Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Lots of Bread Flour So Fougasse


My favorite neighbor ordered a super sized bag of Sir Lancelot flour from King Arthur Flours. Since the smaller sizes of flour were out of stock, he figured that we could share and we did. He is most generous. This particular bread flour has wheat flour, unbleached, but also barley flour. It's a great bread flour, so I wanted to make bread as soon as he brought the bag over and left it on the porch.

He made bagels. I made fougasse, a leaf shaped bread that is a bit like focaccia. My original plan had been to knead in some chopped walnuts in half the bread dough, and knead in chopped mixed herbs into the other half of the dough, but I ended up just using a pastry brush to brush the top of each lightly with olive oil and then sprinkling on chopped fresh rosemary and then a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Sweetie loved it that way!


This recipe makes four leaves, each about 10 inches on a side. Since the shape is a rough triangle, that gives you some idea of the size. I baked mine on parchment which was set on 12-inch pizza pans and that worked very well. You can also shape on parchment on a larger pan. You can shape it on parchment on a pizza peel, or, by adding some cornmeal under the dough to allow the dough to roll onto a pizza stone, shape it right on the peel. If not using a pan, bake on a preheated pizza stone.

I gave one loaf to a favorite relative for his birthday, and one loaf to the neighbor who gave me the lovely bread flour. Sweetie and I ate most of the first one on the day it was made, as part of our dinner. Our second one was baked four or five days later and enjoyed with a meal, too. Although this bread is delicious all by itself, it is also great dipped into a mixture of olive oil and good balsamic vinegar. Sort of gilding the lily, but so good.

You can bake the four loaves over time, or bake them all at once. I was using my toaster oven, so each baked by itself and two during each baking session seems right, but if you are using a full oven you may be able to bake all four at once. Just be sure to switch the pans out halfway through baking time...putting those on the top rack down and moving those on the lower rack up.

It's been pretty hot here for the last few days, so no baking going on at the moment, but I did enjoy local strawberries for the first time for breakfast. Stay safe and healthy dear reader.


 Fougasse with Rosemary and Sea Salt
Preferment:
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water (not hot), divided
2 cups bread flour, divided

Mix together 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast, 1 cup lukewarm water and 1 cup bread flour in a bowl. Cover lightly and let sit for 1 hour. Add an additional 1 cup lukewarm water and and additional cup bread flour and mix until all new ingredients are incorporated. Let sit for at least an hour for flavor (or refrigerate overnight, then bring to room temperature).

Dough
all of Preferment
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup water, divided
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
4 - 5.5 cups unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2-3 tablespoons olive oil from brushing
1-2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
1-2 tablespoons sea salt for sprinkling

In the bowl of a stand mixer place the Preferment.  Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and mix briefly just until the oil is mixed in.

Make sure the water for the dough is lukewarm, not hot. Take 1/4 cup of it and add the dry yeast in a small bowl. Let sit 5 minutes until foamy.

Add the rehydrated yeast, the rest of the warm water, and about half the flour (2 cups) to the mixture in the stand mixer bowl. Mix with the paddle.

Switch to the dough hook. On slow speed add the remaining flour, a half cup or so at a time, adding only a few tablespoons at a time toward the end. The dough will be soft. Add the salt and then knead with the dough hook on low to medium low speed for about 6 minutes, until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and is smooth. If necessary, add up to an additional cup flour so that dough is soft but firm. Turn kneaded dough out on a lightly floured board or counter and knead a few turn to make sure all flour is incorporated.

Form the dough into a ball. With the remaining tablespoon olive oil, oil a large bowl  and turn the dough ball in the oil to coat. Cover with oiled plastic wrap or a clean shower cap and place in a warm place and let rise until doubled in bulk. This usually takes a couple of hours, but check often. Dough is ready when a finger poked into the dough leave an indent that stays.

Shaping: About an hour before baking the fougasse, punch dough down, and turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Knead a few time to get rid of the extra trapped gas, and divide it into four pieces weighing about the same. Take one of the pieces and press it out into a leaf shape. Use your clean hands to press it to about 10-11-inches on a side and about 1/2 - 1-inch high. Wet hands if necessary so that dough doesn't stick. (I shaped it into a tall triangle.)

Place the shaped dough onto a piece of baking parchment which has been placed on a baking sheet. Using a bench scraper or stiff plastic scraper or something similar, cut into the dough to make leaf 'veins' - see photo at top of post. Use your fingers to gently spread out the dough to open up the cuts. Keep the leaf shape. Repeat if desired with the other pieces of dough, making four leaves, or store rest of dough, covered, in fridge, until ready to use.

Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap, oiled side down, and let rise for about 30 minutes. Leaf will get puffy. If holes close up, gently open them again with your fingers after removing the plastic wrap.

While leaf is rising, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone, put it in to preheat too.

Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the surface of the leaf with olive oil, then sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until dark golden brown. Remove from oven, cool a bit on a wire rack after having removed it from pan and parchment. Serve while still warm, breaking off pieces of the leaf, or cutting into portions.

 To make focaccia instead of fougasse, follow this link

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Chocolate Lover's Brownies


If your really love chocolate, especially dark chocolate, you are going to love these brownies. The brownies themselves are almost velvety in texture, with an intense hit of chocolate and a hint of coffee, plus the pleasure of walnuts. The topping is deep, dark, rich ganache. The combination is every chocolate lover's dream.

Not surprisingly, these brownies use a lot of chocolate...not cocoa powder, but chocolate. I used Scharfenberger semisweet and bittersweet chocolates, combined because it's my favorite chocolate, but you should use your favorite because you really taste the chocolate in these brownies. These are nothing like you would find in a box of brownie mix. I actually love boxed brownie mix brownies, but these are richer and less chewy or fudgy. The addition of some espresso powder really brings out the taste of the chocolate without making them really taste of coffee. The original recipe called for cinnamon, but I do love the way that coffee intensifies chocolate flavor, so I left out the cinnamon and added espresso.

This recipe (minus the espresso but with cinnamon instead) is another discovery from old Bon Appetit magazines. It's been fun to see how recipes and what we are interested in eating has changed over the years. These brownies are from the February 2001 issue. This is a typical recipe for the time...very rich, and a bit time consuming because you have to chop all that chocolate and melt is over simmering water. These days they would probably say to use chocolate chips and to nuke the chocolate in the microwave to melt it, but I followed the instructions for technique, just to see how the brownies turned out. I have to say, it was worth the extra effort! Using top quality chocolate, even if it comes in blocks that need to be chopped, makes for better brownies. The photo below was in bright sunlight. The one at the top was in a dimmer room. The actual color is closer to the one below, but a bit darker.



Chocolate-Espresso Brownies with Chocolate Ganache
adapted from a recipe Feb 2001 issue of Bon Appetit magazine
Makes 16

Brownies
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (Original recipe used 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon instead)
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used 4 oz semisweet and 2 oz bittersweet)
Use your favorite chocolate since you really taste the flavor of the chocolate in these.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature (I used non-dairy butter)
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Ganache (Recipe follows)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan; dust with flour. (I lined my pan with foil and then used spray oil and a combination of flour and cocoa powder to dust it.)

Mix flour, espresso powder and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Stir chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Turn off heat. Let chocolate stand over water...it will remain warm.

Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until mixture thickens and falls in soft ribbon when beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Stir in flour mixture in 2 additions, blending well after each addition. Gradually add warm chocolate to egg mixture, beating until just combined. Stir in walnuts.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake brownies until top is set and tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes. Check at 30 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Pour ganache evenly over cooled brownies in pan.

Chill brownies until ganache is set, about 2 hours. Cut into 16 squares. If using foil in pan, use foil to remove brownies to cutting board before cutting into 16 squares. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover, chill. Serve at room temperature.)

Ganache
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/8 teaspoon espresso powder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (I used non-dairy butter)
2 tablespoons whipping cream (I used non-sweetened soy creamer)

Whisk all ingredients in small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted and smooth. Pour evenly over cooled brownies in pan.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Country Comforts - Polenta and Balsamic Mushrooms


With time on my hands, I've been going through bookshelves and throwing out what needs to be thrown out. One of the things I discovered were some old Bon Appetit magazines going back as far as 1991! Most of them are newer, with quite a few from around late 1999 and early 2000 when I was distracted by grief and probably never even read them. Perhaps that's why I saved them. Things have changed over the decades. Many of the recipes from the early 90s are very rich, with lots of sauces, including many with a lot of whipping cream. These were served with desserts with lots of chocolate and whipping cream. I'm glad that we have not gotten rid of the chocolate but moved a bit past so much whipping cream.

One of the recipes sounded really great, especially because we had a lot of mushrooms. Sweetie and I have been blessed with wonderful neighbors who ask what they can get us when they shop. That led to a double amount of fresh mushrooms through our miscommunication. Fortunately, we both love mushrooms! In making the Cottage Loaf, I had re-discovered the polenta in the extra fridge, so I knew that I could make the polenta.

In the recipe, from the October, 1991 Bon Appetit issue titled Country Comforts on the cover, the polenta was baked. It had a lot more dairy, including full fat sour cream (I substituted low fat yogurt and reduced the amount), lots of Parmesan cheese (I had none and Sweetie had a reduced amount) and lots of butter (again replaced with non-dairy and reduced in amount). I made it stove-top so that the mushrooms could take up the oven and it was just perfect. I re-wrote the direction for stove-top. If you make this with water, skip the yogurt and use plant-based butter and no Parmesan, it is a vegan meal.

The polenta is OK just a little salty since the mushrooms get a bit sweet with the roasting and the balsamic. It's a great combination! If at all possible, use fresh herbs. It makes a difference.

The recipe was found in an article on the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, CA, a pioneering restaurant, founded in 1989, which closed sometime in 2015. Who knows what magazine gems I'll find next.

Do try this delicious dish yourself. Except for prepping the mushrooms and stirring the polenta, it doesn't take much effort and the results are worthy of company...once we can have joint dinners again. In the meantime, make it for yourself...you are worth it!

Low-Dairy Polenta with  Thyme and Roasted Balsamic Mushrooms
A variation of a recipe from the Lark Creek Inn, Larkspur, CA

Polenta
1 3/4 cups water or chicken brotIused brot)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plain yogurt
4 tablespoons non-dairy butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (optional)
fresh thyme for garnish

Roasted Balsamic Mushrooms
6 garlic cloves, minced or thinly sliced (I used minced because that's what I had)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
3 fresh rosemary sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
3 fresh thyme sprigs, or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
4 cups large fresh mushrooms, cleaned, dried, and quartered

Method:
Polenta -  Bring the water or broth and minced garlic to a boil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Pot will need a tight-fitting lid.

Gradually stir polenta into boiling liquid. Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir in. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook another 15-20 minutes , stirring frequently, until polenta is thickened and grains are tender (take a taste). Remove from heat and stir in yogurt and butter. If using, stir in Parmesan cheese and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper as needed, to taste.

Spoon polenta onto plates or into shallow bowls. Garnish with thyme. Top with Roasted Balsamic Mushrooms. Serve at once.

Mushrooms - Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with foil.

In a large bowl combine garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and herbs. Add mushrooms and toss to coat. Season lightly with pepper. Toss again.

Arrange in single layer on prepared baking sheets. Roast until mushrooms are tender and slightly crisp on edges, 20 minutes or so. Serve over cooked Polenta.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Bread Baking Babes Go Cottage Style


One of the side effects of the pandemic is that more people are baking bread...a good thing...and that yeast and flour are scarce...a not so good thing and probably a side effect of the first, good, thing. Fortunately I have some flours and grains stored in the fridge because today's challenge, brought to us by the lovely and talented Cathy of Bread Experience is to make a Early American Cottage Loaf, similar to ones that the pioneers, who settled America, would make. It uses a combination of grains.

Cathy says, "Since white flour is in short supply in a number of places, I thought using a mixture of grains would be more appropriate. Of course, things are changing daily.

Another thing I really liked about this cottage loaf is that it is made in a casserole dish which solves the problem of the top falling over.  However, that being said, after baking, my loaf stuck to the bottom of the dish so that’s something that needs to be mitigated if you go with the casserole dish.  I greased the dish really well, but I think it would benefit from some parchment paper on the bottom as well.

The mixture of grains gives it a wonderful flavor.  It was surprisingly very moist.  I enjoyed the sweetness, but I’m wondering if 3 tablespoons of honey may be a bit too much. " I used the full 3 tablespoons of honey and I think I would reduce it to 2 tablespoons next time I bake this loaf.


This is a delicious, fairly dense, moist loaf with a tight crumb and good flavor from the mixed grains. I used bread flour, white whole wheat flour, barley flour, flax meal, oats and the 2 tablespoons cornmeal, but mine was coarse corn meal...more like polenta. I left my dough to sit overnight in the fridge because it usually helps develop the flavors and because I wanted to bake it for dinner and that ship had sailed the day I made the dough. I used the dry yeast version, not the sourdough.

I served it, sliced and slightly re-warmed, with dinner on Wednesday, along with a chicken salad with lots of veggies. I also made a grilled chicken sandwich with it and that was excellent! It would make awesome French toast, too.

If you are new to bread making, just remember that because this has lots of grains and the uncooked oats, it will probably take longer than you think to rise. If you are looking for a loaf that has those artisan big holes, this isn't the recipe. If you are looking for a delicious, fairly healthy bread that looks great with that topknot and bakes up pretty within a casserole, this is one to try.

If you don't have wheat germ or flax meal or barley flour or any fancy flour, just go with bread flour and whole wheat flour and oats and corn meal and be sure to weigh the ingredients so that you can add the weight of the grains you left out, replacing them with one of the grains you are using. If you only have bread flour and oats, go with that, again using the full weight of grains in the recipe. I would definitely let the dough sit in the fridge overnight (with a light spray of oil on it to keep it from drying out, plus some plastic wrap. It will still be delicious with fewer grains. I suspect that there were times when the pioneer women and mountain men only had whole wheat flour and maybe a little corn meal. Have fun playing with this. As long as you keep the ingredients cool...no warmer than 110 degrees F...it will be hard to not have a wonderful Cottage Loaf.

If you bake this bread, please consider being a Bread Baking Buddy. Just send your URL, along with a photo and a short description of your bake, to Cathy. Her post also has some great photos showing how to shape and attach the top knot of dough. Check it out! Deadline is May 30th.

Also, please check out the other bakes that the Bread Baking Babes have done. Happy Baking!

Aparna - My Diverse Kitchen HERE
Kelly - A Messy Kitchen HERE
Karen - Karen's Kitchen Stories HERE
Elizabeth - blog from OUR kitchen HERE
Judy - Judy's Gross Eats HERE
Tanna - My Kitchen in Half Cups HERE

I'll add more as they post over the next few days.





Early American Cottage Loaf - Yeast version

Pioneers blended grains available to produce breads with interesting texture. These wholesome, unusual shaped loaves were baked in cast iron pots in the cottage fireplace. We can use the oven and a casserole dish or cast iron pot...easier!


Ingredients:

Yeast Version:

1¼ cups water
2 TBSP oil (I used olive oil)
3 TBSP honey
2¼ cups (286 grams) bread flour 
1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour (I used 90 grams white whole wheat flour and 30 grams barley flour) 
1½ tsp salt
2 TBSP wheat germ (I used an extra 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour instead)
¼ cup (30 grams) oat or wheat bran (I used ground flax meal)
¼ cup (30 grams) oatmeal (I used quick oats)
2 TBSP corn meal
1-½ tsp instant dried yeast 

Note: You may need to add more flour depending on the coarseness of your flour.


Sourdough Version:
120 grams sourdough starter, fed & active (or create a levain the night before with a tablespoon of starter + 50 grams flour and and 50 grams water to equal 120 grams and let it ferment overnight)
220 grams water
27 grams oil
63 grams honey
226 grams all-purpose or bread flour
120 grams whole wheat flour
9 grams salt
14 grams wheat germ
30 grams rolled oats (old fashioned)
30 grams oat or wheat bran
15 grams corn meal

*The method is the same for sourdough except you would add the sourdough with the wet ingredients and give it a longer ferment.
Method

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, including the dried yeast and salt. 

In a separate container, mix together the water, honey, and oil.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix until thorough combined.  Knead until smooth and elastic.

Cover. Let rise 45 min to 1 hour; perform stretch and fold; then let rise an additional hour.  Perform the ripe test. 

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; punch down to remove air bubbles. Cut off 1/3 piece of dough. Let dough relax for 15 minutes.  

Shape each section into a round ball. Place larger ball in greased 2 ½ -quart casserole or soufflĂ© dish. Using a sharp knife or lame, cut a cross, about 1 ½ inches across, in the top of the larger piece of dough.  

Brush the surface with water and then place the smaller piece of dough on top. Press through the center of both pieces of dough using the handle of a wooden spoon or your finger.  

Cover; let rise until indentation remains after lightly touching dough.

Just before baking, stick handle of wooden spoon or finger into hole again.  And, using a sharp knife or lame, make 8 long slashes around the top and 12 smaller slashes around the bottom of the loaf. (I used fewer slashes and it turned out fine.)   

Bake in preheated 375°F oven 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from dish; cool on rack.

Note: You can substitute Instant (fast-rising) yeast for Active Dry Yeast. Traditional methods- replace 1:1. Expect your dough to rise faster; always let your dough rise until ‘ripe’. Bread Machines- use ½ tsp Instant yeast (or ¾ tsp Active Dry yeast) per cup of flour in your recipe.



Monday, May 11, 2020

Cookie 'Fries' Virtual Baking Party


Last Friday I had the pleasure of being part of a virtual baking party with our daughter and Raine in their Southwest kitchen and me in my kitchen here in Northern CA. We used FaceTime on our phones to connect and we each made the dough in advance so that it could chill. That meant that the baking party was really the cutting of the dough and putting the 'fries' onto the baking sheets and the baking. Then I enjoyed a few of the cookies on Sunday when I had a virtual tea party with our daughter to celebrate Mother's Day.

I found the recipe online and it is one from Disney World in Florida. The concept is that the cookies are like French fries, only sweeter and with mini-chocolate chips and they are cookies and not potatoes...so a strange concept, really. You serve them with sweet dipping sauces like chocolate fudge sauce and raspberry or strawberry jam and marshmallow cream. I didn't bother to have those ready since I was just going to eat them plain, but it turns out that the cookie fries themselves are pretty bland and are much tastier with embellishments.  Raine suggested ice cream and after we finished the baking party they had dinner and then used the cookie fries to make a delicious dessert with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and some raspberry jam made by a neighbor.

These cookies are pretty easy to make. You mix the dry ingredients with soft margarine, then add warm water, egg substitute and molasses. Once the dough is mixed you fold in mini chocolate chips. I put my finished dough into a foil-lined 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan which I had sprayed with baking spray. I'm glad I did because otherwise I'm not sure I would have gotten the dough cut into anything like fries. As it was, the dough was too soft even after hours of chilling, and so my fries were more like batons with curved edges. Next time I would cut the water by a tablespoon or two. Also, be sure to sift the dry ingredients, including the powdered sugar. I didn't and I think that was a mistake because I had to beat the ingredients longer to mix, not a good idea for a cookie because it makes them tough. The directions are mine, taking this into consideration. You might want to consider making some of the liquid,maybe 1/4 teaspoon, vanilla extract. 1/4 teaspoon salt added to the dry ingredients would not go amiss, either.

These were a fun project to do with Raine, but I think I'd rather have my classic Toll House chocolate chip cookie next time. Your kids or grandkids will love these, especially if you have lots of dipping sauces!

Disney's Chocolate Chip Cookie 'Fries'

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon margarine, softened
7 tablespoons (try 5 or 6) warm water
5 tablespoons egg substitute (more than 1 egg and less than 2 if you are using real eggs, beaten)
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Combine flour and powdered sugar and sift into a stand mixer bowl. Add the softened margarine and mix on medium with paddle, until smooth.

In another bowl combine the warm water, egg substitute and blend. Add the molasses and blend. Add liquid mixture to dough and blend with paddle, until smooth. Run mixer as little as possible. If starting with less water, you can add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed. You want a stiff but not crumbly dough.

Fold in the chocolate chips.

Line an 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan with foil. Spray with baking spray. Add the dough and press to smooth into an even layer. Chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, silicone mat or greased foil.

Remove dough from pan and cut into sixteen 1/2-inch wide strips. Cut each strip in half. Dough strips are now 1/2-inch by 4-inches. Place an inch apart on prepared sheets.

Bake 20-22 minutes until crunchy.

Serve with sweet dips.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Onion Tart with Freeform Puff Pastry


Had a wonderful FaceTime visit with our daughter yesterday...and baked something "together" which I'll post about later. One of the thing that struck me is that she uses 'quarentime' to describe the times we are living through right now. It often does feel like a different version of time than what we had before. I've started writing down on a calendar which days I wash my hair and do the laundry and things like that because one day is so like another that sometimes it's difficult to remember how many days ago I made a salad for dinner vs steamed broccoli, or which days we walked the dog in town and which we didn't. Yes, my mind is getting older, but before quarentime I could remember how many days ago I washed my hair.

Because our meals are usually pretty banal, I've decided that every once in a while I need to make something special. The onion tart I baked a few days ago is an example. In non-quarentimes I used to save it for taking to a dinner party as the appetizer or using it for a dinner party here for the same purpose. Having it for a weeknight dinner, with a nice big serving of plain freshly steamed asparagus (because fresh asparagus don't really need any dressing up!), was fun and unexpected. Still can't remember which weeknight it was, but I think it was Tuesday.

The difference between this tart and others is that I decided to go with an unsupported, freeform puff pastry shell and I cooked the onions in a cast iron skillet over low heat instead of roasting them in the oven. I think it made for a more evenly cooked onion filling, although it was a bit wetter, which was hard on the pastry. Next time I'll reduce the wine a bit. I also used non-dairy ricotta cheese instead of yogurt and I really like the cheese better. And....it has bacon! Who can resist a tart with caramelized onions and bacon?

Hope that you and yours are staying safe and healthy!


Onion Tart with Freeform Puff Pastry


3 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
egg wash of 1 egg white and 1 teaspoon of water, whisked together

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 large yellow onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1/2 cup ricotta cheese (I used a non-dairy ricotta by Kite Hill)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Few sprigs fresh thyme leaves



Cook bacon in small skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp. Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F while bacon is cooking. Transfer crisp bacon to paper towels to drain. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon drippings from skillet.

Roll out the thawed puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 10-inch by 10-inch square. Use a sharp knife to cut 1/2-inch strips from each edge. Transfer large pastry square to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a pastry brush to brush a very light, thin strip of the egg wash onto the edges of the puff pastry square. Stack the 1/2-inch strips on top, cutting as needed, so that they line just inside the edges of the puff pastry square. Dock the inside of the square by gently poking with the tines of a fork all over. Chill for at least 20 minutes in the freezer. Then brush the egg wash over the thin strips on the edge of the pastry and bake in the preheated oven until light golden brown, about 8 minutes. Set baking sheet with pastry aside on a wire rack to cool.

Whisk honey, wine and reserved 1 tablespoon bacon drippings in large bowl. Add onions; toss to coat. Put into a heavy skillet (cast iron is wonderful!) over low heat and cook, stirring often, until mixture is light golden brown. Cool mixture to room temperature. (At this point, and without leaving the oven on, you can refrigerate the onion mixture, then bring it back to room temperature the next day for the baking part if you prefer to do it in two parts.)

Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Return baked puff pastry shell to work area.


Mix ricotta cheese, sea salt, nutmeg and dried thyme in small bowl. Using offset spatula, spread cheese mixture over crust  to the edge pastry. Arrange onions atop cheese layer. Sprinkle with bacon. Bake tart until crust is medium golden brown and topping is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Check at 15 minutes to make sure that crust isn't over browning. If it is, put strips of aluminum foil over the crust sides to shield until topping is done. Onions will have some very dark brown strands. Sprinkle with fresh thyme and serve.


Makes about 6 appetizer servings.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Say It With Flowers


It's going to be Mother's Day soon, one of the most popular days to give and receive flowers. I'm fortunate that this year I already have lots and lots of flowers.

Most of the roses were gifts, so those are especially enjoyed. For my birthday my California sister gave me a Chihuly rose, named after the glass artist par excellance  from near Seattle. It blooms with a soft yellow interior, with petals edged with coral. As it matures, the yellow lightens to cream and the edges become closer to fluorescent pink. It's the rose in the photo at the top of the post.


 My dear niece from Sacramento gave me a Christmas present of a beautiful floribunda rose which is white with rosy stripes and very joyful. It's like having a whole bouquet at once.


Last year for my round number birthday my older brother NoHandle gave me a rose called Just Joey which is a lovely apricot color and very elegant in shape. When fully open it reminds me of a fancy party dress in shades of apricot from pale to intense. Since he is gone now, it will always be a link to my brother, as long as it lives.


My Sacramento area sister gave me, at the same party, a Mister Lincoln rose, which was my Mom's favorite. It's a deep red and also an elegant tea rose. Right now that one just bloomed and it's gorgeous! Below is how it looked in the bud stage in early morning light.





Twenty years ago the school district where I was a board member gave me a shrub rose that has delightful red and white striped flowers with a strong rose scent, called Scentimental. The photo is above. It's a floribunda, too and it's still doing well all these years later and is in full bloom now. I have other roses, but these have special meaning because they were gifts. Have you received rose plants as gifts? Want to share which roses they are?

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Raspberry Scones


I've barely been baking, partly because I didn't have yeast for a while and flour was difficult to find, so I didn't want to use up what I have too quickly and partly because I don't bake when I'm down and the sense of upheaval caused by the shelter-in-place had me down for a while. It was disconcerting for everyone to have all the usual, expected routines upended and so quickly. At first I just thought that was all that was bothering me, but eventually I realized that part of the problem was that it brought back the time when I lost my son suddenly in an auto accident. My whole world changed in an instant then, too. There was no going back to what was before and I suspect that will be the case here, too. Many things will return to almost normal, but this sudden, worldwide pause (that's what my  brother calls it - The Pause) in life as it is usually lived won't be forgotten. We now all know how profoundly things can change is a very brief amount of time. I already knew it, but this brought that knowledge...and the memories from when it happened almost 21 years ago...to the fore. Now that I know why I was unsettled and depressed by it, it seems to have little force. I'm back to baking and living each moment to the fullest, not hiding from it as I was.

So what have I baked? One of the most recent bake was of fresh raspberry scones. The raspberries are tart and the scones themselves aren't very sweet, so I washed the top of the scones with soy creamer and sprinkled on sanding sugar so that these are sweet-tart in the best way. I cut each raspberry in half, but the thing to remember is that once cut, raspberries have a tendency to come apart even more, so be gentle but quick in mixing them into the batter.



One of the keys in making scones is to use very cold ingredients and to handle the dough as little as possible. One way to do that is to portion the dough in half while still in the mixing bowl, then turn one of those halves out onto parchment paper which is lining a baking sheet. Use clean hands to gently gather the dough together and form it into a slightly flattened circle, then use a bench scraper or long knife to cut each circle into six or eight triangles. I baked them still attached to each other and divided them once baked and it worked out well. You can also flour the parchment lightly so that the cut triangles and be separated before baking, just do so gently.


I served these, plus some breakfast sausages, for our Anniversary breakfast, along with coffee for Sweetie and tea for me. A great way to start a day, but these scones would also be perfect for an afternoon break. They go together fairly quickly, so do try them yourself. If you can't find raspberries, you can substitute diced strawberries or washed and dried fresh blueberries. When using raspberries, you'll likely find that here and there throughout the scone, after baking, there is a slight purplish tinge...that is fine. The berries are just giving off a little juice. The scones are more delicious that way.


Fresh Raspberry Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal
½ cup 12 grain flour (or substitute whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4 oz (1/2 stick) very cold butter, grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 egg
½ cup light cream
¼ cup buttermilk ( I used 3/4 cup soy creamer soured with 1 tablespoon plain yogurt for the cream and buttermilk)
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest - colored part only
1 cup fresh raspberries, cut in half if large
1 tablespoon cream or soy creamer
2-3 tablespoons sanding sugar (optional)

With a fork stir together the flour, almond meal, 12 grain(or whole wheat) flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the grated butter, then, using clean fingers, rub the butter and flour together until the texture of bread crumbs. Work quickly to keep the butter cold.

In a large measuring cup, use the fork to stir the eggs to beat them lightly, then add the light cream, buttermilk,  almond extract, and citrus zest and stir to mix well.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually add the liquid ingredient mixture, mixing lightly with the fork, just until ingredients are barely combined. Do not overmix. If mixture seems to dry, add a few drops of milk; if too wet, add a tablespoon of flour. Finished mixture should be the consistency of moist biscuit dough.

Again using the fork, gently and quickly stir the raspberries into the dough, just enough to disperse them.

Turn half the dough out onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Pat dough into a circle with about a 1 inch thickness. Cut with floured bench scraper or knife, into six or eight scones. Repeat with the second half of the dough on another parchment lined baking sheet.

Brush lightly with cream or soy creamer then sprinkle with sanding sugar (optional). Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool slightly in pan, then serve warm.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Garden Update and Potato Ham Casserole


Nights are finally staying above 50 degrees and the days are warmer, too. That means that I can finally put the seedlings in the ground and expect that they will begin growing soon. The rest of the seedlings, which I grew from seed in my sunspace, are being claimed by neighbors for their gardens, just as I had hoped would happen.


It's not too late to plant seeds yourself. With farmers plowing under their crops because of closed restaurants across the land, come the fall, if not sooner, home grown food will be important to have. You can even put planters on your balcony if you live in an apartment that has one. One year when I lived in a one-bedroom apartment I put a milk crate on the outside stairs to the roof which hardly anyone used. I put a plastic garbage bag inside, used twist ties to secure the top edge and poked a few drainage holes in the bottom, then put in potting soil and grew carrots and a cherry tomato plant. Cherry tomatoes and lettuce are both easy to grow. A friend of mine grew her cherry tomato just outside her window on a wide ledge. Herbs can be grown on an inside window sill...get the idea?


This year I was planning on traveling during the summer and early fall so I was only going to plant one tomato plant and one zucchini and some beans, all where the drip irrigation system would keep them watered while I was gone. Now that I'm going to be staying home I decided to plant a lot more plants, with multiple tomatoes, four kinds of squash, two summer and two winter, cucumbers, three kinds of beans and sunflowers, too. Who knows, I may poke some pumpkin seeds in the ground, too, and see what happens. We don't really get enough heat for peppers or I would grow them, too.

What kinds of veggies do you plan on growing this year? Any?


Life isn't all veggies, sometimes it's flowers and tea. Sweetie and I are celebrating our 40th anniversary today. Time has certainly flown and life has, by and large, been good to us. Here is a photo of the iris blooming right now, surrounding my teacup garden art which is sort of an homage to my Mom and her love of gardens and tea. The photo below is of a similar tea cup stake which I made for a friend for her birthday. She loves to garden, and she says the birds are eating bird seed out of the cup.



Easter this year included a ham. A lot of the leftovers went into the freezer and I made some sandwiches, but I did have an idea one day last week (or was it the week before...it all runs together these days) for using some leftovers for dinner. I have a recipe I enjoy which uses potatoes and onions and chicken broth to make a casserole. I decided to try it with some diced ham added. It was a hit. A nice green salad on the side was all we needed to make this a delicious meal. One of the nice things about this casserole is that it doesn't use milk or cream, so it has a nice clean profile. If you can use a knife to make even, thin potato slices, that makes for easy cleanup, but if not, break out the slicer on the mandolin or food processor since you'll need a lot of slices.



The casserole tastes wonderful the day it's made, but like many things made with onions, it's even better reheated the next day. I used a cast iron skillet, but you can bake it in a shallow casserole dish, too.


Potato Ham Casserole with Broth

3 all-purpose potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled ( I used Idahos)
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
2 tablespoons finely minced onion (I used red onion since I was out of yellow and about twice this amount...I love onions)
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper to taste
nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1/2 cup diced cooked ham - you can use a larger quantity if desired, up to 1 cup
1 cup beef broth or chicken broth (I used a bit more -see note below -and used chicken broth)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Peel potatoes and slice them 1/8-inch thick. (Rinse in cold water, then drain and pat dry with paper towels - this part I skipped and it came out fine, but you can do it if you like).

Combine the butter, onion and garlic. Use on third of the mixture to grease a shallow 1 quart baking dish or cast iron skillet. (A shallow dish is important so that you get plenty of browned topping!)

Make a single layer of potatoes over the initial butter mixture, seasoned it with salt, pepper and nutmeg and sprinkled on about 1/4 of the diced ham, then put in a second single layer and treated it as I did the first layer, repeated that process until there were no more potatoes to layer...about 4 layers. I also mixed 1/4 cup non-dairy ricotta with 1 egg and put dollops between layers. You can also shred a cheese that melts and do the same.

Pour the broth over all and dot with the remaining butter mixture. Note: I made sure that the broth comes up almost to the top of the layered potatoes so that they will cook evenly throughout...you may need to use more broth than the recipe calls for but it is worth it and the broth cooks into the potatoes and cooks off so the potatoes keep their shape and are not soggy, so it's OK, the potatoes become really tender.Bake for 1 1/4 hours, or until the potatoes are tender throughout and golden brown on top. Serves 4 - 6.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Baking Bagels in Quarantine with a Buddy


I have a good friend and neighbor who used to live in New York City and he loves the bagels you can get there. It's going to be a while before he gets back there again, so we talked about baking bagels together...apart. He found some great videos on YouTube and made up some baking planks with burlap (which I'd never heard of but makes them more authentic and really helps the toppings stay on, too). Here is a photo of them after I'd flipped the bagels off them and onto the baking stone. He really did a nice job!


The hard part was finding yeast and bread flour. That finally happened this week so yesterday he dropped off a couple of the planks for me (literally left them on the porch and left, then texted me), and we agreed to make the dough yesterday and have it sit in the fridge overnight, then bake in the morning.

So today was bake day. I took the dough out of the fridge as soon as I got up to allow it to warm up and start rising again. At 8 am G texted a photo of his already shaped bagels.... and we began. I was obviously behind since my dough was still in the rising container, but then I read that he planned on letting his rise for an hour, so I was able to catch up since mine only were supposed to rise for 15-20 minutes. We were using different recipes.

There are two ways to shape bagels, by creating dough balls and then poking a hole in the middle and stretching the dough out from there to create the center hole, or by making a dough snake and then wrapping it around you hand to create a circle, then sealing the two ends together. G did the first method and I did one that way...which turned into a blimp once baked, so obviously I didn't create a big enough hole! The one on the right in the photo below is the one where I poked a hole in the middle and shaped it. Clearly I didn't make a big enough hole!



I used the snake method and Sweetie took a video of me doing it to send to G. Don't you just love smart phones? I was hoping to include it here, but it's too large a file for my email. I should look into other ways to get it off my phone and to my computer. It shows me rolling the dough into a snake and wrapping it around my hand, slipping it off and sealing the ends together. You can see the results below, except for the one in the foreground, which is the blimp one.



I probably used too much yeast because the shaped bagels were ready in less than 15 minutes. I'd been preheating the oven for about 45 minutes (an hour is recommended), had the baking stone in place, the baking planks had soaked overnight in a clean sink and were drained, and a large pot of water was boiling on the stove. While the bagels were rising I had put out thee shallow bowls. One held coarse sea salt, one white sesame seeds, and one a mixture 'everything' that had onion, poppy and sesame seeds and salt. I added a little molasses to the boiling water since I didn't have any barley malt syrup, and we were ready to go!



The boiling only takes a minute...30 seconds per side or less...and then I put one side of the bagel right into the salt, then, salt side down, onto the board. I repeated the process with the 'everything', then slid the plank into the oven on top of the pizza stone. Set the timer for three minutes and boiled the other three bagels, dipping one in sesame, one in 'everything' and left the hand-made hole one plain. These went, topping side down, on the second plank and into the oven. The first plank bagels were ready to turn out onto the pizza stone...which puts them topping side up...and the plank was put on the counter. After another three minutes the bagels on the second plank were turned out onto the stone. Now it was seven more minutes of baking for the first set and ten minutes for the second set. The advantage to only making part of the recipe is that 5 bagels only takes a few minutes for all to be baking. Here's how they looked with the first two coming out of the oven.



G and I kept checking back with each other. His actually looked better than mine...not so puffy...but he had some problem with burnt bottoms. It never hurts to check on the bagels close to the finish of baking time to make sure they aren't burning. If you are doing batches that means you can turn your oven down 25 degrees F or so. If they aren't burning, just keep going.

The hard part was waiting until the bagels had cooled a bit before slicing, toasting, and eating them. They smelled great and tasted even better once toasted, buttered and enjoyed.



This is a great project to do during quarantine.  There a lot of steps, but just take your time. Start making the dough on Friday and by 9 or 10 Saturday morning you will have fresh, delicious bagels.

If you don't have burlap for planks, and clean boards, too, you can bake them right on the baking stone. If you don't have a baking stone, just use a greased baking sheet. You can go on YouTube as G did to look at different techniques and recipes. It's fun. G is going to try a different recipe and slightly lower oven temp. and see how that changes things. This is art as well as food, so perfect isn't really the point, enjoyment is. Happy Baking!


Real Jewish Purist's Bagels
A variation of Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels
Recipe Quantity: Fifteen (15) large, plain, Kosher bagels

Ingredients:6-8 cups bread (high-gluten) flour
3 teaspoons Active dry baking yeast
6 tablespoons granulated white sugar or light honey or 3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups hot water
a bit of vegetable oil
1 gallon water
3-5 tablespoons malt syrup or sugar
a few handfuls of cornmeal if not using baking planks

toppings

Equipment:
large mixing bowl
wire whisk
measuring cups and spoons
wooden mixing spoon
butter knife or baker's dough blade
clean, dry surface for kneading
warm, but not hot, place to set dough to rise
large stockpot
slotted spoon

baking planks: clean 2x4s, 14-inches long, with a strip of burlap on top of each, stapled at the sides
 or 2 baking sheets

or cornmeal and a bakers peel
3 clean, dry kitchen towels or a wire cooling rack

How You Do It:Step 1- Proof Yeast: Pour three cups of hot water into the mixing bowl. The water should be hot, but not so hot that you can't bear to put your fingers in it for several seconds at a time. Add the sugar or honey and stir it with your fingers (a good way to make sure the water is not too hot) or with a wire whisk to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water, and stir to dissolve.

Wait about ten minutes for the yeast to begin to revive and grow. Skipping this step could result in your trying to make bagels with dead yeast, which results in bagels so hard and potentially dangerous that they are banned under the terms of the Geneva Convention. You will know that the yeast is okay if it begins to foam and exude a sweetish, slightly beery smell.

Step 2- Make Dough: At this point, add about three cups of flour as well as the 2 tsp of salt to the water and yeast and begin mixing it in. Some people subscribe to the theory that it is easier to tell what's going on with the dough if you use your hands rather than a spoon to mix things into the dough, but others prefer the less physically direct spoon. As an advocate of the bare-knuckles school of baking, I proffer the following advice: clip your fingernails, take off your rings and wristwatch, and wash your hands thoroughly to the elbows, like a surgeon. Then you may dive into the dough with impunity. I generally use my right hand to mix, so that my left is free to add flour and other ingredients and to hold the bowl steady. Left-handed people might find that the reverse works better for them. Having one hand clean and free to perform various tasks works best.

When you have incorporated the first three cups of lour, the dough should begin to become thick-ish. Add more flour, a half-cup or so at a time, and mix each addition thoroughly before adding more flour. As the dough gets thicker, add less and less flour at a time.

Step 3- Knead Dough: Soon you will begin to knead it by hand (if you're using your hands to mix the dough in the first place, this segue is hardly noticeable). If you have a big enough and shallow enough bowl, use it as the kneading bowl, otherwise use that clean, dry, flat counter top or tabletop mentioned in the "Equipment" list above. Sprinkle your work surface or bowl with a handful of flour, put your dough on top, and start kneading. Add bits of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking (to your hands, to the bowl or counter top, etc....). Soon you should have a nice stiff dough. It will be quite elastic, but heavy and stiffer than a normal bread dough. Do not make it too dry, however... it should still give easily and stretch easily without tearing.

Step 4- Let Dough Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, a shower cap, or a
 clean kitchen towel, dampened somewhat by getting it wet and then wringing it out thoroughly. If you swish the dough around in the bowl, you can get the whole ball of dough covered with a very thin film of oil, which will keep it from drying out.

Place the bowl with the dough in it in a dry, warm (but not hot) place, free from drafts. Allow it to rise until doubled in volume. Some people try to accelerate rising by putting the dough in the oven, where the pilot lights keep the temperature slightly elevated. If it's cold in your kitchen, you can try this, but remember to leave the oven door open or it may become too hot and begin to kill the yeast and cook the dough. An ambient temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Centigrades) is ideal for rising dough. You can also let the dough sit in the fridge overnight as I did, covered with a clean shower cap (or use plastic wrap). Remove it an hour or so before shaping time to allow it to warm and rise a bit more. Soak the planks overnight in water in a clean sink. Drain while the water boils (Step 6)

Step 5- Pre-heat Oven: Begin to preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow about an hour.

Step 6- Prepare Water and Toppings for Bagels: While the dough is rising, fill your stockpot with about a gallon of water and set it on the fire to boil. When it reaches a boil, add the malt syrup (or molasses) or sugar and reduce the heat so that the water just barely simmers; the surface of the water should hardly move. Put toppings in shallow bowls. Set drained planks near the bowls, or, if using a baking sheet, place greased baking sheet near bowls. If baking directly on baking stone, place a peel near bowls and lightly sprinkle cornmeal on peel.

Step 7- Form Bagels: Once the dough has risen, turn it onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide immediately into as many hunks as you want to make bagels. For this recipe, you will probably end up with about 15 bagels, so you will divide the dough into 15 roughly even-sized hunks.
Begin forming the bagels. There are two schools of thought on this. One method of bagel formation involves shaping the dough into a rough sphere, then poking a hole through the middle with a finger and then pulling at the dough around the hole to make the bagel. This is the hole-centric method. The dough-centric method involves making a long cylindrical "snake" of dough and wrapping it around your hand into a loop and mashing the ends together. Whatever you like to do is fine. DO NOT, however, give in to the temptation of using a doughnut or cookie cutter to shape your bagels. This will push them out of the realm of Jewish Bagel Authenticity and give them a distinctly Protestant air. The bagels will not be perfectly shaped. They will not be symmetrical. This is normal. This is okay. Enjoy the diversity. Just like snowflakes, no two genuine bagels are exactly alike.

Step 8- Half Proof and Boil Bagels: Once the bagels are formed, let them sit for about 10 minutes. They will begin to rise slightly. Ideally, they will rise by about one-fourth volume... a technique called "half-proofing" the dough. At the end of the half-proofing, drop the bagels into the simmering water one by one. You don't want to crowd them, and so there should only be two or three bagels simmering at any given time. The bagels should sink first, then gracefully float to the top of the simmering water.  Let the bagel simmer for about 
 thirty seconds, then turn them over with a skimmer or a slotted spoon. Simmer another thirty seconds, and then lift the bagels out of the water and dip them right away into the toppings, if using. The bagels should be pretty and shiny, thanks to the malt syrup, molasses or sugar in the boiling water.

Step 9- Bake Bagels: As the bagels finish boiling, dip them in the topping and put them, topping side down on the planks with burlap side up.  Put them in the oven, right on top of the baking stone. If you don't have the plank, put the topped bagels topping side up on peel and then onto the baking stone, or on a greased baking sheet...which goes into the oven. Let them bake for 3 minutes on the plank, then flip over onto the baking stone...toppings will be right side up...then set timer for 10 minutes. If not using planks, set timer when bagels first go into the oven for 13 minutes. You can leave them in longer if they are not browned. Check bottoms, too, and turn over if getting too brown. You want them to be a dark golden brown so that they are fully baked.

Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks, or on a dry clean towels if you have no racks. Do not attempt to cut them until they are cool... hot bagels slice abominably and you'll end up with a wadded mass of bagel pulp. We didn't really wait long enough, so they didn't slice cleanly, but didn't wad to much. Sweetie has a really hard time smelling baked bread and waiting until it is cool.