Thursday, April 26, 2012


I've had strawberry shortcake made with angel food cake, sponge cake and pound cake, but till now, never with biscuits.  Years ago, I had a neighbor from Arkansas who insisted that the only good strawberry shortcake  was made with biscuits, but she never did make it for me.  Since strawberries are very much in season in Eastern North Carolina, and since I find it very hard to pass up such succulent treats at the New Bern Farmer's Market, this seemed like the right time to try my hand at Southern strawberry shortcake, made with biscuits. Read more....

Monday, April 23, 2012


almond cheesecake (10)
Vanilla and almond are synergistic flavors that are perfect for a cheesecake.  Thanks to the addition of mascarpone, this cheesecake is super creamy and smooth.  You can serve this cheesecake as is, and it will be sumptuous with a subtle almond flavor.  A vanilla crème fraiche takes it over the top. 
If you’re worried that you can’t eat a whole cheesecake, don’t fret.  Cut it into quarters after it’s thoroughly chilled.  Place the quarters you won’t be eating right away into the freezer, uncovered, for about two hours, or till hardened.   Wrap individual quarters in plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag.  Remove quarters when needed and let thaw on counter for 1-2 hours before eating.

Vanilla-Almond Mascarpone Cheesecake
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

1 cup finely ground graham cracker crumbs (about 1/2 package)
1/4 cup almond meal, or finely ground almonds
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Heat oven to 325F.  Combine ingredients in small bowl.  Mix with fingers or fork till well combined.  Pat onto bottom, and about 1/2 inch up sides, of an 8” spring form pan than has been wrapped in two thicknesses of tinfoil.  Press lightly with flat-bottomed cup to even crumbs. 
almond cheesecake
Bake 8-10 minutes, till set but not browned.  Cool completely.

Vanilla-Almond Mascarpone Filling:
8 oz. mascarpone
1 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup sugar + 2 Tbsp. NuNaturals Stevia)
16 oz. Neufchatel or cream cheese (I used Neufchatel)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla powder, or vanilla extract (I used homemade vanilla powder.)
1/4 tsp. almond extract
2 Tbsp. almond liqueur (Decrease if you use vanilla extract)

In work bowl of food processor, pulse mascarpone and sugar till combined.  (It may not be smooth.)  Add Neufchatel (or cream cheese) in four portions, pulsing till smooth after each.
almond cheesecake (2) Add heavy cream.  Sift cornstarch over, then pulse till combined.
almond cheesecake (3) Add eggs, one at a time, pulsing only till barely combined after each addition.  Be careful not to over mix. 
almond cheesecake (4) Scrape sides and bottom.  Add flavorings and pulse till combined.  Spoon filling over cooled crust.  Place spring form pan in a large shallow pan containing an inch of very hot water. 
almond cheesecake (5) Bake at 325F until center barely jiggles when pan is shaken, about 1 hour.  Cool on wire rack one hour.  Run a plastic knife or spatula around edges of cheesecake to loosen sides. 
almond cheesecake (7)Refrigerate one hour, uncovered.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least four hours, or overnight.  Remove sides of pan.  Serve with vanilla crème fraiche and toasted sliced almonds, if desired.

Vanilla Crème Fraiche:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1-1/2 Tbsp. vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla powder, or vanilla extract
2 tsp. honey

Combine cream and yogurt in small bowl.  Let sit, covered, several hours or overnight at room temperature.  When thickened, stir in vanilla and honey.  Refrigerate.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Simple green bean salad (2)
Tired of the same old green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and French-fried onions?  Here’s a green bean salad from Aida Mollenkamp that’s loaded with complex flavors that complement the green beans without overpowering them.  Served at room temperature, this salad is perfect for year-round entertaining.  The recipe yields just enough dressing with a balance of saltiness and umami flavors.  I promise you will love this, as I did. 
Simple Green Bean Salad with Lemon Dressing
Adapted from Aida Mollenkamp
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

1-1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and rinsed
1-1/2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-1/2 tsp. lightly packed lemon zest
1 tsp. rinsed and minced cured anchovies
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt (or Diamond kosher salt)
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup thinly sliced cured, pitted, black olives
3 Tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley

Bring a medium pot of water and 1 tsp. salt to a boil over high heat.  Prepare a water bath by filling a bowl halfway with ice water.  Once water boils, add beans.  Cook till water returns to a boil, about 4 minutes.  Cover pot, turn heat off.  Let beans cook using residual heat for another 5-6 minutes, till tender but still bright green.  Drain beans and place in ice water bath until cool.  Drain again, shaking off excess water.  (I like to place the drained beans on several thicknesses of paper towels to get them good and dry.)

In a medium nonreactive bowl, thoroughly mix oil, juice, zest and anchovies; season with the salt and pepper.  Add the cooled, drained beans and remaining ingredients (shallot, olives and parsley).  Toss to mix well; taste to adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.  Salad can be served immediately, though flavor improves as it sits. 
Yield:  about 6-8 servings (1/4 lb. of beans or less per person)

*If you can’t find pitted olives, consider buying them with pits and pitting them yourself, as I did.  It doesn’t take that long, and you have to cut them up anyway.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

INSTEAD OF BLOGGING, I'VE BEEN DIGGING.... the earth that is....planting, weeding, thinning, pruning, mulching.  We have a corner property with a lot of beds to maintain.  It's taking two of us to get our plants ready to face the hot, dry Carolina summer that's ahead.  Read more....

Sunday, April 8, 2012


frosted cr ch brownies (5) Get out your whisk and spatula, don’t disturb your mixer because you won’t be needing it.  Here’s an easy and decadent – but not too decadent – brownie recipe.  It’s not totally fudgy and not totally cakey.  It’s somewhere in between the two, and just perfect for me, with a slight chewiness.  You can make the cheese filling with or without the egg, but I prefer it with.  Save a few calories by using nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.  My favorite Greek yogurt is Fage because it's not as acidic as other Greek yogurts and tastes more like sour cream.

Adding coffee enhances the chocolate, making it possible to use less chocolate and have it taste like more.  You can use your favorite frosting, or just spread Nutella over the top of the warm brownies.  You can also leave the frosting off.  Either way, this is my new go-to brownie recipe. 

Making these brownies with goat cheese is even better.  The funky tang of goat cheese plays perfectly off the chocolate. 006
If you’re a chocoholic, you may want a recipe with more chocolate in it.  Since, like most seniors, I’m sensitive to chocolate, I try to use the least amount that will give me a good chocolate flavor without the jitters.  I’ve seen brownie recipes that use four times this amount of chocolate, but I wouldn’t be able to eat more than one bite.  (Please note that my rating is very subjective per my preceding comments.)

Frosted Cream Cheese Brownies or Goat Cheese Brownies
Rating:  10 out of 10


Cream Cheese or Goat Cheese Filling:
4 oz. Neufchatel cheese, cream cheese, or goat cheese, softened
2-1/2 Tbsp. sugar
optional:  1/2 egg (about 2 Tbsp.)

In small bowl, whisk ingredients till smooth.  Set aside.

1/3 cup coffee
1/4 cup (2 oz.) butter or margarine
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 tsp. instant coffee granules, decaf or regular
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. white whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup light brown sugar
6 Tbsp. (3 oz.) nonfat plain Greek yogurt, preferably Fage
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
1 large egg
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350F (325F for dark or coated pans).  Spray a 9”x9” pan with nonstick cooking spray, or grease lightly with shortening or butter.  Heat coffee and butter in medium microwaveable bowl on high till almost boiling, or heat in a 2-quart pot over high heat.  Remove from heat and add chocolate and coffee granules.  Stir till smooth.  Set aside.  Combine flours, cocoa powder and brown sugar in a resealable quart-size bag; seal; shake and press to combine.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, baking soda, salt and egg till smooth. 

Add flour mixture to reserved chocolate mixture; whisk to combine.  Stir in yogurt mixture with spoon or spatula, mixing just till combined.  Spoon mixture into prepared pan.  Top with dollops of cheese mixture.  Run a knife through to marble.  Sprinkle chocolate chips over top.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or till a wooden pick inserted in brownie returns almost clean.  Cool in pan 15 minutes before frosting (if desired) with your favorite chocolate frosting, or with Nutella.  Sprinkle with toasted chopped nuts of choice.  Or enjoy the brownies sans frosting. 
frosted cr ch brownies (3)

Monday, April 2, 2012


butter (11)
It’s certainly not hard to make butter, especially with the modern equipment that exists in most kitchens nowadays.  (Some brave and hardy people eschew electrical appliances and churn their own butter by hand.  Me, I’m a modern girl.  I used my KitchenAid mixer.)

Homemade butter tastes fresh and buttery.   Of course, if you can get your hands on organic raw cream from grass-fed cows, your butter will be the ultimate.  I used grocery-store organic cream.  Unfortunately it’s been ultra-pasteurized.  (Translation:  it’s dead, they took the life out of it.)  But, hey, at least it tastes good. 
I paid $3.99 for one pint of cream.  This yielded 6 ounces of butter and a little over 8 ounces of buttermilk (not cultured buttermilk – it’s closer to whole milk in taste).  The net cost of the butter equated to $10.64 per pound, with the milk as a bonus.  Nonorganic would, of course, be cheaper.  Being honest here, I can buy organic butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows for about half that price at the Greenville Fresh Market.  Locally, Kerry Gold butter, though not organic, is made from the milk of grass-fed cows.

Bottom line:  It may be worth making your own butter if you ardently care about the freshness factor.  It’s especially worth it if you can obtain organic raw cream since there is no grocery-store equivalent.  It may also be worth it if you get a good sale price on cream, but it would have to be really cheap.  Making butter is a simple but slightly greasy, messy project.   I enjoyed doing it, though I doubt very much if I’ll ever repeat it.  I’m just reporting – you decide.  Is it worth it for you?

Homemade Butter
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Pour 1 pint heavy whipping cream (preferably not pasteurized, or at least not ultra-pasteurized) into bowl of stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Start mixer on low, gradually increasing speed to medium high.  butter (2)It will take about six minutes for the cream to thicken.
butter (6) 
It will take about seven minutes for the cream to get to soft-peak stage.
butter (3) At about eight minutes, the cream will deflate and start to solidify.
butter (4) Then the lcream will start to separate, and the solid pieces will turn yellowish. 
butter (7)
Pour the solids and liquid through several thicknesses of cheesecloth over a measuring cup.  
butter (8)  Squeeze the cheesecloth to form the butter into a ball and to get more liquid out.  Then put
the butter back into the mixer.  It doesn’t look like much at this point.
butter (10) 
But it will soon whip up nicely.  If you want salted butter, this is when to add the salt.  Not too much, try 1/8 tsp.  Salt will help preserve the butter and also accent the flavor.
butter (5)
Form the butter into a ball and refrigerate, covered.  I can't tell you how long it will last since I divided mine in 6 equal pieces, 1 ounce each and wrapped them in plastic wrap.  (1 ounce of butter=2 Tbsp.)  They went into the freezer. 

You can drink the milk, if you want.  It tastes like whole milk. 
butter (9) 
I separated mine into two containers, each holding four ounces, and froze them.  I’ll use the milk in baking.