Monday, June 27, 2011

Peach and Blueberry Cobbler with Cinnamon Streusel

I cannot begin to express how much I appreciated every single comment that was left for me, when I posted my poignant goodbye to my beloved cat.  I wrote that post, the day before my kitty had to be put to sleep. It was part of my healing/acceptance process that "Tiger Lily's" loud purr would be silenced. Her spirit is forever my heart. Thank you for your compassion, encouragement and sympathy.  It really helped.  I miss my furry friend, but life goes on.  Yes, I have fourteen years of great memories that I will never forget.  Each day gets a little better. 

Yesterday, I decided to make my first fruit cobbler. I've always meant to make one, but I suppose that I've always been a big fan of fruit crisps/crumbles. I had a bag of frozen peaches...

 ...and some fresh blueberries.  I first tried pairing these two fruits when I made a Peaches & Blueberry crisp, two years ago and I liked it.

I had bookmarked a recipe for a Berry Cobbler from "Our Best Bites".  I liked that this cobbler was more like the traditional versions I've seen on other blogs.  I had all the ingredients, on hand, so I decided that some baking therapy is just what I needed to snap out of my funk.

I gave the peaches a quick partial thaw, by washing them with warm water.

One of my favorite pie or fruit dessert "secret" ingredients is Instant ClearJel.  It's a pie filling thickener that is added to the sugar.  It helps to thicken my pies perfect-- no runny fruit!  Sure, you can use flour (which I  think tends to muddy flavors), cornstarch or even tapioca.   To me, this is my #1 choice thickener.  I added 2 Tablespoons of the Instant ClearJel to about 3/4 cup white sugar (you can add less, if you prefer).  

I added a bit of lemon zest, reserving most of the zest for the cobbler dough.
Some fresh lemon juice is always a good thing, I think...

I tossed in the sugar-Instant Clear Jel and set the fruit aside.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Loss of a Furry Family Member

 Dear Friends & Readers,

I am setting this post for Friday, June 24th at 3:00pm, PST.  This is the appointed time that our veterinarian will arrive at our home.  A special burial plot is ready, as is a small box.  It is time for me to give my beloved kitty, "Tiger Lily" a dignified end to her life.  She has been a member of our family for 14 years.  I am writing this tonight, on Thursday evening, as my own form of therapy-- in dealing with the fact that I will miss her very much.
 Tiger Lily and her Littermate, Camo

It is Friday, at 2:00pm.  In one hour, the vet will arrive.  I lifted my kitty up, to take outside into the sunshine. She has been pretty listless for the last two days.  She managed a few rolls on the concrete. She's so thin-- a mere wisp of 6 pounds of fur and bones, as her intestinal cancer is ravaging her body.  But she's back in the house, in her hunched position.  She is tired. She is ready.  It is time for me to let go... say goodbye.

I always thought that I love dogs as the best pets.  Somehow, this kitty-- who destroyed one of my favorite chairs, years ago... the kitty who learned how to grab bathroom cabinets and open them at 3am just to hear them slam shut with a loud BANG... the kitty who always spooned next to me on the bed...who picked up her cat food with her paw and used it to spoon feed herself... she has given me fourteen years of companionship, unconditional love, amusement and she captured my dog-loving heart.

I worry about her sister's grief, as I'm prepared for her to search for where her sister has gone. She will be buried on top of our hill, and we'll plant flowers on her spot., now, it's just you and me "Camo".  You no longer have to fight for your share of dinner. My lap will be vacant for you to take her place.  Then, one day, the time will come for you to be laid to rest next to your sister. When that time comes, I will give you the dignity of not having to suffer.

Tonight, I plan on making potent margaritas to help numb the pain a bit,  and to just remember what a wonderful family pet that my Tiger Lily was.  I'm thankful that I can give her the gift of humane euthanasia.  She has earned it; she was just "on loan" to me for as many cat years as she had to give.

I'll be back to blog in a couple or three days. I just have a few buckets of tears to cry.

Four Feet in Heaven

Your favorite chair is vacant now...
No eager purrs to greet me.
No softly padded paws to run
Ecstatically to meet me.
No coaxing rubs, no plaintive cry
Will say it's time for feeding.
I've put away your bowl, and all
The things you won't be needing;
But I will miss you little friend,
For I could never measure
The happiness you brought me,
The comfort and the pleasure.
And since God put you here to share
In earthly joy and sorrow;
I'm sure there'll be a place for you
In Heaven's bright tomorrow...
by Alice E. Chase

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Käsekuchen - German Cheesecake

I love cheesecake.  I love the silkiness of New York style cheesecake.  I love it plain. I love it topped with fresh fruit, or drizzled with caramel.  I love it made with pumpkin, and I once enjoyed a decadent "Cheesecake Factory" Peppermint Cheesecake with a chocolate crust and drizzled with dark chocolate.   Oddly enough, I don't eat it very often.  The only reason for this, is that cheesecake (to me) equals a very guilt-ridden dessert treat. It's also deadly addicting, to me.

German Käsekuchen is a rare animal to find.  It's also a fond childhood memory of a time when our family lived in Germany.  The German version of cheesecake is different.  The texture is most similar to a ricotta-based cheesecake.  It's not as creamy, but has more of a dense texture. It's somewhat sweet, but a lot less than American versions.  The crust isn't made with graham crackers, but with more of a butter-shortbread dough.  The ingredient that is unique to this cheesecake is "Quark".

Whenever Craig and I head to one of our timeshares in the "Gold Rush Country" of Angel's Camp, we stop at the Oakdale Cheese Company.  We buy an assortment of their Gouda cheeses and I usually buy a slice of their German Cheesecake.  One the way back home, we stopped again, and I decided to buy Quark.  It was time for me to see if I could recreate this childhood favorite cheesecake.

I've also spotted Quark at Whole Foods.

The texture of Quark is very similar to ricotta cheese. You could also use cottage cheese, pureed in a blender. After searching the internet, I stumbled across "Diana's Dessert's" and I found the recipe that sounded like I was looking for.  First, the crust:

 We begin with flour, sugar, butter (that I've grated, as it's cold), vanilla sugar, lemon zest and one egg. Using a food processor, the butter is cut into the dry ingredients. Last, the egg is added, and the dough is kneaded and then covered in plastic and refrigerated for at least an hour. NOTE: The smell of the lemon-zest and vanilla sugar really brought back childhood memories in Germany.

The dough is a little temperamental, at first. I begin by rolling it out once. Then folding it again, and rolling it out for a second time.  Using a springform pan, the dough is laid out and then I had to press it into shape. Set aside.

For the filling, we need egg yolk, vanilla sugar, sugar, butter, heavy cream, Quark, egg whites, corn starch and a pinch of salt.  Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla-sugar until pale and foamy. Add the softened butter and beat well, then add the heavy cream and beat again. Add the quark and stir until the mixture is smooth and throughly combined.  I added two of my favorite baking additives, to the filling.  Fiori di Sicilia is an all-natural combination of citrus and vanilla.  Loranne's Buttery Sweet Dough is my "secret ingredient" that I add to a lot of my baking goods.  You don't need these for these recipes, but I felt it added a very "European" flavor to the filling.

 Last, whisk the egg whites with the salt until very stiff, then very gently fold in the quark mixture, also adding the sifted cornstarch a little at a time. 

 Pour the filling into the crust shell and I used an off-set spatula to even out the filling.  I trimmed the dough, leaving about 1" above the filling line. Bake in preheated 300 degrees F (150 C) oven for 50 to 60 minutes (longer if necessary) until well risen and golden – it resembles a souffle at this point (It will sink in the middle quite dramatically – don’t worry, it’s supposed to do this). Turn the oven off, and let the cheesecake rest in the oven for 15 minutes; then remove it from the oven, cool for an hour or so at room temperature, and refrigerate for several hours before releasing sides of pan and serving. (I made this cheesecake a day before serving.)
The next day, it was time to taste this cheesecake.

Nice crust!

The moment of truth...

TASTING NOTES:  The sweetness of this cheesecake is very mild.  The texture is moist, and both creamy with a slight denseness.  The crust is really good-- and I'm usually not a fan of pie crust.  I can taste very subtle notes of citrus.  My husband, who isn't a fan of cheese, really liked this German cheesecake.  I actually enjoyed a slice for breakfast, with a dark roast coffee.  I was back in time, as that child who would hope for a second slice of my Oma's cheesecake that she had brought home from the local bakery.  It's a winner.  The big bonus is that I didn't feel one iota of guilt about this recipe. It's a treat. It's worthy to bake for special company.  I would definitely make this recipe again. In fact, I have a frozen container of Quark that will be morphed into this delectable treat in the next few months.  

As always, a printable recipe card is at the end of this post.


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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Scallops with Cherry-Tarragon Sauce

I admit that sometimes my recipes involve fussy steps.  Maybe I'm a little bit masochistic on the weekends, and I love the challenge of channeling the Martha Stewart that lurks inside me.  Then, there are times when I want things to be really simple.  I love it when I find a recipe that takes minutes to make, and turns out to have that "wow" factor.  I found this recipe when I received a newsletter from Whole Foods that Wild Caught Scallops would be on sale for $9.99 a pound-- on Friday, only.   As soon as I was off work, I skedaddled to Whole Foods and stocked up on a few pounds of what I called my "Fillet Mignon of the Sea".  Score!

... and then I spotted these gorgeous Bing cherries, for $4.99 a pound.  I loved that these were sold in a box, so I could pick out all the dark red ones. When I arrived home, I found this recipe suggestion on Whole Food's Facebook Fan Page.  I admit that at first I wondered... cherries and tarragon?  When I mentioned it to my husband, he got really excited.  So, this would be our Saturday night "Date Night" dinner at Chez Debby's.  The recipe calls for shallots, which is always in my fridge. Only, this time, I was out.  Sweet onions it was...

Fortunately, we have French tarragon that grows in abundance in our yard.  It's like growing mint, in that it can take over your garden. Tarragon is an interesting herb.  It dies off in the cold winter months, and then comes back in the spring-- like gangbusters. It's an herb that doesn't seem to be used as often as thyme or oregano.  It has a distinct but subtle note of licorice, and not nearly as pungent as fennel-- and I'm not a fan of fennel.  But tarragon, I love!  It pairs beautifully with chicken or seafood.  It's also what turns a hollandaise into a Bernaise sauce-- one of my favorite sauces of all. I digress... back to how quickly this recipe is made:

To know me is to know that I'm a gadgetholic.  Last year, I bought a Norpro Cherry Pitter.  I finally put the gadget together and I was surprised at how much I liked it. You need about 2 cups of pitted cherries, quartered.  I was scaling the recipe down for just the two of us, so I eye-balled about a cup of cherries.

Scallops can be easy to prepare. Be warned, that overcooking them turns the into chewy and tough chunks of seafood.  They're similar to cooking shrimp.  Just be sure to pat them really dry and it only takes 2-3 minutes, per side, to sear on high heat with olive oil.  I have a more detailed tutorial on one of my favorite summer pasta dishes, Scallops and Pasta (to view that, click here).  Simply season with sea salt and pepper...

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Peaches & Cream Pie (Would you like crust with that?)

I wish we had a peach tree in our own backyard.  Let me rephrase that. I wish we could plant a HUGE peach tree in our own backyard, and that we could have beautiful peaches by this summer.  I've hinted around with my Green Thumbed Husband, but so far I have the company of one Meyer Lemon Tree, one Eureka Lemon Tree and one fledgling Lime tree.  Now that I think of it, I wish we had an orchard of every kind of apple and stone fruit that grows well on the Central Coast of California!  Somehow, I don't think our little home plot of land could support my dream orchard. So, I wait for the first signs of California peaches at my local farm stand.  At last, the first peaches were spotted, but they weren't quite ripe.

I was craving peaches, and then I remembered a recipe in the June 2011 issue of Cook's Country Magazine that I had bookmarked.  Peaches and Cream Pie isn't anything new.  In the style of the family of Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen, Cook's Country wanted to re-work the recipe so that the pie crust doesn't get soggy.  In order to accomplish this, this recipe required the roasting of the peaches, with a little sugar,  to release it's moisture. That made sense to me.  The pie crust is also partially blind-baked with pie weights and aluminum foil.  I'm not posting how I make my pie crust, as I have several different versions. If you want to use a commercially purchased one, please do so.  Otherwise, my favorite  pie crust recipe,is a mixture of shortening and butter and a "how to" is posted here.

The peaches are roasted, for about 30 minutes,  on the top rack of the oven, while the pie crust is baking below.  I liked the time-saving convenience of this procedure.

 Then it hit me.  I forgot to peel the peaches, before roasting them. D'oh!

After chewing myself out, for not following the directions that were clearly there, I was saved by discovering that the peels came off quite easily.  No harm, no foul.

The peaches are quartered and layered into the pie crust.
The filling comes together in a snap-- flour, salt, heavy cream, vanilla and egg yolks (the yolks helps the filling to set better.)
The filling is poured over the roasted peaches, and then baked until firm in the center-- 45-55 minutes.

While the pie was cooling, I noticed that the crust had shrunk quite a bit.  I'm guessing it's because I used a large deep-dish pie pan and I didn't quite have enough pie dough.  I decided to remove the pie and serve it like a tart. It worked quite well.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

...I had leftover peaches and filling. On a whim, my leftovers filled two ramekins. These were baked for about 30 minutes and came out bubbling and smelling wonderful. Ooooooooooh, crustless pieI have a confession to make.  Ready?  I'm not a huge fan of traditional pie crusts.  That's why I prefer fruit  crumbles or crisps.  The day before I made this pie, I made a creme anglaise and a raspberry coulis sauce.  I had an idea...

I served the pie slices, to my husband and guests, with the Creme Anglaise and Raspberry Coulis sauce. They loved the pie and the crust.  One of our dinner guests is from Atlanta, Georgia.  He should know what good peaches are all about! 

As for me-- I ate one of the crustless pies from the ramekin. Oh, boy!

TASTING NOTES:  Though the peaches weren't quite ripe, this recipe roasted and baked them to perfection.  I loved the crunchy and chewy texture of the pie filling, while the peaches tasted like "summer".  The edges of the ramekins had slightly caramelized the pie filling.  The pie crust was not soggy! The Creme Anglaise with the Raspberry Coulis sauce made this a glorified Peach Melba, in my book. Vanilla ice cream would be a perfect substitute.  I intend to make this same recipe, using fresh berries and I think it would work extremely well with apricots-- but I'm going to use all ramekins.  This pie disappeared within two days. As for that second ramekin-- I hid it.  It was all mine!  

With or without a pie crust, this is a pretty simple way to enjoy peaches. This recipe goes into my Family Favorites recipe file.  I hope you try it.  A printable recipe is at the end of this post.


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