Fruitcake worth considering

Old fashion fruitcake tends to get a bad wrap due to its tooth-aching inclusion of sweet candied fruits and such.  Here’s a game changer that will get your attention and become a requested addition on any  table—especially alongside holiday specialty meats and cheeses.

When this moist, easy to assemble Moroccan fruitcake was demonstrated on Martha Bakes recently I knew wanted to give it a try. Helen Goh, baker with London’s Ottolenghi restaurants shows how easy it is to create her big flavored creation.  The cake’s complexity is rooted in a combination of plump dried fruits soaked in dark tea and given a jolt with an exotic ras el hanout spice blend.

Moroccan Fruitcake

I love everything about this bread from the jam packed assortment of figs, prunes, apricots, raisins and dates to the big flavors of toasted cumin and coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and paprika.

As mentioned, the secret is to soak the dried fruit in advance to fully plump and activate flavors; I prefer a fine Puer tea, but Assam is recommended.  You’ll note there is no fat used in this recipe either—and it is not missed.

Admittedly, the first time I tried a rich moist slice early in the morning I was not prepared for the impact. The distinct cumin flavors were front and center—near jarring on my sleepy taste buds.

With that in mind, I set about making the fruitcake again—this time with a modified spice blend that omitted the cumin but retained the red pepper.  I also took Goh’s suggestion to add a little whole grained flour and included ½ cup buckwheat flour. (I also swapped out self rising flour for AP flour and baking powder).

Fruitcake, take 2

Side by side, I preferred the original bread.  I missed how beautifully the bright spices and dried fruit mingled together. For personal choices, I’ve kept both options in the recipe below. This truly depends on taste and how you plan to use it.

If you wish, spread thick slices with butter, or toast it first.

Moroccan Fruitcake

Inspired by Moroccan Fruitcake as demonstrated on Martha Bakes by Helen Goh, baker from London’s Ottolenghi restaurants.

Ingredients
2½ cups dried fruit: ½ cup each diced apricots, figs, prunes or dates, raisins or cranberries
1 cup hot strong dark tea, Assam, Puer, etc.
1½ cup AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
2 tsp ras el hanout (see below)
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup milk, approximate, to thin as needed

Instructions

  1. Ahead, in medium bowl combine dried fruits, pour hot tea over all. Cover, let stand 2 hours or overnight to plump and absorb tea.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray with nonstick baking spray and line 8 ½ x 4 ½” loaf pan with parchment with 1 ½ inch overhang.
  3. In mixing bowl, sift flour and baking powder, add salt, the spice blend, sugar, and combine.
  4. Stir in the dried fruit and any remaining liquid; add the egg and combine. Stir in milk as need to bind; it should be thick.
  5. Spoon into baking pan, bake until tester comes out clean, 50-55 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, turn out on rack to cool.
    Slice and spread with salted butter; also good toasted. Store at room temperature well wrapped for 3 days. Serves 6-8

Note: watch for signs of early browning on top as the bread tends to burn easily. Cover with foil as needed to protect the top.

Ras el hanout

Toast 1½ tsp coriander seeds and ¾ tsp cumin seeds and grind with ½ tsp coarse sea salt.
Add ½ tsp each coarse ground black peppercorns and crushed red pepper flakes and grind. Combine mixture with ¼ tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp paprika, ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp dry ginger, ½ tsp cardamom. Makes about 2 Tbsp

Modified spice blend: ½ tsp coriander, ¼ tsp each cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, and ground red pepper flakes

Cranberries Part II: The Sauce

Arguably, the holiday season would not be the same without cranberry sauce.  I sometimes balk—in a weak attempt to avoid the whole idea. No matter, eventually I buckle and make a fresh batch anyway. I can’t help myself.

Cranberries are a big crop in Oregon. With gobs of bogs scattered along our coastline there’s no excuse not to have plenty on hand.

If you’ve got the berries and time is your problem, here’s a simple cranberry sauce for you. Combine the berries, sugar, a little liquid, and pop it all in the microwave. In five minutes a luxe sauce will materialize with little effort on your behalf.  If you wish, add a little grated ginger or orange zest.

Enjoy it with toast or on hot cereal in the morning.  Dress it up with a splash of vinegar, onion or garlic, a teaspoon of ras-el-hanout or other red pepper spice blend and you’ve got handcrafted chutney (for more ideas see chutney).  It’s a festive homemade gift that’s ready when you are.

Five Minute Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients
2 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed
⅔ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water, orange juice, or brewed Orange Spice Tea
1 tsp orange zest or grated ginger (optional)

Directions

  1. In 4-cup microwaveable glass measure or similar bowl, place cranberries, sugar, liquid and optional flavoring.
  2. Cover loosely, cook in the microwave for 5 minutes using the following sequence, taking care not to boil over: bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, then stir. Cover, cook 1 minute and stir again. Cover, cook for 30 seconds and stir, repeat for another 30 seconds.
  3. Berries will pop, release their liquid and thicken into a sauce. If not, repeat for 30 seconds.  Pour into storage container and refrigerate.  Yield: 1½ cups.

Cranberries, meet Apples

Ah beautiful cranberries,  ruby red jewels of the holiday season…

Courtesy Oregon Cranberry Growers Assn.

It’s too bad that cranberries tend to receive little more than a cursory nod when cast in their limited role as a wobbly sauce —several circles down from the holiday turkey.  If real lucky, they might be hung out to dry on a string draped around the Christmas tree.

I decided to give cranberries a chance, this time as a co-star with another seasonal favorite, the Honeycrisp apple (or any other sweet-crisp variety).  Anyone who has played with cranberries knows they can be quirky.  They are hard, tart, and when cooked have their own thickening power.  On the other hand, Honeycrisp apples are full of flavor, crisp, bright and juicy—they could go a long way to elevating cranberries beyond their obscure part as a bit player.

This beautiful Crostata if very similar to the Stone Fruit Galette in my Counter Cuisine cookbook.  If you have taken a look, you know that it is a hand formed pie mounded with fresh fruit. It also bakes in about 30 minutes.

Apple Cranberry Crostata

The trick here is to cook the apples and cranberries just long enough to soften them but still retain their shape and unique attributes.

Apples and near popping Cranberries

The best way to pull this off is to briefly cook the filling ahead. The hand formed pastry can be prepped ahead, too. Then, it’s a simple matter of assembling it all and baking the crostata off until bubbly and golden brown.

A little pastry with your fruit

The result: a crisp pastry bundle wrapped around a tender-fresh filling near bursting with holiday flavors.

Apple Cranberry Crostata

Ingredients
1 recipe Hand Formed Pastry (below)
1 Tbsp butter
2-3 Honeycrisp or other apples, peel, core, cut into ½” slice or chunks, @ 3 cups
1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 orange:  1 Tbsp juice, 2 tsp zest
1 Tbsp flour
¾ to 1 cup raw cranberries
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water, 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Glaze: 1 Tbsp melted and strained marmalade (optional)

Instructions

  1. Prepare pastry and chill at least 30 minutes, up to 2 days.
  2. For filling, heat butter in wide pan over medium. Toss in apples to coat, add the spices and sugars to melt. Add the orange zest and juice, cook 1 minute.
    Remove from heat, sprinkle flour over the fruit and gently stir to combine all. Return to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the cranberries, lower heat and cook 2-3 minutes, until thick and fruit just begins to soften. Remove and cool well, 1- 2 hours. Filling can be chilled and brought to room temperature before proceeding.
  3. To assemble, roll out pastry on floured parchment into 12” free formed round. Set pastry and parchment on baking sheet.
    Mound prepared filling onto pastry with slotted spoon, higher in center. Allow 2” border to fold over fruit and contain it. Brush pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
  4. Bake 375-400°F for 25-35 minutes, until filling is bubbly and pastry is golden brown. If desired, brush fruit top lightly with marmalade glaze for extra shine. Cool well. Slice and serve with vanilla ice cream. Serves 4 to 6
Hand-Formed Pastry

3  Tbsp each butter and vegetable shortening spread ½” thick, freeze 15 mins
1 cup AP flour
½ tsp salt
3-4 Tbsp ice water

Whisk flour and salt in med bowl. Dice the cold shortening and butter into ½ cubes and cut into flour with 2 knives or a pastry blender, until pieces are the size of small peas.
Add 3 Tbsp ice water and stir with a fork until the flour is moist and begins to hold together. Add a few more drops of ice water into bottom of bowl if needed. Gather up dough and gently shape into a ball and flatten into a disk. Roll out as needed or wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill up to 2 days.

Half-time Biscotti

No, this is not about football food—although that is a possibility. Today, we are talking about super-friendly biscotti that’s made in less than half the usual time.

Given that biscotti loosely translates to “twice-baked” in Italian, the second bake was originally meant to protect cookies for longer term storage—by further drying them.

Ginger Cardamom Biscotti

In my opinion, biscotti is generally defined by a slight eggy flavor, mild sweetness, and crumbly texture. It’s true I’ve never met a biscotti cookie I didn’t like, but frankly there are times when a frequently hard and dry biscuit is not what I’m after.

I wondered what would happen if I reworked my favorite biscotti elements and baked them only once? To get there, I’d include a little fine cornmeal or polenta for character and crunch, lace them with the sweet nuttiness of toasted almonds, and weave in floral notes from dried apricots.

Short & Sweet Biscotti

Rather than fuss over the patting, shaping, and cutting steps required for traditional long fingers, I’d further expedite the process and go with quick, rustic rounds.

The Outcome:  A short and sweet labor of love—and delicious, dippable cookie.

Short & Sweet Biscotti

Ingredients
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal or fine polenta
½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 beaten egg, divided
1 Tbsp milk, divided
½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp each almond and vanilla extract
¼ cup dried apricots, chop
¼ cup toasted almonds, coarse chop

Egg wash: 2 tsp of the beaten egg + 2 tsp of milk; 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Oil or line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  2. On waxed paper, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg, remove 2 tsp of it and set it aside for the egg wash. Remove 2 tsp milk and add to the egg wash. Whisk milk into egg in bowl, then whisk in the sugar until light. Add the extracts.
  4. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the apricots and nuts. Shape into a round mass. (If the dough is soft, chill it 20-30 minutes until firm.)
  5. Divide the dough in half. With floured hands shape each into ¾” rolls. Cut into ¾” lengths and set upright pieces on baking sheet; they tend to spread slightly. Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with granulated (or cinnamon-flavored) sugar.
  6. Bake until cookies are set, shiny and browned,18-20 minutes. Cool on rack. Yield about 20 cookies

Singin’ the Blues

When you’ve got fresh blueberries the world looks brighter.

Fresh Blueberries

Here in the beautiful state of Oregon, I’m reminded of that fact—while across the state we are under siege from uncontained fires and COVID-19.

I can handle this. I am reminded I’ve survived the heat and turmoil of multiple hurricanes and their aftermath. Yet, after a week of approaching hellish fires capable of creating their own weather systems, we haven’t reached an end point. Thick, oppressive smog and particulates weaken our lungs—further exacerbating those threatened by the lurking COVID virus among us.

At this minute I am safe, and so I cook. I bake, use what I have on hand, and I keep it very simple. Lucky for me it’s blueberry season and in my cupboard I find cornmeal. A heavenly pair.

Food nourishes the spirit, the soul, and the body—and I become grateful as I cook. I give the gritty cornmeal a blast in the blender to eliminate any potential coarseness. It delivers a sweet earthy scent, a fine texture with a slight crunch.

I take my time, hand whisk the batter and meditate. It develops a gentle lightness, just enough to support the blueberries and allow them to float freely within. I love nutmeg with blueberries so I add a pinch for good luck. We need it.

Shareable Blueberry Cookies

I am rewarded with glorious, golden packages alive with juicy bites of blue goodness— shareable with neighbors.

Blueberry Cornmeal bite

I am restored. Life is beautiful… even in this bleak cloud.

Blueberry Cornmeal Cookies

Ingredients
4 Tbsp butter, softened
⅔ cup granulated sugar, or half brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 heaping Tbsp plain yogurt
¾ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup AP flour
⅔ cup fine cornmeal or polenta
½ tsp each baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
⅔ cup fresh blueberries

Instructions

  1. Combine the flour through salt on wax paper and set it aside. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Beat the butter until light and cream in the sugars. Beat in the egg, then the yogurt, and vanilla.
  3. Dust blueberries with a bit of the flour mix and set them aside.
  4. Fold the flour blend into the egg mixture, it will be thick. Gently add the blueberries.
  5. Drop rounded tablespoons of batter onto lined or sprayed baking sheet 1-2” apart. Bake 11-15 minutes, until raised, golden and set on top; don’t overbake. Let rest 2 minutes then remove to wire rack to cool.
  6. Can be sprinkled with turbinado sugar before baking or dusted with confectioners’ sugar after. Store covered. Yield: 18-20 cookies.

Delicious but not Devastating

Incorporating vegetables into desserts is an appealing way to slip more valuable nutrients into our daily food intake. Carrot and zucchini cakes are solutions, likely loaded with exorbitant amounts of oil and smeared with heavy-duty cream cheese toppings. Any natural benefits have been all but cancelled out.

Delicious but not devastating, that’s my goal. Trying to elevate the plight of vegetable desserts, here’s my latest take on zucchini cake. First, I’ve learned that steaming, rather than conventional baking, can introduce moisture and lower the need for massive doses of oil.

I zeroed in on two other ingredients of interest: chocolate and nuts.  I like the chocolate and zucchini combination—but chocolate easily overwhelms, and I’m not looking for another chocolate cake (probably one of few to so admit). Nuts add deep taste, complexity, and crunch. Then, it made perfect sense: why not keep it simple and go with cacao nibs?  They have all that, and more.

Roasted Cacao Nibs

There is a difference between regular chocolate and nibs. Typical chocolate bars come from cacao seeds, which are fermented, ground, and further processed. Cacao nibs are crumbled pieces from the exterior cacao bean shell, with a bitter chocolate punch and nutty texture. Nibs are rich in flavonoid antioxidants, minerals, and more; they contribute plenty of fiber—but nothing extreme as gnawing on wood.

I’ve included another duo that works well together: coriander and orange. Instead of the usual grated zest, I’ve gone with tiny nibs of minced orange peel (white removed) for a super-charged citrus flavor that’s offset by the exotic perfume of coriander. The backdrop for all of this comes from a huge surplus of green summer squash, rather than zucchini.

Zucchini Cake with Cacao & Orange Nibs

The cake steams in 35 minutes—literally from the inside out—it cooks thoroughly, thanks to the center hole in the bundt pan. You would never guess it had been steamed; once turned out of the pan and cooled, it appears browned and perfectly baked. The cake’s surprisingly light texture is speckled with flavorful flecks from the orange, green squash, and chocolate brown cacao nibs. It’s quite a party!


Update! The pressurized steaming process also softens the cacao nibs. As the cake rests, the nibs seem to bloom (stored in the fridge). Their nubby texture relaxes, and more complex chocolate qualities unfold.  Fascinating… and highly delicious.


Steamed Zucchini Cake with Cacao and Orange Nibs

Ingredients
1½ cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp each baking soda and salt
1 tsp coriander
2 eggs
⅓ cup vegetable oil
½ cup each granulated sugar and brown sugar
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups grated zucchini or summer squash, skin on
2 tsp orange peel, white removed, sliver and chop well
⅓ cup roasted cacao nibs

Instructions

  1. Thinly coat 8” bundt pan with Baker’s or nonstick spray.
  2. Prepare Instant Pot or other multicooker: fill with 1½ cup water and insert trivet. Cut aluminum foil cover for pan and prepare sling for pan.
  3. Combine flour through spices together and set aside.
  4. In mixing bowl whisk eggs, then beat in the oil. Whisk in the sugar to fully combine, and then stir in the yogurt and vanilla. Add the zucchini.  Stir in the dry ingredients just to incorporate and finally add the cacao and orange nibs. Scrape batter into the bundt pan and level the surface.
  5. Begin heating multicooker, set to Sauté More. Add 1 ½ cup water and place the trivet in pot.
  6. Cover filled bundt pan with foil. Fold the other length of foil into a long sling. Wrap it under the pan, up the sides, over the top, and lower it into the pot.
  7. Seal pot with lid, reset to Hi Pressure for 35 minutes. When complete, turn off unit, disconnect and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Slowly release remaining pressure and open the lid. Using the foil sling, carefully lift pan out of pot and onto a rack. Remove foil and cool for 10 minutes. With thin knife, loosen any edges adhering to pan and turn cake out to cool onto rack.  Makes 1 cake, serves 10.

(Dirty-Little-Secret)

I spend a lot of my free time reading cookbooks and checking out online recipes. It’s my form of relaxation. But there are times when all I really want is a familiar, well-tested recipe; one that delivers what I expect.

When I’m thinking ‘casual cake’, here’s a contender. Not only is it always good, it is basic and highly adaptable. I especially like tinkering with this one because it  easily changes with the season—and it loves fresh fruit, too.

At its heart is a well constructed European-style cake that rises high and fills the pan. It uses 3 eggs, which I consider generous, but they are core to its success: they add structure and don’t fade into the background. To control the fat quotient, I tend to use plain yogurt for tenderness and moisture and then fold in a little olive oil on the finish.

While this cake benefits from a good beating to get the eggs and sugar fully integrated, I have taken to forgoing a mixer in lieu of a whisk. You could call it a dump cake, because the dry ingredients are quickly added to the wet. Olive oil is gently folded into the batter and it’s quickly popped into a moderate oven.

That’s it.  Since any additions and flavorings incorporated will become quite apparent, I tend to use a mild olive oil because a bold extra virgin oil can overly dominate. Which brings us to what prompted this cake…

At my market they have been actively promoting beautiful blueberries from Chile.  Of course, I would pause and stare. I’d mentally note that it’s a long way to go for something that grows like crazy in Oregon, and then I would move on.  It’s wrong—on so many levels…

That argument blew up today. They reduced the price of the blueberries, and I buckled. (My dirty-little-secret.) So, today’s cake features two of my favorite things:  blueberries and polenta.

Blueberry Polenta Upside-Down Cake

I’ve gone with a simple upside-down cake that features sweetened blueberries topside and includes a bit of fine polenta in the batter for taste and texture. These two are true partners in crime, and what a color combination!

Since blueberries have an affinity for lemon and nutmeg, they flavor the cake beautifully and bring it all together.  Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream would be worth considering, too.

Blueberry Polenta Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients
Berry Layer
1 tsp butter
1½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries, picked and rinsed
⅓ cup granulated sugar
Dry Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup fine polenta or cornmeal
½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
Wet Ingredients
3 eggs, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup plain yogurt, room temperature
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla
⅓ cup mild olive oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter a 9″ cake pan and spread the blueberries evenly in the bottom of the pan; sprinkle with sugar and set aside.  On wax paper, blend the flour through nutmeg and set aside.
  3. In mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until light and gradually beat in the sugar.
  4. Add the yogurt, lemon zest, vanilla, and mix.  Stir in the dry ingredients just to incorporate. Fold in the oil; don’t over mix.  Scrape bowl down and spread the batter evenly over the berries.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating to brown evenly, until center springs back when touched.
  6. Cool on rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of pan to loosen the cake, cover with a serving plate, quickly flip to invert cake onto it and cool.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve. Serves 8-10.

Sandy beaches are nice…

As much as I love winter soups and stews, this week I reached my limit.

It wasn’t all that evident until I dashed out of the rain and into the market for a few staples, wrapped in a fleece jacket and wool scarf. Straight ahead in the produce section, I came to a screeching stop in front of a large display of fresh mangoes.

I was not prepared for this.

My imagination immediately transformed this sight into a sandy beach lined with palm trees. I felt a warm tropical breeze envelope me… and there was a colorful bowl of fresh mango salsa.

mango salsa

No, this was not hot flashes…

Before I knew it, my cart not only held mangoes, there were limes, peppers, onions and cilantro. Down the aisle at the meat counter, they were featuring pork tenderloins. I’ll have that, thank you. Into the cart it went. This would need a quick and easy marinade; I’d go with a basic sesame-soy blend. Whatever else I needed, was immaterial. I was done.

Back at home, the pork was marinating in no time. I dusted off my old tropical salsa recipe and quickly pulled it together. Although mango is my favorite, I’ve made this with all sorts of fruit, including papaya and peach. Fresh pineapple is a good addition if the fruit is not real ripe.

This refreshing salsa goes with just about anything (I was even considering cereal at one point), from grilled fish to pork or chicken—and any sort of fried food.

The marinade is one I had been working on for Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, so that will likely still happen. It has a bit of sweetness to help with the caramelization process. I dropped the marinated pork into a hot pan for a quick sear and finished it in a medium hot oven.

The tenderloin barely made it out of the oven before I was wolfing it down with the lovely mango salsa. Ah yes, I was back on that sandy beach with tropical breezes wafting through the palm trees. So nice…

Tropical Salsa

Ingredients
2 large ripe mangoes, peel 1/2″ dice
½ red pepper, seed and dice
½ jalapeno, seed and dice
¼ cup green onions, chop
¼ cup red onion, dice
juice of ½ lime
2 Tbsp cilantro or 1/2 tsp thyme, mince
pinch salt and sugar, to taste

Instructions
Combine all and chill 2 hours or up to a day ahead. Adjust to taste with lime juice or sugar. Makes about 2 cups

Brunch Beauty

This holiday season I’ve gone crazy with fresh Homemade Ricotta.  Now that I have perfected the process, I’m looking for ways to use it and haven’t been disappointed with the range of spreads, dips and desserts that it delivers.

Here’s a brunch idea I’ve used for years and tweaked this Christmas.  It begins with a tasty and impressive French toast which can be cooked to order or made ahead for all to enjoy together.

French Toast Tower, Ricotta Cream, Berries

At its heart is a luscious Ricotta Cream, reminiscent of a cannoli filling, teamed up with plenty of fresh berries.  The scrumptious cream begins with a good quality ricotta cheese whisked with a bit of sugar or honey and flavored with fresh grated orange.

Despite its simplicity, the cream is incredibly versatile. You could include grated chocolate, pistachios or almonds, but they tend to get lost here.  Instead, add them on top with a flourish.

For bread, I’ve had surprising success with a bake-at-home sourdough batard sliced and soaked—without pre-baking. But any dense, day-old bread such as challah will work; one which absorbs and holds the soaking custard.  You’ll probably have extra dipping liquid, for more toast and taller towers…

Once all the bread is toasted a quick heat in the oven results in a lighter, crisper French toast. Let everyone personalize their toast with an assortment of toppings.

French Toast Tower with Ricotta Cream and Berries

Ingredients
8 slices ¾” thick, dense day-old bread
2 Tbsp melted butter
Soaking Custard
4 eggs
1 cups milk
1 Tbsp sugar
Pinch salt
½ tsp vanilla
Ricotta Cream (see below)
12-ounces strawberries or other berries, trimmed, sliced and sweetened with 2 Tbsp sugar
Toppings: chopped semisweet chocolate, or chopped toasted nuts;  ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, honey or maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Ahead, make Ricotta Cream, slice and sweeten berries with sugar. Line 2 baking sheets with foil.  Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a wide bowl for dipping, whisk the eggs with milk, sugar, and flavorings.  Lightly dip both sides of bread slices in the egg mixture and place on a baking sheet and repeat with all slices.
  3. Heat a wide flat skillet or griddle over medium heat and brush with butter. Place soaked bread onto hot surface and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.  Flip and brown the second side, 2 to 3 minutes longer.  Place on baking sheet, cover with foil and repeat. Prior to serving, place French toast in oven for 5-10 minutes, until heated and still moist.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar.
  4. To serve:  spread French toast with Ricotta Cream, top with fresh berries. Add another toast layer if desired, more berries, and dust with confectioners’ sugar, drizzle with syrup or honey.  Serves 4

Ricotta Cream
2 cups homemade or good quality ricotta cheese
4 Tbsp granulated or confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla or ¼ tsp almond extract
2 tsp grated orange zest, or ½ tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp chopped semisweet chocolate, or chopped toasted nuts (optional)

Whisk the ricotta, sugar, vanilla, and orange zest to lighten. Adjust flavors.
Add or garnish with chocolate and/or nuts if using. Chill the cream for 2 hours or longer to set and blend flavors. Can be done a day ahead.  Yield: 2 cups

Embarrassment of Riches

I’m embarrassed to admit I have sorrel growing in my garden that I have barely touched. I planted it early in the year, and I’ve been reluctant to harvest much.  It is so utterly beautiful, I’ve been content to gaze on their bright green, red-etched leaves rather than eat them.

Turns out sorrel is a perennial herb that grows well in the Pacific Northwest. It is related to rhubarb (of course) and buckwheat (brilliant!). Sorrel is well known for its sour qualities and apparently, my particular red-veined variety is regarded as milder than most (indeed!).

Even though my tiny garden is pretty much done for the season, sorrel’s hearty leaves continue to grow like crazy. Armed with increased incentive, I have taken to clipping the leaves for salad.  Apparently, they can become tough, but I’ve yet to experience that issue. Thus far, the leaves are crisper than spinach with a pleasing tartness.

Fall Sorrel Salad

Here’s a rundown on a recent salad featuring the beauteous sorrel with other seasonal greens. I began with a juicy Honey Crisp apple thinking its residual sweetness would offset any lurking bitterness. To complement the apple I went with trusty Oregon Blue cheese—its robust, creaminess was an awesome match.

I brought it all together with a bold sweet-tart Balsamic-Vanilla Dressing laced with nutmeg, and finished  it with a sprinkling of caramelized walnuts. Oh, yes, let’s not forget freshly ground mixed peppercorns, the  crowning touch.

Fall Sorrel Salad

Ingredients
8 – 10 ounces, combination of sorrel and seasonal greens
1 fresh apple such as Honey Crisp
½ cup crumbled Oregon blue cheese, Danish blue, or Maytag
½ cup caramelized nuts
freshly ground mixed peppercorns
Balsamic Vanilla Dressing
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
salt and plenty of fresh ground pepper
¾ cup oil blend, (such as ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ cup vegetable oil, and ¼ cup walnut oil)

Instructions

  1. For dressing: place all through salt and pepper in cruet or jar and shake; add oil and shake well. Adjust seasoning.
  2. To prepare apple ahead: wash and dry, quarter and remove core, and leave skin on. Cut into 1/4″ width slices. Dip in 1 tsp lemon juice and 1 cup water, drain and cover with paper toweling.
  3. Wash, dry and trim greens, place in bowl and chill.
  4. To serve, toss the greens lightly with dressing, scatter with remaining items and serve. Pass additional dressing.    Serves 2-4