Pre-fall Inspiration – Pear-Ginger Muffins for Breakfast

Cottonwood leaves

Inspired by this morning’s cool breezy weather, falling yellow leaves and the abundance of fresh pears at my local Farmers Market I made Pear-Ginger Muffins for breakfast. In addition to fresh pear you add dried pears, which add rich texture, intense flavor and moist tenderness. The use of wheat pastry flour and chopped pecans added the nuttiness I so love in breads.

The smell of them baking was intoxicating. I heated water for tea, Good Earth Original Sweet & Spicy Herbal, the perfect accompaniment for my pre-fall celebration and waited.

Pear-Ginger MuffinsThe timer rang, they tested ready, now another small wait before taking them from the pan. They looked fantastic but as always the truth would be in the tasting. Finally, it was time. I carefully slipped the knife down alongside the muffin and worked it slowly around the edge until the muffin popped out. The moment of truth was here, I gently broke the muffin open, I was taught that you never cut hot bread, placed a pat of sweet butter on a piece and popped it into my mouth. The celebration I had anticipated was perfect.

Has your weather started showing signs that fall is on the way? Are you ready for the change? We have had a nice summer, not too much hot weather, but I think I’m ready for some nice cool mornings and milder days.

Pear-Ginger Muffins

Yields 12 muffins

4 oz dried pears

1 Bosc, Bartlett or Anjou pear

2 cups all-purpose flour (I used wheat pastry flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon nutmeg

2 eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup unsalted butter-melted

1/3 cup finely chopped candied ginger

½ cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

In a small bowl, cover the dried pears with boiling water and let stand 15 minutes. Preheat an oven to 400°F and butter standard muffin tins (I like using my Texas muffin pan yields 6 large muffins).

Drain the pears well and pat them dry with paper towels. With scissors or a sharp knife, cut the pears into ½” pieces. Peel, core and finely dice the ripe pear. In a medium bowl, stir and toss together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, butter, ginger and fresh and dried pears. Add to the dry ingredients and stir just until the batter is blended.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake until a wood toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15-18 minutes (another 5 mins for the larger size). Cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan.

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Fresh Peach Cake

Edith's peachesA recent trip to my sisters netted me not only a great turkey roasting pan and rack at a charity garage sale for $1 but a nice bunch of fresh peaches.

We invited my sisters neighbor, Edith to dinner the second night I was there. We had picked lots of veggies from Judy and Edith’s large shared garden that morning and planned to roast them and serve them with fresh sliced tomatoes, also from the garden,  and a rack of lamb we would BBQ. For dessert,  Chocolate Zucchini Cake.

As the sun began to drop behind the Sierra Nevada mountains to the west and the air began to finally cool the warm afternoon temperatures, we enjoyed our garden fresh feast, outside on the patio.  Before Edith left she reminded Judy that her peach tree was loaded with fruit in need of picking and that we should come over in the morning to pick some before I headed home.

So early the next morning we walked over to Ediths’ and picked peaches. Edith was right the peaches were plentiful and ready for pickn. The turkey pan was just the right size for my share of peaches allowing them to ride home in the back of my car without becoming bruised.

DSCN4706Once home, I decided to use some of the peaches to make this Fresh Peach Cake. With grandchildren coming to stay, I knew I would have plenty of help eating it.

DSCN4723

Fresh Peach Cake – from Food Network Magazine, June 2011

1/4lb (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream ( I used Greek yogurt) at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced (You could use nectarines, pulots, plumbs, or even berries. I think the peaches measured out to not quite 3 cups.)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon.

3. Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half the peaches, then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.

4. Bake the cake for 45 – 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Another cake-like recipe I especially like that uses fresh fruit is one I highlighted in June 2010 for Pudding Cake. You can find that recipe here. I don’t know why it wouldn’t work with peaches. Both of these cakes are good with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you’re serving them for dessert. In fact, the Peach Cake would taste just like shortcake if you spooned some fresh sliced, sugared peaches around it and topped it with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Why didn’t I think of that sooner. Next time.

Decadent Pecan Pie

It was stormy and raining pretty hard Sunday morning when I drove to the Farmers’ Market. As I drove through the rain I was thinking about the farmers and how hard it must be to forage into wet fields and harvest their crops. Without their tenacity I would not be able to enjoy fruits and vegetables, hand picked the day before or sometimes the very morning they are brought to market. I started thinking about how grateful I am for their labor.  So, as I made my rounds buying fruits and vegetables, I thanked each person I bought from for being there that morning. Many reciprocated, thanking me for braving the weather and coming out too, a mutual admiration society both of us understanding how much we appreciate and depend on each other.

That morning I bought small heads of cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Seckle pears, Fuji apples and pecans. The pecans were for Sunday’s dessert, something special that I would make that morning to take to a friend’s house for dinner.

The recipe was from David Lebovitz, an American living in Paris, who worked for about thirteen years at Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, in the pastry department with executive pastry chef Lindsey Shere, creating desserts and baking with an amazing team of people. I follow David’s blog and enjoy his stories, his recipes and his sense of humor.  The dessert I chose was a decadent sounding pecan pie infused with dark chocolate and spiked with a little bourbon. You can find the recipe for Chocolate Pecan Pie, on David’s blog, David Lebovitz, Living the sweet life in Paris.

The pie went together easily and looked and smelled heavenly. The test would be with my fellow critics after we had enjoyed a lovely dinner.

Dinner finished  we started clearing the table. The next act was mine. Would the pie live up to my expectations? I carefully cut the pie into eight pieces and topped each with a dallop of freshly whipped cream, sprinkled with semi-sweet dark chocolate shavings and served it. The response was immediate and unanimous, “it’s delicious”.

If you’re looking for a pie that is delicious and easy to make this is the pie to bake.

Your Farmers’ Market is a great place to do holiday gift shopping!

These are just a couple of ideas I found while walking through my Farmers’ Market today.  Many markets have hand crafted items and some even feature live and fresh cut Christmas Trees during December.

Beautiful holiday wreaths.

Gift baskets of herbs and edible flowers.

Personal products with an herbal touch.

Almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios; natural, spiced, salted, unsalted, and candied.

Jams, jellies, special sauces, local honey, olive oil and dried herb mixes

Natural soaps and lotions.

What ideas for gift giving did you find at your Farmers’ Market?

Maybe they should be called “The Glory of Morning Oat Muffins”!

I was going through some recipes the other day looking for something new to try and I came across an oat muffin recipe I had copied off a blog I follow. I have one that I love and make all the time but wanted to try something new. This one looked intriguing; raisins, carrots, apple, coconut, applesauce and pecans. What’s not to like? The recipe is called Morning Glory Oat Muffins and comes from Honey & Jam, a visually beautiful site that has great recipes.  Anything that is beautiful and tastes good too is a winner in my eyes.

So last night I measured and grated, and grated and measured, then mixed and filled and baked; then I cleaned up. I really should have waited until daylight so I could take some decent photos but I didn’t. So if you want to see lovely photos of these luscious muffins look at Hanna’s her work is inspirational. Everything looks soooooooo good.

I have to tell you the smell of these baking was pretty hard to resist. But, resist I did. I didn’t eat any until this morning at breakfast and they were well worth the wait.  As Hanna said on her blog, “It’s basically cake for breakfast”. But even better than that, it’s healthy cake.

I have already thought of several ways I want to try these using different ingredients. I would like to try using oat or almond flour instead of the wheat; try different chopped dried fruit instead of the raisins and try walnuts or toasted almonds instead of the pecans. Sliced almonds sprinkled on top might be nice too. Definitely going to freeze what I have left over so I can enjoy then for the rest of the week.

Tonight I’m going to revisit the turnip gratin I posted last January. I got some beautiful turnips at the market this morning and have a couple of potatoes that need to be used. Some sautéed mushrooms and chard on the side and I’m going to be a happy camper. I may even open myself a bottle of wine to go with the feast. Have a great week everyone!

Apricot Crisp for the 4th of July

Here’s a sure fire way to get compliments on your 4th of July dessert. Make a fruit crisp. They are easy to make and there are all kinds of variations that help to make them extremely versatile. First thing will be to get out to your local Farmers Market and pick up some nice fresh fruit. Peaches, apricots, pulots and plums are in season here in northern California. I love apricots, so that’s what I chose for my crisp.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to see what my mentor, James Beard, had to say about crisps. I know everyone’s more familiar with Julia Child, especially since the movie, but James has always been my favorite. His cookbook is one of the few, on my shelves, that I still use, both as a reference guide and for a few recipes that have become favorites. And, yes Julia’s books are there too.

Fruit Crisp or Crumb Pie

American Cookery ©1972

“These are often made without a crust and served as a pudding topped with whipped cream or ice cream.

Place the fruit in an unbaked shell with fluted edges. Melt the butter in a 1 ½ to 2 quart saucepan. Remove from the heat, stir in the sugar, flour, spices, and salt. The amount of sugar will depend on the type of fruit used. Apricots and some tart plums may take more sugar.  Apples, pears, peaches and prunes may take slightly less than 1 cup. Brown sugar is generally preferred for apples, peaches, and pears. The amount of spice will depend upon taste. Cinnamon is generally used for apples; nutmeg, mace or allspice is good with peaches or apricots. Add just a suggestion of clove along with cinnamon and nutmeg to prunes or plums. Pears are good with the addition of ½ teaspoon ginger. Scatter the mixture over the fruit. And bake the pie about 30 to 40 minutes in a 400-degree oven, or until the topping is crusty and the fruit is tender. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or cold, with whipped cream or ice cream, if you like.”

The version I have developed is a little different from James’,  in that I use oatmeal and nuts in the crumble topping and I never use a bottom crust. But I still refer to James for ideas on how to substitute other fruits and seasonings and how much sugar to add. You can also vary from pecans by trying walnuts or almonds. If you really want to get decadent try macadamia nuts in the topping with pears as the fruit and maybe just a hint of cardamon. You’ll also note in my recipe that I didn’t use any spice although James recommends allspice. I really just like the apricots on their own.

Annie’s Apricot Crisp

4 – 5 cups apricots cut in halves (about 15 apricots)

¼ cup sugar

1-tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Mix ingredients together and place in a lightly greased 8 x 8 glass baking dish.

For the topping:

½ cup butter

½ brown sugar

½ cup flour (I use oat flour, but you can use wheat or white)

½ cup Old Fashioned oats

1 cup chopped pecans

Mix together in a small bowl. I use a pastry cutter to mix this together as it keeps the ingredients in a more crumbly texture. Squeeze the topping into chunks and scatter over apricots (see photo of what I like the texture to look like)

Bake in a 350° oven for about 40 – 50 minutes or until topping is browned and fruit is bubbling.

Serve warm if possible, with ice cream, whipped cream or if it’s breakfast or brunch time try serving it with unflavored Greek yogurt.

Have a wonderful holiday everyone!

A tangelo and zucchini met one morning and formed a beautiful partnership.

Like most mornings I awoke bright and early Sunday and ambled into the kitchen to make my morning tea. It was beautiful outside, not too cool, which it has been for the last few days, you could feel that summer just might be really going to come. Teacup in hand I found myself in my garden puttering around as I am apt to do. Often puttering involves watering the many potted plants that line the patio and that’s where I was when I found myself thinking about the many errands that I needed to run after I finished my weekly trip to the Farmers Market. But, it was so nice out. Was I really going to drive to the Farmers Market then continuing driving around doing errands? NOPE! Not this Sunday. As soon as I finished my puttering, I was off to the garage, to check the air in my bike tires and attach my

The ride was really beautiful. I decided to check out the new section of the Sacramento Riverfront bikeway which runs parallel to the river and then cross over the freeway on the newly opened pedestrian/bike way. The new section of trail is really great.  I wish I had taken some pictures so I could show you. From the Riverfront trail and freeway overcrossing it is just a few blocks, through urban streets lined with beautiful mature trees, until I arrive at the market where my focus would be to see if I could pick up a few tangelos and for a muffin recipe I would make upon my return. Oh, and get some fruit and veggies for the week, which I did; a couple ears of corn, assorted summer squash, some green and yellow wax beans, two red onions, eight white nectarines and peaches, and three tangelos.

Today is the first day of summer and with its heat comes the real beginning of the summer squash season. In about another month the newness of summer squash will have started to wear off and those of us with squash plants will be getting more than we need much less want. We’ll be eating it often and giving the excess away. And then, there will come that day when we and even our friends and neighbors have had enough squash. Before it comes to that and while we’re all excited about summer squash I wanted to give you idea for another way you can use it. Bake up a nice batch of Tangelo-Zucchini Muffins. Bake them in the morning like I did and serve them warm, preferably on the patio or in the garden. A beautiful, and I might add tasty, way to celebrate a summer morning.

Tangelo-Zucchini Muffins

makes 12 muffins

1 cup shredded summer squash (I used zucchini but any summer squash will do. If the squash is really large discard the seedy part before shredding.)

2 eggs

½ cup safflower or other high-quality vegetable oil (I used canola and a little olive oil since I didn’t have enough of the canola.)

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed juice (I used tangelo. You could use orange if you’d prefer.)

1 ½ teaspoons grated zest (I used the zest from one tangelo.)

1-teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups unbleached flour

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ cup chopped pecans (you could use walnuts instead)

½ cup dried cranberries (you could use golden raisins instead)

Preheat oven to 35o° F. Grease 12 regular-sized muffin tin or I used paper cupcake liners

Beat the egg in a mixing bowl until lemon colored. Add the sugar, oil, juice, zest and vanilla. Beat until thick and smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, pecans and cranberries. Fold the dry mixture into the egg mixture, stirring just until well blended. Spoon batter into the prepared muffin-tin, filling each hole about three-fourths full. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of a muffin tests clean, about 20 – 25 minutes. Cool in the muffin tins for about 3 minutes before turning out. Serve warm.

Variation: To bake as a loaf, pour the batter into a greased 9 by 5-inch loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out.