CHEDDAR AND GRUYERE CRACKERS . . . Frozen assets for holiday entertaining.

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I like to make a splash  with holiday hors d’oeuvres.     Step out of the ordinary.  Conjure up the unexpected.   There is nothing more wonderful.  Nothing more special than freshly baked homemade crackers.  These are a snap to make.    A double dose of sharp cheese makes addictive crackers then don’t even need a topping.  Just whip up a handful of ingredients.  Pop them in the freezer and  slice off rounds whenever you want to serve freshly baked crackers.

They may seem like the last thing you have time for during the holidays but the dough for these savory slice-and-bake comes together in minutes.  Make a batch or double the recipe for a bigger stash.  You won’t regret it.

Dear friends, you know how I love to gild the lily.  These crackers take beautifully to hits of hot red pepper jelly or pungent blue cheese.  A little Brie or Gouda topped with a wafer thin slice of Granny Smith apple would go down treat.

Serve your wondrous cracker creations with glass of bubbly on New Year’s Eve.  You’ll be the toast of the town!

 

CHEDDAR-AND-GRUYERE CRACKERS
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: crackers
Cuisine: Sophisticated
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Homemade crackers are an extraordinary treat! You can make them ahead then slice and bake them for on the spot holiday entertaining. The dough keeps in the freezer for 3 months.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup (4¼ oz) all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt
  • ½ tsp poppy seeds plus more for topping
  • 2 tbs (1 oz.) cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces
  • ½ cup (2 oz) FINELY grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup (2 oz) FINELY grated Gruyere
  • ¼ cup (or more) whole milk
  • ¼ tsp Dijon mustard.
Instructions
  1. Whisk together milk and mustard and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together flour, salt and poppy seeds.
  3. Work in butter with fingers until crumbly.
  4. Add the cheeses and mix with your fingers, breaking apart any clumps of cheese.
  5. Stir in the milk into the flour mixture with a fork until dough comes together.. Depending on the humidity you may require a little more milk to completely bind the mixture together.
  6. Shape the dough into a 2-inch-wide log.
  7. Wrap in the plastic and gently roll back and forth to shape it.
  8. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes then freeze for 1 hour or up to 3 months. If your crackers have been in the freezer for any lengthy time allow the frozen dough to stand at room temperature for around 30 minutes or so before slicing.
  9. Preheat oven to 350F.
  10. Cut log into ⅛-inch-thick rounds and arrange on parchment lined baking sheets.
  11. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.
  12. Bake rotating sheets front to back once until edges are golden, 14 to 16 minutes. You want the crackers to be on the crispy sides so do not underbake.
  13. Let crackers cool on a wire rack.

 

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EASY AS PIE . . . a no-fail pastry recipe

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It is every baker’s dream.  The ability to whip up the perfect pie with a crust so  light and flaky and  delicious you chase the last crumbs around your dessert plate.    There’s more than a baker’s dozen way of making pie crust.     They all require a certain level of skill and more than a modicum of knowledge of the various types of pastry required for specific pie fillings.

Here is “the little black dress” of pie crusts.  It is suitable for almost every filling.  It is superb for savory pies and fruit pies.   Single crust pies like lemon meringue.   Chicken pot pie or steak and kidney pie.  Hand pies and tarts.  And best of all follow the recipe faithfully and you should be rewarded with perfect pie crust!

This is the secret to perfect pie crust every time.  The flour, butter, shortening, and water most all be VERY cold.  Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or longer before rolling.  And  finally,  don’t stretch the dough when you’re placing it into the pan.

One of the most popular fruit pie to make is apple.  The secret to eliminating the  gap between the apple filling and the baked pie crust is to toss your sliced apples with sugar and let it macerate while your pie crust rests.  Then add the thickener, spices and butter before putting your pie together.

You can prepare the dough ahead.  Form it into two balls, wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.  Defrost in the refrigerator.

This recipe makes two  9-inch crusts.

Bake according to your pie recipe.

 

PERFECT PIE CRUST.
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Ingredients
  • 6 ounces (1½ sticks) VERY COLD unsalted butter cut into ½-inch dice
  • 2½ ounces (1/3 cup) VERY COLD vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, diced
  • 3 cups VERY COLD all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (eliminate for savory pies)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • ½ cup (or more if needed) ice water
Instructions
  1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade (I like to put the steel blade in the freezer ahead of time). Pulse a few times to mix.
  2. Ad the butter and shortening and pulse 10 to 12 times until the butter is the size of peas(fat peas).
  3. With the machine running pour the water down the feed tube and PULSE the machine just until the water is mixed into the flour. Depending on the humidity you may require a little extra water.
  4. Turn the loose dough out onto a lightly floured board and using a bench scraper or your hands, gather it into a ball.
  5. Cut the ball in half and pat it into flat discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Roll each piece out on a well-floured board into a 12 to 13 inch circle. Roll from the center to the edge, turning a quarter with each roll, flouring the dough to make sure it doesn't stick to the board. A long metal spatula slipped under the pastry is very useful for this maneuver
  7. Roll half the dough over your rolling pin and position it on the pie plate.

 

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SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE

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It is the attention to detail.  The little extra that pushes something over the top that take it from very good to extraordinary.    And when that extraordinary itself is truly magnificent you have pure gold. During our restaurant years every … Continue reading

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THE TOP BANANA CAKE . . . a delicious doodle to make!

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Cakes lavished with icing appear to be attending a party.    They sashay onto your plate with a come-hither look, and you swoon with delight.  There’s banana muffins. There’s banana loaf.  But the top banana is this old-fashioned banana cake by my favorite cook-book writer, The Barefoot Contessa.

This is a no nonsense, never fail type of cake.  A doodle to whip up even if you don’t have a mixer.  It has a fine, moist crumb flavoured with orange zest and studded with almonds.   And the icing is definitely “the icing on the cake”.   Cream cheese frosting  and banana cake is a marriage made in kitchen heaven.

This is the cake I make when bringing a dessert to a pot-luck supper.  It travels well.  It keeps well.  You can whip it up a day or so before serving.  And it slices beautifully.

THE TOP BANANA CAKE . . . a delicious doodle to make!
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: old fashioned baking
Cuisine: American
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An easy to make banana cake flavoured orange zest and frosted with cream cheese frosting.
Ingredients
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature (or two large eggs and one egg yolk)]
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of one orange
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • walnut halves, for decorating
  • CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
  • 6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 6 tbs (3 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups sifted confectioners sugar (8 oz)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease. flour and then line with paper a 9 x 2-inchround cake pan.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the bananas, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on low speed until combined.
  3. With the mixer still on low, add the oil, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix until smooth.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  5. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
  6. Stir in the chopped walnuts.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, turn out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely.
  9. Spread the frosting thickly on the top of the cake and decorate with walnut halves.
  10. To make the CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:
  11. Mix the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low speed until just combined. DON'T WHIP!
  12. Add the sugar and mix until smooth.

 

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THE MAGIC OF SUN DRIED TOMATOES . . . preserving the magic of summer all winter long

IMG_3627Through the halcyon days of summer I plundered the garden for the fattest, juiciest,  reddest of red tomatoes.  The days shortened.  Marine fog drifted across the fields poking destructive fingers into the garden.    Time to harvest the tomatoes, ripe or green.    The heady fragrance of tomato leaves surrounded me as I  filled my basket with these last jewels of summer.IMG_3621-001The green tomatoes were tucked single layer in closed cardboard boxes.  As they changed colour out they came to sit in a bright window.  Taking the sun.    I had already frozen tomatoes for soups and stews.  These tomatoes were to be oven roasted and frozen.

IMG_3626I cut the little cores out.   Sliced the tomatoes in half.  Placed them in parchment lined pans ( saves scrubbing pans ).   The tomatoes were sprinkled with a little coarse sea salt and freshly ground black paper.  Then  with a breeze  of olive oil and graced with whole sprigs of fresh thyme.

IMG_3634Roast the tomatoes at 275F for about five hours.  Then increase the oven temperature to 300F for the last hour.  Watch these little darlings.  The smaller tomatoes will brown faster and should be removed.  You don’t want them to become dry and brittle.  Toss the dried thyme.    Store the tomatoes in plastic freezer containers with layers of parchment papers between the slices.  Five pounds of fresh tomatoes will reduce down to about one pound.

IMG_3639It really is like magic!   Oven roasted tomatoes on pizza are  nothing short of divine.     Tossed in pasta dishes they are brilliant shots of colour and flavour.      Roasted tomatoes in the humblest of sandwiches takes the sandwich to delicious heights.  Or try coarsely chopped roasted tomatoes  and goat cheese on a baguette.

Bon Appetit dear friends.

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CRANBERRY, APPLE AND WALNUT CAKE

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This is one of those desserts masquerading as something it is not.   It’s baked in a pie plate.  It looks like a pie.   But it is a delicious,  easy peasy cake.    The inspiration comes from  Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame,  one of my most favorite cook-book authors.

This is the cake to whip up when you just can’t face another pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.    It’s an absolutely doodle to make.  It simply hums along when you serve it with morning coffee.   It is so rewarding.   Combing tart cranberries and apples with a sweet cake topped with walnuts and cinnamon sugar.    Could you ask for anything more?  Of course.  Top your slice of goodness with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

(chef’s note:  If you use frozen cranberries defrost before adding to your cake)

CRANBERRY, APPLE AND WALNUT CAKE
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: cake
Cuisine: dessert
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A quick and easy to make cold weather cake delicious with morning coffee o rserved as a dessert with ice cream.
Ingredients
  • 12 ounces fresh or frozen (defrosted and drained) cranberries
  • 1 Honey Crisp or Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
  • ½ cup lightly packed light- brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1¼ teaspoons cinnamon - divided
  • 2 extra-large eggs or 2 large eggs and 1 egg yolk at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ¼ pound (4 oz) unsalted butter melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped roasted walnuts
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Combine in a large bowl the cranberries, apple, brown sugar, orange zest, orange juice and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Give it a good stir and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the eggs on medium for two minutes.
  4. Add 1 cup of the granulated sugar, the melted butter, vanilla and sour cream and beat on medium until combined.
  5. Add the flour and salt and mix on low speed JUST until combined.
  6. Pour the fruit mixture evenly into a 10-inch glass pie plate. Pour the batter over the fruit covering it completely.
  7. Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar, the chopped roasted walnuts and ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle it over the batter.
  8. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes until a tooth-pick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean and the fruit is bubbling around the edges.
  9. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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AMARETTI COOKIES . . .

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An Amaretti cookie is a cookie with attitude.    It is an elegant bite of crunchy, chewy wonderfulness,   heady with the perfume of almonds,  perfect with exactly the right amount of sweetness. Amaretti cookies are definitely not your common, home-baked … Continue reading

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ZUCCHINI AND SWISS CHARD GRATIN

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All through the long and glorious summer the garden  rewarded us with fresh, fresh vegetables.  I  walk from the kitchen across the long stretch of grass and into the garden.  It is another world of vegetables going quietly about their … Continue reading

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ZUCCHINI FRITTERS WITH FETA

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I have a magic  zucchini factory in the garden.   One minute beautiful yellow flowers, then POOF elegant slender zucchini. .  They can be served as an hors d’oeuvre or a starter course.  They don’t need a sauce.  Simply sprinkle some … Continue reading

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DECADENT DATE SQUARES … aka MATRIMONIAL SQUARES

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I will never forget the first time I tasted date squares.  I was still in public school.    My best friend’s Mom was an excellent cook and baker.   One day after-school she served us a treat that  had me over the … Continue reading

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