Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Spring Fling with the Darling Bakers!

Bluebonnets, wortham lake 011

My favorite time of year is Spring.   It’s a short season in Texas, and we spend as many evenings outside before the 90’s are upon us – that’s temperature and humidity, and voracious mosquitoes!   It’s time to admire the wildflowers, in particular the bluebonnets that line our highways and carpet the landscape.  The pictures above and below were taken by the lake in my neighborhood. 

Bluebonnets, wortham lake 051

I can’t resist the profusion of color and aromas that seem to appear overnight in our garden.  The grass is suddenly greener, the crepe myrtles leaf out quietly and the azalea bushes are a burst of color, alas, for only a couple of weeks.   Let’s see what’s blooming in my garden this Spring.

Here are blooms from our Formosa azalea:garden, march 09 002

The delicate flowers of the African Iris plant dangles upon long stems:garden, march 09 010

This Firecracker plant lives up to it’s name:garden, march 09 013

The Mexican flame vine attracts bees, butterflies and birds.  This makes Husbie very happy!   He plants native species in order to attract small, interesting critters around the yard.garden, march 09 024

A busy bee on the Meyer lemon blossoms.  It didn’t take long, did it?lemon blossoms and bee

A Monarch butterfly caterpillar chilling on the Plumeria:garden, march 09 047

A variety of vegetables and herbs, now planted in the garden.  This makes moi very happy!garden, march 09 019

 A fig lover’s delight!  Makes moi so happy I can hardly bear it! garden, march 09 027

Mexican (Key) lime blossoms – I know what you’re thinking!Lime blossoms 004

The elegant Calla Lily:garden, march 09 048

Cat’s whiskers!Back Yard Spring 08 005

And finally, a fabulous Knockout rosebush that blooms all year and never fails to impress:Flower

a darling baker

I am honored to belong to a group of lovely ladies called the ‘Darling Bakers’.   I’ve been getting to know them on another website, and boy are they a talented and interesting lot.  Our theme this month is ‘Spring Fling’.

One of the things I look forward to in the Spring is fresh, ripe, sweet strawberries.  For this occasion, I would like to share with you my recipe for Muesli, which includes a healthy portion of them.

Years ago, when I first moved to Houston, I enjoyed muesli at Marshall-Field’s department store in the Galleria.  A German woman who worked in the little cafe made it and she called it Birchmuesli.  I tried to coax the recipe out of her but all she offered were vague instructions on how to prepare it.  I immediately began experimenting, and my latest version is right on!  I’ve included variations for you to experiment with.


This recipe makes a healthy and delicious breakfast.  It combines raw oats with crushed pineapple, nuts and fresh fruit.  You can adjust the proportions to suit your taste.  Begin the night before you plan to eat it. 


Serves 2

1 cup raw oats (not minute or instant)

1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple in it’s own juice (you will use the pineapple and the juice)

2-4 tablespoons plump raisins, cranberries, dried blueberries, dried cherries, or a combination.

2-4 tablespoons cream, half and half, milk or yoghurt.  The cream will make it rich and creamy – go for it!

2 teaspoons brown sugar (or honey), optional

1/4 cup chopped pecans, walnuts or almonds, toasted

fresh fruit of your choice, cut into bite-sized pieces - strawberries, blueberries, apples, bananas, peaches, raspberries, blackberries

The night before you plan to eat the muesli, combine the oats, crushed pineapple and its juice, and dried berries in a bowl until well mixed.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.


The next morning add the cream, half and half, milk or yoghurt to loosen the mixture.  It should be easy to stir but not too thin.  Add the sugar (optional), chopped nuts and fresh fruit.  Enjoy!



Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The St. Patrick’s Day post, a week late!

Update: Please click on the 'comments' section at the end of this post for the recipe for Irish Whiskey Pound Cake.

Due to technical difficulties (ok, it’s blogger incompetence!), I was unable to post during our ski trip in Crested Butte. So here it is, a week late! The Irish Whiskey Pound Cake I made to celebrate the occasion is at the very end.

Crested Butte1

Top of the morning to you on St. Patrick’s Day! We are enjoying the beautiful slopes of Mount Crested Butte, Colorado. Because our blood is sub-tropic thin, we are fair weather skiers and March is the perfect time of year for us Texans to invade the quaint mountain villages of this awesome state!

Since this trip was very last minute in planning, and by then the price of plane tickets was way out of our reach, we did the second best thing: we chose to drive the 1,100 miles from Houston to Crested Butte, with an overnight stop in Trinidad, CO. Ten people, 2 SUV’s – believe it or not, it was a breeze!

Taking a break along the Arkansas River in ColoradoCrested Butte March 09 004

Delicate aspens grace the snowCrested Butte3

We are very thankful and fortunate to be staying in the private home of Lois and Gerry Pate. The house is a short walk from the ski lifts and includes two large balconies with mountain views.

Teague and Mark enjoying a Linne Calodo 2006 Leona’sCrested Butte7

The spacious dining areaCrested Butte9

And cozy fireplaceCrested Butte13

The kitchen is very well equipped – it even has a pastry cutter! We are cooking most of our meals with pleasure and ease: spaghetti Bolognese, migas, chili, fresh apple crumble, buttermilk pancakes, fettuccine Alfredo with grilled chicken, banana pudding, and pork chops with applesauce and succotash.

Check out the breathtaking view towards the small historic town of Crested Butte from the windowCrested Butte8

The house if very tastefully decorated. I love the detail in the backsplash.Crested Butte12

It takes a lot of guts for a woman in her forties to take up snowboarding! It’s been a challenge, and a lot of fun for my sister, Vesna, to keep up with her family of snowboarders. There is more ksh, ksh, ksh and fewer bruises every year!

You have always been athletic and determined – stick with it sistuh!Crested Butte5

When Emilia was about 10 years old, she came home from her first snowboarding lesson, sat down and drew a pie graph to describe her day. It went something like this: 60% on bum, 20% trying to get up, 10% on lift, 6% waiting for lift, and 4% snowboarding!

You’re quite accomplished now, my little Longhorn!Crested Butte17

Alex’s ‘Mental’ cap makes it’s appearance every year! Crested Butte11

Even though I had just finished breakfast, I couldn’t refuse the offer of hot chocolate and home-made biscotti at the top of the Silver Queen Express. “You could have said ‘No Thank You’, “ piped Vesna, at the sight of me dunking!

Who am I to refuse these two charming CB hosts?Crested Butte10

Teague and Emilia watching the activity on the slopesCrested Butte6

Jovan ‘owns’ the snowboard – he’s swift and graceful and the sight of his goggles and helmet prompted me to call him

Astroboarder!Crested Butte 19

These four daring young men ventured where the rest of us dare not! Crested butte experts 1

Clear blue skies all weekCrested Butte4

Happy at the end of an excellent day on the mountainCrested Butte18

Oh yeah…the recipe! Before we left home, I made an Irish Whiskey Pound Cake. Dried cherries, blueberries, pineapple pieces, cranberries and apricots are soaked in Irish whiskey. The Irish meaning of whiskey is ‘water of life’. I guess it explains how the Irish earned their ‘spirited’ reputation!

irish whiskey pound cake2

The zest of a lemon and toasted chopped almonds round off the flavors. The icing includes a generous helping of Bailey’s Irish Cream!

irish whiskey pound cake3

A slice of this dense and hearty cake is the perfect accompaniment to a strong cup of coffee. And it’s tasting better every day!

irish whiskey pound cake4

Until next time, here’s an Irish blessing for you:

May God grant you always...
A sunbeam to warm you,
A moonbeam to charm you,
A sheltering angel, so nothing can harm you.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Off to a winter wonderland!

Icy weather, tennis, alex's suit 165

When our kids were little, my funny and enthusiastic sister made up a little phrase we used to sing to them before a skiing trip:  We’re going skiing, ksh, ksh, ksh!   They loved the way the ksh emulated skis cutting the powder, and to this day the phrase comes up when it’s time to pack up for a ski trip.

Spring Break is finally here and this year we are going to cover new territory – Crested Butte in Colorado.  The kids have left the skis behind years ago…actually even my sister and her husband have joined the ranks of the snowboarders, leaving Husby and me the sole skiers.  It’s fun watching them zip by with such energy and speed.

I’ve got to go…I’ll talk to you next week.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TWD Lemon Cup Custard

twd lemon cup5

This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie’s recipe is a Lemon Cup Custard found on page 387 of Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking From My Home to Yours.  The recipe is so simple it has only four ingredients – whole milk, eggs, sugar and lemon zest.  That leaves lots of room for a creative combination of flavorings – lemon and clove, orange and star anise, espresso and cinnamon and many more. 

Custards have gone by the wayside since rich and creamy crème brûlées made their appearance a few years ago.  Having indulged in many a crème brûlée, their cream-laden fat components lingering in my mouth and later on my hips, this custard was in stark contrast.  Made with whole milk instead of cream, it tripped off my tongue without leaving much of an impression.  For my spoiled tongue, this custard needed lots of added flavor, much more than called for in the recipe.

Ms. Greenspan describes the custard as ‘silky’ and ‘lithe’.  True.  It is very light and fragile in structure without the binding force of fat.  But the benefit to this custard is that it has far fewer calories than a crème brûlée.  And that’s HUGE!  Cream has ten times more fat than whole milk.  If you’re counting calories, this is a good alternative.

I chose to stick to the original recipe for the most part.  The hot milk and lemon zest smelled lovely together.  Instead of lemon oil, I added 1/2 teaspoon of my own home-made ‘Limecello’ (Limoncello made with limes – I’ll share the recipe soon).  Next time I’ll add more – maybe a tablespoon or so.

twd lemon cup3

For fun, I caramelized slices of star fruit for the top.  Star fruit is also known as Carambola and is native to India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.  It now grows in the tropics all over the world and throughout south east Asia.  I like it because it is very juicy and not too sweet.  It has a light citrus flavor and is loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C. 

To caramelize the star fruit, prepare it following the directions in the link above, then slice into 1/4 inch pieces.  Pat dry with a paper towel.  Sprinkle with sugar.  With a kitchen torch, heat the sugar until it starts to burn. 

To find the recipe and see what other TWD bloggers made of it, please visit Bridget’s blog, The Way The Cookie Crumbles.  

twd lemon cup2 


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

As happy as a clam at high water!


To use a common phrase, I was as happy as a clam at high water when, in most unladylike fashion, I devoured my Clams with red pepper sauce the other day!  Unfortunately for the clams, the waters receded and I became the beneficiary of their savory morsels…yes, I practically inhaled them.  They were so fresh and delicious I had their delicate ocean nectar running down my arms! 

I have been lacking in iron lately, and in my perusal of the internet, I discovered a wonderful fact: clams are loaded in iron (155% RDA), are very high in protein and low in calories!  How convenient!  I adore seafood in any shape or form and always order it in fine restaurants. 

My fishmonger at HEB hand picked every clam for me.  He made sure that they were all closed tightly.  If by chance a clam is open when you are ready to cook it, gently rap it on the counter and if it doesn’t clam up(!) discard it – it’s dead.

In the absence of white wine, I found a great alternative – Mirin.  Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine (used for cooking) which is low in alcohol and available in all grocery stores.  It adds both sweet and salty tones to the sauce.  I wouldn’t add salt until you’ve tasted the sauce at the end of the cooking process because the olives will also contribute to the saltiness of the sauce.  The sweet red peppers will cook to velvety perfection, and the cilantro and lemon juice will brighten the flavors. 


Steamed clams with red pepper sauce

Husby is not a clam eater so this was all mine!

Per person: 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped

3 tablespoons aji-mirin or dry white wine

freshly ground black pepper

12 live ‘littleneck’ clams, scrubbed clean.  Discard any opened clams that don’t close when rapped on the counter top.

2 scallions (green onions), chopped crosswise

6 kalamata olives, sliced in half

about 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

a few drops of fresh lemon juice

In a medium sized saucepan, sauté the shallot and red pepper in butter and olive oil over medium heat until soft.  Add mirin and do a few turns of the pepper mill and cook for one more minute.  Reduce the heat to low.

Place clams on top of pepper mixture and cover tightly with a lid.  Steam for 5 minutes. 


Add the green onions, olives and cilantro.  Steam for a couple more minutes then check the clams to see if they say aaahhh!  If some of the clams have not opened, steam for a couple of minutes longer.  Discard any clams that do not open.  Finish with a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Serve with crusty French bread to sop up the juices!

 Fresh cilantro, red peppers and olives surround this beauty: clams3