Next: Cannoli

fullsizerenderStarting at Sicily’s Catania airport, I was in cannoli heaven!  I’m not sure why, but it is one of my favorite sweets and not a common menu offering in the States.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat really set cannoli in Sicily apart was having it made with fresh, creamy ricotta inserted into just made shells.

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After watching a demonstration of the whole process in Ragusa, I determined that cannoli was doable and would definitely be the dessert for the anticipated Sicilian gourmet gathering.

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The first step was ordering these little tubes around which the cannoli dough is wrapped for frying.  They allow the shells to hold their shape and to slide off easily once they are done.

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Making the shells requires a bit of elbow grease, a pasta maker or rolling pin and a lot of patience.  Might I add that’s it more fun with two as there is opportunity for lots of chuckles.  All done, there is quite a sense of accomplishment!

img_8232-1Most cannoli has a ricotta based filling that may have such as pistachios, candied fruit or chocolate chips as an added ingredient.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThinking that everyone would like it, I opted for a filling with chocolate chips and a subtle taste of orange.  If there is a best hint for making cannoli, it is to use a pastry tube to fill the shells otherwise it’s a messy process.

OK, there you have it, a perfect ending to a Sicilian dinner.  What made it especially fun was the arancini and the cannoli were firsts for some of the diners, and you know how hard it is to introduce new tastes to gourmands.

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Dishing It & Digging It

A Piece of Cake

I don’t know what it is about holidays this time of year and coconut cake, but the two just seem to go together.  Over the years, I’ve tried a number of recipes, some better than others but none a total reject.

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My very favorite is a recipe that was in Southern Living some years ago.  It combines several of my favorite things: coconut, lemon and cream cheese.  The cake is not difficult to make, especially if you use a yellow or white cake mix.  If you are really daring, chocolate works, too.  I’ve tried all of these, but I like best making the cake from scratch.

Between the layers is lemon curd.  Again, you can use a purchased curd, but it is so simple to make and the taste of fresh lemon is so appealing that it’s a shame not to use the real thing.   Here’s all there is to it:

1 c. sugar

1/4 c. cornstarch

1 c. boiling water

1/3 c. lemon juice

4 egg yolks, lightly beaten

2 t. lemon zest

1/3 c. lemon juice

2 T. butter

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan; whisk in boiling water.  Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Whisk about 1/4 of hot mixture into egg yolks; add to remaining hot mixture, whisking constantly. Add zest and juice.  Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thickened.  Whisk in butter and let cool, stirring from time to time.

The entire process takes 20-25 minutes and you can do it while the cake is baking.

When the cake layers (I make 3) have cooled, spread the lemon curd between the layers and frost with a cream cheese frosting that is 8 ounces of cream cheese, 1 t. vanilla and a box of powdered sugar mixed together.  Sprinkle generously with coconut and garnish with lemon slices, a pretty green leaf or sprigs of rosemary.

More often than not, there is no cake left at our house, but when there is I wrap it in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and freeze it.  That makes for a pretty nice dessert next time company comes for dinner.

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An Irresistible Dessert

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If you are still looking for a knock your socks off dessert for an upcoming dinner, a Spiced Pumpkin Trifle is it.  I’d love to take credit for the recipe, but it is one I saved on Pinterest from a favorite blog where you can get the full details.  

Not only is it one of the best and prettiest desserts I’ve tried recently, it is incredibly easy.  The trifle layers pumpkin bread, condensed milk, whipped cream mixed with pumpkin, and heath bar chips.  No way you can go wrong with those ingredients.

You could shortcut the recipe with a bought pumpkin bread, but I went to my tried and true Southern Living cookbook for a favorite.

Pumpkin Bread

3 c. sugar

1 c. oil

4 eggs, beaten

1 16 oz. can pumpkin

3 1/2 c. flour

1 t. baking powder

2 t. soda

2 t. salt

1/4 t. ground cloves

1 t. each cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice

2/3 c. water

Combine sugar, oil and eggs.  Add pumpkin and mix well. Combine dry ingredients and add to pumpkin mixture.  Add water, mix thoroughly and pour into 2 greased loaf pans.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

You only need one of the loaves for the trifle.  Enjoy the other for breakfast or freeze for another day.  

A word of warning about the trifle.  It’s so yummy you will be tempted to have a second serving.  All of us at my table did just that and found that our eyes were bigger than our belly.  Save some for later and you’ll enjoy it even more.

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Catching Up

If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him.  The people who give you their food give you their heart.

I’m way behind on fall tables, maybe because for the last several weeks I’ve been transitioning from Maine to Houston and it takes me a while to get my act together.

As soon as I’m settled in I like to get together with friends I’ve not seen in several months.  Having them over for a bite to eat gives me a good excuse for doing a table.

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Right before leaving Maine I happened into a new shop in the area that was just filled with wonderful things.  I couldn’t resist these cute ceramic houses, and it’s no surprise they should become a source of inspiration.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow simple is combining them with small vases of lantana for a centerpiece?  That made everything else easy!

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Working from the colors in the tiny blooms, I chose burlap placemats trimmed with ribbon and these dishes and napkins, all of which are full of orange and gold.  By the way, the placemat is a super easy project.  It’s a length of burlap finished at the ends to keep it from unraveling and finished off with a ribbon machine stitched to the burlap.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had completely forgotten about this flatware until I opened a cabinet door looking for something else.  Out it came and it’s a fun complement to the other pieces.  You’ll notice I couldn’t resist finding one more use for the little pumpkins!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a matter of minutes the table was done,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand when I passed by this morning I noticed that the painting even tied into the table.  I love it when happy accidents like that happen!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThinking about the menu, I determined that it should have the flavors of fall and first thing that came to mind was a cake combining pumpkin, apples and cranberries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe recipe was in Southern Living some time ago and has since become a favorite.  If you think it looks good, wait until you taste it!

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One More Time

With our time in Maine running out, we are trying to do the things we so enjoy one more time.  At the top of the list is a lobster dinner, one of the easiest we prepare at home.

lobster guyLuckily, my lobster guy is still bringing those tasty crustaceans in and when he knows I want a few of the day’s haul, he calls and in his wonderful Maine accent he says he’s on his way in and to meet him at the dock.  Minutes later I have lobster that have been out of the water no more than a couple of hours.  You just can’t beat seafood that fresh!

lobster potWe steam the lobster in about 2″ of water, salted and with a little seaweed, for approximately 18 minutes.  When it is ready, the hubby cracks the claws, slits the back and drains the water from the shell which eliminates most of the challenge of eating a lobster. (Check out the how to here.)

Lobster dinnerWith steamed lobster, the sides are always the same: fresh corn on the cob and roasted or steamed potatoes.  For something so good, there are no fancy fixins!

lobster tableTable settings for a lobster dinner are the simplest.  The same lobster plates are used time and again

lobster tableand I recently found lobster themed paper placemats that are perfect for a messy dinner because they can be thrown away.

lobster tableNecessary accessories include a cracker for the claws and a little fork to dig the last bite from those hard to get to places.

lobster tableThese cute little fishes hold a lemon slice that can either season melted butter or be used to clean hands when the lobster is all gone.

lobster tableLet me assure you that any table setting is secondary to the groans of satisfaction that accompany any lobster dinner!

lemon pieIf there is room for dessert, our favorite is something made with lemon and nothing beats my friend Pam’s lemon pie.  She generously shared the recipe which is posted here. Even if you can’t have the lobster dinner, do try the pie.  You’ll be glad you did!

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Blueberry Mania

blueberriesIf I have a favorite season in Maine, this may be it.  For a very few weeks blueberries are in, and there’s nothing like wild Maine blueberries that burst in your mouth with sweetness.  Believe me when I tell you they are a world apart from the ones you buy in the grocery.

blueberriesAnd, when you’ve picked them yourself, they’re even more appreciated!

blueberriesLike with lobster, I try using them in as many ways as possible.  Around here, blueberry crisp topped with a scoop of homemade cinnamon ice cream is a real favorite,

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but not far behind are blueberry muffins oozing with goodness.

blueberriesThe kids would tell you GrandP’s pancakes dripping with real Maine maple syrup are the bomb!

blueberriesAs of yesterday, however, there is something new to rave about, blueberry mousse, an easy to make dessert that is a scrumptious blend of lemon curd, cream and blueberries.  Though I’d like to keep it a secret, I’m feeling generous today and will share the recipe.

Blueberry Mousse

For the lemon curd, combine 1 c. sugar, 1-1 1/2 T. lemon zest, 3 eggs and a pinch of salt in a sauce pan.  With heat on medium, add 1 stick of butter and 1/2 c. lemon juice.  When the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat and stir constantly until it coats the back of a spoon.  This takes about 5-10 minutes.  Remove from the heat, cool to room temperature and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Whip 1 c. cream until soft peaks form.  Fold 1/2 c. of lemon curd into the whipped cream, then gently fold in remaining lemon curd and 1 1/2 c. fresh blueberries.  Spoon into individual serving dishes and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  At serving time, top it with mint leaves.

That’s all there is to it.  Should you want to make the recipe even simpler, use bought lemon curd.  Stonewall Kitchen has a very good one.  I think the mousse would also be wonderful with raspberries or strawberries or maybe a combination of berries.  Now, that’s got me thinking about what’s next!

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Hands Down Winner!

While everything stays pretty much the same on our Thanksgiving menu, it’s always fun to try a new dessert. That doesn’t mean we stray too far from pumpkin and pecan pies that no Thanksgiving would be complete without, but there is some little twist.

Photo from Southern Living
Photo from Southern Living

I’ve been experimenting with this and that from one publication or another, and this Pumpkin Tart with Whipped Cream and Almond Toffee from Southern Living is a hands down winner!

pumpkin pieIt has a dark, rich color and taste that is likely attributed to having molasses as an ingredient.

pumpkin pieUnlike the perfectly presented photo in Southern Living, I finished each piece individually, first topping with the whipped cream

pumpkin pieand then with the almond toffee. The end result was the same: super good! 

If you haven’t decided on your Thanksgiving dessert, this one is absolutely delicious and leaves one wanting more though I recommend resisting the temptation because the tart is rich.  One suggestion:  you may want to cut the whipped cream portion by half and reduce the amount of powdered sugar unless you like it quite sweet.

This tart would be a perfect finish to any meal, so if you’ve already got Thanksgiving under control, give it a try another time.

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The Scoop

For The Bundt Of It

Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Glaze
Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Glaze

Why do I like bundt cakes?  Because I am a terrible layer cake maker.  The layers are never the same thickness, one side is always higher than the other, and icing generally runs down the sides onto the plate.    You should see all my failures, and you’d know I’m speaking the truth!!

Apple Dapple Cake
Apple Dapple Cake

A bundt cake is different.  It’s a single thickness, requires nothing more than a simple glaze and glides right out of the pan without falling apart….most of the time.

cake/muffin pansBundt cakes are fun because there are so many different pan designs.  I have to confess, however, that some are better than others when it comes to cleaning.  The more detail, the harder to clean.  I have thrown a couple of pans away because they were too much of a pain to clean!

bundt panRecently, I’ve liked serving individual desserts and for cakes this Wilton pan is perfect.

pecan spice cakeSeveral friends have had birthdays in the last few days, and using the pan I was able to make each one his/her own cake.  It was a little bit of a risk to try a brand new recipe, but luckily, it turned out great.  It is a Pecan Spice Cake with Caramel/Rum Glaze from Southern Living.  Should you make individual cakes, the recipe is good for 10-12.  If you still are looking for a Thanksgiving dessert or one for a holiday party, this is a good one.  

bundt cakeCuisine Kathleen, I’ve saved one just for you for challenging your readers to a bundtathon.  It will be fun to see how everyone put their unique creative touches on all things bundt!

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Have a Pavlova

PavlovaThanks to my friend Gray, Pavlova, or meringue shells, has become one of my favorite go to desserts.  It is easy to prepare and can be served with any number of fillings. Fresh fruits, which this time of year are plentiful and delicious, are always a great choice.

I am sure there are many ways of making a meringue shell, but  I am sharing that of my friend as I know it’s a good one.

Pavlova

4 large egg whites at room temperature

1 c. sugar

1 t. white vinegar (I’ve been known to use balsamic!)

1/2 T. cornstarch

1/2 t. vanilla

In a metal bowl, beat the egg whites with  a whisk or mixer until they form soft peaks.  Gradually sprinkle the sugar into the egg whites, beating after each addition, until all sugar is used and glossy stiff peaks have formed.  Sprinkle cornstarch and vinegar on the meringue and fold in gently with a plastic spatula.  Add the vanilla, folding gently into the mixture.

PavlovaOn a baking sheet lined with foil or a Silpat baking sheet, spread the meringue in  circles.  Indent the center with the back of a spoon so you have a slight well in the center.

Bake in a preheated 275 degree oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until it goes a pale eggshell color.  Turn the oven off and leave the meringues in the oven for an additional hour.

Just before serving, remove the meringues from the oven and place them on serving dishes.  Fill the center with your choice of filling and top with whipped cream.

Pavlova

This time around I filled the Pavlova with homemade lemon curd and blueberry lavender jam.  I found an incredibly easy recipe for lemon curd made in the microwave here, and it was yummy!

The jam was perfect with the lemon curd, but a blueberry compote made with 2 c. blueberries, 3 T. water and 1/4 c. sugar  stirred over medium heat until thickened would have worked just as well as would just plain blueberries.  Love the flexibility of this dessert.

PavlovaAn added bonus to making Pavlova is that it can involve kids who love to help in the kitchen and get a big kick out of presenting their creations.  That can’t be beat!

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More than Jes’ Pie

Several nights ago I was asked to bring a dessert to a dinner gathering.  My intent was to make a favorite buttermilk pie, but I had no buttermilk and for whatever reason a chess pie came to mind.  Since then I’ve been wondering about its origins.  I’m pretty sure it’s southern, but more than that who knows?  Time to google, and here’s what I found:

 The origin of the name, Chess Pie, is uncertain, but there are plenty of guesses and a bit of folklore surrounding the name. The most probable explanation is that since the English lemon curd pie filling is very close to lemon chess pie, and they believe the word “chess” is an Americanization of the English word “cheese,” referring to curd pie. Basically the Chess Pie is a cheese-less cheesecake.

Ok, but here’re the explanations I like best:

One suggests that the word is “chest,” pronounced with a drawl and used to describe these pies baked with so much sugar they could be stored in a pie chest rather than refrigerated.

Another story is about the plantation cook who was asked what she was baking that smelled so great – “Jes’ pie”was her answer.

For me, chess pie began with my grandmother,  a great cook who made everything from scratch with farm fresh ingredients that had been gathered minutes or hours before.  Her chess pie is a simple combination of butter, eggs and a little milk baked in the flakiest ever crust.  Fortunately, my mother made the pie one of her standbys and now it continues with me though I must confess to having made a few changes.  I don’t always make a crust as Pillsbury does a pretty good job of that,  I use different vinegars, butter is melted in the microwave rather than whipped in and to dress it up a bit, I serve each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and a few berries on the side.  Even with the changes, the end result is almost as tasty as I remember Grandma’s being.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrandma’s Chess Pie

1 pie crust, bought or homemade

2 cups sugar 

2 tablespoons cornmeal (yes, cornmeal!)

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, melted 

1/4 cup milk 

1 tablespoon white vinegar (white balsamic and its variations are great)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla 

4 large eggs

Line 9″ pie pan with crust, crimping edges.  Line pastry with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights. (I use small stones.)  Bake at 425° for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove weights and foil; bake 2 more minutes or until golden.  Remove from oven and reduce temp to 350.

Stir together sugar and next 7 ingredients until blended. Stir in eggs, one at a time and blend well. Pour mixture into pie crust.  Bake at 350° for 50 to 55 minutes, shielding edges with aluminum foil or pie shield after 10 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Whenever you plan on serving this pie, you may want to make an extra one because most everyone will ask for a second sliver.  It’s one of those desserts that tastes so good and is much more than jes’ pie.  Enjoy!

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