Pear Almond Olive Oil Cake

We have been enjoying very sweet local Bartlett pears the past couple of months and my favorite recipe that takes advantage of them has been this pear olive oil cake. The combination of pear, almond, and warming spices creates a lovely autumn dessert. The inspiration for this recipe came from the French blog Manger. If you are looking for a cake to go along with pies for Thanksgiving, try this recipe. It is good either warm or cool. Serve with cream, ice cream, or simply sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Pear Olive Oil Cake
3/4 c. vanilla granulated sugar or regular granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 c. olive oil (not extra virgin)
1-1/2 c. flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
pinch of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond emulsion or extract
3 large ripe pears, peeled and cut into cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch cake pan or a 12×6 rectangular baking pan. Line pan with parchment. In a mixing bowl combine sugar, eggs, and olive oil. Beat on medium speed for 4-5 minutes until mixture thickens. Sift dry ingredients and spices together. Gradually add to the egg mixture until well mixed. Add lemon zest and extracts. Mix until smooth. Pour into prepared pan and use a spatula to spread batter evenly to the edges of the pan. Press pear cubes into the batter. Bake for 30-35 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes clean. Cool on rack for 5 minutes, then lift parchment to remove cake from pan. Let cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serves 8.

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Pecan Streusel Pumpkin Cake

This pumpkin cake has been in my recipe box for at least 25 years. It is one that a New Jersey friend gave to my mom in the 1980’s. We made it for several years, then it fell out of the recipe rotation. It recently returned to popularity in our family. I have adapted the recipe to my own liking. It’s a nice dessert for Halloween or Thanksgiving.

Cake Base
1 pkg. white cake mix minus 1 cup for the streusel topping
1 large egg
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted

Pumpkin Filling
1 (29 oz.) can pumpkin purée (I use Libby’s brand)
3/4 c. sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 c. evaporated milk
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
pinch of kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Pecan Streusel Topping
1 c. white cake mix
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 c. pecans halves or walnuts, chopped
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 pan. Set out three bowls. Pour the cake mix into the first bowl. Measure out 1 cup of the cake mix for the streusel topping and place it in the second bowl. Set the second bowl aside. To make the cake base, take bowl number one with the majority of the cake mix and add to it 1 large egg and 1/2 c. melted butter. Mix well and pat into the 9×13 pan. The third bowl will be for the pumpkin filling. Combine pumpkin with sugar, eggs and milk. Beat well. Add the spices, salt, and vanilla. Mix well and pour over the cake base in the 9×13 pan. To make the streusel topping take the second bowl with the remaining 1 cup of cake mix and mix it with 1/2 c. sugar, spices, and nuts. Add diced butter and cut it into the dry mix to form a crumbly streusel topping. Sprinkle topping evenly over pumpkin filling. Bake for about 50 minutes until pumpkin filling is set and streusel topping is golden brown. Cool on rack. Refrigerate for several hours before serving. Serves 12-15.

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All-purpose Tomato Sauce

Here is my simple, all-purpose tomato sauce recipe. It is one I have made for years, adjusting it over time until it seemed right. The amount of salt, pepper, and sugar depends on the quality of the tomatoes. Each batch is a bit different. At this time of year I like to make and freeze extra sauce so that, as the busy holiday season approaches, I have plenty on hand for pasta, pizza, soup, vegetables, or meat. You can freeze this sauce in small individual containers or fill a mason jar to the bottom of the bottle’s neck and, when the sauce is completely cool, put it in the freezer. The recipe makes two quarts of sauce. I usually plan on one quart of sauce per pound of pasta.

All Purpose Tomato Sauce
2 (28 oz.) cans diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Organic)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium white onion, peeled and chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 c. water or more
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
10 fresh basil leaves

Purée the canned tomatoes in a food processor or blender until smooth. In a frying pan combine the olive oil and chopped onion. Turn the heat onto medium and let the onion cook until melting and soft. This should take 10 minutes or so. Add the garlic and let sauté 1-2 minutes. Add puréed tomatoes, 1 cup water, and a bit of salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Add sugar to taste and half of the fresh basil leaves. Lower the heat to medium low and let cook 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. Add more water if the sauce seems too thick. Let cook 20 more minutes. Add basil and cook 2 more minutes. Makes 2 quarts.

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Apple Blackberry Plum Crisp

I love this time of year with the golden light and beautiful autumn colors. Our local farmer’s market still has plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. This past week I bought apples, blackberries, and the last of the plums, and combined them into this lovely warming fall fruit dessert.

Apple Blackberry Plum Crisp
Fruit Filling
3-1/2 c. peeled and sliced apples (6-7 apples)
2 c. blackberries
3/4 c. sliced plums
1 c. sugar
zest and juice of half a large lemon
1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 pan or other 6-cup baking dish. In a large bowl combine the fruit with the sugar and lemon juice. Gently mix. Add flour and nutmeg. Mix to combine, then pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit and bake for 50 minutes or until fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden.

Topping
1 c. flour
1 c. oats
1 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted

In a bowl combine flour, oats, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well. Pour melted butter over the mixture and mix by hand to form coarse crumbs.

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Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage

This pasta dish is one my husband and I absolutely love. Unlike many recipes for pasta and broccoli where the broccoli is left fairly crisp, this pasta dish is made by cooking the broccoli for a longer period of time, until it falls apart and creates a soupy lovely green sauce with bits of sausage. Most broccoli lovers ask for the recipe. It tastes even better the day after you make it.

Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage
1-3/4 lbs. broccoli bunch left whole with the stalk
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped to equal 2 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, out of the casing
1-3/4-2 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 c. for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 lb. pasta (I like bow ties or mini penne)

Begin by bringing a 6 quart stockpot 3/4 full of water to the boil. While the water is coming to the boil take the broccoli and cut off the bottom tough 1 inch of the stalk. Peel the stalk then remove any leaves. Leave the broccoli bunch whole for cooking. Once the water has boiled add 1 tsp. kosher salt then add the whole broccoli bunch. It make stick up out of the water. That is fine. Partially cover and let boil for 20-25 minutes until broccoli has mostly fallen apart in the water. The upper portion of the broccoli stalk should be fork tender. Use a fine mesh spider or strainer to scoop out the broccoli bits and pieces into a bowl. Save the broccoli water to cook the pasta in. You will need to add more water to the broccoli water to have enough to cook the macaroni. Transfer the broccoli to a cutting board and chop into small pieces. It will be soupy. In a large skillet combine oil and garlic. Turn the heat to medium and cook until garlic is soft and fragrant. Add Italian sausage and break it up with a wooden spoon to bite size pieces. Cover and let the sausage cook for 10 minutes until it is no longer pink. Add chopped up broccoli and chicken stock. Taste and check for salt and pepper. Add 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese. Bring to a boil then cover. Lower heat slightly and let simmer for 5-7 minutes. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain, saving 1 cup pasta water. Stir pasta into the broccoli sauce. If it seems dry add some of the reserved pasta water. Taste and add more cheese if needed. Pour into serving bowl and garnish with an additional 1/4 cup of cheese. Serves 6.

Chopped Broccoli

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Broccoli mixed with sausage

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Broccoli and Sausage Sauce

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Finished Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage

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Small Batch Fig Preserves

We grow three small fig trees in our backyard, two in pots and one in the soil. They each yield a bit of fruit, plenty to eat fresh but not enough to make any quantity of preserves. The trees seem to produce the sweetest and largest number of figs between mid-September and mid-October. This year we had about 3 cups of fresh figs ripen all at once so I made just a small batch of preserves. I have found that three cups of fresh fruit to one cup of sugar yields a nice consistency for preserves. It is sweet and delicious and will keep in the refrigerator for about three weeks.

Small Batch Fig Preserves
1-1/2 lbs. fresh figs, washed, stemmed and cut in half = 3 cups
1 c. granulated sugar
2 fresh lemon slices

Place figs in a medium size bowl. Sprinkle with sugar. Add lemon slices and stir to mix. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit overnight. The next morning discard the lemon slices and pour the fig mixture into a 4-quart stockpot. Bring to a simmer on medium low heat , stirring often, and let simmer for 20-30 minutes until the syrup is thickened but still loose. Pour into a sterilized pint jar. Screw on lid and refrigerate. Makes 1 pint.

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Mediterranean Grilled Eggplant and Tomato Salad

The eggplant and tomatoes are still producing in our garden. I have been experimenting with eggplant salads this year and so far this is my favorite recipe. I prefer the eggplant grilled rather than roasted because the flavor seems fresher and the texture more firm. It is a simple yet flavorful dish. You could also vary the flavors by adding roasted red peppers, olives, capers, celery, garlic, lemon, oregano, mint, nuts, or cheese. You can eat it on its own or with pita, or as a topping for crostini. I found the salad particularly refreshing spooned into some crisp Romaine lettuce leaves.

Grilled Eggplant and Tomato Salad
1 large unpeeled eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices
2 large tomatoes (I used both red and yellow tomatoes)
1 Tbsp. chopped red onion
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
4 basil leaves, thinly sliced

Preheat the grill. Brush eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill on medium high heat for 5-7 minutes per side. Remove eggplant from the grill and let rest until cool enough to handle. Remove eggplant skin and cut flesh into cubes. In a serving bowl place tomatoes and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Add eggplant and red onion. Toss. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Add oil, vinegar and half of the chopped parsley. Toss. Taste again and add salt as needed. Garnish with remaining parsley and basil. Serves 4.

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Autumn Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting

When the weather cools down and there is a chill in the air I begin craving homemade spice cake. The house smells wonderful while this cake is baking. It is moist and flavorful and the caramel frosting is divinely creamy and smooth. Be sure to cool the caramel before adding the powdered sugar for the frosting. The cake recipe is adapted from Emeril Lagasse.

Autumn Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting
Cake
2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
5 large eggs, separated
2 c. cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
pinch of freshly ground cardamom
pinch of kosher salt
1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or grease a 9×13 metal pan, then line with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl beat brown sugar and butter together until mixed. Slowly add oil and beat until smooth. Add vanilla, then egg yolks one at a time, and beat until creamy. In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture alternately with buttermilk. Remove the mixing bowl from the mixer and, in a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the beaten egg whites into the cake batter. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack.

Caramel Frosting
1 c. unsalted butter
1 c. packed light brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 c. evaporated milk
1-2 drops vanilla extract
1-1/2 c. powdered sugar

Combine butter, brown sugar, and salt in a 1-quart saucepan on medium high heat. Whisk often while the butter and sugar melts. When the caramel is almost to the boiling point add evaporated milk and bring to the boil, whisking constantly. Let boil for half a minute or so. Remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Whisk for 2 minutes, then add the vanilla. Let cool, whisking occasionally (it should take about 30 minutes). Sift the powdered sugar slowly over the cooled caramel, whisking constantly to avoid lumps in the frosting. Spread over cooled spice cake. Serves 10-12.

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Oven Roasted Chicken Cutlets

My son loves oven roasted chicken cutlets and he requests them often for dinner. He and I enjoy making them together. I like to use boneless skinless chicken thighs because they stay moist and are more flavorful than the breast meat. I usually make 15-20 cutlets at a time. That gives us plenty for our meal plus extras for lunch or snacking the next day.

Oven Roasted Chicken Cutlets
15 boneless skinless chicken thighs
salt
pepper
onion powder
garlic powder
4 large eggs
2-3 c. Progresso or Vigo brand Italian-style breadcrumbs
olive oil (not extra virgin)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken thighs on two half-sheet baking pans. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on top of each pan of chicken. Using a kitchen mallet pound the cutlets out thinner to about -1/2-3/4 inch thickness. Remove the plastic wrap. Sprinkle cutlets with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Turn the cutlets over and sprinkle with seasonings. Crack 4 eggs into an 8×8 square inch pan or pie plate. Beat with a fork to scramble. Season the eggs with salt and pepper. Measure out two cups of breadcrumbs and pour into a second dish. Dip each cutlet into the eggs allowing excess to drip off, then in breadcrumbs, turning the cutlets over in the crumbs to make sure they are well-coated. Add more breadcrumbs as needed to coat all the cutlets. Wipe out the half sheet pans with paper towels to clean them. Then coat pans with a bit of olive oil to keep cutlets from sticking. Place breaded cutlets back onto the two oiled half sheet pans. Drizzle a little olive oil – maybe a teaspoon or so over each cutlet. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the cutlets over, also rotate the pans. Continue baking another 15-20 minutes until cutlets are golden brown and cooked through. I usually take a fork to the thickest cutlets and make sure the meat is cooked and not at all pink. Remove to a serving platter. Serves 4-6 generously.

Breaded cutlets before roasting

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Oven roasted chicken cutlets

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Middle Eastern Potato Garlic Dip and Toasted Herb Lavash

I have mentioned in a previous post that for dinner we will occasionally have Middle Eastern dips with fresh pita or this herb lavash. It is one of my children’s favorite meals, mostly because they love this garlicky potato dip. The original recipe for the dip was given to me by my sister-in-law Lisa, who learned how to make it from her Lebanese neighbors. They serve it to accompany chicken kebabs. I adapted it slightly by adding za’atar to the potatoes. I buy lavash (a flat bread) from a Middle Eastern grocery store, then broil it with spices for a more flavorful and crisp cracker-like bread.

Middle Eastern Potato Garlic Dip
5 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed (4-1/2 cups)
4 large cloves garlic, crushed through a garlic press
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. za’atar spice, plus extra for garnish

Fill a 5-quart pot full of cold water and 1 tsp. kosher salt. Add cubed potatoes. Bring to a boil and boil over medium high heat for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are soft. Drain potatoes in a colander, then return them to the pot and place the pot on low heat to dry out the potatoes for about 3 minutes. Pour potatoes into a mixing bowl. Add garlic, oil, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Mix until it blends like mashed potatoes. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. Remove bowl from the mixer and fold in za’atar. Pour into a serving bowl and sprinkle additional za’atar as a garnish. Serves 4-6.

Toasted Herb Lavash
1 piece of square lavash or 1/2 large oval lavash
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2-3/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried Greek oregano
3/4 tsp. ground sumac

Preheat broiler on low setting. Place piece of lavash on a half-sheet baking pan. Brush bread with the olive oil, then sprinkle the bread with kosher salt, thyme, oregano, and, lastly, the sumac. Broil for 1 minute or longer until the edges are a bit crispy and the bread is sizzling in the middle. Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly. The bread with get more crisp and cracker-like as it cools.

Note: You can buy za’atar in Middle Eastern markets but I prefer to make my own. Here are the two recipes I use.

Recipe #1:
1/2 c. ground sumac
1/2 c. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp. kosher salt

Recipe #2:
1/2 c. ground sumac
2 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried Greek oregano
1 Tbsp. dried marjoram
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp. kosher salt

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