Lemon-Lime Curd

I’ve experimented with lemon curd over the years but never found a recipe with the flavor balance I was looking for.  I prefer it on the lighter side by making the curd with whole eggs rather than yolks. I also like the sweetness of Meyer lemons. This combination of lemon and lime, finished with a few drops of vanilla seems to hit all the right notes for me. It is such a useful ingredient to have around at this holiday season. You can fill cookies such as kifli or thumbprints with the curd as well as cakes, tarts and pastries. It is delicious slathered on toast, biscuits, crepes or waffles for Christmas morning. It makes a nice gift for neighbors and friends too. I like to make two batches at a time and freeze some of it for later use. The recipe is adapted from Ina Garten.

Lemon-Lime Curd
3 cups granulated sugar
zest of 3 large lemons
zest of 3 large limes
juice of 4 large room temperature limes, strained
juice of 4-5 large room temperature lemons, strained
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
10 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 drops vanilla extract or more to taste

Place sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Grate lemon and lime zest over the sugar. Pulse to mix the zest and sugar together. Transfer the citrus sugar to the bowl of a mixer. Place the strained lime juice into a liquid measuring cup. Add enough strained lemon juice to make 1 cup of mixed citrus juice. If you are a little shy, add the juice of an extra half a lemon. Set aside. Add the softened butter to the mixing bowl with the citrus sugar and beat for two minutes until well mixed. Add eggs one at a time then add salt. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Slowly pour the strained citrus juice into the sugar mixture. It will look a bit sludgy. Pour mixture into a 4-quart pot and turn the heat to medium low. Stir frequently for 15-20 minutes until the mixture has turned smooth, has thickened and is beginning to bubble. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Strain the curd then pour into jars. Makes 5 cups.

Posted in Breakfast, Christmas, Cookies, Custards, Desserts, Easter, Fruit, Jams and Jellies, preserving | 4 Comments

Italian Wedding Cookies or Butter Nut Cookies

My children love these cookies. They are easy and fast to make because you don’t have to chill the dough.  I have found that adding European vanilla sugars give the cookies a more refined flavor; use them if you can find them. The recipe is adapted from one by Paula Deen.

Italian Wedding Cookies or Butter Nut Cookies
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup vanilla granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups pecan halves, chopped (you can use walnuts if you prefer)
European vanilla confectioners sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place butter in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Add sugars and salt. Beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl several times. Add extracts and mix. Mix the flour in by hand until you have a soft dough. Hand mix in the nuts. Roll dough into balls, just a bit smaller than a walnut. Place cookie dough balls onto prepared baking sheet, roughly 30 per sheet. Bake for 11-13 minutes, rotating the pan half way through baking. The cookies should be lightly golden around the edges and slightly firm to the touch. Remove from the oven. Let cookies sit on the baking sheet for two minutes, then sprinkle sifted confectioners sugar over the hot cookies. Let cookies sit 3-5 more minutes before gently removing to a rack to cool completely. Makes 5 dozen cookies.

Posted in Christmas, Cookies, Desserts, Easter, Thanksgiving | 1 Comment

Chutney Spread 

This is a nice sweet and savory appetizer option for the holidays. I used homemade plum apple chutney for this recipe but you can use another fruit flavor. The sweet tart of the chutney mixed with cream cheese, creme fraiche, and brown sugar is very balanced and its pretty pink tinge looks lovely on a table. It can be served with sliced baguettes, or with crostini or crackers.

Chutney Spread
3 (8 oz.) pkgs. full fat cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup creme fraiche
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar or more to taste
2 cups plum apple chutney or chutney of choice

In a food processor bowl pulse cream cheese until smooth. Add creme fraiche and brown sugar and pulse until smooth. Add chutney and pulse until well mixed. Chill until ready to serve. Makes 4 cups.

Posted in Appetizers, Breads, Breakfast, Christmas, Thanksgiving | 2 Comments

Croissant Bread Pudding

This bread pudding recipe, a nice alternative to pie for Thanksgiving or other occasions, was given to me by my friend Kim. I’ve modified it slightly to suit my taste. It is wonderfully rich and delicious, a special occasion treat. I use large croissants from Costco for this recipe, but an equal volume of smaller ones would work as well.

Croissant Bread Pudding
4 large croissants, sliced in half horizontally
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
6 large eggs
1 cup vanilla sugar or regular granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Vanilla Butter Sauce
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13 glass pan. Boil 4-5 cups of water for a water bath. Line the bottom of the pan with sliced croissants, cut side up. Sprinkle bread with cinnamon sugar. In a large bowl combine milk, cream, eggs, and sugar. Whisk until well mixed. Scrape vanilla bean seeds into the custard mixture. Add vanilla extract and salt. Whisk until smooth and sugar has dissolved. Pour over croissants. Use a fork to press croissants into the custard. Let sit 15 minutes so they can absorb custard. Place bread pudding pan into a larger rectangular roasting pan. Place in oven and pour the boiled water into the roasting pan to come half way up the sides. Bake for 50 minutes until pudding is set. Cool on rack.

Make the sauce in a 2-quart saucepan by melting the butter on medium low heat. Add cream, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, vanilla extract, and salt. Cook until sugar has dissolved and mixture is hot. Do not boil. Serve with sauce spooned over individual portions of bread pudding. Serves 12.

Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Christmas, Custards, Desserts, Easter, Sauces, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

Pasta al Forno (Baked Pasta)

At our Thanksgiving feast we always have some dishes with roots in my Italian heritage. We start with antipasti, then the stuffing, with Italian sausage and mushrooms, is of Sicilian origin. We roast chestnuts in the fire while we serve dessert, which also includes a bowl of fruit – pears, prickly pears, clementines, pomegranates. In the past I’ve sometimes served a pasta course before the turkey and trimmings, but some family members don’t like to fill up on too many courses before the turkey. Since I still need a bit of macaroni on Thanksgiving, for the last few years I’ve made a small pan of pasta al forno (baked pasta) and serve it as a side dish with the turkey and trimmings for whoever wants or needs pasta, too. I assemble it a day or two ahead of time, then heat it through on Thanksgiving Day. The recipe is very versatile. You can use ground beef instead of sausage, or ham and peas, fresh ricotta, olives, sautéed vegetables, artichoke hearts, or greens such as spinach or chard. You can make a cream sauce instead of tomato based. You can top it with breadcrumbs. I prefer to keep it simple with only sauce, a bit of sausage and lots of cheese since there are other rich dishes on the table. The choice is yours. Tastes great the day after Thanksgiving, too. 

Pasta al Forno (Baked Pasta)
1 lb. pasta (penne or ziti)
5 cups marinara or meat sauce
1 lb. whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 links sweet Italian sausage (cooked ahead of time)
1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat sauce of your choice and, while it is heating, boil water and cook the pasta for about 10 minutes. You want the pasta just a little firmer than al dente because it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain pasta. In a large mixing bowl combine hot pasta with roughly 4 cups of heated sauce. Stir to mix well then add mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheeses. Mix. Cut sausage links into thin slices. Add to the pasta along with oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Spread the last cup of sauce into the bottom of a 9×12 pan. Pour pasta mixture into pan and spread to the edges. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes until hot and the cheese is melted. It may take a few more minutes, depending on your oven. Remove from oven. Let pasta rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serves 6-8.

Posted in Christmas, Easter, Pasta, Sauces, Thanksgiving | 2 Comments

Balsamic Honey Vinaigrette 

This is the salad dressing recipe I use most often. Mix it up in the blender and it will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. Recently, a friend brought over some pork belly he smoked so we added it to a Romaine lettuce salad with apples, green onions and this vinaigrette. It was terrific. Try using this delicious vinaigrette on your holiday salads.

Balsamic Honey Vinaigrette
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey or more to taste
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a blender combine vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Blend well. Add oil and mix. Makes 1 cup.

Posted in Christmas, Easter, Salads, Thanksgiving | 2 Comments

Caramel Panna Cotta

Panna cotta (Italian for ‘cooked cream’) is one of my favorite desserts. It takes about 10 minutes to put together, can be made several days in advance if preparing for a dinner party, and is always popular with guests. It makes a nice light dessert for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Over the five years I have been blogging I have posted recipes for flavors such as passion fruit, chocolate hazelnut, and apricot, and this caramel-flavored panna cotta is also delicious. I associate caramel with autumn more than any other time of year, and prefer to make this recipe with cajeta, a Mexican caramel, because I think it produces the best flavor, but you can use whatever is available – dulce de leche or ice cream caramel topping both work. Enjoy!

Caramel Panna Cotta
1-3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
2 tablespoons water
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup 2% milk
3/4 cup cajeta or dulce de leche caramel
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl whisk together gelatin and water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Place 4 (8 oz.) or 8 (4 oz.) ramekins on a tray. Set aside. In a 2-quart saucepan combine cream, milk, caramel, brown sugar, and salt. Turn heat to medium and whisk all ingredients until smooth. Heat the mixture, whisking often until hot and smoking, but do not boil. Remove from heat and whisk in gelatin mixture until it dissolves. Whisk in vanilla. Pour into prepared ramekins. Chill uncovered 4-6 hours, preferably overnight, then cover with plastic wrap once it is cold and set. Serves 4-8 depending on the size of the ramekin.

Posted in Christmas, Custards, Desserts, Thanksgiving | 2 Comments

Indian Beef Curry

This beef curry is a great cold weather comfort food. The soft chunks of meat are redolent with cinnamon and the house smells wonderful while it is cooking. This is another recipe from our excellent cooking teacher and friend, Farida. It takes a good 3 hours to cook, but after the initial preparation it does not require much babysitting, just the occasional stir. As in most curries, this tastes best the day after you make it.  It is optional to garnish beef curry with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon to serve. You can use this same recipe for chicken curry as well by halving the cinnamon, add a little store-bought curry powder and eliminate the ginger. Chicken curry only requires about 1 hour of cooking time.

 Farida makes her own ginger and garlic pastes and freezes them. When you want to make curry, use the pastes. It saves a lot of time. To make ginger paste, peel a good size ginger root. Rough chop it. Place in a blender with a little water to make a paste. Pour into a glass jar and freeze until needed. For garlic paste, peel 5-7 bulbs of garlic. Place it in a blender or food processor with a little canola or olive oil, enough to make a paste. It is optional to add a little cayenne pepper and paprika to the garlic paste for extra flavor. I tend to leave it plain. At this point you can freeze it. After you have defrosted the garlic paste it will keep in the refrigerator for several months. Another bit of good cooking advice from Farida: save a bit of the beef curry gravy and freeze it. When you make a pot of Indian yellow split pea dahl,  defrost the frozen beef curry and add it to the Dahl at the end of cooking. It adds a lot of flavor. 

Indian Beef Curry
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 (3-inch long) cinnamon sticks, slightly crushed
10 whole green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cups tomato purée, mixed with 1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped garlic or garlic paste
1 tablespoon grated ginger or ginger paste
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons fine salt or more to taste
3-1/2 lbs. boneless cross rib beef roast, cut into 1-1/2-inch chunks
2 cups boiling water
8 large Yukon Gold or red potatoes, peeled & cut into 6 chunks

Place oil in a heavy-bottom 8-quart stockpot. Turn heat to medium and when the oil is hot add cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Stir to keep the spices from burning. Cook 1-2 minutes until spices are fragrant, then add the onions. Cook onions, stirring often for 20 minutes until soft and dark. While onions are cooking, in a large bowl combine tomato purée with 1/2 cup water. Add garlic, ginger, spices, and salt. Mix well. Once the onions are browned, add tomato and spice purée. Cook 5 minutes. Sprinkle the beef chunks with salt and pepper, then add to the onions and tomato curry mixture. Add 2 cups boiling water. Bring curry to a boil, then cover and lower heat to medium low. Allow to cook for 3 hours until beef is fork tender. Stir occasionally to keep curry from sticking and burning in the bottom of the pot. Check the salt and add as needed. Once the beef is tender add the potatoes. Let cook 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. It is optional to garnish the curry with a little ground cinnamon before serving. Serve over cooked basmati rice. Serves 6-8.

Posted in Beef, Meat Dishes | Leave a comment

Belgian Waffles and Pancakes

Now that the weather has shifted to cooler mornings I have begun to crave a hot breakfast. This all-purpose waffle and pancake batter is one my mother used when we were growing up. She had a heavy, well-seasoned cast iron griddle for pancakes and French toast. It cooked everything very evenly. Feel free to adapt the recipe by adding a bit of whole wheat flour, cornmeal, or buckwheat. I sometimes use almond milk in place of whole milk for a dairy-free alternative. You can also use a bit of eggnog in the batter at Christmastime. 

Belgian Waffles or Pancakes
1-1/2 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
4 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, separated
1-1/2 cups whole milk or milk substitute
3 tablespoons canola oil or melted butter

Preheat waffle iron or pan and spray with cooking spray. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Mix well. Add egg yolks, milk, and oil. Whisk until wet ingredients are fully incorporated. Beat egg whites until stiff. Stir a little of the whites mixture into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining beaten egg whites. Use about 1/3 cup of batter per waffle or 1/4 cup for pancakes. Yields 8-10 waffles or pancakes.


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Pasta with Mushroom and Shallot Cream Sauce

When I first began blogging I posted a recipe for pasta with a roasted mushroom cream sauce. This year I’ve modified the recipe and it is a delicious and comforting autumn pasta dish. I use three kinds of mushrooms to make a stronger mushroom-flavored sauce: cremini or baby portobellos, chanterelles, and dried porcini. It will appear that there is too much sauce to cover the pasta, but use it all as it absorbs as it sits. This is the first year we have grown shallots, and find that they are sweeter than store-bought and add a nice oniony sweetness to the sauce.

Pasta with Mushroom and Shallot Cream Sauce
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 (24 oz.) pkg. cremini mushrooms, rinsed & rough chopped
1 (1 lb.) pkg. chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 Knorr porcini mushroom or chicken bouillon cube
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1-3/4 cups heavy cream
1 lb. celantani shaped pasta
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

Melt the butter in a 4-quart pot on medium heat. Add shallots and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes to soften. Add cremini and chanterelles, a little salt, and cook 10 minutes to soften mushrooms. While the mushrooms are cooking place dried porcini in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let hydrate for 5 minutes. Spoon out mushrooms, save soaking liquid, and strain it. Chop up hydrated porcini. Boil pasta water and cook pasta until al dente. Add porcini and drained soaking liquid to the mushroom and shallot mixture. Cook 3 minutes. Stir in wine and bouillon cube. Cook 3 minutes. Add thyme and cream. Mix, then taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. Cook to heat cream, about 5 minutes. Pour sauce over cooked pasta. Garnish with parsley. Serves 6.

Posted in Pasta, Sauces, Vegetables, Vegetarian | Leave a comment