My favorite time of the year is the end of September when summertime evaporates into a fond memory and leaves turn golden and the air turns crisp. Oh wait, that was my former life growing up on the east coast. As Jimmy Kimmel said in his monologue last night referring to the autumn in Los Angeles; that it was a “bone-chilling 95 degrees today”. He went on to say, “that we have one season…and it’s the good one!” I’ll be honest with you, since moving to the west coast I definitely do not miss the other three seasons, but I do have a major hankering for the fall. After residing here for three decades I still bring out the heavy sweaters and boots this time of year, and yeah, I’m sweating profusely in my effort to embrace the season.
It’s time to say good bye to the summertime fruity favorites; strawberries, blueberries, peaches and plums and hello to cranberries, apples, pumpkins and pears. I do love the latter as they harken the start of the holiday season, and all the celebratory family meals ahead of me.
My personal favorite fall fruit is pears. In this gluten-free cake, they are paired with almond meal, sliced almonds and fresh pear puree which results in an overly moist and flavorful cake. I think this Almond Pear Cake will become one of your go-to desserts for the upcoming season.
Almond Pear Cake – Gluten Free
Equipment needed: 10″ spring form pan, large food processor or electric mixer
- 4 pears, any kind, 3 for batter 1 for topping
- 1 3/4 cups sugar plus additional 3 teaspoons
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 3 1/4 cups ground almond meal
- 8 large eggs, room temp
- 1 teaspoon, plus additional 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon neutral tasting oil (like canola or grape seed)
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and place the rack in the center position. Spray a 10″ spring form pan with cooking spray. PAM original cooking spray is gluten free, however PAM Spray for Baking is not. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit on the bottom of the spring form pan.
- For my cake, I used Bartlett, Anjou and Bosc pears, but any firm ripe pear will work. Peel and core the three pears and then roughly chop them. Place the chopped pears into a small saucepan and add the lemon juice and 3 teaspoons of sugar. Cook the pears over medium heat in the covered pan for 10 minutes. Let cool. When cooled, mash the pears with a fork into a coarse puree.
- Place the almond meal and 1 3/4 cups sugar in the bowl of a large food processor, and give it 5-6 long pulses. (This makes a large quantity of batter, so you’ll need a large food processor, not the mini kind). Add the eggs one at a time, along with 1 teaspoon of vanilla and the pear puree. Pulse until all ingredients are incorporated. Alternately, if you don’t have a food processor, you can use an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Pour the batter into the spring form pan.
- Next, peel and core the fourth pear and slice it into 1/4″ slices. In a medium skillet, heat the oil and the honey stirring until the mixture begins to bubble. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla. Add the pear slices and toss gently to coat.
- Sprinkle the almonds over the top of the cake, and add the pear slices in a pinwheel shape. Spoon the remaining sauce in the pan over the top of the cake. Bake for 55-65 minutes until the cake begins to brown and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. As my cake was starting to brown too much, I placed some foil over the top for the last 10 minutes of baking. Keep in mind that all ovens are different so the baking time is an estimate.
- Let the cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes and then you can remove the sides. Transfer to a serving platter.
An easy way to cleanly remove the core of the pear is to use a melon baller to scoop out the center.
For this Almond Pear Cake you can use any variety or combination of pears you like. In the past, I have used Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc and Comice pears. Just make sure they are ripe yet firm.
…and more Pears.
It’s September, and son #2 is out of the house again living the high-life as a student in Santa Barbara where he’s studying to be an EMT. It’s a hard program, so let’s all pool our positive thoughts together and send them in his direction. Thanks guys! Anyway, he’s been up there about a month, but he’s coming home this Sunday and we’ve decided to have a little brunch in his honor…cause his mama misses him so much! My parents are coming over, because they too miss him a great deal, and his big brother, son #1 is coming, but he won’t admit how much he misses his younger brother. Ah, kids!
I’m preparing all his favorites; homemade waffles, fresh fruit and crispy bacon. He has requested that I bake this Chocolate Chip Cornbread which he likes toasted and topped with a big slab of butter. I’ve made cornbread a million different ways, but I particularly like this one for breakfast because it’s a little bit sweet and a little bit savory. If you can, it’s a treat to serve it right out of the oven.
Chocolate Chip Cornbread
From Bon Appetit
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 3/4 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 2 large eggs
- Place the oven rack in the middle position, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9″ x 5″ metal loaf pan with cooking spray, or you can use mini loaf pans or muffins tins if you wish. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the chocolate chips. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the milk, oil and eggs. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir just until all the ingredients are incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).
- Bake the cornbread until the top starts to turn a little golden, and when a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. For the 9″ x 5″ pan, bake about 35 minutes. Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. The cornbread is best served warm with a little butter.
As with all batters, mix this one just until all ingredients are incorporated. Do not over mix.
I know I haven’t posted a new recipe in awhile, but Mama took a little vacation. I’m funny when it comes to leaving home, and that’s why I hardly ever leave. I find the whole traveling process very stressful, especially when there’s airline travel involved. But, little did I know that a lovely little paradise existed 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.
A group of my friends (Cindy, Roberta, Wendy and Lauren) go to Catalina for a week every summer. I’ve been invited to go in the past, but I had envisioned Catalina to be nothing special, so I always declined. But for some reason my husband, and I and son #2 decided to give it a try. Well, Mama was pleasantly surprised. Actually more than just pleasantly.
Catalina is very easy to reach, no muss, no fuss. One hour on the Catalina Express and you arrive in Avalon Harbor. There’s very few cars on the island, and most people get around by golf cart. The city center is very quaint, and filled with small restaurants, shops, bars and markets. Nothing fancy mind you, but keep in mind this is a very low-key, stress-free vacation. But what wow-ed me the most was the island’s natural beauty. Sunshine every day, bright blue skies and water clear enough to see fish, dolphins and plenty of seals. And guess what…I can’t wait to go back.
My inspiration for this week’s recipe came from the Pacific Ocean. I find the visual, as well as the sound and smell of the ocean so relaxing. How better to pay homage to the Pacific than with a shrimp recipe of course!
Grilled Shrimp Kabobs
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- juice from 1/2 lime
- 2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (leave the tail shell on)
- 1 large green pepper, cut into 1″ pieces
- 1 large yellow onion cut into 1″ pieces
- fresh pineapple cut into 1″ chunks, or you can use a 15 ounce can of pineapple, with the juice drained
- Metal skewers, or wooden skewers soaked in water
- Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tail shell on. Rinse the shrimp under cold water then dry with a paper towel and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together all the ingredients, except the shrimp, vegetables and pineapple. Pour off 1/4 cup of the marinade, and reserve for basting the shrimp on the grill.
- Place the shrimp in a resealable plastic bag and pour the marinade in the bag, coating all the shrimp. Place the bag in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Take your skewers and thread the shrimp on the skewers, piercing the shrimp through the center, with both the front and tail portion going through the skewer. Thread on a piece of pineapple, then another shrimp, then the green pepper and onion. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Place the completed skewers on a metal baking sheet.
- Spray your grill with cooking spray so the shrimp won’t stick, and heat the grill to medium high.
- Place your skewers on the grill and baste with the remaining marinade. Turn the skewers so the shrimp cook evenly on each side. All grills are different, so cook the shrimp until they are pink on the outside. Be very careful not to overcook the shrimp as they will become rubbery. As soon as they are no longer opaque, they are done.
- Serve immediately from the grill.
If you’re going to use wooden skewers for these kabobs, soak them in water for an hour or two so that they won’t burn when you put them on the grill.
To devein the shrimp, run a pairing knife down the back of the shrimp. You will see the black vein. Using the tip of your knife, cut out the vein and discard.
Always spray your grill with a little cooking spray, or brush lightly with some olive oil so that the shrimp don’t stick to the grill.
I was invited to attend a tasting and book signing, for Chef Fabio Viviani who’s promoting his new book “Fabio’s Italian Kitchen”, at the culinary school I graduated from. I thought it would be a pleasant evening involving a dish of pasta and an opportunity for him to sell a few books, but I was wrong because it was more than that. For those of you who may not know him, Fabio Viviani was a contestant on Top Chef Season 5 as well as several other Top Chef spin-offs. He’s also the owner of two very successful restaurants in the Los Angeles area, his own cooking show, and of course, a cookbook author.
When Fabio entered the room he was like a whirling dervish, full of energy, his arms constantly moving, so much so that I was unable to get barely one photo of him that wasn’t blurred. When he came to this country in 2005, he spoke not a word of English. He has great command of the language now, but speaks it in an Italian accent so adorable that Sophia Loren would find it endearing. The guy is so funny that if his day job as a successful chef doesn’t work out, he could definitely try his hand at stand up comedy.
But enough of that. Besides his European charm and perfect plates of pasta that he turned out that evening without breaking a sweat, he had a more meaningful message that he shared with us. He spoke at great length about charity and the importance of giving back. He also shared with us a very funny story about being contacted by the First Lady, Michelle Obama to work along side her on one of her causes. I like that he’s not just a guy who talks the talk, but he also walks the walk. He donated all of the proceeds from this evening’s event to Chef Cecilia DeCastro to fund a scholarship for a worthy student to attend her Academy of Culinary Education. Man, what this guy packed into 2 1/2 hours was amazing and certainly explains why he was voted “fan’s favorite” on his season of Top Chef.
Okay, so back to the food. There’s so many mouth-watering recipes in this book accompanied by stunning photographs that I couldn’t even decide where to begin. Since Mama loves to bake, I chose to start with his “Fabio’s Cake” , and I was thrilled with the result. It’s a moist and rustic cake abounding with chunks of apple and and fresh orange zest. Very fresh and very Italian.
Questo e un dolce molto gustoso.
- 2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- zest of 1 orange
- 3 cups apples, peeled, cored and crushed
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- confectioner’s sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a tablespoon of melted butter and a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of a 9″ springform pan, then lightly dust with flour and set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until foamy. With the mixer on low, add the rest of the ingredients and mix just until incorporated.
- Pour the batter evenly in the pan and then sprinkle the top lightly with the brown sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden and when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then unmold. When cake is cooled, dust with some powdered sugar.
To crush the apples: peel, core and chop the apples into chunks, and toss with some lemon juice so they won’t discolor. Place the chopped apples in a large ziplock bag and then wallop with a rolling pin til nicely crushed.
T’aint nothing better on a scorching summer’s day here in the San Fernando Valley than a couple of your closest girlfriends and a big pitcher of sangria. Because what else do women like to do but talk and drink lots of wine. We will, of course be discussing many pertinent political and social issues, but I felt we needed something cool and refreshing to aide in our verbal discourse.
As most of my buddies know, Mama isn’t much of a drinker. I will tell you this though, my favorite drink back in the day was called a Tom Collins. Those of you born after 1978 will have no idea what that is, but it was quite popular back in the days of Donna Summer and disco.
Sangria however, is a fruit punch that has its roots in Spain and is served in those warm summer months as a cooling refreshment. Traditionally it’s made with a red wine and lots of fruit and left to sit in the fridge to chill so that the wine and fruit can meld together to create that fruit-a-licious flavor. Personally, I prefer white wines and I decided to add green apple, kiwi, grapes and lime because those are my favorite fruits. You can play around with it and create your own personal concoction. I also chose to add some fresh thyme to it just to develop another layer of flavor. Because Mama likes flavor!
Right before serving I like to add some fresh fruit to each glass (because it’s pretty!). I also freeze about a dozen grapes to add to each glass as they become ice cubes and make the drink super-cold. Ahhhh…chit-chat and wine on a hot summer’s day!
White Wine Kiwi-Apple Sangria
- 1 bottle of white wine – Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc are good choices
- 3 tablespoons of Triple Sec
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice, strained several times to omit the pulp
- 1/4 cup simple syrup*
- 1 cup club soda
- 1 green apple, quartered sliced thin with skin on
- 1 lime, sliced thin
- 1 cup green, seedless grapes, sliced in half (1 additional cup of green grapes frozen)
- 2 kiwis, peeled and sliced thin
- a couple sprigs of fresh thyme, and more for garnish
- First, make your simple syrup by combining 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Constantly stir over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a boil, and all the sugar dissolves. Lower the heat and stir mixture a few more seconds until it begins to thicken and become syrupy. Remove from heat and add the fresh thyme allowing it to steep in the syrup. When the syrup is cooled, remove the thyme and discard. While your preparing the sangria, place the syrup in the fridge to chill.
- In a large pitcher, pour the white wine, the Triple Sec, the orange juice and the chilled simple syrup and stir. Add the apple, the lime, the grapes and the kiwi to the pitcher and place in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours.
- Right before serving, add the club soda and stir. Garnish with a sprig of thyme if you like.
- I slice up extra fruit to add to each glass of sangria.
Making simple syrup is as easy as 1, 2, 3. It’s basically 1 part water to 1 part sugar. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan and then add the sugar stirring constantly until all the sugar is dissolved. Let the mixture cool in the pan until it thickens and becomes syrupy. You can also infuse the syrup with herbs, spices and fruit. You can make the syrup in larger batches to use in other cocktails too. Just store the syrup in a sealed container and it should last several months.
Along with adding lots of ice to this sangria, I included the addition of frozen grapes to chill the beverage also.