Jam Pockets

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Country Casual Cravings: Jam Pockets! Here’s a versatile quick recipe that makes a wonderful dessert, breakfast pastry, or afternoon snack. Prepared pie crusts or pizza dough from the dairy case in the supermarket can be used. Plus, any flavor of fruit jam will complement the smooth creamy filing inside. Although I didn’t add them here, I think sliced almonds would make a nice addition as well. The buttery crust serves as a nice “pocket” for the burst of fruity sweetness inside. Try as I might, it’s a challenge to stop at just one. Perhaps I won’t.

JAM POCKETS

Ingredients:

1 refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on package

4 ounces Neufchâtel cheese, softened

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup four-fruit jam

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup sugar

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out refrigerated pie crust to 1/4-inch. Cut into twelve 3-inch rounds. Set aside. In a bowl, combine Neufchâtel cheese, almond extract, and powdered sugar. Stir until smooth. Drop a teaspoon of cheese mixture into the center of each round. Top with a dollop of fruit jam. Brush the inside edges with beaten egg; fold in half. Crimp edges with a fork to seal. Brush top and bottom with more egg wash; dust both sides with sugar. Pierce the top of each pocket. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Repeat steps for remaining jam pockets. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from baking sheet. Cool slightly. Serve the reserve creamed cheese mixture as a dipping sauce.

Plum Coffee Cake

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Plum Coffee Cake! Plums have a way of making a person feel special. They’re not as plentiful as apples, but when they’re available I can’t wait to snag a few to plunk into a homemade coffee cake. The sweet flavor reminds me of stepping into a pastry shop where fruit-filled delicacies are placed front and center in the glass-domed showcase. From mini fruit tarts overflowing with ripe, juicy berries to cheesecakes smothered in exotic options. Turnovers become too tempting when a smidgen of filling seeps out. And just look at the succulent strudels and rustic galettes. But I digress. Today’s feature is all about the mouthwatering palatable pleasure of the plum.

PLUM COFFEE CAKE

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cardamom

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg, room temperature

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 pound plums, pitted and sliced

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9” cake pan with nonstick oil. Set aside. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, baking powder, and sea salt. Set aside. In another bowl cream together butter and sugar, using an electric mixer, for 3 minutes. Add vanilla extract and egg. Beat on Low speed until well mixed. Gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk. Beat on Low speed until smooth. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Arrange sliced plums on top in a circular pattern. Bake for one hour until golden brown. Center is set when a cake tester comes out clean. Cool cake on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Naked Belgian Waffles

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Naked Belgian Waffles! Doesn’t this sound sinfully decadent? Imagine fluffy discs of indented lattice, with slightly crisp edges, exuding a seductive vanilla essence. The deep indentations of golden batter cake are perfect vessels for whatever your heart desires. Might it be rich, creamy butter or hand-tapped pure maple syrup? What about toasted pecan halves and powdered sugar? Or perhaps even a smearing of hazelnut spread with fresh red raspberries. Whatever your craving, do yourself a favor. Make a double batch of waffles to store in the freezer. Then pop one in the toaster for a great way to start the day. Romance is in the air.

NAKED BELGIAN WAFFLES

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 eggs, room temperature

2 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt in a large bowl. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Slowly add liquid mixture to dry ingredients. Stir just until moistened. Batter will be slightly lumpy. Do not over-mix. Spray waffle iron with nonstick oil. Pour 3/4 cup of batter into preheated waffle iron. Close lid. Do not open until golden brown. Repeat until batter is gone. Serve warm with softened butter, maple syrup, pecan halves, powdered sugar, or fruit toppings.

Fried Cinnamon Sugar Pears

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Fried Cinnamon Sugar Pears! Impulse buys. We all get lambasted as soon as we step through the automated doors of the supermarket. The colorful array of succulent fruit and glistening vegetables appear as lush as if they were grown in the Garden of Eden. Before you know it, the grocery cart is overflowing with a mountain of luxuriant produce. In your mind, you’re already forming mental images of gastronomic creations where you spin around the kitchen like Julia Child waving a wooden spoon in the air. That is until you get home. The fruit is ripening faster than you can say, “go bananas”. Now two weeks in, you’ve already exhausted several different ways of consuming that box of winter pears. Allow me to offer a quick ‘n easy side dish. It goes especially well with pork loin or spiral ham. I promise you, your family will be singing your praises from now on.

FRIED CINNAMON SUGAR PEARS

Ingredients:

6 Oregon pears, peeled, cored, and sliced

2-3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup apple cider

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Fresh lemon thyme, for garnish

Instructions:

In an iron skillet over low heat, warm butter. Combine sugar, brown sugar, and ground cinnamon in a bowl. Mix well; set aside. In another bowl, whisk together apple cider and cornstarch. Set aside. Add sliced pears to melted butter. Coat well; increase heat to medium setting. Stir gently for about 3 minutes. Sprinkle sugar mixture over pears. Stir. Cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pears are fork tender. Pour apple cider liquid over pears, stirring constantly for 2 minutes longer. Remove iron skillet from heat. Allow fried pears to cool slightly and thicken. Ladle into small bowls. Serve warm.

Caramelized Plum Sauce

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Caramelized Plum Sauce! A plum is one of those fruits whose skin is incredibly tender and easy to bite into. It offers a slightly tart taste before the sweetness of the flesh engulfs your senses. When I was a teenager living in Nebraska along the Missouri River, I remember puttering along winding country roads in the grain belt on a late summer afternoon. The weather was hot and humid, so the windows were rolled down on the beat up 1962 Plymouth Valiant that had seen better days. An irritated cicada beetle was screeching from the glove box where my boyfriend had tossed it after seeing it land on the front seat. I turned my head away to look beyond the car’s front fender when I saw a small native tree bursting to its limit with sweet, ripe, purple plums. “Look!” I exclaimed pointing my index finger, “It’s just like the plums in the grocery store!”

CARAMELIZED PLUM SAUCE

Ingredients:

4 fresh plums, washed, sliced, and stones discarded

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons brown sugar

3 cinnamon sticks

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon raw honey

Instructions:

Cut stone fruit in half. Remove pits and slice into segments, leaving skin on. Set aside. In a large skillet, warm butter over medium heat. Do not scorch. Add brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, and raw honey. Stir. Bring to a simmer. Gradually add sliced plums; gently tossing to coat. Continue simmering for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Fruit will turn tender, not mushy. Remove pan from heat. Set aside to cool slightly. Spoon caramelized plum sauce over vanilla bean ice cream. Serve immediately. Once the sauce is cool, pour into a glass jar. Cover. Store in the refrigerator up to one month.

Fabulous Fruit Dip

Experience the Holidays: Fabulous Fruit Dip! Recently I served a delightful fruit cup for breakfast when family came to visit. Because it is made with Greek yogurt and nutmeg, it’s an impressive alternative to ordinary yogurt. Think of it as Summer-in-a-Cup. Whether you decide to arrange a generous fruit platter for a crowd or scale it down to individual portions, the results are the same: heavenly delicious!

FABULOUS FRUIT DIP

Ingredients:

1 large orange*

8 ounces of Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature

4 ounces marshmallow Creme

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon orange extract

1/8 teaspoon orange zest

Smidgen nutmeg

Assorted fresh fruits

Mint Sprig for Garnish

Instructions:

Cut 1/3 off the top of the orange to create a “bowl”. Carefully run a sharp knife around the inside. Do not cut through the peel. Gently scoop out the fruit. Set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together Neufchâtel cheese and marshmallow creme. Beat until smooth. Fold in Greek yogurt. Make the zest by using the top portion of the orange peel. Add orange extract, zest, and nutmeg. Blend thoroughly. Chill one hour. Scoop into the orange “bowl” before serving. Garnish with fresh mint sprig. Place on a serving platter surrounded by fresh fruit.

* For individual servings, choose four small navel oranges.

Mincemeat Cookies

Experience the Holidays: Mincemeat Cookies! When my friend, Ray, “gifted” me with a batch of his time-honored traditional homemade mincemeat, I felt as though I had received a portion of the Holy Grail. Could this secret from the past hold special powers? Would one bite provide happiness, eternal youth, and food in infinite abundance? You tell me. Ray carefully coached me on how to “season” the mixture by adding flavored brandy (I chose apricot) over a three-week period, stirring it occasionally in a covered clay crock. I was an awestruck student following his instructions to the letter. The results were phenomenal and elegant. Don’t let anyone tell you mincemeat is awful. When prepared correctly, some things are worth the wait.

MINCEMEAT COOKIES

Ingredients for Cookies:

2/3 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs

1 cup mincemeat*

2 cups flour

1 cup pecans, chopped

Pecan halves for garnish

Ingredients for Icing:

3 cups powdered sugar

3 tablespoons butter, softened

1 tablespoon apricot brandy

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-2 tablespoons warm milk, as needed

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Cream together butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add eggs and mincemeat. Gradually stir in the flour. Fold in chopped pecans. Drop by spoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes until tops of cookies are dry and set. Bottoms will be slightly golden. Remove from oven. Transfer to a wired rack. Frost while slightly warm. Top each cookie with a pecan half before frosting sets.

Instructions for Icing:

In a medium bowl gently mix powdered sugar and butter until smooth. Add brandy and vanilla. Stir well. As needed, add warm milk to create a thick consistency. Place a dollop of icing on each cookie. Garnish with pecan half.

*The “Elegant Homemade Mincemeat” recipe can be found in the 1972 Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook, page 371.

Experience the Holidays!

Experience the Holidays! This year things will be a little different. Unsettling times of chaos and confusion can still accompany satisfying food. Some people will gather virtually, others behind plastic shields, window panes, and face masks. Christmas cards, letters, texts, and phone calls are especially important right now. It is critical to stay connected. Every family has its favorites from the past. Some indulge in time-worn traditions while others enjoy modern classics. As you embrace the holidays with limited companionship, sentimental yearnings, enjoyable food, or jubilant festivities, celebrate the spirit of the season. In the next few weeks, join me as I share festive foods as well as healthy options. Experience the holidays with gifts that never go out of style: Faith, Hope, Joy, and Love. These are the things worth sharing.

Mincemeat Quick Bread

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Mincemeat Quick Bread! Don’t look at me that way. I know what you’re thinking. “If this recipe has mincemeat in it, I’m not eating it.” But hold on a sec. There are plenty of foods with names that sound downright gross. Think about it: head cheese, tripe, mung beans, and blood sausage to name a few. I’m here to tell you mincemeat is a sweet and savory filling that basically contains dried fruits, citrus, spices, and brandy. Ahhh. Now I have your attention. This particular recipe has about 1/4 cup apricot brandy in it. Just know if you do choose to add brandy or rum to a jar of prepared mincemeat, be sure to allow it to marinate in the refrigerator at least 8 hours before using. Now you can understand why some people eat it straight out of the jar.

MINCEMEAT QUICK BREAD

Ingredients:

1 egg, room temperature

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 cups prepared mincemeat pie filling (with 1/4 cup apricot brandy, optional)

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9”x5” loaf pan. Set aside. Combine egg, vegetable oil, orange zest, orange juice, and mincemeat pie filling. Stir until well blended. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring just until combined. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Check loaf with a cake tester to make sure center is done. Remove from oven. Cool on a wire rack. Slice and serve.