StrawberryBlue Custard Tart

Why do I love Summer.. let me count the reasons.. strawberries, blueberries, cherries, watermelon... the epitome of freshness and flavor found in the market stalls and down the grocery aisles.
The warm season is definitely on here and there is nothing I crave more than fresh fruit and cold beverages to get me by.

I know I have been making lots of desserts lately, but my wonderful husband is kind enough to take them with him to the office so I don't have to be tempted with them here at home. Anyway.. I much prefer a ripe juicy naked strawberry to quench my sweet tooth!

This recipe is adapted from a custard tart from The Joy of Baking as well as utilizing one of my favorite pastry crust recipes by Dorie Greenspan. For the recipe I subbed the half and half with cream cheese to give it a bit more depth and texture. My husband loved the cheesecake I made the previous week so I knew the addition of cream cheese would be a welcome one.

Buon Appetito,

Crust Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons chilled non-hydrogenated solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Crust Preparation
Mix flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter and shortening; pulse until coarse meal forms. Add 2 tablespoons ice water; pulse until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Chill 2 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before continuing.

Strawberry Glaze
1/4 cup strawberry preserves
1/2 tablespoon Cognac, Calvados, Rum or Water

Strawberry Glaze Directions
In a small saucepan heat the strawberry preserves until boiling. Remove from heat and strain to get rid of lumps. Add the Cognac or water.

Cheese Custard
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup cream cheese
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Brandy

Cheese Custard Prep
In a large bowl whisk the flour and sugar together. Mix in the eggs and stir with a wooden spoon to make a smooth paste. Do not let this mixture sit too long as it will form a crust.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk till warm, add the cream cheese and let meld with milk. Cook till it just starts to simmer. Take off heat and add vanilla and the liqueur. Gradually whisk into the egg mixture stirring constantly. Set this mixture aside while you prepare the apples.

Pastry Crust
Roll out the pastry and fit it into a 8 or 9 inch tart pan. Prick the bottom of the shell and chill for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°
Place rack in center of oven. Line the unbaked pastry shell with aluminum foil. Fill tart pan with pie weights or beans, making sure the weights are to the top of the pan and evenly distributed over the entire surface. Bake crust for 20 to 25 minutes until crust is dry and lightly browned. Remove weights and cool crust on wire rack. When cool, spread a thin layer of warm glaze over the bottom and sides of the tart to seal the crust and prevent it from getting soggy. Let the glaze dry between 20 - 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Arrange the fruit in concentric circles on top of the cooled and glazed tart shell. Carefully pour the custard over the apples to just below the top of the tart pan (do not fill all the way or the custard will drip between the crust and the pan). Sprinkle lightly with the Cinnamon Sugar.

Place tart pan on a larger baking sheet to make it easier to remove from oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the custard has set.

Almond Amaretto
Chocolate Deluxe

This past weekend we had a wonderful time celebrating "Father's Day". My kids wanted to go all out for a fun filled weekend. And me, I got to do all the fun prep work like buying the gifts and making my husbands favorite dessert, "Cheesecake". I always have fun in the planning stages and I love spoiling my husband!

In the evening we went to one of our families favorite restaurants in Temecula's newly renovated outdoor Promenade mall, Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ. See the review here. It is the perfect place for a noisy family of six. Although.. we had to wait for an hour and a half to be seated and the outdoor overhead misting system wreaked havoc on my hair, and it wasn't even that hot outside!

Dinner was wonderful. The meat at Lucille's is slow smoked in a beefy in-house smoker with the tastiest attention to their sauces. We have had the family sized portion of racked ribs, BBQ chicken whole and sliced in sandwiches, slow smoked tri-tip steak sandwiches, cob salad with smoked chicken and their hearty Angus beef burgers.. all wonderful, tender and finger lickin good! But this time around I am here to talk about their desserts. The first time we went My husband and I split the pecan pie accompanied by a luscious bourbon sauce. Sooo Good! On Father's Day we hadn't intended to order dessert because I had a Cheesecake waiting at home, but while eying that creamy deluxe chocolate cake that flew by it was really hard to pass it up. My husband had the wonderful idea of turning my plain old Almond Amaretto Cheesecake into the dessert I have posted here, the "Almond Amaretto Chocolate Deluxe Cheesecake".

Emeril Lagasse couldn't have said it better.. "Baam!!" We only purchased one slice of Chocolate cake, but these slices for $6.00 are large enough to share. Creamy, satiny, tender, smooth, moist, rich, and "deluxe" are all words to describe this cake. My daughter loved it so much that last night she purchased a slice to have with her in line at the movie theater while waiting for doors to open for the midnight premier of "The Transformers" movie.

So my cheesecake plus the added slice of chocolate cake royalty made a wonderful dessert to end a fabulous Father's Day celebration!

Almond Amaretto Chocolate Deluxe Cheesecake

1 Cheesecake recipe (follows)
1 Chocolate Deluxe cake
1 Almond Graham cracker crust recipe (follows)
Chocolate Syrup or a thinned out ganache
Sweetened Whipped Cream

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup blanched almonds (whole or ground)
1 stick butter, melted
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. Amaretto Liqueur

3 sticks of 8 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tbs. Flour
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp Amaretto Liqueur

Preheat oven to 350 degrees°.

In a food processor grind almonds still mealy. Mix together with graham cracker crumbs and the remainder of crust ingredients. Lightly press into a springform pan slightly going up an inch on the sides. Set crust aside.

Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, Amaretto and blend until smooth and creamy.

Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Cover bottom securely with foil. I do this so butter from the crust does not drip in my oven. I almost think this also prevents the bottom from cooking to quickly while the thick middle is cooking.

Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is a little jiggly in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Turn the heat off and open the door of the oven so it is ajar. Let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. At least 12 hours. I like to make my cheesecakes a whole day in advance to serving.

Top with a whole creamy, satiny, tender, smooth, moist, rich, and "deluxe" chocolate cake! We served it with a drizzle of warm chocolate syrup and whipped cream. The chocolate cake with almonds and Amaretto is naturally a winning combination but you can surely alternate nuts or do without. Pine nuts also make a wonderful addition to a cheesecake crust!

Buon Appetito!

Macaroni & Fontina Cheese
with Pistachio Pesto Cream Sauce

Pistachios are a beloved nut of Italian culture. Popularly used in desserts such as Cannoli and Ice Cream, pistachios often in history made there way into savory dishes as well. Crushed Pistachios make a wonderful blanket for grilled beef as well as lamb, a very popular way to utilize this rich and tasty nut.

A year ago I incorporated them into a pesto dish to go along with seared lamb and Buccatini, it was a wonderful addition and with a little playing around my Pistachio Pesto Cream sauce was born. I keep Pistachio Pesto on hand as often as I can. It freezes well and when needed for a sauce it quickly defrosts within a few hours.

My kids love having pasta shells made into Macaroni and Cheese, so with a variation on the American version, alternating Cheddar with Fontina cheese and adding Pistachio Pesto Cream Sauce this layered baked pasta dish makes for a favorite mid week meal.


Pistachio Pesto Cream Sauce *recipes follow
16 oz. Fontina cheese shredded
4 oz. Parmesan Cheese grated
1 lb. Durum Semolina Shells

1 cup pistachio’s
1 cup olive oil
10 – 12 large basil leaves
¾ cup white wine
¾ cup Gorgonzola cheese crumbled
1 clove garlic
2 Tbs. Chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 ½ tsp. fresh squeezed lemon
2 -3 tablespoons water to thin out as needed
½ tsp. salt
Dash fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a small dry skillet, toast pistachios for around a minute or two just to release oils. Don’t let the pistachio’s burn.

In a food processor, add pistachios and olive oil, pulse on low until pistachios start emulsifying with oil but still having texture. Add chopped basil leaves and continue to pulse. Add wine and Gorgonzola cheese, pulse till well incorporated. Mixture will still have good texture. Add garlic clove, oregano leaves and lemon juice. Process to mix well. Add a few tablespoons of water if needed just so the pesto is not too thick. Add ½ teaspoon of salt to taste and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper to your desired taste.

3 Tbs. Butter
1 Tbs. Olive oil
½ onion minced
½ shallot minced
2 Tbs. Flour
3 cups simmering hot milk (skin removed)
1 ½ tsp salt
3 Tbs. White wine
3 cups Pistachio Pesto (recipe above)

Melt butter and olive oil on medium low heat. Add onion and shallots, cook till golden and translucent. Butter should be sizzling. Put heat on medium low. Dust onion garlic mix with flour and stir constantly till mix starts to brown. Stirring with a whisk, add 2 cups of hot milk in a slow stream constantly stirring and loosening mix from bottom of the pan. If you continue to whisk the mix will be very even textured. When cream begins to thicken again, add another cup of hot milk (this should equal 3 cups in all).
Add 3 tablespoons of wine and around I ½ teaspoons of salt to taste. Stir constantly and bring to a simmer again and let thicken to a cream soup consistency. Add 3 cups of the pistachio pesto to the cream sauce. Stir to incorporate well. At this stage it should be plenty thick.
*If you want it thicker, uncovered reduce heat to low and let simmer till it reduces to the consistency you like.


Putting it all together
Cook pasta till aldente. Be sure to salt your water.
Drain Pasta. On the bottom of a baking dish pour ¼ cup of sauce, add ½ of the cooked shells. Pour some more of the sauce on top. Then layer with Fontina cheese. Repeat by adding more pasta, sauce and cheese till pasta is used up. Top it off with Pistachio Pesto Cream sauce, Fontina cheese and Parmesan cheese. Bake in a pre-heated 4oo° oven till bubbly and cheese is melted and golden on top, around 15 minutes. Enjoy with crusty bread and a salad.

Hope you enjoy!
Buon Appetitio,

White Hot Chocolate
Nutmeg Cappuccino

Fall has always been my favorite time of year for it ushering in the beginning of hearty cooking and seasonal hot drinks, warmer and more cuddly clothing and blankets to wrap us in sitting around the fireplace. But surprisingly our Spring weather here in Southern California is extended in the month of June and often times feels like Fall.

With the mist hovering over the hillsides in the early mornings creating ribbon like clouds and the breezes blowing through the Rainbow Gap on the South end of Temecula, the coolness it creates is the perfect ambiance for a warm cup of hot chocolate.

I don't remember where I found this recipe.. but it has been in my collection since last year. The only difference I made was infusing the cream with nutmeg and then straining it. It has a more spicy taste and melds wonderfully with the brandy and the creme de cacao. This would be just as wonderful without the liqueurs. If you do omit them just up the vanilla content to 1 and 1/2 teaspoons.

6 oz light cream
1/8 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
2 oz espresso
2 oz grated or chopped white chocolate
1 tsp brandy
1 tsp creme de cacao
1/8 tsp vanilla
Whipped cream
Ground nutmeg

Pour cream and 1/8 of a teaspoon of nutmeg into pan. Heat till almost boiling. Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer. Pour back into pan and add chocolate. Whisk until melted and smooth. Stir in liqueurs and vanilla. Return to low heat and whisk until foamy. Pour espresso into a tall glass or mug, then spoon chocolate cream mixture over the espresso. Top with soft peaked whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg. Serving size 1.

Summer is the perfect time for sea shell collecting. We love going to La Jolla in San Diego in the early evenings and filling our buckets with beautiful shells. It is a "for sure" occasion to end a wonderful evening by a campfire with a frothy cup of White Hot Chocolate Nutmeg Cappuccino!

Enjoy and Buon Appetito!

Cooking Tools; Cast Iron Skillet

My Nineteen-year-old Cast Iron Skillet

I love kitchen tools, but I don't really find a need to purchase every tool that appears to be a necessity. I have been married for twenty one years and have probably been cooking for fifteen more years on top of that. You would think I have a vast storehouse of the most sheik gadgets purchasable.. but I don’t! I have a good set of knives, my cast iron skillets, a small food prep food processor, a large capacity Cuisinart food processor, my KitchenAid stand mixer, some high quality stainless steel cooking pots and pans, utensils, measuring implements, mixing bowls and baking dishes. And I still have room in my cupboards. That's not to say that I don't have a wish list, because lets face it.. every cook adores Le Creuset cookware.

But if you are new to cooking and would like to purchase some kitchen tools that are good quality, life lasting and won’t cost you an arm and a leg, let me assure you, it is attainable!

From time to time I will share with you some of my most treasured kitchen tools.. tools that are indispensable in my kitchen for the time they save me and for the money saved by not having to make duplicate purchases.

Today I want to introduce you to my most prized kitchen instrument, my cast iron skillet. This particular skillet was purchased at the Long Beach Antique Market off of Bellflower Blvd. I bought this skillet nineteen years ago and it is still pristine and seasoned perfectly. What I was looking for when I bought this iron was a flat smooth surface without dings, deep scratches or chips. This one had previously been used and had a good seasoning on it, but I still cleaned it real well and re-seasoned it as if it were brand new. I was told to bring a marble with me to check the evenness of the surface. You are suppose to roll the marble on the interior and see how it moves, if it goes to one side and stays, it is uneven, if it rolls gently and stays for the most part centered, you can gather that you have a pretty even surfaced cast iron skillet.

A few rules, but not to go in depth hear, don’t scour your cast iron, you will scrape all of the seasoning off. The beauty of a cast iron skillet is in the little oil that needs to be used when cooking. It makes for a wonderful light cooking companion. The seasoned and coated surface that accumulates more and more with each use prevents foods from sticking and makes cooking sautes and seared meats and vegetables simple and lower in fat than using pans that need high quantities of oil and butter to aid in turning foods easily.

Never put your cast iron in the dish washer nor use cleanser on it. If you must wash it for sanitary purposes use very little mild dish soap and rinse well with hot water. Just a note, if your pan is seasoned well, you should be able to rinse it under warm water and wipe it clean with a paper towel. I am always the one in my house to clean my cast iron skillet, actually, I protect my baby so much I won’t even let my teenagers near it when they are cooking! After I rinse it and wipe it down, I put a little olive oil on a paper towel and wipe my cast iron skillet on the inside and top rim. I then put it on the stove with low heat for a minute and then turn the heat off. I store it my skillet alone with a paper towel resting on the inside. I NEVER put my skillet away damp. It will rust if moisture stays on it.

One last thing, I purchased my skillet at the flea market price of $5.00.

For more info:

Temecula Valley Arts,
Crafts & Flea Markets

San Diego County Guide
to Second Hand Shopping