What is it about Spring that sneaks up on you? You wait for it forever, and then suddenly…WHAM! here it is. Full on. Warm weather, and allergies. You have to take the good with the bad sometimes to appreciate the good. Spring has always been my favorite season. When I grew up in Michigan it seemed like forever before the winter thaw came, but when spring finally did arrive it was glorious. Rhubarb is one of those vegetables that signals Spring is finally here. You almost feel compelled to make something with it as it is not about for very long. I have to admit I’m a bit more intrigued with the color of it than the taste, but when you combine it with something sweet; such as the ever popular combination of strawberry you get something amazing. Throw in a few other flavors like orange and ginger and it makes a great pie. Note–this recipe also makes enough filling for one galette if you like to make just one pie.
Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies
yield: ~ 18 3 inch hand pies (will also make one large 9 inch round galette)
1 recipe fearless pie crust or your favorite pie crust recipe
1 Cup diced fresh strawberries
1 Cup diced fresh rhubarb
1 tsp. orange zest
1/4 C sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split & scraped
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cornstarch
egg wash: one egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp. milk
coarse sugar for sprinkling top
1. In a small bowl combine the sugar, vanilla bean seeds, ginger, and cornstarch then set aside. Roll out the pie crust and cut out 3 inch circles. Prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place pastry rounds onto sheet tray 2 inches apart. Mix the diced fruits, orange zest and sugar mixture together. Top each pastry round with 2 teaspoons of filling (being careful not to include too much juice) and brush edges of circles with egg wash. Take a round of pastry for the top and stretch it out slightly larger by pressing around the edges with the heel of your hand and place over the top of the fruited round, press down and around the filling with your finger to seal edges, then crimp with a floured fork. Cut a slit in the top of each pie, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Freeze the pies for 10 minute while you preheat the oven to 400° F.
2. Remove the pies from the freezer, redo the slit in the top if needed, then bake the pies at 400° F for 20 minutes until pies are golden brown. Let pies cool on the tray placed over a wire rack.
I came up with this when I had leftover chocolate ganache sitting in my fridge and wanted a fun way to use it up. Every time I opened the fridge there was that ganache in the bowl staring back at me. “Aren’t you going to use me?” “Aren’t you going to bake with me?” “Aren’t you going to pour me over something?” Ganache guilt. That damn ganache kept talking to me. Egging me on, scolding me. What-the food in your fridge doesn’t talk to YOU? You definitely don’t want to throw away perfectly good ganache. Quite often I end up having ganache leftover from a previous recipe. The first time I made these I brought them to a summer potluck BBQ party. People do not like to be cutting desserts at a party; myself included. Mini desserts are perfect for a party because you want to be able to sample other things and not fill up on one dessert, and more importantly-when people hear the word “s’more” they get a little giddy. Even if you’re 50.
Note- if you don’t want to make home-made marshmallows you could buy store-bought (large size) and cut them in half (horizontally) place them on top of the ganache and toast (blow torch) them like that.
Mini S’more Tarts
Note: This recipe takes several hours, so read through first and plan accordingly. Tarts can be filled day before and kept in fridge before topping with marshmallow.
yield: ~24 mini muffin size tarts
Graham Cracker Crust (can prepare day before)
5.4 oz pkg. whole graham crackers (they usually come as 9 crackers in a bundle) or 1 1/4 Cup graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
In a bowl combine the crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and butter until well combined. Line mini muffin pan(s) with paper liners. Press about 2 1/2 tsp. to 1 tablespoon of crumb mixture into the wells (and up along the sides) of a mini muffin pan(s) (using the back of a rounded measuring teaspoon to pack helps) pack the mixture as tightly as you can. Bake at 350° F for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and being careful, smooth the bottoms of the crusts with the back of your measuring teaspoon as they will puff up slightly. Return to the oven and continue to bake for another 3-5 minutes. Upon removing the pans smooth the crusts once more if you need to get rid of any puffing that occurred while baking. Place the pans/tins on wire rack to cool completely before filling with ganache. The crusts will completely firm up once cooled.
Prepare the ganache. Note: if you are using leftover ganache simply microwave until melted, stirring after 30 second intervals and proceed with filling.
Chocolate Ganache Filling (can prepare the day before)
5 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
5 oz. heavy cream
Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Microwave cream until boiling. Pour the cream over the chocolate and starting in the center stir the mixture gently (to avoid air bubbles) and continue stirring until mixture is completely emulsified. Pour warm ganache into the individual graham cracker crusts (to the top) and place in the fridge to chill to become firm. Once firm proceed with making the marshmallow topping. Allow the tarts to come to room temperature before piping on the marshmallow.
2 1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
cold water divided: 1/3 C cold water + 1/4 C cold water
2 tsp. vanilla
1 Cup sugar
Note: before you start have your tarts already filled (ganache needs to be firm) and ready for topping.
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer place 1/3 cup cold water and stir the gelatin to mix, then leave to bloom while you prepare syrup mixture. Prepare a piping bag fitted with a large round tip such as an Ateco 806 or 808 (I like an 808). Have a small cup of water with a pastry brush handy as well as a candy thermometer.
2. In a small saucepan over medium high heat stir sugar and 1/4 cup cold water until sugar dissolves. Once sugar dissolves, stop stirring and insert a candy thermometer and boil until you reach soft ball stage (238° F which is soft ball stage). (Have a small cup of water with a pastry brush next to stove in case sugar crystals form while syrup cook-if sugar crystals form brush the sides of the pan with the wet brush). Remove syrup from heat and pour about one tablespoon of syrup down the side of your mixer bowl and whisk to combine, then pour the rest of the syrup into the bowl down the side of bowl and whisk to combine by hand for 2 minutes to cool a bit. Secure the whisk attachment to mixer and whisk on high until you reach soft peaks; about 8 minutes. Immediately place mixture into piping bag and pipe marshmallow onto ROOM TEMP prepared tarts. Note: PIPE THE MALLOW ONTO ROOM TEMP TARTS as if the tarts are cold the mallow tends to separate from the ganache.
(You will most likely have extra mallow leftover and you can pipe mallow “hats”onto a sheet pan sprinkled heavily with powdered sugar. Let the mallow topped tarts rest for a couple hours or overnight to set. Once mallow is set toast the marshmallow topping with a hand-held brulee torch. Serve at room temperature.
I love a good lava flow. Cocktail that is. Okay, perhaps witnessing an actual lava flow (from afar) is pretty cool too. Years back we took a cruise to Hawaii. NCL cruise line does a Hawaii cruise and it’s pretty darn fun. The ship cruised around the Hawaiian islands and at night our ship was strolling past the big island (I think it was the big island) when we saw the actual lava flowing into the sea. Now, I’ve never seen The Husband get so excited before. Who knew it took molten hot lava. He was like a little kid when he saw that red orange hot lava flowing over the cliff edges into the cool sea. I’m getting just as excited to think these little puppies are sitting in my freezer box as we speak. So whenever you’ve had a bad week; take some time to whip these little pops up and sit back, close your eyes and pretend you are sitting in Hawaii. No lava needed…
Lava Flow Cocktail Pops
yield: ~ 6-8 pops depending on size of your molds
1/2 lb. (about 8 or 9) fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
2 Tbsp. sugar
10 oz. can Bacardi Frozen Pina Cola Mix, thawed
6-10 oz. Coconut milk
4 oz. Light Rum (optional)
In a blender combine the thawed pina colada mix and 10 oz. of coconut milk, blend to combine. Pour into a 2 cup measuring container. Set aside and rinse the blender. Combine the strawberries and sugar in blender until pureed. Strain the seeds either through cheese cloth or a fine mesh strainer. Place the pureed strawberry mixture into a 1 cup measuring cup and set aside.
For original version with alcohol: Follow instructions as above except use 4 oz. of rum and 6 oz. of coconut milk instead of the 10 oz. of milk.
To create Ice Pops:
Pour about 1 Tbsp. to 1 1/2 Tbsp. of strawberry mixture into bottom of ice pop molds. Take the mold and hold it in your hand at a 45 degree angle and carefully pour the prepared pina colada mix along the side of the molds until mold is full. Hold the mold up straight, and take chopstick or table knife and insert to hit bottom, and drag the strawberry mixture along the sides of the mold in 3-4 places from the bottom upwards to create a flowing effect. Freeze the molds for about 40 minutes and insert wooden sticks and continue to freeze until mixture is completely frozen. To remove pops run mold(s) under hot water for a few seconds to release.
Sometimes you crave something sweet, but you can’t place exactly what it is that you want. You start running through your mind all the options for a sweet tooth fix but nothing sounds right. This is the time I usually go for something sweet and tart. I love tangy and citrus desserts. I never met a lemon dessert I didn’t like. These cheesecake bars are really easy to whip together and they fulfill the sweet but tart craving. I had a jar of lemon curd in my pantry I had to use up, so I went with that rather than homemade, but you could make homemade lemon curd if you like. Enjoy~
Lemon Cheesecake Squares
recipe adapted from Fine Cooking
1 (5 0z.) pkg. Pepperidge Farm “ginger-man”cookies, (or other gingersnap type cookies) ground to a fine crumb (to equal 1 Cup of crumbs)
1 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1. Combine the ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Prepare an 8 inch square pan lined with tinfoil to allow a 2 inch overhang on all sides. Lightly spray the foil with baking spray (nonstick spray). Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan and bake for 10 minutes at 350° F. Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 325° F. Make the filling as below.
2 (8 oz.) bars cream cheese, room temp
3/4 Cup sugar
zest of two lemons
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Lg. eggs, room temp
1. Cut the cream cheese into one inch pieces and place into a food processor along with the sugar, zest and lemon juice. Process for about 30 seconds until smooth. Add the eggs and process again about 20 seconds. Pour onto the crust and bake at 325 degrees for about 40 mins. or until the center appears dry and the edges become slightly puffed. Allow the cheesecake to cool about 10 minutes. Take the jar of lemon curd, spoon it into a bowl, and microwave for about 20 seconds to become warm. Gently pour the curd over the cheesecake, and spread evenly with an off-set spatula. Allow the bars to cool to room temperature then place the pan in the fridge to chill for several hours or overnight. Once chilled and set, remove the entire pan of bars using the tinfoil and peel away the foil and cut into squares.
(about 1 generous Cup purchased) jar of lemon curd (I like Dickinson’s)
When I was a little girl I LOVED Easter. Not necessarily for the reasons you make think of.
Sure there were chocolate bunnies, pretty pastel baskets filled with funny green plastic grass and jelly beans. What’s a kid not to love?
One of the other reasons I loved Easter was looking at all the beautiful hats on the ladies in church. When you are short, legs dangling and all in your shiny white shoes, seated in a pew with the masses, you can’t see much up front but the tops of all the heads in front of you… and you start to notice things.
Hats, and LOTS of them. A field of pretty pastel madness. Plastic flowers, check. Ribbons flowing, check. Bright pink lipstick, check. Nothing was too tacky. Even the ladies who were a bit shy would channel their serious inner diva.
Easter was when you pulled out all the stops. Hats, gloves, pins. White patent leather. Ugh, okay white patent leather we can do without. I would glance over to the left, and then to the right– and if I was lucky and had an aisle view–I’d rubber neck sideways down the aisle to gaze at all the hats. Now, my Mother used to bring life savers candies to church with her and she slipped me those when I started to get a little antsy to keep my quiet. Let’s just say she went through a lot of lifesavers in her day, (this explains A LOT for sweettooth) but on Easter day-nary a lifesaver was peeled off. I was entranced, fascinated if you will–with all the pastel madness going on. Easter was made for pastel. Anything. I am still mad for pastels and calling out that 7 yr. old little girl to help dress up my eclairs. Happy Easter~
Pastel Easter Eclairs
yield: 11-12 eclairs
Chocolate Pastry Cream
1 1/4 C whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
3 egg yolks
1/4 C sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. soft butter
2 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
In a medium bowl place the egg yolks and sugar and whisk vigorously to combine. In a small bowl combine the flour and corn starch; stir into the egg & sugar mixture to combine. In a sauce pan bring together the milk and vanilla bean paste to a boil. Kill the heat. Remove the milk from the heat and slowly temper in about half of the milk a little at a time to your egg yolk mixture; whisking continuously to ensure the yolks don’t burn. Return the mixture to the rest of the milk in the pan, and on low-medium heat, whisk the mixture vigorously until the cream thickens; keep whisking and cook it for about one minute. Kill the heat and transfer it to a bowl. Whisk in the soft butter. Stir in the chopped chocolate and stir to combine. If you think you may have any lumps you can pass it through a sieve. Skipping this step would make many a pastry chef cringe, but I’m a whisking maniac and am pretty fast so I skip this step. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill until cold.
Variation: White Chocolate Pastry Cream; add 3 oz. melted white chocolate after transferring to bowl; whisk to combine.
Pâte a Choux Pastry
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder (optional)
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg beaten (for egg wash)
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Prepare a sheet tray with baking (parchment) paper. Draw lines with pencil for desired length you want. Turn paper over. In a small bowl combine the flour, sugar, vanilla powder, nutmeg and salt. Place the butter and water in a saucepan on medium high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and with a wooden spoon add the flour mixture (all at once) and stir to combine. Return to heat and stir vigorously until the dough comes away from sides of the pan and forms a smooth ball (about 2 minutes). Transfer the dough to an electric mixer and beat on low-speed for 1 minute. Once the dough is lukewarm, start beating in the eggs and continue to mix until a thick smooth paste forms.
2. Place the dough in a pastry bag(making sure no air bubbles) fitted with a large round tip (Ateco 806 or 808-I like the 808). Pipe strips of dough using a 45 degree angle, to desired length (I like 3 inches). Leave at least 2 inches in between. Use a finger dipped in water to tap down any points of dough. (You don’t want any peaks of dough as they will burn). Brush with egg wash. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce oven to 350° F and continue to bake for about 25 more minutes or until golden brown and when insides are not wet. Remove the tray from the oven and pierce the ends of each eclair puff with a toothpick (this ensures the eclairs don’t delfate). Return the tray to the oven and turn off oven and prop open oven door slightly and leave eclairs in oven to dry for about 10-15 mins. Note: if insides are not done the insides will turn a weird grayish color. After the drying time remove tray and allow eclairs to cool on a wire rack.
Tip: If you are not serving right away do not fill with filling as they will turn soft. You may “recrisp” your shells in an oven at 325 degrees for a few minutes the next day or so if you want to wait to fill and serve. Just store your shells in a ziplock bag.
How to fill eclairs:
Using a sharp tip of a knife, drill 2 small holes on underside of eclair shells. Fit a piping bag with a small star tip and stick into each hole. Pipe the pastry cream into the holes. Stop when you feel resistance. Note: you can also split the shells horizontallly and pipe the cream in; (I just prefer this way so that is how I do it). If you are not comfortable with this method then by all means you can split the shells and pipe the pastry cream.
How to glaze:
Once the eclairs are filled; dip the top into the glaze and then turn the eclair vertical to let the glaze “run” down the eclair; wipe glaze off with your finger to avoid running off off the end. Decorate as desired. To speed up drying time you can place in the fridge to chill.
White Chocolate Glaze
3 oz. white chocolate chopped very fine
1.5 oz. heavy cream
gel paste food colors (to generate pastel colors) Note: YOU CANNOT USE LIQUID FOOD COLORS AS THE GLAZE WILL SEIZE.
Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl. Heat the cream to just a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir well to combine. If you still have tiny bits of unmelted chocolate place in the microwave and heat at 10 second intervals, stir until melted. Portion out small amounts of ganache and add just a toothpick prick amount at a time of gel color at a time to tint; stir well to combine. To achieve a color that is a bit more opaque you can add a tsp. of confectioners sugar and stir well. You may have to dip the eclairs 2-3 times if you want more of an opaque look.
Chocolate Glaze Option
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (chopped fine)
4 Tbsp. unsalted soft butter
Place chocolate in a small heat proof bowl and microwave until melted. Stir in the soft butter until smooth.
March 21st is California Strawberry Day. Not sure who makes these things up, but there it is. In honor of the beautiful red berry I made a snack cake. Yes, it could be breakfast. Call it coffee cake. Who am I to dissuade you from eating cake for breakfast? . You know when strawberries are ripe when you can smell them just passing by with the grocery cart. Standing over the berries I could tell they “looked” ripe but even more so, they smelled heavenly. We normally plow through strawberries so fast that I don’t get to eat too many before they are gone. This time however, I had just enough left to make this cake with. You will need about 10-12 berries. Mind you, leftover berries are not a problem–normally I freeze them and keep them for smoothies, but I’m trying to clean out my freezer so I didn’t want to add to it. Don’t chop your strawberries too far ahead of time, as to prevent them from becoming too watery and bleeding into the batter. Enjoy~
Strawberry Pecan Streusel Cake
1/2 Cup milk
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
zest of one lemon
3/4 Cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 Cup granulated sugar
1 Lg. egg
1 3/4 Cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or 1 tsp. vanilla will do)
1 1/2 Cup chopped (1/2 pieces) fresh strawberries
1/2 Cup seedless strawberry jam, divided (I like Smuckers)
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C light brown sugar
1/3 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 C butter, softened
1/3 C coarsely chopped pecans
1. In a measuring cup mix the milk and lemon juice and set aside for at least 15 minutes; (essentially you are making a quick buttermilk). Prepare an 8 inch square pan with a parchment sling and lightly spray with baking spray.
2. Mix the dry ingredients and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Make the streusel and set aside. To make streusel: combine the sugars, flour, cinnamon, and butter with a fork, then mix in the nuts.
3. Cream the butter and sugar until lightened and fluffy. Add egg and beat to combine. Add lemon zest, vanilla and mix to combine. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients alternating with the milk mixture in two additions, ending with the flour mixture. Take 1/2 of the batter (it will be thick) and spread it evenly in the pan. Take 1/4 C of the jam and heat it slightly in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Spread the jam evenly over the batter, then swirl with a knife. Sprinkle 1/2 of the strawberries over the batter. Take the remaining batter and dot spoonfuls of the batter over the first layer, then carefully spread batter, repeat by spreading the other half of the (warmed) jam, swirl batter layer with a knife about 1/2 inch inward, and sprinkle with remaining berries. Sprinkle enough streusel to cover cake generously, but not too heavy (you will have about 2 Tbsp. left over).
4. Bake in a preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. If the top starts getting too dark, you can tent with foil for the last portion of baking. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares.