Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Baba For Christmas


Days seem to pass so swiftly in December. Hard to believe that there is only a week until the tree will be lit and decorated, with brightly wrapped packages under it and stockings hung by the fireplace.

The Bread Baking Babes were invited by our Kitchen of the Month Lien of Notitie van Lien to bake an elegant festive dessert, a Champagne Baba. Yes, it does have yeast. No, you don't knead it or even shape it because the dough is like a batter. Yes, it goes together fairly quickly and easily compared to some of our past December breads, like this Snowflake Bread, the Lardy Cake made with real lard (fresh rendered pork fat...not easy to find), or a tray bake Kuchen with apricots, or a traditional German Stollen, or the snackable but time consuming Taralli Pugliesi to name a few. 

Yes, this Baba does rise both in the pan and in the oven. Yes, you do need to cover the top with foil if it seems to be browning quickly as mine did. Yes, it is delicious. Yes, I encourage you to make it for Christmas...or even before...and be a Buddy by emailing Lien with a photo and a short bit on how it was making it and a URL if you blogged about it...by December 29th, so you have time after Christmas to actually do the email.

So, as usual, I did make a few changes. Because of my dairy allergy, I used melted margarine. Because I was tired after a full day of baking things like Christmas cookies, as well as this delightful dessert, I didn't top it with anything other than the syrup. It didn't really need anything else, being like a nice combination of a pound cake and bread with some moisture from the syrup and a faint champagne flavor.



In case you have been following the Babes all these years, you would know that Lien has baked every single bread. That's 12 months times 10 years (minus January the first year since our anniversary is the month of February)...a lot of bread and a lot of dedication. Not sure that anyone else can make that claim.  She has certainly been a guiding light for our group and she creates those gorgeous badges each month, too (except for this month). The sad news is that she will be going on hiatus now and will join a wonderful group of women who have been active Babes and are now busy with other things in their lives, but still Bread Baking Babes in our Hall of Fame! When you send that Buddy email, consider thanking her for all that she has done to make our group a shining one.

Don't forget to visit the other Babes to see how they handled this challenge. I think you'll be inspired!

Happy Holidays dear reader. I know some of you are in the background, but I also know how loyal you are and it gives me great pleasure and joy to know that you sometimes find a recipe to try while keeping up with my enthusiasms. There will be a few more posts in 2017, but those of you who know what a year I have had will join me in being anxious for 2018 to start. It has to be an improvement on this year!



Champagne Baba
Makes on large or 12 small babas

sponge:
100 g water
1 tsp instant dry yeast
1 TBsp sugar
100 g bread flour

dough:
180 g bread flour
½ tsp fine salt
¼ tsp instant dry yeast
1,5 tsp vanilla sugar
3 large eggs
90 g melted butter (I used margarine, melted and cooled)

soaking syrup:
150 g sugar
150 g water
120 g champagne (or Asti Spumante or fruitjuice)

200 g apricot jam (or use a sugar glaze) (I skipped this step)

Mix all the ingredients for the sponge together in a large bowl (the one you’ll be kneading the dough in). Now sprinkle 180 g bread flour over the sponge, so it is covered and leave to rest for about 1 hour.

Now add the salt, ¼ tsp dry yeast, vanilla sugar and eggs. Start to mix this. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. When it comes together after a few minutes, add the melted (and slightly cooled) butter and keep working it. The dough is a bit batterlike, but be sure to get some gluten developed.

For one large Baba:
Place it in the moulds. You can use a loaf tin or a round baking form (Lien used a paper Panettone mould  - and I used a 6-inch diameter springform pan), filled about half way up. Cover with plastic and leave to rise until 2-3 cm under the rim of the mould.

In the meantime don’t forget to preheat the oven to 180ºC (350-360ºF).

Bake for about 45-55 minutes, until golden brown on top. If the bread gets too dark too soon, protect the top with a sheet of tin foil. Check the temperature in the bread with a thermometer, it should be about 93ºC (200 degrees F).

Take out of the oven and the tin and place on a deep dish. Poke the bread with a long wooden skewer from top to bottom. Brush the syrup all over it, and get as much as possible inside the bread, so take your time. Collect the syrup from the plate and keep pouring and brushing it, until all in absorbed in the bread.




For 12 small baba’s:
Grease a tray with 12 little moulds (containing about 75 ml each) and divide the dough in them. The dough shouldn’t be filling more than half of the shapes. Cover with plastic and let rise until almost to the rim.
In the meantime don’t forget to preheat the oven to 180ºC (350-360ºF).

Place in the oven and bake for about 18 minutes, The Baba’s should be golden on top. Check the temperature in the bread with a thermometer, it should be about 93ºC. Take them out of the oven and out of the mould. Place them in a wide shallow dish in one layer. Pour the champagne syrup over the baba’s. Now keep turning the baba’s one by one on all sides, including top and bottom, until all the syrup is absorbed.

Topping and serving:
Now heat the apricot jam in a small pan and let it boil, add a little water if it is too thick. Brush or pour it over the top. You can also opt for a simple sugar glaze. This topping keeps the moisture in. If you eat the baba’s on the baking day, you can also skip the topping
For an extra festive feel, serve with whipped cream and fresh fruit or jam.
The baba is best eaten on the day that it’s baked. But if not, keep in the fridge.

For the syrup
In a small pot combine the water, sugar, and champagne. Bring to a simmer and simmer until syrup thickens a bit, about 5 minutes. Let cool before brushing on the baba.

(inspired by a Beth Hensperger recipe)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Proper Pouring Custard



My friend Anne Marie has been binge watching the Great British Baking Show on Netflix. I didn't even know this until we went to dinner at her house and found that we were on the same wavelength. I had brought baked apples, but also a pouring custard using a recipe of Mary Berry, one of the hosts of the show. It was called a Proper Pouring Custard, which in British-speak means it's the one to make and use to embellish the 'pudding' course, also know as dessert time. Since it was a Mary Berry recipe it was surely authentic.

A little over a year ago we were dining with our Irish cousins. The pudding was a lovely plum tart and it was served with an amazing custard sauce. Barbara said that it was a mixture of a pouring custard and whipped up heavy cream. Since the Irish have some of the best dairy products to be had, you can imagine how delicious that sauce was. I have to imagine, too, since I can no longer tolerate dairy. I'm going by the exclamations of delight, especially by Sweetie, as the sauce was devoured.


This time I made four baked apples using the recipe HERE. I used Jonagold apples because they have enough tartness to stand up to the filling and the sauce, but also because they hold their shape after being cooked. For the sauce to go with the baked apples, I used non-dairy soy creamer instead of whole milk and cream. I suspect that it meant a thinner sauce, but it was still delicious. Of course the thinner sauce might have been created by whisking in about 3 tablespoons of good bourbon. Hard to say.

I had wanted to add whipped cream for the sauce for the other diners, but I made the sauce too late in the day and it was still pretty hot when we left the house. Any whipped cream I added then would have just melted. Might try it again some other day to see if it in any way comes close to the Irish standard. Even without the whipped cream, it was smooth, delicious and took the baked apples to another level...a higher one. There will likely be leftover sauce, but it is fine over brownies, pound cake, gingerbread, fruit compote...you get the idea. Would probably also be a great sauce over pancakes or waffles, especially if you included some fruit in or over the baked breakfast goodies.

Proper Pouring Custard
Mary Berry's with some substitutions of mine
makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 pint (2 cups, 570 ml) milk (I used plain soy creamer) 
2 oz heavy cream ( 55 ml) (I just used more of the soy creamer) 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoons cornstarch / cornflour
1 oz (30 grams) granulated sugar / caster sugar

In a small pot, over very low heat, heat the milk, cream and vanilla until it just starts to simmer.

While the milk is heating, whisk the egg yolks and the cornstarch together in a small bowl. Add the egg yolks and whisk until well blended.

When milk has just started to simmer, scoop about a half cup of it out of the pot and whisk it into the egg mixture, then pour the egg mixture into the hot milk, whisking all the while. Once the two mixtures are thoroughly blended, stir with a wooden spoon, constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 5-8 minutes. Don't let the mixture boil.

Once thickened, pour into a bowl or serving jug and cover the top surface with plastic wrap / clingfilm to keep a skin from forming as the sauce cools.

Optional: after sauce has cooled a bit, remove the plastic wrap and whisk in 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup bourbon or Irish whiskey until blended. Replace the plastic wrap and continue to let the sauce cool.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

December Tea Party


It's already December 6th. I'm glad that 2017 is almost at an end. It has been a difficult year with too many wonderful people lost to death or saddled with illnesses, along with the October fires which have changed things so much in our community.

The good news is that I was able to have a nice Tea Party yesterday with Natashya, my Sacramento area sister. Sweetie spent some time with us and enjoyed one of the Pecan Tarts with a little whipped cream. He made a cute face when we told him that he had cream on his mustache.

We started with savories, including a store bought quiche for N and hummus and carrots for me. All three of us enjoyed the Avocado Toasts with Smoked Salmon and the fruit mixture of strawberries and kiwi fruit.

Next there were Currant Scones, accompanied by raspberry jam and whipped cream. Lots of Earl Gray tea was poured during all of this and the conversation ranged over many areas as good conversation does.

Then we got to the really sweet part with Pecan Tarts. More whipped cream was available to top them if you chose to do that. More tea was poured. More conversation.

Last we had the birthday cake...Natashya's birthday was in late November, so we only had to move the feast a short ways. It was a purchased Chocolate Rum loaf. Since that had butter, I had a couple of tiny vegan chocolate tarts instead...more tea...more conversation.

It really was a lovely afternoon. Happy Birthday Natashya!


We'll start with the recipe for the Avocado Toasts with Smoked Salmon:
Makes six toasts

Six slices baguette, between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick, toasted
1 avocado, ripe
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste (I only used pepper since the salmon is salty)
enough thinly sliced smoked salmon to cover the slices (not sure of the weight)
Optional- a few Italian parsley leaves.

Place the toasted baguette slices on a clean work surface.

Cut the avocado in half. Peel and remove the seed. Mash both halves in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and mash it into the avocados. I used a fork, which worked well. Make it as chunky or smooth as you prefer.

Spoon the avocado mixture evenly dividing it between the toast slices. Spread out to cover the slices. Sprinkle with salt and/or pepper. Top each slice with one layer of smoked salmon.

If desired, garnish with a single Italian parsley leaf

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Home Again and Baking Multigrain Pecan Bread


It is quite a shock to suddenly lose the youngest sibling, so it's not surprising that the time following it is a bit surreal. Sweetie and I flew to be with her husband and stayed with him for a while to help by listening (which is really the best thing you can do for someone after a shocking loss like this), helping with getting him to professional health folks, helping with the funeral arrangements and obituary, and with day to day stuff like grocery shopping. Being in shock myself I found I had no appetite to speak of and no desire to cook (which is really strange for me) but there were dogs to love on and cats to scritch and a lot of love going around. Beautiful Taos scenery, too.


Ron went to Denver for Thanksgiving to be with his family and Sweetie and I flew to LA to be with ours. We had a fine morning at Manhattan Beach with Sweetie's extended family, then six for dinner on Thanksgiving at our place. A meal from Whole Foods made it all easy. Good times with our daughter and nephew and friends.

Rented the 'Beach House' in Redondo Beach/Torrance on VRBO and I highly recommend it, especially for nice weather. The backyard has a big grassy area, two seating areas, one of those gas elements that heat one of the seating areas, and the furniture is comfy. We spent a lot of time out there! If you have dogs, there is also a dog door in the kitchen and the yard is fully fenced with a pretty high fence. There are three bedrooms and comfy beds. Only one bathroom, but I grew up with a large family and one bathroom, so no problem. Nice kitchen with lots and lots of amenities. Big washer and dryer. Dining table for six. Lots of games under the big TV in the livingroom. It's about 4 miles from any beach, but truly a delightful place.


Once we were back home, my sourdough starter really needed feeding, so I did that and made bread with the 'toss off' after feeding it, too. It was the perfect way to ease back into cooking and baking. I created the recipe as I went along. Using my new 'toaster' oven meant that the crust was browned.

Truly delicious bread with multi-grains, sourdough, pecans and love. I made a braid loaf and then eight rolls, but you can shape this any way that pleases you.




Multigrain Sourdough Pecan Bread

1 cup sourdough starter, fed with a mixture of 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup water
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup mixed rolled grains and flax seed (Bob's Red Mill is the brand I used)
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon dry yeast (I used RapidRise)
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 cup graham flour
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Let the sourdough starter and the feeding mixture, mixed, sit on the counter for 2 hours to ripen.

In a medium to large microwave safe bowl or measuring cup, place the mixed rolled grains and the water. Cook on high one minute. Stir, cook on high another minute. Stir, cook on high another minute, then let cook to lukewarm, stirring occasionally to even the cooling. Water will be completely absorbed by the cooked grain.

In a large mixing bowl for a stand mixer, place the ripe sourdough mixture, 1/2 cup flour, cooled grain mixture, mashed potatoes and 1/2 cup graham flour. Stir well to combine. Add the molasses and salt and stir again.

Mix the rest of the graham flour, the rest of the all purpose flour, and the dry yeast in a bowl or measuring cup. Put the dough hook onto the mixer, then mix, gradually adding the rest of the flour and graham flour mixture until dough is soft and dough starts cleaning the sides of the bowl, about 8 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Push the dough down to create roughly a rectangle about 10" by 12". Scatter half the pecans over the dough, then roll up like a jelly roll and fold the ends in. Again push the dough down to create roughly a rectangle about 10" by 12". Scatter the remaining pecans over the dough and roll up as before. Knead for a few minutes to distribute the nuts evenly through the dough.

Place the dough in a greased rising container, turning the dough over to coat with the grease/oil. Cover loosely and let rise in a warm, draft free place until doubled in bulk.

Turn dough out on a lightly floured work surface. Divide dough in half. Shape as desired. I made one braided loaf and eight rolls, but you can make two loaves in loaf pans, two boules, a mixture, etc.

Lightly cover shaped bread and let rise while preheating the oven. Brush lightly with oil or egg or milk wash if desired, then bake until crust is browned and loaf sounds hollow when tapped, about 45 minutes for a loaf and 25 minutes for rolls.

Try to let bread cool a bit before devouring.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sudden


Have had a sudden, unexpected death in the family; my youngest sibling. No posts for a while. Life is tenuous at best.
Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. Cherish those who are with you this holiday season.

English Muffins with Nooks and Crannies with the Bread Baking Babes


The Bread Baking Babes have been baking close to ten years now, so it has gotten tricky to find breads that we haven't baked. This month I'm Kitchen of the Month, so finding a good recipe was a necessity. 

I was surprised to look at the list and not see English Muffins. I'm quite fond of English Muffins, but I grew up with Thomas's version and they always have 'nooks and crannies', the irregular air bubbles inside that, when split, make great places for the butter to collect after the muffin halves are toasted. My earlier attempts at making my own English Muffins were not successful in that department. The texture was like regular bread...no nooks and crannies to speak of, hence unacceptable.

Recently I discovered a recipe that seemed like it would solve that problem. It was found on the Serious Eats site and the blogger is Stella Parks. She combines bread flour and whole wheat flour, uses instant dry yeast (not rapid-rise), doesn't knead the dough, and lets the dough rise slowly, then puts dough blobs onto a bed of corn meal, sprinkles more on top, and lets that sit in the fridge at least 12 hours. Who knew that these steps would lead to excellent English Muffins?

After trying the recipe as written, I also tried to make a sourdough version with my sourdough starter. With a few variations of the recipe, that worked, too. The original version has a distinct honey flavor and you can taste the whole wheat. The sourdough version allows the sour flavor to shine so the honey and wheat are muted flavors. Both are delicious and worth your time. There are plenty of nooks and crannies!



To become a Buddy, and I hope you do, just bake these (well, actually you griddle them) and email me a photo and a short description of your experience making them, plus a link to your post if you posted about them. I'll send you a Buddy badge for your post at the end of the month. You have until November 29th to email me. My email is elle dot lachman at gmail dot com. I'll do a round-up post in early December and put something up on our Bread Baking Babes Facebook page, too. Come bake with us!

Be sure to visit the other Bread Baking Babes sites and see what they have done with this recipe. There are sure to be variations!


Judy's Gross Eats - Judy
My Diverse Kitchen - Aparna

Bake My Day - Karen






English Muffins - from Serious Eats, Stella Parks,

Makes about twelve 3 1/2-inch muffins
ACTIVE TIME:20 minutes - TOTAL TIME:16 to 30 hours

Ingredients

·         10 ounces bread flour (2 cups; 285g)
·         5 ounces whole wheat flour (1 cup; 140g) (makes a more tender interior)
·         2 3/4 teaspoons (11g) kosher salt; for table salt, use the same weight or half as  much by volume
·         1 1/4 teaspoons (4g) instant dry yeast (not rapid-rise)
·         12 ounces cold milk (1 1/2 cups; 340g), any percentage will do (helps create nooks and crannies)
·         3 1/2 ounces honey (1/4 cup; 100g)
·         1 large egg white, cold
·         5 ounces fine cornmeal (1 cup; 145g)(I used twice as much and put muffins on two sheet pans with space around them - Elle), and more for dusting - don't skip this
·         Roughly 1 ounce bacon fat, unsalted butter, non-dairy margarine, or oil (2 tablespoons; 30g), for griddling

Directions
1. Make the Dough and Let Rise: In a large bowl, mix bread flour, whole wheat flour, kosher salt, and yeast together until well combined. Add milk, honey, and egg white, stirring with a flexible spatula until smooth, about 5 minutes. Cover with plastic and set aside until spongy, light, and more than doubled, 4 to 5 hours at 70°F. (The timing is flexible depending on your schedule.)





2.
 For the Second Rise: Thickly cover a rimmed aluminum baking sheet with an even layer of cornmeal. With a large spoon, dollop out twelve 2 2/3-ounce (75g) portions of dough; it's perfectly fine to do this by eye. If you'd like, pinch the irregular blobs here and there to tidy their shape. Sprinkle with additional cornmeal, cover with plastic, and refrigerate at least 12 and up to 42 hours.



3. To Griddle and Serve: Preheat an electric griddle to 325°F or warm a 12-inch cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. When sizzling-hot, add half the butter and melt; griddle muffins until their bottoms are golden brown, about 8 minutes. Flip with a square-end spatula and griddle as before. Transfer to a wire rack until cool enough to handle, then split the muffins by working your thumbs around the edges to pull them open a little at a time. Toast before serving and store leftovers in an airtight container up to 1 week at room temperature (or 1 month in the fridge).






Sourdough Version:
Ingredients
1 cup active starter fed with a mixture of 1 cup flour and 1 cup water...and allow it to sit at least 1 hour to activate the yeast. Add to flour mixture when you add liquid.


Same amount of whole wheat flour and salt as original recipe

1 teaspoon dry yeast, not larger amount of original recipe

1/2 cup milk, slightly warm, not 
larger amount of original recipe - I mixed the barely warm milk, the honey, and the egg white together before adding to the starter mixture, stirred, then added the flour.




The rest of the recipe is just the same, including the rest of the ingredients (honey, egg white, cornmeal, butter) and the directions.



Saturday, November 11, 2017

Air Frying and Family Reunion


The air frying is from tonight, the family reunion happened at the end of October. Funny how some things get posted quickly and some not.

Since it's older news, I'll tell you first about the gathering. It was on a Sunday morning two weeks ago tomorrow. Sweetie's ex-wife, Chris, has always been a friend. They were one of the smart couples and figured out how to stay in each others' lives in a positive way. She babysat our kids and we babysat her son. Now she lives in St. Mary's county in Maryland, just as my brother does. They have never met, but we thought they might enjoy each other's company since there is a mutual love of sailing. Same for Chris's sister. Just to make it extra special, we also included Sweetie's niece from Baltimore and her daughter. Olivia is a freshman at St. Mary's, so she was already in the area. On a cloudy Sunday morning we all gathered at Chris's sisters home and had a true feast, mimosas, and lots of great conversation. The gathering included Sweetie and me, my brother, his wife and their two adult sons, Chris, her partner Patrick, Chris's son, his wife, and their toddler son, Chris's sister and her husband, Sweetie's niece and her daughter. Fifteen folks who are sort of family and who made some new contacts. Great fun and great food!


While we were in St. Mary's we also visited Old St. Mary's City, which is a combination of archeological dig and collection of buildings to invoke the spirit and substance of on of the first settlements in Maryland. One of my nephews works there and he not only showed us around, but managed to bring us there when there was a wonderful choral performance in the chapel for us to enjoy. Such beautiful music. It made us think of Sweetie's sister in Lexington and her sweetie, both music lovers. The chapel is built like the original chapel, with brick walls and a grand front, plus a barrel ceiling that provides great acoustics. (See photos above.)

We also met a fellow worker who tans hides and did a demo that day. It is a magical place and I wish we had had more time there. Maybe next time...

So air frying...I recently bought a new toaster oven that had air fryer capabilities, so I decided to dip my toe in the water and air fry frozen french fries before I got fancy. I chose sweet potato fries because Sweetie was going to be eating them and he loves sweet potato fries.


I set the temperature to 360 degrees F and once the oven had preheated, shook a serving of frozen fries into the basket. I cooked them for 14 minutes, with a good shake and some moving around of the fried happening at 5 minutes.



These were as good as oven baked french fries and maybe a bit better...crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Sweetie was very happy.


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Multi-Grain Cowboy Cookies


I've had the same toaster oven for a long, long time. It has finally gotten to the point where it doesn't work very well, so I started looking for a replacement. Recently the one I most wanted became available on sale online. It takes up some counter space, so I had been holding off for about 6 months, but seeing it at such a good sale price finally convinced me to buy it. It arrived day before yesterday in the evening, and yesterday I toasted some buns in it, just to try it at its most basic, but today I finally had time to bake some cookies in it. They were just beautiful and the browning is so much better than my big oven.


It's hard to know if the cowboys of old would have had a mixture of rolled grains to use in cookies, or even, frankly, if they had baked cookies while out on the trail herding cattle. Still, I recently purchased a bag of mixed-grain rolled grains, similar to oatmeal but with other grains like barley and rye, too. The brand is Bob's Red Mill and if you haven't tried any of their numerous grains, especially for gluten free baking, do think about buying some. They are always top quality and there seem to be a huge variety of offerings. Their barley flour is the first one I bought, for bread baking, but I like their corn meal, dark rye flour, almond flour, and others. This mixed rolled grain produce is also great for use in bread baking...just cook them in half as much water, and cool, then use as part of the water and part of the grain for a hearty bread.

For the cowboy cookies, I used the rolled grain mixture instead of the rolled oats. It made the cookies a bit chewier, and added flavor, too.



Multi-Grain Cowboy Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled multi-grains
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature (or margarine)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped toasted pecans

On a sheet of waxed paper, combine the flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugars, white and brown, until well mixed. Add the eggs and vanilla. Mix until light and well mixed. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips, cranberries and walnuts.
Cover dough and chill 1 hour.


Preheat over to 350 degrees F. Form dough into balls, using a melon scoop of dough for each. Place on greased baking sheets, spacing cookies 1 inch apart. These will make appetizer size cookies. (For larger cookies, make balls from teaspoons of batter up to 1/4 cup of dough for super sized ones.) Bake 8-10 minutes for small cookies or until cookies are golden brown around the edges. transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. (For larger sized cookies, cook longer, up to 15 minutes.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Irish Soda Bread Reimagined


Yesterday Sweetie and I were invited to lunch at the home of friends who had been evacuated during the recent wildfires, but, fortunately, their house was spared and we were celebrating that. About two hours before we were to leave, Sweetie remembered that we had been asked to bring some bread...bread that I had made. With not nearly enough time for making yeast bread, I was trying to think of something that would work when Sweetie suggested Irish Soda Bread. It's a favorite of his and goes together fairly quickly.

I haven't made it for a while and this time I wanted to make it a bit savory to go with the lunch main dish of a luscious old fashioned chicken stew. Herbs seemed just the thing and I had some fresh Italian parsley on the windowsill, and some fresh thyme and rosemary on the porch in a planter. Still, it seemed a bit too ordinary. Then I decided to add a bit of crunch and lots of flavor with finely chopped pecans. A bit of graham flour added more flavor and the lemon juice I added to the soy creamer to sour it was the final touch. This was decidedly not my Aunt May's Irish Soda Bread, even if it started out with her recipe!

A key thing to remember if you make this is that this kind of bread works best with the least amount of handling. Stir just enough to blend dry into wet, then shape gently with your hands into a ball, tucking any dry bits underneath...they will get wet enough that way. Don't forget the traditional cross cut with a knife. It helps the center cook evenly with the rest of the loaf.

A big thank you to Deb and Jim for a great lunch. Best chicken stew ever, plus an interesting salad dressing that I'm going to post later, and delicious pecan pie cookie bars for dessert. Best of all, the friendship and great conversation.


Irish Soda Bread with Herbs and Pecans
based on Aunt May's Irish Soda Bread
makes one large loaf

2 cups (about) whole milk or soy creamer
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat or graham flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
8 oz. (1 stick) cold butter, in thin slices
½ cup pecans, chopped finely
¼ cup roughly chopped mixed fresh herbs - I used Italian parsley, thyme and rosemary

In a bowl combine the milk and the fresh lemon juice. Let sit to 'sour' the milk, at least 5 minutes.


Put the dry ingredients in a bowl with the pecans and herbs; mix well. Dot all over with the butter and cut in well with a fork or pastry blender.

 Add the soured milk and mix just until moist - don’t over handle. You may need to add 2 - 4 more tablespoons of milk or a few tablespoons of flour.  Some dry stuff is OK but the dough should be sticky.


Pat into a round on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Cut a cross on top. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees F. Cool a bit before slicing.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

These Apples



Our time with my younger brother and his family was relaxing and a nice change since, with the exception of mass family gatherings for birthdays and funerals (mostly), we have not spent time with the four of them and no other family.

Kate is a great cook and she made great, fresh, healthy food for us. One of the few things I made in her great kitchen was baked apples. No photos were taken because we were immersed in conversation and laughter, but I made baked apples again today, so I can share the recipe with you.

This is a really easy way to enjoy apples and this is apple season, so go big! Choose your favorite baking apple. I used Jonagolds but Cortlands and Galas work well, so do Pippins and Breaburns. The apple should have a nice apple flavor and hold some of its shape after baking. Gravensteins, for instance, would break down too much and be more like apple sauce. Many farmers markets have a selection of apples these days and you can ask which one would be best for baking.

If you like apple pie, but don't want the added fat and calories of the crust, these apples are for you.


Sweet and Spicy Baked Apples 
makes two, but can be doubled

2 medium to large baking apples, washed
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
4 pitted dates, chopped
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons butter or margarine

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the core and seeds from the center of each apple, being sure to leave some apple intact at the bottom. I used a paring knife to remove the stem end, about halfway into the apple, then used a melon ball tool to remove the rest of the seeds. I left the apple below the seeds intact. Set aside.

In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, walnuts and dates. Place each apple in a small baking dish large enough to hold it. I used two sizes of ramekins. If you are doing four apples, you might find an 8" square cake pan works. It's OK to have some room between apples, but they get soft, so you only should allow about 1/2 inch maximum between apples. Individual bakers solve that as long as they aren't too big or small. Experiment with what baking dishes you have before you fill the apples.

Place the cored apples in their baking dish(es) and fill the cavity with the brown sugar/spice mixture. Once they are filled, sprinkle any left over into the bottom of the baking dish(es). Put 1 teaspoon butter or margarine on top of the filled core cavity.  Add the water (I used 1/4 cup for each apple in it's individual dish) to the bottom of the dish, and then cover tightly with aluminum foil. Cut a small slit in the foil to let steam escape.

Place the dish(es) containing the apples on a baking sheet, then bake in the preheated over for 40 minutes, or until tender when pierced.



Serve warm or cold (with a splash of cream or scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired).


Friday, November 03, 2017

Back From The Visit

It really is a luxury to be able to fly across the country and then to be able to drive around Maryland and Virginia and visit a whole raft of family and friends in different places. I am grateful to have those family and friends and to be able to go and for Sweetie for doing all the driving.

We started with a visit to my aunt who is only a year older than I am, a happy circumstance brought about by the remarriage of my grandfather. She and her hubby are always delightful to be with and we had a great lunch together. They were a bit mystified by Sweetie's obvious enjoyment of a sushi plate since sushi is not their favorite food. I enjoy sushi, so I was able to savor the tuna on the right at the bottom of the photo. Thanks Sweetie!



After a long, big-truck-filled drive on some interstates, we arrived in Lexington, Virginia, a beautiful old town with the Virginia Military Institute (which you drive through shortly after leaving the interstate) and Washington and Lee University, (which comes next). Being a college town there are lots of libraries and some great bookstores. They also have an indoor swim center which Sweetie's sister uses regularly to keep fit. We had a nice long visit with her and her partner. Their home is filled with beautiful art, lots of books and some nice antiques. I had fun cooking with her and we 'solved all the world's problems' with long stretches of conversation. I helped cook a few meals, but my camera was out of power, so no photos. This will become a bit of an ongoing theme this trip. Great food, but few photos of it.

Too soon were were back on the road, driving east through Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, and onward to the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.


On tap next was a visit with my younger brother, his wife, and their two sons.We checked into our motel the Island Inn, and discovered that there was a water view and late afternoon sunlight streaming into the very comfortable, spacious room.


It was getting on towards evening, but we headed to my brother's home for Friday night dinner with the family. One of the evenings there I made some stuffed apples, but no photos. Sorry. Kate made delicious roasted veggies, cucumber salad, and served a local specialty, stuffed ham, which was delicious. One other night we had excellent chicken cooked on the grill by Jack.

During our stay in the area we had lots of great food. This included lunch at Courtney's an old time sort of fish place that my Dad would have felt most at home in. I had fried oysters that were absolutely wonderful! Had so much fun eating them and conversing with the fam that I forgot to take photos of the food. Here is one of the outside of the building.


Well, that's enough travelogue for now. More soon on a concert in Old St. Mary's and an unusual 'family' reunion.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Another Sunday October 22


On Sunday, October 22, 2006 I wrote the first post for this blog. Blogs were still pretty new ways to communicate with a larger community and there weren't the hundreds of thousands of food blogs that exist today. It was an exciting time and I was inspired by some food blogs I had been reading for a few weeks. It seemed like fun and like something I could do. Turns out both were true.

I wrote, "Food is one of my earliest enthusiasms. Baking was how I got started and it remains one of my favorite ways of being creative. Then there are all of the beautiful fruits and nuts just outside my back door in season...pretty California...apples in the fall, but we've gone through blackberries, plums, peaches, pears, walnuts, quince, persimmon in their turn over the years. I grow tomatoes, green beans and lots of summer squash, plus herbs.

Other enthusiasms are painting & drawing, photography, gardening (flowers, too) and writing a bit. Seems like most of these can be enjoyed while blogging or will add to the blog.

I love trying new things and have been cooking long enough that I take the results of new recipes, untasted, to parties and often make small changes to recipes the first time I try them.Foolish? Intrepid? Confident? Who knows?

Looking forward to tasting new things, making new friends and having a good time.

Elle"

Here is a photo from that first fall.



So now, as I begin the twelfth year of blogging,  I look back I find that I did make new friends, and I've certainly had a good time. I've expanded by skills and confidence in the kitchen, tried new techniques, discovered new (to me) cuisines, honed my photography skills, and posted over 1,000 recipes.

These days the main reason I blog is to have recipes that I want to make again easily available for me. The secondary reason is to participate in the Bread Baking Babes and Cake Slice Bakers monthly events, mostly because I really enjoy the other bakers. I also like to host guest bloggers like NoHandle.

So here we go, into the new blogging year, with one of Sweetie's favorite ways to enjoy fish -
Garlic Microwave Fish.


This works best with firm fish fillets. We often cook snapper this way but this time it was tilapia. I am going to do directions more than amounts because it works just as well for small amounts and for big ones...just add or subtract the butter and garlic to taste.

Start with a microwave safe flat dish or pan with low sides. I use a glass pie plate. For larger amounts I use a glass baking pan.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter for each pair of fillets (about .75 pound total weight) in the dish in the microwave.
Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic, cover with waxed paper, and microwave on high for 1 minute. (1 minute will become familiar in this recipe.)



Take the fish fillets and dredge them through the butter/garlic mixture, on both sides. Lay them on top of what is left, cover with waxed paper, and microwave on high 1 minute.



Uncover. Turn the fillets over, cover again with waxed paper, and microwave on high 1 minute. Uncover and test to see if fish is flakey, especially in the thickest part. If not, cover again with waxed paper and microwave on high 1 minute. Continue to test and microwave 1 minute at a time, turning fish once more at this point,  until fish is flakey.



Serve with the garlic-y juices. Squeeze a quarter of a lemon over if desired. Serve hot.