Pimm’s Float

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This recipe is brought to you by Food Network chef Sunny Anderson. I wish I could claim it as my own, because it’s fabulous! Every summer I swear I’m going to make it, stack it with other recipe cards, and promptly forget about it. But not this summer.

If you love Pimm’s, and you love ice cream, then you’ll love this treat!
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I didn’t follow Sunny’s recipe to the T – hers included strawberries, and being passed strawberry season, I instead decided on blackberries and raspberries. So here’s what I did.

Sunny’s Pimm and Proper Ice Cream Float
Serves 4 or 2, depending on the serving size

1 pound raspberries and blackberries
1/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup water

First place the berries in a small pot. Add the sugar and water. Bring to a boil and stir gently, until the sugar dissolves. Put the lid on, and lower the heat.

After about 5-6 minutes, remove the lid, and cook about 1 minute more. Place the pot in the refrigerator and let the berries and syrup cool completely.
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To complete the ice cream floats, you will need:
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Vanilla ice Cream
Fresca

To prepare the floats, but about 2 heaping tablespoons of the berries and syrup in the bottoms of ice cream glasses. Add an equal volume of Pimm’s to both. Scoop out the ice cream and place it in the glasses.


Right before serving, add the Fresca.

I also served a skewer of blackberries, just for fun.
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Sunny not only made a strawberry syrup in her original recipe, she also used strawberry ice cream. I chose vanilla because I wanted to taste the other flavors.

After tasting these, I’d still opt for vanilla. But I’m sure you could come up with many different ideas for these floats!
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They’re really refreshing, and would make a fun dessert after a summer dinner party as well!


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Berry Cherry Hazelnut Galette

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When I see desserts on blog posts, I rarely check them out. First of all, I’m not a baker, and have no desire to bake any more than I do. But mostly it’s because many cakes and desserts are just too fancy for my taste. Not that I don’t appreciate the skill that goes into making them. In fact, I’m truly in awe of pastry chefs.

It’s just that I’m a pretty plain Jane, and that speaks for my lifestyle as well as the food I prepare. So I am attracted to simple, rustic desserts like this galette.

I found this recipe on Epicurious here, and what attracted me was the title – Raspberry-Hazelnut Galette. I’m a huge fan of both raspberries and hazelnuts so I was determined to bake my first galette. Yes, my first, even though I’ve coveted them forever!

When I went through the ingredient list, I realized there weren’t fresh raspberries in the darn recipe, so I used the recipe for the hazelnut crust, and did my own thing with the filling, using cherry jam and fresh raspberries. Here is what I did:
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Cherry Berry Hazelnut Galette

3.5 ounces raw hazelnuts, skins on
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick, 4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 ounce or so of water or juice
Orange-flavored oil
6-7 ounces cup fruit-only cherry jam
Fresh raspberries
Raw sugar or pearl sugar
Whipped cream, optional

To make the crust, first process the hazelnuts, flour and salt in a food processor until a hazelnut-flour meal is formed. Place the meal in a bowl and set aside.

Using the same food processor jar, add the butter and sugar and process until smooth. Add the egg yolks and water or juice and process just to combine.

Turn out the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Gently form the dough into a disc and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.


You might notice that my “dough” on the left looks a bit crumbly. And it was. I followed the directions, but the amount of hazelnuts on the original recipe states 3/4 cup, which I estimated at 3.5 ounces. I actually think that might have been too many hazelnuts, but to compensate for the dryness, I simply sprinkled about 1 ounce of water onto the dough until it stuck together. Thus the addition of the liquid in the above recipe.

When you’re going to make the galette, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Roll out the dough into a circle, approximately 14″ in diameter. Brush about 2″ of the outer edge of the crust with oil – I used an orange oil. I only did this because I realized I was completely out of eggs!

Spread on the jam, and top it with the raspberries. I trimmed the crust just a bit, and then gently folded it over the cherry berry filling. I brushed a little more of the orange oil on the crust.

This is when I discovered I had no turbinado or raw sugar, which was in the original recipe, so I used pearl sugar instead. With an egg wash, the sugar would have stuck better!


Transfer the galette to a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes. The crust should be golden brown.
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Transfer the baked galette to a cutting board to rest. If you don’t own one of these giant spatulas, believe me. They really come in handy!
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After about 45 minutes, I cut the galette into fourths, added a little more pearl sugar, and put cream in my whipped cream gadget. Another thing you shouldn’t be without!

Serve the galette still warm, or at room temperature. Ice cream would also be fabulous instead of whipped cream!
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verdict: The hazelnut crust, which is like candy, would definitely be good with just the jam filling, but I really feel that the raspberries add to this dessert!
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Sautéed Apple Slices

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These apple slices were sautéed to top a savory dish, namely the chicken breasts served with a bacon cream sauce I made yesterday, shown in the photo above.

Sautéed apples aren’t something you have to have in your repertoire, but once you learn this simple technique, you’ll be amazed at how often you’ll be tempted to do this! Think pork, duck, turkey, foie gras and pheasant.

There are two approaches to sautéed apples. One is savory, which I’m doing today, and the other is sweet, such as for a topping for ice cream.

Any apples will work for this recipe; I used a Rome apple because that’s what I had on hand.

Have everything ready to go at the point you peel and slice the apple. You don’t want the apple to brown before the sautéing step.

Here’s what you need for slices of 1/2 medium apple:

Butter, about 2 tablespoons
Calvados*

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Add the butter to a skillet that is large enough to hold the slices in one layer. Let the butter brown slightly for extra flavor.

Add the apple slices. Salt and pepper is optional.
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Turn over the apple slices carefully and let them brown on the other side.

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Add a generous splash of Calvados to the hot skillet. If the Calvados doesn’t light on fire immediately, shake the skillet a little, and it will.
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Let the Calvados burn down, and cook until the apple slices soften. Then they’re ready to serve.

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* You don’t have to use Calvados to flambé apple slices, but it is a wonderful booze to have on hand. It’s an apple brandy, very potent, and has a lovely apple flavor. It’s from the Normandie region of France.
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If you don’t have it on hand, use a brandy, cognac, Armagnac, or even a dry vermouth.

note: If you want sautéed apples for dessert purposes, simply add some brown sugar to the butter in the first step. Let the sugar dissolve, then sauté the fruit. This will work really well with apples and pears, as well as with bananas, such as in bananas foster. For the flambé step, use a liqueur instead that will compliment your recipe. You can also add cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, if that works with the recipe you’re using.

Chocolate Neufchâtel

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Back when my husband and I were first married, we went on lots of picnics. I guess that’s what you do before kids, which reminds me that now that they’re grown and gone, we should be picnicking again!

In any case, I used to buy a particular chocolate Neufchâtel cheese, and paired it with strawberries and water crackers. In my memory, at least, it’s something I always packed up for our adventures, for something sweet.

Then there came a time when we really couldn’t afford this cheese any more. That’s when I had a light bulb moment. I can make it myself, just like I created home-made Boursin, which I call “faux” boursin!

I actually made this cheese a lot when I catered, but I haven’t made it for years now. I’d just completely forgotten about it until something jogged my memory recently. It’s funny how a memory works!

The reason this cheese worked well for catering is that it’s inexpensive to make, slightly sweet, and very pretty. There were always those clients who wanted a full hors d’oeuvres spread for $5. a person…

I sometimes also made an additional strawberry Neufchâtel as well, which was pretty sitting next to her chocolate sister. But these cheeses I used to make, and am making again today, are made with cream cheese instead of Neufchâtel. The good old American variety.

I just googled chocolate Neufchâtel and I found nothing. Perhaps I was the only person eating it? Well, fortunately you can duplicate its flavor in your own kitchen, using this recipe, which can be doubled or tripled.

Chocolate Neufchâtel

1 – 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 ounce unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted

Place the cream cheese and butter in a medium-sized bowl. Using a spatula, beat them together until smooth. The addition of the butter helps in the molding process.
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Add the cocoa and powdered sugar.
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Gently stir in the ingredients until the cream cheese mixture is smooth.
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Place the cheese in a plastic wrap-lined bowl that fits it snuggly, and provides the shape of the cheese that you want. Add the cheese, smoothing the top. You might want to give the bowl a few hard taps on a cutting board to make sure that there are no air holes.
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Cover well with the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Before serving, unmold the cheese by turning the bowl upside down onto a serving platter. Carefully remove the plastic wrap. Let the cheese sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving. You want it nice and spreadable!


I served mine with fresh strawberries and water crackers, just like in the old days!

This is enough cheese to serve 4-6 people. And it cost less than $2.00 to make.

A recipe for strawberry version is here.

Crème Fraiche Ice Cream

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I just came across this recipe recently, and realized that I’d completely forgotten about it. I made it once before, but for the life of me, can’t remember when. This isn’t like me, because I have a pretty good food memory. I’m assuming I made it when I had company over, because I just don’t typically make ice cream. But it was marked “wonderful” in my handwriting, so I know that I indeed made it, and definitely wanted to have it again. After all, it is summer.

The recipe is from this Wolfgang Puck cookbook, published in 1991.
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The recipe calls for 4 cups of crème fraiche, which is a lot, so I began by making it myself. If you’ve never made your own crème fraiche, you should make it. For one thing, it’s so much less expensive if you make it yourself. For another thing, creme fraiche is quite versatile, from dolloping on a fruit salad, to stirring into soups. Or, in this case, turning it into ice cream. It’s nice to have on hand all of the time.

To make 1 quart of crème fraiche, place 1 quart or 4 cups of heavy cream in a medium-sized bowl. Stir in 3 tablespoons of buttermilk. Let it warm to room temperature, and sit for 12 hours. I cover loosely with plastic wrap. In 12 hours, you will have a firm crème fraiche.

Crème Fraiche Ice Cream, served with Raspberry Sauce

1 quart crème fraiche
10 egg yolks
1/3 cup white sugar

After you’ve made the crème fraiche, chill it completely in the refrigerator. Also have your ice cream maker bowl in the freezer and ready to use.
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Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk them well. Add the sugar and whisk for about 1 minute.
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Add the crème fraiche and whisk until smooth.
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Pour some or all of the ice cream mixture into the ice cream bowl, depending how much yours holds. Turn it on and let it go until it’s ice cream. Mine took about 20 minutes.
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When ice cream is ready in an electric ice cream maker, it’s very soft. If you place the bowl into the freezer to get it firmer, the outside freezes and changes the lovely texture. It also can get too hard to remove – even with a sharp scoop.

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So for the purpose of the photos for this post, I “scooped” up the ice cream right away, and it’s easy to tell that it’s soft.
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That’s okay with me, because I got to eat some. And that’s what this is all about. Crème fraiche ice cream? It’s like frozen (or partially frozen) cheesecake.

If you want to make a raspberry sauce like I did, here is the recipe:

1 – 12 ounce bag frozen raspberries, thawed
1 tablespoon white sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Place all of the ingredients in a blender jar and blend until smooth. If you don’t like seeds in your sauce (I don’t) then sieve the sauce to remove the seeds. Chill the sauce until ready to use.


The next day, I made a banana split of sorts with the crème fraiche ice cream, the raspberry sauce, fresh raspberries, and bananas. To die for…

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Italian Orange Cake

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Sometimes I hang on to a cookbook just because there’s one perfect recipe in it. And this is one of those recipes, although fortunately, there are plenty of other recipes in this cookbook that I love. But I’d keep the book just for this cake. Here’s the book, by Patricia Wells, published in 1993:

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I never really wanted to like Patricia Wells, probably because her life is so enviable. She never owned a restaurant or worked as a chef. In fact, she started out as a food journalist, but fell in love with the foods of France, then Italy, and then wrote about them. It’s not like she’s a Hubert Keller or Eric Ripert, but boy has she published a lot of cookbooks. And I have to say, all of the ones I own are pretty fabulous.

I heard her speak at a demonstration at an Aspen Food and Wine festival many moons ago. She seemed really snobby. I think she’s been living in France too long, with homes in both Paris and Provence.

One of Ms. Wells’ cookbooks that I own is about her home in Provence. I really didn’t want to like this book, because it showed off her beautiful 18th century stone farmhouse, and to-die-for kitchen. With a wood-fired oven. It will make you so jealous that you don’t have a farmhouse in Provence. Unless you do.

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And then there’s this book she wrote featuring Joel Rebouchon and his recipes. It’s another beautiful cookbook that I refer to often.

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Then there’s her Bistro book, which is essentially the French version of the Trattoria cookbook, focusing on regional food prepared at neighborhood restaurants throughout France.

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But I love her Trattoria cookbook because it’s about simple Italian fare; the recipes aren’t pretentious. It’s all about “healthy, simple, robust fare inspired by the small family restaurants of Italy.” Thus, the title.

Speaking of trattorias, if you ever go to Italy, be prepared that there are many different kinds of eating and dining establishments there. And each one has limited menus are are only open at specific times. Make sure to look into this before you go, or you will end up at at what you thought was a restaurant, where no food is available, or at a bar with no drinks. Or, the establishment will be closed.

Some of the recipes in Trattoria might not be terribly inspiring to those expertly familiar with Italian cuisine, but the book certainly has its place, especially to home cooks like myself. There are many recipes in it to which I still use, like this cake, which is Tuscan in origin, according to Ms. Wells.

Here’s her website, in case you want to check her out. She’s really quite accomplished. I’m just a little jealous of her life!

Fragrant Orange and Lemon Cake
Torta di Arancio e Limone

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup whole milk
16 tablespoons, or 8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Evenly coat the interior of a 9″ springform pan with butter. Dust lightly with flour, shaking out the excess flour. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl.
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Measure out the milk and place it in a small bowl. Add the orange juice and zest as well as the lemon juice and zest. Give it a little stir and set aside to “sour.”
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Place the softened butter and sugar in a large bowl.
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Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about two minutes.
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Crack each egg individually and place in a small bowl to avoid shells. Add the vanilla extract to the eggs.
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While beating, add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition.
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Continue until the eggs are all gone.
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Then beat in about 1/3 of curdled milk mixture and then 1/3 of the sifted dry ingredients, alternating and just beating until smooth.
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The batter will be nice and smooth at this point.
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Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan.
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Bake for approximately 50 minutes; a cake tester should come out clean when inserted in the middle of the cake.
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Remove the side of the pan, and let the cake cool for about 30 minutes. Then remove the bottom of the springform pan using a long knife held parallel to the bottom.
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Slice the cake in wedges when still warm, or at room temperature.
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I served mine with raspberries and slightly sweetened whipped cream.
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I also served this cake with Quady Red Electra, which is a red Moscato. It’s wonderful with desserts, but also perfect to sweeten sangria.
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But an Auslese, a port, sherry, or some Tuscan Vin Santo would pair nicely as well.

This cake is just as delicious as I remember it from the last time I made it about ten years ago. It’s not a dry cake, presuming it’s not overcooked. It’s dense, in fact, and has an interesting crumb to it. I could have sprinkled the cake with some confectioner’s sugar as well, but I like the fact that this cake has no icing, and doesn’t need any. It would also be fabulous for breakfast or brunch.

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note: There are two major differences between this recipe and the original one from the cookbook. First of all, Ms. Wells uses a 10″ Bundt pan for this recipe, cooking it at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes. Also, she uses vanilla sugar instead of white sugar – sugar in which a vanilla bean pod has been added. I simply added vanilla extract to the recipe.

Buttermilk could probably be substituted for the milk in this recipe, given the additions of lemon and orange juices, but I really like the idea of the milk mixing with the juices and zest for a time before being used in the recipe.

Eggnog Ice Cream

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What is eggnog? Have you ever thought about it? I mean, it’s a drink – a lovely caloric drink – that is very traditional during the holidays. It’s made with separated eggs and cream and flavored with nutmeg.

And that’s really what it is. It’s not a flavor, per se. And yet, you can make eggnog flavored pancakes, eggnog flavored quick breads, and so forth. But eggnog itself is really just a drink.

I never thought about that until I decided to finally make eggnog ice cream – something I’ve wanted to do for many years. I realized there’s not an eggnog “flavoring” that I could add to a basic ice cream base to duplicate that wonderful eggnog flavor. Not like pumpkin or cranberry, for example.

So I decided that the best thing to do was to incorporate actual eggnog, but not the home-made variety – the yellow, thick stuff that comes in cartons. There’s not too much in the way of food that I buy that contains fake colors and a variety of chemicals. But in this family, we all love eggnog in a carton. Of course, once you add the brandy or rum, you really don’t care about the chemicals.

So here’s the recipe I created using eggnog, and I must say, it really turned out fabulously. Unfortunately, the recipe creates a volume larger than for one bowl, given your basic ice cream maker capacity, but if you have one with two bowls, this will work out perfectly.

Eggnog Ice Cream
begin this in the morning

6 cups eggnog from a carton
Heavy sprinkle of cinnamon
Sprinkle of nutmeg
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup spiced rum

Pour the eggnog into a large saucepan. Begin heating up the eggnog.

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Add the cinnamon and nutmeg and continue to heat the eggnog.

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Meanwhile, add the heavy cream to the yolks in a small bowl and whisk them together.
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When the eggnog is hot, slowly add the egg-cream mixture to the eggnog. This will be a slow process.
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Turn up the heat just a little bit more, and continue whisking the eggnog mixture. It should continue to become thicker.

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Once the mixture just comes to a boil, remove the pan from the heat, and let it cool at room temperature for about 45 minutes or so, whisking occasionally.

Then cover the pan and refrigerate the mixture for at least 2-3 hours.

When you are ready to make the ice cream, set up your ice cream maker. Add the rum and whisk it into the eggnog mixture.

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Pour the ice cream base into the ice cream maker bowl, and begin processing.
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You will know when the ice cream is done when the machine starts making a little more noise, and ice cream forms.

At this point, place the bowl in the freezer. Try not to make the ice cream more than two hours before serving. Even with the rum, the freezer always seems to over freeze ice cream, and you have to wait quite a while for it to soften.
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I served this ice cream atop pumpkin pie that included a layer of rum-soaked raisins, and was baked in a hazelnut cinnamon crust. A little over the top with many flavors of autumn, but it truly worked.
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verdict: This ice cream turned out beautifully. Incredible flavors, and not so subtle, because of the use of the commercial eggnog. No sugar was necessary in this ice cream, either, as the commercial eggnog is already sweetened. I just felt it necessary to add some heavy cream, to increase the fattiness of the ice cream, since I don’t believe in low-fat ice cream, and the egg yolks made this ice cream more like one that is custard-based. Delightful. I’ll definitely be making this again!

Berry’d Crespella

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Five years ago I made this dessert for my mother’s birthday. It’s a delicious puff pancake that I topped with a warm chocolate-hazelnut sauce. It was nice and light for after dinner, which involved a raclette experience. Even though it was April, it was still really cold outside, so the warm puffy pancake was a perfect dessert.

I got this recipe directly from epicurious.com, so if anyone has an issue with the name “crespella,” please take it up with epicurious! I don’t know how crespella came about – I am aware that the Italian crespelle is more like a crèpe. And this puff pancake is more like a German version of a puff pancake, which is like a flat soufflé.

Instead of using a nutella sauce over the hot pancake, I’m using chilled, sugared berries. After all, it’s summer, and berries are delicious right now. Plus, I love the combination of hot and cold, just like sweet and savory.

So here is the recipe I used from epicurious. Be ready to serve it as soon as it comes out of the oven. Oh, and I just did one little thing different – I used goat’s milk instead of dairy cream.
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Oven Crespella with Berries

3 cups of berries of choice, halved if necessary
Sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, mine included the seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups goat’s milk, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Confectioners sugar

Place the berries, I obviously used blueberries and raspberries, in a medium bowl and sprinkle with the sugar. I didn’t use much, maybe only 1 tablespoon, but if you like your berries sweeter, use more like 1/4 of a cup. Toss the berries together gently and set them aside to macerate. The crespella itself is not very sweet, so sweeter berries isn’t a bad idea.

Another option for the berries is to mash a few of the berries and mix that purée in with the whole berries. That will make them more sauce-like.
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Put a 12-inch ovenproof heavy skillet in middle of oven and preheat oven to 450°F.

Whisk together flour, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and 1 1/2 cups goat’s milk in a bowl.
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Add butter to skillet and heat over the stove until golden brown, less than 1 minute. Pour batter carefully into the skillet.

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Immediately place the skillet in the oven and bake until puffed, set, and golden, 20 minutes. Check at 15 minutes to make sure everything is going well.

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It will puff up in the oven.
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Cool pancake in skillet on a rack 5 minutes (it will sink).
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Cut wedges and serve warm along with the sugared berries.
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Dust with confectioners sugar if desired.
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A dollop of crème fraiche would also be good with this crespella!
verdict: Since I made this before, I knew it already was good. But unfortunately, it didn’t benefit from the goat’s milk, which I was hoping it would. I love the flavors of goat’s milk and berries. Live and learn!

Strawberry Blondies

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I don’t want to jinx this, but I think we may have found a handyman. This man, who is not only talented in the areas of carpentry and finishing work, is also nice and polite. But most importantly, he might single handedly keep our old house from falling down around us.

We have a list a mile long of things that have to be done to our house and property, and we’ve only lived in this house for nine years. Neither my husband nor I are skilled at working with cement, wood, or even paint. We probably shouldn’t even own a house – we should have a landlord. I’ve teased my husband for not knowing which end of a hammer to use, but honestly, I’m no better at home repair than he is.

Our house was built in 1927. It’s a beautiful house – a half-timbered English tudor. The man who built my house and the two large, neighboring homes was a wealthy oil man. An interesting note is that the homes on both sides of us were built for the man’s two daughters, and ours was built for the caretaker of the properties!

Like many homes in the U.S. that were built with money in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, there was a lot of European influence in the design details. Features like a carved travertine fireplace mantel, distressed wooden beams on the ceiling, arched doorways, and a winding, wooden staircase railing make this house unique. But historic or not, stuff happens to houses as they age.

As is typical with every town and city in this nation, I’m convinced, it’s nearly impossible to get people to work. You call – no one answers. You leave a message – they don’t return the call. They say they’ll come out – they don’t. They say they will work – and you never see them again. And so forth. I think everyone I talk to thinks they’re the only one to whom this happens. But it’s rampant.

Then we found this guy. Our guy, who shall remain nameless, has worked at our house for about two weeks. He’s even been up on the roof finding holes, which would explain the water damage on our walls. He didn’t even mind emptying all of the gutters, which were full. He also took the initiative to tell us about certain things that would be problematic in the near future. And, he takes iphone photos to prove it. I like that. Especially since neither my hubs or I will get up on the roof.

Now I’m not telling you all of this to make you jealous. Besides, we’re overdue for this kind of help! It’s just that I wanted to do something nice for this man, because I appreciate his hard work.

Somehow strawberry blondies came to mind. The guy probably needs a good chicken dinner (he’s had a lot of bad luck recently), but hopefully he’ll enjoy these. Sweets seem to make everyone happy.

I’ve seen a recipe before for strawberry blondies, but it used strawberry jam. Ick. Maybe in the winter? Because it’s strawberry season, albeit a late one, I thought I’d make these blondies with fresh strawberries. I also included white chocolate chips.

For those of you who don’t know what blondies are, like my husband, they are the non-chocolate version of brownies. Here’s the recipe.

Strawberry White Chocolate Blondies

6 ounces sliced strawberries
2 teaspoons white sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, not packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup white chocolate chips, about 4 3/4 ounces
2 teaspoon raw of turbinado sugar, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Grease or butter an 8″ square baking dish.

Place the sliced strawberries in a bowl and toss them gently with the sugar; set aside.
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In a medium bowl, combine the soft butter and brown sugar. Beat them together with an electric mixer until they mixture is smooth.

Add the eggs and vanilla extract together in a small bowl.

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Add to the sugar-butter mixture and beat for about 5 minutes.

Add about 1/2 cup of the flour and mix slowly to combine; don’t overmix. Then switch to a spatula and fold in the remaining flour , salt, and the baking powder.

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Then fold in the strawberries and chocolate chips, but leave a few pretty strawberry slices for the top of the blondies. Place the blondie batter in the greased baking dish, and smooth the top and fill in the corners.
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Use the few strawberry slices to place on top, pushing in a bit, so that they cook within the batter.

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Place the baking dish in the oven and cook them for 30 minutes. If the top of the blondies still look a little doughy, turn off the oven and leave them in the oven for five more minutes.

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Remove the blondies from the oven and let them rest for at 30 minutes. Carefully slice and remove them from the pan, then cut them into eight squares. Serve them warm or at room temperature.

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They even make a nice breakfast treat!

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verdict: Well, even though I was giving these away, I had to sample them since I had made up the recipe, and you know what? They’re darn good! And pretty, too! If I’d been smart, I’d have saved 8 slices of strawberries so that each square had it’s own pretty slice on top, like this one. Maybe next time!

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Oeufs à la Neige

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My mother visited my husband and I once in 1982 after we moved to Houston, Texas. We had made dinner reservations at a well-known French restaurant in order to treat her to a fine dining experience during her stay, even though it was very expensive for us back then.

The first part of the dinner is a big blur, and not just because it was so long ago or I drank too much. It’s because a giant cockroach appeared on the wall behind my mother. Being new to Houston, I was still not well acquainted with these monsters people referred to as Tree Roaches. Unfortunately my eyes must have revealed too much, because my mother turned around and saw the darn thing, right before it took flight over her head. So I think that a huge part of the meal was more about assuaging my mother that these creatures lived in south Texas, and we all need to co-exist. (Of course, I was downright mortified, not being a fan of creepy crawlies.)

My mother didn’t especially love the dinner or the waiter, and she never embraced the cockroach. But we wanted the dinner to end on a high note, so we all three ordered Oeufs à la Neige.

My husband and I were in dessert heaven – this fabulous crème Anglaise topped with soft egg white clouds – an unbelievable dessert.

My mother hated it. She announced that she would make it for us the right way. And the next day, that’s just what she did.

I didn’t think this dessert could be better than at the restaurant, but it was oh, so much better. I don’t remember why it was so much better, but it just was.

So in posting this recipe I hope I am doing justice to my mother and the real Oeufs à la Neige, the way it is meant to be.

Oeufs à la Neige

4 cups whole milk, approximately
6 large, fresh eggs, separated into yolks and whites
1 1/4 cups white sugar, divided into 3/4, 1/4, and 1/4 cups
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pour three cups of milk into a large, wide saucepan. Begin heating the milk over fairly low heat; you don’t need it to boil.

Place the six egg whites in a large bowl. Beat the whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Then add 3/4 cup of sugar a little at a time, along with a pinch of salt. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

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Make sure the milk in the saucepan in hot before you begin making the meringues. Then, using two large spoons, form quenelle-shaped blobs, or egg-shaped blobs of meringue and place them on top of the hot milk. As you can tell in the photo, mine are neither quenelle- or egg-shaped. They are simply blobs and that’s fine. And, they should preferably not touch.

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Cook the meringues about 2 minutes, then gently turn them over and cook them another 2 minutes. Then carefully remove them from the milk and place them on paper towels to drain.

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Continue until you’ve used up all of the meringue. Strain out any large blobs of meringue that are visible in the milk. Then add about 1 cup more of milk to the saucepan; there should be about 3 cups all together. I just eyeballed it, but if you prefer, strain the milk, measure it, and add the exact amount more to make a total of three cups.

Place the saucepan back on the stove over low heat, and whisk in 1/4 cup sugar until it dissolves. Now you have the sweetened, hot milk, and your bowl of egg yolks.

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Using the electric mixer with the same beaters, whisk the egg yolks until they’re smooth. Slowly introduce some of the hot milk to the yolks, mixing it in quickly so the eggs don’t cook in the hot milk. Just be slow and patient. You’ll probably use about 1 cup of milk by the time this process is complete. At that point, return the egg yolk and milk mixture to the saucepan and whisk to combine.

This next step requires that you have everything ready to go – a large serving bowl topped with a strainer, a whisk, a spoon, and a rubber spatula. Over fairly low heat, cook the custard, whisking all the time, just until the point that you can tell it thickened up. Use your spoon to quickly dip it into the custard, then draw a line with your finger down the middle of the spoon. If the sides stay separate, the custard is perfect!!!

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Whisk in the vanilla extract, then immediately pour the custard through the strainer and into the serving bowl. Use your rubber spatula to get the custard out of the saucepan, but if you see cooked custard on the bottom, leave it alone. If you’ve done a good job, there will be no blobs of overcooked custard in your strainer!

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If you’re going to be serving the custard fairly warm (it’s also good cold), let the custard cool a bit. Then gently top the custard gently with the meringues.

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Some people serve Oeufs à la Neige just like this, but I like to go a little step further and add caramel. If you have some purchased caramel, feel free to drizzle a little over each serving, maybe thinned a bit if necessary.

However, I just made my caramel by melting the final 1/4 cup of sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Let the sugar slowly melt into caramel. This is the same process as when you make Crème Caramel.

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Then just drizzle the hot caramel over the top of the meringues. I’m not that artistic, so this is the best I could do!

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This kind of caramel will harden, so it adds a little interest to the dessert, as well.

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Note: You could also scrape out seeds from vanilla beans for the vanilla flavor. I just didn’t wanted the custard speckled today, and I am out of vanilla beans. There’s also vanilla paste and vanilla powder, if you prefer those to the vanilla extract.

Verdict: This couldn’t have tasted better, I don’t think. The poached meringues were delicate and delicious. The crème Anglaise was perfectly smooth, with a subtle taste of vanilla. Even my husband had some. Then I threw it all away. Still fighting the Christmas pounds!