Coconut Pecan Spread

Coconut seems to be one of those foods that people have a definite opinion on:  you either love it or hate it.  Janna and I both love it.  LOVE.  And what better way to enjoy coconut than combined with crunchy pecans, mixed into a messy, delicious batch of sweet custard and piled high onto a Dark Chocolate Cupcake? Okay, so maybe there are some other equally delicious ways to eat it, but it’s hard to beat that yummy combo!

This blog post just happened to coincide with my nephews birthday.  It’s a labor of love for me to make birthday cakes for the family whenever possible, and this time the request was for German chocolate cupcakes.  So, I baked 2 dozen Dark Chocolate Cupcakes, topped them with the spread and delivered them to the birthday boy, all the while snapping pictures, of course.

This spread is more than just a cupcake topping.  It’s pretty versatile and can be used as a filler or frosting for layer cakes, a topping for ice cream, a finishing touch for cinnamon rolls…the sky’s the limit!  However you do it, enjoy!
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Ingredients
:
1 12 oz can evaporated milk
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter
10 oz sweetened flake coconut
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
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Directions:

In a large saucepan, whisk together the milk, egg yolk and vanilla until well blended.  IMG_5513Add sugar and butter and cook on medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly, about 10-12 minutes.  Resist the urge to turn up the heat to avoid scorching

Once thick, remove from heat and stir in the coconut and pecans until well combined.  Allow mixture to cool completely before using as a spread or filling.

Makes about 4 cups.
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Basic Buttercream Frosting

I remember when I was growing up, my mom was always baking these big, gorgeous wedding cakes for friends and family.  It was so exciting to sit and watch her frost the cake and stack the tiers high, then decorate it with perfect frosting roses and embellishments. She always made the most perfectly white, fluffy vanilla buttercream frosting to frost it with.  She would spread leftover frosting on graham crackers for Joanie and I.

When I started baking cakes and cupcakes several years ago, I couldn’t get the consistency of my buttercream frosting right.  The frosting would never be fluffy enough and would never hold up when I piped it through a tip.  I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong until finally I had my mom walk me through it.  Turns out there is a very simple trick to getting the fluffiest frosting that’ll stay where you put it.  The trick is, you beat the crap out of it!  My mom told me to whip the butter in the mixer on high for no less than 7 minutes!  So here is my buttercream frosting recipe based on my mom’s recipe, but I don’t use shortening like she did because I just don’t like the mouth feel.
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Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature.  (This is VERY important, if your butter is too soft or melted it won’t fluff up.  I would err on the side of too cold if anything.  Let your butter set on the counter over night if you can.)

4-5 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp real vanilla extract
5-6 Tbs milk

Method:

With an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the butter on high for 10 minutes.  You can periodically stop the mixer to scrape down sides of the bowl.  The butter will get fluffy and almost white in color.
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When butter is very light and fluffy (after 10 minutes of whipping) turn mixer off and add the vanilla and two cups of the powdered sugar.  Turn mixer on low until the sugar is combined and then turn it on medium speed and add 2 tablespoons of the milk.
Turn mixer back to low and add the rest of the powdered sugar and a couple more tablespoons of milk until you have a fluffy, light, spreadable consistency.

You are now ready to spread the frosting onto cakes or cupcakes.  This can be done using an off-set spatula or pastry bag and tip.  If you don’t have either of these, the back-side of a butter knife works just fine.  This recipe will frost approximately 24 cupcakes or 1 9×13 cake or a two layer 8 inch round cake.  Happy frosting!!

~Janna
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Joanie’s Favorite Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

I can honestly say that these are the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever had.  No exaggeration.  I’m a big chocoholic and, in my opinion, the darker the better!  Sure there’s a time and a place for milk chocolate (and even white chocolate, though that’s not really chocolate) but dark chocolate takes the cake.  Or rather, MAKES the cake!

I came across this recipe from Life, Love & Sugar in the news feed of our Facebook page.  The chocolate cake was layered with a decadent pumpkin cheesecake and frosted with pumpkin icing.  The photos were so beautiful and enticing that I was more than happy to test it out for a friend.  While the original layer cake was delicious, the chocolate cake really stood out to me.  Since then, it has been my go-to for chocolate cake.

This recipe is rather quick and easy, and you don’t need a mixer.  So far, it has been absolutely fool proof.  The best part is, they are so rich and delightful that you really don’t even need icing…that’s just a bonus.  =)  However, if you do want something sweet to spread on top, try our Basic Buttercream or Coconut Pecan Spread.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup Hershey’s Special Dark baking chocolate powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup boiling water water
2 tsp real vanilla extractIMG_5447

Directions:
Prepare your pans ahead of time.  Line cupcake pans, OR thoroughly grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans.  You may consider adding parchment paper rounds to the bottom of the pan to ensure an easy release.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and whisk together thoroughly.
Dry Ingredients

Add eggs, buttermilk & oil and mix until combined and glossy.
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In a measuring cup, combine the boiling water and vanilla and add it to the chocolate mixture.  Give the batter a final stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.  The consistency will be a little runny, but, trust me, it’s perfect.
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Pour the batter into prepared pans.  For cupcakes, leave about 3/8 inch to the top of the liner to avoid ugly muffin tops.  =)
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For cupcakes: bake 25-30 minutes.  (My stone pan takes 30 minutes on the dot, every time.  Metal pans may need a little less time.)
For round cakes: bake for about 35-40 minutes.

You know your cake is done with you can insert a toothpick into the middle and it comes out clean.  However, DON’T disturb the cake until the final minutes of baking.  You don’t want to cause it to collapse.  Collapsed cake is not pretty, I’ve seen it.
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Allow the cakes to cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to cooling racks and let them come to room temperature before you frost them.

Makes 24 cupcakes (25 if you’re lucky!) or one decadent, layered round cake.
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Grapefruit Pie

I love citrus and grapefruit is one of my favorites.  It reminds me of being at my grandparents house in Florida and picking the tart fruit right from the tree!  As I was testing my key lime pie last year I started thinking about the possibility of grapefruit pie.  I’ve tried different variations of grapefruit pie over the last year and finally came up with one that I think is perfect.  As I researched grapefruit pie, I realized that they all use the actual wedges, and made a fruit pie, while I wanted more of a custard.  So I juiced the grapefruit and simmered it and reduced it by half so it was super sweet and super tart.  I also used the zest of one whole grapefruit to make sure it had tons of flavor.  Then I took the custard base that I use for the key lime pie and used the grapefruit juice and zest instead.  I couldn’t be more happy with the results and I hope you like it too!

~Jannawhipped-cream-birdie 3

Ingredients for filling:

1 cup grapefruit juice, I used Ruby Red but any variety will do (One very large grapefruit will give you about 1 cup)
Zest from your grapefruit
1 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
3 large egg yolks
1 9″ graham cracker crust  (or you can use a ready made crust)

Ingredients for crust:

2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbs granulated sugar
5 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

Ingredients for whipped cream:

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 tsp vanilla extract
*If you don’t have a vanilla bean you can double your vanilla extract.
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Method:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a 9 inch pie plate mix the graham cracker crumbs with the sugar.  Pour the butter into the dish and mix with a fork until all the graham cracker is coated.  Press mixture onto the sides of the dish and then press into the middle making an even thickness throughout.  Set aside.

To make the whipped cream, put the heavy cream into a cold mixer bowl (I stick mine in the freezer beforehand for a few minutes).  Using the whisk attachment and the mixer on high, whip the cream until it thickens up and forms peaks (3-4 minutes).  Turn the mixer off and add your vanilla and powdered sugar.  Turn the mixer on medium to incorporate the sugar and vanilla.  Once finished, put the whipped cream into a lidded air-tight container and store in refrigerator.  You will need your bowl and whisk attachment again so you’ll need to wash it.
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Squeeze grapefruit juice into a small bowl or sauce pot.  Strain out seeds and big clumps of pulp.

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Simmer in sauce pot on med/high heat to reduce by half.  This will take approximately 10-15 minutes.  Keep an eye on it and stir occasionally.  You will end up with 1/2 a cup of reduced juice.  Add the zest and cool in an ice bath.  (Don’t skip the ice bath!  You do this so you don’t cook the eggs by adding hot juice.)

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Once the juice isn’t hot to the touch (it’s okay if it’s warm) add it, the sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolks to a mixer bowl.  Using your whisk attachment again, blend on high until well incorporated, 1-2 minutes.

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Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake for 15 minutes.  grapefruit5

Let pie rest out of the oven for 10 minutes before chilling it in the fridge.  Top with homemade whipped cream and serve cold.
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Gooey Marshmallow Treats

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Also known as Rice Krispies Treats, these simple squares are a fun finger food that will instantaneously transport you back to childhood.  Rice Krispies Treats were invented in 1939 by Malitta Jensen and Mildred Day at the Kellogg Company home economics department as a fund raiser for Camp Fire Girls. (source: Wikipedia)
And what’s not to love?  Crispy rice cereal is generously coated in fluffy sugary marshmallows so it’s bound to be delicious.  Best of all, they are fast, easy and inexpensive.  Yes, they are full of carbs, sugar and delicious full-fat butter.  But that’s what dessert is all about!  Indulge a little….

Ingredients:
16 oz mini marshmallows, divided
4 oz butter + some for greasing (Coconut oil can be used for a dairy-free treat.)
1/4 tsp salt
6 cups crisp rice cereal
OPTIONAL: 1 cup chocolate chips, mini chips, mini m&m’s, caramel chips, etc.

Directions:

Generously grease a 9×13 pan with butter.

In a large pot, melt butter on medium-low heat.  Stir in HALF the mini marshmallows and continue to stir until they are completely melted and form a gooey cream.

Add salt and stir.  Remove from heat immediately.

Pour cereal into the pot and fold it into the melted marshmallows until all cereal is thoroughly coated with marshmallow.
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Add the additional whole marshmallows and any optional chips that you want.  Quickly fold them into the cereal.  You don’t want this second addition of marshmallows to melt, it’s so delicious when you bite into a fluffy whole marshmallow!

Turn the mixture out into your buttered pan and press it flat with clean, buttered hands.  It’s delicious when it’s warm, but they will cut much more easily if you allow them to cool completely.  RC

*Tip: If you have leftover chips, consider melting them and drizzling over the top of the cut squares.  Yum!
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Zesty Fried Pickles

pickleAnyone who knows me knows that pickles are one of my favorite foods.  I’m obsessed with pickles, so I’m always looking for new and fun ways to incorporate them into my meals.  These fried pickles are addictive and are a fun finger food!  Who needs utensils, right?  Everytime I make them they are gone in a matter of minutes!  These go perfectly with my hot wings on game day, GO SEAHAWKS!!!!  Or my pretzels and beer cheese!  Fried pickles and beer cheese?  I think I’m on to something!!
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Ingredients:

About 3 cups of dill pickle chips, drain on paper towels.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
¾ tsp dill weed or fresh chopped dill
1 cup of buttermilk
1 qt vegetable, (canola or peanut oil works too) oil for frying

Directions:

Combine all dry ingredients into a bowl, put buttermilk into separate bowl.  Make sure your pickles are well drained.DSC_0122

Heat oil in a 4 to 6 quart heavy bottomed pot to about 350 degrees F.  Dunk ½ a cup or so of pickles into the buttermilk, coating all sides.  Shake off excess buttermilk and put into the flour mixture, toss the pickles around so they are all coated.
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Fry in the hot oil until golden (2-3 minutes) and let them drain on paper towels for a few minutes.  Repeat with the remainder of the pickles.
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Enjoy as they are or for an added kick of flavor dip them in ranch or bleu cheese dressing spiked with hot sauce!!  These go fabulous with a cold beer!

Blackberry Mousse Cheesecake

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Blackberries are synonymous with Fall in the Pacific Northwest.  Everywhere you go you can find fresh blackberries for sale, blackberry shakes and smoothies, blackberry desserts, jam & syrup…you name it!  I’m lucky enough to have access to TONS of wild blackberry bushes that are heavy with ripe, juicy berries.  I’ve been a little obsessive this season about making sure I’ve picked enough to last me through the winter, and my torn up hands are proof of that!  But, it’s well worth it to have a nice supply in the freezer.  Not only are they amazing in tons of recipes, but they also make flavorful (and pretty!) little ice cubes for your water.

This recipe is a spin off from my Key Lime Cheesecake recipe.  I used the same basic method with a few key ingredient swaps.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a dessert girl, but I could eat these all day!  It’s light and moussy with tons of blackberry flavor, not to mention the color!!  They’re pretty little things!

Keep in mind, the recipe as written includes the blackberry seeds.  If you are someone who is sensitive to those hard little seeds, just replace the 2 cups of blackberries with 1 cup of fresh, strained blackberry juice.  Also, you can prepare in two ways: traditional cheesecake in a spring-form pan, or, my favorite, cheesecake mini’s (as pictured above).

Happy Blackberry Season!!

Ingredients:

Crust:
1 package Graham Crackers (approx 1 ½ cups crushed)
⅓ cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Blackberry Mousse:
2 cups fresh blackberries (or 1 cup fresh, strained blackberry juice for seedless texture)
¼ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice
2 envelopes Knox gelatin
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
½ cup butter, softened
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Optional Blackberry Syrup:
1 cup fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions:

To Prepare Crust: In a food processor, process graham crackers until they turn to coarse crumbs.  Transfer to a bowl, add melted butter, sugar and cinnamon.  Stir until thoroughly combined and mixture is the consistency of wet sand.  Press crumbs firmly into the bottom of an ungreased spring-form pan.  (If you’re making individual cheesecakes in a cupcake pan, scroll to the bottom for further instructions.)   Bake for 7 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool completely.Crust.jpg

To Prepare Blackberry Syrup:  In a small saucepan, mash blackberries.  Add lemon juice and cook on medium heat until they release their juices, 5-10 minutes.  Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer.  Return to pan, add the sugar and cook on medium for another 5 minutes or until liquid coats the back of a spoon.  Allow to cool completely.

To Prepare Blackberry Mousse:  Add blackberries to a medium saucepan and give them a quick squish with a fork.  Add water and Knox gelatin and allow to sit about 5 minutes until the gelatin begins to develop and the liquid thickens.Blackberries.jpg

Add eggs and sugar and whisk until eggs are well beaten into the mixture.  Turn your heat on medium and stir constantly while the mixture slowly comes to a boil.  Stirring is VERY important, you don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs in your cheesecake!

Once the mixture has thickened remove from heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese together.  Add the blackberry mixture and mix on medium speed until well combined, scraping the sides and bottom so that all of the cream cheese is incorporated.  Refrigerate until cool stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, whip the heavy cream in a metal bowl until stiff peaks form.  When the blackberry mixture has cooled, fold in the whipped cream.  Whipped cream step.jpg

Pour the mousse into prepared crust and smooth it out with a knife or the back of a spoon.  Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

To release from the pan, run a thin knife around the edge of the pan before opening the spring-form clip.  Remove the pan cuff.  Place a sheet of parchment over the top of the cheesecake, then flip it over onto a flat surface.  Gently insert a butter knife between the crust and the pan and the the cheesecake should easily release.

Before serving, drizzle with blackberry syrup.
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Variation:

To prepare cheesecake mini’s, fill cupcake pans with foil liners (recipe makes about 24).

Note: You cannot prepare mini’s in batches, they must all be done at once because the cheesecake mixture will firm up in the mixing bowl if left unpoured.  If you don’t have at least 24 cupcake spaces, you can purchase disposables at any dollar store or grocery store.

Distribute graham cracker mixture evenly into all foil liners, about 1 tablespoon each.  Press firmly into the bottom of each cup.  (Try using a clean spice bottle for this.)  Crust Mini.jpg

Bake about 7 minutes at 375.

Once crust has cooled, fill with prepared blackberry mixture all the way to the top of the foil liner.  Refrigerate until cool and set, at least 2 hours.
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Top with blackberry sauce and fresh berries.  Indulge!
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Orange Essence Zucchini Bread

Zucchini is one of the most abundant fall vegetables here in the US.  And zucchini bread is one of the most popular ways to use it up, especially when your garden produces an abundance of overgrown, deep green squash.  While I don’t have a garden (just a few tomato plants on my patio), one of my associates at work has generously shared this years zucchini crop.

Quick breads often seem more like cake than bread, and I’m ok with that.  Classic zucchini bread is so comforting and delicious!  However, I wanted my zucchini bread to really stand apart, so I started baking.  And baking.  And baking.  I don’t know how many loaves and muffins I’ve given away in my quest for the perfect bread, but it’s been a lot!  However, it has been well worth it because I really do believe that this is the best zucchini bread I’ve ever had.  It’s subtly sweet with just a hint of orange while still maintaining that classic zucchini bread flavor.  If you like to drizzle yours with a sweet glaze, I’ve included directions for a quick orange glaze that perfectly compliments it.  I hope it’s your new favorite!

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest from 1 large orange
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts or unsalted pistachios (optional)

Orange Glaze (optional):
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed orange juice
¼ teaspooon orange zest

Makes about 2 full-sized loaves, 4 mini-loaves, or about 24 muffins.
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Directions:

Prepare your loaf pan or muffin tins.  I highly recommend using parchment if you’re making loaves because, for some reason, this bread seems to stick to my stoneware EVERY time if I don’t.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 C)

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest off the orange being careful to get as little white pith as possible.  Toss the orange peel and the granulated sugar into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulverize until the peel is very finely minced into the sugar.  Set aside.Orange Sugar 1.jpg

Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon together in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla, brown sugar and orange sugar together.  Add sifted ingredients to the wet mixture and beat will.
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Stir in the zucchini and nuts until well combined.  Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 40-60 for a loaf pan.
Bake approx 30 minutes for muffins.

Test doneness by inserting a toothpick or small tester into the middle.  When it comes out clean, it’s done!

Allow bread to cool in pans for about 20 minutes (not necessary for muffins using liners), then turn them out and let it cool completely.

To prepare optional glaze: whisk sugar, orange juice and zest in a bowl until smooth.  Drizzle over bread.

Enjoy!
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Pasta a la Limone

I came across this pasta recipe on America’s Test Kitchen, which is one of Joanie and my FAVORITE websites!  I watched the video and could almost taste the lemon and basil.  My mouth was watering, I had to make it.  I was slightly skeptical that it wouldn’t turn out very flavorful because it uses pasta water and a splash of heavy cream for the main ingredients in the sauce.  Boy was I wrong!  This pasta is a really good summer time dish.  It’s very light and refreshing, tasting of lemony tartness and fresh basil!  I’m in LOVE!!  I usually tweak a few things in recipes to suit to my taste, for this one I doubled the parmesan and added a little more lemon zest.  If you are preparing this recipe for less than 6 people you might want to cut recipe in half, unless you want leftovers.  The recipe says it feeds 4-6.  Using a whole pound of pasta, this recipe feeds at least 8, especially if you’re using it as a side dish.

This makes a quick and easy weeknight meal, taking only minutes more than the time it takes to cook the pasta.  Buon appetito!!  ~Janna

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Ingredients:

Table salt
1 Lb spaghetti
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
1/4 heavy cream
2 Tsp finely grated lemon zest and 1/4 of fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
2 Oz finely grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
ground black pepper
2 Tbs finely shredded fresh basil leaves

Method:

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a dutch oven or large pot.  Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta to boiling water, cook stirring frequently until cooked al dente, about 7 minutes.  Reserve 1 3/4 cups of the pasta water, drain pasta and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the now empty pot over medium heat until oil is shimmering and hot.  Add shallot and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until shallot is softened, about 2 minutes.
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Whisk 1 1/2 cups of reserved pasta water and cream into pot.  Bring to simmer and cook for 2 minutes.  Remove pot from heat, return pasta to pot and stir until coated.  Stir in remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, cheese and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.

Cover and let pasta stand for 2 minutes, tossing frequently and adjusting consistency with remaining 1/4 pasta water if necessary.
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Stir in fresh basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve, drizzling individual portion with oil, a sprinkle of cheese and a bit more basil.Picture3

Rainier Cherry Crisp

The produce in the Pacific Northwest is abundant in the summer!  Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all that goodness.  Right now, in mid summer, we have cherries and apricots coming out of our ears!!  Traditionally, rainier cherries aren’t used in pies and baking because theyre not very tart, just sweet and delicious.  I decided to give rainier cherry crisp a try anyway.  I’ve added lime juice to give it a little tartness.  This crisp turned out 100 times better than I expected.  I was very pleasantly surprised upon the first warm, cinnamony bite.  My husband and I ended up eating several large spoonfuls right out of the dish!  This crisp is best served hot (you can reheat in the microwave if needed).  I bet its fantastic ala mode as well!  So without further ado, here is my recipe for Rainier cherry Crisp.

* I apologize for the lack of pictures, I was too excited while creating this dish to remember to stop and take pics!  I will add pictures and re-post next time I make it.

Ingredients:

Filling:
4 cups fresh rainier cherries, pitted and halved
1  Tbsp. corn starched whisked in 1/3 cup cold water
2 Tbsp. lime juice (or lemon)

Crisp:1/3 cup a/p flour
3/4 cup quick oats
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. butter, melted

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a bowl, mix cherries, corn starch and lime juice until combined.  Put cherry mixture in a 8 or 9 inch round pie dish.  in a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, cinnamon and brown sugar, mix to incorporate and then add the melted butter.  Mix until all ingredients are incorporated.  Evenly spread the oat mixture to the top of the cherries.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until top is golden brown.  Enjoy warm!

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