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Cherry Black Pepper Cake

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Every summer for the past 10 years, we’ve gone up north to Marin County to spend a week on the beach with my family. It’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle and (as long as it’s not fogged in) it’s a beautiful week with plenty of paddle boarding and swimming. Being up north means checking out the San Francisco Chronicle on a regular basis and that means getting a whole new list of recipes that I don’t usually get to see.

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Last year we were up there for my mom’s 70th birthday and while perusing the Chronicle, I spotted a dessert that sounded amazing. It was a Cherry Black Pepper Cake from Nik Sharma. Unfortunately, I had to wait a whole year before I could make it because cherries aren’t in season in Los Angeles in July. Down here, cherries are only around for about a month to six weeks starting in mid-May. And my favorite cherries, those Tartarians I’ve talked about, are around for even less time than that: about three weeks. So, as soon as those cherries showed up at the farmer’s market, I grabbed a basket and got to work.

I’m sure you’ve noticed this cake has black pepper in it. I know, black pepper? What’s a teaspoon of black pepper doing in a cake? When I read the recipe I was so confused. I mean, pepper belongs in an appetizer, a side dish, or an entreé. It doesn’t belong in a dessert. But I love cherries and the idea of a cherry cake with a little spice intrigued me. So, I took the plunge. After all I’d been waiting a year to make this cake, it seemed silly to back off now just because I wasn’t used to adding that much heat to a dessert. Sharma’s choice to use the pepper is genius. See, the cherries are so sweet, the pepper adds a nice spice that amplifies that sweet flavor.

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But those sweet and spicy flavors aren’t the only thing that made me want to make this cake. It also uses almond flour which gives the cake a subtle nuttiness that works well with the cherries and pepper. When all these flavors come together you get a cake that’s a perfect end to a nice summer meal or a backyard barbecue. So, while I was bummed I couldn’t make this dessert when I originally read the recipe last July, it was absolutely worth the wait.

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Cherry Black Pepper Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon Cherry Heering
  • 2 cups pitted cherries

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, grease a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together the 1-1/4 cups flour, almond flour, baking soda, baking powder, pepper and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together on low speed until combined. Add the eggs one at a time until mixed together.
  4. Mix in half the flour mixture. Mix in the milk and Cherry Heering. Then mix in the remaining flour until combined.
  5. Toss the cherries with the remaining teaspoon of flour. Fold the cherries into the cake.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, rotating the pan half way through. When ready a toothpick should come out clean when inserted.
  7. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Then remove from the pan and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Brooklyn Cocktail

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Tomorrow is World Whiskey day, so I thought I’d take a break from gin and vodka and bubbles and go back to what I love best: whiskey. Yes, I’m a huge whiskey girl. But not just any whiskey, I prefer bourbon or rye, which is a good thing because it just so happens that today’s classic cocktail uses rye.

I’ve only been been to New York twice, but both times I stayed in Brooklyn. It’s a great borough that has a ton going for it. There’s Park Slope which is a wonderful little neighborhood, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge and of course Peter Luger Steak House, which just happens to be one of the best steak houses in New York. Everyone talks about Manhattan, which is a wonderful city and I can’t wait to go back, but Brooklyn is definitely worth a visit as well. With all that going for the little borough, it’s no surprise there’s a cocktail named after it.

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If you haven’t heard of the Brooklyn before, that’s not a big surprise. See, there’s another cocktail out there that’s also made with rye. I know you’ve heard of it, you may have even tried it. It’s called the Manhattan. While the Manhattan is the older and more popular rye cocktail, don’t count out the Brooklyn. Where the Manhattan is sweet, the Brooklyn is much drier because the Brooklyn switches out the Manhattan’s sweet vermouth for dry. It’s true the Brooklyn uses Maraschino, but it’s only a quarter ounce. So, that sweet liqueur doesn’t makes the tipple sweet. Instead, it balances the drink out, allowing the rye to really shine.

The Brooklyn predates Prohibition but isn’t quite as old as the Manhattan. Created some time in the early 1900’s, it first showed up in print in J.A. Grohusko’s Jack’s Manual. It was popular for a time and then with Prohibition the drink disappeared. Unlike other pre-Prohibition drinks, the Brooklyn didn’t reappear with the repeal. Instead, it faded into obscurity, partly because one ingredient was so hard to find: Amer Picon. However, with the new cocktail renaissance, bartenders and mixologists are rediscovering old liquors and classic drinks. Amer Picon was one such liquor. Rediscovering Amer Picon meant rediscovering the Brooklyn. While the liquor is still difficult to find (unless you’re scouring the internet) orange or Angostura bitters makes a fine substitute. I still can’t wait to try the original, though.

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Brooklyn Cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce Amer Picon or 3-4 dashes orange bitters

Directions:

  1. Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled.
  2. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and serve.

Raspberry Rhubarb Muffins

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If there are two fruits I look forward to all year it’s rhubarb and raspberries. While it’s true that you can get raspberries year-round, they’re at their freshest during the summer months. That’s when they’re sweetest and perfect for fruit salads, bars or cakes. The timing is perfect because it’s also when rhubarb is in season. It’s because these two fruits are available at the same time that I chose to make some muffins with them.

Now, I know that strawberries are usually the fruit chosen to go with rhubarb because their sweetness compliments the tartness from the rhubarb perfectly. But a few weeks ago I was at Melissa’s Produce meeting and learning from Deborah Madison. In her newest cookbook, In My Kitchen, Madison has a recipe for a Rhubarb-Raspebrry Compote. I know, raspberries. She said that while strawberries are the obvious choice, she liked the combination of raspberries and rhubarb because it’s not quite as sweet. I tasted that compote at Melissa’s and it was deeeee-licious! It was that compote that made me want to add raspberries to these basic rhubarb muffins, and as expected, the final product? Awesome!

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I’d been wanting to make these rhubarb muffins for a couple months now, but I had to wait for the rhubarb to come into season. Well, when the season got here, I unfortunately discovered that the vendor I get it from at the farmer’s market may not have any this year because of all the rain we got. As you might guess, I was very upset. How could I make these muffins if I couldn’t get rhubarb? Melissa’s came to my rescue. They had a ton! So, of course I grabbed a bunch, and since I know that Melissa’s will have rhubarb through September, I can make these muffins all summer long!

What makes these muffins a nice alternative to your standard blueberry is that they’re not as sweet. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a sweetness thanks to the cinnamon-sugar sprinkled-tops, but the diced rhubarb keeps that sweetness in check. It’s that spectrum of flavors that makes these muffins the perfect breakfast choice. They’re so good, you can eat them all by themselves, toasted with a little butter or as part of a bigger brunch spread. And if, after the first batch disappears, you find yourself craving another muffin or two, don’t worry; with raspberries and rhubarb being so readily available throughout the summer, you can easily make these pastries all season long.

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Rhubarb Raspberry Muffins (adapted from Fine Cooking)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups rhubarb, diced
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a muffin tin with baking cups.
  2. Sift together the flour, a half cup of sugar, baking powder, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Whisk together the sour cream, melted butter, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Fold the sour cream mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Gently stir in the rhubarb and raspberries until mixed.
  4. Divide the batter among the muffin cups so the batter mounds slightly higher than the tops of the muffin cups.
  5. Mix together the remaining sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle about a 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the top of each muffin.
  6. Bake until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean, 20 – 25 minutes. Let the muffins cool on a rack in the pan for 5 – 10 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and let cool another 5 – 10 minutes and serve.

Bijou Cocktail

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As I’ve said many times before, when the weather changes, so do my liquors. I tend to go from those dark brown liquors like whiskey and scotch to lighter liquors like gin and vodka. Don’t get me wrong, I still like whiskey, but those lighter liquors just seem to make better spring and summer cocktails and they definitely go better with club soda or ginger beer. Today’s drink is no different. While it doesn’t use any bubbles, it does take gin. It’s the Bijou.

Like most well-known classics from the 19th century, the Bijou was very popular until Prohibition. Then, like a lot of the cocktails of that time, it disappeared. But unlike the Martini or Manhattan which remained popular during and after the drought, this cocktail completely fell off the radar. It wasn’t until sometime in the 1980’s that Dale De Groff of New York’s Rainbow Room found the classic drink and served it up at the iconic bar, that the Bijou regained its popularity. Although DeGroff changed the ratios to adapt to modern palates, all the liquors remained the same.

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Light, but potent, this drink is delicious with some serious herbal notes, thanks in no small part to the green Chartreuse. Cocktail historian David Wondrich believes that the Chartreuse and vermouth were added to the Bijou because in the late 1800’s “bartenders, seeking to cater to a more sophisticated, cosmopolitan clientele, turned to vermouth and other European aperitifs, digestifs, and cordials to broaden their palettes.”  So, in order to do that, the original Bijou was made up of equal parts vermouth, gin and chartreuse with a few drops of orange bitters and a twist of lemon. But just because that was the ratio at the turn of the 20th century, doesn’t mean it’s good for the palates of today.

Today, just like back then, palates have changed. We’re not interested in super sweet cocktails anymore. Now we like balance. So, I tried DeGroff’s version as well as the original. DeGroff’s version is definitely better. You still get the herbal notes from the green Chartreuse, but the sweetness from the vermouth isn’t overpowering like it was in the original. If you’re afraid you’re going to lose the classic cocktail in this new iteration though, don’t worry. That green Chartreuse mixed with vermouth provides a beautiful color that makes the cocktail look like a glowing jewel, which incidentally is how the cocktail got its name. See, “bijou” is French for jewel. So, this spring why not mix up a jewel of a cocktail? That color combined with those herbal notes makes it the perfect choice for spring or your next backyard barbecue.

2 Bijous

Bijou Cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce green Chartreuse
  • 1-2 dashes orange bitters

Directions:

  1. Pour all the ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice and stir until chilled.
  2. Strain the cocktail into a coupe glass, garnish with a cherry and serve.

Boursin-Stuffed Kumquats

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Now that we’re getting into spring and summer, that means more time outside. And more time outside means more picnics and family barbecues. But then we come to the question about what to serve for those events. Fried chicken is a good choice as are burgers and fruit salads. But those are all main courses or side dishes. What do you serve when the party is just getting started? Appetizers of course and there’s no better appetizer than the kind that you can pick up and pop in your mouth. These Boursin-stuffed Kumquats are just that kind of appetizer.

I learned about these awesome little appetizers when Cathy Thomas, a food columnist for the Orange County Register and Orange Coast Magazine came to Melissa’s Produce to talk about the three cookbooks she wrote for Melissa’s: Melissa’s Great Book of Produce, Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce and 50 Best Plants on the Planet, which focuses on the fifty most nutrient dense fruits and vegetables that grow on earth. All three are great books and provide a lot of wonderful recipes. But this little gem is something that Thomas told us about when she was describing different ways to serve fruits and vegetables.

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Kumquats are a citrus so they’re usually available starting around November and going through early to mid spring. But Melissa’s has them through July which means you can start serving this appetizer in January, serve it on Mother’s Day and continue serving it all the way through the 4th. Here’s the thing about kumquats, though, they’re unlike any other kind of citrus out there. See, most citrus, especially oranges, have a bitter, sour peel and a wonderfully sweet flesh. But the kumquat is different. Its peel is sweet and tart while the insides are sour and bitter.

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I’ve never been a big fan of the kumquat because the insides are so sour. But scraping the flesh out and filling it with a savory cheese means you’re left with the best part of the kumquat and have a delicious creamy, herby cheese to compliment the sweet exterior. Even better, since the kumquats are so small they’re the best kind of finger foods. You can pick one up, pop it in your mouth and go back for seconds. But beware, these little bites are so addictive those seconds could easily become thirds, fourths or even fifths.

There’s just one problem with these awesome little apps. They definitely take some time to make. You need the smallest melon-baller you can find to scoop out all the flesh. Then take another small spoon and stuff the inside with the cheese. It’s a cinch to do, but does take awhile. While I used spoons to stuff the kumquats, next time I’d definitely use a piping bag. But once you’re done, these stuffed kumquats don’t just look beautiful, they taste amazing and will definitely be a hit at your next party.

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Boursin-Stuffed Kumquats

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint of kumquats
  • 1 package of Boursin cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of chives or Italian parsley, finely chopped

Directions:

  1. Wash and dry all the kumquats. Slice the tops off each piece of fruit. Slice a tiny piece off the bottom so each kumquat will stand flat on your serving try.
  2. Take your tiny mellon baller and scoop out all the flesh from inside the fruit. Repeat with the remaining kumquats.
  3. Place the Boursin in a piping bag. Pipe the soft cheese into each piece of hollowed out fruit. and place on a serving tray. Repeat with remaining kumquats, until all are stuffed. Sprinkle with chopped chives and serve.