Category Archives: Sweet

sauteed peaches with wine-cassia syrup

Sauteed Peaches with Cassia-Vanilla Syrup

Sauteed Peaches with Cassia-Vanilla Syrup

Driving home to Atlanta from Charlotte, NC a few weeks ago, we stopped at a roadside produce stand in South Carolina. They offered fireworks and flats of fresh peaches at rock-bottom prices. I felt guilty purchasing peaches there, I told the farmer. “We live in Georgia!” I confessed. “It’s almost sacrilegious to buy them from you.”

“I hear that all the time,” he laughed. “But I promise, give these peaches a few days and they’ll be the best you’ve ever had.”

A few days later, his peaches were ripe and they were definitely tasty. I ate them plain and blended them into smoothies. But the best I’ve ever had? I don’t know about that. When you live in Georgia during the summer, peaches are kind of a big deal. We’re the Peach State, and for good reason. Farmers markets, farm stands, and even the local grocery stores are loaded with the fruit. And the offerings are really, really, really good.

The next week, Xavier and I went to Nicaragua and spent ten days traveling there. After we returned, a hectic week forced us to eat out more often than not. Finally, almost four weeks after the South Carolina farm stand, I restocked our kitchen with plump Georgia peaches purchased from Publix, of all places.

A few days later, I found Xavier finishing the last of our store-bought peaches. “That farmer was right,” he said. “That was the best peach I’ve ever had.”

(I couldn’t help laughing, because this is an ongoing thing: my boyfriend has a tendency to either lose track of time, or believe that perishable foods last forever. He is always surprised and crestfallen when he reaches into the fridge with his heart set on leftovers and finds that last month’s chicken parm has been eaten or tossed. It’s adorable).

“Those were gone weeks ago,” I told him. “That was a Georgia peach.”

Sorry, South Carolina.

A good Georgia peach doesn’t need to be dressed up, but should you find yourself with an abundance of them, this is a great way to use your stash. It’s an elegant dessert with classy looks that bely its simple preparation. If you can mix ingredients in a pot and let them simmer, you can make this dessert pretty easily. Furthermore, it is utterly delicious. The syrup boasts a complex sweetness from cassia, vanilla, wine, and rum. It complements and elevates the flavor of fresh peaches.

What is cassia, you may ask? I asked that question last weekend when I stumbled into Penzey’s and saw it on display. That’s a good question. If you buy cassia in a store, chances are it will look like little rusty pebbles. These “pebbles” are actually bits and pieces of the bark of an evergreen tree. If this sounds unfamiliar, it won’t for long: most of the cinnamon available in the United States is made from ground cassia bark. I chose to use this in my recipe because I had a new bag of it on hand, but it’s ideal because the pieces of bark have lots of surface area. A little goes a long way, flavor-wise.

If you’ve got a grill, feel free to omit the sauteeing step and grill your halved fruit. Also, cassia may be difficult to find – if you don’t have it, you could swap a whole cinnamon stick or 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. But keep in mind that powdered cinnamon will change the mouthfeel of the finished sauce. Same thing with the vanilla: you could use extract or paste if you don’t have a whole bean just lying around (and I wouldn’t, if not for eBay).

Sauteed peaches with cassia-vanilla syrup

Sauteed peaches with cassia-vanilla syrup

Sauteed Peaches with Wine-Cassia Syrup

  • Two large, ripe peaches, sliced in half with the pits and stems removed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup plus one tablespoon sugar, divided
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste)
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  • 1 tablespoon cassia (substitute 1 cinnamon stick, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinammon)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cold, divided

Combine all of the ingredients except the butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer until thick and syrupy, about 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, melt one tablespoon of butter with one tablespoon of sugar. When hot, place the peaches in the pan with the cut side down. Saute without moving until the peaches caramelize, about five minutes.

When the syrup has thickened, off the heat and add two tablespoons of cold butter, stirring with a spatula until smooth. Strain to remove the vanilla and cassia. Place peaches on serving dishes, pour the sauce over them, and serve.

Serves four as dessert.

chocolate-coconut cupcakes with coconut-rum frosting

When I had the opportunity to sample Tropical Traditions‘ coconut oil as part of their press review program, I admittedly jumped to do so. I’ve been somewhat obsessed with trying different cooking oils lately. They are a wonderful – and simple – way to incorporate extra flavor into a dish.

Coconut oil is just so cool. When the jar arrived at my house, it had been outside in the Atlanta summer – the contents were completely liquid. But after a couple of hours chilling in 71-degree air conditioning, its contents solidified. The texture is different than anything I’ve seen before. It’s soft enough to easily scoop out, but there’s definitely a little resistance to it. It’s almost the texture of peanut butter, if peanut butter weren’t so rich. Since the oil reminded me of butter – soft at room temperature, liquid just barely above it – I wanted to see how it would hold up in frosting. Rum-coconut frosting was born. And with it, chocolate-coconut cupcakes that also incorporated the coconut oil with butter.

The results? Fantastic. The frosting is sweet and light, with amazing coconut flavor. And the cakes are rich but far from heavy. The coconut flavor shines.

They were thoroughly enjoyed.


Chocolate-Coconut Cupcakes (adapted from “Crazy about Cupcakes” by Krystina Castella)
2/3 cup boiling water
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 ounces butter (1 stick), at room temperature
4 tablespoons coconut oil
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
9 ounces flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup yogurt

In a small bowl, stir together the boiling water and the cocoa powder. When the mixture becomes a smooth paste, add the bittersweet chocolate. Stir together until melted and smooth.

Using an electric mixer and a whisk attachment, cream together the sugar, butter, and coconut oil until fluffy. On medium speed, this should take five minutes or less.

Add the eggs one at a time, blending well between each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. When all four are well-incorporated, add the vanilla and continue to blend.

Next, add half of the flour, the baking soda, and the salt. Mix on slow speed until uniform. Add the yogurt and stir well, then the rest of the flour. Finally, add the chocolate and mix on slow speed just until the batter is just blended.

Pour into cupcake liners, filling each about two-thirds, and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. This recipe will make about 24 medium cupcakes.

Coconut-Rum Buttercream Frosting
4 ounces butter (1 stick)
½ cup extra-virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup rum
¼ cup milk
1 pound powdered sugar, or to taste
Sweetened coconut flakes, to taste

Using an electric mixer and a whisk attachment, beat the butter and coconut oil until fluffy. Add the rum and milk in a couple of additions, blending between each. Adding a little at a time, incorporate the powdered sugar, whisking until the frosting is fluffy and somewhat firm. Frost cooled cupcakes, and dust with flakes of coconut.

Disclaimer: the coconut oil was provided as a press sample by Tropical Traditions.

olive-oil ice cream recipe

Olive-Oil Ice Cream

Olive-Oil Ice Cream

You may have noticed that most of my recipes lately have featured olive oil. This is thanks to Sciabica Oil Of the Olive. They sponsored my cooking group, 37 Cooks, and I can’t get enough of their product. Seriously, it is so tasty that I want to put it in everything. The last time I was this obsessed with something, I ended up moving to the geographical armpit known as Florida to live with him. True story.

Anyway, this recipe was inspired by a dessert that I tried at a restaurant called Ecco, here in Atlanta. I’d heard of olive oil gelato before. When I saw it on a dessert menu, I didn’t know what to do. The obvious answer would be to order it. However, we had just plowed through more wine and more food than I’d care to admit eating in one meal. There was no room for dessert.

But it was one of those evenings. My dad was in town, we were out with my boyfriend, things were good, and there were three of us to share the sweet burden. So I told our server that I’d like olive oil ice cream and three spoons. The guys were skeptical. “Olive oil? In gelato?” they wondered. “Well, I guess I’ll try a bite…”

It was one of those times when one bite turned quickly into seven, and with spoons flying the whole dish of ice cream had disappeared almost before we could wonder what happened to it.  You see, olive oil gelato is really, really, really good. It’s just one of those things. You have to try it for yourself.

After that, I had to make it. Homemade ice cream is one of my favorite things, after all. My only concern was how to develop the recipe. Gelato is great, but it depends on milk and lots of egg yolks. I prefer my frozen treats made with heavy cream, thankyouverymuch. So I made an ice cream out of it. If you’ve made ice cream before, you know the drill: infuse sweetened cream with your base flavor. Here we use vanilla because it’s freakin’ awesome with olive oil. Beat in the tempered egg yolks and cook it until it becomes a custard. The only difference here is that you’ll add the olive oil right before churning. I want to protect its delicate flavor by keeping it away from the heat!

This recipe takes two days. On the first day, you’ll make the custard. It will need to chill overnight (or at least for a good six hours until it’s truly cold) before you add olive oil to the mixture and churn it to delicious ice cream. This ice cream is rich, incredibly creamy, and best enjoyed in small portions. The recipe will make about a pint, but that pint will go a long way.

Olive Oil Ice Cream

Special equipment:
Ice cream machine

3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used paste but you can use extract)
1/4 cup Sciabica Mission Spring Harvest olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Stir together the heavy cream, water, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat over low-medium until well-incorporated and very hot, but not yet bubbling.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat together the egg yolks.

When the cream mixture is nice and hot, ladle a few spoonfuls into the bowl containing egg yolks. Stir them together. Then, whisking the cream mixture constantly, pour the warm yolks into the saucepan. Add the vanilla. Now you’re making custard. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the mixture has thickened. It will look like a loose pudding, and it should definitely coat the back of a spoon. Depending on your stovetop settings, this could take anywhere between 5-15 minutes.

Strain the custard into a clean container. Refrigerate overnight, or at least until it’s very cold.

When you’re ready for ice cream, stir the olive oil into the chilled custard. When well-incorporated, churn in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer instructions.

Note: Obviously you can use olive oil besides Sciabica’s if you’d like. Be sure to use the best-quality extra-virgin oil you can find, though!

strawberry-olive oil muffins recipe

By the time I remembered to go strawberry picking in 2012, it was almost too late. We spent two hours scouring a picked-over field to collect a basket of microscopic berries. This year, I vowed, I would go early. We did, and it was so worth it.

Xavier picking berries

Xavier picking berries

There were so many ripe red strawberries in that field! You can see them in the photo. Our challenge this year wasn’t finding enough berries to fill a bucket. It was stopping! After we’d picked enough, we had to walk back through the rows towards the farm stand. It was literally impossible not to pause, lean over, and pluck a perfect ripe berry.


Strawberries in various stages

We managed to stop after each of us had filled much of a large bucket.


Buckets of strawberries

photo 4

Fifteen pounds of strawberries

We picked about fifteen pounds total, and that left me with a dilemma: what to do with three people and fifteen pounds of fruit?

Well, quite a few were eaten plain. The rest were rinsed, hulled, and put to good use.

cleaned strawberries

There was a strawberry tart (with chocolate ganache and creme patisserie). There was jam. And then there were muffins.

You may remember from my last post that 37 Cooks is doing a challenge with Sciabica Oil of the Olive this month: I wrote about the awesome hash browns that I made with their jalapeno oil. Well, flavored oils aren’t all that this company makes. They have some awesome seasonal varietals of “plain” olive oils – and I use quotations because their oil is anything but plain. Although their fall-harvest selections were intriguing and promised bold flavors, I chose their buttery spring variety because… well, it’s spring right now. Since strawberries are almost the official fruit of spring, and the oil is mild, I thought it would be perfect to bake with these two ingredients. And what’s better than muffins?

The olive oil really adds an incredible flavor to these, so I’d recommend using it if you can. I made a batch on Sunday. They were delicious and gone almost immediately – a rarity in my household, because we’re usually very slow to eat baked goods. I made another batch on Monday using canola oil in place of the olive. Big mistake. The difference in taste is obvious and disappointing.

Strawberry-Olive Oil Muffins

Strawberry-Olive Oil Muffins

Strawberry-Olive Oil Muffins

8 ounces flour
4 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 ounces Sciabica Mission Spring Harvest olive oil
2 large eggs
8 ounces milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup strawberries, chopped
Small handful coarse sugar (such as Turbinado), to taste (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil, milk, eggs, and vanilla. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and whisk until just barely moistened. Stir in the strawberries. Dollop the batter into a greased muffin tin. If you’re using coarse sugar, sprinkle it on now. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Lemon Curd

What do you do when a friend from California mails you a giant box of beautiful Meyer lemons? This was the difficult question I was faced with earlier this winter. And by difficult, I mean the hard part is choosing between all of the options. Because if regular lemons are an exciting kitchen bounty, Meyer lemons are like the culinary equivalent of winning the lottery – or at least a scratch-off.

Where regular lemons are pale yellow, Meyer lemons are golden yellow-orange. Where regular lemons are sour, Meyer lemons retain all of the lemon flavor without that puckering aftereffects. Where regular lemons can be thick-skinned and hard to juice, Meyer lemons seem to contain more potent liquor than possible in such a small fruit.

One of my first projects with the lemons was to make lemon curd. Lemon curd is kind of like jam in that you can use it anywhere. On toast? Sure. Between layers of a cake? Of course. As the base for a brisk dessert mousse? Easy. Eaten plain from the jar? Yeah, this is the most likely.

I set up an assembly line. Zest, slice, juice. Strain all the seeds out of the juice.

In a saucepan, combine the juice with butter and sugar. Keep the heat low and stir occasionally until the butter is melted and everything is smooth.

In another bowl, crack a couple of eggs, and add a couple more yolks to keep things extra-rich. Save the whites – you can make meringues later!

When the butter-lemon-sugar mixture is melted, add a little bit of the warm liquid to the eggs. Whisk it together.

Pour everything into the saucepan and whisk, keeping the heat on low. After a few minutes – ten tops – you’ll see the mixture begin to thicken. When it is the approximate consistency of mayonnaise, you’ll know you’re done.

Strain the mixture over a new bowl so the little clumps come out. You will be rewarded with a quivering mass of delicious lemon curd. Now the possibilities are endless.

Lemon Curd (makes approximately 2 cups)
1/2 c lemon juice
1/2 c sugar
6 tbsp butter
2 large eggs & 2 egg yolks
In a saucepan over low heat, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, and butter.
Place the two large eggs and two yolks in a separate small bowl.
When the lemon juice, sugar, and butter are melted together and smooth, transfer a spoonful of the mixture to the eggs. Whisk it together, then add back to the saucepan.
Stir or whisk constantly over low heat, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. When the curd is about the consistency of mayonnaise, stop – strain it into a clean bowl through a mesh strainer.
If you can stop yourself from eating the whole thing with a spoon minutes after it comes together, it makes a wonderful addition to cakes, pastries, tarts, or pretty much anywhere else you’d use jam.