Archive for the ‘Desserts’ Category

I haven’t posted in a while. It’s been a very busy fall.  My sis recommended the blog of her good friend Lisa Boice.  November 14 entry has a recipe for an absolutely decadent-looking stuffed French Toast. Lisa is billing it as one of those recipes that will be sure to snag that man. Here is the link to Lisa’s blog, The Baby Asprin Years. The recipe has cream cheese, eggnog AND heavy cream (oh my)!… Check it out!


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Plum Lemon Sorbet

It’s great to be back! You can catch up on me through the other blog but I am happy to have just celebrated my 53rd birthday!

One of the neat things I got was a Cuisinart ICE-21 ice cream maker.  My son Jimmy bestowed this neat gadgety gift upon me. One of the first things I wanted to try was to make (or recreate) the most delicious Plum Lemon sorbet that my husband recently ordered at a local restaurant. It was amongst a trio of sorbets he selected for the end of his meal.

“Here,” he said. “You have to taste this.”

One taste and I was hooked. It was at first sweet, then tart but with an unusual ending that was fresh and left you wanting more. What was the unusual end note?!!  I couldn’t place what it was.

I asked our server:  “What’s in this?”

As it turns out, the mystery ingredient was basil. I never would have guessed.  Nor will your friends when you make this yummy dessert.

Plum Lemon Sorbet

1 1/2 pounds plums, washed, pitted, quartered
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (one large lemon)
2 to 4 tablespoons honey (depending on tartness of plums)
2 large fresh basil leaves

1: Place sugar, lemon juice and honey in small saucepan. Simmer until sugar is dissolved. Take off heat and let cool while you prepare plums.

2: Wash, pit and quarter plums. Place into blender. Puree.

3: Add cooled sugar mixture and two basil leaves to plum mixture. Puree until well blended. Taste and adjust honey or lemon juice according to taste.

4: Chill mixture in refrigerator 3-6 hours or overnight.

5: Process in ice cream maker for 20 minutes (according to manufacturer’s directions).
Alternative freezing method is to place mixture in freezer-safe container. Stir every 30 minutes until desired consistency.

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I can breathe a huge sigh of relief. This photo represents the final task required for my cookbook project! It’s nice to end on a sweet note.

For the past several months, I have been the project manager on a cookbook fundraiser for a women’s group I belong to. The National Society of The Colonial Dames in The State of New Jersey is a nonprofit organization with a three-fold mission of preservation of historic sites, patriotic service and publication of historic/educational publications. The cookbook, Tea Time at Peachfield, is a collection of tea-time favorites, along with a generous section on the history of tea and information on how to host a proper tea of your own. The cookbook will be available for purchase in November. In a few weeks, you will be able to pre-order a copy from the Dames website. All proceeds support the upkeep of its historic museum properties and educational programs.

I learned a whole bunch of new facts as I worked on this project. Did you know that tea figured prominently during the first act of social protest by women in the United States? After the British passed the Tea Act of 1773, a group of 50 women in Edenton, South Carolina pledged not to conform to the “pernicious custom” of drinking tea. They signed and witnessed a declaration of their protest and sent it to a London newspaper. The Boston Tea Party was not the only incident of tea-related political unrest.  In December 1774, protestors gathered all the tea that was off-loaded the ship Greyhound and burned it in the town square of Greenwich, New Jersey.

It was a delicious ending to the compilation of this work–just as these chocolate-dipped strawberries will be the perfect end for your tea party.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

2 pounds strawberries, with stems
8 ounces good-quality chocolate, broken into small pieces
4 ounces better-quality tempered chocolate, broken into small pieces

1. Rinse strawberries. Pat dry and let sit at room temperature for two hours or until completely dry.

2. Place the 8 ounces of chocolate in glass bowl over simmering pot of water. Do not let bottom of bowl touch water.

3. Stir chocolate mixture until smooth and melted. Do not let chocolate reach more than 110˚F.

4. Take bowl off heat and add 4 ounces tempered chocolate pieces. Stir until melted. When the thermometer reads between 87 and 91˚F, the chocolate is tempered.

5. Working quickly, place skewer in center of strawberry and dip into chocolate. Swirl to cover, shake off excess and place on waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Remove skewer.
Let sit at room temperature until set.

Tip:  You can tell a bar of chocolate is tempered when you can feel it ‘crack’ or ‘snap’ as you break it into small pieces.

I had a little bit of left-over chocolate so I grabbed a carton of Swiss Almond Crunch cookies from Trader Joe’s and dipped a few of those. Yummy!

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Plucky has been getting very picky.  Picky… Picky…. Picky…   Why?  I went back to the farm where it is peach-pickin’ heaven.

Yes, my hands and the steering wheel of my car are covered with peach fuzz from these beautiful orbs of Prunus persica. I went for a second trip to the Lee’s farm and spent a few more idyllic minutes meandering through their peach orchards–picking bucket in hand. If you’ve never stood underneath a tree full of ripened peaches, I highly recommend it. The smell is positively divine and the simple pleasure of twisting each fruit off its branch will sooth the soul and de-jangle the nerves.  There are no cell phones out in the orchards my friend. Just you and the sound of the farm sprinkler off in the distance.

So what does one do with all those peaches? Let me count the ways…

One of the things I did was revert back to my childhood and home canned a few peaches. By the time I was done, the kitchen was totally trashed. The floor was a bit sticky but the dogs happily did their part in keeping up with the drips. The humidity level was on a par with the weather outside. But what the heck? I actually did it. All by myself. Mom would be so proud.

Naturally, I had to save a few peaches for my favorite dessert. It isn’t summer (or my birthday) without a refrigerator peach pie. I LOVE this pie. My mother got the recipe from my Aunt Joan more than 30 years ago. I requested this pie in lieu of my birthday cake.

Let them eat cake… I want this pie.

Fresh Peach Pie

9-inch graham cracker crust (recipe follows)

1 quart peaches, peeled and sliced
Stir in 3/4 cup granulated sugar and let macerate for an hour. You want the peaches and the juice for the next step.

Dissolve 1 package Knox brand unflavored gelatin in 1/4 cup COLD water.
When gelatin is dissolved, add 1/4 cup HOT water. Stir to mix. Pour into peaches. Set bowl into refrigerator. Watch carefully as the peach mixture starts to set. Once it begins to thicken (15-30 minutes), pour into your prepared graham cracker pie crust. Chill pie for 6-8 hours. Serve with whipped cream.

Graham Cracker Pie Crust
16-18 graham crackers, crushed (or 1 1/3 cup boxed crumbs)
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

Combine ingredients and pack firmly into bottom and sides of 9-inch pie plate. Bake in 350-degree oven for 8 minutes. Chill before adding filling.

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Aren’t these babies beautiful?  I wish you could taste them.

I have been flogging my way through the cookbook project this week. When my head and shoulders began buzzing in too-much-time-at-the-computer pain, I decided it was time for a break.

I am on a list to get marketing emails from a local farm near my home. (Yes, we actually still have farms here in New Jersey! That’s why they call us the Garden State.) I succumbed to the Jersey Fresh marketing temptation. Time for a road trip!

I became acquainted with the Lee family more than 20 years ago. They’ve been running what is truly a family-owned farm for six generations. Since 1862, the Lee’s have been providing the community with seasonal produce, but they are best known for their turkeys. The old farmhouse, built in 1820 is still used as a family home. The place has deep roots–literally and figuratively! If you live in the area, stop by and say “hi” to Ronny and Janet.  Tell them I sent you.

This month is blackberry nirvana at the Lee’s Farm. Ronny has a row the length of a football field loaded with blackberries in all stages of ripeness. It was difficult to limit myself to just one quart of berries. (I’ll have to go back.)

I brought these gorgeous juicy nuggets home and whipped up a blackberry cobbler. I also loaded up on peaches and cukes. More on that in a later post.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Blackberry Cobbler

1 quart fresh blackberries
3/4 cup sugar
Wash and drain blackberries. Place berries in a deep bowl. Gently mix in the sugar and let macerate for an hour. Pour into 8-inch square baking dish and cover with topping:

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar

Melt butter in microwave, add to remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Cover the top of your berries with mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake in 350-degree oven for 35 minutes until lightly brown. Can serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. If there’s any left over, it’s great for breakfast.

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Apricot Tart

My local market had some yummy apricots in from California. I bought three. Usually, the early apricots we get in are dry and mealy and I buy a few only to taste a memory. What usually happens is that I disappoint myself. So I limited my purchase to a mere amount so I wouldn’t create a guilt complex in the event I had to toss them (or feed them to the dogs).

This time I was very surprised. These puppies were drip-down-your-arm good! I went back to the store and bought a pound of those suckers.

A girl can eat so many apricots for breakfast. So what to do with the rest?…

I was inspired to make an apricot tart after watching my all-time favorite chick flick–Enchanted April. There is a great scene where an apricot tart is used by the character Lottie to butter up her oppressive husband Mellesh in order to escape to a gorgeous Italian villa for a month. Set in the 1920s, the film is an unassuming, quiet tale of four women who get away from dreary post-war London and figure their lives out. The garden scenes are always a great picker-upper during the dreary winter months.

So…  I was jonesing for almond apricot confection. Nick Malgieri has a nice frangipane in his Perfect Pastry book. I fiddled with it a little and came up with this:

Apricot Tart (Adapted from Perfect Pastry, by Nick Malgieri (MacMillan, 1989)

1 recipe sweet pastry dough (pate sablee), enough to fill a 9-10 inch tart pan with removable bottom
(Malgiere has an interesting version that incorporates baking powder! But the recipe is incomplete in my copy of the book. The directions call for adding water with the beaten egg, yet it does not give the amount in the ingredients list. I went with the tried and true instead.)

1 stick  cold butter
1 2/3 cups flour
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk mixed with 3 teaspoons cold water

Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes and place in bowl with flour, salt and sugar. With your hands, rub the butter into the flour until it is the consistency of sand. Add egg-water mixture and mix until dough becomes a ball.  Wrap ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day, roll dough and line your tart form. Place in refrigerator while you prepare the frangipane.

1-4 oz. can almond paste
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter, soft
1 egg
3 tablespoons flour

1 pound fresh apricots

Dice the almond paste and place in bowl of electric mixer. Add sugar and mix until blended. Do not over mix as the almond paste will dry out. Add butter and blend. Add egg and blend. Add flour and stir just until flour disappears. Do not over mix. (Nick suggests adding lemon zest to the mix but I feel that it makes the tart too tart–if you get my meaning). Spread the mixture in the bottom of your lined tart pan.

Halve and pit the apricots. Slice each half into thin slices. Lay on top of your filled tart starting on the outside and working your way to the center in a concentric circle.

Bake at 350-degrees for 45 minutes until the frangipane is set and your crust is a nice toasty color.


Place 2 oz. apple jelly in small saucepan. Cook on low heat until the jelly is melted. Brush on to warm tart. Serve tart at room temperature.

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This one’s for you Dad

It’s not a good thing when you start a new adventure only to have to drop everything and leave. That is what happened in early March as I had to rush to Utah and be with my father during his final weeks.  This explains why I have not posted anything in a long while.

Daddy was larger than life–literally. Athletics has always been a central theme in his life. A former athlete, Dad played a supporting role as an athletic trainer and physical therapist in a career spanning more than 50 years. He worked for Brigham Young University and had a rather distinguished career as an international lecturer.  Whether treating professional athletes or paper boys, Daddy always gave each his best effort and concern. He will be missed by many.

After five weeks in the intensive care, it became apparent that the technology that was being used to bring Daddy back to life was failing him. All the heroic treatments seemed to prolong the inevitable. It was time to make some hard decisions.

The family went to lunch at a local restaurant close to the hospital. Over colossal chocolate cake and buttermilk pie, we began to ask each other the hard questions and gauged whether it was indeed time to let nature take its course. We must have been a sight to the other restaurant patrons who had to wonder what all the quiet sobbing in the corner was about. After several minutes of intense discussion interlaced with stifled crying, one amongst us threw a fork down in frustration on a now empty dessert plate and exclaimed, “This was really good.”

The desserts were so good they were able to distract us from the pain and emotion of the day. Now that’s what I call comfort food!  I tried to recreate a little slice of heaven here…

Here’s a slice for you Daddy.

Buttermilk Pie

1 unbaked 9″ pie crust
1 1/4 C.  sugar
3 T. flour
4 eggs
1 C. buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. butter, melted
1 T. lemon juice
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/8 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

Preheat over to 425-degrees. In bowl of mixer, combine sugar and flour. Stir in eggs and buttermilk. Stir in cooled butter, vanilla, lemon juice and zest. Add nutmeg.

Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake in 425-degree oven for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350 and bake an additional 40 minutes.  You will likely need to cover the crust with a rim of foil to minimize over-browning. Cool before serving.

The restaurant serves this pie with raspberry sauce and a generous dollop of whipped cream. The raspberry sauce recipe from my previous crepe cake post works well with this pie.

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Tea With The Girls

Crepe Cake © 2010 thepluckygastronome.wordpress.comLast fall, my sister flew into NYC and my daughter and I got together at our favorite tea room near Gramercy Park. Taking tea is our favorite pastime and if you are ever in New York, visit Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon. It was the perfect spot for us to catch up on each other’s lives.

The art of tea is enjoying a resurgence. It offers quiet conversation, reflection and being in the moment. Tea can offer a blissful “cell phone free” zone that can recharge your tired soul. When my daughter left for college, one of the things she wanted to take was her Blue Willow tea pot. She and I have always looked forward to our ritual cuppa of Earl Grey. Now that I am on spring break, I have the time to create a cake inspired by the signature dessert at our favorite tea spot. I am on my way down for a brief visit with my daughter to bring her a piece of this decadent confection.

Put the pot on! Mum’s coming in for tea!

Raspberry Crepe Cake

For this recipe, you will need at least 10 7-inch crepes. I used my favorite crepe recipe but exchanged the milk with an equal amount of the new Almond Milk product that I am seeing advertised. It tastes great and is better for you too with only 60 calories a serving.

I use a 7-inch de Buyer blue steel crepe pan but you can use any flat frying pan.

2 eggs
1 cup Almond Milk
1/4 cup water
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp almond extract

Whirl all in blender and add 3 tablespoons of melted butter in a steady stream. Let mixture sit for 5 minutes before firing up your pan.

Heat pan on medium heat. You want to butter up the pan slightly if you are using blue steel or other traditional uncoated pan. The pan is ready to use when the batter sizzles when it is placed in the pan. You will need to use a little wrist action to evenly coat the pan with the batter. Let the crepe cook for 3 minutes. Gently loosen the crepe and check the bottom to see if it the desired “doneness.” You want to see nicely brown–not too dark. If you like what you see, flip that puppy over and cook the other side.

Word of note: The first crepe is always “for the cook” which is a polite way of saying that it looks like crap and you will eat or toss it in the trash, depending on how charred it is. You will have to adjust your heat as each stove has its own unique characteristics. Trust me, by the time you get done making two batches of these puppies, you will be an expert.

When crepe is done, flip out onto a cooling rack or towel. You can stack your cooled crepes and (placing a piece of parchment paper between the layers) store them in a freezer bag and use another day.

The Filling

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the following:

2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (Can substitute superfine sugar, but let it dissolve so you don’t have crunchy-munchie filling)
8.8 oz mascarpone cheese
1-2 tsp almond extract

Start mixer slowly. When ingredients are incorporated, turn speed to high and whip until peaks form and is a spreadable consistency.

Assembling The Masterpiece

Save the best looking of your crepes to be the top layer. Use an offset spatula to spread a golf-ball-sized dollop of mascarpone cream on each crepe. It is easier to spread each crepe in hand and then place it on the stack, or you will be chasing your crepe around the plate. Repeat until you have a mouth-watering stack of those puppies. Place the whole plate in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours until things firm up.

Serving Your Masterpiece

The beauty of this cake is that it can be adapted to many different tastes and flavors. I prefer raspberry. Here is a quick Raspberry Sauce recipe:

12 oz package unsweetened frozen raspberries, thawed
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Zap the berries in your blender until pureed. Strain through a fine sieve into small saucepan. Add sugar, cornstarch and vanilla and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cool in refrigerator, then serve drizzled over cake.
Tip: Go to the cake decorating section of your favorite craft store and pick up one of those plastic squeeze bottles and your drizzle will sizzle.

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