A Passion for Peonies: Now and in 6 months!

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“And the wind upon its way whispered the boughs of May, And touched the nodding peony flowers to bid them waken.”  Siegfried Sassoon

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If you’re like me, you are crazy for peonies and the season to enjoy them is just too short.  It is peony time in my garden and I am cutting these beauties as fast as they bloom,  to fill the house with their intoxicating perfume and showy flowers. I just can’t get enough of them!  Hélas, their showtime is limited and the bliss is much too short lived. Continue reading

Rhubarb-Yogurt Crumb Cake

As a little girl growing up in Canada, one of my favorite spring ritual was sneaking into my neighbor’s garden and cutting the first stalk of rhubarb.   Then I would dip the raw rhubarb in sugar and bite into what could be compared to sour candy today.  How I loved puckering up to this sweet-sour creation!   Although I’ve expanded my palate considerably, I still love finding the first rhubarb of the season at farmers’ markets and baking it/stewing it into many permutations.   I can’t get enough of it!  My morning oatmeat gets topped with rhubarb stewed with cardamom pods, barely sweetened, throughout  rhubarb season.  I love waiting for fresh rhubarb all year long.

Rhubarb has been documented in China as far back as 2700 BC where it was used for medicinal purposes.  It was brought to Maine in the late 1700s then it spread to Massachusetts.  It is a low calorie vegetable, often mistaken for a fruit as it is often used in desserts.  Rich in antioxidants, vitamin K, calcium, lutein, fiber, vitamins C and folates, it is a  nutritional powerhouse.

Many rhubarb recipes over sweeten it with cloying amounts of sugar or combine the vegetable with fruit such as the popular strawberry-rhurbarb combinations.  I like to let the tartness of the rhubarb shine on its own and this recipe does just that.  I’ve taken an old fashioned rhurbarb crumb cake recipe, substituted Greek yogurt for traditional sour cream and doubled the amount of rhurbarb.  The cake is moist and just sweet enough to really taste the rhubarb.

Rhubarb Yogurt Crumb Cake

CAKE

  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 c unbleached flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 c non fat Greek yogurt
  • 5 c rhubarb, diced in 1/2 inch pieces
  • zest of an orange

CRUMB TOPPING

  • 1/2 c light brown sugar
  • 1/4 c butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 c unbleached flour
  • 1/2 t cinnamon  (you could add nutmeg and ginger if you prefer)

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter a 9 X 13 inch baking dish and lightly flour.

Whisk the eggs, orange zest  and yogurt together.  Combine flour, sugar, baking soda in a large bowl.  Fold in the yogurt mixture and  gently mix in the rhubarb.  Spread evenly into your prepared dish.  It will be very thick.

In  a smaller bowl, using a fork or your fingers, combine all the crumb ingredients and mix until it ressembles coarse oatmeal.  Sprinkle over your cake.

Bake 45 minutes in the center of the oven.

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Serve plain or warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Variations are to substitute lemon zest and lemon yogurt.

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Enjoy!

 

 

Tequila-Lime Flank Steak with Grilled Scallions

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imageThis is a really delicious steak that is a go-to dish all summer long in our home and perfect for Memorial Day weekend.   Skirt Steak or flank steak can be used for this tasty marinade.  The steak needs to marinade at least 3 hours or overnight so plan ahead.   The marinade will tenderize the meat and impart great flavor.  The steak can be sliced for fajitas with the usual fixings(guacamole, salsa, sautéed peppers and onions) or served with your favorite side dishes for a cookout steak dinner. I hope this will become a staple of your grilling season too!  Left-overs, as if there will be any, are great in a sandwhich the next day.

TEQUILA LIME FLANK STEAK MARINADE(adapted from Sara Foster’s Fresh Everyday Cookbook)  serves 8

4 T tequila

2 T Worcestershire sauce

2 T light soy sauce

2 jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded and minced

4 scallions minced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 T brown sugar

2 t freshly  ground black pepper

3 lbs flank or skirt steak

2 t sea salt, or more to taste

2 limes, cut into wedges

Mix the tequila, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, jalapeno, scallions, garlic, brown sugar, and pepper together in a small bowl.  Place the steak in a shallow dish or a marinading bag and pour the marinade over it.  Coat the meat completely with the marinade and place it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.  Remove the steak from the marinade and salt and pepper the meat on both sides.  Heat up your grill. Grill the steak 3-4 minutes per side for medium-rare temperature.  Remove the steak and tent in foil to let the meat rest for another 5 minutes.  Slice on the diagonal and serve with the lime wedges on the side, sizzling hot.image image image

GRILLED SCALLIONS

2 bunches of scallions, trimmed

1/4 c olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Brush the scallions with oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  While you are grilling the flank steak, toss them on the grill, for a couple of minites, turning occasionally to prevent from burning.   Serve along with the steak.  If you love onions and you’ve never tried grilled scallions, you will be amazed at what a tasty addition these make to grilled meats.  Love ’em!

Happy Memorial Day!

 

 

 

Sweet Paris Send-Off: Coconut Layer Cake

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Background art by French artist Laurence Pardoux

Background art by French artist Laurence Pardoux

When a friend was celebrating a birthday right before leaving on a trip to Paris, I couldn’t resist surprising her with a dessert send-off soirée imbued with joie de vivre.  My soul sister Ann loves coconut (moi aussi!) so I decided to attempt my first coconut layer cake for the occasion.  You can find the recipe for this classic triple layer confection here:

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Coconut-Layer-Cake-102696

The coconut-covered cake was decorated with clematis “Etoile violette” flowers and showcased on a fluted crystal pedestal cake stand to give it a little je ne sais quoi.  To create a Parisian ambiance, an  Eiffel tower replica, a gift from Ann, was given center stage placement on the table with some passion flowers woven through it.  The gold-edged botanical dessert plates were placed on a purple velvet throw next to gold damask serviettes for some added French flair.   An antique metal tray holding the wine glasses was accented with a gold fleur-de-lis.   A French bronze candelabra was set on a stack of French books, a nod to the Old-World charm of Paris.  A bouquet of fresh hydrangeas from the garden completed this little dessert table vignette.   Elegant, French, et  très délicieux!  Bon voyage!

imageimage“Paris is always a good idea.”  Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina

 

Azalea Arrangement in Chalkboard Crate

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For a recent outdoor luncheon, I went looking in the garden for flowers to use in a centerpiece. Azaleas were at their peak so I decided to showcase them on a buffet station.  The guests who would be attending this garden luncheon were the women of the International Club of Philadelphia.   Continue reading

Coconut Waffles with Tropical Fruit

ImageAfter a trip to Punta Cana, I was inspired to modify my favorite waffle recipe by substituting coconut milk for the milk and coconut extract for the vanilla.  It added a subtle flavoring without altering the texture of the recipe.  I love making this for overnight house guests and serving it with tropical fruit sprinkled with shredded coconut for a breakfast outside in the summer.  It is very easy, delicious and gets rave reviews everytime.  It would make a perfect Mother’s Day breakfast!

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COCONUT WAFFLES

2 c flour

1 tsp salt

4 t baking powder

2 T sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 c coconut milk

1/3 c unsalted butter, melted

1/2 t coconut extract (you can substitute rum extract to make pina colada waffles)

1-  Combine all dry ingredients.

2-  Mix together eggs, milk, butter and extract.

3-  Incorporate the dry ingredients to the egg mixture.

4-  Laddle onto a hot waffle iron until puffed up and golden.

5-  Serve with fresh fruit and sprinkle shredded coconut on top.  I used mango, peach, blueberry, blackberry and kiwi.  Serve maple syrup on the side.

 

 

French Apple Cake- Gâteau aux pommes

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When my children were in middle school and studying French, their homework was sometimes to make a French recipe.  This easy cake was one of those delicious homework assignments, simple enough for a 5th grader!  Usually this homework was pulled out from the bottom of the backpack, in a crumpled mess, often at bedtime, with a desperate:  “Sorry I forgot to tell you but I have to make this by tomorrow, mom!”  How I long for those days again.

GÂTEAU aux POMMES

1 cup of sugar

3 eggs

1 3/4 c unbleached flour

3 t baking powder

1 T melted unsalted butter

1 lb apples(about 2 cups), peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks

Preheat oven to 425F.  Grease an 8 inch pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.

Beat the sugar and eggs together.  Mix the flour and baking powder together and gradually add to the eggs and sugar.  Mix in the melted butter. Stir in the apples by hand.   Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes on the middle rack.

Turn the cake over onto a serving plate and peel away the parchement paper. Enjoy warm with a dollop of crème fraîche or ice cream, if desired.  Bon appétit!

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May Day Baskets~Bouquets du premier mai

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May Day celebrations can be traced as far back as the Festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, as well as to the Walpurgis Night celebrations in Germanic countries and to the Gaelic Festival of Beltano.  In Europe, the first of May is a national holiday, their Labor Day. In France it is celebrated with the giving of lily-of-the-valley or muguet bouquets.  This tradition goes back to the reign of King Charles IX who believed the flower was a token of good luck.  The tradition has endured more than 400 years.   A more detailed history of May Day can be read here.

In North America May Day is not much celebrated except perhaps in the making of darling May Baskets and in some places, dancing around a May pole.  Traditionally, May Baskets have been created in paper cones filled with flowers then hung on a neighbor’s door with ribbon, anonymously, on the first day of May.  The idea of the bouquets is to signal spring and brighten someone’s day with no reciprocity expected.  It is a lovely concept and this year I decided to make some of these charming baskets and filled them with flowers from my garden albeit sans lily-of-the-valley, as it has been too cold and we have but pips poking their tips out of the earth.

A simple bouquet of Virginia bluebells and hellebores in a paper cone

A simple bouquet of Virginia bluebells and hellebores in a paper cone

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