that fits perfectly into my toaster oven, so I lined it with foil, plopped in the dough, spread a little olive oil on top, and worked it all of the way into the corners.
The dough spread like a dream, but I was still leery as I had been fooled before. I sprinkled garlic powder onto the top (next time I'll be more liberal, and will also add it to the dough), and then I sprinkled it with cheese. I used a variety of cheeses because I was cleaning out the cheese bin in the fridge (read: cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella). I slid it into the oven, set the timer, and sat down to watch half an inning of baseball. When the timer went off I had the most beautiful looking cheese garlic bread imaginable!

Next time I make this dough I‘ll actually use it for pizza.
Two-Ingredient Pizza Dough
1-1/2 cups self-rising flour, plus more for kneading
1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Mix flour and Greek yogurt together in a large mixing bowl until combined. Transfer to a work surface dusted with self-rising flour. Knead dough, adding more flour as needed to keep dough from being too sticky, for 7 to 10 minutes.

Spray a 12-inch pizza pan with cooking spray and spread dough to edges of pan. Add toppings and bake at 500°F until done. Because I was only using cheese, I baked mine at 450°F.
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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Asparagus & Mushroom-Stuffed Chicken

I love it when a simple dish is fancy enough to serve to company. I also love it when that dish is remarkably delicious, and can be changed up to suit the season.

This stuffed chicken recipe could not be easier, and yet, look how beautiful it is. Can you imagine how special your guests are going to feel when you serve them this lovely main dish? I made this earlier in the season, and used white asparagus, but it can be served any time of the year, using green. I also suspect that the asparagus can be swapped out for spinach or broccoli. As I always say, don't be afraid to change up a recipe to suit your own tastes.

Simple enough for everyday, fancy enough for company, this is a recipe you're going to want to try.
Asparagus-Stuffed Chicken

3 large chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
Sliced mushrooms
9 to 12 stalks Melissa’s white asparagus, trimmed 2 to 3 scallions, chopped
3 slices provolone cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil

Packet of Melissa’s Hollandaise (for garnish), optional

  Preheat oven to 425°F.

Slice the chicken breast in half lengthwise, but not all of the way through so as to leave one side intact creating a pocket to stuff full of goodies. Season the inside of the chicken breast with salt, pepper, and a pinch of lemon zest. Lay the provolone cheese, sliced of mushroom, and 3 to 4 (don't crowd!) stalks of
either white or green asparagus in the center of each chicken breast. Sprinkle chopped scallions over all. Fold over, enclosing the filling. (You can use toothpicks to secure, if need be.)
Season the outside of the chicken breast with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil, swirling to coat. Cook the chicken 3 to 5 minutes per side for a total of 6 to 10 minutes. Cover the skillet with foil and place into the preheated oven. Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 155°F.

Remove the skillet from the oven and allow to stand, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Drizzle with Hollandaise, if desired. Serve.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Day at the Beach Tablescape

This is one of those tables that I ruminated on for more than a week before finishing. It all started with the piece of Tommy Bahama fabric that I used as a runner. 
I loved the fabric when I saw it on eBay, and used it to make over a little footstool that my dad had made me about 20 years ago. 
My granddaughter needed something to boost her up when she was washing her hands in my coastal-themed bathroom, so I painted the footstool (originally Hunter green) with a soft taupe, and then replaced the English hunt fabric with this. I ended up having a lot left over, so it was easy enough to fold the edges under, press them down, and spread it across the top of the table.
That was followed by these placemats that I get a heck of a lot of use out of. They remind me of those fences that you see along the beaches of the Jersey shore, so they are always perfect for a coastal table setting.
Next up was the use of the fishnet. I love this stuff! You'd be surprised how many times I have pressed this into use. 
One of the reasons I put the table together was because I was dying to use the Seahorse pitcher and plates that I acquired over the last 18 months; aren’t they darling? I knew I wanted the pitcher at the center of the table but had no idea as to what to put inside.
I had thought about getting white flowers, like lilies or alstroemeria, but I thought they would be too white. So, the other day while I was rummaging around in the belly of the beast, I stumbled across some flowers that Jim (who always claimed he wasn't colorblind), bought me one year for our anniversary along with an equally hideous vase.

The flowers can best be described as diarrhea green. I never used them, storing them out of sight where they couldn't frighten me.
I hate to not use things, so began to wonder how it would be if I painted them. I’d never painted silk flowers before, but certainly was never going to use them as is, so figured that I’d experiment. I went out to the garage, rummaged through my vast collection of spray paint, found a nice ivory, and gave it a whirl. I absolutely love the look! I could have shopped and shopped and not come up with flowers as perfect as these. Plus, going over that green, gave them a light taupe look, and they worked perfectly here.
 Next up were the chargers that I got from blogger friend Marigene Purcell, and that I use again and again and again. If you ever see a set of chargers that you like and think you're going to use, trust me when I tell you, you will love them and use them a lot. I needed the green on my table to represent the green grasses in the dunes along the shore, topped the green chargers with these brown plates from the spice collection at Pier One (that I also use a lot), and then placed the Seahorse plates on top. I loved it! 
In order to bring out the color in the plates I used a deep teal napkin. I didn't want to get fussy, so just tied a knot in them and I think they look wonderful. If you ever are at a loss as to what to do with a napkin, tie a knot in it!
 I struggled over glassware. You all have seen the turquoise stemware that I use quite frequently, and I thought it would go perfectly here, but surprisingly I didn't like it as well as the brown that has been in the family for decades, and that I got from my mother. After that, all I needed was some nice bamboo flatware to keep up with the organic look, and I was finished.

 Hope you enjoyed the table as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Fish net - Amazon
Brown plates, Napkins & Placemats – Pier One
Seahorse dishes – Maxcera
Bamboo flatware – Crate & Barrel
Runner fabric – Tommy Bahama
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