Peach Spoon Cake

WIN_20151214_184414This simple dessert looks like a peach cobbler but tastes more like a yellow cake with peach filling. Peaches aren’t in season? No problem – frozen peach slices will work just as well. I enjoy Peach Spoon Cake as a weeknight dessert, but it could also make a decadent treat for Sunday brunch. Enjoy!

WIN_20151214_173727Ingredients (Serves 6)

1/3 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1 1/4 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 peaches, cut into quarters

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

WIN_20151214_174654Directions

Step 1) Grease a 2 quart casserole dish and set aside.

Step 2) Blend together butter, sugar, almond extract, and egg. Stir in milk, flour, baking powder, and salt.

Step 3) Transfer the batter to the casserole dish. Top with quartered peaches. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Step 4) Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow Peach Spoon Cake to cool before serving.

Vanilla Spiced Pears

WIN_20150914_134748Vanilla Spiced Pears are wonderful when warmed for breakfast or served with a slice of pound cake for dessert. Pretty mason jars of these pears make lovely hostess gifts for the holiday season, as well! [If you’re looking for a hostess gift with a decidedly adult flair, check out this similar recipe for Brandied Pears.]

Money saving tip: If you’re buying pears at an orchard or farm stand, ask for “seconds.” Often, growers will only display their perfectly unblemished (No. 1) fruit for sale. Fruit which is still perfectly good for canning but has tiny cosmetic defects is considered No. 2 grade, and is often sold at steep discounts to customers who ask. During a recent orchard visit, I was able to buy pear seconds for half the price of unblemished pears, and the seconds had barely any defects at all (see photo).

WIN_20150914_124111Ingredients (Makes 7 quarts)

27 – 30 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and sliced thick

4 cups sugar

*1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon whole allspice

1/2 cup lemon juice

8 cups water

*Don’t skimp on the real vanilla bean – vanilla extract is not a good substitute here. You can order vanilla beans to be delivered right to your door, if you wish: Grade A Premium Gourmet Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans , Fresh Prime, Approximatelly 17 Centimeters (Pack of 10)

WIN_20150914_123917Directions

Step 1) Bring sugar vanilla bean, cloves, allspice, lemon juice, and water to a boil in a large stockpot. Boil gently, stirring occasionally, for five minutes.

Step 2) Reduce heat to simmer. Add pear slices and simmer for two minutes.

WIN_20150914_132059Step 3) Ladle pears into sterilized quart size canning jars. Make sure pears are covered with the vanilla spiced syrup, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Don’t be afraid to really pack the pear slices into the jars!

Step 4) Remove air bubbles from the jars by sliding a butter knife or canning tool along the inside of each jar. Cover jars with lids and rims. Process jars in a boiling water canning bath for 20 minutes.

Strawberry Balsamic Sorbet

WIN_20150719_203628Recently, we spent a morning at a local farm picking strawberries. We brought home approximately twenty pounds of berries, in addition to the pound that Half-Pint managed to eat while scampering around in the field.  😉  Fresh picked strawberries are small, flavor packed morsels of summer goodness, and taste oh so much better than the big-but-bland strawberries sold in most supermarkets. It would be tempting to pick berries all day long, but there’s a catch… strawberries can spoil alarmingly quickly. Forget about having a few days to leisurely make jams, jellies, and other goodies. If you bring strawberries home from the field, you better preserve them the same day.

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Don’t panic – Freeze! As explained in a previous post, summer fruit is easy to freeze. You can thaw berries later to make jams and jellies (the end product is just as delicious). Today, we’re using frozen strawberries to make what just might be the Easiest Sorbet In The Entire World. Because the berries are already frozen, all we need to do is blend three ingredients together. In less time than it would take to pour a glass of lemonade for your dinner guests, you can make them a dish of Strawberry Balsamic Sorbet. How cool is that?

Ingredients (Makes 4 servings)

2 cups small, frozen strawberries

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Mint sprigs for garnish

WIN_20150719_201853Directions

Place all ingredients in a blender, but don’t blend right away! Let the ingredients sit in the blender at room temperature for approximately ten minutes. When berries are still partially frozen but not rock hard (you should be able to pierce them with a fork), puree the ingredients together. Scoop into small dishes with an ice cream scoop and garnish with mint. Serve immediately.

Strawberry Mint Mojitos

WIN_20150527_230412I have a sister who has a talent for mixing drinks. When she shakes something up in her kitchen, it looks and tastes like a beverage you’d pay a high price for in a fancy bar. I’ve asked her for her bloody mary recipe so many times that she has threatened to charge me next time… I think she means it. This summer, rather than driving my sister crazy, I’ve decided to channel my inner mixologist and have some fun! With fresh herbs and ripe fruits readily available, even I (a bartending rookie) ought to be able to make something tasty, right? These Strawberry Mint Mojitos are delightful – let me know what you think!

WIN_20150527_225427Ingredients (Makes 2 tall glass servings)

1/2 cup fresh, very ripe strawberries

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves (spearmint or pineapple mint)

1/3 cup light rum

1/3 cup frozen limeade concentrate

ice

seltzer water

Directions

Step 1) Pulse strawberries, mint, rum, and limeade concentrate in a small food processor or blender until well blended.

Step 2) Pour over ice into two tall glasses. Top with seltzer water and stir quickly.

Step 3) Garnish with a strawberry, a mint leaf, and an umbrella (of course!). Serve immediately.

Freezing Summer Fruit

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Freezing mango slices on trays before packing in freezer bags keeps them from sticking together!

If you’ve been following Crowded Earth Kitchen for a while, you know that we do a lot of canning. You also know we do a lot of shopping at Aldi. It won’t surprise you, then, that the ridiculously inexpensive summer fruit prices at Aldi have us giddy with delight!

Whole pineapples for $1.39! Mangoes for $0.49! Pints of blueberries for $0.69! Nectarines, peaches, and plums for $0.78 per pound!

It’s enough to make cooks passionate about food preservation dance for joy… but here’s the conundrum:

Who wants to stand over a canning pot all day in July???

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Use a straw to suck the air out of your freezer bags before sealing. This helps prevent ice crystals and freezer burn!

Not us, not even with those prices dangled before our eyes. July is for swimming with the kids, reading romance novels on a hammock, and sipping mojitos (great recipe coming up for those) with friends. So what’s a frugal cook to do?

Freeze!

All you need to do in order to take advantage of these prices without sacrificing pool/hammock/mojito time is place whole berries and/or bite size chunks of pineapple, mango, nectarines, peaches, and plums in a single layer (not touching each other) on a baking sheet or small tray. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours. As soon as the fruit is frozen, transfer the fruit to quart size freezer bags. Finally, use a straw to suck the air out of the bags before zipping completely closed. Tuck those bags back in your freezer, as quickly as possible.

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The individually frozen fruit slices in these airtight bags will taste like fresh summer fruit when allowed to thaw!

When winter arrives, you’ll be able to easily scoop individual pieces of fruit from your freezer bags and enjoy summer goodness long after the warm sunshine is gone!

Now, back to my romance novel…  😉

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Berries may be frozen whole, but should still be individually frozen on baking sheets before packing into freezer bags.

Discovering Fresh Lychee Fruit!

WIN_20150606_163925My local Asian market has always stocked dozens of varieties of canned lychee products, and additional dozens of lychee flavored products (tapioca desserts, for example). Today, however, was the first time I noticed FRESH lychee fruit in the produce section. The price, about $4 per pound, seemed kind of steep at a glance. However, lychee fruit are pretty small – smaller than a plum – and I was able to purchase enough for a pretty little dish for about $2.

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Fresh lychee fruit, peeled and seeds removed

Lychee trees are indigenous to parts of China, and are now grown in many tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Recently, lychee fruit have been grown commercially in California and Florida, which is how fresh lychee ended up at my local market. It’s a small world! Lychee are low in calories, high in both Vitamin C and phytonutrients, and offer a refreshing, lightly sweet taste with a mild floral aroma. Amazing!

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These little fruit resemble big raspberries at a glance. The raspberry appearance is simply the bumpy red peel, which must be removed. Puncture the peel with a paring knife and gently pull back.

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Once started, the rest of the peel will unravel very easily, often in one piece. Break apart the peeled lychee fruit with your fingers (think of breaking a plum apart) and remove the single, smooth seed at the center.

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Your peeled, seeded lychee fruit are now ready to enjoy! I think they’re lovely all by themselves. If you want to experiment, try a sprinkle of cinnamon, a squeeze of lime, or even a drizzle of coconut milk. Have fun!

Rainbow Shortcake

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Shortcake is my very favorite springtime dessert. Berries begin to peek out from among the sea of apples and pears at the market (in my area, anyway), and those berries deserve to be showcased! Rainbow Shortcake doesn’t force you to select one fruit – not when there are so many wonderful options this time of year. By including several fruits with different colors and flavor profiles, you end up with a dish that is both beautiful and delicious while remaining remarkably simple to prepare.

Rainbow shortcake does not require any expensive or unusual ingredients, and feeds a crowd. This is a GREAT dish to prepare for a backyard visit with a few friends. Mix up a pitcher of lemonade or sangria, and you’ve got yourself a springtime party.

WIN_20150415_174613Ingredients (Makes 10 shortcakes)

2 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 cup cold butter (not margarine)

WIN_20150415_1754281 egg

2/3 cup milk

1 pint whipping cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

Approximately 4 cups of diced, mixed fresh fruit (I used 1 banana, 1 kiwi, 1 cup of WIN_20150415_181717blueberries, and 1 cup of strawberries)

Directions

Step 1) Using a pastry cutter or two forks held together in one hand, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and butter in a large bowl. Use the pastry cutter or forks to cut through the butter until the mixture resembles little crumbs. Be patient – this isn’t difficult, but it takes a few minutes.

Step 2) Add egg and milk to the butter mixture and stir until just combined.

Step 3) Drop the shortcake mixture in ten “piles” onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I highly recommend parchment paper for this recipe. Your shortcakes will spread a bit when they bake, so be sure to leave a few inches between piles. Why do I keep saying “piles?” I want you to make little mountains on your baking sheet – don’t flatten them! We’re making shortcakes, not cookies.

Step 4) Bake your shortcakes in a preheated, 425 degree oven for 16 minutes or until golden brown. Place your shortcakes on a cooling rack.

Step 5) When shortcakes have cooled completely, slice them in half as if you were slicing rolls to make sandwiches.

Step 6) In a medium size, scrupulously clean bowl, beat whipping cream and powdered sugar using the highest speed on your electric mixer for 2 or 3 minutes, until you have fluffy whipped cream.

Step 7) Assemble your shortcakes immediately before serving. Place a heaping tablespoon of whipped cream and a few pieces of fruit inside of each sliced shortcake. Top each shortcake with more whipped cream and more fruit. Enjoy!