Red Currants may be tiny and full of seeds, but they are the jewels of the Gooseberry Family! They are wonderfully juicy and have a delicious flavor when baked into breads and cakes. I keep a bag of frozen currants ready all year so I can make jam, colorful garnishes and this lovely tea cake. On this cold drizzly December day this slice of berry cake is a perfect accompaniment to a whipped cream topped hot chocolate in a mini cup.
Currants ( Red, Black and White) are grown all over North American and Europe and are prized for their tart taste – perfect for sauces, pastries and jelly. In fact there is a hilarious story about a company in Bar-De-Luc, France, that makes the most expensive jelly in the world with red currants ( for the Queen of England!) after removing the seeds one by one with a duck quill. See that post Here . Of course I was intrigued and bought a jar. It was too sweet for my tastes and I was inspired to make my own jam instead. It worked out great – all that was needed was to put the mixture through a food mill with the smallest disc to catch the tiny seeds. Fit for a Princess.
Red Currant Vanilla Tea Cake:
1/2 cup Butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup Authentic Foods Gluten-free Classic Flour Blend you can buy it here ( You can use 2 cups regular Flour if you don’t need to make it Gluten Free)
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
2 Tablespoons poppy seeds
3/4 cup 2% milk or whole milk
3/4 cup red currants, fresh or frozen
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil or butter a Bundt pan. You can also half the recipe and bake in a smaller ring form ( as I did for the images).
Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well.
In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder together and add to the butter mixture , alternating with the milk.
Fold in poppy seeds and red currants and pour into baking pan. Bake just until top springs back when gently pressed. Do not overbake. The half recipe takes about 18 minutes, the full recipe will take about 35-45 minutes. Watch closely at the end of the baking time.
Cool in pan for 10 minutes and then turn upside down out onto cooling rack . Serve with whipped cream or powdered sugar.
My friends gave me a lovely box of huge perfect pears for the holidays and while eating one sliced up with brie cheese on crackers I decided on what to do with the rest! As I love to have the oven on warming the house for these cool rainy days of our California winter, a baked dessert was the plan. The perfect pairing of ripe juicy fruit and spicy dark gingerbread makes a great homey dessert or snack cake for afternoon coffee and tea time. This recipe has the added flavor surprise of three types of ginger – ground powder, fresh minced and chopped candied.
This recipe can also be made with regular flour ( with gluten) see notes below. This style of cake is where you layer the fruit and toppings on the bottom of your cake pan ( use a loaf pan or an 8 x8″ pan ) and pour the batter over the top and bake. After it finishes baking, let it cool for a couple of minutes in the pan and then invert it onto a cooking rack.
2 Tablespoons melted unsalted Butter
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1 large Pear, cored and sliced thinly
1 Tablespoon finely chopped candied baby Ginger
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pour melted butter into loaf or cake pan ( depends on how tall you want the finished gingergread to be, see images below) and make sure the sides and bottom are well buttered. The extra butter will pool on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over the bottom and top with overlapping pear slices to cover the bottom completely and up some of the sides if you like. Spread the 1 T candied ginger evenly over pear slices and set aside.
In large bowl, mix together dry ingredients above.
Cake Batter liquid ingredients:
1/4 Cup Canola Oil
2 Tablespoons melted unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Molasses
1/2 Cup plain lowfat Yogurt or Buttermilk
In medium bowl mix together liquid ingredients well. Stir liquid ingredients into flour mixture just until combined and pour over pears in baking pan. Put in oven and bake just until top springs back in the center when lightly touched. In my long loaf pan that took 35 minutes. In the rectangular pan it was 30 minutes. Baking time will vary a few minutes either way depending on your pan and your oven.
Let cool in pan on cooling rack for 2 minutes.
Then invert onto cooling rack and unmold. Cake should slide out easily. Let cool and serve as is or dust with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Holiday CRACKERS (Poppers) for Festive Occasions – Make your Own and Delight your Guests !
Christmas Crackers “poppers” were first made in the mid 1800’s in England as a way to encase candies, trinkets and paper hats for celebratory table settings at Christmas time. They also contained a strip of special paper that makes a snap or pop when quickly pulled apart. Now they are sold commercially for any occasion and are usually filled with cheap plastic toys, paper hats and a fortune cookie insert . They were always a disappointment to me – a great exterior with colorful paper and decorations but what poured out of them was not interesting or worth saving.
This inspired me to create my own. The first rounds of experimenting were fun and simple. These early creations years ago were tissue-lined colorful cardboard cones filled with candy.
Then I moved on to collecting interesting crepe, tissue, papers, ribbon and trims. Yard sales are a great place to find bags of ribbon and trim remnants – perfect for small projects like these.
All you need to get started:
4-6″ cardboard rolls ( save from bathroom tissue rolls or buy in crafts stores)
Tissue and Crepe paper
Ribbon and Trim
Double sided tape
Self adhesive rhinestones
Stickers for top decorations
For the filling you can customize based on your guests – imported chocolates, gourmet candies and caramels, silver dollars, lottery tickets, dollar bills, etc. For the top decoration, if you want to customize the crackers for each guest, you can download images and print them on to full page adhesive back paper ( Avery 8465 full page shipping labels) and cut them to size. If the original downloaded image is too large, before you print them out, choose 4 images per page on your print selections and they will be resized smaller.
First you encase your cardboard tube with tissue paper at least 3″ longer on each end than the tube and tape on with double sided tape. Then cut a coordinating crepe or fancy paper about 1.5 inches narrower than the tube and center it on the roll and tape at the same seam as the tissue paper so the top of the roll looks seamless. Then decorate with stickers, trim and ribbons – using the crafts glue, glue gun, adhesive dots and tape to secure. Then tie one end closed with ribbon, fill with the candies and tie the other end closed.
Take your time and think about what decorations to use for your guests – what are their passions, interests or hobbies. Here is the one for a descendent of Davy Crockett:
For an Art Nouveau collector:
For rose collectors or for Thanksgiving:
For your lady guests:
Best of all these colorful and luxurious crackers will add to your table setting and be a conversation piece.
Fruit topped Upside Down cake – a delicious casual gluten-free dessert or tea time snack!
If you grew up with with the classic pineapple ring and marachino cherry topping on this cake and liked it, you will be happy to find out that this style of casual homey cake works well with many kinds of fruit. I have created a gluten-free version that has an airy, light vanilla cakey base and your choice of fruit toppings. I have also found that it doesn’t need as much butter or sugar as the original version our Mom’s and Grandma’s used to make for us. A healthy snack!
The reason this is called an “Upside Down” cake is that you layer the fruit at the bottom of your round cake pan and the pour the batter on top. As it bakes the fruit cooks, releases its juices and once cooled and turned over on to a plate, the fruit is on top and makes a delious, gooey and flavorful mixture that sinks a bit into the cakey layer. The best fruits to use: sliced plums, sliced apples, sliced peaches cranberries, raspberries,sliced peaches, sliced apricots, halved cherries , halved strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries, blackberries,currants, ripe mango.
Make sure the fruit you choose is ripe and feel free to do combinations, like apple-cranberry or raspberry- peach or anything that appeals to you.
I tried mixing a few tablespoons of coconut flakes in with some mango slices and a squirt of lime juice for a tropical flavor.
Here is an Apple Spice Upside Down cake:
Try different cake forms for a fancier presentation. This one is an apple cinnamon upside down cake.
Berry Upside Down Cake
RECIPE for FRUIT UPSIDE DOWN CAKE
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted ( 3 Tablesoons for topping and 3 Tablespoons for batter)
1 1/2 cups sliced fruit ( see above for suggestions)
1/2 cup sugar plus 3 tablespoons
spices to taste: if using apples try 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and or a pinch of ginger, for plums use 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of ground nutmeg, for blueberries 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, for halved cherries a dash of almond extract, etc. Use your favorite combinations!
In a round cake pan, pour 3 Tablespoons of the melted butter and swirl around to cover the bottom and coat the sides halfway up.
In a small bowl, mix the sliced fruit with 3 tablespoons of sugar and spices, if using. Arrange sliced fruit in a decorative pattern on the bottom of the pan on top of the butter layer. Set aside while making the batter.
In a small bowl, mix egg yolks with vanilla extract and remaining 3 tablespoons melted, cooled butter.
In another bowl, mix flour blend and baking powder well.
In a clean mixer bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form, add remaining 1/2 cup sugar one tablespoon at a time. Beat until stiff peaks form.
Gently fold egg yolk mixture into beaten egg whites just until blended. Sprinkle flour mixture over top and fold in gently until no flour clumps are visible. Try to keep mixture fluffy. Pour over fruit in baking pan and bake in oven 22-28 minutes-see below:
Pour batter over fruit:
Bake at 350 degrees until it is nicely browned and bounces back to the touch. If using very juicy fruit, bake a few more minutes.
Let cool and then arrange on a platter for serving.
Serve plain or dusted with powdered sugar and topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
KEY LIME PIE… just the right dessert for a hot summer day.
Are you craving a cool, creamy unique pie with a zing? You have to try making a Key Lime Pie or Tart with the real key lime juice. These pies have a cult following from pie lovers – some love the whipped cream topping and others have to have the meringue over the great filling. Try it both ways and decide for yourself!
Key limes are a tiny, tasty citrus fruit, also known as a Mexican Lime. They are about 1/3 the size of a regular Persian lime and have a delicious tart/sweet taste and a beautiful aroma. They used to be grown in Key West Florida before a hurricane wiped out the trees there. Now most of the commercial crops are grown in Mexico and California.
I planted a tree last year and have about 12 limes that have started ripening.
Your local grocery store can order real key limes ( they come in mesh bags- about 20 per bag- you will need around 2 bags), or order on Amazon from Melissa’s or you can always buy the Nellie and Joe’s bottled key lime juice.
Here is what a key lime looks like next to a full sized lemon:
RECIPE for KEY LIME PIE or TARTLETTS
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (for a Gluten-free version, use crunchy gingerbread cookie crumbs- like Pamelas or Trader Joe’s Gluten-free ginger cookies)
5 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon grated KEY lime zest
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cups of fresh KEY lime juice ( or bottled key lime juice)
Lightly sweetened whipped Cream
Or your favorite meringue ( use the 3 egg whites left over from making the filling) and lightly browned in the oven
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter pie pan or mini tart pans. If using sturdy paper cupcake type liners ( see images) they do not need to be buttered.
Make the Crust: Mix together the graham cracker or cookie crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Press onto the bottom and sides of the prepared pan. Bake for around 10 minutes ( depending on the size of the pan- the normal pie pan is around 10 minutes) until set and lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool on rack.
Filling: In a mixer bowl whisk the egg yolks on medium-high speed for 3 minutes until fluffy. Pour in the sweetened condensed milk and beat for another 3 minutes. Add in key lime juice and rind and beat just until combined. Pour into cooled pie crust or tart crusts and bake for 10-15 minutes just until set. They will jiggle slightly, but will not be loose. Cool on rack and then wrap and chill in refrigerator.
Just before serving prepare topping- either sweetened whipped cream or a Meringue. If making a meringue, pipe on to pie in a decorative pattern and then brown in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned.
We have reached one of my favorite times in the Vegetable Garden- the start of the Tomato Harvest. This year we planted 14 different varieties of Heirloom Tomatoes – from tiny cherry tomatoes to huge yellow Pineapple. But what always strikes me when I put a group of them together and admire the range of colors is that these incredibly sweet and meaty treats put on a great display when they are fully ripe. They run the range of the softest pink to the deepest dark red; sunny green with stripes of yellow; sunflower yellow, tangerine orange and all the striped combinations in between. A beautiful pallette of colors for any food artist.
This year I went to a huge plant sale at a local arboretum in the Los Angeles area and also grew some from seeds that a friend started for me. The smaller plants quickly caught up with the large ones and they are all over seven feet tall. See the pictures of some of the beds about 5 weeks after planting and how they look now. It is a Jungle out there!
Make sure you net to protect against animals!
Another bed last year above newly planted and below grown and netted.
I am not sure if the Bat Guano fertilizer I used when they just started putting out flowers did the trick, but this was my best crop ever and there will be tomatoes at least for the next 2-3 months.
I started with about 8 ” of excellent fresh organic soil in new beds ( had not grown any nightshade vegetables in that area before) and I planted Basil seeds in between the plants so now I have plenty of pesto for my pizza and pasta dishes.
I’m sure you have your favorite ways to use tomatoes! Eating warm from the sun and fresh from the vine while the juice drips on my feet is the best.
Heirloom Tomato Sauce
Heirloom Tomato Salad
Not that you need any more encouragement to eat fresh tomatoes, but you should know in addition to being colorful “characters” that we enjoy looking at, Tomatoes are an excellent source of carotenes, the anti-oxidant pigments (Lycopene, Beta Carotene, etc) that provide protective effect against certain cancers.
If you have ever had a fresh bowl of sweet, firm fresh cherries on a hot summer day, than you know how splendid these little fruits are.
Grown for thousands of years throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe, cherries found their way to America with the early settlers in the 1600’s.
Cherries will always be linked with George Washington in the story of his honesty as a young boy in admitting he chopped down the favorite family cherry tree.
There are many hundreds of varieties of cherries- not just yellow and red. There are dark sweet ( Bing, Chelan, Skeen, Lapin, Sweetheart, Regina, black Tartarian, Stella); Blush Sweet (early robin, Stardust, Rainier, Queen Anne) ; and sour (Montmorency, Balaton, Morello). Find the best types that grow in your area and look for them at your farmer’s markets.
One of the most prized eating or dessert cherries are the Rainier cherries – a delicate, hard to grow cherry that is prized for its sweetness and flavor, they are often flown to Japan where they are sold for around $1 per cherry or more! When you find them in your markets, look for cherries with the most red blush on them and a firm texture. They will be the sweetest ones. Actually bottled maraschino cherries are made from Queen Anne or Rainier cherries ( they are dyed red) as their firm texture holds very well in the canning process.
But the most fabulous way to eat sour cherries is to bake them into a dessert or make jam and preserves. Almonds pair well with cherries! Try a French Almond Tart:
Sour Cherry Pie:
As a topping on a Cheesecake:
You can find sour cherries frozen in your grocery stores ( or through mail order) or if you are lucky enough to live in a cherry growing region, at your local farm stand. Enjoy!
When you think of roses, one usually imagines a fragrant, colorful flower with thorny stems that blooms all Spring and Summer and makes the perfect bouquet.
But the history of the Rose is quite fanciful and interesting. Wild rose fossils have been found that are over a million years old. Roses were first cultivated in China around 5000 years ago, then later in the Middle East and Europe. According to Greek mythology, the rose is the flower of love. Endowed with beauty, charm, joy and sweet scent, it was created by the Greek goddess of flowers out of a lifeless body of a nymph. Cleopatra adored roses had the floor of her rooms covered with rose petals on special occaisions.
Roses later became synonymous with the worst excesses of the Roman Empire when the peasants were reduced to growing roses instead of food crops in order to satisfy the demands of their rulers. The emperors filled their swimming baths and fountains with rose-water and sat on carpets of rose petals for their feasts and orgies. Roses were used as confetti at celebrations, for medicinal purposes, and as a source of perfume. Heliogabalus used to enjoy showering his guests with rose petals which tumbled down from the ceiling during the festivities.
It was not until the Crusaders of the 12th and 13th centuries brought back specimens of Damask roses from their travels to the Middle East that they once more became popular in Europe. During the 17th century, roses were in such high demand that royalty used roses and rose water as legal tender.
Empress Josephine of France (1763-1814) is perhaps the best known patron of roses. In her gardens at Malmaison, she grew over 250 varieties of roses. In the late 1700’s, artist Pierre Joseph Redoute, who was Josephine’s official artist, created the first botanical Rose illustration books, a three volume set:Les Roses, 3 vols. (1817–1824). Here is an example of one of the plates in the book:
It is really no surprise that the rose motif and designs have been used on many decorative objects (tiles, pottery, stained glass, jewelry, fabrics, celluloid, silver, glassware, paintings, china, accessories, hardware) over the centuries. They have symbolized love, sweetness, beauty,wealth and power over the years. A few examples of mine to enjoy:
The Rose is so beloved that it is our National Floral Emblem…something to think about the next time you enjoy a sweet smelling blossom from your garden!
Royally Luxurious Table Settings with FLORA DANICA CHINA
Do you want your guests to be treated like royalty at your next luncheon?
Serve them on the world’s most expensive and luxurious porcelain service, with hand painted floral botanical designs, 14k gold rims and a colorful history dating back to the Royal Copenhagen Manufacturers in the late 1700’s! FLORA DANICA china – see the range of the porcelain plates, cups, bowls, platters and serving pieces.
Crown Prince Frederick commissioned a set of this fabulous hand painted service for empress Catherine II of Russia in 1790. The Factory painted life sized plant illustrations from the encyclopedia Flora Danica (Danish Flora) then and the designs are still being produced today by fine artists that take years of training before their painting skills are good enough to be used on first quality plates.
I was so intrigued by this favorite of Kings, Queens and the ultra-wealthy that I found some reasonably priced pieces from a private party in the Netherlands whose Father was a collector for many years. They didn’t disappoint in person!
A wonderful heavy feel, shimmering perfect porcelain finish, amazing hand painted flowers, and a gold painted hand cut serrated edge.
A sweet touch was the glorious hand lettered botanical name on the back of the plate.
Okay, WAY over the top, but kind of fun and quirky too.
If you don’t quite enjoy the idea of your heavy handed guest sawing away with a sharp knife on your delicate $1000 (!) plate, then how about serving them a finger food luncheon or dessert menu.
Add to your table setting with your best antique etched crystal glasses, mother-of-pearl Victorian cutlery and a few of your best blossoms from the garden.
FRENCH TOAST -A scrumptious recipe that is easy to make and delicous way to start your morning!
This healthy breakfast or anytime snack is low fat, low sugar and has plenty of protein and fiber. You can make it gluten-free by using your favorite whole grain gluten-free or rice bread.
For two servings ( Maybe be doubled or tripled) :
In a medium mixing bowl mix together:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup 1% lowfat milk
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
a couple of shakes cinnamon powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Slice a couple of thick slices of whole grain bread and cut in half if they are large slices.
Soak well in the egg mixture, turning several times. Let sit in mixture for a couple of minutes.
Heat nonstick frying pan to medium low heat and melt one teaspoon of butter ( or oil) in it. When butter is hot, place the soaked bread slices in the pan and cook until browned, flip over and cook other side. Will take about 2-3 minutes on each side.
Serve with your favorite jam or topping- I love to use some spiced pear butter and a dusting of powdered sugar.