Category: vanilla

Ushering in autumn with spiced nectarine jam.

Spiced nectarine jam.

Whoa. All you bloggers- not to mention store owners- are really kicking in the fall stuff quick, huh? I’m sorry guys- I can’t do it. It’s still hot and while I love fall… I mean, I really LOVE fall… I just can’t do Halloween stuff or hardcore fall recipes in late August, or even the beginning of September. Gross. I’m still eating grilled hot dogs and fresh corn and hanging out in my backyard! I have plenty of time to make apple (and the ever beloved pumpkin) themed desserts and treats. There will be more than enough of that in October. And November. But for now, no. It’s still summer for God’s sake!

But what I can do is make a summery (or end of summer…y) fruit into a fall-appropriate jam. Because it is coming, and when it does won’t it be nice to have a few jars of summer mixed with a little fall? That’s how we have this jam; spiced nectarine. Spiced with vanilla bean, star anise and cinnamon. And actually a little bit of nutmeg, cardamom, powdered honey and ginger, too, because I used a “sweet blend” spice mix I bought from a local spicery at a fair last summer.

It’s basically a way to start to acknowledge fall without going crazy for apples (yet).

Nectarines.

These nectarines are the last of what’s left from my most recent shipment of Washington State Fruit. My “Canbassadorship” is coming to and end for this year, and I wanted to make a jam that was easy and didn’t require something like purple basil that not everyone has.

Feel free to substitute your own favorite spices. I know star anise can be polarizing, like licorice. Use cardamom instead. Or ginger. Or nutmeg. Or just add in a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice! That way you get a little bit of everything.

I wouldn’t omit the vanilla bean, though. Not only does it smell heavenly, but it adds those little flecks to the jam that look pretty cool.

Spiced nectarine jam with vanilla bean, cinnamon and star anise.

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Vanilla panna cotta with fresh cherry sauce.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh sweet cherry sauce.

Don’t you just LOVE when desserts look like murder scenes?

Panna Cotta is one of the most perfect summertime desserts. Not only does it take about  5 ingredients, but it’s a dream to make, and you can make it ahead of time. Oh, and it requires only about 10 minutes on the stove! And it’s impressive to say. Panna cotta.

Panna cotta is kind of what would happen if Jell-O and vanilla pudding had a baby. It’s gelatinous, yet creamy. Almost flan-like. In Italian, “panna cotta” means “cooked cream,” and that’s essentially what it is. With sugar, vanilla, gelatin and yogurt. In Italy it’s traditionally eaten with chocolate sauce or fresh berries, or both. Some types of panna cotta can hold their shape when unmolded, this particular one is a crap shoot. If you leave it in longer than overnight, in a very cold spot in the fridge, you might be able to unmold it.

However- forget it if it’s a hot, humid day, or if your custard cups have an unusual shape. It ain’t gonna happen.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh sweet cherry sauce.

The first time I made this recipe, my mother asked for it for her birthday. I made two types; the original Ina Garten recipe with balsamic strawberries, and some with just mini-chocolate chips mixed in before chilling it. Since then I’ve made it many times over- usually for her, since it’s one of her favorite things- and never really deviated from that.

But this year I made some fresh cherry sauce with all of those beautiful Rainier Fruit Company cherries I received, and I thought that would be a delicious variation to spoon on top.

And I was correct. And you should make it too, if you were smart like me and froze some of those gorgeous cherries.

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Another year older (and deeper in debt) …plus donuts.

Happy birthday to me! So, I am officially 34 years old! Holy balls. Time fucking flies, man. All you youngin’s out there, take heed. The years begin to move by so quickly you won’t have time to even comprehend it. Yes- another year has passed, and what a year it was! As the song says “Another year (day) older and deeper in debt…”

We faced illness and overcame it. We got married, and we bought a house. Here’s Lola (one of my favorite birthday gifts ever) at home, in her natural habitat: the kitchen.

Lola the mixer, at home.(Painting by the lovely and talented Mrs. Christine Comis-Villareal)

 

Lots of things can happen in one year, clearly. Lots of good, maybe some bad. But it all balances out in the end. I decided to skip the “Life List” this year, because honestly? After all the bullshit this year I’m just glad to be here- literally and figuratively. I’m thankful for so many things & people, thankful that I’m healthy and here to celebrate another birthday.

I’m also thankful for donuts.

Baked chocolate donuts with pink icing!

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Ready for rhubarb: baked & pickled.

Bowl of rhubarb (click through for two rhubarb recipes)

Rhubarb comes and goes very quickly. It’s fleeting, rhubarb season. You simply cannot just walk into a store here and get rhubarb any time you want during the growing season. It sells out of the markets & supermarkets almost immediately. My mother absolutely LOVES rhubarb, and the season usually coincides with Mother’s Day, so I try and get some to make her something special. When I find it, I try to grab it. But if its not the greatest quality, or if its on the pricey side, I skip it. The stalk I bought for these two recipes was pretty huge, and I paid a little over $2.00 for it. It went into these pickles and also the next recipe which you’ll see in a few days (so keep that in mind).

So yes, in this post, it’s a two-for-one. One rhubarb cake recipe, and one pickled rhubarb recipe. First, the cake!

Rhubarb cake.

Rhubarb is really, really pretty. There are two main kinds; the bright pinkish red kind (this one) and the light pink and green kind. And then there are a bunch in between, of course, but those are the two main color types you’ll find in your store/market. Both colors are fine for any purpose, so long as you be sure to cut off all the leaves, if they come with them still attached. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous! This is especially important to remember if you buy your stalks from a farmer or a farmer’s market, or get them from someone who grows it. I know the brighter pink ones are more “attractive” aesthetically, but the pinkish/green ones can be very pretty too. I like to use a mix if I can find both.

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Let’s talk about berries & bundts, bitches.

Remember I said I never make cakes? Unless its easy? Well… yeah. This is why I’m obsessed with these tiny little mini-bundts. Remember the mini-bundt pan I spoke about a few months ago?

Strawberry ricotta mini bundt cakes.

I love it. Mini-bundts are my new favorite thing. They’re SO easy to just fill up with a recipe and bam- instant fancy. They make any recipe look awesome-r. And way cuter, let’s be honest. Not that ricotta cake needs help being awesome, but look. So cute.

Strawberry ricotta mini bundts.

And strawberries are cute, too.

Strawberries for ricotta mini-bundt cakes.

When you find yourself with strawberries on sale, and you’re dying for the fresh smell of a summer berry even though it’s only late April, you just buy ’em. And make cakes.

And jam.

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Vanilla cake with a twist of lime.

Vanilla cake with a twist of lime.

So I get married, Jay goes to Europe, and I get the urge to make a cake.

I never, ever make cakes. Mainly because I’m impatient, an you have to wait for cakes to cool before you take them out of the pans, then cool enough to frost them, etc. It’s a pain in the ass. I am not a cake person. Cupcakes, yes! Those are fun. And they cool fast. But cakes? No. Especially layer cakes. OH MY GOD HOW ANNOYING ARE LAYER CAKES?!

So I cheated with this one, and made it one layer. And added lime zest. And candied limes.

Zesting limes!

I had a lot of limes.

About three/four weeks before the wedding I got sick. Really sick. Bronchitis and sore-throat-like-swallowing-knives-sick. I was sick for well over a week, and my stubborn ass wouldn’t go to the doctor. Then, four days before the wedding, Jay got sick.  FOUR DAYS. He (thankfully) went and got super antibiotics and by the day of he felt fine. Then, the day of the wedding, my dad was sick. Two days after, my mother got sick. What the what? I’m telling you- people are dropping like flies around here. Stupid early spring sickness.

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Black bottom, a new rhythm.

I love pie plates. Whenever I see one, I’m drawn to it. Big ones, small ones, ruffled ones, plain ones. I love them all. I don’t even make pie that often, but for whatever reason I just love ’em. I don’t have all that many… maybe 6 or 7. But I just adore them. And really, when one has so many cute pie plates, they ought to be making more pies, amirite?

However pies are usually not my bag. I can make them just fine, but the crust is a pain in my ass & I’m always paranoid that the filling won’t set. I’m more comfortable with cakes than pies.

Black bottom oatmeal pie from a recipe by Four and Twenty Blackbirds pie shop.

Every once in a  while, though, a pie recipe crosses my path and I think “Holy crap that sounds good.” This is one of those. Truth be told most of the pie recipes from Four & Twenty Blackbirds are those kinda pies. Like that salty honey pie.

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