Apricot Cheesecake

One of my good friends has a beautiful old apricot tree. It was loaded with sweet fruit this year and she was kind enough to let us have all we could use. I made several batches of jam, plus I puréed apricots with a little vanilla sugar and lemon juice to freeze in pint-size jars for later use during the cold weather months. It is good for a fruit mousse, ice cream, or this crustless apricot cheesecake.  I also used some of the purée for apricot vanilla bean fruit leather with very good results. It is best to make this cheesecake the day before serving so it sets up nicely. Serve plain, with whipped cream or a drizzle of warm apricot jam.  I love apricot season!

Apricot Cheesecake
Apricot purée
5-6 large ripe apricots, rough chopped
1/2 cup vanilla granulated sugar or plain sugar
2 teaspoons fresh orange juice

In a food processor combine fruit with sugar and orange juice. Purée until smooth. Pour out the purée into a 2-cup measuring cup. Set aside 1 cup of apricot purée for the cheesecake. Save any extra purée for another use.

Cheesecake Filling
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. full fat cream cheese, softened
1 cup apricot purée
1/2 cup sugar
7 tablespoons apricot jam
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, room temperature

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Boil 4-5 cups water for a water bath. In a food processor combine cream cheese with apricot purée, sugar, jam, extracts, and salt. Process until mixture is smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust flavoring to your liking, if needed. Add eggs and pulse until smooth. Pour batter into a glass 9-inch pie plate. Place filled pie plate into a rectangular roasting pan and gently slide into the oven. Pour boiled water into the roasting pan. Bake for  1 hour or until cheesecake is set. (You may need to adjust the time, based on your oven.) Remove cheesecake to a rack and let cool 30 minutes. Chill without a cover until cold. Wrap in plastic wrap after it has chilled in the refrigerator. Serves 8.


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Zucchini with Green Olives and Capers

If you have an abundance of zucchini from the garden try making this nice summer dish. You can eat this warm or at room temperature as a side dish. It also works well as a salad.

Zucchini with Green Olives and Capers
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise then into 1/4-inch slices
a sprinkle of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
6-7 pitted Sicilian olives, sliced
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Place oil in a frying pan on medium heat. When oil is hot add onions and cook 3-5 minutes until golden. Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes to soften. Add zucchini, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes until crisp tender, stirring occasionally. You should be able to put a fork through the zucchini but you do not want it soft or mushy. Transfer vegetables to a serving dish. Sprinkle with olives, capers and parsley. Toss. Taste and add salt if needed. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Serves 2-4.

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Apricot Cherry Gratin with Marzipan Topping

One of the joys of summer here in the intermountain west is the variety of very good local stone fruit. Right now the apricots and cherries are in season. Combine them in this gratin and you have one delicious summer dessert. A few years ago a member of our book club made a lovely pear and apple gratin for one of our fall meetings. I decided to try something similar using apricots and cherries. The almond paste topping is adapted from a tart recipe by pastry chef David Leibovitz. It is a bit tedious to pit enough cherries for 2-1/2 cups but it goes fairly quickly with my method: stem cherries and place them on a rimmed baking sheet. Use the heel of your palm to flatten the cherry slightly, which releases the juice and pit. Remove the pit and tear the cherry in half. Save the accumulated juice in the pan and add it to your fruit for extra flavor.

Apricot Cherry Gratin with Marzipan Topping
Fruit Filling
4 cups quartered apricots (15-20 large ripe apricots)
2-1/2 cups halved Bing cherries with juice (1-1/2 lbs.)
1/2 cup vanilla granulated sugar (or regular sugar + 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
juice of half a medium orange
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
pinch of kosher salt

Marzipan Topping
1/3 cup almond paste
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup coarse raw sugar
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 6-8 cup baking dish or 9×13 baking pan. In a large bowl combine the fruit for the filling along with vanilla sugar, orange juice, melted butter, and salt. Mix well and pour into prepared pan. In a separate bowl mix together the marzipan topping by combining almond paste with flour and sugars. Mix. Add diced butter and cut in to form coarse crumbs. Add nuts and distribute evenly. Sprinkle over prepared fruit filling. Bake for 45-50 minutes until fruit is bubbling and soft and topping is set. Cool on rack. Serves 6-8.

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Blueberry Apricot Cornmeal Cake

Blueberries and apricots are both in season now and they work well together in desserts. This moist cake has cornmeal in the batter and is studded with fresh blueberries and apricots. I particularly love the crunchy, sugary nut topping. You can change the fruit combination by using apricots with raspberries, cherries, or plums. Blueberries with raspberries or peaches with blackberries would work nicely, too. You can top it with a dollop of whipped cream if desired, but I like it just as is.

Blueberry Apricot Cornmeal Cake
2 cups flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1-1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup coarse raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
zest of half a medium orange
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup chopped ripe apricots (3-4)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 metal baking pan and line with parchment. In a mixing bowl combine flour, cornmeal, sugars, salt, and spices. Mix well. Cut in the butter so the mixture looks like streusel topping. Remove 1/2 cup of the flour and butter mixture for the topping and place it in a small bowl. Add chopped pecans and 1/4 cup coarse raw sugar to the reserved 1/2 cup mixture. Set aside. Add baking powder, baking soda, and orange zest to the original mixing bowl with the flour and butter mixture. Mix well. Beat in eggs, yogurt, and extracts. Mix well until batter is smooth but don’t overbeat it. Gently fold in fruit. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle the batter with reserved pecan crumb topping. Bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan half way through baking, until an inserted toothpick comes clean. Cool on rack. Serves 12.

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Pasta with Peas

I love garden fresh peas at this time of year. I have fond childhood memories of sitting at the kitchen table shelling them with my mom. We eat most of the peas raw, but one dish I like to make with fresh peas is this recipe for pasta with peas. I use good quality frozen petite peas when the fresh are out of season. The recipe came from my cousin Nikki. You can vary the ingredients by adding prosciutto or ham. Some members of my family insist on adding tomato sauce. I like the simplicity and flavor of onion, chicken broth and basil with the peas. Feel free to top it with freshly grated Parmesan or a bit of fresh mozzarella or ricotta. It will be a soupy dish.

Pasta with Peas
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 cups water
1 Knorr chicken bouillon cube
1-1/2 – 2 cups fresh peas or 1 (10 oz.) box frozen petite peas
salt and pepper to taste
8 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 lb. ditalini pasta or other small shape pasta

Bring a six-quart pot full of water to the boil. Add salt then boil the pasta as the peas are cooking. In a frying pan heat olive oil on medium heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes until they begin to soften. Stir occasionally. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add water, and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil. Add peas, salt and pepper to taste, and half of the fresh basil leaves. Cover, lower the heat slightly and let simmer for 5-6 minutes until peas are tender. Pour peas and sauce over cooked ditalini. Garnish with remaining basil. Serves 4-6.

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Grilled Salmon with Greek Skordalia 

We enjoyed our first wild sockeye salmon dinner of the season this past week. When we grill salmon I will often make a pesto or a butter sauce to go over the fish. I’ve recently been reading some cookbooks by Greek food expert Aglaia Kremezi and began craving skordalia (purée of potatoes, garlic, and bread). We made a batch and served it with the salmon. It was delicious. This recipe is adapted from Kremezi’s book Mediterranean Hot and Spicy. She suggests using the condiment for bread, fish and vegetables. It pairs particularly well with beets and potatoes.  

Grilled Salmon with Greek Skordalia
2 lbs. salmon fillet
olive oil
coarse salt

Preheat grill. Sprinkle fish with a little coarse salt  and a drizzle of olive oil. Place on the grill skin side down and grill for  5-7 minutes on medium heat. Turn the fish over, remove the skin, and grill for 4- 5 minutes longer, then turn once more and grill until crispy, roughly 1-2 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

Greek Skordalia
2 slices of crustless white bread
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cubed and boiled = 1 cup
6 medium cloves garlic, chopped
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Begin by placing bread in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit 30 minutes. Place the almonds in a separate bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit 30 minutes. Set the cubed potatoes in a pot full of cold, salted water. Bring the potatoes to a boil over medium high heat and cook 15-20 minutes until potatoes are fork tender. Drain and mash slightly. Use 1 cup of slightly mashed potatoes, placing them in a food processor bowl. Drain water from the bread and squeeze dry. Drain almonds. Add bread and nuts to the food processor. Add garlic, olive oil, lemon, Aleppo pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Pulse to make a thick, smooth paste. Taste and adjust lemon juice and seasonings to your liking. Pour skordalia into a serving bowl and fold in fresh parsley. Serves 4-6 as a condiment, about 2 cups.

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Chocolate Fruit Bombe

My mom and sister both have June birthdays. We gather as a family to celebrate and every year they request this bombe cake, layers of chocolate cake with strawberries, bananas, peaches, and whipped cream. The original recipe came from my cousin Rosalie. I like to use a homemade chocolate cake but you can use a box mix if you are pressed for time. It is optional to use vanilla pound cake and flavor the cream with cocoa powder as well. You could also try a lemon cake with a bit of mascarpone added into the whipped cream and mixed berries. There are several steps to the recipe; the chocolate cake can be made a day in advance, then assembled with fruit and cream. Chill the cake overnight so the flavors have time to mature before you invert and frost with more whipped cream.

Chocolate Fruit Bombe
Chocolate Cake
1 c. unsalted butter
1 c. water
1/2 c. cocoa powder (I like Callebaut brand)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1-3/4 c. flour
2 c. sugar
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
3 large eggs
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a jelly roll-size pan and line with parchment. In a saucepan combine butter, water, cocoa powder, and salt. Whisk on medium heat until butter is melted and you have a syrupy chocolate mixture. It should take about 7 minutes. In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Add eggs, buttermilk, baking soda, and vanilla. Mix well. Pour cake batter into prepared pan. Spread evenly to the edges with a spatula. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack.

Bombe
1 homemade chocolate cake (you will not use entire cake)
1 lb. pkg. fresh ripe strawberries, stemmed, thinly sliced
4 large bananas, thinly sliced
4 cups peeled and sliced fresh peaches, or canned
4 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup confectioners sugar, divided
2 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided

Grease a 12-cup sloping bowl or soufflé dish. The amount of cake and fruit used will depend on the size of the bowl. Slice two (1-inch wide) pieces of cake to line the bottom of the bowl. Place a layer of sliced strawberries on top of the cake. Place a layer of sliced bananas over the strawberries, then a layer of sliced peaches over the bananas. Whip 2 cups of the heavy cream with 1/2 of the confectioners sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla until stiff peaks form. Spread a generous amount of whipped cream over the fruit. Make a second layer of cake using 3-4 (1-inch wide) strips of chocolate cake, enough to cover the whipped cream. Add a layer of sliced strawberries, a layer of sliced bananas and a layer of sliced peaches. Top fruit with a generous amount of whipped cream. (You may have some extra strawberries and cream to save for another use.) The final layer is strips of cake to cover the cream. The layers should be as follows: cake-fruit-cream, cake-fruit-cream, cake. Cover cake with plastic wrap and place a plate on top to weigh it down. Chill overnight. When ready to serve, whip remaining 2 cups of cream with remaining confectioners sugar and vanilla to soft peaks. Run a knife around the cake to loosen it. Invert cake onto a platter. Frost with whipped cream. Serves 12.

Layers of Chocolate Fruit Bombe

Inverted Chocolate Bombe

Finished Bombe, Sliced

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Red Cabbage and Carrot Slaw with Poppy Seed Dressing

Memorial Day is just around the corner, as is the summer picnic season. Coleslaw is a must-have at many barbecues. This recipe is a nice alternative to regular green cabbage coleslaw. This recipe, my mother’s, is delicious and adds beautiful color to any table. It is best to make it the day before serving so the flavors have time to mature.  We use bottled Briannas Poppy Seed Dressing, but feel free to make your own if you prefer.

Red Cabbage and Carrot Slaw with Poppy Seed Dressing
1/2 large head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (6-8 cups)
8 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
1 bunch green onions, minced (6-8)
1 (12 oz.) bottle Briannas Poppy Seed Dressing
1 tablespoon water
salt and black pepper to taste

Rinse thinly-sliced red cabbage in a colander and let drain. I use a salad spinner to remove excess water from the cabbage. Place cabbage in a large 6-quart bowl. Shred carrots in a food processor and add to the cabbage. Add minced green onions. Toss to distribute vegetables evenly. Add dressing to the cabbage mixture along with 1 tablespoon water to thin the dressing. Toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill overnight until ready to serve. Serves 10-12.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

My husband came into the house this week with 20 lbs. of rhubarb from the yard. We’ve shared some with family and friends, baked a few desserts, and made some jam. This recipe for strawberry rhubarb jam is made without pectin. I like to cook the jam until it has thickened from its watery state but is still rather loose. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
4 cups sliced strawberries 
4 cups chopped rhubarb
4 cups sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, strained

Wash and sterilize 6-half pint jars. Fill a water bath canner with water and bring to a boil. Boil lids and rims in a saucepan full of water. In a 6-quart stockpot combine fruit, sugar, and lemon juice. Stir well and bring to a boil on medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue cooking for 10-15 minutes or until the jam has thickened and is no longer watery but still has a loose consistency. Fill each of the 6 sterilized jars with jam, leaving half an inch at the top. Wipe rims with a moist paper towel. Screw on lids. Water bath for 15 minutes at high altitude, 10 minutes at sea level. Makes 6 half-pint jars.

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Soft and Creamy Homemade Ricotta Cheese

I posted a recipe for homemade ricotta cheese almost four years ago. Using just milk and buttermilk, it has a stiffer curd and works beautifully when well-drained for cannoli cream. When I want to make a more delicate, soft, and creamy ricotta cheese for eating as is, or using on pasta or as an appetizer, I add heavy cream and salt to the milk and buttermilk.  The addition of heavy cream gives the cheese a sweeter flavor and more creamy texture. The recipe comes from In Jenny’s Kitchen. We are fortunate to have access to local raw milk, which I believe produces a better-flavored cheese than pasteurized whole milk from the grocery store. The fresher the milk, the better the cheese. If I use raw milk that is close to its expiration date it is less likely to develop strong curds. I’ve also found that I prefer the flavor of local cream and buttermilk, too. Using grocery store buttermilk will produce a tangier and less-sweet cheese. I recognize that some readers may not have access to local fresh dairy products, so just use the best products available to you. We make this ricotta often when entertaining and it is always popular with guests. It also makes a lovely summer dessert cheese mounded with fresh, ripe berries, cherries, melons, or peaches. 

Soft and Creamy Ricotta Cheese
1 gallon raw milk (or whole milk)
4 cups heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
3 cups buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon fine salt

Combine all ingredients in an 8-quart heavy bottom pot. Stir to mix well. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Turn the heat to medium and cook gently, stirring occasionally to keep the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Small curds should just begin to form around 160 degrees. Continue cooking until you reach 170-180 degrees; the curds appear larger as the milk begins to boil. Once you have larger curds, lower the heat and allow to cook about 4 minutes longer. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit for 20 minutes. While the cheese is sitting, line a colander with fine-netted cheesecloth. Gently spoon the ricotta cheese into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Let cheese curds drain 5 minutes, then transfer to a storage container with a tight-fitting lid. Chill until ready to serve. It will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks. Makes 3 lbs. of ricotta cheese. 

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