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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thirsty Thursday-Plum Ratafia

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Modern day ratafias are generally wine or brandy based and flavored with chopped fresh fruit, herbs or vegetables. The word "ratafia" possibly has two definitions-a cordial flavored with peach or almond kernels, which could have high levels of toxicity, and a type of biscuit having the flavor of ratafia, typically almond, or made to be served with a ratafia. This cordial is easily made at home with seasonal fruit, sugar and a wine of choice. This plum ratafia is made with pluots,a cross between a plum and an apricot. Pluots are known for their sweet flavor, smooth skin and juicy flesh. A perfect fruit to make a lovely crimson colored ratafia. Although, developed in the late 20th century by Floyd Zaiger,  a California fruit breeder, pluots weren't available commercially until 1989 as it took several generations of cross breeding before the pluots of today were derived.


Plum Ratafia

1 bottle (750 ml) Riesling or Gewurztraminer
1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups pitted and coarsely chopped fresh pluots or plums
1/4 cup plum brandy

In a large mouth bottle with a lid, combine wine and sugar. Stir to dissolve. Add fruit and brandy. Cover. Refrigerate 2-3 weeks, stirring occasionally in the first few days to dissolve sugar. When infused, strain out fruit, rebottle and refrigerate. Serve chilled.Keeps 1-2 weeks.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chewy, Chunky Blondies-TWD

Print Friendly and PDF A basic, but very rich blonde brownie kicked up a few notches on the decadence scale with the addition of Heath Bar bits, chocolate chips, coconut and chopped walnuts. Nicole from cookiesonfriday chose this delicious blonde brownie for this edition of Tuesdays with Dorie.  I can't imagine needing to gild the lily, but I served mine with purchased vanilla ice cream swirled with the most delectable caramel of all time-dulce de leche! A generous sprinkle of toasted coconut over the top is perfection.
Check out Nicole's blog for the recipe and also the TWD blogroll to see other variations of the Chewy Chunky Blondies. Next week comes Gingered Carrot Cookies from Natalia of gattifiliefarina.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Banana Coconut Cupcakes-TWD

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Dorie Greenspan's, Lots of Ways Banana Cake is just that! You can substitute, omit or add ingredients and still come out with a fabulous cake. Bananas are an integral part of this cake that can be made into a layer cake and frosted or made into cupcakes as I have done. Other variations include dried fruits along with the coconut, one layer of the cake can be used to make a banana sundae. Rum-drenched vanilla syrup, marshmallow frosting, chocolate whipped cream frosting or a chocolate ganache; all these are avenues of variety. Thanks to Kimberly of onlycreativeopportunities for her pick this Tuesday.  Next week, Nicole of cookiesonfriday brings us Chewy, Chunky Blondies.

These banana coconut cupcakes are flavored with fresh nutmeg, a homemade rum vanilla syrup,   frosted with a tangy lime frosting, then garnished with homemade candied lime peel. The frosting and candied lime peel recipe comes from "Ready For Dessert"by David Lebovitz, a fabulous dessert cookbook.

Lime Frosting

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or more
1 tablespoon milk,  (Lebovitz uses whole milk)

Using a mixer on high speed, cream butter until smooth. On low speed, add half the powdered sugar. Scrape down bowl as necessary. Add the lime juice, then the rest of the powdered sugar. When sugar is incorporated, add the milk. Beat on high speed until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Pipe or spoon decoratively on top of cupcakes. Makes about 3/4 cup frosting.

Soft-Candied Lime Peel

5 limes, washed
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup, optional (this inhibits crystallization)

Using a sharp vegetable peeler, remove just the zest from the limes in 1-inch wide strips, taking care not to include the white pith. If so, you can remove it with a sharp knife. I used the end of  four hole zester to scrape out the white pith.  Cut the strips of zest lengthwise into matchstick pieces.

Put the peel in a medium saucepan and add water to cover . Bring to a boil and cook until peel is softened and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Mine took longer than that. Drain the peel and discard the water. In the same saucepan, combine 2 cups water, sugar and corn syrup, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the drained lime peel, reduce the heat to a soft boil and cook until peel in translucent and syrup is thick, about 20 minutes-mine took longer, around 30-40 minutes. I used a candy thermometer. The mixture should register 210°F. When done, let cool, then transfer peel and syrup to a covered jar and refrigerate.

The peel will keep refrigerated about 2 months. If you didn't use the corn syrup, it may crystallize. If so, warm the peel slowly, adding water as necessary, to untangle the peel.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thirsty Thursday Duo-Watermelon Ginger Limeade and Iced Cappuccino Deluxe

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Still hot where you live? This Thirsty Thursday edition features two alluring drinks to beat the summer heat-a divine watermelon ginger limeade and a frosty cold cappuccino flavored with white chocolate syrup and Tia Maria from my faithful Thirsty Thursday pal, Vibi. Two delightful drinks to add to your repertoire of libations.


Heading out of town for the July 4th weekend,we stopped by a small roadside stand to buy some fresh tomatoes and corn for the weekend. I couldn't resist this huge watermelon. It had to be at least 30 pounds! Somehow, we didn't get to enjoy it on the 4th, so it made another car trip back home where it sat on the counter for several days. What a lovely watermelon when we finally cut into it! Half was gone, but what to do with the other 15 pound half? In the past years, I've made watermelon sorbets, salads and frozen daiquiri's(a signature drink to take on the boat to one of the islands off the Georgia coast).  I decided on a refreshing non-alcoholic drink; one I could drink at lunchtime. Fresh ginger and limes are always standard in my kitchen and I knew ginger, lime and watermelon were compatible. You'll love this drink, I'm sure. To make juicing the watermelon easy, I place the chunks in a  colander over a bowl or large measuring cup, then use a potato masher to extract the juice. The seeds and pulp stay in the colander.

Watermelon Ginger Limeade

8 cups chopped fresh watermelon, with or without seeds
1/4 sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Place chopped watermelon in a colander over a large measuring cup. Using a potato masher, crush watermelon until juice is extracted. Discard pulp. You should have about 4 cups watermelon juice. Set aside to chill in the refrigerator.

In a small saucepan, bring sugar, water and fresh ginger to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then cover and chill in the refrigerator. Combine watermelon juice, ginger syrup and lime juice in a pitcher. Pour over ice and garnish with watermelon wedges. Makes 8 tall glasses. Original recipe here.


Just as I love ginger, I love espresso and coffee liqueur. What a great cooler for summer and you  still get your cup of coffee kicked up with a notch with Tia Maria. This is a perfect pick-me-up drink for mid-morning or late afternoon. Vibi explains to us in her post that a "barista" is basically a coffee bartender, but very skilled in the preparation of coffee, a professional coffee sommelier.

You can find the recipe for the Iced Cappuccino Deluxe at LaCasseroleCarree. Thanks to Vibi, as usual for her innovative drinks and top-notch photos. See you next Thursday for another round of delectable libations.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Leaning Tower of Brrr-ownies-TWD

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Afraid I would get those gaping holes in the brrr-ownies from the chopped peppermint patties, I thought I would make ice cream sandwiches using plain brownies and garnish the sides with the chopped candy. Well-"best laid plans--", you know? Somehow, my ice cream sandwiches resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa! Glad I didn't add four more sandwiches! The jury is still out on whether this was a successful undertaking. But you know, they taste great! Thanks to Karen of ourcrazyblessedlife for her pick. You can find the recipe on her site.

When my girls were small, I made brownies quite frequently. The recipe I used came from The Wooden Spoon Dessert Cookbook. It was a one pot deal-you melted the butter and chocolate over low heat, removed the pot from the heat, added the sugar-then the eggs one at a time, vanilla, and finally, the dry ingredients.  It was a never fail recipe and I only had the pot to wash. So instead of Dorie's method of using a double boiler of sorts, I reverted back to my old ways. It worked! The secret is to not to overdo the melting process. I pull the pot off the stove when there are still some un-melted chunks of butter and chocolate. The residual heat finishes the melting process.

Next week,  Kimberly of onlycreativeopportunities serves up Lots of Ways Banana Cake. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Winner of the PizzaQue Stone Grill and a Recipe for Heirloom Cherry Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Cinnamon Basil Vinaigrette

Print Friendly and PDF I apologize for the delay. The winners of the PizzaQue Stone Grill from Chefs Catalog and Foodbuzz are- Elaine Steve and Luvdaylilies. If you guys could send me your email address and mailing address, I will forward them to Foodbuzz. I'm sorry everyone couldn't be a winner, but maybe next time. Thanks for all your comments on Grilled Summer Vegetable Focaccia.

The lowcountry around Charleston, South Carolina is well known for its summer produce. I've heard for years that the juiciest, ripest tomatoes, the most luscious watermelons, cantaloupes and succulent sweet corn,whose plump kernels are bursting with translucent liquid can be found grown in the  South Carolina counties of Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, Jasper and Charleston. On a recent trip to  Kiawah Island Resort, just outside the gates of the resort, we happened upon a local farmers market with an adjoining field planted with a variety of vegetables just waiting to be picked and sold in the market. A great little place with chickens having free rein, local artisan booths selling watercolors, sweetgrass baskets, jams, jellies fresh shrimp, fish and ice cold drinks. A one-stop shop!

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Heirloom tomatoes are colorful, have interesting shapes and sizes and are prized for their phenomenal flavor. Among the heirloom tomatoes grown on this little farm, I spied two cherry tomato varieties that I have never seen. The black cherry tomato and the yellow pear tomato, though more expensive than the larger heirlooms, caught my eye. Together, they would make a colorful salad with basil and mozzarella cheese. For a different twist, I used cinnamon basil, more prolific in my herb garden than the customary sweet basil.

Heirloom Cherry Tomato Mozzarella Salad with Cinnamon Basil Vinaigrette


4 cups mixed Heirloom cherry tomatoes
8 ounces cubed fresh mozzarella or mozzarella balls
For the Dressing
1/2 cup cinnamon basil leaves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Cinnamon basil leaves for garnish


In a medium bowl, combine cherry tomatoes and mozzarella.  On a board, mash together salt and garlic. Add to a bowl along with Dijon mustard, honey and red wine vinegar. Slowly add olive oil in stream, whisking until emulsified. Season with freshly ground pepper. Makes about  1-1/2 cups.
Toss small amount of dressing into cherry tomatoes and mozzarella-add more if necessary. Take care not to overdress salad. Garnish with fresh cinnamon basil leaves.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Thirsty Thursday Duo-Ginger Sparkler Spritzer and Candied Dessert Cocktail

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Hello, welcome to another Thirsty Thursday Duo featuring a cool lemonade spritzer flavored with Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur and from my friend, Vibi, who blogs at La Casserole Caree, a lovely pink vodka-based after dinner drink, Candied Dessert.

The tropics are on my mind today.  As I was strolling through my favorite upscale grocery store looking for a bottle of natural lemon soda to make this ginger sparkler, my eye caught these beautiful orchid plants. How nice it would be to incorporate them into my photos of this tantalizing beverage flavored with Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur? I couldn't quite work them into garnishing the  ginger sparkler, but did take a few photos of the orchids to add to the tropical atmosphere of my Thirsty Thursday pick.

Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur is comprised of  fresh baby Vietnamese ginger married with the finest eau de vie, VSOP and XO Grande Champagne Cognacs themselves formulated with the finest Tahitian vanilla beans, Provencal honey and Tunisian ginseng. Small batch processing ensures that the liqueur is bright, fresh and exudes a rich ginger flavor. Source.

Attached with a ribbon to the bottle of ginger liqueur is a collection of excellent drinks; mojitos, margaritas, martinis, etc, but the one drink that caught my eye was the ginger sparkler-just two ingredients, the ginger liqueur and limonata, a natural lemon soda, served on the rocks.  With nearly 100° temperatures this week, this drink really appealed to me!

Ginger Sparkler


1 part Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
2 parts limonata, a natural lemon soda

Combine liqueur and limonata and serve on the rocks garnished with lemon slices and slivers of crystallized ginger. Recipe from Domaine de Canton.

For bar measurements, visit the CocktailTimes.

And now for a pretty in pink after dinner drink- Candied Dessert, a concoction of vodka, heavy cream, white chocolate syrup and strawberry or raspberry liqueur. And to please our tastes for sweets, the Candied Dessert is garnished with a variety of multi-colored candies and confections. Thanks to Vibi of La Casserole Caree for her faithful contributions to my Thirsty Thursday endeavor. Her excellent photos and her eclectic array of colorful and enticing beverages are a constant source of inspiration to me.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Tarte Noire-Tuesdays with Dorie

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In the culinary field, "bete noire" means a rich, flourless chocolate cake. Tarte Noire means a rich, chocolate tart. With such an exotic name, there's no way I could turn down this edition of Tuesdays with Dorie. Dharmagirl of bliss-toward a delicious life had the pleasure of choosing this tantalizingly decadent chocolate tart.

A tarte that is best served the day it is assembled, but the tart crust can be made ahead as well as the chocolate ganache, so it's a snap to put it all together. In fact, I nearly didn't participate in today's TWD as I have been on two beach trips in the last two weeks and badly needed to go to exercise class. But I really liked the name of the tart, so made the crust and ganache early this morning, covered the crust, refrigerated the ganache, took my dog to be groomed and headed to the gym. Which is why I just now posting this.  Head over to Dharmagirl's blog for the recipe and check out the TWD blogroll to see a fabulous collection of Tarte Noire's!


Next week, Karen of ourcrazyblessedlife has selected Brrr-brownies on page 103 of Baking From My Home to Yours.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Grilled Summer Vegetable Focaccia and a PizzaQue Stone Grill Giveaway

Print Friendly and PDF UPDATE-Tomorrow will post the two winners of the PizzaQue Stone Grill!

For participating in the Chefs Catalog promotion for Foodbuzz, the kind folks there have sent me a PizzaQue Stone Grill to try out. What's more exciting is there are two of these grills to give away! All you need do is comment on this post and tell me what you would make with this PizzaQue Stone Grill? Each comment is an entry to win your very own grill. Using random.org, two winners will be selected. This contest ends at midnight, July 7, EST, so be sure to get your comments to me on what you would make with this grill or bake pizza stone.

The PizzaQue Stone Grill can be used in the oven without the stainless steel base or with the base on a charcoal or gas grill set up for indirect cooking. For  genuine wood smoked flavored pizza or focaccia, use your favorite smoking chips soaked first in water for 30-45 minutes. To ensure a crisp crust, the stone must be placed in a cold oven or grill and allowed to preheat before baking or grilling. I was impressed with the thickness of the stone-thinner stones can crack in the oven or on the grill! The temperature gauge on the stainless steel base allows you to control temperature whether you grill thick, stuffed pizza, focaccia or thin crust pizza or flatbreads.

Focaccia is a cousin to pizza, is much thicker and flavored with olive oil and herbs, then topped with cheese, meats or vegetables. This oven baked focaccia takes advantage of fresh summer produce, zucchini, red onions and red bell peppers brushed with a combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then grilled while the focaccia dough rises. Using a bread machine to prepare the dough simplifies the preparation as the dough can be made ahead and refrigerated for several hours before assembling the focaccia for baking.

Grilled Summer Vegetable Focaccia


For the Bread Machine Dough


2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
3 teaspoons sugar
1 1/3 cups warm water (105°F)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt

Place yeast, sugar, warm water, flour, olive oil, dried oregano and salt in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by manufacturer and process on the dough cycle. When cycle is complete, remove dough from pan. Let rest covered for a few minutes before preparing the focaccia. Can be made ahead-remove to container and refrigerate for several hours or until ready to assemble focaccia.

For the Grilled Vegetables


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 red bell pepper, seeded and quartered
1 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
thinly sliced fresh basil, optional

Preheat gas grill on high with grill basket on grate. Combine oil and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Brush oil over the zucchini, bell pepper and onion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. When ready to grill, place vegetables in grill basket and grill for 4-6 minutes. Use a hot pad to remove basket from grill.  Cut bell pepper quarters into 1/4-inch strips. Set aside until ready to assemble focaccia.

To Assemble and Bake Focaccia


Place PizzaQue Stone in a cold oven and preheat to 450°F. Generously sprinkle a wooden peel with cornmeal. Hand stretch dough or roll out on oiled waxed paper until desired size. Invert dough onto peel.  Arrange grilled vegetables evenly over surface. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Slide dough carefully onto stone in oven. Reduce heat to 425°F. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven. Transfer to a wooden board. Cool for a few minutes. Cut into desired pieces. Serves 6 generously.


More Focaccia recipes from Cafe Lynnylu.

Black Olive Pesto Focaccia.

Three Color Focaccia.

Schiacciata con l'uva-Grape Schiacciata.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Chilling Out In the Summer Heat

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The dog days of summer which usually begin in early July and continue through early September are usually the hottest days of the season. The Romans called these dog days, dies caniculares in reference to the brightest star in the heavens, Canis Major or Sirius, the Dog Star. The Romans believed that when Sirius rose in the heavens, it was a sign of evil, " when seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics and phrensies".  The Romans thought this dog star the reason for the hot, sultry weather and to appease the angry star would sacrifice a brown dog at the beginning of each season. Source.

This Fourth of July holiday weekend will be filled with outdoor summer activities and it's important to stay cool and hydrated.  Water is essential, but why not add some citrus slices or vegetables like sliced cucumbers to your water to add a new dimension of flavor? A beverage dispenser like the one featured on today's  Foodbuzz Daily Special, would be perfect for serving flavored waters, iced tea or sangria for a crowd.
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