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September 16, 2015

Autumn-spiced sour cream coffee cake

An easy autumn spiced make-ahead-and-freeze coffee cake.

Although I'm not a big tea drinker, I love the ritual of afternoon tea. Working at home can be isolating, and inviting a friend for tea punctuates my work day, which begins very early in the morning and often ends in mid- to late-afternoon. With tea, you should serve something sweet: fruit is nice, but let's face it -- cake is better. This sour cream coffee cake contains a hint of apple, plus all of the warm autumn spices like cinnamon and ginger. Though I'm not a good spur-of-the-moment baker, I love to make a few of these easy coffee cakes when the mood strikes, and stash them in the freezer (hint: cut the cakes in half before freezing, so you can defrost just enough for a tea party). Instead of frosting the cake, serve it with a big dollop of whipped cream, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. According to the calendar, autumn begins a week from today. Why not be prepared, with a cake in the freezer?

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August 16, 2015

Basil ricotta bruschetta with pan-burst grapes {vegetarian}

Basil ricotta bruschetta with pan-burst grapes: appetizer or dessert.

Park a giant bowl of fruit salad on the dining table, and my husband Ted and I both go for the cantaloupe and honeydew chunks, and any odd things like kiwi. He'll take the mango; I'll claim the watermelon. And we never fight over the grapes. I could eat grapes all day, every day, in the way one might chomp on peanut M&Ms all day, every day, but cold grapes are not Ted's thing. However, set those grapes in a frying pan over low heat, shake-shake-shake the pan every now and then until the grapes burst and their sweet juices ooze out, and spoon them over some seasoned ricotta cheese, and Ted is there, all in. These warm grapes barely resemble the fresh grapes I eat like candy; they become a grape "sauce" once they've popped open, not as sweet as grape jelly but every bit as spreadable. We've enjoyed these bruschetta as a first course, and as dessert. You can toast the bread, and mix the cheese, ahead of time, and assemble at the last minute when the pan of grapes is ready. Use any variety of seedless grapes, or a mix of red, green and black.

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August 5, 2015

Sweet mocha ricotta cream phyllo shells

Sweet mocha ricotta cream phyllo shells, topped with bits of chocolate.

In my house, we're not big on dessert. Cold grapes, frozen blueberries, the occasional ice cream (yes, from the supermarket, or from the very good pizza and ice cream place across the street), a few cookies: that's the extent of our after-dinner sweet treats. Still, on occasion, we want something more, a perfect bite to close out a more formal dinner. As I'm not well versed in the ways of dessert, frozen mini phyllo cups often save the day. On their own, they look fancy -- the little black dress in my freezer -- and you can snazz them up with just about any sweet filling, from berries to custard to gelato. My grandsons and I loved this creamy cheese, yogurt and chocolate filling, which came together with nothing more than a bowl and a whisk. They added their own styling with bits of chopped chocolate on top. I had just a minute or two to snap some photos for you, before the "taste testing" began in earnest. There were no leftovers. Note: you'll want to use whole milk ricotta and low-fat or full-fat Greek yogurt here. The recipe doesn't call for very much of each, and you need the fat to get great "mouth feel".

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April 1, 2015

Brown-butter saffron spice brownies

Brown-butter saffron spice brownies, rich and fudgy and a little bit exotic. [ThePerfectPantry.com]

I can count on one hand the number of times I've clipped a recipe from a newspaper or magazine and made the recipe that very same day (or exactly as it's written). More often, the paper turns yellow at the edges before I get around to trying the recipe, and years later, when I find the scrap of paper in a long-buried file, I can't remember why I saved it in the first place. Something about these spice brownies grabbed my attention, and I made them on the day I found the recipe in The Boston Globe. In the slow cooker, I had a kind of North African stew at work, and these fudgy brownies, shot through with the warm spices of that region, made a perfect dessert. I've never put saffron into a brownie before, or taken time to brown the butter, and I admit I had my doubts, but one bite convinced me that all brownies should be made this way, forever.

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December 21, 2014

Last-minute chocolate gingerbread cake

Chocolate gingerbread cake: less than an hour, start to finish!

It's that time of year, the time when everyone is out and about, braving the crowded stores and getting prepared for the holidays. It's crazy-busy, and exhausting, and if you live on the flight path between your friends and the local shopping center, you will probably get some spontaneous drop-in visitors in search of a restorative cup of tea, a supportive hug, and a rest room with no waiting line. Even if you didn't get more than a quick text message saying, "I'm coming over in a few minutes", you can throw together a cake that's sure to cure the shopping blues. This last-minute from-the-pantry chocolate gingerbread cake comes together in less time than it takes to preheat the oven, and in an hour, start-to-finish, it's baked and cooled and ready for visitors. Even better, if you have a few minutes at the end of the day, throw one of these cakes in the oven. When it's cooled, cut it into four pieces and freeze. Each piece will serve 3-4 tired friends. Dust the cake with powdered sugar, or top it with ice cream, right before serving.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my tiny kitchen in Boston's South End, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives. Thanks so much for visiting.

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