Monday, December 31, 2007

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Gadzooks! Already the last day of 2007...amazing! This year just flew by, although a check of posts from the year show that at least I showed up a little over 11 times a month on average.

This blog has been a blast to do, and I've 'met' wonderful people virtually, especially the Daring Bakers, plus met a few people in person. Anna of Anna's Cool Finds lives near enough that we have been able to meet and enjoy a few restaurants this year together here and here and here and here and here. I met Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody last year in Seattle at Christmas time and have visited her blog the most often of any just to see what she is baking today. Her humor is stellar, her photos mouthwatering, and her recipes pure delight. There are dozens of other blogs I visit regularly. You can find them to the right of the posts at Likely Links. Check 'em out for food blogging fun.

When many people around the blogosphere were posting every day in November 2006, I was too new to blogging to attempt such a thing. In February I did my own version, blogging each day from February 1 through Valentine's Day. To up the ante, I also themed the posts toward love, and added another numeral each day. By the end I was lining up teapots and mugs, just to have enough things to meet the number, ending up with a wheel of spices.

Belonging to the virtual community of the Daring Bakers has been an inspiration. Almost every challenge brought a new skill and I was able to try something I wouldn't have tried before. The support and fun that this group has is a wonder and just as valuable as learning to make cream puffs or the best buttercream for the Buche de Noel. This year I've also made a Red Velvet cake, suffered through the Chocolate Crepe Cake, enjoyed the whole process of making the Gateau St. Honore, found out that making real Bagels isn't hard to do, and that Potato Bread is delicious. The layers of the Strawberry Mirror cake and the Bostini probably make them the most fun to photograph. My favorite to eat was probably the Chocolate Caramel Tart

As far a cooking goes, I really enjoy putting two or more recipes together and seeing what I come up with. A good example is the fresh fig with Italian prune plums and dark chocolate made into a clafouti.

The garden was also an inspiration this year and it has been fun to photograph the vegetables, especially those heirloom tomatoes. In fact, photography is one of the driving forces of doing the posts. If I couldn't photograph the food, I doubt that would enjoy blogging very much. Might be silly, but still feels true right now. I'm also happy that some of my graphic arts training is being used as in the post for the Bostini cakes and even a graphic for Chard nutritional information.

Probably the best part of blogging is reading the comments from those who choose to comment, and hearing from others who 'lurk' that they enjoy the blog and sometimes find a recipe on the blog that they make themselves. The sharing is special. I look forward to more of that in 2008. Thank you for reading, commenting, making the recipes when you do, and lurking, too.

Happy New Year! Here's to a new year full of new taste experiences, learning new techniques in cooking and baking, new friendships and lots and lots of photos!


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gift Cookies

By now almost all of my family have probably opened their gift from Sweetie and Elle. Since I have quite a few sisters and brothers, it can be a challenge to decide on what to do each year for a gift. Some years each family gets something different. Some years it is all the same. Last year I had a fair amount of time, so the elf got busy and the cookie tins were filled with different kinds of cookies. This year cookies came into it, but in a different way.

When we visited my Mom in Virginny in the fall, I came across a nutmeg grater that was so cute I had to ask her about it. Mom said that it was a souvenir of a trip she and Dad took to Canada...she saw it in a store and had to have it. It grater is metal, curved, with sort of star shaped burrs for the grating part. What is so cute is that on top there is a little holder for a whole nutmeg, complete with a swinging lid. Since that trip was when I discovered the Penzey's spice store, too, I made sure to get her some fresh whole nutmegs to use for the upcoming holiday cooking. She said that she had never seen a grater like it.

It wasn't more than a few weeks after we returned home that I spotted the exact same grater in a store in Sonoma. I was amazed! Driving home I decided that I could make a great Christmas package with the grater, some Penzey's whole nutmegs and some kind of cookie that had nutmeg as a key ingredient. After a fun time looking at cookie recipes online, I found one on the Land O'Lakes site for Eggnog Cherry Biscotti that seemed just right. Since my stash of dried cherries was lower than I had thought, I decided to replace some of them with dried cranberries.

It made a great gift: the grater with a nutmeg in the little compartment, the recipe card for the biscotti tied to the grater with a red ribbon, a snack Ziploc bag with some more whole nutmegs, and another, larger Ziploc bag with the cookies. If I were not going to ship them, I might have drizzled some icing on the biscotti, but the ones I shipped were plain but fruity with a faint eggnog flavor, dry, crunchy and delicious.

Eggnog Cherry Cranberry Biscotti
makes about 3 dozen cookies
a variation of a recipe from the Land O'Lakes website

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons butter, softened
3 eggs
1 teaspoon rum extract
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Line ungreased cookies sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in large bowl. Add butter; beat at low speed until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Increase speed to medium; add eggs and 1 teaspoon rum extract. Beat until well mixed. Stir in the dry fruit by hand.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface; knead 10 to 15 times with lightly floured hands. (I found that the dough was sticky enough that the surface needed a fair amount of flour to keep the dough from sticking while kneading). Divide dough in half; roll each half into 14-inch log. place logs 3 inches apart onto prepared baking sheet; flatten each log to about 2 inches wide. They will spread a bit during baking. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until set. Cool 10 minutes on cooling rack covered with parchment paper.

Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees F. Remove logs from parchment to a cutting board; cut into 3/4 inch diagonal slices. Lay slices onto same cookie sheet, cut-side down. Bake for 13 minutes. Turn over to other cut side. Continue baking an additional 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool completely.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sneaking in the Chard

Hope y'all had great holidays in December like I did. Now it seems like a few healthy foods would be welcome in our house. Right now I have some chard, also known as Swiss Chard, growing in the garden. It is related to beets, but is grown for the leaves, not a root.


Sweetie claims he doesn't like chard. For a long time we never had chard, but then I discovered Rainbow Chard, with those bright red and yellow and orange stems, along with the white and pale yellow ones. The leaves also have some of the brighter colors to match. They just look like a party when those colors and the deep, deep green are all together when the chard is in a bunch.

So I made Rainbow Chard and Spinach as a side dish for a recent party I cooked for a friend (for pay), accenting the chard and spinach flavors with onion, currant and lemon zest. But Sweetie wasn't there to taste it. He did sound interested when I described it later. Unfortunately, no photos.

Then a couple of weeks ago I decided to use the chard in the garden in a quiche for dinner. The sauteed chard was hidden on the bottom of the blind baked pie shell, along with caramelized onions and mushroom slices and some diced Swiss cheese. On top I put broccoli florets . A savory egg custard was poured over all of it. Once baked up nice and golden, it was lovely and smelled wonderful. Sweetie really enjoyed that quiche, even after I admitted that I had sneaked in some chard, too. You really can't tell from looking at the baked quiche that there is chard in there.


It really is a delicious vegetable, especially if you don't over-cook it. Fresh tasting, good for you, only a touch of bitterness to pique your taste buds. Chard.

Can you spot the chard hiding out with the other vegetables?

Swiss Chard and Spinach with Onions, Currants and Lemon Zest

1 large bunch chard, well rinsed...regular or Rainbow. If you can, buy organic for this recipe.
10 oz fresh baby spinach, well rinsed
1 small to medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic flavored olive oil
1/4 cup dried currants
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest

Chop the chard across the leaves in one to two inch strips, removing most of the chard stems if they are tough. If they aren't tough, chop a few into a small dice and include them. Leave the rinse water on the leaves. If any of the baby spinach leaves have very long stems, remove the stems. Leave the rinse water on them.
In a large saute' pan with a lid, heat the garlic flavored olive oil and saute' the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the chard strips, stems, and the spinach leaves. Using tongs, stir and turn the leaves to coat them with the oil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and let steam for a few minutes until just wilted. Add the currants and lemon zest, cover, and cook one more minute. Serve at once. Serves 4-6.

Chard and Other Vegetables Quiche

One pie crust, blind baked for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F., then cooled. (Line the pastry-lined pie pan with parchment, fill with pie weights, dried beans, or rice, then bake and cool. Remove the pie weights, beans or rice and store for another blind baking experience). I use a ready made pastry round available in most grocery stores in the refrigerator case.

1/2 bunch fresh chard, well rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
6-8 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons grape seed oil (or olive oil)
4 oz. Swiss cheese, in 1/2 inch dice
1 head of broccoli, in small florets
2 large eggs
1 cup whole or low fat milk
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
pepper

Slice the chard leaves in 1-2 inch strips, discarding the stems. Set aside Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a saute' pan, cook the onion, garlic, and mushrooms in the grape seed oil over medium-low heat until caramelized, stirring often, 10-15 minutes. Add the chard, turn the leaves with tongs to coat them with the oil, cover, and steam for 5 minutes. Set aside.

Sprinkle the Swiss cheese dice over the bottom of the partially baked pie shell. Over the cheese, spread the chard mixture. Over that evenly sprinkle the broccoli florets. Beat together the eggs and the low fat milk. Stir in thyme. Pour the mixture over the vegetables and cheese in the pie shell. Grind a few grinds of fresh pepper over all (or shake a bit of pepper from a shaker).

Place pie in the oven and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until center just barely moves when pie is shaken. Cool for 5- 10 minutes, then serve warm. Serves 6-8.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day Gathering

The day after Christmas is traditionally called Boxing Day in England, Canada and other British countries. The concept is that goods for the poor, of those of lower social status would be boxed up and the lord and lady of the manor would distribute them in their area. In feudal times, Christmas was a reason for a gathering of extended families. All the serfs would gather their families in the manor of their lord, which made it easier for the lord of the estate to hand out annual stipends to the serfs. On 26 December, after all the Christmas parties, the lord of the estate would give practical goods such as cloth, grains, and tools to the serfs who lived on his land. Each family would receive a box full of such goods, hence "Boxing Day." According to this tradition, the lord of the manor did not volunteer, but was obliged to supply these gifts.

In American December 26th is one of the biggest sales days of the year, so things are still boxed up, plus many people use that trip to the mall to return Christmas gifts that didn't suit. That shopping scene is not my cup of tea. Our dog, above, would rather stay home, too.

Our boxing day this year was more like the British in that we had a gathering of the extended family from Sweetie's side of the family and had a finger food party at our house. My daugter finally met her cousins' two little ones, we got to visit with the Oakmont and Cloverdale family members, plus the Healdsburg, the L.A., and San Francisco folks, even my daughter's best friend who is an honorary family member of long standing. There were even a few boxes of gifts exchanged.

Great conversation and lots of food and drink were abundant. The Yule log was finally eaten and was a hit, especially with Sweetie's namesake. Junebug's mom helped me with the mulled apple cider. In some ways, the fact that everyone gathered on this day at our house was her gift to us all. *Thank You*

Here she is serving up some the the cider...a welcome and warm libation today when the cold wind was blowing and the windchimes were ringing. It is just a little spicey and not too sweet with lemon and orange flavors along with the apple...good with a jot of rum, too.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

(Yes, the back is better...thank you to all who left kind and sympathetic messages...you are all great!)

Mulled Apple CIder
1 gallons apple cider
3 whole cinnamon sticks
1 can frozen lemonade concentrate
2 cups orange juice or 1 can frozen orange juice concentrate
6-8 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 large orange, sliced in 1/4 inch slices
In a large pot bring all of the ingredients to a boil. Cover and lower heat to a simmer. Simmer for 1/2 hour to mingle flavors. Serve warm. It can be kept at a simmer for hours and will only get better. Some people like to add a tot of rum or brandy.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Yule Tale for Daring Bakers

Once upon a time in the land of St. Honore’, far off in the woods of the west country, lived a woodcutter. One day as he headed for home after a day of gathering wood, he came upon the largest, oldest, most amazing looking log you can imagine, half buried in moss and old leaves, surrounded with ferns and tiny mushrooms, and dusted with snow. He left the wood he had gathered and, with a mighty heave, pulled the huge log to his home. The days were growing short and the nights long as the Winter Solstice drew near. A good, long burning Yule log was a most welcome find.

It was not the easiest log to get started, but soon he had it burning and discovered that it had a wonderful unexpected charm…no matter how long it burned, it never seemed to get smaller.

As the days grew shorter and the night longer, the woodcutter became sadder and sadder. He missed the sunlight. Sitting in front of the Yule log, he took a nap. Hoping to cheer him up, his goodwife gathered her bowls and spoons and flour and sugar and eggs and butter and began to bake something wonderful.

First she made a flat layer of a cake like a sponge…called a genoise. Here she is sifting in the flour mixture, then folding it into the beaten eggs and sugar mixture.


While it was baking she made a delicious chocolate and Amaretto flavored buttercream. Once the cake had cooled enough to handle, she laid it on parchment and brushed it with more Amaretto liquor.

Then she spread half the buttercream over the cake and rolled it up like a jelly roll. A quick chilling soon had it firm enough so that she could work the magic she had in mind.

She cut off the ends at an angle, showing the swirl of light cake and darker buttercream. One of those ends was placed on the side of the roll. Oooh now do you understand? She is making a charmed log of her own!
The log and branch were then swirled with the rest of the buttercream. Now it really looked like a single piece of wood, especially when she took the tines of a fork and pulled them through the buttercream to look like bark.

For the final decoration, she had planned to create meringue mushrooms to place in tiny clusters about the log. Unfortunately she slipped on a mossy step and hurt her back, so no mushrooms. A dusting of confectioners sugar gave the appearance of a light snowfall.

When her husband awoke from his nap, she took him gently by the hand and brought him to the sideboard where the beautiful log she had made was sitting. Smiling sweetly she told him that this log, this Buche de Noel, was her Christmas gift to him. It would be gone much, much faster than the magic Yule log he had brought home, but it would carry memories of their time together this Christmas tide and the joy of sharing the cake with friends and family. She told him that she would make another one each year to remind them of the light returning to the world that Christmas brings.

The woodcutter was wonderfully cheered by the cake, impressed with her baking skills and with his goodwife’s kindness in making it. He knew that it would be a merry Christmas indeed.

As a Winter Solstice gift to you, Gentle Reader, the Daring Bakers from all over the globe have made many, many Buche De Noels. Our hostesses Lis and Ivonne, also the founders of the Daring Bakers, have chosen a superb recipe that reminds us of the presence of light during the darkest time of the year. Thank you Lis of Mia La Cucina and Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venice for this holiday gift, for all of your work in the background making this baking group such a wonderful online community, and for starting it all with a recipe for pretzels a little over a year ago.


I had never made a Buche de Noel and had such a good time playing with it that I again used the convention of a fairy tale to tell about making the cake. Unfortunately, the slip and fall is true, so that is why no mushrooms. *Sigh* Gentle Reader, the story is my own (as is the last one), but there are many stories today around the blogosphere. Check out the other Daring Bakers’ Buche de Noel’s by going to the Daring Baker Blogroll here. The recipe can be found at the bottom of this post if you want to make your own to capture your own winter memories.



Yule Log
(from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert)
Daring Bakers Challenge #14: December 2007

Hosts: Daring Baker Founders Ivonne (Cream Puffs in Venice) and Lisa (La Mia Cucina)

Posting Date: Saturday December 22, 2007 or Sunday December 23, 2007 (Note: To accommodate the fact that some of you want to serve this for Christmas, for the first time we're allowing you to choose your posting date. You can post on the Saturday or the Sunday.)
Recipe Quantity: Serves 12

Cake should be stored in a cool, dry place. Leftovers should be refrigerated

Challenge Requirements:

1. A genoise cake using the recipe below
2. A coffee buttercream frosting using the recipe below (Note: For those of you that have an aversion to coffee, you can use another flavour for your buttercream, however, the buttercream must be dark in colour. We don't want any white or cream-coloured Yule Logs!
3. Meringue or Marzipan mushrooms using the recipes below

Additional Information about Challenge:
If you are not going to use the coffee buttercream to fill your log, be sure to have the filling ready once the genoise comes out of the oven. If you do fill your Yule Log with fruit or with soemthing other than buttercream, please note that you may not be able to freeze the Log because the filling may not last.

Recipes:
Plain Genoise:

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch

one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.

10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Coffee Buttercream:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Meringue Mushrooms:

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.

2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.

3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

Marzipan Mushrooms:

8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder

1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.

2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.

4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.

5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.

6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.

7.Smudge with cocoa powder.


Assembling the Yule Log:

1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).

5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Remembering


Fair warning: This post is pretty emotional.

When the persimmons were ripe last year, I remembered Edith and the cookie parties she used to host for the holidays.

This year I'm remembering another cookie party guest who was claimed by cancer this week. Patti was full of life, always the one to get the laughter going at the party. I first knew her through the Parents Club...our version of the PTA at the local elementary school. Her daughter was a few years younger than my youngest, but we soon got to know each other through various Parents Club projects. Patti was a doer, a very hard worker, but she didn't like the spotlight. She had a huge heart and was the first to come forward to help when a family was in trouble due to a house fire or flooding or a death in the family.

She was an excellent cook and baker and entertainer. As our children moved beyond elementary school we only saw each other at the cookie party. At her funeral yesterday her brother mentioned that she always made family members Almond Roca and other candies for Christmas, so, instead of cookies, or instead of a braided bread as Peabody did, Patti will be remembered through a recipe for that crunchy, almondy, chocolate-rich candy.

Yesterday was also really, really hard for me. I don't usually do guilt and rarely self pity, but after the funeral there was a reception at the fire station since Patti worked there and the fire community is most generous. Eight and a half years ago they were generous and supportive and hosted the post-burial reception for my son. This was a different fire station, but it not only brought back a lot of memories, but a number of the boys that my son had played with were there, too, being supportive to Patti's family. It wasn't easy to see how these boys had grown...they are young men now...and to see how they have moved on with their lives...one will be a new father in a week or so. The most difficult part was that I remembered them as youngsters playing with Max. Since he had such a good heart, if he were alive I'm fairly certain that Max would have been there in support, too. The hole in our lives that exists since he has been gone is always there, but in that situation it was front and center and gaping. Overwhelming. Sweetie says that I'm a mother who lost her son and it's OK to still grieve. That's a good thing, because, suddenly, I am in a big way...grieving for the loss and the man he would have been and the friend he would have been to many, for the life he didn't get to experience.

The bottom line?... life can be short...16 years for Max, 50 for Patti...not long enough for either of them. Treasure your days, your family, your friends, your talents, your health, your life. (Notice I didn't include your things?...even though Christmas has become all about things, they really are small potatoes compared to the others listed). Oh, yes...remember to cook, bake, or do something else creative that you can share with others. It is a spirit lifter.

Wishing you a holiday where you take time to enjoy each day (and the beauty that exists in the world), your family and friends, your talents, your health. Hoping that you take time to share your time with those you love...it is the most valuable gift you can give. I wish you, precious readers, long and happy lives and a joyous holiday season. (Thanks for letting me wallow a bit and share...it really helps.)
Almond Roca Candy
Photo above from Simply Recipes

Ingredients:
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 cup finely chopped toasted almonds
1 cup milk or dark chocolate chips

Directions:
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the sugar, water, and corn syrup. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring.
When the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to boil, raise the heat and bring the mixture to 290 degrees on a cooking thermometer (soft crack stage.) It will be light brown in color, and syrup will separate into threads that are not brittle when dribbled into cold water.
Quickly stir in 1/2 cup chopped almonds. Immediately pour the mixture onto an ungreased baking sheet.
Wait 2 or 3 minutes for the candy surface to firm, then sprinkle on the chocolate chips. In a few minutes, when the chips have softened, spread the chocolate evenly over the surface. Sprinkle the remaining almonds over the melted chocolate.
When the chocolate hardens, crack the candy into pieces. Store covered.

This recipe from CDKitchen for Almond Roca serves/makes 1.5 lbs

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

'Tis the Season to be Jolly

Some people are generous by nature...some are not. It's all O.K.

But this is the season when generosity is in fashion, when we try to figure out just what others might like for their holiday gift(s), what their hearts delight might be. Sometimes inspirations just strikes, at other times it is a long journey to the right gift. Even those who are not usually generous make efforts beyond their usual comfort zone to please those they care about.

This is also the time of year that we try to be generous to unknown people who could use a little kindness. For years we gave gifts through the Giving Tree requests at Sweetie's work, usually picking hearts of older children since they seem to be the ones that get picked later...guess they are a little harder to shop for :)

This year we gave toys to the local fire department toy drive. There will be a few charities that will receive a modest check, too. This year I'm employed, so I can. Who knows about next year?

This year I'm also participating in the Pay It Forward Exchange. I made a promise to Tanna of My Kitchen In Half Cups that I would play along. I'll get something tangible, but if you read this and agree to participate, I'm also spreading that sense of giving out 'forward' and you will be too.

I'm going to use her excellent wording:

"Here’s the deal:
I will send a handmade gift to the first three people who leave a comment on this post requesting to join this Pay It Forward Exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, which is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is Pay It Forward by making the same promise on your blog.

So, if you have a blog and you like the idea of giving away stuff you’ve made to folks who read your blog, then leave me a comment and I’ll start dreaming up what to make you. Just make sure you send me an email address so I can get in touch with you about how to get that gift into your possession.

Happy Giving!"

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Delicious Gift

This weekend we drove a couple of hours to finally celebrate Natasha's birthday. It was a beautiful, sunny, cold day in River City area, but the warmth of the welcome received made it a special day.

As a special birthday treat, we brought a Swedish Princess Cake made at nearby bakery, Village Bakery in Sebastopol. The owner is from Scandinavia and their version is light, rich and delicious. The traditional Princess Cake is covered in a pale green cloak of marzipan, but for the holidays the bakery is decorating the cake like a gorgeous present, right down to the bow. It was almost too pretty to cut into, but too delicious not to.

The Princess Cake is a Swedish national passion. It seems that the cake was created in the 1930s for the birthday of a Swedish princess. It is often served as a graduation cake, but apparently can be found throught the country and can be found as a treat to go with tea or coffee, usually as a slice of cake. The distinctive thing about this cake, other than the marzipan, is the rounded top of the cake, usually created by mounding pastry cream or whipped cream in the center of the top layer, then smoothing the cream to make a dome shape on the top.

Although we did reserve a piece to bring home to our nephew, somehow the four of us managed to polish off the rest. It was the small version, but still quite a dose of cake, jam, cream and marzipan. You would think that it would be very sweet, but it isn't. With some coffee and good conversation, it was the perfect dessert for celebrating the birthday of a wonderful sister.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Perfect for a Party

At this, the holiday season, there seem to be more than the usual number of parties. I admit, I'm not a party animal and often R.S.V.P. and decline, but this past week there was a lunch party where I was the luncheon chairman, so not only was I there, I was in charge of the kitchen. Well, that's the theory. In practice I had a number of other women who did most of the organization and much of the work. They were more experienced and delightfully helpful. We had 35 people for lunch and it was a potluck.

Now I've been part of many, many potlucks over the years. This one was the only one I can remember, especially at Christmas time, where only one dessert was brought. We had all manner of salads and three sweet potato dishes, rolls, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, ham, but only one basket of cookies. Perhaps healthy eating is becoming fashionable?

My contributions included a dolled up version of my favorite corn salad (another future post will include the recipe), plus a new recipe that I found in Southern Living Magazine's collection of recipes called Our Best Recipes, Volume 4.

This is the perfect thing to bring to a party. It can be made ahead, no pots and pans are required so it's no-mess, the ingredients are easily found and not too expensive, it is fairly healthy, it looks festive and colorful, and it is delicious. Who could ask for more?

The dish is called Mediterranean Chicken Couscous (although I made it with chunks of turkey). It would also make a great addition to your holiday buffet. Hope you find a chance to make this one.

Mediterranean Chicken Couscous
Serves 8 (more if part of a buffet or potluck)

1 1/4 cups low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
1 (5.6 oz.) package toasted pine nut couscous mix
3 cups chopped cooked chicken (or turkey)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 (4 oz.) package crumbled feta cheese
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Garnish: fresh basil leaves

(Note: You'll need to buy a 2/3 oz. package of fresh basil and 1 rotisserie chicken to get the right amount of basil and chicken for this recipe. Substitute 3-4 teaspoons (I used 3) dried basil if you can't get fresh. 3 cups of leftover cooked chicken or turkey in large dice works fine, too.)

Microwave chicken broth and seasoning packet from couscous package at HIGH for 3-5 minutes or until broth begins to boil. Place couscous in a large bowl, and stir in broth mixture. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork, stir in chicken and next 6 ingredients. Serve warm or cold. Garnish with fresh basil leaves or a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts, if desired.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Let's Bake Cookies!

The Inner Elf has been slow to surface this year, but this weekend I had the the urge to bake cookies. Going to sleep at night after reading recipes in Dorie Greenspan's iconic book Baking, From My Home to Yours certainly helped. So many cookie recipes, so little time.


Chockablock is the whimsical name that Dorie gave to these everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cookies. Not only do they have molasses and oats, two of Sweetie's favorite ingredients for cookies, but they also allow me to throw in lots of dried fruits and nuts, which always appeals to me. Making them even more popular is a large dose of chocolate and some coconut. What's not to like?


This is my contribution to a great food event, Eat Christmas Cookies, at Food Blogga.


"Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without ... eating cookies," is a perfect reason to get out the baking sheets and the mixing bowls and bake some great cookies. These would make a great addition to the cookie platter or a delicious gift. I'm taking a box of these to a Christmas Party on Wednesday and I know they will be a hit.

Chockablock Cookies
Dorie Greenspan, from Baking From My Home to Yours

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup solid vegetable shortening (I substituted 4 oz. unsweetened applesauce)
½ cup sugar (I used dark brown sugar here)
½ cup molasses
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I mixed walnuts and pecans about half and half)
1 cup coarsely chopped dried fruit (I used a combination of diced apricot, dried pear, dried apple, plus some golden raisins and dried cranberries)
2 cups chocolate chips
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the apple sauce and mix well, about two minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another two minutes. Pour in the molasses and beat for 1 minute more.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition. Reduce mixer speed to low and mix in the oats, then add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the dough. Toss in the nuts, fruit, chocolate chips and coconut and, turn the mixer on and off quickly a few times to incorporate.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared pans, leaving about 1 ½ inches between the mounds.
Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until the cookies are golden and just about set. Remove the baking sheets to cooling racks and let the cookies rest on the sheets for about 5 minutes before transferring them to racks to cool to room temperature.



These cookies were so dark from the dark brown sugar and the molasses that it was a bit difficult to tell when they were done. They were moist and the nuts, fruit, chocolate and coconut were barely held together by the dough. The molasses flavor was strong when the dough was unbaked, but the fruits and nuts mellowed the molasses flavor when baked.

Friday, November 30, 2007

It's Not Too Late

We have returned home from the land of St. Honore'. Thanksgiving has come and gone, but there is still time to enjoy fresh cranberries. Right now bags of fresh cranberries are pretty inexpensive where I shop, so I grabbed a few more bags and threw one in the freezer for later. For now there is Cranberry Pear Sauce, perfect with leftover turkey if you still have some hanging around, but also a great dish to go with roast pork or duck or chicken thighs. It goes together fairly quickly and is delicious!

We had this sauce at Thanksgiving and it was so good that my nephew said it was the best cranberry sauce he had ever had. I chose to cook it because I usually served the canned jellied stuff but wanted something fresh, but not too sweet. I'm taking some to Meeta's Monthly Mingle which is for Traditional Feasts this month. Meeta blogs at the wonderful What's For Lunch Honey and hosts these mingles often, which is really nice. Come by after the first of December and see what everyone has brought.

This recipe is faintly like a chutney since it has some cider vinegar, cinnamon and grated fresh ginger, but it is also like a nice cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving with both white and brown sugar and the sweetness of sauteed pears. The recipe is a slight variation on one I found in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper November 14th. Give it a try while fresh cranberries and pears are in season. An addition of chopped toasted walnuts would be good, too.

Cranberry-Pear Sauce
Makes about 3 cups - serves 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 ripe pears, preferably Bartlett, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 inch dice
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup, packed, dark brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
12 oz. fresh cranberries, washed and picked over for spoiled berries

Heat the melted butter in a large saucepan. Add the pears and salt and cook oer moderately low heat, stirring, until they begin to soften, 4-5 minutes. Stir in the sugars, vinegar, cinnamon and ginger and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon to prevent sticking. (Your kitchen will smell heavenly!)

Add the cranberries and cook over moderate heat until the cranberries have fully cooked and thickened, 15-20 minutes, crushing the berries against the sides of the pan. Transfer to a bowl, remove the cinnamon stick if used, and let cool before serving.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In the Land of St. Honore'
















Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups is the hostess of this month's Daring Bakers's challenge. She chose this wonderful and flavorful Tender Potato Bread from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. You can find the recipe on Tanna's site and at the bottom of this post.

Be sure to check out the other Daring Baker's to read their stories and see their creativity with the Tender Potato Bread by visiting the Daring Baker Blogroll here.

If you have a moment, I'd love your comments. Just click on COMMENTS below and thank you for visiting and hearing the latest story from this Daring Baker.

Tender Potato Bread
(from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid; who also wrote Hot Sour Salty Sweet)
Daring Bakers Challenge #13: November 2007

Host: Tanna (My Kitchen in Half Cups)
Post Date: Monday, November 26
Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf AND something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender foccacia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf
Suggested Toppings:
For Loaves and Rolls: melted butter (optional)
For Foccacia: olive oil, coarse salt, and rosemary leaves (optional; also see variation)
For Anchovy-Onion Focaccia: Instead of oil, salt, and rosemary, top with onions slow-cooked in olive oil or bacon fat, a scattering of chopped anchovy fillets, and flat-leafed parsley leaves.
Alternate fillings, seasons, shapes are up to you.

Some additional notes about this challenge, recipe and the dough:
If you are new to bread and already your whisks are shaking (or is that your boots), you may bake the bread (or one of it’s variations) just as written.
There are no pictures. I give you the recipe. I cannot give you a photo or drawing of the recipe because that part is yours. That being said there are lots of pictures of other bread recipes that will provide great ideas for you if you decide to unleash that aspect of this recipe.
Potatoes and potato water give this bread wonderful flavor and texture. The dough is very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before. But don’t worry: Leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easy to handle.
Once baked, the crumb is tender and airy, with tiny soft pieces of potato in it and a fine flecking of whole wheat. The loaves have a fabulous crisp texture on the outside and a slightly flat-topped shape. They make great toast and tender yet strong sliced bread for sandwiches. The dinner rolls are soft and inviting, and the focaccia is memorable.

I have chosen this recipe because it gives directions for different ways of shaping the dough and provides oven times and temperatures for those variations.

Some Notes about Flour:
King Arthur Artisan Organic All-Purpose Flour is fairly new in the markets in the US now and is advertised to be best for making European-style hearth breads with a protein level of 11.3%

Conversion Chart for yeast:
1 oz/ 1 Tablespoon of fresh yeast = 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon active or instant dry yeast = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise (bread machine) yeast. Reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart
Link to online conversion chart for converting recipes from Imperial to Metric: Cooking Conversion Online (http://www.convert-me.com/en/convert/cooking)
Remember, being a Daring Baker is about trying new recipes, techniques and taking risks. It’s reaching just beyond your comfort zone.
This is a Daring Baker Challenge, not a contest and not a competition because at its heart and soul is support and sharing the how to of the baking we do.

Challenge Recipe:
Metric measurements are from the European edition. Thank you Linda (Linda.kovacevic.nl) from Make Life Sweeter

Ingredients:
4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
Tanna Note: For the beginner bread baker I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. The variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold, there are others.
4 cups(950 ml) water, reserve cooking water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups (1 kg to 1350g) unbleached all-purpose
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (130g) whole wheat flour

Making the Dough (Directions will be for making by hand):
Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.
Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well. Tanna Note: I have a food mill I will run my potatoes through to mash them.
Measure out 3 cups(750ml) of the reserved potato water. Add extra water if needed to make 3 cups. Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread dough in. Let cool to lukewarm (70-80°F/21 - 29°C) – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.
Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.
Note about Adding Yeast: If using Active Dry Yeast or Fresh yeast, mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add 2 cups of flour to the yeast mix and allow to rest several minutes. If using Instant Dry Yeast, add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.
Sprinkle in the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.
Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.
Tanna Note: At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.
Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.
Forming the Bread:
Tanna Note: It is at this point you are requested to Unleash the Daring Baker within. The following is as the recipe is written. You are now free to follow as written or push it to a new level.
Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.
To shape the large loaf:
Butter a 9 x 5 x 2.5 inch loaf/bread pan. Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.
To make a small loaf with the remainder:
Butter an 8x4X2 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.
To make rolls:
Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.
To make focaccia:
Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.
Baking the bread(s):
Note about baking order: bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.
Note about Baking Temps: I believe that 450°F(230°C) is going to prove to be too hot for the either the large or small loaf of bread for the entire 40/50 minutes. I am going to put the loaves in at 450°(230°C) for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 375°F (190 °C) for the remaining time.
Note about cooling times: Let all the breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.
For loaves and rolls:
Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.
Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes. Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes. Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.
Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
For foccaia:
Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a no edged baking/sheet (you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C.
If making foccacia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Bookmark This For the Holidays

It isn't often that a recipe comes along that I know, right off the bat, is going to be one that I'll go to over and over. I had that experience the first time I made the 86 Proof Chocolate Whiskey Cake, and again with my favorite Spaghetti Sauce. It has happened again!

For Thanksgiving Pam the Kitchen Planner brought the perfect appetizer and she brought the recipe with her because she knew that I would love it. She was absolutely correct.

This dish is one to bookmark for the holidays because it is easy, goes together quickly (except for marinating) delicious, and best of all should be made ahead...the best results happen when you make it 48 hours in advance. Make it a couple of days before the big event and forget it about it, then wow your guests.

Brighten your holidays with Hands Down Best Shrimp Appetizer, a combination of shrimp, red onion, oranges, and a marinade that includes both lemon juice and red wine vinegar, plus lots of piquant spices. Once you have served it, along with copious amounts of napkins, you will get raves from your guests (unless they hate shrimp) and you'll want to make it again and again.

Hands Down Best Shrimp Appetizer
Based on a recipe from the New York Times Heritage Cookbook

1 large sweet red onion, halved, sliced thinly, and separated into half rings
1 ½ pounds shrimp – cooked, shelled and deveined (with tails left on)
4 oranges, peeled and sliced into wedges
1 ½ cup oil
2/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup wine vinegar
1/3 cup catsup
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Bed of lettuce leaves (optional)

Combine onion rings, shrimp and orange wedges in a large glass or ceramic bowl (or large resealable bag).

Mix together oil, lemon juice, vinegar, catsup, sugar, celery seeds, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, garlic and parsley. Pour over shrimp mixture and marinate 24-48 hours (48 hours is better!) in the refrigerator.

At serving time, drain off the marinade and serve the shrimp, onions and orange wedges. Looks nice served on a bed of lettuce, but for close friends just pile on a platter. (Include a small dish to hold the discarded tails.) Provide plenty of napkins. Serves 6

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Warm Sweet Rolls with Chocolate




One of the enduring combinations in the food world is bread and chocolate. A croissant filled with some melted bittersweet chocolate is how I remember first learning about the joining of two of my favorite flavors.

The other morning I didn’t have time to even think about the first little part of making croissants, but I figured out a way to make Sweetie some sweet rolls for breakfast that combined chocolate, jam and fruit. When it's cold outside (and we had frost on the grass this morning) a pan of warm sweet rolls is a wonner.

The day before I had peeled, cored and thinly sliced a quince. Then I had candied the slices. These, chocolate, nuts, and some quince jam went into a lovely pan of breakfast rolls. The photos at the beginning of the post show the progression of rectangel of biscuit dough with jam, then fruit, then chocolate. Don't forget to add the nuts. Too bad I had to go to work and didn’t get to have any until dinner time. He said that they were much better fresh out of the oven. I didn’t even have time to glaze them, but I included directions if you want to.

The wonderful thing about these rolls is that the biscuits are a great foil for the chocolate. You taste the richness of the chocolate and tang of the buttermilk. The jam and quince lend sweetness and an almost haunting flavor that stays with you. These take a little while to prepare, but will make a memorable breakfast or snack. Use the best quality chocolate you can find because the chocolate shines here.


Bread and Chocolate Sweet Rolls


2 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (a food processor works well)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 to 3 1/2 cups Bisquick (I used the lowfat version because that’s what was in the cupboard) - use enough to make a firm dough
¼ cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup quince jelly
1 quince, candied (see below)
½ cup walnuts, toasted and cooled, finely chopped with 1 tablespoon of sugar A food processor works well)

In a small bowl, microwave the butter and chocolate one minute at half power. Stir. Microwave again one minute at half power. Stir. Repeat until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a mixing bowl, mix the Bisquick, sugar, and buttermilk to make a dough. Turn the dough out on a floured board and knead a few times, then roll out in a rectangle about 12 inches x 8 inches.
Take the jam and put it into a bowl. Stir with a fork to break up the jam to make it more liquid. Spread the jam on the dough rectangle, stopping about an inch away from the edge on the long sides.
Take the candied quince slices and spread them out as evenly as possible over the jam, stopping about 1 inch from the edge on the long sides.
Take the cooled chocolate mixture and spread it over the jam and fruit. Sprinkle at once with the nuts, distributing as evenly as possible over the chocolate.
Roll up starting at one of the long edges. If the biscuit dough is very soft, you may need to freeze the rectangle for 10 minutes so it can be rolled. Slice the roll into 12 slices, each about an inch thick. Place each roll, sliced side down, in a greased cast iron skillet.
Bake in a preheated 400 degree F. oven for about 40 minutes, until rolls are cooked and golden brown on the top.
Serve warm. If desired, drizzle when they have cooled 10 minutes with a mixture of 1 cup confectioners sugar and 1 tablespoon warm milk. Let the glaze harden before serving.

Candied Quince
1 medium to large fresh ripe quince, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water

Mix the sugar and water in a medium sized pot and stir over medium heat until the sugar melts and mixture is clear. Add the quince, turning and stirring until all slices are covered with the sugar mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir, cover, and simmer for another 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer, stirring occasionally, another 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand until cool.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Celebratory Dessert

Clinic finished up tonight with a celebratory dinner. The young chef made a wonderful lemon-mustard-garlic-rosemary chicken dish that is his own creation. If I get his permission, I'll do a post on it later, with recipe. My office partner made a delicious ratatouille with eggplant from the physical therapist's garden. There were lots of veggies, salad, and local bread. My contribution was made in response to a large number of ripe Bartlett pears. When you buy a flat of fruit, they all seem to ripen at once.

The solution was a pear and cranberry crisp. It is a very good dessert for autumn. This one was really nice because it was not too heavy nor overly sweet. The pear flavor really stood out and the contrast of soft silky pear slices, tangy cranberries, zingy orange flavor and a crunchy oat topping was lovely.

Credit for most of this recipe goes to Dorie Greenspan, although I made a few changes. Dorie's book Sweet Times is a wonderful collection of sweet recipes. As usual, the recipe was well written and foolproof. As you can see, we had no trouble in convincing everyone to help themselves.

I think that this is the perfect dish to bring to Peabody's open house. It should travel well and feeds a lot of people, plus it's sweet and baked! See you there on December 8th.

Pear-Cranberry Crisp
based on a recipe by Dorie Greenspan

Topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup broken walnut pieces, toasted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces

Fruit:
6-7 large ripe Bartlett pears (about 3 lbs.) cored and stems removed
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup fresh cranberries (if using frozen, do not thaw)
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Topping: Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture forms large curds, about 1-2 minutes. Alternately, mix everthing but the butter in a bowl, then cut the butter in with a pastry blender or two knives. Set aside.

Fruit: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Quarter the pears and cut each pear quarter lengthwise into 3 slices. Dip the slices in a bowl containing the orange juice. Then arrange the slices in the bottom of a deep dish pie pan or a 2 quart baker. (I left on the peels, which worked out fine.) Repeat with all of the pear quarters, coating the slices in the juice to keep them from darkening. Sprinkle the cranberries evenly over the pears, then sprinkle on the golden raisins.
Evenly sprinkle the brown sugar over the fruit.
Sprinkle the orange juice that you dipped the pears in over all, then sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit.
Place the crisp on a baking sheed with raised sides and bake 40 -45 minutes, until the top is brown and the fruit juices are bubbling. Remove the crisp from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Let cool at least 20 minutes before serving, but can be served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Serve vanilla ice cream, heavy cream ot pour, or whipped cream to garnish if desired. Serves 6-8, or more at a buffet.

The photo below was taken in the morning where the fog was burning off right near the clinic building. That is a very old redwood tree on the left.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Get Well Soup

I've been making this soup when people are sick with a cold or the flu for so long that I can't remember when I started. Chicken rice soup is what my Mom used to make for us and a good friend makes chicken noodle to take to sick friends, but my version uses potatoes...appropriate for a lass of Irish heritage I guess.

I remember one time when my daughter was in college. She was really miserable with the flu and had no energy to cook or even go find a restaurant with soup. I drove three and a half miles up to her college and made her a big pot of this soup, bringing the ingredients with me and leaving her more, and the recipe, in case she needed to make another batch. She said she started feeling better very soon after I made the soup, so maybe it's the soup and maybe it's the TLC.

This past week Sweetie has been down with the flu, so I made him some. I used some of our autunm jewels, the late harvest heirloom tomatoes that had been sitting on the counter.

He is starting to feel better, but it will be a few more days before he has his energy back and probably longer before the cough goes away. Guess we should have been more alert to when the flu shots were being given.

This is a great soup to make for a friend or loved one, but also delicious to enjoy yourself on a cool autumn evening for supper. I served it with a green salad and some warm, crusty cornbread baked in a cast iron skillet.

Get Well Chicken Soup
Serves 4 - 6

1 small to medium onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced (use more if you like)
1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
1 cup thinly sliced celery
2 cans chicken broth or 2 cups home made broth
1.5 - 2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cubed (leave unpeeled if you wish)
1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped or 1 can already cut tomatoes
2 chicken breasts, cut into bit sized dice
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup frozen peas

In large soup pot, heat grape seed or canola oil until hot (olive oil is not great to use where the temperature will be hot enough to saute') add the onion and garlic and saute' a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Watch to make sure the garlic doesn't burn.

Add the celery and stir to coat with oil, then lower heat to medium and cook 2 minutes.

Add the broth, potatoes, tomatoes, chicken pieces, rosemary, thyme, and pepper. Stir well, cover, and bring to a simmer. Simmer about a half hour, until the potatoes are fork tender.

Remove from heat and stir in the peas. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Uncover and serve after tasting for seasoning and making corrections if necessary.