Cherry Blossom Collins

My husband gets the credit for this sweet, refreshing, summertime drink. (I think it would make a delightlful ice cream or sorbet, once I work out the details.) 

Makes 2

  • 1/3 Cup Water
  • 1/3 Cup Sugar
  • Approx. 1/3 Cup Frozen Cherries, diced or pureed
  • 2 Tsp. Loose Green Tea (recommended: Cherry Blossom Green Tea)
  • 10-20 Basil Leaves
  • 1/2 Cup Gin

In a small saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the water.  Add the cherries and bring to a boil, remove from heat and add tea and basil.  Allow to steep for 1 hour.  Strain into a measuring cup (should have about 1/2 cup). 

Fill a shaker with ice, combine cherry-tea syrup and gin, shake until cold.  Serve in a Collins glass over ice.  Garnish with cherries and basil leaves, if desired.

Creamy Peanut Vinagarette

I was looking for a snack and thinking about that peanut pasta that I blogged about earlier, and about snacking on a salad (got a big dinner planned.)  So I thought, what about a peanut butter vinaigrette?  I asked my husband, and his reaction was “sounds weird.”  Hmmm.  Still not dissuaded, I gathered some ingredients and mixed them up.  Delicious!  I served it over romaine and chunked up Roma tomatoes with some freshly ground black pepper.  

I make no promises about the amounts; this was just me adding and tweeking.  Try the same!  I might add a dash of ground ginger next time, and some carrots to the salad mix. 

  • 1/2 Tsp Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 Crunchy Peanut Butter
  • 1/2 Tsp-1 Tsp Soy Sauce
  • Drizzle Sesame Oil
  • 1 Tsp or so Rice Wine Vinegar

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl with a fork or whisk until smooth (but for the peanut butter chunks).  Toss with salad greens.

Creamy Peanut Butter Sauce with Chicken and Pasta

This is a great “go-to” recipe.  It’s easy, pantry friendly, can be made in the time it takes to boil noodles, and can be a full meal (veg, meat, starch) in one dish.  Plus, it’s delicious and hearty.  The peas add a wonderful sweetness, but green beans can work in place of (or in addition to) them. (You’ll want to cook them or thaw them first.) 

Approx. 4 servings

  •  1/2 Cup Peanut Butter (smooth or crunchy, your choice)
  • 1/3 Cup Chicken Broth or Stock
  • 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tsp Asian Sesame Oil, divided
  • 2 Tsp Chili Oil, divided
  • 1.5 Tbs Sugar
  • 2 Tbs Red Wine vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup Milk
  • 1-2 Tbs Sriracha or Other Hot Sauce
  • 1/2 lb or so linguine
  • 1 large or 2 small Chicken Breasts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable or Cooking Oil to coat pan
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs minced or grated fresh ginger
  • Frozen Peas, optional (approx. 1/2 lb, or whatever you like)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.  Lightly salt (not as much salt as you would use for most pastas).  Add the pasta and boil until tender, approximately 9 minutes.  (Asian-style pasta dishes are generally cooked to a little more tender than an Italian-style al dente.) 

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.  Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and saute over medium heat until lightly browned and cooked through.  Remove from pan and reduce heat to medium low.

While chicken is cooking, combine all remaining ingredients except garlic and ginger in a blender or food processor, using 1 tsp each of chili and sesame oils.  After the chicken is removed from the pan, add a small drizzle of oil and saute garlic and ginger until fragrant (approximately 1 minute).  Add peanut sauce and chicken and heat through.  Stir in peas, then stir in pasta.  Stir continuously until completely warmed, approx. 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and drizzle in a bit of sesame and chili oil.  Serve with additional hot sauce, if desired.

This is not the best pizza crust that I have ever had

It is, however, far better than any delivery pizza that I’ve ever tried, and can be made into pizza, start to finish, in less time than it takes for the driver to get here with a pie. 

  •  1/2 Cup + 2 TBS Warm Water
  • 2 1/8 Tsp Dry Yeast
  • 1/8 Cup (2 TBS) Vegetable Oil
  • 1/8 Cup (2 TBS) Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 TBS Sugar
  • 2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • Toppings of choice (I like mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce with a little sautéed garlic, red pepper, and oregano mixed in, hot Italian sausage, and pineapple best)

Pre-heat oven to 375.  Mix water and yeast in the bowl of a mixer.  Mix in the oil and sugar, then add the flour gradually.  Mix until a smooth dough is formed, adding a little more flour if the dough is sticky.  Press the dough out on a pizza stone to form a round, approximately 10-12 inches in diameter.  Bake 10 minutes or until crust is just starting to turn golden.  While it is baking, gather toppings. 

Remove from oven and raise heat to 500 degrees.  Top pizza with sauce, cheese, and desired toppings.  Return to oven for 6-8 minutes, or until crust is well browned and cheese is thoroughly melted and just starting to brown at spots.  Remove from oven and allow to rest at least 3 minutes before cutting.

My Favorite Springtime Dessert

OK, if given the choice, I’d probably still take this pie (speaking of which, I should make that next week …mmmm), but since pie generally takes a bit of advance planning, it’s nice to have something on hand that celebrates the season without a lot of fuss. 
 
This isn’t a recipe per se, more of a “way” to prep fresh fruit in minutes with ingredients on hand.  When strawberries start appearing in the bargain flyers, we make this several times a week. 
 
For 2 people, roughly chop 6-7 large strawberries and place in a small bowl.  Stir in about a tablespoon or two of sugar, depending on your taste and the ripeness of the fruit, and about 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar.  If you happen to have some leftover wine or flat champagne around, toss in a couple teaspoons of that, too. 
 
Ideally, you would let that sit about an hour to macerate.  Ideally.  If not, (particularly if your berries started out cold), microwave on low (I use the defrost setting), stirring every 15-20 seconds, until the berries are just ever so slightly warm (not hot!) and the juices are red.  Set aside.
 
In a medium bowl, beat some cream (about 1/4 cup) to stiff peaks with about 1 tsp sugar, more or less to taste.  If you like, you can add vanilla extract, almond extract, amaretto, or whatever else you like, but it’s up to you.  (Tequilla gives an interesting flair).  
 
Divide the berries into 2 dishes (lovely in martini glasses) and top with whipped cream.  Delish!

These brownies are insane

Saw an episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown where he made a fabulous looking German chocolate cake which I wanted very much. But, with only two people in the house, cakes are usually more trouble than they are worth, and this one is a lot of trouble.

But I still wanted that rich, chocolately, coconutty combination.  So I decided to create my own, in brownie form.  The simple, one-bowl brownie recipe, which has been my favorite for a while, is adapted from this one from Gourmet.  The topping is adapted from Bobby’s German chocolate cake. 

Brownies:

  • 3 Oz Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped
  • 1 Oz. Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 stick (6 Tbs) Butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1/4 Cup Cool Coffee (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour

Topping

  • 3/8 Cup (6 TBS) Sugar
  • 2 TBS Water
  • 3/4 Cup Whole Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 1 TBS Light Corn Syrup
  • 1 TBS Cold Unsalted Butter, cut up
  • 1/2 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Dash salt
  • 1/2 Cup Sweetened Coconut
  • 1/3 Cup Chopped Pecans
  • 1/4 Cup (approx.) Chocolate Sauce (melt chocolate chips with heavy cream to make your own)

Pre-heat oven to 350.  Grease and flour an 8-inch square baking dish, knocking out excess flour. 

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolates and butter, stirring at least every 30 seconds.  Cool to lukewarm and whisk in sugar and vanilla. Whisk in eggs one at a time.  Add coffee and whisk until smooth and glossy.

Stir in flour and salt until just combined.  Spread batter evenly into pan and bake 22-25 minutes, tester should still have moist crumbs.  Do not over-bake!  Place pan on rack and allow to cool. 

Meanwhile, start on topping.  Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan or saucier over high heat.  Cook without stirring until it becomes a deep amber brown, watching very carefully.  Remove from heat and add milk and cream, stir in corn syrup.  Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half and is the consistency of caramel sauce, about 20-30 minutes. 

While caramel is cooking, toast the pecans in a small saucepan over medium heat until fragrant.  Remove from pan and toast coconut until lightly browned.  Set aside. 

When caramel has reduced, remove from heat and whisk in the butter, vanilla extract, and salt.  Stir in pecans and coconut.  Stir well and spread over brownies.  Drizzle with chocolate sauce.

Tastes of Summer: Fresh Peach Ice Cream with Ginger

The “base” of the ice cream comes from an Alton Brown recipe, which I’ve found is just great for adding just about any flavor that you would like.  (This is a great strategy, BTW, if you’re still unsure about making your own recipes- look at a recipe that you like, strip it down to the basics, and experiment with the flavors.  Try adding flavors that you’ve liked in other things- for example: I first saw the peach-ginger combo on a restaurant menu in creme brulee.  I didn’t try it then, but the idea stuck with me, and I made my own peach ginger creme brulee.  The combination of flavors just screams summer freshness, and can be used in countless ways.) 

  • 1.5 Cups half and half
  • 1/2 Cup heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks*
  • 4.5 oz. sugar
  • 1/4-1/2 vanilla bean**
  • 3 ripe peaches
  • 1 Tbs. grated ginger
  • Approx 3 Tbs. sugar
  • Dash salt
  • 1-2 Tsp. vodka***

In a medium heavy pot or saucier, heat the cream and half and half over medium heat until you can just see bubbles around the sides.  Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and put the pod and seeds in the dairy while it is warming.  While this is heating, beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl (this is a great job for one of those batter bowls with the spout, if you have one) until lightened in color, then add the sugar slowly while beating. 

When the dairy mixture is hot, reduce heat to low and temper it into the eggs by slowly adding small amounts while whisking, until about half of the dairy has been added. Then, while whisking in the pot (this is where a saucier is really handy, if you have one), add the egg mixture into the pot. 

Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture coats the back of a spoon and is about 170-175 degrees. 

While this is cooking (don’t forget to keep stirring!), peel the peaches, remove the pits, and cut into 8 pieces.  Put in blender with 3 Tbs of sugar and ginger. Pulse or chop in blender until mostly processed, but very small pieces still remain (I use my blender’s “salsa” function.).  Pour into a bowl and add salt and vodka.  Taste, add more sugar if needed (should be quite sweet, sweetness doesn’t come through as well when it is frozen). 

Remove vanilla bean pod from custard and mix with peaches.  Chill in refridgerator until cold, approximately 4 hours.  (to speed this up some, put the mixture in a medium heavy bowl, fill a large bowl half way with ice and water, place the bowl with the mixture in the ice bath and place the whole thing in the fridge, stir frequently. 

Process in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. 

*  Don’t throw away left over whites- Freeze them in ice cube trays (mine take 2 cubes for each white) and then put them in Ziploc bags. They thaw quickly for any whites only project down the line.  (This does not, by the way, work for yolks, which dry out and turn funny). 

** I use Mexican vanilla beans from Pensey’s, which are fabulous.  1/4 of a bean is plenty of flavor for this recipe. But, if you’re using beans from the grocery store (by the way, don’t do that), you may need a 1/2 or even a whole bean to get the same flavor.  You could probably use vanila extract here, too, since the peaches are really the star, if you don’t want to fuss with the beans, but I love them. 

*** I just about always add a little bit of alcohol to my homemade ice cream, because it helps it not to set up quite as hard.  It’s particularly helpful to add it directly to fruit, because it keeps it from getting hard and icy.