What could be more fun for a girl obsessed with strawberries, than the opportunity to spend the day frolicking in the fields of a strawberry farm in Oxnard, California! Yes, it’s true. I was invited by the California Strawberry Commission to tour a working strawberry farm along with a group of fellow foodbloggers. The farm is run by Bill Reiman who took us out into his fields and showed us how this gorgeous fruit is picked, processed and packed. As our group stood there in the warm California sun, Bill explained how environmentally conscious California strawberry farmers are, and how they have invested millions into research and sustainable farming practices. He went on to explain how 88% of the nation’s strawberries are grown in California, and that California has a 12 month growing season. So guess what, you can enjoy your strawberries 24/7!
The final highlight of the day was a strawberry-themed dinner prepared by Executive Chef Tim Kilcoyne. Our hosts had set up a white canopied tent that was surrounded by strawberries as far as the eye could see, and our backdrop was the Santa Monica Mountains. A Hollywood set designer couldn’t have done a better job. As if this wasn’t enough, each guest was sent home with a flat of sweet, California Strawberries. Yes, it was a most excellent adventure, and one I’ll never forget.
So what did I do with all those berries you ask…well, I turned them into ice cream of course.
Strawberry Ice Cream
Williams Sonoma “Ice Cream”
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup (185g) sugar
- pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups (250g) fresh California strawberries, stemmed and coarsely chopped, plus more for garnish
- In a large bowl, combine the cream and milk. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt and whisk the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the vanilla. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes so that the flavors begin to blend together. Cover and refrigerate the mixture until chilled, from 3-8 hours.
- In a medium bowl, using a fork, mash half of the chopped strawberries until they break down into small chunks, then add the remaining coarsely chopped strawberries to the bowl. Cover and refrigerate these strawberries for an hour.
- After an hour, pour the milk/cream mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When nearly frozen and the mixture looks like thick whipped cream, add the strawberries. Churn just until blended. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Freeze until firm, about three hours, or up to 3 days before serving.
Makes 1 1/2 quarts
Fun Strawberry Facts:
8 strawberries contain more vitamin C than an orange. They’re low in sugar, with only about 50 calories, and strawberries are a great source of fiber, folate and potassium. Yeah, so who else can make that claim!
Strawberries are good for your heart folks. Potassium found in strawberries can help control blood pressure and fight strokes. The antioxidants, fiber and phytochemicals in strawberries has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
California strawberry farmers use less than one percent of California’s cropland, but create nearly 10 percent of all California’s farm-related jobs. You go California farmers!
* Disclosure: This post is sponsored by The California Strawberry Commission. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.
I bet you’ve been thinking all this time, all this lady ever seems to post about is chocolate. And that would be a pretty accurate assumption. I really do have some kind of a sick obsession with it, but every now and then I love to mix it up a bit and do something crazy like add vegetables to my baked goods. I know, it sounds nuts. Oh, and speaking of nuts, this Carrot Zucchini Cake is not only chock full of vegetables, but bursting with chopped nuts and raisins. I would almost go so far as too call this health food if it were not for the cream cheese frosting that is slathered all over the top of the cake.
Today I’m packing this cake and other necessary rations for a little picnic at a location I call my “happy place”. It’s where I like to go when I need to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s a one hour hike into the Santa Monica mountains to an area they call The Rock Pool. Once there you become acutely aware of how quiet it is. No cell phones ringing, no traffic sounds, just the chirping of birds and the rustling of the wind through the trees, and sometimes the splashing of a few ducks that have taken up residence there.
Right at the edge of this tranquil pool is a battered, old picnic table where my group and I will enjoy our lunch. I figure I will have worked off at least 125 calories making this trek so I won’t feel guilty enjoying a generous portion of the cake. I’m glad I found my happy place. I would love to hear where your is. Let me know.
Carrot and Zucchini Cake
From Better Homes & Gardens
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots (3 medium)
- 1 cup shredded zucchini
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
- 1/2 cup raisins (I mixed regular & golden together)
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 recipe Citrus-Cream Cheese Frosting
- This cake is made in a 13 x 9 pan, ungreased. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, you will sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger and baking soda. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, place the carrots, zucchini, brown sugar, eggs, raisins, walnuts, oil, honey and vanilla. Using a spatula, gently mix the ingredients together. Add the carrot mixture to the flour mixture and combine until all the ingredients are incorporated. Spread the batter into your baking pan.
- Bake for 24-26 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire rack before you frost it.
Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- the zest of one orange
Place these ingredients in a medium sized bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
It’s so embarrassing to admit, but if I were on a desert island and I could only have one meal it would definitely be a cheeseburger and fries, and chocolate cake, of course. I really only said the cheeseburger and fries for health purposes because I would want to eat a protein and vegetable before I indulged in chocolate cake.
This particular Chocolate Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Filling is one of my all time favorites. Chocolate cake all by itself is pretty great, add a creamy, cheesy filling and a sweet white and semi-sweet chocolate glaze and there you have it, perfection. Okay, so it’s just my idea perfection. It’s a little early, but I’m giving you a heads up for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day brunches. I always make this cake for those holiday’s and have not had an unhappy customer yet. I store this cake loosely covered in the fridge, and it actually taste better after being refrigerated.
Chocolate Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Filling
From “Land O Lakes”
Cream Cheese Filling
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
- 1 large egg, room temp
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate Cake Batter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temp
- 1 cup water
- 3 large eggs, room temp
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 ounces white chocolate
- 3 teaspoons shortening
- 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and using a pastry brush and melted butter, generously grease and flour your 12-cup bundt pan. I purchased a silicone bundt pan which I just lightly coat with cooking spray. I love the silicone pans because the cake literally falls out of the pan without leaving those pesky bits of cake behind.
- To make your filling: place all the filling ingredients in a small bowl and beat on low speed until very smooth. Scrape down the bowl periodically to incorporate all the ingredients. Set aside.
- To make the cake batter: place all the cake ingredients in a large bowl, and begin mixing on low speed to incorporate all the ingredients. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2-3 minutes until batter is smooth.
- Pour a little over half the batter into your prepared bundt pan. With a large spoon place dollops of the cream cheese filling on top of the batter being careful not to touch the sides of the pan. Then gently pour the remaining batter over.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool your cake in the pan for about 30 minutes. Before you glaze the cake, let it cool completely.
- To make the glaze: take 2 ounces of white chocolate plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of shortening and melt in microwave. Then take 2 ounces of chocolate chips plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of shortening and melt in microwave. Stir melted chocolate until very smooth and drizzling consistency.
- Store cake refrigerated.
You can always melt your chocolate by the double boiler method, but for myself, I prefer to melt it in the microwave. Start with 25 seconds, take it out and stir, putting it back in the microwave and decreasing the amount of seconds each time and stirring after each increment. Remember, chocolate burns very easily, and burnt chocolate makes me very sad.
If you don’t already have one, you might want to invest in a silicone bundt pan. I have metal and teflon coated bundt pans, however no matter how well I greased and floured those pans somehow there was always bits of cake that stuck to the pan. I don’t know about you, but I want a gorgeous cake.
Spring break, what an American classic. Oh, I remember it well. That time of year when college students from all over the U.S. head to warmer climates to blow off a little steam. I suppose blowing off a little steam is actually putting it very mildly. As I remember, it’s Girls Gone Wild and doing everything your mother told you never to do. When I was in college on the east coast, we would head to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break and I still shudder at the thought of the madness and mayhem that would ensue. Ah, good times!
I knew spring break was fast approaching for son #2. I wondered with great apprehension how he planned on spending HIS time off. He called yesterday to tell me he was on his way home for the week, and he planned on using that time to look for a summer job. YES I thought, we just dodged a bullet, a mayhem-free vacation. Before he got off the phone he asked, “oh, and mom could you bake me something, there’s not much real food up here at school”. So here it is, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, another American Classic!
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
From King Arthur Flour
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 20-ounce can pineapple rings in juice, drained
- candied red cherries or maraschino cherries
- 3 tablespoons, chopped pecans
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon coconut extract, optional
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup milk
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Melt about 1 tablespoon of butter and using a pastry brush, lightly grease a 9″ round cake pan. You want to use a 9” pan because the pineapple rings will fit perfectly in this size pan.
- To make the topping: Melt the butter, and whisk it together with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and evenly smooth it out using a small offset spatula.
- Space the pineapple rings atop the brown sugar mixture. Place a cherry in the center of each ring. If you’re using nuts, press them into the empty spaces.
- To make the cake: I used a hand mixer and a medium-large bowl to make this batter. Beat the butter and sugar until fairly smooth.
- Beat in the egg, then the salt, baking powder, vanilla, and coconut flavor. Be careful not to over-mix the batter or it will result in a tough cake.
- Add the flour alternately with the milk, mixing at medium-low speed and beginning and ending with the flour. Once the last of the flour is added, mix briefly, just until smooth.
- Spoon the thick batter into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges of the pan with the offset spatula. It may not cover the pineapple entirely; that’s OK.
- Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Remove the cake from the oven, wait 3 minutes, then turn the pan over onto a serving plate. Wait 30 seconds, then lift the pan off. If anything sticks to the pan, just lift it out and place it back on the cake.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
8 to 10 servings.
What it is about chocolate chips..just the mere mention of their name floods my brain with good memories and happy times. They’re so versatile these little morsels, and I love to ponder their endless possibilities. I marvel how their presence enhances cookies, ice cream, cakes, and muffins. It seems that whenever I bake these days, I try to figure out ways to add chocolate chips to it. Why, because I am a believer that when the road of life gets bumpy, chocolate chips will somehow smooth things out. Well, at least for me they do.
Anyway, when I was a kid my mother would go once a week to Greenberg’s Bakery on Haverford Avenue in the Philadelphia area. She would come home with a variety of freshly baked goods in pink boxes neatly tied with baker’s twine by the elderly Russian ladies that worked in the bakery. My favorite was the Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake that never lasted more than a day or two between my brothers and I.
So, today I pay homage to the humble chocolate chip and Greenberg’s Bakery with this version of the Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake.
Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake
- 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 8 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 cups (1-12 ounce bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With a pastry brush and melted butter, grease the bottom and sides of two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans and line with parchment paper greasing the parchment paper also.
- Sift the flour and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. With the mixer on low, stir in the vanilla extract.
- In a large bowl, lightly beat the 8 eggs and then add them to the butter-sugar mixture, mixing until they’re incorporated. With the mixer on low, mix in the flour until it is incorporated. With the mixer on low, add in the chocolate chips.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.
- Bake for about 65 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs.
- Cool cakes in the pans on wire racks for 30 minutes before removing from the pans.
Makes two – 9″ x 5″ loaves
I take my butter out of the refrigerator the night before to get it to room temperature.
Line your loaf pans with buttered parchment paper, allowing the paper to drape over the sides of the pans. When the cakes have cooled for 30 minutes, you’ll be able to easily lift the cakes out of the pan.
You can also use mini chocolate chips (12 ounce bag) for this recipe for a less chocolatey flavor.
A chocolate smackdown. That’s the only way I can describe this Chocolate Flourless Cake. It is a dense cake, with such intense chocolate flavor that I assure you, my food infatuated friends, that a small sliver is all you’ll need. And don’t be alarmed when you take it out of the oven and it seems to slowly deflate and become cracked and dented, that’s what’s supposed to happen. That’s this cake’s natural charm. It’s not about physical perfection in this particular decadent dessert, but about flavor. If you don’t like chocolate, then pal, you came to the wrong blog posting.
I like to serve it lightly dusted with powdered sugar and a dollop of freshly whipped cream. I guarantee, when you serve this to your troops, you’ll look like a real hero. Mama doesn’t lie.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
From Tyler’s Ultimate
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut up, plus more to butter the pan
- 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
- 9 large eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter, and using your pastry brush, butter the inside of a 9″ springform pan.
- Using a sharp knife on a cutting board, chop your chocolate into small pieces all approximately the same size for even melting. Cut your butter into pieces and place the chocolate and the butter in a medium sized plastic bowl and melt in the microwave in 20 second increments. Using a rubber spatula, stir the chocolate mixture after each 20 seconds. Be very careful not to burn the chocolate as it will seize.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand-held mixer, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale yellow in color. Mix a little of the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs. If you add all the warm chocolate to the egg mixture all at once it will scramble the eggs and we don’t want that. Then add the rest of the chocolate to the eggs.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or with a hand-held mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed. Gently add the egg whites to the chocolate mixture being careful not to deflate your egg whites.
- Pour the mixture into your prepared pan.
- Bake until the cake is set, the top starts to crack, and when a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it. It took about 50-55 minutes for my cake to bake. All ovens are different, so the time is approximate.
- Let the cake sit in the pan for about 10 minutes before releasing the sides.
- Serve at room temperature. You can dust with powdered sugar, and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
When separating your eggs; take good care not to get any yolk in the whites or stiff peaks will not form. Also, make sure that your bowl and beaters used to whip the whites are free of any grease as that will cause your whites not to peak.
When adding stiff egg whites to a batter, always do so gently so that you do not deflate the egg whites. Fold in gently with a metal spatula.
When melting chocolate in the microwave; always do it in small increments of 20 seconds so that you do not burn the chocolate. If the chocolate gets too hot it will seize. Always stir with a rubber spatula after each 20 seconds.
I come from a long line of coffee cake eaters. In fact, the family motto is” we never met a coffee cake we didn’t like”. Our family’s coat-of-arms is a cheese Danish and a cup of coffee. So you get my drift, right. We like coffee cake, so much so that I can’t bake ‘em as fast as they eat ‘em. But that’s okay, it keeps me on my toes.
This Apple Streusel Coffee Cake is a particular family favorite. Why, because it’s all apple-y, and streusel-y, and cinnamon-y, and nut-y. I can think of no better combination of flavors. Well, maybe coconut and bananas, but that will be another blog posting.
Apple Streusel Coffee Cake
Adapted from Gale Gand’s Brunch!
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 apples, peeled and cored, and chopped (I like to use a tart Granny Smith apple)
- 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut up
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a pastry brush and melted butter, grease an 8-inch baking dish.
- For the cake, sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or I used an electric hand-mixer) beat the egg and then mix in the milk and melted butter. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until everything is incorporated. Add the apples and walnuts to the mixture and pour into the baking dish.
- To make the streusel topping, mix the sugar, flour, cold butter and cinnamon in a medium bowl by pinching them together with your fingers until combined. Spoon the mixture over the top of the batter.
- Place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden, and when a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan, and then cut into squares.
Not all apples fare well when added to baked goods. The varieties that I find work well are; Granny Smith, Fuji, Rome Beauty, Gala and Honeycrisp. I like to use a combination of these apples instead of just using one kind.
What’s the best way for a mother to send her child off to college; with a pan of super-chocolatey brownies of course. I had spent days packing for my son Michael, purchasing him some pots and pans, bedding and laundry detergent, as well as a variety of other items I know he’ll never use. I had filled boxes with every and anything a young man would need for his survival out there in the world. It was as if we were sending him off to the most remote region of the universe, when in reality he was only going an hour away to Santa Barbara. Oh my God, did I pack the electric pencil sharpener?
We loaded two cars and made the quick trip up the Pacific coast to the student housing where he was sharing an apartment with three other guys. I laughed to myself as we entered the apartment. There were three sets of parents unpacking, making beds, setting up tv’s and printers, and stacking a hundred boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese into the pantry closet. The kids all sat in the living room with their cell phones and laptops, laughing and getting to know one another, while the mothers nervously scurried about.
After roughly four hours in that apartment my work there was done, and I could see the look on my son’s face. “Mom, will you just go!” He couldn’t wait to begin his new adventure…without his mama! As my husband and I left, I handed him a tray of my chocolate truffle brownies. He had his pencil sharpener, a year’s supply of black sox, and brownies. Mission complete.
Chocolate Truffle Brownies
Bon Appetit, July 2010
- 12 ounces semi-sweet, or bittersweet chocolate ( do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped and divided into half
- 11 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1″ cubes
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- Place the rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F.
- Line a 9x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang. This will make it easy to lift your brownies out of the pan when it’s time to cut them. Spray the foil with non-stick vegetable oil spray.
- Combine 6 ounces of the chocolate, and the butter in a medium microwave safe bowl. Start microwaving at 25 seconds, then stir, then 20 seconds and stir until the mixture is smooth and melted. Cool the chocolate mixture for 10 minutes.
- Whisk sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt in large bowl to blend. Then whisk in the chocolate mixture. Stir in flour, then chopped walnuts.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the brownies until a tester inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 26-28 minutes. Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let the brownies cool completely.
- When brownies are cooled, bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Place remaining chocolate in a medium bowl and pour the heated cream over the chocolate. Let it stand for 5 minutes then whisk until smooth.
- Pour the chocolate ganache over the brownies in the pan and spread evenly to cover completely. A small off-set spatula works well for this.
- Let stand at cool room temperature until topping is set, about 4 hours.
- Using the overhang foil as an aid, lift the brownies from the pan and fold down the edges.
- You can now cut the brownies into squares, 1″x 3″ bars, or into 1″x 1″ squares.
Using better quality chocolate will yield better tasting brownies. Use the best you can afford.
When the brownies have cooled, place them in the refrigerator for an hour for easier cutting.
I like to keep my chocolate truffle brownies in the refrigerator as they turn to a fudge-like consistency. At room temperature they remain more cake-like.