Orange & Honey-Ginger Fruit Salad

You didn’t know it when you opened this post, but you are about to witness something that doesn’t happen all that often in my kitchen—a simple, two-ingredient twist that will transform a basic fruit bowl into a mouthwatering side dish that is almost as sumptuous as dessert. Unlike some of my other “make-the-whole-thing-from-scratch” ideas, this one really is ridiculously simple. You can apply this easy twist to virtually any kind of fruit, including pre-cut if you are short on time, and the fruit itself does not have to be fancy. Look at my salad again—it’s only pineapple, grapes and berries. What elevates this simple fruit combo into an elegant and special treat is the dressing.

Nothing fancy about this fruit.

It may be that you have never considered “dressing” a fruit salad, but why? We don’t often see a vegetable salad served dry, and fruit is just as worthy of dressing up a bit. Dressing a fruit salad is not only tasty; it also helps the fruit retain moisture and color. Try this once and you’ll be craving fresh fruit salad every day.

The dressing for this salad depends on two special ingredients that can only be purchased in a boutique olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, and they are worth every penny. You have probably seen one of these stores, with all their shiny stainless steel containers lined up on a high table. Those containers, called “fustis,” hold exquisitely flavored extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, ingredients which have uncanny power to change the way you cook. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that I used to work in one of those shops here in my city, and it was one of my most fun jobs ever—a true foodie fantasy, come true!

These days, nobody is paying me to share about these products, but I feel compelled to do so because of the one question we received over and again at the shop, from customers who enjoyed the flavors but asked, “what would I ever do with it?” Part of my job as a sales associate was taking home various products and coming back with inspiration for the home cooks who shopped our store. I guess you could say I took my job seriously, because I’m still doing it. 🙂

These flavors work great together!

The combination I’ve used for this fruit salad is blood orange-fused extra virgin olive oil and honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar. The vinegar has a slight tartness to it, but it is mostly sweet with the warmth of honey, and the ginger is subtle but present. The olive oil is rich with the flavor of blood orange, because the oranges and olives are pressed together during production. The result is so good, it makes itself at home in sweet and savory dishes alike.

At the end of the post, I’ll share some other ideas for using up these two ingredients.


Ingredients

2 cups fresh pineapple chunks, cut into bite-sized bits

1 heaping cup fresh strawberries, sliced into quarters

1 cup fresh large blueberries

1 cup fresh white seedless grapes

3 Tbsp. honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. blood orange whole fruit-fused extra virgin olive oil*

Lime zest or fresh chopped mint or basil, optional for garnish


*Notes

I wish I could offer up a universal brand name for the olive oil and balsamics that I use, but they are bottled under various franchised shop names. Here’s a tip—if you have this type of store in your community, ask for the name of the supplier. If it is Veronica Foods, you’re in the right place. 😊


Instructions

Wash your fruit just before assembling the salad, and it’s best to add berries just before serving or they tend to get mushy. Combine all the fruit in a bowl large enough for easy tossing in the dressing.

Pour the honey-ginger white balsamic into a small bowl, or a glass measuring cup for easier pouring. Slowly pour the olive oil into the balsamic, whisking quickly and constantly, until the mixture is thick and syrupy.

Immediately pour the dressing over the fruit and toss gently to coat the fruit. Serve right away or refrigerate up to one hour before serving.

If you would like to put a little extra pizzazz onto the salad, sprinkle with fresh lime zest or thin strips of fresh mint or basil.




Looking for more ways to use your blood orange-fused olive oil?

Substitute for the equal amount of oil in your favorite carrot cake recipe

Use it in a marinade for chicken or fish

Drizzle a teaspoon over dark chocolate ice cream (yes, really!)

Toss vegetables in it before roasting

Use it in your favorite pancake or waffle recipe


Need ideas for using up the honey-ginger white balsamic?

Try it an any salad dressing, especially Asian-inspired salads

Use it in a marinade for chicken, fish, shrimp or pork

Add a splash to a cocktail or white sangria

Drizzle it onto vegetables after grilling or roasting

Add a tablespoon to your water bottle for flavorful summer hydration



Raspberry-Rhubarb “Pop Tarts”

Show me a kid who doesn’t eat pop tarts, and I’ll say that kid doesn’t spend nearly enough time at Grandma’s house. For me, one of the treats of being with Gram—besides that I simply loved her company and always had fun learning and making things—was getting “spoiled” a bit with certain foods that were not necessarily available at home. It isn’t that I loaded up on junk food at her house; that definitely was not the case. But I was allowed to grab handfuls of Cap’n Crunch cereal, right out of the box, to munch on while I watched Saturday morning cartoons from the big wing chair. Gram could be persuaded to purchase an occasional box of strawberry Pop-Tarts (assuming she had a coupon), and I did so love spreading my toast with banana- or cinnamon-flavored peanut butter. Please tell me you do remember Koogle, don’t you?


I would give anything to relive some of those sweet childhood memories and to appreciate the simple joys more than I did in the moment, especially the sputtering sound of Gram’s pressure cooker or the metronome-like sound of the pendulum on the cuckoo clock that hung on the back wall of the den. Just remembering the zipping sound it made when Grandpa pulled down the clock chains to reset it every evening makes me feel calmer inside. And, just like that, my eyes are misty—talk amongst yourselves, I need a moment.


These days, all the clocks in my house are digital display, with blue lights, and most of them keep me awake at night. Sugary cereals and funky-flavored peanut butters don’t stand a chance in my kitchen, and neither do most of the convenience snacks that have all kinds of who-knows-what ingredients. But I have been thinking about how simple it would be to make a homemade version of at least one favorite childhood treat, and to incorporate a flavor that Kellogg’s never would have thought of.

That’s how these raspberry-rhubarb “pop tarts” came to be, and they were ridiculously simple to make with store-bought pie crust dough and a fruity mashup that I made with my most recent score of rhubarb. Gram always had rhubarb in the spring and summer, and I learned to love it when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Why not make it a filling for pop tarts? I cooked it with raspberries, which have pectin for thickening power (rhubarb doesn’t), but there’s no reason you couldn’t use any flavor of ready-made preserves, homemade or otherwise, as a filling for this treat. And you could skip the sugary frosting if you’d like, too. I only made it because I wanted the pictures to be pretty.

OK, pretty and girly. 🙂

Word to the wise, I would not recommend actually putting these in the toaster. The pie crust pastry is more delicate than a commercial pop tart, and I’m pretty sure you’d have a mess on your hands (not to mention inside the toaster). Also, because these tarts are not filled with preservatives, you will want to eat them up once they are made, but I doubt that will be a problem.

This was a fun, whimsical project, and the tarts were delicious. The icing, however, made them very sweet, so I won’t likely make this exact version again anytime soon. But I’ll tell you this much—if I had grandchildren, we’d be making these easy homemade pop tarts every visit, in as many flavors as the little ones could think up!

What flavor would you make?


Ingredients

Enough to make 8 tarts

Pastry dough for double crust pie (I used store-bought)

About 1/2 cup raspberry-rhubarb filling:

1 heaping cup rhubarb chunks

1/2 cup fresh raspberries

1/4 cup cane sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 Tbsp. corn starch, dissolved in 1 Tbsp. cold water


Glaze Icing (optional)

1 Tbsp. heavy cream

2 Tbsp. light corn syrup

About 2 cups powdered sugar

Food coloring, optional

Sparkling sugar, optional


Instructions

Make the fruit filling first, and give it plenty of time to chill in the fridge before making the pastries. Combine rhubarb chunks, raspberries, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until the fruit breaks up and mixture is thick, syrupy and bubbling. If the mixture seems thin, whisk in a small amount of cornstarch slurry and cook until it is no longer cloudy in appearance. Transfer to a covered bowl and refrigerate.

To assemble the pastries, spread the pie crust dough out onto a lightly floured countertop or board. If you are using a store-bought rolled crust, use a rolling pin to even out the wrinkles, but do not aim to make it thinner than 1/8 inch. Pinch together any breaks in the dough as best you can. Cut the dough into approximately 3-by-5-inch rectangles. You should be able to get 8 rectangles from each pastry round. Discard the scraps, or do what my Gram always did with extra pie dough: brush the scraps with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then bake them and have the kids try to guess what animal they look like. 🙂

Carefully spread about 1½ tablespoons of the chilled fruit filling onto one set of rectangles, keeping the edges clean at least 1/2 inch on all sides. Top each pastry with a second rectangle. Use a fork to crimp the edges all the way around and to pierce shallow holes in the top surface. It occurred to me while I was doing this step that I could have used egg wash to seal the pastry, but they turned out fine without it. Transfer the pastries to a parchment-lined baking sheet and place the sheet in the freezer while you preheat the oven.

Preheat oven to 400° F, with rack set in center position. If you do not plan to put icing on the tarts, give them a quick brush with egg wash or milk before baking. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven for about 15 minutes, but watch them closely, as the edges of the tarts may want to burn. Carefully transfer the tarts to a rack and cool them completely before icing.

For the icing, whisk together heavy cream and corn syrup until smooth. Gradually add up to 2 cups of powdered sugar, whisking in each addition until smooth. Stir in a couple pf drops of food coloring, if desired, in one of the early sugar additions. The icing should be thick enough to form ribbons when dripped from a spoon, but thin enough to smooth out after a few moments.

Drizzle it thinly over cooled tarts and sprinkle with sparkling sugar or candy sprinkles, if desired. I mean, why not?

Just tripping down memory lane over here… ❤


Moroccan Chicken

During earlier years of Food Network, the contestants vying to become “the next Food Network star” were actually given a contract to host their own cooking show, usually slotted for Sunday mornings. That was before the network became its entirely competition-based format, where everything has to be done in 20 minutes and somebody always “wins.” I still watch, but I miss the days when more of the chefs (or cooks, in the case of ever-popular Rachael Ray) walked you through the steps of making a meal in what looked like a real home kitchen. They still have some weekend morning “how-to” shows, but the rest of the time, it’s either a big ol’ showdown, or a bunch of chefs talking in bold color about the food at places they visit (I’m looking at you, Guy Fieri). 😉

Speaking of bold color, I’ve been working on restoring some color to things around here in the tail end of a very gray January. The recipe I’m sharing today has been a favorite of mine since the third season of said “Food Network Star,” and I learned it by watching an episode of the show hosted by Amy Finley, the first woman to win the network’s competition.

Amy’s show, endearingly named “The Gourmet Next Door,” showcased elegantly simple French cooking methods, and Amy exuded confidence in the kitchen. I was disappointed, along with everyone at Food Network, when Amy decided not to return for a second season. During her six episodes of TV fame, she managed to get through to me with this simple and really flavorful recipe, which she said was inspired by the foods of French Morocco, on the northern coast of Africa. The bone-in chicken thighs are marinated in a spicy blend of chiles and seed spices—known in those parts as “harissa”—and surrounded by tender and colorful vegetables, plus dried fruit and fried almonds. If it sounds like a weird combination, trust me, you will change your mind after you taste it. It’s spicy and savory, yet sweet with fruit and wholly satisfying.

For now, the tagine will remain purely decorative. I’ll be on the lookout for a real one that I can actually put in the oven.

Traditionally, a Moroccan dish such as this would be prepared in a clayware vessel called a tagine, which looks like the red pot above. The shape of the tagine keeps moisture inside for perfectly tender roasts and stews. I’ve had this tagine on display for several years, but have only recently considered cooking in it, at the urging of my husband, Les. However, after much discussion with my aunt, who spent decades as a clay potter, we concluded that the finish on this one probably makes it purely decorative and unsuitable for cooking. No worries, I’ve prepared the dish today as I always have, in a simple cast-iron skillet.

This dish is pretty and delicious, as spicy as you want it to be, easy to make and a welcome flavor change-up from the usual weeknight chicken dinner. I hope you like it!

Colorful veggies, dried fruit and nuts make this a satisfying, healthful meal.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. neutral oil, such as canola

2 tsp. harissa blend spices* (see notes)

4 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

1 small sweet onion, chopped into large pieces

1 small zucchini, cut into uniform chunks

1 small yellow squash, cut into uniform chunks

Handful of fresh baby tomatoes, whole

Small handful each dried plums (prunes) and apricots

1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

1 tsp. neutral oil, such as canola

1/4 cup whole, raw almonds, unsalted

Cooked couscous for serving


*Notes

Traditionally, harissa is presented as a paste made from fresh whole chiles, and it really tips the scale on Scoville heat units. My dry blend of harissa spices allows for some flexibility in the heat department and includes red chile, garlic, black pepper, cayenne, and what I call the “three C spices,” which are caraway, coriander and cumin. The seeds should be slightly toasted and then ground into a rough powder before blending with the other ingredients. If you prefer, substitute a ready-made harissa blend, or use the harissa paste seasoning available at Trader Joe’s (brace yourself, it’s hot). My harissa dry spice blend recipe is listed at the end of this post.

You will need an oven safe skillet with a tight-fitting lid for this recipe. Alternatively, you could make it in an electric skillet with a lid. Or a tagine, if yours is safe to cook in. 🙂


Instructions

Let’s walk through it together in pictures first. You’ll find written instructions below, and keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF version for your recipe files.


  1. Combine the oil and spice blend in a large, deep bowl that is large enough to hold the chicken thighs for marinating. Season the chicken pieces on both sides with kosher salt. Add them to the spice marinade and turn several times to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F, with oven rack in the center.
  3. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When skillet is warm (but not hot), add chicken pieces, skin side-down. Do not move or turn the pieces for about 10 minutes, until the fat is rendered and skin is golden and crispy. Cook the second side about 5 minutes, until browned. Remove pieces to a plate and keep warm.
  4. Add the chopped onions, then zucchini and squash to the remaining oil in the skillet, tossing briefly to coat and lightly sauté them. Salt to taste. Remove skillet from heat.
  5. Arrange the baby tomatoes among the skillet vegetables, then tuck in the dried fruit pieces evenly throughout the skillet. Place the chicken thighs on top of the mixture.
  6. Swirl broth in the bowl that held the chicken pieces, to grab all the flavors lingering there. Pour the broth down the sides of the skillet, so that it flows underneath to the vegetables.
  7. Cover the skillet and transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until vegetables and fruit are soft and chicken pieces are tender. Prep the couscous near the end of the cooking time.
  8. Heat teaspoon of oil in a small skillet until it’s quite hot and shimmery. Add raw almonds and toss them about for about two minutes. They will pop and sputter a bit, so be careful. When they are toasty and fragrant, use a slotted spoon to remove them.
  9. Serve the vegetables and chicken over cooked couscous, and spoon the fried almonds over the top.
We’ll keep the tagine in the background, just for effect. 😉

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Harissa Dry Spice Blend

1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to your heat preference)

1 Tbsp. granulated dried garlic

1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper (adds bite with minimal heat)

1 1/2 tsp. whole coriander seed, toasted and ground

1 tsp. cumin seed, toasted and ground

1 tsp. caraway seed, toasted and ground

2 or 3 shakes ground cayenne pepper (adjust to your heat preference)


Healthy Breakfast Fruit Smoothies

We all need options when it comes to breakfast, and so I’m sharing my tips for making a quick and healthy smoothie, regardless of the fruit and other fixings you have on hand.

What makes these smoothies “better” for better breakfast month?

  • They work two servings of fruit into the most important meal of the day.
  • They bend and flex to accommodate your favorite fruit, fresh or frozen.
  • You can easily swap out dairy for plant-based milk.
  • Your favorite protein powder will feel right at home in them.
  • They are quick, easy and portable for rushed-out-the-door mornings.
  • They satisfy your morning hunger and are friendly to a weight-loss diet.
  • They are super kid-friendly.

My magic formula for delicious and healthy fruit smoothies goes like this—something creamy, something packed with protein, some kind of fruit, maybe a juice, and optional special touches, such as coconut or spices. See what I mean? Flexible! I’ll give the full rundown of how I mix and match ingredients (and in what quantity), then I’ll share specifics of my favorites. Here we go!


Something Creamy

about 3/4 cup

I usually choose plain Greek yogurt or kefir, a cultured dairy drink that is similar to buttermilk but tastes more like a drinkable yogurt. Regular yogurt is also an option, but I avoid the flavored ones and their crazy-high sugar content. Skyr is another good option—a yogurt-like product from Scandinavia. Two popular brands are Siggi’s and Icelandic Provisions. For a plant-based option, choose your favorite non-dairy yogurt substitute, but lean into the low-sugar or plain options. The fruit you add will bring plenty of sweetness to the party.


Something Protein-y

about 1/2 “scoop,” or approximately 1 heaping tablespoon

Choose your favorite powdered form—I like soy protein, but whey works very well in smoothies, and so does hemp or pea protein. Almost every protein powder I’ve purchased comes with a small scoop that is roughly 2 tablespoons, and I fill it halfway for a smoothie. I recommend a plain or unsweetened vanilla option. My husband, Les, likes the chocolate protein powder, but we have found it can be less versatile for matching with fruit. Chocolate and raspberry is great, but chocolate and peaches?—not so much. Vanilla helps us keep our options open.


Something Fruity

total of about 1 cup

Yay—my favorite part! I like my smoothies to be icy cold and shake-like, so I almost always use frozen fruit, and especially bananas because of the creamy texture they provide. The greatest benefit to using frozen is that I don’t have to wait until the fruit is in season. It also saves multiple trips to the market for fresh fruit, or throwing away fruit that has gone bad. The fruits that work best for my homemade smoothies are peaches, bananas, pineapple, mango, cherries and any kind of berry (as long as you don’t mind their seeds). Fresh fruit works fine, of course. I don’t recommend citrus fruits, apples, melons or grapes, as their texture and water content would prevent them from blending well.


Juice or other liquid

1/4 to 1/2 cup, depending on other ingredients

This is helpful for blending the smoothie, but it may not be necessary if you use kefir, which is pourable. Greek yogurt is much thicker and would benefit from addition of juice, especially if you are using mostly frozen fruit in the smoothie. Other suitable liquids include milk, almond milk, coconut water or coconut milk.


Special mix-ins

small amounts of each

The mix-ins can be anything you like, but my favorites are unsweetened coconut (for texture and fiber), chia seed (for fiber and additional protein) and ginger (good for digestion) or another powdered spice, such as cinnamon. Sweeteners are not necessary, but if you must, may I recommend a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup? Anything but sugar, if you are aiming to keep them in the healthy column.


Ordering the layers:

It may seem inconsequential, given that the ingredients will be whirred into one mixture in the blender, but your smoothies will come together faster and more evenly if you layer the ingredients in a way that your blender can best mix them. You want the liquids and powders closest to the blender blade, so they can get a head start on mixing before the frozen stuff enters the game. The heavier ingredients, such as frozen fruit or ice, should be at the top, providing weight to keep the mixture moving downward for thorough blending. For a standard base blender, it might look like this:

My smoothie appliance is a bullet blender, which of course goes upside-down for mixing. So I layer my ingredients in reverse order, beginning with frozen fruit. When I flip the sealed blender cup onto the machine, I give it a minute to allow the liquids to run back to the blade area for more even mixing, leaving the frozen fruit at the top, where it should be.

Enough talk—let’s make a smoothie! Below are some of my favorite blends, and a list of ingredients I use for each of them. I’ve given the ingredients in order for a conventional blender. If you use a bullet-style blender, reverse the list order. Each combination yields a 12 oz. (340 g) smoothie.


Kefir, pineapple and spinach

I think of this smoothie as a power breakfast for all the nutritional benefit I get from it. Plus, the flavor is so delicious, it is a treat at the same time.

Ingredients: 3/4 cup kefir, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 scoop soy protein powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1 medium handful baby spinach leaves, 1/2 cup banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen pineapple bits.


Yogurt and banana-berry blend

This one feels very protective, with lots of antioxidant benefit in the red and blue berries.

Ingredients: 1 serving cup yogurt (I used coconut flavor skyr for this one), 1/4 cup blueberry juice (any juice or milk will do), 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen berry blend (with blueberry, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry).


Plant-based yogurt and mango

There are many great flavors of plant-based yogurt available, and this one was mango, so I played up the tropical flavors throughout the smoothie.

Ingredients: 1 serving cup plant-based yogurt, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen mango chunks.


Peach cobbler smoothie

For this one, I soaked 1/4 cup rolled oats in 1/2 cup kefir overnight (in the fridge) and then built the smoothie in the morning. It’s an easy way to work some whole grains into your breakfast drink (because September is also “whole grains month”). From that point, the process was the same for layering and blending. You get the idea, right?

Ingredients: 1/2 cup almond milk, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, kefir-soaked oats, 1 tablespoon almond flour, 1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen peaches.


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Cherry Amaretto Upside-down Skillet Cake

A great meal deserves a sweet, delicious ending, and this one showcases the plump and luscious dark red cherries that were everywhere this summer. The cake is moist and flavorful, rich with buttermilk, almond flour, eggs and real butter, and the buttery brown sugar topping is a little on the boozy side, plus the deep, dark sweet cherries. And the whole thing is elegantly draped with a dollop of amaretto-spiked whipped cream.

YUM!

If you aren’t wild about cherries (or maybe you aren’t wild about knocking out the pits), substitute fresh peaches, plums, nectarines, blackberries—well, I think you get the idea. But these cherries!

Fresh and sweet dark cherries

To tackle the unenviable job of pitting the cherries, I purchased a nifty device that gets the job done, six cherries at a time! If you’ve ever tried pitting cherries without a tool, you know that it cannot be done without making a huge mess. In previous attempts, I’ve balanced the cherries—one at a time, of course—on the neck of an empty wine bottle, then held the cherry while shoving the end of a chopstick through it. It left holes in the cherries, the pits inside the bottle, and red juice stains all over everything else in the room, including me. It’s the reason that, for the most part, I’ve relied on frozen cherries whenever I wanted to make a cherry dessert. I adore fresh cherries, but I’d only bought them to snack on, and only when I was flying solo because the whole spitting-out-the-pits part conjured memories of the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick. There’s just no way to do it gracefully.

Suffice to say, this $15 tool has changed the game for me. After rinsing the cherries and pulling off the stems, I loaded them into the tray and pressed the top down. Boom!

And just like that, the pits are pushed out the bottom and into a receptacle, leaving the cherries intact but devoid of pits. I finished the entire bowlful in about 8 minutes. I’m not prone to give kudos for “uni-task” tools, but this one really took the pain out of what would otherwise make me choose a different dessert. Besides, as I reminded my husband, Les, this will also come in handy when I need to pit whole olives (which I’ve never tried but now I can).

After the cherries were pitted, I got busy making the topping, which goes into the skillet first. This part of the recipe felt familiar because I’ve made a similar upside-down skillet cake with peaches. I start by melting butter with brown sugar, then adding amaretto to the mix for a subtle almond flavor that echoes what will be going on later in the cake batter. The cake is easy to make, too—cream together the sugar and butter, add the eggs and flavor enhancers, and then alternate the dry ingredients with buttermilk until it’s ready to spread over the topping. The rest of the delicious magic happens in the oven.

It’s best to invert the cake onto a plate while it’s still warm, but be careful handling the hot skillet!

This cake has a dense, but not heavy texture, and the warm almond flavor permeates every layer while the soft, juicy cherries satisfy the sweet tooth. It keeps well, too, which is always a bonus in our empty nest household. As odd as it may sound, Les and I found that we enjoyed this cake even more a couple days after I baked it—ice-cold, straight from the refrigerator. The cake part remained moist (thank you, buttermilk!), and the cherry flavor was more pronounced.

Leftovers. The cake remained moist in the fridge, and the deep cherry color seeped further into the cake. This is a delicious dessert for late summer!

Ready to make it?


Ingredients

4 Tbsp. butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cane sugar

1.5 oz. amaretto* (see notes)

About 3 cups pitted fresh dark cherries

1 cup all-purpose flour*

3/4 cup almond flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

3/4 cup cane sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, softened but not melted

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

1 Tbsp. amaretto (optional)*

1 cup buttermilk*

Whipped cream for serving, if desired


*Notes

Amaretto is an Italian, almond-based liqueur. It is lower proof than whiskey or vodka, slightly sweet and plays very nicely with cherries. If you avoid alcohol, you can get close to this flavor with almond extract. Drizzle 1 teaspoon over the cherry mixture and increase to 2 teaspoons in the cake. Real almond extract, by the way, also usually contains alcohol as a suspension for the almond flavor, but the amount will be minimal.

Remember the rule for measuring flour? In baked goods such as this, using the correct amount will really make a difference. Dipping your measuring cup straight into the flour container is a sure-fire way to have a dry and crumbly cake. I trust a kitchen scale for most of my baking, but if you don’t have one, follow the simple “fluff, sprinkle, level” method—fluff the flour with a whisk or fork, sprinkle it over the dry measuring cup to overflowing, level it off with the back of a knife.

Don’t be tempted to substitute regular milk for the buttermilk in this recipe. The acidity in the buttermilk will lend a subtle tanginess to the cake, and it also reacts with the baking powder and soda for leavening.


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Place a 10” cast iron skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the brown sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture appears lightly foamy.
  3. Pour in the amaretto and swirl gently to evenly distribute throughout the butter and sugar mixture. Remove from heat and arrange the cherries close together over the mixture.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon.
  5. In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until it’s evenly combined and fluffy. Add one egg and beat until smooth, repeat with the second egg. Then, beat in vanilla and almond extracts, plus additional amaretto, if desired.
  6. Beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, blending only until dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Beat in half the buttermilk until smooth. Repeat with flour and buttermilk, then the remaining flour.
  7. Pour the batter evenly over the cherries in the skillet. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula to evenly distribute the thick batter.
  8. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Allow cake to cool at least 15 minutes before inverting it to a large serving platter. To do this successfully, first slide a butter knife around the edges of the cake, to loosen any areas where it might be sticking. Center the plate, face-side down, over the skillet, then carefully hold the skillet and plate together and turn them over. I’ve found this to be easy, as long as you don’t allow the cake to cool too long. If it sticks too much to release, turn the pan right side up again and briefly heat it over a low burner. This will melt and soften the butter again for easier release.

Allow the cake to cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream (spike with amaretto, if you wish).

Store leftovers in the fridge, covered with foil or plastic wrap.

This recipe makes about 8 servings, and a dollop of fresh whipped cream is a perfect topper.

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Seared Tuna with Forbidden Rice and Tropical Salsa

This colorful dish proves two points—that eating healthy does not have to be boring or bland, and that you don’t need to be in a restaurant to enjoy a restaurant-quality meal.

When it comes to fresh seafood, I believe in keeping the fish (or shrimp, scallops, crab, whatever) as close to its true state as possible. Trust citrus juice, salt and pepper to bring out the best in seafood and bring in other complementary flavors on the side. That’s what I’ve done with this pretty plate, featuring a fresh-caught ahi tuna steak and a tropical fruit salsa that comes together in about 7 minutes. The most time-consuming part of the dish is waiting for the rice to cook.

If you’ve never seen or cooked with forbidden rice before, here’s a quick list of facts to help you get to know this delicious, somewhat exotic ingredient.

Black rice is sometimes called “forbidden” rice.

Where does black rice come from, and why is it “forbidden?”

Black rice originated across the continent of Asia, and has long been a significant crop in China, Bangladesh, parts of the Philippines, Thailand and Northeast India. The grain is no longer considered “forbidden,” but it was given that distinction in ancient China because of its former scarcity. The cost of this rare food put it out of reach for all but the wealthiest people, and so it was forbidden to everyone else. That has changed, however, as it is now cultivated more widely and available in larger supermarkets or online.

What gives black rice its color?

The rice has a very deep color that looks nearly black in its raw state, but in bright light and after cooking, it’s easier to see that it is actually more of a deep purple. This is because of anthocyanin, a type of plant pigment that also occurs in blueberries, raspberries, purple cauliflower and “blue” corn. Although some websites suggest the anthocyanins have antioxidant properties, scientific studies have so far only shown this to be true in a lab environment—not in the human body by food consumption.

What does black rice taste like?

If you were to close your eyes while tasting black rice, you might think you were enjoying smaller grains of brown rice because of the similar mild, slightly nutty flavor.

What do you make with black rice?

You can use black rice the same way you’d use any rice—in side dishes, pilafs, soups and salads. Also, because of its unusual color, it is commonly used in Asian countries in special dessert dishes, especially rice pudding made with coconut milk.

Ingredients

1 cup cooked black rice

2 portions fresh tuna steak

1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized pieces* (see notes)

1 fresh honey mango, cut into chunks*

1/4 red bell pepper, diced (or 1 Tbsp. jarred pimentos, drained)

1/4 cup red onion, diced

1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeded and finely diced (optional to taste)

4 fresh mint leaves, cut into thin strips* (see slides for tips)

1 Tbsp. peach white balsamic vinegar*

1 Tbsp. neutral extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and fresh black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lime

*Notes

Save some time on the pineapple and pick it up pre-cut from your produce department. I don’t recommend canned pineapple for this, but you could probably use frozen (thawed) in a pinch.

There are hundreds of varieties of mango, but usually two at my market—“regular” mango, which is kind of round-oval and darkish green with blushing orange areas, and the one they call “honey” mango, which is usually smaller, deep yellow all over, and (my reason for choosing it) easier to cut up. Use whatever variety is your favorite, or whatever is available. If you’ve never cut a mango, check out the slideshow below for some easy tips.

The peach white balsamic is a specialty product I purchased at a gourmet olive oil and vinegar store. I chose it because it’s soft and fruity, but feel free to substitute any light vinegar you like, especially one that plays well with the fresh tropical flavors in this salsa—think fruity, citrus or mint.

Here’s a visual walk-through of how I put this together, and written instructions appear below.

Instructions

  1. Season tuna steaks with only sea salt and black pepper, and set aside, covered, at room temperature.
  2. Cook black rice according to package instructions. Try not to stir it too much to avoid additional “stickiness.”
  3. While rice is cooking, prepare salsa—combine pineapple and mango pieces, add jalapeno, red onion and red bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Use a mini whisk to combine peach balsamic and extra virgin olive oil, stirring briskly until a thick emulsion results. (If your vinegar is not a balsamic, it may be thinner consistency)
  5. Stack mint leaves, then roll them lengthwise into a tube shape and cut across into slices. When unfurled, these will be thin strips.
  6. Pour dressing over fruit salsa blend and toss to coat evenly. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle mint leaves into blend, gently toss again and set aside.
  7. When rice is ready, sear tuna steak on a medium-hot griddle, grill or skillet, turning to sear other side to desired doneness. Ideally, good quality fresh tuna should be cooked rare, but if you’re squeamish about that, push it to medium-rare.

Plate by spooning about 1/2 cup black rice, then lay tuna steak halfway over the pile. Spoon salsa over the top, squeeze lime over both plates and serve!

It’s light, fresh and pretty!

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Strawberry Mascarpone Ice Cream

If you love the idea of homemade ice cream but don’t feel like messing around with a cooked custard base, this recipe will be right up your alley. The cream cheese (or, in this case, mascarpone) gives it a luxurious, silky texture, but it comes together quicker without the extra, fussy step of tempering eggs and straining a custard. Greek yogurt helps lighten it up a bit without compromising the creaminess. The layers of fruit syrup and crushed graham crackers bring home all the memories of a fresh summer cheesecake.

I’ve broken the recipe into tasks over a couple of days, but you could easily start this in the morning and finish it the same evening. Just be sure you give the berries enough time to macerate, and the cream mixture time to thoroughly chill before freezing.

Not wild about strawberries? Feel free to swap them out in favor of another favorite fruit, but consider that some fruit might need to be cooked first. Blueberries and raspberries, to name two, aren’t as juicy as strawberries so they would need a little help getting there. I think fresh summer peaches would be amazing in this recipe—and, of course, cherries.

In a bowl, off the spoon, in a cone. However you take it, this ice cream is delicious!

Ingredients

8 oz. mascarpone* or cream cheese

3/4 cup caster (super-fine) sugar*

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

3/4 cup Greek yogurt* (plain or vanilla)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. almond extract

2 1/2 cups fresh organic strawberries*

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 Tbsp. vodka* (optional for improved texture)


*Notes

Mascarpone is an Italian-style creamy cheese, a bit denser and definitely silkier than regular cream cheese. It will lend an ultra-creamy texture to this ice cream which, unlike most of my others, does not begin with an egg custard. If mascarpone is not available in your market, use full-fat cream cheese (the brick kind) for similar result.

Caster sugar is sometimes called “super-fine” sugar. I’ve chosen it for this recipe because it is easier to dissolve in cold ingredients. In my custard-based ice creams, I use pure organic cane sugar, which I’m certain would not fare well in this recipe because we are not cooking the base.

From top, clockwise: pure organic cane sugar, fine organic cane sugar, caster sugar.

Caster sugar is pure white and extremely processed (a quality that makes it practically against my religion), so it’s rare for me to use it at all. It’s also pretty expensive compared to most sugars. If you can’t find caster, put your regular sugar in a blender and grind it into as fine a powder as you can. Measure the amount after grinding. Otherwise, warm the milk called for in the recipe and dissolve your sugar into it, then cool completely before proceeding.

Because the mascarpone already has cream in it, I’m using less heavy cream than I normally would for ice cream. To make up the difference, I’ve opted for Greek yogurt, and the one I chose is vanilla with a touch of cinnamon, which I think is going to play really nicely against the strawberries. I’m always on the lookout for a twist, which typically leads me to develop favorite new recipes.

Unfortunately, strawberries top the 2020 “Dirty Dozen” list of potentially toxic produce items. Each year, the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization, issues a list of produce items most likely to be contaminated with pesticides and other questionable chemicals. You can learn more about it here, but in the meantime, choose organic strawberries whenever possible.

The vodka in this recipe is optional, and it does not affect the flavor, but it helps with the final texture of the ice cream, making it easier to scoop straight from the freezer.

This time, I did not add the vodka at the end, and I can feel the difference as this ice cream is very solid.

Instructions

Day one:

Clean and hull the strawberries, and slice into pieces. I use an egg slicer for this task—it’s quick and simple, and I end up with uniform slices. Add the berries to a medium size bowl and stir in brown sugar. Give the berries time to fully macerate at room temperature, then put them in the refrigerator.

If you’re cool with having a pink-colored ice cream, feel free to skip this next step. I’ve decided this time around that I want to create a ribbon of strawberry syrup through the white ice cream, so I’m going over the top, even though it means I’ll add a day to my ice cream prep. Care to join me? Allow the strawberries to macerate overnight, then use a large mesh strainer to drain off the liquid and simmer it over medium-low heat until it is reduced by half and has the consistency of a thin syrup.

After reducing, I have about 1/3 cup of strawberry syrup– more than enough to create my “ribbon.”
If there’s enough left over, I’ll drizzle it over the first serving of ice cream!

Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature, then return it to the fridge in a separate bowl from the drained berries.

In the bowl of your mixer, beat the mascarpone together with the caster sugar, milk and Greek yogurt until fully combined. Slowly beat in the heavy cream, taking care not to whip it too much. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Transfer the cream mixture to a sealed bowl and refrigerate several hours until fully chilled.



Day two (or three, if you went down the rabbit hole with me on the strawberry syrup):

Stir the cream mixture to reincorporate all ingredients, as some separation will have occurred. You don’t need to whip it here—just mix or gently whisk until the mixture has a uniform, creamy appearance. If you didn’t make the strawberry syrup, drain the berries at this point and blend their liquid into the cream mixture.

Pour the cream mixture into the ice cream machine and mix according to manufacturer’s instructions. Mine takes 20 to 25 minutes to freeze. For the final few minutes of freezing, spoon in the strained strawberries (and vodka, if using), allowing them to blend in before adding another spoonful, and repeat until all strawberries are used.

Place the graham crackers into a paper or zip top bag, and gently crush them with a rolling pin or the bottom of a bowl or measuring cup. I didn’t want it to be fully crumbs—try to keep a few bits of the crackers for texture in the finished ice cream.


Layer the ice cream in an insulated container, beginning with ice cream, then staggered layers of reduced syrup ribbon (if using) and graham crumbles. Finish with the leftover fine crumbs. Cover the container and freeze at least 4 hours until firm.

The strawberry syrup pushes this treat right over the top!

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Just for fun, and because we had already licked the bowl, the spoon and the ice cream maker paddle, I gathered up the dregs that freeze hard to the freezer bowl and made miniature ice cream sandwiches with a couple of graham crackers. They were not the prettiest things, but it was a delicious taste test!